You can’t see me

Jean Piaget, is a major figure in development psychology. He studied the cognition process in infants, toddlers, children. As per the Encyclopædia Britannica, “cognition includes all conscious and unconscious processes by which knowledge is accumulated, such as perceiving, recognizing, conceiving, and reasoning. Put differently, cognition is a state or experience of knowing that can be distinguished from an experience of feeling or willing.”

Based on his study, Piaget found that toddlers are extremely egocentric.

Toddlers are so self-centered that they believe that what they see, feel, hear, think, is exactly what everyone else sees, feels, hears and thinks. No doubt egoistic, but also magical.

Magical because, an extreme egotistic person believe’s that the world spins on their wishes. So, when a toddler shuts her eyes, she believes that no one else can see her. Because she can see no one, she believes, that she has disappeared. And thus her delight, when she uncovers her eyes, and her parents pretend that they can see her once again. The toddler believes in her ability to magically control the world.

Over time, we start losing our magical powers and start understanding that we are inconsequential. Our ego disappears behind the gloom of shrinking self-belief. We are no more magical. We can’t hide. Everyone can see us and its not comfortable. This is what growing-up is essentially all about.

But some adults still maintain their egoistic streak:

  • They may have a bias that limits what they are seeing, hearing, reading. Whereby, it is all so selective as to only reaffirm their held belief. Thus, the flat earthers will read views and opinions of other flat earthers. And their bias will strengthen. This is also known as the false-consensus effect.
  • Egocentricity could also arise when experts speak to laypersons. These experts make the error of assuming that their expert knowledge is always correct. This is also known as the cause-of-knowledge effect.
  • Of course, many of us suffer from the spotlight effect. We significantly over emphasize the view of others in how we look, speak, stand, walk, etc. And this extreme self-consciousness makes us behave in the most awkward way. We freeze on stage as we believe that everyone is staring and thinking all nasty thoughts about us.

Often such egocentricity is holding back business leaders from changing. Even after months of the pandemic shattering their world, such leaders refuse to accept that the way we work, play, live, has changed. They believe that what they had been doing is still a perfect recipe for future success. They refuse to be agile and adopt.

With C19, status-quo has been smashed. Customers are looking at new ways of understanding value. Employees are looking at new ways of ensuring their wellbeing. This is no time to be a toddler with your hands on your eyes pretending no one can see you. This is the time to take charge with eyes wide open.

To encourage agility means freedom from attachments to the way things were. A company’s quality of agility is seeded not in the barren ground of processes & controls but in the resilient foundations of culture, values & beliefs. Such agile companies (and individuals) change the way they operate even as they strengthen their reasons why.

Leaders will be able take charge if there exists capabilities for deploying agile teams. The necessary and possibly sufficient condition for deploying agility is presence of leadership that is non-egoistic and generous. A leader that wants to nurture agility in their culture will need to start from the very humbling position of accepting that she does not know the answers to the future but, she is unwavering in her belief, that together with her team, she will find the right answers and win. With such faith in her team, this leader will ensure that her work style creates a culture that values, respects and nurtures free flow of ideas and decentralized decision making. She will therefore ensure that the capabilities for being an agile organisation are well and truly invested – not in a rush but in slow, steady manner.

And the only investment she will make is to lose her ego.

When the dust settles and the stories of survivors are chronicled, organisations that had invested in building enabling cultures at their work place will be the winners. Leaders without ego and who had the courage to reach out to their team will be the heroes. Organisations that did not invest in nurturing such a culture will be gone. No one will be able to see them.

Finding Happiness When There Is No Fun

In those days we had fun.

Most companies have a stated objective to be a fun place to work. No company describe’s their work culture as soulless sterile task driven environment. Most managers wants their team to be described as a ‘work hard play hard’ team. Many of us intrinsically believe in a direct correlation between cheerfulness & creativity, between creativity & employee engagement and, the big one, employee engagement & productivity. While there is evidence to support the big one, I have not seen empirical studies that establish the earlier two. But we still like to believe that fun is good for the team. Because, we are happy when have fun.

Restaurants, bars, event managers, offsite camps, consultants, thrive on this fun principle by management. Employee engagement surveys carry serious points on responses to ‘do you have a friend at work’ question. And HR does its best to nurture more ‘friends” by encouraging more ‘fun’. Once again the belief is friendships sprout on the fertile playground of fun. Managers who receive low scores on their team engagement are encouraged to bond more with their teams, maybe ‘take the team out for a picnic’. Because ‘fun’ is needed to bond, improve engagement and therefore productivity.

But these are not fun times.

How can I have fun knowing that millions are infected, thousands dead and, for now, this disease is not stopping. How can I picnic when economies, the world over, are recording historical declines. Each pint I raise as a toast is a mockery of those whose salaries have been cut. There is no fun when millions are jobless, hungry, refugees in their our nation.

While there is no mood to have fun, there are also problems with Fun. It vanishes super quick. Thus, while it is great fun to have a delicious meal, you need another delicious meal to have fun again. Fun for one is not the same for everyone. Clubbing may be great for some but distasteful for others. Thus, apart from diminishing returns of fun there is also a challenge in deciding what fun activity do we do.

Prior to C19 both the diminishing returns and what fun did not matter too much since there was an option to do it again (tomorrow) and thereby balance by replenishing the returns or including those who were left out earlier. But post C19, such opportunities are compromised. Fine dining, pubs, movies, malls, bowling alleys, off-sites are all but closed. Fun has been shutdown.

So, if there is no fun, how do we create a engaged team at work? How do we ensure that the team we manage, have a shared feeling of happiness?

More than a decade back, Professor Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and his team investigated happiness. They interviewed over 600 workers (in US) and found that those that spent more on others as opposed to on them-self, were happier. They followed this up with another experiment. In this experiment, they gave volunteers $5 or $20 to spend. Some spent this on self (fun) and others spent on others (altruistic). Always, the altruistic group reported higher levels of happiness. There have been similar such studies across different universities, geography and over time. And the conclusion has been universal: those that give to others feel significantly happier than those who spend on themselves. Thus, charity is more fun than fun itself.

We as humans, are hardwired to give. Giving, just the thought of giving, activates the ventral striatum, which is the the reward center of the brain, that is also triggered by love, sex, eating chocolates. Acts of generosity give a buzz, a warm feeling of wellbeing, deep happiness. And this feeling lasts for many more days than the fun of devouring a plateful of chicken tikka kebabs. Which is tasty!

For many, charity has been a norm. Mostly done privately. But now is the time to come out of this charity closet. Now is a time to supplement your private charity commitments with public generosity of reaching out and helping your own colleagues. Now is the time to bond your team by giving, collectively.

C19 has thrown a spectrum of our life in disarray. For example, it has disrupted education. Now, having a laptop or a tab, and a internet connection, is as essential for schooling as an HB pencil was. It is possible that many of your colleagues may not have the necessary economic resilience to invest in this new essential. Maybe some of them have more than one school going child at home. How do they budget for these extra spends? Which child do they choose?

Individual are grappling with these mind-twisting dilemma in an environment where the norm is social distancing which significantly limits the opportunity to ‘get it off the chest’ by chatting with friends and family. Thus, emotions can spiral into anxiety whirlwind aggravated by isolation. This will result in a sense of being overwhelmed, of personal imbalance, of helplessness. And this could be your colleague who you have spent years with.

In such a situation, could the more fortunate rally together to assist those who need help? Could this be seen as a fun activity to do as a team? Could this result in happiness? Yes, research has shown that gratefulness, giving in charity, would result in more enduring happiness. Being grateful, sharing gratefully, is Fun.

C19 is going to test us. The decisions we make now, the actions we take, will either haunt us in the future or be our guiding angels into the brave new world.

Companies that encourage a culture of reaching out, assisting their colleagues to bridge difficulties, will be able to replace fun chemistry with a more powerful, authentic wellbeing quotient. Companies that however keep experimenting in trying to do the same old fun stuff but in a different way will find their employees lose meaning, weakening commitment to a brand that focuses on inauthentic meaningless merriness when the time requires genuine intent.

These are days to ask what do we do rather than how do we do the same stuff we did earlier. These are times to consciously change from being a fun place to work to being a work place that nurtures wellbeing. This is a time to transform your organisation into a cohort of empathetic employees who nurture and find happiness by and for colleagues. This is the time to rewrite that company objective and replace fun with well-being.

These are historical times

Did you know that we are now in the second part of the C19 managerial evolution?

In the first part we focused on “doing the same things we had been doing but in a different manner.” Thus, we still went to ‘office’. Not via a physical commute but by jumping over home chores. The office cubicle got replaced by a box on a screen. The office desk by a corner of the dining table with breakfast remains still uncleaned. Business prospecting moved from the real world of handshakes to the virtual world of WhatsApp messages, webinars and phone calls. Servicing client requests moved from warm smiles and handshakes to a 24 x 7 helpline, email follow-ups and a NPS scoring follow through. Even the 24 x 7 call-centre moved ‘home’. Agents now respond to calls in their shorts and sarongs. Internal auditors adopted the smart phone camera to review process compliance at remote outlets. Team meetings went hyper with shoddy connections, frozen screens yet serious intent. In fact, chilling with colleagues, friends, family Zoomed.

Our social calendar was as busy as ever. We were seriously busy doing exactly the stuff we had done earlier but in a different manner.

We are scared to let go of the way of life that we are so used to.

We felt productive. At home, we proudly showed our children, our parents, our partners, that we did real work. We had meetings early in the mornings and late in the evenings. Despite the world crashing to a slowdown, we maintained our hectic work pace.  Balancing between connecting to a work-call or rushing out to grab living essentials, when the lock-down was relaxed. Our work diaries show that we were super productive with back to back meetings and serious follow-up calls. To be fair, despite the catastrophic impact on the economy, Companies that managed to sprint toward this new way of working performed relatively better than those that froze into inactivity.

In a sprint, rapid complete burn of energy generates burst of momentum. Which is what Part 1 of the C19 management response was all about – a quick burst of energy towards:

  1. intense focus on task completion
  2. detailed review of progress, multiple times a day
  3. top-down no-discussion just-do-it diktat orders
  4. rapid grab of shrinking opportunity

But, this management technique, which we, and many other successful companies deployed, was appropriate for a sprint. It worked wonders for the results of the company but broke people emotionally. I became excessive anxious, had difficulty in sleeping, was shouting at my colleagues and was losing effectiveness. Only after few days of break from work, and in near isolation, did I recover my equanimity. I realized that what I had diagnosed as a sprint was a never-ending marathon. And a marathon requires endurance, replenishment, courage and a steady pace.

These are historical times. How we act in the next few months will have a significant impact on our company and on the well being of our colleagues. It does not make sense to act in the way when the norm was a 9-to-5 physical office. That reality is over. Though I don’t know the future, i feel we need to do new things. As of now, I don’t know the answer but feel, that the successful leaders of tomorrow will be those, who ask the question: what do we do now? And not: how do we do it now?

Here are my work-in-progress thoughts on this question:

The future of management will be different. While competitive elements and associated techniques will remain, there will be more focus on shared interests. Talent would choose to work with employers who endure and create rather than devour and compete. It will be more about creating a thriving community rather than just a bright company. Thus, I believe, the future of successful management of business will rest on building competitive endurance by bulking on:

  1. shared concern by and for colleagues
  2. capabilities for deploying agile cohorts as working teams
  3. performance review which value collaboration
  4. working around the rhythm of a home (and not the other way around)
  5. non-financial metrics of company health  

What I had hoped to be a temporary change in our operating environment seems to be a historical turning point for the way we humans will now organize. The answers of the past will not help us navigate the future. We need to be humble enough to ask new questions. I am excited by this opportunity to revive. I am scared.

Summer time and stories incomplete

Something about summer time and ‘when the living was easy’. Memories of cousins, uncles, aunts, dad, ma, brothers, both were alive, sister, an awkward girl. My dad ensured that every summer we holidayed. No exotic destinations but visit to ancestral homes. Alternating between dad’s and mom’s. It was clockwork. It was magic.

Long train rides ending at Raghopur in Bihar and, next year, at Jaipur in Rajasthan. At the end of those steam stained hot journeys would be excitement, welcome, comfort, security. A houseful of people. Bustling kitchen. No telly. No air conditioners. Power supply so suspect even fans and lights were random. No internet. No mobile telephony. No computers. But we had cricket, books, picnics, movies, story telling, imagination, marbles, egos, kites, sticks, bugs, stones, and inclination. BBC news on the transistor radio. Freshly plucked mangoes.

My cousins, uncles and aunts, each of them a character from a story book. And so, my childhood was punctuated by these beautiful annual excursions into an alternative reality that lasted two months. At the start of each new holiday, we picked up where we had said our byes an year back. It was easy. We were children.

Without any formal warning childhood finished. Slowly, these annual holidays morphed into short breaks – to places exotic but away from those cousins, uncles, aunts and stories incomplete of summers gone by.

Looking back, I feel, something broken. I lost contact. I lost an alternative reality. I don’t know how those stories unfolded – whether cousin Sharad finally stood up to his Dad and whether cousin Tannu managed to pursue her Bollywood dreams.

We do meet – once every few years. But we don’t talk about those stories incomplete, those dreams shared. We talk about our children.

And every summer, I trip nostalgic of those holidays.

Resigned

Resigned to a medicore career
Resigned to a mediocre career

In quick succession handful of key team members have submitted their resignations. These are individuals with solid performance record. It hurts. But now lured by significant salary increase, they said “I Resign”. More money is a very poor reason to leave. But more money, combined with the following, make moving-on right.

  1. When challenges die: have you achieved all that was needed in your current job. If yes, move. But if  challenge remains, think. Remember, it is achievements that creates value. And achievement is a challenge fulfilled. Football players with richest endorsements are those with goals against their names, with many man-of-the-match trophies in their cabinet and not those who have just run a lot. Abandoned challenges don’t win a prize. If your CV has only a list of such abandoned challenges your marketability will dwindle. Potential is hired at junior levels. Organizations hire proven performers at the senior level.
  2. When authentic feedback stops: by nature, all of us want to improve. We want to be better in the games we play, in our love-making, as parents and, as workers. The best way to improve is by real-time feedback. Rather obvious, like the best way to make sure of a clean face is to have a look in a mirror. Such real-time feedback are provided by a coach – someone who sees & shares the positives and negatives with the only intention of improving your performance. Thus, if you have a boss who does this, who constantly guides you to improve, treasure it. You will thrive.
  3. When your company, your boss irritate you: organizations have a life beyond you and I. Sometimes it’s personality, philosophy, soul could be misaligned with your own. If there exists such irritant(s), leave. There could be nothing more gut-wrenching than getting up every morning for yet another soul scorching day.
  4. When the ‘more money’ is sustainable: remember, cost of acquisition is always higher than retention. If this is true for customer acquisition surely must be for employees. Economics of acquisition make financial sense over a projected period. Often labelled as lifetime value. Companies acquire an employee at a seemingly high cost but with the expectations that the returns, this employee generates, will not only be higher than that one-time cost of acquisition but also the cost of retaining this same employee. Thus, while the initial offer may be attractive, future increments will be so structured that over a defined period, the attractiveness of the original offer is neutralized. Of course, this may not happen if you join another industry, another role, where the intrinsic pay structure is higher than prevalent in your current job. Do take time to work out this mathematics before you leap for that seemingly juicy bone.

An attractive monetary offer is extremely satisfying. But if the other factors are compromised you may be temporarily richer but more miserable. In the long run, if you are miserable, your ability to continue being richer will disappear and you will be just another average bloke. Resigned to a mediocre career. 

I can’t get no satisfaction

I first heard the Rolling Stones classic “I can’t get no satisfaction” in 1976. That was more than a decade post it’s release, yet a few years before my teens. And I strutted through my school years with this song on my lips.

Ah, what wondrous years they were. Years of discovery, of findings, of experimentation, of realisations. There were times when everything was dismal, awkward or just sickeningly embarrassing. And mostly the many moments of growing up were sudden, accidental. Often painful but, I believed them to be, unique. Thus, adult hood was entered with a bucketful of hope, dreams and anxieties. And this song remained a regular on all my mix-tapes.

Adulthood, a hop-scotch from one mile-stone to another. Love, romance, marriage, jobs, promotions, mortgage.

And then, joy!

Parenthood. Children. Organic blobs come alive with their own human individuality. I choked with happy emotions when my son picked up his first guitar. When my daughter recited her first written words. Happy tears blurred vision when, for the first time, I saw me in the awkward doings of these young ones.

And “I can’t get no satisfaction” became a song to be blasted on road-trips. My kids know this song and they smile when I stream this on Youtube and groove like Jagger. Or try to. No one, really no one, can move like Jagger.

And now the kids are grown and have entered their own hoods. With their own back-packs of hopes, dreams and anxieties. And my wife and I are back to where we started from. Just the two of us. But in a larger house. With more comforts than what we originally aspired for. And we are grateful.

Just the two of us and the prospect of growing old together. Trust me, for me, this does not create the same excitement, as say starting a family or moving into our first house. The challenge of creation is no equal to the task of preservation.

That three note riff continues to funk in the background. Subliminal. Loud. Strutting. Nagging me. I can’t get no satisfaction. Louder.

 

Freak. Exercise.

Last evening was a fun one. At a friend’s with other friends. There were 12 of us. All north of 50. Driving back home, my wife and I landed at a not-too-sure-what-to-make-of-it conclusion. Irrespective of small sample vagaries, it was obvious, I was an outlier. An endangered minority. A freak.

From the 12 that night, 11 were gym-rats and half of them also doubled as yoga-cats.

So the question that kept tossing my sleep was: why don’t I gym? Or Yoga? Or both? After few hours the answer and the dwarf star both dawned. And the answer was: there are better ways to maintain supple and strong muscles. More fun ways to satisfy that endorphin itch. Better odds needed to bet against Hyperbolic Discounting. And smarter solutions yet to be devised to side-step that decision fatigue.

Logic says that exercise today will benefit tomorrow. If I exercise today, I will have more days to live. But for this, I need to sacrifice today. This save-for-a-rainy-day argument is ridiculous if:

(One) it rains not for one day but many months
(Two) it is sunshine and clear blue sky till the big hurrah and
(Three) does it really matter?

But I do feel good after an honest work-out. Like all of us, I love that endorphin rush.

I love it when my endorphin’s overflow while belting out classics on my guitar. I delightfully huff-and-puff through plates of spicy curry. I pang for that dark chocolate nibble post dinner. And I do enjoy making those stomach tucked in and chest puffed out poses in front of the mirror after my rather infrequent stretch-treadmill-crunch-push-up routine.

So its not all about some obscure future. Ergo, I should not be a victim of Hyperbolic Discounting. Maybe I am restrained by something else. Or maybe I am just too damn tired.

By the time I complete my need-to-earn part of the day, my decision making ability is numbed. Once back home, I sack. On my couch, I allow my decision-making to be sensory rather than logical. Exercise is a logical investment which requires a decision to bend-and-stretch. Compare this with the pleasure of beer, sports on tele and chicken tikka on the side. Logic vs Pleasure. And after a day of logical activity, it is only logical that Pleasure wins.

But what if some of these choices & odds were changed:

What if No-1: office included a daily appointment with exercise. A formal meeting of stretches and suits. What if all the plush chairs in my office room transformed into yoga-mats? No need to choose between beer-with-mates or treadmill-in-tights anymore. Office would include all the mundane, dull but logical activities like – pension plans and 50 sit-ups.

What if No-2: join a Gym which pays money. What if there was Gym, which I could join for a monthly fee and a deposit. And this deposit, supplemented with market beating yield, is returned if I successfully achieve the monthly exercise schedule determined by the Gym. But if I can’t comply with this schedule, I loose my deposit and the Gym wins. Do you think the Gym will win?

So, on this New Year’s eve, one of my resolutions will be to find a Gym with balls to bet against me. And the second resolution will be to convince my boss to replace those screens & projectors with  elliptical trainers & dumb bells. And though I may still not succeed in losing my freak flag, I sure will have fun trying.

#theyeahway: it is okay to be different; okay to be the same; but fun to be the same in a different way

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Go ahead. Make my day. Like.

My Mom loves Facebook. She is touching 80 but ever since she discovered Facebook she has a look that had been missing for many years. For my Ma this Zuckerberg invention loaded on to her smart-phone is as cool as her daily dose of reminiscing.

From recent reports, it is evident that this social networking platform is losing its charm with the young. It is no more cool. And I am not surprised. When I was young, my coolness factor increased with increasing degree of separation of adult supervision, societal acceptance and established views. Thus, it was cool to smoke in the schoolyard. It was cool to listen to rock loud and be yelled by neighbours. It was cool to study all night long and challenge the pre-electricity compulsion of early to bed. It was cool to read stuff that the teachers frowned upon. It was cool to hide from the adults. Then the future was an unknown adventure and current rooted in someone else. Therefore, it was cool to want to break free. And with Facebook, you no more break-free you are part of the billion plus addicts.

But as I grow older, I find comfort in the smooth stalking that Facebook allows. I break my head and grope my memory to remember actual interactions with old school mates. But I excitedly accept their ‘friend’ request. I smile when i see instagrammed shares of my children’s activity – from the food they eat, concerts they attend and random snaps of youthful experimentation. And I make it a point to ‘like’ updates that my wife posts sharing the couch. And, she does the same for mine.

Not because I want to necessarily conform but merely to reassure myself that I am connected. And I can only imagine that this sentiment must be so much more powerful for my Mother who lived most of her life in the post-a-letter book-a-call process-a-photo-in-a-darkroom era. She, and others of her vintage, must have gone through so many days of isolation. So many days of wondering if those who were once dependent on her, really cared anymore. Yes, at her age, and increasingly in my, it is cool to be cared – even if it is with a simple click on that ubiquitous Like button.

Now she smiles with each notification of a Like. And this is super cool.

theyeahway: be generous with your Likes and spread happiness in your virtual and real worlds

My Seven Reasons to be Thankful

Purple Sunbird

I woke up this morning and, as is the addiction, logged-in to the world. My social media was crowded with Thanksgiving messages. It felt good. So many revelations of gratitude. So many different reasons to be thankful. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

  1. While showering, I shivered when the hot water option failed. I cursed at the dis-comfort of the steady and strong torrent of a cool shower. Yet today, 780 million people – about one in nine – lack access to clean water. More than twice that many, 2.5 billion people, don’t have access to a toilet. That is nearly 35% of the world-population. Every third fellow habitat has no access to a toilet. No access to running water. And here I was missing my hot-water-on-tap. I hid my face in the towel and muttered a quite thank-you.
  2. Some days back, while researching income inequality, I reached the website ‘How Rich Am I‘. And discovered how rich I was. Astoundingly rich. Embarrassingly so. And while money can’t guarantee love, it provides access. And takes away access from those not so rich. Now I know, it will be ugly greed to dare and yodel if i was a rich-man anymore.
  3. My riches have been accumulated through wages that a job with a global organization provides. And this job was acquired by displaying knowledge and a network fueled by education that is privileged. Unfortunately today, even basic simple education remains a luxury. Nearly a billion people … (are) unable to read a book or sign their names and two thirds of them are women. And they will live, as now, in more desperate poverty and poorer health than those who can. They are the world’s functional illiterates—and their numbers are growing.
  4. I am lucky to have friends. Amongst them, there are many who are doctors of medicine. Not only do I have friends but I am friends with Doctors with access to quality healthcare. Although the percentage of the world’s population without access to essential medicines has fallen from an estimated 37% in 1987 to around 30% in 1999, the total number of people without access remains between 1.3 and 2.1 billion people. Lack of access is particularly concentrated in Africa and India.I am so thankful that when needed, I will be able to get treated by the best.
  5. I was the youngest amongst my siblings. And it was fun. I am not sure if my parents made a conscious choice of having four but my wife and I consciously agreed on two. Imagine not having this choice. The choice to procreate or not. The choice to give birth – once or many more times. And therefore, I am delighted that China will have an estimated 2 million to 3 million more babies each year, thanks to the latest relaxation of the country’s long-standing one-child policy. 
  6. I love visiting temples, churches, mosques and other places of worship. And I visit these places of worship to witness people – not gods. It is in these halls, rooms, caves, gardens that I witness the best of humanity. The believer’s belief in the supreme, in charity, in faith, in goodness, in the purity of giving. But God is not an absolute nor is he everywhere: nearly 70 percent of the world … live in countries with high restrictions on religion, the brunt of which often falls on religious minorities.
  7. And it feels good to have crossed the nadir of the U-curve. Research has shown that as people move towards old age they lose things they treasure—vitality, mental sharpness and looks—they also gain what people spend their lives pursuing: happiness. And this research has been validated by a recent giant telephone poll of 340,000 people showed that after 50, people start progressively getting happier.At 52, I am happy to agree.

theyeahway: with each day, in many small ways, it is getting better. All the time. For you. By you?

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