Recently we did some renovation at home which involved buying a few big ticket items. As I had read a lot about supporting local vendors, I drove to the stores after doing some browsing online on big marketplaces for options.

My first reaction on the purchase experience was the level of willingness to negotiate an offer when the bill is running close to a lakh. Every shopkeeper wanted to keep the conversation on the MRP, declining to accept credit cards or were trying to pile on more charges like delivery, installation etc when preparing the bill. In all, the transparency was poor and the mindset to extract as much as possible from a lead was set in stone.

The same I had observed from a medical store nearby, with aged people at home; the maintenance medicines for a healthy life add to substantial costs, so I tried asking the store keeper that I will place order with them month on month but let us work out a deal because the big medical chains give me 20% and I am willing to take a cut for convenience. The shop keeper flatly declined saying that he does not do business less than MRP and I can continue to shop at the retail chains, he does not need my business.

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Why is this happening? We perceive a loss to be greater than a profit of same magnitude. Winning a gold coin may not be equal in magnitude of happiness compared to the sorrow of losing a gold coin. That is what is at play at the small vendors. They do not see the overall profit gained in the transaction instead they read the money lost on the transactions that could happen on MRP. This clouds the judgement even if this can tun into a repeat business with a steady cash flow.

On browsing more for stores, finally I found places that gave a good deal even bettering online deals. These were businesspeople who are in the same business for generations even though their turnovers were small, looks like the family wisdom is passed on as a trade secret and I ended up noting their numbers to give to friends who will have similar needs.

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A zen monk was watering a plant, a follower was puzzled as the monk was watering the plant which was full of thorns, people have been injured regularly from the pricks. The disciple went to the monk and quizzed about why a plant which harms others is being nurtured. The monk replied, I am watering the plants for the beautiful roses that will bloom, it is the roses I care for and nurture it.

As many of us are not monks, I think most of the rules and regulations are centered around preventing something from happening than making things easy. It is evident in the corporate world, in simple things like office libraries. It defeats the purpose of having a library if a user cannot browse through books. I had a habit of going to the library after lunch and browse through a few books, if interested read for 15-20 minutes and then get back to work.

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I was able to read a lot of books during my breaks, it is when I changed jobs and went to a new office that I realised people can lock libraries. We had to stir up a movement to get the administration to open up the library for casual reading instead of lending only policy which was put in place to prevent book theft.

Most of the systems are designed to be like this, in order to reduce the undesirable activity by a small margin, we tend to impact good behaviour on a larger scale. It is also the result of measuring the wrong things, like an admin being measured on reducing bad debts. There are some initiatives of coming up with designs that promote good behaviour like smart speed bumps but it does not gain traction as people in charge don’t have any incentive to design it that way. So everyone of us will have to go over that nasty speed bump in the neighbourhood for years to come because some random idiot will speed through.

20 years ago I walked into my college with the arrogance of a teenager who knows a lot of things, with the thinking that know-how of knowledge and intelligence is enough to win anything thrown at me. Looking back I realise that I had barely memories of about 10-12 years but had the attitude of know it all.

College life is called head fake, it is not much about the course you have taken to learn, instead it prepares you for the unstructured life ahead. Randy Pausch talks about this in his last lecture which I realised that my entire college life was a head fake preparing me to be ready for the world with collaboration and social skills. Life as an individual is not enough, you have to learn to live together. Here are somethings that I learnt during college and later years which helped in the longer run.

Friendships – I thought friendships last a lifetime, but it is very situational. Barring a handful, most of them will not care to keep in touch. It is fruitless going out of the way to help people, the bad memories for people often carry a huge weightage compared to the good things that happened. We just should not be a jerk, good friendships will just happen over time.

Politics – Not taking sides is a best way to stay neutral and not get involved in politics; but the moment you take a stand on what is right, you are already neck deep into politics. Politics is every where as long as humans are involved, just pick your battles wisely else everyday goes into fighting pointless things.

Learning never stops – There is so much to learn, the more you learn the more you become aware that you have learnt less than what is out there. My magnitude of learning increased multifold only after I started doing internships, knowing how to write calculator program was just enough to give you that 80% in classroom. Solving real world problems involved intensive learning and unlearning, often there was only one shot at solving the problems thrown at you so you have to be ready to face new problems not structured predictable textbook problems.

Managing money – Managing small sums of money that comes as pocket money prepares you well ahead for the monthly salaried life. Planning for a month seems to be hard at first, you start learning only after you spend the entire pocket money within 10 days and then have to borrow from friends, lose some friendships over money before learning to save and spread spending over time.

College is the last stage of a structured life for most of us, the unstructured life just flies by and we will be sitting on a couch on a holiday and wonder how the last 20 years flew by.