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Siddharth and Eika have divided the research for their project between themselves. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Siddharth and Eika have divided the research for their project between themselves. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

A new-age pill for continuous learning

A 52-week project by a couple in its 40s is helping them learn more in a structured manner

New Year resolutions typically don’t last long. Siddharth Banerjee and his wife Eika Chaturvedi Banerjee, however, have so far managed to stick to theirs—one that has proved to be a great learning experience for them.

Since January, the Mumbai-based couple, both 40, has been trying to learn more about one new topic every week, and documenting their progress on social media. They call this challenge #52RedPills.

“Eika and I met in college while studying for our MBA entrance examination, went on to study together at Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi, got married right out of B-school and then had two daughters across our 20s. Our choice of careers got us to move around the globe so we had to adapt faster and be very agile…in short, we moved four countries and 14 houses in 18 years. Hence, we have been a couple in turbo-charge mode," says Siddharth, a senior marketing executive for a large telecom firm.

Last December, the couple decided they needed to create a framework that would enable them to learn more in a structured manner. Siddharth says they believe self-learning is the best return on investment for personal as well as professional growth.

Screenshot from Siddharth’s Instagram posts featuring M.S. Dhoni.
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Screenshot from Siddharth’s Instagram posts featuring M.S. Dhoni.

They prepared a list of 63 topics—later pared to 52—they wanted to explore further and decided on a three-step learning process. First, they would carry out research on the chosen topic through the week—while Siddharth would look up contemporary sources, Eika would go through ancient Indian texts. Second, they would meet with subject-matter experts on weekends, over coffee or lunch, tapping into their personal and professional networks. These conversations would last a few hours, usually going beyond the time limit. The third step was the synthesis, where Siddharth and Eika would analyse, discuss and aggregate their learning into a weekly Red Pill content book—extracts from which they publish on their social media feed. “Our 52 Red Pills content is of value in making life choices, so people are finding it powerful and relevant to their lives," says Eika, CEO, Future Learning (the leadership development and skilling company of the Future Group). The topics have ranged from mindfulness, sleep and clean eating, to whisky appreciation and the importance of cinnamon in diet.

Finding time

Balancing this year-long project with work and personal life has presented its own set of challenges, entailing big and small sacrifices. “I have given up my Netflix subscription, thereby freeing up a couple of hours every week. We have also had to cut down on our social commitments, but it has been well worth it," says Siddharth.

The project has changed the couple. “With every Red Pill that we have done, I have realized that learning is a modern life challenge. We have access to information, yet distilled wisdom and intuition elude us. Creating an index-coded mechanism to get back to ancient wisdom is the fun part of this project. This journey also allowed us to explore ourselves in our relationship, going beyond the mundane stuff of our daily lives," says Eika.

Both husband and wife have been lifelong learners when it comes to formal education, and, every six months, also invest in learning a new skill, like salsa, martial arts like aikido and muay Thai, baking or photography. Eika, who leads a team of millennials, encourages them to learn more and find their own life purpose, rather than just “doing a job".

Screenshot from Siddharth’s Instagram posts featuring Piyush Pandey.
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Screenshot from Siddharth’s Instagram posts featuring Piyush Pandey.

The project has also proved to be a great connection point for like-minded people.

“When Siddharth and Eika started the journey, it was about two people doing the work to learn something and sharing it with their peer group. Hence, it doesn’t require us (the peers) to meet the experts. They help us to start thinking about something that you wouldn’t have thought about—whether it is spirituality or creativity," says Virginia Sharma, director, LinkedIn India, who has been following the 52 Red Pills journey from day 1.

The takeaways

Siddharth and Eika share the learnings of the 52 Red Pills project on their personal Facebook and Instagram accounts. The couple is also creating a separate Facebook group (#52RedPills) and a website. The concept has been interesting enough for every expert they have approached to generously share their time. #52RedPills has featured cricketer M.S. Dhoni (who shared perspectives on staying calm under pressure), Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg (on women’s leadership), Raw Pressery founder Anuj Rakyan (on nutrition and healthy eating), adman Piyush Pandey (on creativity), and more.

“When I heard from Siddharth, I felt it was very interesting to have curated knowledge and see how we can make small changes in our everyday lives to make an impact," says Rakyan. Siddharth and Rakyan first met at a breakfast organized by the Harvard Business Review; they now often end up bouncing off ideas after their initial meeting for the #52RedPills discussion.

Screenshots from Siddharth’s Instagram posts featuring Arianna Huffington.
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Screenshots from Siddharth’s Instagram posts featuring Arianna Huffington.

Learning is of no use unless it is implemented in daily life, says Eika. The couple has made small but important changes in their own lifestyle, from dietary changes to better time management at work.

The topics they learn about fall under two broad themes—health and well-being, and life and leadership. The latter includes everything from ideating to creativity and giving back to people. Future topics will be as exciting as the first 26 topics, promises Siddharth.

Much of their success in this effort rests on the network they have built over the years. Siddharth explains: “Our global lives plus our corporate roles plus the couple we are, have helped us diligently build together a fantastic network of people whom we can reach out to. For this, you need passion and purpose—that, we feel, is our differentiator, which allows us to connect to the quality of people we want."

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