Only Paranoid Survive- Andy Grove

Born András István Gróf on (1936-09-02) September 2, 1936 in Budapest Hungary, Andy Grove was an enigma. He died on 21st March 2016. For records purpose Andy retired as Chairman of Intel in 2002. His book Only Paranoids Survive is a land mark book. I have read the book sometime back and I am sure going to read it again.

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I have always thought that when He creates people, you and I are created in assembly line process but Groves of this world are created in a designer studio meant for special people. I am writing this piece to understand Grove’s thinking and how it can be applied to life in general.

Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore founded Intel in 1968 and Grove was the first employee to join though he was not a founder. Till 1985 Intel was a DRAM (Dynamic Memory Chips) manufacturer. But since late 70’s Japanese started winning the business from all and dumping their products at a very low price in US market. This was a big problem for Intel.

There are many quotes attributed to Grove and some are real Gems; quotes tell us the thought process in creating Silicon Valley and its unique culture. It is said that “Probably no person has had greater influence in shaping Intel, Silicon Valley and all we think about today in technology world than Andy Grove.” Some of Andy’s quotes can also be applied to our personal lives.

He first used the term Point of Inflection to describe how industries change. Inflection Point is defined mathematically as “a point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs.” In business “it is a time of significant change in situation or turning point”.  The smooth bend in curve is the inflection point.

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Intel the DRAM manufacturer was ahead of the pack in technology terms in 70’s. But Japanese competitors were good at manufacturing processes and efficiencies and this is where Intel was lacking. Advantages of new technology are available for a small period but what sustains business is manufacturing. In this race Japanese started catching up with Intel and a stage reached where Intel was pushed to the corner. Intel market share had gone down from 80% to 10 % in a few years. This was the point of inflection. At this stage Andy Grove guided Intel to shift from DRAMS to Microprocessors. They not only shifted but just stopped making DRAMs. Rest as they say is history!

This was the point of inflection which Andy caught perfectly. He visualized the change in direction where business was moving. He managed to minimize all the errors that Intel had made in DRAM business. From open technology he moved towards patented technology. He made sure that Intel had top class manufacturing facilities and efficiencies. This helped Intel in keeping competitors at bay! He also made sure that Intel had a long term contracts with first IBM and then Compaq for supplying Intel Microprocessors to manufacture PC’s. There was so called error in Pentium chip. This was deftly handled by Intel and they replaced all the chips whoever wanted them to be replaced, no questions asked! This so called error would not have affected regular users of PC. This business savyyness helped Intel. Then the famous partnership of Windows and Intel called Wintel happened in the market. But Intel were open to Linux, when it was required later.

Many of us have this inflection point in our lives. Sometimes it is opportunity to go into business, moving to a different country, changing your line all together. On personal front it can be meeting the right spouse, making new friends, opportunity to go for great education, and meeting a great mentor! How many of really know that an inflection point is looming around? I think not many of us have the vision to know what is happening around us. If we knew there would been large number of success stories. Inflection Points can make you or break you!

In Indian context, a commercial vehicle manufacturer took a decision to get into car business. Was it the inflection point for this company? This decision is dragging the company over a period and now with all international players around, the drag is going to be heavier and heavier! Almost at the same time another Indian company manufacturing two wheelers took a decision to stay out of car market! (Though they were attempting to enter) Second company probably understood the inflection point better and stayed its course. But this company also missed inflection point! They thought that scooter market in India is declining fast hence they withdrew from scooter market. But there was big market demand for fancy scooters with no gears. Currently half a million scooters are made every month!

Then there is Nokia. They missed the inflection point indicated by Smart Phones! From number one to number no one was a very fast downward journey for them.

Paranoia is a thought process believed to be heavily influenced by fear and anxiety. Andy’s book Only Paranoids Survive is a thought process created due to his experience during Intel’s DRAM manufacturing phase. It is possible that the anxiety and fear of getting wiped out of business by the competition created Paranoia in Andy. He was probably always thinking what he should do next, so that he could  remain ahead of others. This thought and correct application of technology took Intel, to today’s pinnacle position.

But we must understand that we cannot apply the same thought process of paranoia in our personal lives. Personal life is not about profits, competition and money. It is much more. I am sure Andy was not paranoid in his personal life. His simple and frugal life style indicated that he was a normal human. He had no fascination for big houses, big cars and all such so called success indicators. How many real successful persons can stay away from this the glamour of success?

“In technology whatever can be done will be done” is another of his famous quotes. Many things which we probably imagined in childhood are actually available today. 50 years back the world as we know was “biiiiiiig”, with technology it has become a village. Support services and functions are handled by persons sitting in any part of the world, thanks to technology. As late as early 80’s getting telephone line in India was a big deal. Now there are 800 million subscribers of phone companies in India, again thanks to technology. To purchase things one had to go to shops or super markets, now we can do these things sitting at home.

I am sure till his death Andy had “Intel Inside” him. But I am sure that “Person Inside” was far different than the thought process of “Intel Inside”! There is an incident that shows the real Andy. During 1995 launch of an Intel product, the launch opened with Intel bunny people; at the end of the dance people expected Andy to come on stage and start the proceedings. To every body’s surprise, one of the bunnies removed the face mask and behind the mask was Andy! Who would have thought that the CEO of the largest company in the world would swing hips with Broadway dancers? That probably was real Andy!

Andy this is my salute to you! I am sure you are planning next tech revolution along with Steve Jobs over there!

God! Where are you?

I am definitely not an atheist but I am also not “an old man in Vanaprastha”. Meaning of Vanaprastha is part of the Vedic ashram system, which starts when a person hands over household responsibilities to the next generation, takes an advisory role, and gradually withdraws from the world.This stage typically follows Grihastha (householder), but a man or woman may choose to skip householder stage, and enter Vanaprastha directly after Brahmacharya (student) stage, as a prelude to Sanyasa (ascetic) and spiritual pursuits.

During Vanaprastha the theory says that you withdraw from this world and try and pursue spiritual Nirvana. Everybody’s ideas of Nirvana are different. But in this pursuit some become staunch, overly focused on achieving their Nirvana, others be damned.

I am 66 years young and by various definitions fall in the category of Vanaprastha group! I am a professional still running my consulting and software business. I am explaining this background a little more in details than I like but with a reason. I only want say that I am writing this piece in a balanced manner.

My favourite time of the day is evening when I and my wife take our Grand Daughter Rhea to Mandir or a Garden. In the Mandir I observe various groups of Vanaprasthaites! Some pursue their goals by being with the deities, bow to them, and sing their hymns. After that some sit in the Mandir and meet other co pursuers. Others rush back to where ever they want to rush. Most youngsters are in a hurry to do everything anyway! Some meet in a group and discuss their daily tidbits and have a little enjoyment and take the life forward.

Some meet in groups and sing some hymns, sometimes in loud voices. Sometimes Bhagwad Geeta Pathan takes places. Sometimes reading of things of religious writings happens. Now the issue starts. This is a public Mandir and all of us have freedom to do what we want to do within the normal social norms! Generally we tolerate each other but this group has a peculiar thinking. We were enjoying our granddaughter doing whatever two year plus kids do when they get space and place. She was just running around in gay abandon! After some time, couple of more kids joined and the fun started. They were all enjoying chasing each other and within 5/10 minutes their shouting decibels started going up. I told my wife that I see God every day when these kids are having innocent fun!

When the decibel levels went above the decibels levels created by the senior group reading or singing of whatever they were doing, one of the pursuers of Nirvana shouted at my God and told the kids to be silent! My God is laughing and shouting group of children. Nirvana pursuers were so engrossed in “meeting” HIM through their own methods, that they were blind to the “running God”! The innocent children just stopped laughing and rushed back to their families with a small face. I wanted to confront the Nirvana group but I was hoping that what had happened was an aberration.

After ten minutes we started getting ready to go home. For my granddaughter, every event is fun event and there are always negotiations going on! Therre is so much fun when she comes with different arguments every time. During this discussion about wearing shoes, more than 20 meters away from where Nirvana group was sitting, one young old man like me joined our “serious” discussion about whether right shoe should be worn first or the left one! My granddaughter made some funny statement which made all of us laugh.

Now the issue really started. The Nirvana group shouted at us “keep silence please!” Oh, I am sorry we did not know that they were almost on the verge of achieving Nirvana. I simply asked them one question, “Do you have Monopoly in this Mandir?” For which they had no answer. Questions started coming to mind how we become blind when we single mindedly try and pursue something imaginary, when you have the free replacement, in the form kids having fun, in front of you? Sometimes this Nirvana groups’ decibel levels go up so high that it is impossible to sit in the Mandir. I don’t go and tell them so because I know that they are blind to everything else in their pursuit of Nirvana. I don’t want same courtesy from them to me but when it comes to shouting at kids who are enjoying……

Well I leave it you friends!