About the Guest Transcript

Utkarsh Amitabh

We often grapple with the question 'Is my hard-work paying off?' on an almost continuous basis. No doubt about the fact that everyone tries to do their best and hence put in the required hard work to get the desired results. But where do we go wrong? What diverges us? How do we course correct these actions and how do we deal with it? The episode contains answers to all of these and much more in this discussion.
Utkarsh Amitabh, an MBA graduate from INSEAD, is the founder of Network Capital, one of the world's largest peer-to-peer career advice platforms. He contributes to the World Economic Forum and is a Davos50 at the forum. He also managed Microsoft’s Business Development and Government Affairs and helped build India’s first smart village. He is someone you just can't stop listening to once he starts. Tune in!


Shubham(00:02) -
There was a sprint racer athletes basically who run short dash races like a 100 meter race. But when he used to prepare, he did long distance runs to increase his stamina and build his speed. He put in a lot of hard work and effort but could never really win races. Now I'm sure you can understand the reason is simple and obvious. But surprisingly, there are lots of people who are doing the same with their careers, putting in long hours of work, working hard to give their careers the necessary push, but really getting nowhere. Well, that's exactly what I would call the Seductive Illusion Of Hard Work, which is also the name of the book by our guest today, Utkarsh Amitabh? Hello and Welcome to Secrets of Story tellers, I'm Shubham Aggarwal, now this is a podcast where we interview best selling business authors, share concepts, interesting stories and secrets from their authoring journeys. Hi Utkarsh, Welcome to Secrets of Story Tellers, How are you?

Utkarsh(00:57) -
Shubham I'm really happy to be here. Because you know, as you read the book, passion economy is something that I really care about, and people like you, people who are defining passion economy in a way. So I'm really happy to be here and to share a bit more about the book.

Shubham(01:13) -
It's an honor to have you Utkarsh. Thank you. So Utkarsh, let's start with the your, you know, mentor, community setup network capital, which you set up four years back, if I'm not wrong, where do you find the motivation for it. How, how is it going? What do you what do you make out of it right now?

Utkarsh(01:30) -
You know, I started network capital as a passion project while I was at Microsoft, because a lot of people would approach me for advice around you know, in Seattle, Oxford, Ashoka University, engineering, Teach for India stuff that other young people have questions about. And I noticed that I have finite amount of time, but if I sort of pool in the time of me and my friends, perhaps we will be able to tailor to the questions that same thousand people have, or 500 people have, right? I intuitively knew that career advice and mentorship was a space that was broken. But for me, it was a passion project. So I just wanted to do it really well, for as many people as I could serve on a couple of weekends a month, then it increased to more than a couple of weekends a month, then it became basically a Friday night to Sunday night activity. And it kept growing because this whole space of mentorship and career advice in South Asian countries and other emerging markets is huge. And both parents and students and children and the entire ecosystem is fairly anxious about how to do it. So this community became very large without spending a single dollar on marketing or sales or anything, which was a testament to how big the opportunity was. And if somebody were to do this properly, how smoothly it would, it would scale. And I noticed that beyond South Asia, even in the US, UK, France, other places, you know, local communities of network capital organically started coming up. Some of it was by design, and some of it was by default. So the these design aspect of it was that network capital was always designed to be fairly global, and how do you enable peer mentoring at scale across cultures. And some of it was not expected. For example, I did not expect a network capital community to spring up in Lebanon, because I do not speak the local language. And the context is very different. But the idea was so powerful, that things started coming up. So it became very large very quickly without spending anything on marketing. And I just realized that the design principle can be used to enable millions of students and young professionals to seek career advice from each other. I can learn how to run a podcast and scale a podcast from you. And perhaps you can learn how to scale a community from me. And these kinds of peer relationships are, I think, what got me really interested in writing the book, and the book is essentially my experiments in network capital. And what I have learned from speaking to hundreds and thousands of students and young professionals around the world, and what does it really feel to build and scale a community. So this book is not a triumph of what how much I have accomplished or how great this idea is, but this book is essentially an experimentation With different concepts that are required to build a meaningful career. So that's in a nutshell, what we're doing.

Shubham(05:08) -
Great, I think it came from a place of truth. And whenever that happens, I think it really springs up and you know, blossoms like it has. I want to in fact ask you how the book came into picture, which I've answered, but was it something you always wanted to do? Or was was it that, you know, it just happened,

Utkarsh(05:26) -
You know, Shubham, there is a little bit of serendipity and a little bit of planning in, in, most things I do. So the serendipity aspect is usually the more interesting aspect of it. So the book is also in a way a result of network capital. Let me tell you how. So I enjoyed writing, I've always enjoyed writing. And I would write as in when I got time. So I had written an article about the future of jobs and the future of education system in the World Economic Forum. I'm a global shaper there. So I write and the article talked about various concepts, again, what I had experimented with different communities. And it struck a chord with a couple of editors at Mint. One, India's largest business newspaper, I think. And then one of the editors invited me to just talk, talk her through it, and I shared some ideas. And, you know, then the conversation went, you know, it just like, just resulted in two people having a brainstorming session, and I went my way. But what I started noticing was that many newspaper channels, both from India and abroad, would come to network capital to get a pulse check for students, or young professionals. And they would, you know, look at, oh, wow, this is such a large community of millennials. And I noticed people from economist Financial Times, main Times of India, all of it come organically and ask people for quotes. And when they started doing research and looking at a website, they I think, stumbled on me as the founder. And with mint. Also, after my discussion with the editor, I noticed that different people or different teams within the channels, like Mint, ET and some other newspaper would reach out to NC, and when they would dive deep, they would discover that I started it. So a lot of opportunities started coming to me from from from that standpoint. So the mint column eventually happened, my editor at the time, she commissioned me for four pieces, she said, Why don't you write four pieces about the, you know, the idea of future of work and jobs. And the 4-4 columns, I think, became really popular. Mint anyway, has a large readership. And I think, because of I think it generally struck a chord with people became really popular. So I got commissioned for four more, and then four more, and this just like, never stopped. And one of the articles was read by an international publisher, Sage, who finally commissioned the book, and they said that, you know, your, the column is, you know, is is a very, very interesting one, do you want to build upon these ideas and, you know, sort of provide an A to Z analysis of what is career intelligence in the space really looked like. So I said, Sure, why not. And I started writing the book, it took about a year to write, and I really enjoyed it, but the serendipity aspect of it is the interesting one essentially, came through network capital, in a way. And it also was really helped by my writing in various newspapers and World Economic Forum. And it is survived and it has become a best seller, I think, because it strikes a chord with lots of people. And also because network capital community itself is so large, right? So a lot of our readers also from the community. So it has been a became a bestseller not only in India, and US and all, UK, France, etc. but also in countries like Japan, which goes on to say, again, like these network capital communities in different countries, where young people are collaborating to help each other, like, you know, essentially people like you and I coming together to help each other. It's a powerful idea. And if done well, it has potential. So I think that's one aspect, which I really enjoyed about the book, the serendipity aspect.

Shubham(09:48) -
Great that that sounds really good. And yeah, there is definitely some serendipity to things which is always interesting. So, Utkarsh the book claims that you know, you might be doing all the hard work in vain, which I agree because you know efforts can go into the wrong direction sometimes, is there a mechanism to measure if our hard work is working against us?

Utkarsh(10:12) -
You know Shubham, people often confuse being busy, to working hard. So if you ask Normally, if you just go out, you know, Friday night, in the pre Corona world for dinner with friends or just chilling with friends, most people will be extremely stressed, busy, exhausted. And not because anything is wrong, it's just that the schedule is such that they're busy. And I challenge in the book is that urgent and important are not the same things. Busy and productive are not the same things. And productivity and creativity are not the same things. So to be creative, and to be really do innovative things you need a clear mind, a healthy body, and essentially a global community. These are three things that you absolutely need, whether you're a school student, a college student, or a young professional, such as you or me. So I essentially make the claim that most of our effort that we put in from childhood is it goes to when not because, you know, not because of any sinister mechanism. That's how life is in management, we study 80-20, you know, like, all of that. But it's perhaps even more, it's 95-5, if you really look back in your, in your life, so fine, look at the things that have actually moved the needle, from your journey towards being a corporate guy plus a podcaster. Plus, whatever else you've done, you will come to realize that a lot of the stress of childhood of college of school of this so that was an absolute waste, self created misery. So I said that instead of people filling their days with anxiety and random things in heavy, thick books, do what you really find a curiosity inducing do it really well build your category of one. And once you build your category of 1, twenty first century will reward you with lots of benefits in terms of network in terms of financial security in terms of having an interesting life. So the 21st century belongs to the person who is able to create an interesting niche for himself or herself. And not for somebody who's randomly competing with God knows who in a rat race. So I think it's really important for students, parents, young professionals to understand parents, especially because they have such a disproportionately important role to play in the evolution of kids these days, and I think there is a lot of misinformation being peddled to young and anxious parents. So I think it's really important to, to complement these ideas of hustle and hard work, which is, you know, partly true, if at all, with ideas where you can really think through your curiosity, and build something that you really want to and I'd like to add that we as South Asians as Indians, we've always been tried to, oh, you know, sort of mimic to some extent or if x did y. So, if you do X, you will also become y, but the idea is you do not want to become Y because you cannot like you know, you cannot copy somebody else, and so has suddenly become that person. You are you and you need to trace your curiosity to something real and build your career from there.

Shubham(13:43) -
Right, that's, that's wonderful. But as an Indian, at least we've been taught, or we've been told this by our ancestors by the elders, you know, the hard work is the way. Have you understood the concept of hard work wrong? Or what is the alternative to hard work, then? If not

Utkarsh(14:03) -
You know, most people who know me, my friends would categorize me as somebody who, who works decently and you know, parties well, as well. So that's what most people would say. But the difference is that I am not working hard, at least today, because I'm supposed to, because somebody told me or because I'm really anxious that somebody made a billion dollars, and I have not. I do what I want to do, whether it's writing the book, or writing the Harvard Business Review article, or building network capital, because I am fascinated by the question. So if you find something really fascinating, you're most welcome to spend as much time as you want. But this formal, induced hard work is not ready to go that you know, like Everybody's studying 16 hours, everybody's studying, you know, complex programming. So you better do that. Otherwise life will be cruel. I think that is wrong, morally, intellectually. And that's just plain stupid, you should do what you want to do, if you find it interesting. And, you know, the ecosystem will reward you in various ways to do that. So forget FOMO, work as hard as you want for things that excite you not for things that you're supposed to be excited by.

Shubham(15:31) -
And you find your journey yourself, or, you know, people sometimes want to define I want to be here or there after five years. However, I do not really agree with that question, personally. But still, that is a question in a lot of people's mind. No, I wouldn't be here in five years, can you do that or the journey really takes you finds its own path?

Utkarsh(15:53) -
You know, I have discussed this in the book as well. So a couple of things that your listeners should know. One is that it's very difficult to project a future very difficult. So most, if

Shubham(16:08) -
Only I wish that was possible.

Utkarsh(16:10) -
Yeah. You know, there is, of course, research done that we are the only species who can look forward. Dan Gilbert, the psychologists called as he calls it, prospection. Looking forward, it's just that we are all really bad at looking forward. If you were asked to predict, you know, your, your 30 year old self as your 20 year old self, I very few people get it right. And we underestimate the change we go through as people, it doesn't make the exercise of looking forward a waste, it just makes it one interesting data point, as long as we keep in mind that we will change a lot, future will future self would not really look like a past self. So we should project knowing that there will be some variation involved. And if we count factor in that variation, I think it's completely fine. So if I were to ask, if I if I were to tell you whether my 15 year old self will be happy with my 25 year old self, I think my 15 year old self will be very happy with my 25 year old self, and my 20 year old self will be very happy with my 30 year old self. Not because of anything else, but because I learned that most of the anxieties of youth were very different from what actually happens. And I think as you know, as, as a 29-30 year old, you realize that life is still filled with anxieties, but not really the ones that you thought of, which means that there was something wrong in the way that you projected your anxieties. So I encourage the readers to really try and dig deep into their anxieties and their sources of joy, because both change. So it's very difficult to project your future. But it's a useful exercise. So I definitely do try and project my future even today. I try and ask myself, what does life five years seven years after look like? But I know now with the benefit of writing this book and speaking to lots of people that perhaps that will change, and I'm okay with that.

Shubham(17:53) -
Right. And that's that's a wonderful way of looking at it, I think, a very spiritual way of looking at the entire process. And a lot to learn from that as well, I think great. And very, right. I mean, if I look back at my 20 year old self, I think, yeah, things we used to think about grappled with back then were very, very different what they are today, right? And dutifully different. Right?

Utkarsh(18:15) -
Yeah, like cramming for that civics quiz or cutting something that has that really has zero impact on everything. I want people to know that. I think it's not that studying civics is a waste of time, but cramming for a paper is perhaps not a very useful thing to spend your time on. I go back to civics textbook even today, in the book that read the chapter on, you know, social movements, protests and what startups can learn from each other. So they're in writing that book. I looked at Srdja Popovic. You know, a Serbian activist and scholar. They looked at startups, they looked at some of the textbooks of civics that I read when I was in high school, just to make sure that I had got the facts right, that this is how, you know, this is what is allowed. This is what is not allowed, and then was able to write it. So I just realized that But I've I really want people to be taught this way interconnectedness not what is the what are the Directive Principles of state policy? What is this? What is that which are fairly anxious if you're asked to reproduce it in a in an in a high schooler board examination, but yeah, quite useful to know as citizens

Shubham(20:24) -
Great. So Utkarsh, before we move to the next section, one last question to you, what do you what is one piece of suggestion for all the enthusiastic fellows in almost every age group that they could follow while working towards their dreams?

Utkarsh(20:41) -
I think you will have to reinvent yourself multiple times in this life, and you will have to guard keep your envy in check. I think envy is a very powerful emotion, it's a very all consuming emotion. So if you want to really excel and build your category of one, you cannot be anxiously flipping through your phone, looking at who did what, like who got a billion dollars and who built this who built that, to creativity needs a certain peace of mind. And today's world, it's very difficult to have a peaceful mind and a healthy body and a strong network to be able to do that. And because you'd have to reinvent yourself multiple times, it's much easier said than done, and you can't do it alone. So please build and be part of communities. And if you did do both of these things, you will be rewarded, financially and culturally in many other ways.

Shubham(21:42) -
Wonderful, thank you so much for that. All right. So we move ahead to the rapid fire section. This is a very new section that we've introduced in the podcast. And I think you would know the rules. Sure. So yeah, I do, if you're ready, I will shoot the questions. Let's do it. All right. So did you ever feel crippled by this seductive illusion of hard work itself? At any point in your life? Absolutely.

Utkarsh(22:08) -
There are many times in my life where I, where I've, in my you know, like, again, like I have not acquired the wisdom of the world, but say in 29-30 years, that I really felt that I must be doing, you know, a lot more than I am doing. Because what you how you measure your life essentially comes down to an addition of the number of things that you've accomplished. And now I know that that's wrong. I don't think you're competing with anybody, I think you're competing with your past self. And I now know that but I've been seduced by the illusion of hard work multiple times. And much of my hard work has also been a waste, if you look at, you know, in terms of tangible things, but also has been a huge educator in the sense that it has taught me that in my first 30 years, a lot of my hard work has given me an enormous benefits have given me a lot of success. But in my next 30 years, I want to, I want to be very different, I want to be very much more intentional about what I take and what I ignore. And I'm much more at peace at competing with myself and letting others enjoy and trying to help them succeed. So that's my motto, how many people can I enable to succeed today? That's how I mentioned myself every day,

Shubham(23:39) -
You can't be answering my next question. Alright, so that was my next question, what is the motto that you have in your life and if you could reiterate once more, so I

Utkarsh(23:49) -
Say Shubham that contribution capital is my motto. So network capital is what I run contribution capital is how I measure network capital. Basically, as a as a quant one person, I just see how many people do I tangibly contribute to every day? And in how many ways does network capital contribute to every day? So I think it's really important to do both as as people who run organizations will know that it's very important to be in touch with your, your, with your customers, with your consumers with your readers. So I make it a point to spend almost four hours, three to four hours every day, speaking to network capital subscribers, some readers, and that's, that's perhaps the most meaningful thing I do on a daily basis. I can easily not do it, right. I have very qualified people in my team to have those conversations. But it's really important for me to do it because if I'm not in touch with people that I'm really serving, you know, it's not a good use of anybody's time. I think of it that when it really helps me.

Shubham(24:53) -
Great. I have a smile on my face because you remind me of Anna Hathaway from the intern. If you have watched that. movie I have and I really liked

Utkarsh(25:01) -
It actually

Shubham(25:02) -
Write, right? being in touch with the customer. And she really portrays that really well.

Utkarsh(25:08) -
Yeah, absolutely right.

Shubham(25:10) -
Yeah. Yeah. Great. So next question. Sleep is what the for the week? This is what he said in one of the HT Mint articles you wrote, how many hours of sleep? Do you manage yourself?

Utkarsh(25:21) -
I know, I was actually critiquing Shubham that sleep is for the week. And what I meant was that I have, you know, I travel a lot, much more in the pre COVID world. So I would go from you know, from country to country every every month speaking to various capital network communities to address large audience and gatherings. So my sleep cycle was very, very troubled, like, I barely got enough sleep, although I tried. So writing this chapter was much more about my admission, first to myself that I have failed to sleep as well as I would have liked. So I realized that that was such an important thing that I was not doing well. And some of it was, you know, lifestyle enabled when you travel that much. And, yeah, you know, some of it does take, but also I didn't do a good job. And you know, I, you will realize that, you know, in your first 30 years, actually, I didn't, I didn't have any physical difficulty, I could sleep with one or two hours and like function completely fine the next day. But this much I know that this cannot go on for the next 30 years, right, next 40 years. So how do I sound

Shubham(26:41) -

Utkarsh(26:42) -
It's not sustainable, and anything that is not sustainable. I encourage my readers to really think through whether it's the environment if is not sustainable, your practice, what will you do differently? If it's your daily routine, if you're not sleeping at all? How will you function. So some people do manage with very little sleep, I am one of those people. But it does come at the cost of a lot. And then I started studying about sleep. And I met Arianna Huffington in Davos, and then you know, collaborated with her organization for a bunch of things. And then I studied a lot of people who scientists who study sleep and eat as well, perhaps I'm messing up something really important. So it's more of a critique to myself. And I've tried to address a letter to my own sleep deprived self that sleep better, it will help you.

Shubham(27:40) -
Wonderful. So I hope you would have managed good amount of sleep in the long Damocles now.

Utkarsh(27:45) -
You know, I have, honestly, I have not. Okay. I want to get better.

Shubham(27:51) -
All right. All right. Wonderful. It's great. When you know, when someone is really honest about it, thank you. Alright, Utkarsh one last question. And this is something which is common across all the episodes that I have done till now. It's called the secret section. Since you know, the podcast is called secrets of storytellers. I want to ask you one secret about the book, or about yourself while you're writing that book that probably you've never shared before.

Utkarsh(28:23) -
So if you look at the mental model section of the book, so mental model, essentially ideas that that transcend time, they don't change too much with the passage of time. So I initially there were 400 mental models that I had written. But it also, also was looking really good on paper. But then I realized that if I write 400, mental models, my readers will just go crazy, because there's just too much to write it's. So the journey of condensing 400 mental models to 40 mental models, was perhaps the most difficult aspect of writing that section. And for me, I want this book to be, you know, a mini encyclopedia for young people to keep coming back to written by a fellow young person who's not giving them advice. These are simply experiments, the way the chapter is written is all experiment past. This is what I tried. I hope you try it. This is what I learned. I hope you tell me what you learn. And the book is structured that way. And I don't think that such a book exists even today. So I want people to keep coming back to those 14 mental models and some of the other ideas and build on top of them. For example, there is one on compound interest that how does say your podcast become the best podcast in the world. It will not become the best podcast in the world tomorrow. But if you keep making this better every day Over a 10 year period, 15 year period, perhaps it might, that is the power of compounding that, that we all should be aware of. We overestimate what we can do in in a year, and underestimate what we can do in a decade. And I wish people are taught this in schools and colleges and what have you. And I think this made these 14 mental models. If nothing else, keep those in mind and keep coming back to them.

Shubham(30:28) -
That's wonderful. I love how you put it, we underestimate what we can do in a decade. And we definitely overestimate what we do. For sure.

Utkarsh(30:35) -
Yeah, we all do that.

Shubham(30:37) -
I relate to that. Yeah. Great. Thank you so much, Utkarsh. it was a wonderful discussion. And thank you so much, because I am at a similar point, in terms of age, at least. And I could reflect a lot on myself while we were discussing. And it was great, I could really feel good about it. And I'm sure the listeners gonna love it, too. I hope you enjoyed the session as well. I enjoyed it very much.

Utkarsh(30:45) -
And I think what you're doing as a as among many other accomplishments that you have as a passionate economy enthusiast, which I feel most excited by, I think you're doing a fabulous job, believe in the power of compounding. And yes, the book is written for you and people like you. And you know, a decade lesson more, I will hope people come keep coming back. But I also want to keep in mind that there are innumerable references to say, my parents, my grandparents, in the book, because I told you this reinvention, right that people will have to do it will happen not just for say the 20 year old or 30 year old but also for the 60 year old. My grandmother when she writes today, she writes on her iPad, I mean, and she's basically learned to write on pen and paper. It's a huge shift. Come to think of it. Yeah. So I hope we all reinvent each other, and have fun doing so thank you Shubham. It was really a delight talking to you. Bye. Bye.

Shubham(30:01) -
Thank you so much honor to have you Utkarsh with us. And thank you to all the listeners this is Shubham, signing off until the next secret and the next storyteller.

Utkarsh(31:02) -
Cheers Shubham, Bye !

The Seductive Illusion of Hardwork with Utkarsh Amitabh


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