This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, LawSikho.
I was walking from the iPleaders guest house in Delhi, where I am temporarily living, to the office. As I was walking, I could hear three little girls walking behind me, chatting excitedly, as little girls do.
They were speaking in Hindi, about their Instagram feed.
One kid was saying she is buying a crop top soon to take a picture for her Instagram feed, and the other kids were wondering if their parents will allow them to show off their “pet”.
It was funny. I started laughing. And turned around to see who these kids were.
I was shocked. They were definitely not teenagers as I originally thought they would be. These girls were barely 9-10 years old. They were returning from school, bags and all.
Is it even legal for them to be on social media?
As I continued to walk, I started wondering. What kind of world are we living in? And what kind of world will we be living in when these kids grow up, go to college, join the workforce?
There are some clear and undeniable trends.
#1 Showing off v. building value
Showing off has become very, very important. Earlier you could at best show off something to your neighbours, colleagues, friends. Now you have the whole world liking your feed, validating your latest fashion, expressing envy at your lifestyle. It’s addictive. Incredibly addictive, and like all addictions it has obvious side effects.
Sometimes I feel that people are living for their Instagram feeds, and I don’t even know what other social media rule the roost today.
However, Instagram represents the problems and the opportunity before us in the upcoming decade. And perhaps decades to come.
Firstly, it is easier to show off superficial things like your bag, vacation, dinner date or new hairstyle rather than build something of enduring value in your life.
If you get all the validation you need from Instagram, will you learn to put in the hard work for delayed gratification of building skills that are hard to come by and take years to develop?
This is exactly the same reason a lot of college goers and school goers are addicted to scoring more marks in class, although in most cases there is no correlation with real world success.
Marks scored in school and college is instant validation. You get it every semester. Being actually amazing in a subject or skill is a much longer, deeper and difficult pursuit. If you are already getting good marks, why bother with that. You assume you are doing great.
Ask me, I was one of those kids for whom each mark in every exam mattered. I always wanted to be the topper at least until I went to college. Even in college I always remained in the top 10, but today I don’t even know where those mark sheets are.
Nobody ever enquired about my college marks since I was out of college. Not a soul.
I should have spent the time on developing better skills. But topping in class gave me a high. It made me feel I was better than others, i.e. a false sense of superiority. I even topped the law entrance of my time and half expected people to treat me like a celebrity because of it.
Guess what, nobody cares.
Nobody will remember tomorrow about your vacation pictures that got 700 likes on Instagram.
If you focus your energy on showing off, you lose. If you build something of value using that energy, people take note anyway, and fame comes as a byproduct. You can be authentic. Real. And amazing. People then really look up to you.
Roger Federer plays great tennis and does not react to every ooh and aah from the gallery. Could Amir Khan make a 3 Idiot or Dangal if he wanted to make typical formulaic masala movies? Does a Ram Jethmalani decide which cases he should take up based on what people are saying on newspaper op-eds?
But building something of value takes time, effort and resources.
Are you ready to toil for 10 years to build an amazing law practice?
Or 20 years to become a powerhouse general counsel managing global empires?
Are you ready to scrimp, scrounge and hustle for 15 years to build a business empire?
Do you have to strength in you to work on yourself as a work-in-progress for 15 years, continuously setting stretch goal after stretch goal, taking on uncomfortable challenges one after the other and battling on to conquer them?
In reality, people can’t even work hard continuously and strategically for a year to crack the judicial services or some other competitive exam. Most people do not even have the discipline to go to the gym 3 days a week for 6 months straight.
But people are quick to buy shortcuts. 16-year-old boys are taking steroids to make their biceps bigger because they can’t wait and work for it for 6 months.
Then they are getting their validation fix on Instagram and Snapchat.
Unfortunately, steroids are not a permanent solution. Their biceps will soon get out of shape as they keep pumping more steroids to keep it buffed up. They will probably develop serious health hazards too in the process.
This provides immense opportunity to those of us who are ready to do what it takes. A large number of people from the next generation will never measure up in life beyond low levels of success due to their addiction to showing off rather than putting in effort where it really counts.
Therefore, those people who learn to de-addict themselves or avoid addiction and put their efforts towards building enduring, real value through consistent, meaningful work behind the scenes will rule the world. Yes you read it right, they will not merely succeed, they will rule the world.
2# Superficial v. Deep Work
A direct result of the phenomenon described above is that people are having a very low attention span. They cannot focus, cannot dive deep, cannot get to the bottom of a given question.
You will find so many Instagram and Twitter influencers who are catering to a mass who are looking for instant gratification. What meaningful contribution are they making to the world?
They just try to surf the waves of one viral trend from another. Instagram poets whose work nobody will read after 10 years, maybe even they will not read it themselves.
Political commentators who do not engage deeply with an issue but try to flame the passions and sentiments to get quick likes. Will our generation ever produce a Marx or a Bukowski?
To tell you the truth, the Marx and Bokowski of our generation are also probably on the internet, writing blogposts, making YouTube videos and even Instagram stories. They will cleverly use social media to propagate their original voice, build a following and create cultural cornerstones.
But that’s not the majority. There will be a small minority of people doing really deep, meaningful work, and also taking advantage of the social media revolution. The increased connectivity will make them even more powerful.
But I can bet they are not trying to gather another 1 million followers by making another 100 makeup tricks video, gossip columns about dating life of actresses or writing fake news about Trump and Hillary.
And those original voices with deep work, not chasing mass validation which gets boring soon, will cut through the clutter like a knife through butter.
Please think about yourself. Where do you stand? Is your work generating lasting value? Will it be still relevant 5 years down the line? Are you one of the few people who is doing the hard work of innovation, research, study and creation, rather than surfing the easy waves of trends?
No matter what work you do, there are shortcuts. There are easy options in every business. Are you taking shortcuts or doing the deep work?
In our business, for example, we could make online canned courses. Recorded videos, templates, study material – it’s highly scalable. That’s how we started. That’s what biggies like Udemy etc does. Make a course and then use Instagram and Facebook ads to rack up quick sales. Then move on to the next fad.
There are always enough fads and buzzwords to make a living from.
All our competitors do that. We did it for a year or two at the beginning. But then we said “hey, is this really useful? Are we making the impact we wanted to make? Are we really making our customers successful?”
Then we went back and measured. We saw that barely 10% people are able to finish the courses. That’s just sad! So we worked and worked and figured out a way to deliver the courses more powerfully. We introduced weekly exercises, we adopted “learning by doing”, we found good teachers, we introduced live online classes. It was much harder to do, required us to invest more, and far harder work than we did before.
However, we know this is what is needed to create amazing lawyers and business leaders. So we chose the harder path, and that makes all the difference.
We could earlier launch a course in 1 week. Now we take months to add new courses. People have been asking for a course on civil litigation for over 6 months now. We have been working at it too. But we will not launch it till its fabulous. Until we are proud of it. Until we have the logistics down to pat.
And that’s how you create standards of excellence.
I can choose to become a YouTube celebrity by making tons of youtube videos instead. It’s not a terrible idea. I am even willing to do it as a marketing channel. But what I am doing with education creates more value for my users, it is harder to do, and that’s why it is also more rewarding to do.
It is easier to get traffic by publishing legal news and doing a bit of SEO. I don’t care about that. I am focussed on writing articles on iPleaders blog that will be read even 10 years later.
I am here for the long haul, for the gold. I am not here to collect some pretty rocks and go home!
What about you?
Long Term v. Short Term
And that brings me squarely to the next point.
Do you have a long term vision?
What if you were going to take 15 to 20 years to become great at something? What if you became world’s best at some skill? What would you have to do? Would you be ready to run the marathon? Would you be able to sacrifice short term benefits for long term goals? And live with that for 20 years?
I had to forego short term money when I quit a great law firm job to start a new company with an uncertain future. But my long term vision won.
Then I had to say no to all the services request I was getting because I needed to focus on building amazing products. I did not want short term money to distract me from my stated goal. Long term vision prevailed.
I chose to take home a minimal salary when the business was making good money and instead invested in hiring good people, and growing the business. Long term vision, again.
When I was offered outside investment, which would have eased our pains instantly and helped to compete with other companies that raised tons of VC money, I said no, because I didn’t want to dilute my decision making powers when we weren’t even sure about what direction the company should take. Our competitors burned money and almost disappeared. We learnt to solve our problems without VC money. Long term vision paid off.
Recently a large media house showed interest in acquiring iPleaders blog. I was informally told we could be paid several crores subject to further discussions and due diligence. I was initially tempted, for a few moments. And then I laughed. My vision is much bigger than that. In the next 5 years, I want to expand it into 5 major English speaking economies of the world. Long term over the short term.
Things didn’t look great for us in the short term. Many times we had a crisis of confidence. We even came close to almost death at least two times in our history. Things looked bleak and we had no idea about how to proceed. But then we stayed the course, did not give up, found a way, kept our head down and soldiered on. That’s how you win real life long term battles.
People who value long-term success over short term validation are the ones to watch out for. So many startups came up with promising businesses, and then fell for quick validation of investor money and being featured on ET.
90% of the businesses which got funded in 2015-16 funding boom are either dead today or are on a ventilator. Very often, they did not think through the implications of raising outside capital.
Of course, we felt bad at times when we saw companies started 3 months back being on the financial newspapers, making a splash, while nobody even knew who we were despite years of hard work. But we believed that it will all work out eventually. We are in it for the very long term!
I want to finish this piece by telling you the story of an ex-employee. Let’s say his name was Sajal. When he joined us, I gave him the responsibility of growing the blog. He was straight out of college, had done some digital marketing courses, and wanted to work on digital media.
At that time, we used to have 4000 unique readers a day. This was 2017 January. I gave him a 2 months target to take the number to 6000. He did it. I then told him awesome, now the next target is 8000.
He just flipped out. Are you kidding me? You gave me a tough challenge, I did it, and now you want more?
I was like “Dude, but that’s how it is! We have to keep growing! There is no resting on our laurels. You did a great job, but we have a lot of headroom to grow. Don’t worry, just keep at it. It would happen.”
The chap stopped coming to office from next day. He claimed he had fallen sick. I was a bit surprised and disappointed. He was a talented, hard working person.
A few months later, one of his friends in the office told me how he was generating fake visitors with bots to make up the numbers. Then I finally understood why he panicked when he realised that he had to keep increasing the number!
That’s typical short term vision.
By the way, we kept working on the blog, and now it generates close to 40,000 visitors a day, sometimes even more! We didn’t have to do anything fake to get there. We keep writing great blog posts with enduring value, and the number keeps going up! It has been less than 2 years since Sajal has left. All he had to do was stay the course and do his work authentically.
But he messed up. He didn’t have faith in himself. He didn’t believe in his own long term potential. He didn’t believe in the organization or in the processes we were teaching him.
He tried shortcuts. He could think of only the short term.
Don’t be like Sajal.
How do our courses benefit from this philosophy?
We make you write real articles. We make sure you are not fooling us by running your articles through a plagiarism checker. We help you to publish them.
We make you do real life exercises and do not leave you with a few insights. We want you to experience real life work. So that’s the kind of exercises we design.
We have classes where you come after preparing. You have to solve the weekly problems to make sense of the discussions in the live online classes. We make sure you are doing the hard work and not just passively attending classes.
This is why we emphasise of 1 year courses when we know it is easier to get more students by offering 3 months courses. We offer 3 months courses with exercises and live classes where others will just give you some material for self-study and an exam followed by a certificate.
We are in the long game. Our game is to create extraordinary lawyers and business leaders.
Below are a few courses starting in the next 10 days. If you enroll today, we will give you instant access. Start preparing even before the classes begin. It is your opportunity to do a deep study, acquire skills that will hold good and come to your service in the very long term and build lasting value in your career. Don’t be late.
- Diploma in Advanced Contract Drafting, Negotiation and Dispute Resolution
- Diploma in M&A, Institutional Finance and Investment Laws (PE and VC transactions)
- Diploma in Entrepreneurship, Administration and Business Laws
Executive Certificate Courses
- Certificate course in Advanced Corporate Taxation
- Certificate course in Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code