Would you sign this deal? Would you press the button?

As I was waiting for my Vistara flight back to Bengaluru yesterday at Delhi’s T3, the lady next to me happened to see my laptop, with me on my LinkedIn timeline and went, ‘So, YOU are Karthik! I didn’t recognize you here, but I read your posts almost every day!’. I have been previously spotted as ‘beastoftraal‘ and ‘milliblog‘ (both from Twitter), but this is my first LinkedIn spotting! In any case, she—who requested to be unnamed, and you will know why in the subsequent paragraph—is a fairly senior person from the industry and we had an interesting conversation on assorted things related to the Indian industry, specific sectors of her and my interest, start-ups and ideas.

The discussion veered towards Indian start-up founders and she said she had a question for me: “What if I told you that you’d have, in a decade from today,
1. three-digit crores in your bank a/c,
2. a professional reputation as one of the best start-up founders ever in India,
3. but your personal life will be in shambles, including being separated from your wife and young children
4. your personal reputation in tatters
All you need to do is to sign here and you will have all this! Will you sign?”

Stop the guessing game of names – that’s not the point of this post since nobody can predict such outcomes in life. No one plans for them either.

Three-digit crores is a mighty tempting number. It’s so large that I don’t even have—and will never have either—context for how large it is 🙂 After some thought, I said I won’t sign it. She said she expected me to say that and that she has been posing this question to a select few and observed that the younger ones, below 30-35 seem to feel it is ok to sign such a deal. The obvious logic being, money can buy everything you have lost, no matter how personal/emotional the damage is due to the loss.

I told her that the plot, of what she was posing, reminded me somewhat of the 2009 Cameron Diaz starrer that I have since recommended to a LOT of people and can never stop thinking about in multiple contexts – The Box. The film’s plot is about a couple who receive a box from a mysterious man who offers them one million dollars if they press the button sealed within the dome on top of the box but tells them that, once the button has been pushed, someone they do not know will die.

In the earlier question, the harm was for self, but in the film, the harm would be on others. Seen together, somehow, you may think the latter seems more doable than the former, even though both offer the same pseudo mental succor – money can help you tide over any/everything, including guilt.

My limited experience with life tells me that it won’t. That there are far, far more important things than money, though money IS definitely a crucial aspect too. The question always is about the quantity – how much of what is important or necessary, not just money. The point is about need vs. want. Need comes with natural constraints, while want is virtually endless. A famous Tamil parable explains this beautifully – “Food is the only thing in life that people will say ‘enough’ to because you simply cannot overdo it – there is a physical constraint. Everything else, you want with no limits”.

So, will you sign the deal? Will you press the button?

I’m sure you’d want to read the fine print of the deal in both cases, but I don’t have any 🙂