Meet the Experts

Mo Gawdat – Chief Business Officer Google [X]

“I’ll be telling this with a sigh. Somewhere ages and ages hence.Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference”
This beautifully crafted last stanza from Robert Frost’s poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ has been my guiding principle for studying great personalities. Individuals who have regularly defied the odds and carved their paths through mountains. Mohammad (Mo) Gawdat is an inspiration for so many of us. I had followed Mo’s interviews on Facebook and had a keen desire to meet him; I guess the universe conspires with you if the intention is right. With a childhood inspired by the great works of scientists and thinkers to a journey alongside the top conglomerates in the world, Mo is now involved with an organization that is literally defining the guidelines of technology. Along the path of this exponential professional trajectory, Mo experienced a personal tragedy that could have derailed his personal and professional journey but he made a conscious decision in the split second that could have taken his life anywhere. The Mo we have with us today is a result of this decision. Lo and Behold, I ran into him while having coffee with my good friend, Zafar Sheikh at Starbucks at the Mall of Emirates in Dubai. He was courteous to accept my request for an interview and I am pleased to bring it forth to you.

Najib: Good Day Mo, what a great coincidence to have met you?

Mo: I don’t think that there are coincidences Najib, it’s a pleasure to talk to you and relate my message to your audience.

Najib: Take us through your journey!

Mo: I was raised in Cairo, Egypt, the beautiful city of the Nile that has a tendency of inspiring minds to reach great heights. I inherited the love of reading from my mother who was involved in academia, the problem-solving part of my nature has been inherited from a diligent father who was an engineer. I remember a happy childhood surrounded by books even at the tender age of 8 years.

Najib: What did you like to read?

Mo: I had taken up reading as a vehicle for gaining knowledge, the Universe fascinated me and I had that unending urge for absorbing as much as I could; however I wanted to understand it in its wholeness. I used to pick up a topic per year and then would indulge into reading whatever I could get my hands on. I was already reading Quantum Theory, Relativity and Principles of Uncertainty in my teens. I also took up Carpentry and Ceramic works.

Najib: This is fascinating, please go on.

Mo: I met the love of my life at the University in Egypt and we got married. It was all going great until I was around 25 or 26, the worldly success started increasing and it took a toll on my happiness. I had been working for IBM in Egypt as a very successful professional and life brought forth to me success, wealth and a great family as well. However, the more I was given the more unhappy I was.

Najib: This sounds strange as most individuals weigh their happiness in terms of wealth and acquired positions; what was really happening here?

Mo: By around the year 2000 / 2001 I was totally down and depressed and nothing physical or material made me happy. I started to read about solutions to my problems and for the first couple of years, I couldn’t understand a thing. I read the likes of “The Art of Happiness”, Eckhart Tolle’s, A New Earth, Byron Katie’s, Loving What is and Cass Adams, the Soul Unearthed to name a few on the top of the long list of authors.

Najib: Please carry on, what did you do next to alleviate your situation?

Mo: I used to read a lot and to tell you the truth I was a very agitated person at that stage; however my family was really supportive. I was living in Dubai and worked for some great organizations such as IBM, NCR, and Microsoft, time was always a challenge for me and my unhappiness kept increasing.

Najib: What was the breakthrough?

Mo: I started working on a mathematical model of happiness and this is how I explained it to my family. Take an analogy of a machine that is working well and then something goes wrong with it so I have to debug the system to get it fixed. At this stage, you have to look at the core of the problem. All I had to do was to find 20 lines of code or a flow chart to assess the issue and once analyzed would fix it and the machine would work. I took the same parallel to my life and checked on the problem that was causing all this unhappiness and how could I get back to my happy younger self. Well, the solution did work after a while and I was able to stay happy all the time.

Najib: This would have been great to discover something so intangible after all this time, did the happiness stay with you?

Mo: I got a curved ball at a time when I thought all was finally coming back to place. Life decided to test me by taking away my best friend, my son Ali, away from me. Ali was a really unusual young man, he was my coach and my teacher. He was wise beyond his years and knew things that aren’t available in books. Ali could observe and filter information and say a few words that would literally change the course of your life.


Najib: This would have been and still is very difficult to comprehend.

Mo: He was studying in Boston and came to Dubai, he had to go through a minor procedure. Here we were a tight-knit happy family and because of the mistakes and several errors of doctors my beloved son died at the hospital. Ali had lived a great life and he died without pain. I loved him and still, do and I know that he is in a better place than where he was.

Najib: Oh my God, this was severe, how did you cope?

Mo: He was a bright sun that had illuminated everything in my life, it was a turning point as I knew that there was nothing that would bring Ali back. You could suffer all your life or be a source of support for so many people. I was left with 2 choices:

I could have cried all my life knowing how good Ali was and no one would have blamed me for that either. Still, this wouldn’t have brought him back.
Accept the pain, refuse to suffer and do something about it. Choose to make this world a better place after Ali’s departure; this wouldn’t make him come back either but it would help me do my part to make this world a better place for a lot of people.
In the split second of the moment, I decided to take the second option and decided to play my role driven by my beloved son’s memories, because a lot of what I have learned in life is what I had learned from him.

Najib: Give me some specific example of your learnings from Ali?

Mo: Let me do this with an analogy of how we used to play video games together. You see video games are not expected to be easy, these are designed with challenges. Better players are offered bigger and tedious challenges. I used to rush to finish the games but I would notice that Ali would tread in territories laced with explosives and dungeons with eerie creatures because he wanted to enjoy the game. LIFE EXPECTS YOU TO BECOME A GREAT VIDEO GAMER AS THE CHALLENGES THROWN IN BY LIFE SHOULD BE TREATED AS FUN AND A GAME AS IT WOULD ALSO PASS SOME TIME. Most of us do not like when we have challenges thrown at us by life and never realize that this is something temporary and it would pass as well. In playing video games I and Ali would eventually plan to lower the armor of one of us and the other would surprise the enemy. We would then go and meet together at the next level. In the game I usually used to be the one lowering my armor and Ali would strategize and finish the level off, eventually, we were meeting together in the next level and winning the game.

Najib: This is some lesson Mo.

Mo: In life, we just do it the other way around, we keep rushing in life towards an unknown goal ignoring the many pleasures and challenges that come along. I had written the foreword of “Solve for Happy” in early 2011, I truly wish I should have brought it earlier.


Najib: How did you eventually come out of this trauma?

Mo: In sadness we let our brain to be the boss otherwise it simply accepts our instructions. We have to be on top of our realities and situations and have to ask ourselves continuously whether our decisions changed anything? Did these decisions make us happy? Here’s are a few points for us to ponder upon:

why are we suffering, pain is our physical form of response to ensure our survival, this signal of pain is what protects us and had protected our ancestors thousands of years ago from predators. We either go through a physical or an emotional pain and trauma.
Emotional Pain: You have an argument with your wife and she does not allow you to see your child; our brain tells us that there is something threatens our survival.
You have to keep telling yourself that this is an event and if you do not stop then this is like pain on demand and you bring it for nothing but to suffer. There are times when we are addicted to this pain and somehow want it to stay with us.

Najib: This is an interesting perspective, tell me more about it.

Mo: An emotion is basically a reset of a thought. I tried my best to be athletic but once I sent a message to my friend that I am the eldest in the group; she responded that you are also the fittest among all of us, its perspective and this is very powerful. Happiness is a cycle that changes the world, basically, your thoughts affect the way you act on a daily basis.

Najib: So what should a person do in this situation?

Mo: Surrender yourself to the reality and look for options to come out of the place or the situation. We all want to be fit, we also know what it takes to be fit as well but how many of us are investing in getting this lifestyle. Exactly the same goes on with our thoughts and what we would like to do with those as well. You have lousy and demotivating thoughts and this is what your actions would bring forth although you know well that healthy thoughts are the right thing to do. I had the best of all I could have ever imagined and it was all gone in a jiffy, I told myself that I will make it better not just for myself but for millions of others as well.

Najib: Again, how do we do this?

Mo: Do not let your brain dictate and impose itself on you. We are not the slave of our brain and cannot let it tell and force us to eat that cheesecake if we don’t want to. Let it release whatever chemicals it wants to but the end decision is ours and only ours. Take charge of yourself and let your brain only do what you tell it to do.

Najib: What is your formula and how did you come to it?

Mo: I took all the points and plotted that I felt happy about; the only common algorithm was that you feel happy when life goes your way and on the contrary, if it does not go your way then you are unhappy; Simple. Our life is so so much better than a lot of people even if we look around in our neighborhood or even in the region we are living in. In short;

Happiness = Events in your life – Expectations on how life should be

Take this equation and see how we become unhappy, the chair you are sitting on might be hard and uncomfortable but at the same time, you could be having the best conversation of your life. We see even when life is harsh, a lot is still predictable, like feeling cold in winters is predictable and it sure isn’t comfortable. Why should we feel stressed and sad if it rains in London or if it’s simmering hot in Dubai, this is how it’s supposed to be isn’t it.



Najib: This is fascinating Mo, please tell us a bit more.

Mo: As I was saying that there is no need for us to keep torturing ourselves for reasons and events beyond our control. As we go through life we tend to learn certain traits and skills that aren’t true. These are:

6 Grand Illusions
7 Blind Spots
6 Great Illusions: Concepts of the wider world that we learn and learn to associate ourselves with even though these are very different to what we think they are:

Illusions of Thought.
Self
Knowledge
Time
Control
Fear
Najib: What is fear, you are saying its an illusion.

Mo: We think fear is real. Fear is a conditioned response; show a snake to a child and he would want to reach out to it. He only fears it when he learns that snakes are dangerous, most of the time the fear statements are highly exaggerated. Modern world drives us into fearing everything. You find dislikes on Facebook and you are afraid, bottled water etc are all derived from unseen and unreal fears. Every time you faced your fear you knew it was not real; we are afraid of spiders and not of their reality. The future comes our way and we see that the fear does not come true. I can comfortably profess that 99.99% of our fears never come true but we still continue to live these “Illusions”.

Najib: What’s your approach to fighting these illusions?

Mo: I offer a systematic approach to this, factor the 6 great illusions and we can get the reality.

Najib: What are the 7 Blind Spots?

Mo: These are the points that blur our realities:

Filtering
Assumptions
Predictions
Memories
Emotions
Labels
Exaggeration
I will just give you an example of Filtering; Dubai is a fantastic city and if the temperature in summers is not according to your expectations then suddenly you become agitated and have a million complaints; you are responsible for your own unhappiness in this case.

Najib: Any final words for our readers Mo.

Mo: My approach is that I work hard but I don’t stress. I learned from Ali as he did his best in life and that is what really matters. I do the best for every one of my customers and employers; sometimes I succeed and at other times I fail. When I fail I see if anything I can do to fix it, If not then I just move ahead and won’t mourn on it. At work, I choose to be happy. If I am not happy somewhere then I look around and shift to a happier place. When you are happy you do your best work.

Najib: Really appreciate your time and thoughts Mo and would love to get you back with us and share this amazing lesson with the audience.

Mo: Thanks a lot for having me over.

To have an in-depth perspective on Mo’s theory for happiness please visit the website http://www.solveforhappy.com/. This interesting book is available at all major bookstores and online stores.



Kazi Najib Ashraf likes to call himself a storyteller and is a Tech and Management Blogger who loves chatting with people making a difference and bringing a positive change in this chaotic world. He can be reached at kazi.najib@playtorium.com. You can also see his articles on www.kazinajibashraf.com. So if you are someone with an interesting story to tell then all it takes is a nice cup of coffee and we get on with your story.
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