Saturday, February 11, 2017

Lessons from a Daily Commute

I drive to and from work for around an hour and a half each day - usually on my motorcycle - on the chaotic roads of Chennai surrounded by aggressive drivers competing for every inch of space. I tried to draw parallels between the chaos I witness on the roads and the journey of a typical startup in the chaos of market forces. My personal goals on the road are much the same as that of a startup - survive, reach your destination in shape and never relax until you get there.

Traffic on Old Madras Road
Photo courtesy: under Creative Commons

This is a brief journal of the startup lessons I thought one can draw from such a commute.

Keep Safe Distance

That common sense adage is not just a good safety tip to protect you from ramming into the car in front. It also ensures you can see beyond that car in front of you. Do more than just chase the leader. Anticipate the widening road and rev up to glide past. Spot the buffalo strolling across to block the leader, and swerve away to jump ahead yourself. None of this is possible if you spend your energies staring at the tail lights of the one you chase.

Respect Privacy

 On the bustling roads that take you to work, often it is faster to jump into by-lanes and bypass peak time traffic on busy intersections. These by-lanes are lined by the homes of people who chose to live away from it all. Respect their privacy and avoid honking loud or racing too fast, lest speed breakers spring up through complaints from the residents. Milk your new-found advantage, but not at the expense of your users and their privacy.

Learn to Give Way

There are the obvious occasions where you have to pull up to one side to let the ambulance breeze past. No one likes a jerk, so just do it. Then there are the less obvious occasions where blocking someone in a super hurry might not be the best thing to do. If the chasing car rams into you, you are the jerk competing unfairly. If the passing car overspeeds to oblivion, you are the sagacious plotter who always knew. When you must block to compete, be tactful and look competitive!

Stay Lean, Stay Agile

Potholes. Patch up jobs after overnight cabling work. Stray animals looking for food. Sand and stones overflowing from a road side construction project. An idiot coming at you from the wrong side. How else do you dodge these challenges but by remaining agile? The swerving and slaloming is easier if you are also on a lean machine. Maybe that is why I prefer a motorcycle rather than a car to take me to work.

The typical Indian commute is never far from chaos. What other startup lessons can you draw from your daily commute?