Choose your People carefully

photo taken by Prateek Kumar Rohatgi

It is said that you become the average of the five people that you spend most time with. I have been a beneficiary of this although I acquired this universal advantage rather ignorantly and unconsciously. There was a dark phase in my life when I used to be angry and frustrated for many a years. During those frustrating years, I made many crucial decisions haphazardly, driven largely by immediate priorities. Incidentally I was surrounded largely by bright intellectual types but most of them lacked emotional smarts — they could analyze and solve complex problems rather quickly but lacked EQ (“emotional quotient”). They were strong functionally but lacked structural strengths. I did not help the group as well — I also lacked the exact same qualities.

Later, all that changed serendipitously, when I got to work closely with someone who was emotionally very strong — he was able to “respond” to situations (while I used to “react”). It was quite a novel experience to me. I was awe struck with his ability to be in control all the time. Slowly and surely, this strength rubbed off me and I started to become better at reading situations, assess alternatives and take informed decisions. It was a long road (journey is still on) punctuated with fallbacks and failures but gradually and surely, I improved.

If five is a magic threshold, how come even one person could make such a big difference. Well, for most people, three to four of these five end up being non-discretionary contacts. They could be your spouse/partner, your neighbours, your parents or your peers and/or boss at work. It is hard to curate this list. You have only one or two slots left and it is important to judiciously fill these slots.

The power of the company you keep manifests in various facets of life. A student who keeps company of brighter students, tends to improve his/her academic performance. An athlete who competes with better athletes tends to improve his/her performance. This is true in arts, team sports, work places, geographic locations (Silicon Valley producing most start ups) etc.

If this works, why don’t we consciously exploit this — largely because competitive pursuits are considered to be zero sum games — winner wins at the expense of losers. Various contributing factors:

  • Education system — we somehow have adopted an education system that underpins the belief that competition takes all
  • Society also puts winners on pedestals and the second best and third best and others further down are dumped by the wayside
  • Corporate culture: most corporates also perpetuate a culture where it is understood that competition is a zero-sum game. How many have not heard a statement to this effect: “We could promote only two and you happen to the third on the list” or something to this effect

If you fall below the average of the five people you most interact with, that is an advantage because this situation will pull you up towards the average, by default. If you are above the average of this group, time to upgrade your group. Does not mean you abandon folks — you just expand your network and choose your time with people wisely.

There are various reasons I can think of as to why better company works:

  • Better performers set better benchmarks — they open one’s mind to the art of possible -> they develop and follow better techniques and methods for performance
  • Better company results in competition which is a natural human trait. Right kind of competition elevates efforts and expands potential of all. Society benefits enormously. But negative competition destroys value and subdues potential at large. Peter Thiel talked about this beautifully in his book called “Zero to One”
  • Better company inspires and motivates one for performing better
  • Better performers realize that helping improve others can unearth self-improvement opportunities as well. They understand that helping others could lead to improving themselves

We have probably never had it better (in the history of humankind) to curate people to fill the discretionary slots in our list of five people. So many inspirational folks are willing to bare their struggles, methods, successes and failures to the rest of the world via various social media platforms such as Instagram, LinkedIn Facebook etc and it is so easy to follow them and elevate our game. Many times, they engage with their followers by responding to comments etc and this is important for elevating our abilities. One word of caution: if someone in our list is too far out from our current capability, interaction, if any, may not yield much beneficial value as they may seem to be way out of reach. Another important aspect is diversity of the group — it will be highly beneficial if those better than you in your curated list come from different (though credible/valid) schools of thought. For example, if you are looking for such contacts at work, it will be beneficial to include people from other departments/functions. Remember that you cannot choose your boss — not many have the fortune of being blessed with inspirational bosses (no matter how many glowing tributes to bosses you see on Linkedin). So it may be an imperative to have people other than your boss in this list. Enlisting the right coach/mentor is another way to improve your company.

However you do, it is important to consciously decide who you spend your time with.


Thanks for taking time to read this article. In this newsletter, I share my learnings that can help you improve your decisions and make meaningful progress on your goals and desires. I share stuff that I have personally experienced or experimented with. If you find this newsletter worthwhile, please do share it with others — of course, only if you do not mind it.

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