Category: Brain

Everything looks like a failure in the middle …

DohWe take decisions to improve ourselves from where we are now. This is common to any significant decision we make in our life. It can be that when we start a new job, new project or even when we migrated to a new country, we expect things to be better than it used to be.

At the start everything is fine and things are happening according to the script.

The new job offers a lot of learning and able to catch up on the technologies/opportunities we missed previously. The new country offers a lot better infrastructure, services, facilities, opportunities, etc. Everything is perfect and positive energy is overflowing. We are thrilled about the decisions we made.

After this initial period, not everything goes well. Things are not folding to the way it should be.

Now we feel that new job does not provide enough challenges or it is not going as per way it was described initially. The new country does not provide the value system which we used to be and we see negative aspects of the new culture. This is the stage where the reality takes over and the negativity slowly emerge. Then we ask ourselves  “Why an earth I took that decision?” We get frustrated on the situation very often and sometime curse ourselves for the decisions we took. We wonder whether there is a second chance where we can correct ourselves. In some situations we goes to an extent to label ourselves as a “failure” or a “looser”.

There is one thing we miss in this situation/context. This is not a situation which we need to get frustrated. This is not a situation where we should label ourselves as a “failure”. This is not a situation which is specific to us. This is a situation which happens to every individual, every organization and it happens every-time and everywhere.

There are many scientific and social research on this perticular subject. There is one such law called Kanter’s Law. It was developed by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Harvard Professor. In this law, she argues that we feel “Everything looks like a failure in the middle“. She further goes to explain how one should overcome this middle period. The advice she gives is that “Recognize the struggle of middles, give it some time, and a successful end could be in sight.

Further details can be found out from her post in HBR

Another relevant piece of work is called “The Satir Change Model” developed by Virginia Satir, an American author and a family therapist. It is a five stage model that describe how the change happens from one stable position to another over the period of time. You can see that it is not a straight line and there are many ups and downs in the middle. And most notable thing is that the performance in the middle period is far worst than where it started or before the change.

Satir change model








Illustration by Jurgen Appelo

The lesson to lean here is that as humans we feel that things will “progressively improve” over the period of time. What we don’t realize is that it does not happen in reality and there is struggle in the middle. World is not linear by any means for things to happen in straight. We need to have patience and push through this middle period.


Further reading


Learning the Lesson

Learn from your mistake, which is the best way to improve yourself.

I am pretty sure that you will have heard that sentence at least once. Well we should be learning from our mistakes as it will enable us to avoid those mistakes again and also clear the path for us. But I was asking the question to myself “What is the best way to improve? Is there a better way to improve than just waiting for mistakes to happen and learn from them?”


Unknown to me (with obvious reasons), there has been many research happened around this as well as many people talked about this. To list few I found in the Internet.

There are few reasons that I can figure out why we should be focusing on our successes over the mistakes

Successes are proven but failures are not

When you consider the typical way of learning from mistakes, you will analyze the mistake and understand why it was made. Then make up a good plan so that it will not happen again.

There is only one problem with this. You have a plan not something proven to be correct. This plan can go right or can go wrong as well. There is no guarantee about plan’s success.

But if you follow the same process for leaning form successes, the plan you are going to make to follow is based on proven results rather than extrapolating a failure. This plan can go wrong at any given time as well. But if you are presented with two plans, one based on success and other based on failure, what will you select?

Many successes and fewer failures

When you reflect back your life, I am pretty sure that you will realize that there are many successes and only few failures. This may be against the surface belief that we do mostly fail and suffer, frustrated about our work life, etc. But if you detail each and every major incident happened to you, you will realize that success rate is much higher than failure rate. If failure rate is higher, I am pretty sure that you are not doing this job.

OK what this has to do with learning from success? Pretty simple. There are many learning points if you focus on successes compared to looking at failures.


When we try to improve, when we try to learn, the best way to do that is to start looking at our successes. Looking at failures would help if you have a plan is based on successes. Looking at failures would help you verify your plan from successes.

Attention Part 2 – How to Keep the Attention

In my previous post, I discuss about the attention. Why want can’t keep attention as humans. In this post, let us discuss few points which will help you to “keep the attention of your audience” when making a presentation. One thing I would like to note is that I am not complete here by any means and these are just some points for discussion only.

Some basics to begin

These are few notes that will help you to understand the behavior of your audience.

The main point is that we humans don’t keep attention on boring things.

Point 1: You will have 10 minutes to keep your audience. (But there are techniques which can keep the audience attracted longer. Those are what I am trying to discover using this post)

Point 2: It is Video, Audio and Text which humans keep attention to (in the descending order). Human brain takes no attention on too much text.

Let us look at bit of how the brain works during a presentation.

Point 3: Human brain always listens or learns things by connecting them to the previous experiences. Why this is important to know, you will find out little later in this post.

Point 4: Human brain always creates a mind map. The brain always tries to connect the things being presented to each other. If you don’t connect your presentation seamlessly, your audience will do it for you and by doing so you will lose the attention from them on the facts being presented.

Let’s look at this in little bit detail.

How to start

It is very important to make an impression during first 30 seconds in your presentation. There will not be a universal solution on how to make an impression and it will depend on many things especially on the context of the presentation, audience, etc. But I can share few rules which you can test your first 30 seconds in the presentation.

  1. The first 30 minutes impression should be relevant to the presentation. For example, unrelated relevant Jokes will make you a joker.
  2. It should be known by most (if possible all) of the audience. Otherwise it will be boring to the audience. Remember humans listen by relating to their previous experiences.
  3. Should not contain large text and no text (Remember, video, audio or picture rule).
  4. Emotions, facts, etc. can be useful to start with. For example picture of Steve Jobs can be a good emotional start for a presentation if it is related.

In the middle

Like there are no universal solution on how to start a presentation, there is no universal way how you keep your audience attracted. If you make a good start, then your battle is half won. Again I would like to put some points which you can check your presentation against.

  1. There should be a single theme which follows all over the presentation. This theme should be very clear to the audience. Otherwise audience would try to relate what you are presenting in the middle to what you start with.
  2. The structure of the presentation should be overall concept first and then the details connecting it. Otherwise audience would again try to wonder what you are presenting and thus losing the focus.
  3. When you move from one topic to another, you should present something which takes attention of the audience. It is advisable to pin a point of attention at every 10 minutes interval. According to Dr. John Medina (in his book brain rules) mentions that this point of attention can be a fact related to what is going to be presented in next 10 minutes
  4. Use of videos, pictures, animation, figures, etc. over text. Remember the first general rule I mentioned?
  5. It is you do the presentation, not the PowerPoint slide deck. Don’t just read the text in the PowerPoint slides

The most important rule to keep is that what you are presenting should be connected to what you presented in the start.

There are few things I would like to note which you should avoid.

  1. Presenting too much text. In case you have to present text, make sure you don’t show all of them at the entry to the slide. You can show point by point along with what you are being speaking.
  2. Presenting information not connected to each other and not connected to what was presented at the start. This lead the audience wondering the connection between what is being presented and you lose your audience here.
  3. Presenting not relevant information. For example it is no point of to talk about Apple Inc. if you are making a presentation about project management

At the end

As usual here are few rules you can check against.

  1. You should summarize the whole presentation. Not simply stating what you talked but presenting a summary of some different way.
  2. Should leave the audience to think about. This is very important to keep the audience thinking even after presentation as humans will forget most of the things they listen/learn during first hour
  3. Do a retrospective and improve. This important step being missed by many of us. (Meaning non-professional presenters) You can get feedback from the audience if possible. If not at least do it yourself.

After the presentation

  1. Do a retrospective and improve. This important step being missed by many of us. (Meaning non-professional presenters) You can get feedback from the audience if possible. If not at least do it yourself.

Before the presentation

Let us discuss few things that you should do before the presentation as the last section. There are many other things that you should do in order to make a good presentation before you start presenting.

  1. Once you are done with the slide deck, go through the slides again on next day. While going through that try to be a listener and see whether content, presentation hierarchy, etc. make sense to you. It is important that you don’t do this immediately after you complete. If you do it immediately, your brain is still in the creator mode and therefore it is difficult to change to listener mode.
  2. Practice, practice and practice, at least three time. You need to practice presenting the presentation at least three times.


As I mentioned in the beginning, these point are complete by means. These are points that I made out of my own experience as well as by reading the book called “Brain Rules” by Dr. Dr. John Medina. You can find this interesting book in his book blog.