Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

How to upgrade yourself

The message is clear. You and I are toast. We need to reboot ourselves and put in place a new operating system a.k.a way of life.

A few requests hit my inbox every once a while:

1.Can you conduct a course on writing for our students?

2.Can you talk about the creative process?

3.You’ve been a business journalist for many years. Can you talk about how to read numbers and look at corporate reports?

Sure, I can. And I intend to finish all of it in under 60 minutes. I’ll take it for granted that each of you who is reading this has an elementary understanding of English grammar and at some point was introduced to the theme through a textbook in school like the now legendary one by Wren & Martin.

That out of the way, I want you to carefully read these two passages that follow.

Passage #1 

Krista Tippett, whose fantastic book “Getting Wise: An Inquiry into the Art of Living" distils many of her conversations, provides us a window into researching others and ourselves, through generous listening by shifting away from the false refuge of overconfidence, and asking better questions.

On the art of starting new forms of conversations Tippett offers some pointers that counters most notions—that during the course of a conversation, people must either win or lose. 

Good listening is a merit we nurture and are able to encourage by leaving to instinct and curiosity. It includes some sort of exposure— a readiness to be astonished, to let go of assumptions and consume ambiguity. The listener wants to understand the humanity behind the words of the speaker, and patiently summons one’s own one’s and best self own questions and the best words.

Queries may provide no immediate need for answers. Counter to our notion that everything must have a solution, some queries may be the kinds that don’t need immediate replies. Listening is what most people neglect. It is an art. It involves being silent until you can state what you have to state while the other person speaks.

Tippett introduces us to the idea of “Good Listening", a term she acquired from a conversation with Rachel Naomi Remen, who uses it to explain what physicians should practice. To clarify this a little more, she points out, that in her experience she has discovered that if there is one thing she has learnt, it is this: A question must be robust. Because questions arouse replies. Responses mirror question that are posed. So, while on an issue that is simple, provide simple replies. 

It’s challenging to let go of a question that is combative and attempt to answer it. Much like it is hard to attempting an answer to a large issue. Because all of us are creatures of pride. But there is something redemptive instead when you ask a good question. Questions are the means through which we research the entire world, and ourselves.

What most of us want is that others recognize our answers are right. We take it as a vote of confidence and think of it in our heads as a discourse. But is it? [W]e trade mainly in responses— responses that compete— and in queries that amuse, stimulate, or try to corner someone. In blogging we have a love-affair with the “tough" query, which will be commonly be an assumption concealed as an inquiry.

This is one of the many reasons we should renew our listening skills—that we may ask better questions and it is perhaps the best skill we can acquire.

It allows us craft new sorts of dialogues and create fresh outcomes. But we’ve all been educated to be advocates for that which we care about. This has its value. But how we deploy it is what is important. 

In a way, answers are like targets that Scott Adams brought to our attention — a bogus, but soothing, refuge. Yet, in investigation, it is us searching for ourselves, with questions about what it means to be the resident in a world.

Passage #2

By the end of January 2017, the insignificant decline of total deposits (-10.3%) was caused by the reduction of deposits made into money market accounts and certificates of deposit (-22.7% and -7.3% over one year). This was noted despite the positive change of deposits made into current accounts (+7.4%) and savings accounts (+7.3%).

Among these products, the deposits made into current accounts and savings accounts showed a steady rise over the previous 10 months and the past 7 months, respectively. Conversely, the deposits made into certificates of deposit and money market accounts have continually diminished over the past 11 months.

With respect to domestic financing, the extraordinary positive change of total deposits (+16.2%) was mainly a result of the increase of deposits made towards savings accounts and current accounts, in comparison to January 2016 (+29.3% and +9.9%, respectively).

Also, on the housing market, the dynamic expansion of home mortgage loan (+6.6%) mainly stemmed from the rise of deposits made towards home-equity loan and cash advance over the last 12 months (+7.5% and +3.3%, respectively).

Finally, regarding secured and unsecured loans, the nominal increase of loan interest (+1.6%) resulted from the positive adjustment of deposits made towards secured loans and investment loans, compared to January 2016 (+3.9% and +3.4%, respectively). This shift appeared in parallel to the decline of deposits made towards outstanding loan principal over one year (a major reduction of -4.8%).

***

Now, consider this. I started to write this piece on the dot of 7:12 am on February 23. From the introduction to the two passages that I suggested you read, is about 890 words. Allow me ask a few questions.

1.Passage Number 1 wasn’t written by me. It is the kind of thing that would require enormous amounts of effort in terms of reading, thinking and effort. All I did was to visit one of my favorite websites (go figure where did the original appear)—to which I have a premium subscription for the kind of provocative content they put out. I cut pasted the article into a tool called WordAI. It asked me how would I like the article re-written? I input a few parameters and in about five minutes, it threw up three options. I picked the one I liked best and edited it mildly. WordAI integrated what I didn’t like into its databases that it may understand me better in the future. And I have I cut pasted it here. I think it reads perfectly well. And sounds original as well.

2.To generate the text that you see in Passage Number 2, all I did was visit this page, take two minutes to input a few variables. The text was auto generated. I glanced over it for just about two minutes and cut pasted the copy there.

3.Now, my brief is to write a column every week on a new idea that must pass muster with my editors every week. It takes me at least two man days every week to write each piece. If I invested $347 (less than 24,000 at current exchange rates) for an annual subscription to WordAI, pick up an article of the kind I just did, I can finish a year’s work in a day. 

4.If I were to be the editor of a newspaper (or for that matter am an organization that needs a public relations team or a content team in large organizations like political outfits for instance communication skills are paramount, I can sack all of them overnight. Instead, I might just subscribe to a piece of artificial intelligence (AI) like Narrative Science for instance to generate as much content as I want minus the hassles that comes with managing people.

5.I can get even more creative and sound like Barack Obama or whomever else I choose to on the back of a piece of an idea called Recurrent Neural Networks. Why just Barack Obama? I can get the technology to write for me like Shakespeare, JK Rowling, or even Steven Spielberg. 

6.And if you think it’s only about writing, I can sack the entire design and other so called “creative" teams. To give but one instance. I can have a website up and running in a template of my choice right here. http://www.somebody.io/

7.Incidentally, I have my personal stationary created as well. I can’t replicate it here because when I did, the terms insist the IP now belongs to them. I cannot reproduce it elsewhere unless I pay for the designs for “Charles Assisi" that I really liked. It was done in a few minutes and brilliantly—at a fraction of the cost a contemporary advertising and branding company would charge me. 

Now, here’s are two thoughts. 

a.I can sit at home all day, and offer my services on a global platform like Fiverr and take on as many creative “gigs" as I want. I earn in dollars.

b.Alternatively, I can even write books using these software, spend a day or two to edit it mildly, and upload it to Amazon. Who needs literary agents? Amazon allows me self-publish. It keeps 30 percent while 70 percent comes my way as royalties. 

c.There are search engine optimization tools available that point you towards what’s trending. You can write as many books as you want on as many themes as you want to, all on the back of artificial intelligence, edit as you think appropriate, price as you think appropriate, and wait for somebody to buy. Or place a few ad words on Google and other such assorted places that nudge people to buy. 

d.As one of my friends was telling me the other day, there is this man who writes textbooks and puts it up on Amazon. Flawless ones at that. He’s got 16,000 of them up there. All generated by AI, each of which 2 or 3 copies a day. 16,000 x 2 = 36,000 copies a day. The royalties on it that come in at the end of each month, make him a bloody rich man.

Oh damn! It’s 8:24 am. I got carried away. It’s 12 minutes past my deadline to stop writing for this week. I got carried away. Time to fix myself some breakfast and chill. I think I’m done for the day. I’ve worked far longer than I intended to.

My advice?

1.Learn to code. And code well. 

2.Figure out search engine optimization.

3.And If you think yourself the creative type, good luck!

That it raises a heck of a lot of moral and philosophical questions is another matter altogether. More on that some other day. 

Charles Assisi is co-founder of Founding Fuel Publishing

His Twitter handle is @c_assisi

Comments are welcome at feedback@livemint.com

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