Full text of entrepreneur Praveen Wadalkar’s talk: Why you should speak to strangers at TEDxIESMCRC conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Praveen Wadalkar – Co-Founder & CEO at Techizer & True-life Storytelling Coach
I think there is something common between your mom and my mom.
I remember, as a child, whenever I used to go out alone, my mom used to call me, ‘Praveen, come here. Listen carefully. You are traveling alone, make sure son, you don’t speak to strangers. Don’t trust them.’
I would have died with this belief, until I decided to become a solo traveler. Now just because I’ve traveled solo, that doesn’t mean that I don’t work in my life.
I run an IT company. I founded this company six years ago. But then I realized, even if you are doing the world’s most creative job but if you are doing it again and again every day, it is still monotonous; and monotony kills.
So, to kill the monotony in my life, I decided to become a solo traveler. But my solo travel is interesting. I have some simple rules for my solo travel. Example; if I’m traveling in India, I spend only 300 rupees per day, which includes my stay, travel, food, everything. So I’m hungry, I sit down and I cook. If I’m tired, I just lie down.
And whenever I’m ready to move, there is always someone to pick me up. Absolutely free. Now, to me, this is absolute comfort.
But there is something else I do, to make my solo trip more interesting, more special. I play a game with strangers; because in this kind of solo trips, you meet strangers. I have given name to this game, and the name of the game is ‘game of trust.’
Because in solo trips, sometimes you meet some strangers. And when you meet them, your heart, your body, your soul will scream the words of your mother, ‘Don’t trust this stranger.’ But in this game, I have to do exactly opposite; I have to trust.
I played this game 24 times in my life. Let me share three episodes with you today.
Let me take you to Shantiniketan, eastern part of India. I was going there from Kolkata, took a train, and I was sitting in the train, enjoying my tea, and suddenly someone came from behind, tapped my shoulder, “Hey, where are you going?”
I said, “I’m going to Shantiniketan.”
He said, “Don’t go to Shantiniketan. Go to Sriniketan.”
I said, “I never heard this place.”
He said, “There’s some festival going on there.”
I said, “Okay, I will see.” And then he disappeared.
I reached the station. I was outside the station and I noticed someone shouting, “Excuse me, I’m going to Sriniketan. Will you come with me?”
Now in my solo trip, anything offered free gets automatic precedence or everything. I decided to sit with him.
Then we exchanged some views and thoughts, and then we reached Sriniketan. And I notice this is extremely remote area. And he said, “Praveen, where are you staying tonight?”
I said, “I have no idea. I’m a solo traveler.”
And then he said, “Are you married?”
And for a moment I thought, ‘Is this a follow-up question or a connected or standalone question?’
Then he started pitching his tent, and then he said, “Praveen, I don’t mind sharing my tent with you.”
And I was standing there like a fool. I said, “Praveen, come on, he has fooled you right from the train. He has misguided you. You have a bag. You have gadgets. You have laptop. What if he does something wrong with that? Oh, wait a minute, what if he did something wrong with me? Is that the reason he asked me, are you married or not married?’
And my heart, my body, my soul started this screaming the words of my mother, ‘Don’t trust this stranger.’ And very next moment, I decided to trust because I was playing the trust game. I decided to stay with him.
So, what happened next? I will tell you, wait.
Let me take you to another place, Gokarna, near Goa; beautiful place. It was around 10 p.m. raining very heavily; too dark. And I was struggling for the stay, wherever I was going, they were saying, “Are you traveling alone? We don’t give stay to those people who travel alone.”
Surprisingly, beyond my understanding. I’m traveling alone, not with a girl. Come on. And then I reached one guesthouse; four rooms on the top, all four were locked. One uncle was sitting down, wearing white color shirt. I assume he’s the owner of the guesthouse.
And before he say ‘no’ to me, I said, “Uncle, why they are not giving stay to those who are travelling alone?”
And he said, “Just few days ago, person like you checked in in one guesthouse and committed suicide. Police came and they cancelled the license of that guesthouse.”
I said, “Sad, but why they cancelled the license of that guesthouse?”
He said, “Police is suspecting murder.”
Now during this conversation, I could able to convince him for the room. And then I was just going up using staircase, an old lady shouted from behind, “Excuse me?” when I turned back, got scared. Ladies, pardon my language but that lady was not looking beautiful that day. And she said, “This is your water bottle. There’s no water in the room.”
I noticed, there’s no water in my bag also. I was sitting in the room. And when you have just listened the words like murder, suicide, police, it is enough to increase the adrenaline level in your body to make you feel nervous and skeptical about everything in the world.
And I started feeling, ‘Praveen, you are at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and maybe the wrong thing in your hand; that water bottle. Maybe, they’ve added something in this. What if they have added something? Wait a minute. Is this the same guest house where murder happened? Or is this the same room?’
And my heart, my body, my soul started screaming the words of my mother, ‘Praveen, don’t trust this stranger. Don’t drink this water.’
And very next moment, I decided to drink that water because I was playing a trust game and I have to trust.
So, what happened next? I will tell you, wait.
Let me take you to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I was travelling in Metro and suddenly, my eyes got locked on one beautiful stranger.
Now, you travel anywhere in the world, this is the easiest way to start conversation with any stranger. Just do this. You got a smile back, start the conversation. And I got a smile back. And during the conversation, she asked, “So, where are you going Praveen?”
I said, “I am going to a station called ‘Cyberjaya.’ And from there, I might go to one University.”
She said, “But that university is far away from the station.” And she said, “How you will go?”
I said, “I am a manager; I am a solo traveler. I will take a lift.”
And she said, “Don’t worry Praveen, my husband is coming to pick me up. We will drop you there, because we are going that side only.”
I was pleasantly surprised. Husband came. I opened the car. I sat inside the car, and then we had good discussion with the husband. We exchanged views, we exchanged stories, we exchanged our mobile numbers, and the university came. They dropped me.
And when I was just moving, husband said, “Wait, where are you eating tonight?”
I said, “I have no idea, sir. I will see.”
“Okay, what time you are closing your work here?”
I said, “Around 10 o’clock.”
“Okay, do one thing. Give me a call around 10 o’clock, I will pick you from here.” I was so happy.
I went to the university. Enjoyed there after a long tour, I came back and I reached here. Here I am, at the same place. And I thought, ‘Let me try the mobile number of my new Malaysian friend.’ I dialed the number but it went on some Malaysian automated system. I thought, maybe he is busy.
So again, after 10 to 15 mins, again I dialed the number. It was again on automated Malaysian systems. I give it to someone else and he said, “Hey, Sir, someone has given you the wrong number. This number doesn’t exist.” It was 10:30. “Oh, wait a minute. He has my number, so he will call me. 10:45. 11 o’clock.
And then I said, ‘No.’ My heart, my body, my soul again started screaming the words of my mother, ‘Praveen, come on, don’t be a fool. Just out of curiosity someone asked you for the food doesn’t mean you stop here like at 11 o’clock. Don’t trust that stranger. He’s not going to come back.’
But very next moment, I decided to trust because I was playing a trust game. So, what happened next?
What happened next in all these episodes ladies and gentlemen? That day, in Sriniketan, in that tent, I met a friend; a friend of my lifetime. He’s a soulful singer. And whole night, we were just singing and dancing.
The same lady, who was not looking beautiful in the night, knocked the door in the morning. I opened the door and she said, “Son, will you take tea or coffee?”
Around 11 o’clock, he called me, my new friend from Malaysia. She said, “Hey Praveen, are you still working? We’re waiting for your call.” I saved his number incorrectly. And that day, a stranger from Malaysia invited a stranger from India at his home for dinner and stay.
I played this game twenty four times, ladies and gentleman. And 22 times, I won. But what this win means to me? Or what this win means to we all? It means that if I had not changed my belief towards strangers, my approach towards strangers, I would have not trusted more than 96% people in my life who are trustworthy.
And when you don’t trust people, you don’t make relationship. It means, I would have lost opportunity to build a relationship with more than 96%. What a big loss for an individual.
The simple innovation in my belief, helping me to build relationship with strangers. Wait a minute. When I say strangers, I’m not talking about some strange people I meet on the road. The strangers everywhere; the strangers in the class; the strangers in the office. Speak to them. Trust them. Make relationship.
The strangers near home, maybe your neighborhood, maybe they’re strangers inside your home. Speak to them. Trust them. Make relationship.
I know, few of you might be thinking, ‘Come on Praveen, be practical. There are some bad people on this planet. Of course, there are. They are so bad, as if they don’t belong to this planet. They belong to some dark, dirty planet. They’re so bad.
But can I ask you a question? When was the last time you met the bad person in your life? How many of you know a murderer personally, or a rapist personally, or even a pickpocketer personally? There are bad people but they are very less.
And just because of these few bad people, let’s not the whole world suffer because world is full of people like you. Good people. And that’s why, when I send my son to mountains, he loves mountains. Last four years, every year, almost for 10 to 15 days, he goes to Himalayan Mountain without parents.
But when he was going last year, I said, “Son, come here. Listen very carefully. You are travelling alone, make sure you speak to strangers. Trust them. Make relationships.”