Do you judge a person by his questions or his answers?

This question was prompted by Voltaire’s “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”
But it was also prompted by the book I am reading just now, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. Click on the link to read the FIRST LINES from the book to get an idea about its content.

Its an interesting book. And as expected prompting more questions than answers, and making me bold about asking ones of my own.

The author, Warren Berger quotes Joi Ito of MIT’s Media Lab saying “You don’t learn unless you question”.
And it matters how we question. We are likely to get different answers depending on whether we frame our questions as open ended ones or close ended ones.

Here’s some mind food on questions and questioning:

“Questions are infinitely superior to answers.”
~Dan Sullivan

* * *

“To get answers of life, ask questions”
~Sukant Ratnakar, Open the Windows

* * *

“Indeed, the only truly serious questions are ones that even a child can formulate. Only the most naive of questions are truly serious. They are the questions with no answers. A question with no answer is a barrier that cannot be breached. In other words, it is questions with no answers that set the limit of human possibilities, describe the boundaries of human existence.”
~Milan Kundera in The Unbearable Lightness of Being

* * *

“At the end of the day, the questions we ask of ourselves determine the type of people that we will become.”
~Leo Babauta

* * *

“Which would you rather be if you had the choice–divinely beautiful or dazzlingly clever or angelically good?”
~L.M. Montgomery in Anne of Green Gables

* * *

“The most important questions in life can never be answered by anyone except oneself.”
~John Fowles in The Magus

* * *

“To ask the ‘right’ question is far more important than to receive the answer. The solution of a problem lies in the understanding of the problem; the answer is not outside the problem, it is in the problem.”
~Jiddu Krishnamurti, The Flight of the Eagle

* * *

“An empowered life begins with serious personal questions about oneself. Those answers bare the seeds of success.”
~Steve Maraboli in Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

* * *

“The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s one who asks the right questions.”
~Claude Lévi-Strauss

* * *

“How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round?
Probably half the questions we ask-half our great theological and metaphysical problems-are like that.”
~C.S. Lewis

* * *

“No where in ‘humpty dumpty’ did it say he was an egg. Maybe your inability to think outside of what others have taught you is what’s keeping you from putting him together again.”
― Darnell Lamont Walker

Now ask yourself this: Why are questions infinitely better than answers? Why do questions feel like open doors while answers feel like closed ones?

Happy questioning!

Close down the R&D Division

You don’t think its a good idea? Okay. Remember this then:

“Children are the research and development division of the human species”
~Psychologist Alison Gopnik

Don’t send your kids to a preschool where teaching is the priority.

Kids should be allowed to explore and experiment and ask questions in preschool, not burdened with instruction. teaching things too early is harmful for their natural development and future progress.

Just like closing down the R&D division. Only short-sighted companies do that, right?

This move towards teaching too early comes from two things: Parental pressure (why aren’t they teaching my kids stuff?) and government policy towards more structured instruction.

In Sri Lanka, where the government schools do not expect kids to enter grade one knowing their alphabet and counting, too much teaching comes from over zealous parents demanding preschools to teach stuff… and preschools who actually listen to the parents and their ignorant requests.

Why is the sky blue?


I got into this while reading a book. Figured I’ll have to explain this one pretty soon, so thought I might as well be prepared. the book, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, provides an explanation. Here’s my version of it.

Science of why the sky is blue:

a) White light we see is composed of various colours. refraction experiments. Think prisms and rainbows.

b) But why blue and not other colours? Why does more blue light get refracted into our eyes than other colours?
Blue light scatters more due to gas molecules in the air.

c) Our eyes are also more sensitive to blue…

So the next time your child asks you why the sky is blue, now you know.

Good luck figuring out how to say this simply…



RandomLines 2

Here are four more lines from books within easy reach…

When all is said, perhaps their happiest legacy is the ‘Baila’ dance and song; pleasant to think it was the creation of Portuguese slavery.
~Norah Roberts in Galle As Quiet As Asleep

By a process called reverberation, a memory corresponds to the strengthening of connections from an increase of brain activity in a given sector of the brain–the more activity, the stronger the memory.
~Nassim Nicholas Taleb in The Black Swan

As one of my learned friends is fond of commenting – sitting in the top floor of the ivory tower, the sea always looks calm – it is only when you are battling the waves in a dinghy when you realize the actual situation.
~Vivek Sood in The 5 Star Business Network

The beli fruit (Aegle marmellos; vilvam T; bael E) is a rare example of the same medicinal agent serving diametrically opposite ends under different conditions.
~C.G. Uragoda in Traditions of Sri Lanka: A Selection with a Scientific Background

RandomLines 1

When I was studying for CIMA, my best friend at the time and I had a silly game. We’d pick a random sentence of a book and try to use it all the time. The best one we came up with was:

I am positively amazed by your persistence of this absurd notion.

I have no idea what book it came from, but I used it all the time and it was cool. This gave me the idea to pull out random books from my bookshelf and do the same, this time by myself. I guess RandomLines is a natural progression from BookChapters and FIRST LINES in both Mindculture’s Blog and at BusinessTrainerSriLanka blog.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Here are the first results in the series:

Snoopy is the one character in the strip allowed to kiss, and he kisses the way a child does: sincerely, and to disarm.
~David Michaelis in Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography

One way to bring this about is to organize congressional watchdog groups (CWDs) to monitor each of the 435 districts across the country—to lobby all members of Congress on behalf of their constituents, on behalf of an agenda supported by a majority of Americans.
~Ralph Nader in The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future

Whenever the LTTE was on the back foot, they would try to make a comeback with a devastating attack elsewhere.
~C.A. Chandraprema in Gota’s War: The Crushing of Tamil Tiger Terrorism in Sri Lanka

When foreigners first came to China in large numbers in the 1970s, many were impressed by the ‘moral cleanliness of the society: a discarded sock would follow its owner a thousand miles from Peking to Guangzhou, cleaned and folded and placed in his hotel room.
~Jung Chang in Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

More lines from Light of the Hearth


A few more lines from the poetry collection, Light of the Hearth

By Ivan Savelyev | Translated by Walter May.

From your first song until your farewell song

There stretches in between a long stern road.

Here trickling like a ringing springtime stream,

And there like some broad-bosomed river it flows.


And in its waters, deep and pure and clear,

Like sand-bank islands, failures will sink and cease,

And out will blaze above the shining space

The lighthouse beams of mighty victories.


For all your previous disappointed hopes,

For all your losses, and for all distress,

They will light up for you your entire road–

Remember, and observe, and go ahead!


And may be here’s the wonder of constancy,

The marvel of loyalty which does not die out,–

That to your dream you’ll go, and not lose heart,

And not for even a moment will you doubt.


And maybe in such action lies our goal,

And even the primary purpose

Of life, let’s say:

To discover in your self an exalted song,

And not to betray it then in any way.

English Translation © Raduga Publications 1987

Light of the Hearth

By ADDesilva
By ADDesilva

A few lines from the poetry collection, Light of the Hearth

By Ivan Savelyev

The poems were translated by Walter May.

At any and every time of the year,

Whatever the dream I live at that hour,

With nature’s voice in harmony here

Is the tuning of my emotional power.


So near to me her tears, her hurts,

So heavy her grief and loss again,

That when they hack a branch from a birch

In my own arms I feel the pain.


*    *    *


No, the heavens are surely never blind,

And the earth can surely not lack sight.

Grasses deaf from birth you will not find.

Rivers without hearing would not be right.


It is we, the sons of heaven and earth,

Finding ourselves not all at once, I fear,

On the millennia’s steep road struggling forth,

Who are slowly learning to see and hear…

The Name Behind Odel


An Interview By Nilooka Dissanayake originally published in the Small Business International Magazine.

I sit in the atrium awaiting her arrival. Throbbing with light music, bright colours, novel shapes and ideas makes me believe it the heart of the place. And it is. Everyone almost passes through it. Millionaire businessmen and little kids alike enjoy the light hearted ambience. It is the unseen bridge that connects a converted mansion of a bygone era with the ancient warehouses that belonged to another retailer, Cargill’s. The atrium bridges the old and superimposes the new physically. The spirit that blends it all belongs to the lady I plan to interview.

Tall and slender, she arrives in a woven, sleeveless, skin coloured top and dark trousers, very much the spirit of the place; bright, fair, light hearted and fashionable. We sit down in the patisserie which has but a few customers. The jaw of a pimply young man in the adjoining table drops significantly as we seat ourselves. “Odel!” His whisper to his friends is hardly a whisper.

This is nothing new to Otara Chandiram. She is used to being referred to by the brand name that she built. After all, it has it’s origins in her name – Otara Del. With a degree in biology from an American university and experience with part time modeling, Otara Chandiram has managed to become probably the most famous woman in Sri Lankan business, both locally and in the international scene.

Sri Lanka’s ‘biggest fashion retail success story’ as the eODEL website claims, began in 1988. Odel is an offshoot of the Sri Lankan garment industry which brings in close to quarter of the country’s export revenues. It is a story of our time; a story that runs a parallel course with the economics and fortunes of the country. It is a story about adapting to the changing needs of society.

It is however, not a typical story. But, then, nor is Otara who was adjudged the Sri Lankan Entrepreneur of the Year 2000 by the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka. However prestigious it may be, an award is hardly the type of laurels that Otara would rest upon.

She describes herself as a “quiet and reserved” person and admits that popularity and public life does not come easy. “And hard working and determined” she adds. “I know what I want and try to make sure I achieve all my goals.”

What were your goals when you started? What are they now? “Didn’t have a set goal as such” she says and smiles at the look of disbelief on my face. “No big goals even now. We go along day by day. Our goals are very small even now.” She feels that Odel has “way surpassed” her expectations. An average day sees 1,500 to 2,000 people walking through the doors. “Some time back, they had to replace the cash registers” says a vendor “because the old ones could go only up to nine digits.” Obviously one does not do that on the chance of a rare occurrence.

Obviously one does not do that on the chance of a rare occurrence. Birth of Odel was a response to the opportunities opening up in the local market. The export oriented garment industry was piling up factory excesses and leftovers. These began hitting the local market. All of it was not above board since there were regulations on the percentage of products that could be sold locally. Some industrialists were allowed to sell up to 10% of manufactured products while others were not allowed any local sales. But, demand there was. The Sri Lankan consumers when they saw the factory excesses fell in love with them. They were export quality and reasonably priced. What you could buy in Sri Lanka for Rs. 300, you would have to buy in London for Pounds Sterling 30 or a lot more. The situation has gradually changed over the years. Now all factories can sell locally at a specified level of duty.

Otara, persuaded by friends, began buying factory excesses and selling wholesale. In a few months, she saw opportunity for a retail operation. Odel began in a little room on Fife Road, Colombo 5. By 1996, Odel had seven outlets including shops in Liberty Plaza and Majestic City as well as in Mount Lavinia and Transasia Hotels. The Dickman’s Road outlet which I recall full to the brim and flowing over with customers in the early nineties was replaced as the main outlet with Odel Unlimited, a refurbished warehouse attached to an old mansion in the Lipton Roundabout.

Otara describes Odel Unlimited as a mini-mall, an experience and a lifestyle store. “It is a place to unwind, relax and enjoy. It offers an international experience in your own background.” No one would disagree. Many foreign visitors fall in love with the unique way in which Odel combines the old world and the new. Carved wooden staircases and intricate arches share the limelight with the latest fashions and accessories. Odel provides a shopping experience equal to anywhere in the world and enhances it with its own small scale and quirky surprises.

How does she see Odel, the brand that she created? Otara sees Odel as standing for “stylish, trendy, classy, international and sophisticated.” Seen and perceived more as “high class” all these years, Odel now tries to reach out to the general public. One effort on this front is Otara taking part in a fashion tips show on local daytime television. She is surprised at the response shown by the public.

You have no prior business experience. How did you manage? How did you know what to do? “It was a learning process” says Otara. “I entered a new market and grew with the market. It was a young, untapped market.” According to Otara, the success was not so much luck as the ability to foresee an opportunity. “We took lots of risks. We experimented. We tested the market. We explored and learned to anticipate the market. There were some failures. A couple of things did not work out.

I also read books and studied about business on my own. I read about Jack Welch (former CEO of General Electric, named the Manager of the Century by the Fortune Magazine) and about business women like Anita Roddick who started Body Shop. She built a brand and made a change. I read mostly about famous people and learnt from everyone. Read a little bit of everything. I read business magazines and attended a couple of seminars. I did not have much time to devote to reading.” Is retail success a science or an art? “It is a bit of both. Success in retailing is a matter of being able to anticipate what customers will want and having it ready. It is about being able to target to the market. You have to grow along with the market. The tastes and needs of people change. Culture changes. The world is growing smaller. Consider the last ten years. Local consumers today learn about the international trends in fashion. They can think for themselves. It is critical to judge these trends, see the needs and develop products. Then only you can be ahead of the need. You have to know and understand. It is very important to keep in touch with international trends. There is so much more (to do), but market is not ready yet.”

How does she know what customers will need? “Putting your gut feelings to work and knowing about international trends are important. I travel a lot. I read a lot and watch media and previews of fashion worldwide. I keep up with designs and trends and fads. It is a constant challenge to keep the customers happy.”

Odel, with Otara’s guidance is always ready for the market demand. It takes over nine months to get ready for a season. And hard work pays off when even foreigners “go crazy over the goods.” “All that we have on our shelves are the latest fashions” Otara claims proudly. Giving new things and seeing how people react is part of the job that she enjoys. “I like to keep this as part of my job although I have a good team of merchandisers who take care of this side.”

Many people try to follow you. “Imitation is a form of flattery. The main thing is to go with what you feel. Imitation often does not work. You should have your own way of doing things. This should be distinct, always the same. Otherwise customers get confused.” The temptation to imitate Odel seems to reach beyond the shores of Sri Lanka. Recently Odel got an injunction in the Middle East against a company retailing goods under the Odel brand.

Otara is married to Raju Chandiram who is also in the business with her. They have two boys. Koran is eight and Rakhil, two and half years old. She feels thankful for the support of a close-knit extended family especially when she and Raju travel abroad. At other times they take turns at dropping kids to school and share the other duties.

Her work day starts at 9.30am and finishes around 6.30pm when she heads home to “spend time with the kids.” She likes to keep up with her exercise routine and spends “a minimum of one hour a day and try to do it almost every day.”

What are her other interests beside work? This was a second thought which did not occur to me at the first interview. And I asked it over the telephone, a bit past 10pm, after Otara had put the kids to sleep. “Fashion” comes the answer accompanied by laughter “and shopping. Unfortunately I don’t get to do much shopping and at Odel I see the stocks every single day. I like to pick up unusual things, especially when I travel.” She enjoys relaxing and likes to go to the movies. She loves travelling and seeing new places.

And with a degree in biology, what would she have done had she not gone into fashion? “Something to do with animals and the environment.” So, there is our explanation for Odel’s commitment to the environment.

What advice do you give to start ups and small businesses? “Know the business you are going into. Understand your market. And have a vision. Work hard to achieve your goals. It can be done with hard work. I have put in a lot of hard work.”

Stone walls do not a prison make…

Here’s the final stanza from To Althea, from Prison by Richard Lovelace.

I’m not even giving a source because I know this bit by heart (but not so much the complete poem).

Stone Walls do not a Prison make,
   Nor Iron bars a Cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
   That for an Hermitage.
If I have freedom in my Love,
   And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above,
   Enjoy such Liberty.
I just love this, taking it literally, even though I don’t believe in angels…
So, do stone walls a prison make? What do you think?
If you want to read to whole poem and a detailed analysis about it, I found that The Guardian had covered it as their Poem of the Week back in September 2013.