This week's headline article is about how you need to be careful about the veracity of the stories pitched by the new-age 'health-food' startups.
But before we dive into that, a special announcement.
A couple of weeks back, I decided to take on a crazy project: The #SOTD series.
So, I come across good examples of storytelling every day, in stuff that I read, listen to or watch on various platforms. And often I would feel like Neo from the Matrix, except:
I thought - wouldn't it be nice to share these storytelling techniques with my audience?
I procrastinated on this for months - mainly because I didn't want to just share the techniques without having an over-arching framework that I could refer back to.
It took some time, but I finally put together an initial draft.
Clearly this is just an initial draft, which I labeled Version 1.1. I'm already on Version 1.3 and am working on a Version 2.0 for the next week!
Anyway, banging out this framework gave me the confidence to take on my crazy project: #SOTD
Here's what I wrote about it in the announcement post:
Presenting #SOTD - or Story of the Day (Storytelling Technique of the Day was too long!)
Taking inspiration from #ROTD (or Read of the Day, by Saurabh Devendra Singh and Swanand Kelkar), I'm going to identify a story learning moment from something that I read, watched or heard... and share it with you on this platform.
In a way, I want to take you all on my learning journey.
I've managed to keep this going for 10 days now. (Yay!)
(We are working on a home for this on the website as we speak - will announce as soon as it it ready).
Meanwhile, you might ask, what's the end game here?
Honestly it's not so well thought out ... As of now, I just want to keep working on it and see where it goes. Maybe take it up to #SOTD 100? Or maybe even more? As of now, I'm taking it one story at a time. (Disclaimer: I would take breaks once in a while when travelling or unwell!)
Meanwhile, if you'd like to be a part of this journey, I've got something for you: Presenting the #SOTD email series.
If you would like to get the #SOTDs in your email every day, here's where you hop on:
You can expect the #SOTD email in your inbox every day in the morning at 10 am (ish), India time!
I'll try to send it earlier, but as of now, my process includes writing it down at night and doing a quick edit in the morning before hitting publish.
And on that note, let's get going with that.
More than 1 in 4 televised pitches in Shark Tank India were from one category: F&B.
Almost all of them were packaged food. Almost all of them claimed to be "healthy". Almost all of them were lying.
In this eye-opening piece from his newsletter 'The Interval' (highly recommended), journalist Samarth Bansal parses through the ingredient lists of these "healthy" snacks and comes out with sobering findings: they are still deeply unhealthy for you.
Let's start with some context. Typically, packaged foods contain three evils: salt, sugar and fat.
Here's the most common weasel-trick that the Shark Tank stalwarts used:
- Reduce or remove one of these ingredients
- Make a big deal about that in your branding and packaging
- Hide the fact that you increased other ingredients to compensate for the loss in taste.
For example, the 'TagZ' chips advertise themselves as having 50% lesser fat (as compared to other popular brands).
But, when Samarth dug a little into the ingredient list, he came up with the following:
Check out that sodium content. 50% higher.
It's a similar story (with some variants) for the other packaged foods.
Net implication: Buyer beware. Don't be misled by breathless health claims made by new-age packaged food brands. Read the ingredient list and decide for yourself.
b. Harshal Patel interview with Shashank Kishore on Cricinfo
Normally, you only come across interviews of star cricketers. Also, many interviews feature boilerplate responses that don't really show any vulnerability.
This interview is of a rising star, who is not afraid of sharing his foibles and past challenges. Harshal (who had a breakout 2021 IPL season) comes across as wise and grounded as he talks about his mental evolution over the hard years in domestic cricket.
For instance, he says:
Back in the day, at the U-19s and even until I was 22-23, I was a very impatient, immature, and outspoken guy. I had no communication skills. The people in Haryana, especially, saw the real person inside all this, gave me a long rope and allowed me to develop on my own.
And then, when he was slightly older, how his outlook to life had changed:
I've never attached a lot of value to external things ever since I was probably 24-25. It goes back to that old cliché of "focusing on the process". You do your job well and all these other things take care of themselves. I have never thought about things like how much money I'm making, whether I'm playing for India or where my place is in the hierarchy
I know that the two paras talk about different things, but I couldn't help notice how he had grown beyond his ears during that crucial 2-3 year phase.
Harshal is now 31 years and is getting the reward for years of toil. I loved this part from the interview:
A few months back, I was training in Ahmedabad and a parent and their kid approached me. The kid asked, "What should my dream be?" I said, "You're 11 years old. You shouldn't have dreams, you should have fun." I wish someone had told me at that at 17-18, to just go out there, on my first international trip, have fun and do my best.
I think this is a failure of our grassroots coaching system, that you put so much pressure on young kids. From when they're 12 or 13, you're trying to make them professionals. And that takes the joy out of playing the sport and then it becomes a chore. So you feel over the moon when you do well and buried under the ground when you don't. And then at some point you will burn out.
Overall the interview is a great glimpse into the mind of someone who's not a superstar (yet!) and how he manages the immense pressure of cricket in India.
The Next Big Idea Club is a community founded by some of the best non-fiction storytellers on the planet, including Adam Grant, Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink and Susan Cain.
I'd highly recommend their app to get quick bites from thought-provoking books.
The podcast reviews new books (from the broad non-fiction+self-improvement domain) and has a conversation with the author. In this conversation, they speak with Chris Cox, the author of a book called The Deadline Effect. This is a topic that impacts all of us since we can all use ideas to set smarter deadlines to get more work done in less time.
One interesting finding - Short deadlines work better than long ones:
There was an ingenious experiment that tested this premise. In a paper called “Procrastination of Enjoyable Experiences,” Suzanne Shu and Ayelet Gneezy wrote about what happened when people were given two different deadlines to claim a free slice of cake. One group was given a coupon for the cake that expired in three weeks; the other was given a coupon good for two months. To nearly everyone’s surprise, it was the group with the shorter deadline that ended up eating more slices of free cake—indeed, they were five times more likely to use their coupons before they expired.
So, now you know what sort of deadline to give your subordinates for the next big presentation! :)
Incidentally, you'd be amazed by the lengths to which Chris went to research for his book. For instance, he wanted to understand how Best Buy (electronics retailer in the US) was so good at preparing for the Black Friday sale deadline. When, despite repeated efforts, he could not get an official audience with the company, he decided to do something radical. He applied for a shop-floor job in Best Buy. To ensure his interviewers did not find him over-qualified for the job, this Harvard grad had to create a watered-down resume!
I'm not a big fan of jungle safari experiences unless there is a good storyteller to explain what's unique or special about the flora and fauna I'm seeing.
I'm especially amused with the obsession that people have with tiger sightings and photography. Sure, they are majestic and unique... but give the poor cat (and the forest guides) a break! Instead try and find out and enjoy the stories of the entire forest.
They are there, but you just need someone to tell them.
Now, this tweet thread is my perfect idea of a jungle-safari storyteller!
Make sure you read the whole thread!
And then there's this piece of wisdom from the #ROTD creator who loves his cheesecake!
"The task is not so much to see what no one has yet seen, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everybody sees."
- Arthur Schopenhauer
This documentary made my blood boil.
In an age when aviation safety was at its highest in decades, there were two tragic accidents in the space of five months killing 346 people. One crash was a Lion Air flight in Indonesia while the other one involved an Ethiopian Air flight near Addis Ababa.
Both were brand new planes - the 737 Max by Boeing.
This documentary narrates the backstory to these horrifying crashes... A story of corporate greed, negligence and outright malfeasance.
When, during the film, you realise that the company knew about the root cause of the problem and could have prevented the second crash (which killed 157 souls)... you feel incredibly angry at the corporation.
A disturbing watch.
a. Manish Sabharwal interview with The Print (37:47)
Manish Sabharwal is one of my favourite thinkers. In an earlier post I had deconstructed the story techniques he uses.
Here are the key highlights from that earlier post:
1. Use of (big-picture) data: Almost no statement is made without a supporting big-picture stat. His masterful use of data - amidst a sea of cacophonous opinions and anecdotal evidence - lends him credibility.
2. Metaphors: He crafts evocative and stunningly appropriate metaphors for complex problems. In a few pithy words, they simplify the concept and say a lot ... without saying a lot.
3. Well-crafted lines: "Farmers aren't running towards cities, they're running away from villages" or, "You don't take jobs to people, you take people to jobs"... lines like these reveal the effort taken to craft them.
4. Preparation: Finally his ability to reel stat after stat reveals the prep he would've put in.
He uses all of these techniques in this interview too. One interesting point he makes is that while there has been a lot of pain in the economy, there have also been unexpected bright spots. Eye-opening.
That's it folks: my recommended reads, listens and views for the week.