Monday, December 9, 2013

Why should AAP's win should matter to all Indians?

We had watched this in movies like Yuva. A bunch of college kids decide to contest for an election. Work dedicatedly, in a team, fight all odds including assassination attempts and emerge victorious in elections. Like all superhero movies, we shunned it off as a story with no real life implication. "It only happens in movies", we said to ourselves,"we have seen Amitabh beating up 25 goondas single handedly, right?"

8-Dec-2013 proved us all wrong. Aam Adami Party emerged as second largest party in Delhi state elections. Mr. Kejariwal emerged as whale hunter, defeating the chief minister seeking fourth term. Many of his indiscreet colleagues defeated stalwarts. Not even a week ago, Sheila Dixit asked the reporters in an irritated tone, "Is that even a party? Can a man just walk in from Ghaziabad and change everything in the state capital?" Well he tried and fell tantalizingly short of the majority. All of us including Sheila Dixit were wrong. Reality indeed can be as strange as fiction.

Why the victory of these 27 political novices so important? Does it really have any significance? Or is it just another emerging regional party that is up there to fragment the votes? Just another cog in the wheel, which can do nothing to the direction of the wheel?

Only time can tell but AAP's debut is noteworthy. It can't be brushed under the carpet. There is something different, refreshing and out of the box about this phenomenon.

Firstly, this is the first time a political party has come into existence which has neither family, not money nor caste to back it up. Interestingly, these three pillars of Indian politics were outlined by Mr. Rahul Gandhi, on one of the rare occasions when his speech made sense. Parties like SP, BSP target population from lower caste, DMK, AIADMK, TDP target regional population, BJP champions cause of Hinduism and Congress and its off shoots like NCP are single mindedly focused on getting back to the power. AAP is the first party which has made a mark with issues that cut across religions, classes, castes, genders and all other axes that keep Indians a divided lot.

The victory is significant not just in India but across the world because for the first time cost break-up of how the campaign money was spent is available on the website. Even the concept of sharing such details is new to democracy. AAP had budgeted how much money was required to fight the election and they stopped accepting donations when that amount was collected. It may sound fool hardy but thats what they did successfully.

The victory speech by Mr. Kejariwal was simple, straight from the heart. One could make out he had not rehearsed it. There no punchlines, no dramatic pauses, no orgasmic slogans. He referred to what has happened, gave away the credit to all those who worked and voted for them. He casually mentioned that they did not have a single paid volunteer nor did they spent any money to buy any vote. They have also taken a stand that they will not form coalition with any other party and would prefer to sit in the opposition. He rounded off his speech by saying ,"if we have caused any trouble or inconvenience to anyone, I apologize for that". This appeared truly honest and humble. Sachin Tendulkar, Amitabh Bachhan, Lata Mangeshkar have exemplified that humility goes a long way in public life in India.

Every year thousands reach the Everest base camp very few reach the summit. Reaching base camp is the first step in the right direction to reach the summit. Whether they scale the summit or not, only time can tell. But now every Indian who pines for good governance, who hates bribes, who is troubled by bureaucracy should stand up applaud AAP for what they have done. Their victory matters to all Indians.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Why do Indians love Sachin Tendulkar?

Sachin - The GODI watched his farewell speech with moist eyes. Sachin Tendulkar was a phenomenon for Indians.He achieved milestones in cricket that one would have never imagined. No wonder his retirement from cricket was a national event. I was quite emotional. I liked all those Facebook messages from my friends who said they have started feeling a vacuum in their life or they had a parallel life in his cricket career which got over etc. etc.


I started wondering why is that so? Why would everyone stop their work to watch him bat? Why would people cry when he stops playing a game?  Why would people call him God? How can a sportsman with a wooden willow in hand who can hit a leather ball very skillfully create such a strong bond with a billion people? Why do Indians love Sachin Tendulkar so much?


Most of us noticed Sachin Tendulkar in a friendly match against Pakistan where he got sledged by Abdul Qadir, about 2.5 times age, challenging him to hit. This curly haired, baby face teenager happily obliged. The arch rival were overawed. Instantly, Sachin had made an emotional connection with the viewers. Then came Hero cup match with South Africa. Someone needed to bowl a tidy over, main bowlers hesitated, Sachin volunteered and completed the job. Indian fans were overawed. Everyone wanted something like this to happen but they had never seen it happening before. He was the guy who believed in himself and made it happen.

It was not all fairy tale. There were bad patches, lost opportunities, careless dismissals and injuries. He battled injuries like never before. There was a time in his career when he could not grip a cricket bat because of tennis elbow. He emerged stronger. Opponent teams found out his weakness, devised strategies. He counter attacked, invented new shots, new techniques, mastered them. He won respect from opponents. Most of his opponents had nothing but praises for him off the wicket. Bradman saw himself in his batting, he came in Shane Warne's dreams, Brian Lara wanted to be his son in next birth and President Obama who does not understand cricket had backhanded compliments for him. Indians love international appreciation. Sachin got it for them.

But the story does not end there. Despite all this heroics, he stayed humble, rooted to the ground. Somehow, humility is an essential quality to become a legend in India. Lata Mangeshkar and Amitabh Bachhan initiated this, Sachin proved it further.  He was an impeccable combination of on-field aggression and off-field humility. He showed the world he could be aggressive where he needed to but chose to be humble. Despite all his mega milestones he never boasted or showed the opposition down. Some opponents mistook humility for weakness and paid the price. Yet off the field, Sachin had good words to say about them. Despite all the international accolades he remained perfectly Indian. He personified Indian values.

Sachin Tendulkar came from a perfectly middle class background, chased his dream against all odds, achieved it without any God father's help. He was brave, skillful, perseverant. He dominated the world unarguably for 2 decades, earned respect and limelight globally and yet stayed humble, rooted and a proud Indian. This is exactly what a common man in India wants to achieve. His emotional connection with 1 billion Indians comes from there. Its not just about cricket. Its about believing in yourself, fighting against all odds and succeeding, unarguably. Be it a player, be it a student, a corporate executive like me or that poor man on the street who has set out to earn something to make his both ends meet Sachin is a role model. Sachin is a dream in motion. Sachin is not just about cricket. Its about success in life.

Indians love Sachin Tendulkar so much because they want to be him in their own field.
Read extended short story version of Why Do Indians blogs with a few more interesting indian inscrutable ways in Why Do Indians..? - The Book

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Great Indian Jugaad

20131112-142322.jpgJugaad, a Hindi word, means finding a solution to a problem against resource constraints by devising a solution which usually out-of-the-box. This solution is specific to the situation or problem involved, a spark of brilliance originating out of unstructured innovation.


Indians at home or abroad not just own but relish Jugaad. Many of them attribute ability to do jugaad as the important quality that helped the succeed in education, career, a particular job or life in general.


But, Indians tend to believe that only they have the ability to do jugaad. They own this concept so much that they forget that this concept thrives in other countries, regions and cultures too. David won against Goliath by jugaad. Trojan horse was a jugaad, Greg Chappel asking Travor Chappel to bowl an underarm bowl to win the match was a jugaad. There are several examples of jugaad in resource starved countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Argentina which are nicely listed in the book called Jugaad Innovation.


Developed countries and western countries look down upon this. They think it is a low quality unscaleable solution that lies on borderline of the morality or legality. They believe it originates out of resource constraints and therefore irrelevant in resource surplus situation.


I am not sure whether Indians are generally better than rest of the world in coming up with jugaad solutions. However, one thing that clearly stands out is - there is no other country in the world where jugaad solution designers command respect or are looked up to. The glamor and authenticity for jugaad stands out starkly in India. This in fact draws more and more people to relent actively to jugaad solutions and it becomes a perpetual cycle.


What makes Indians good at jugaad? Or why does it have the legitimacy & glamour in India?


The popular answers include lack of resources & inefficient system. Some say propensity to break the law or presence of high intellect. But none of these reasons are unique to India or Indians. None of them explain why people look up to jugaad. I always thought this question needed a time taking research or advice or serious soul searching. But then I accidentally stumbled upon a possible profound answer. Take this.


As usual I was reading a story to my son. This time it was Ganesha and his bother Kartikekya. Their parents asked them to race around the world. Kartikeya rode a peacock and Ganesha rode a mouse. As soon as the race started the nimble and agile Kartikekya flew on his peacock and was sure to win. Ganesha was fat and his mouse moved very slowly. He was sure to lose till he thought of an out of the box idea. He went around them three times (called pradakshina in sanskrit. done in temples to the God to pay respect) Ganesha then declared that doing 3 pradakshinas to parents is as good as going round the world. This flattering explanation pleased his parents Shankar and Parvati and they declared him the winner.


"How unfair is that!!!!", exclaimed my 5 year old. "He didn't even run the race "


I had heard this story since childhood without questioning it. I had believed that Ganesha was intelligent and therefore he could think of such a brilliant idea. But the fact remains that he actually DIDN'T RUN THE RACE.


I started thinking about all the God stories I had listened to. To my surprise every single story involved jugaad.


Ram gathered an army of monkeys to challenge Ravan the mighty demon king. He built a make-shift bridge to reach Lanka.


Pandavas killed all commanders of Kauravas by jugaad under Krishna's leadership. Bhishma was defeated by putting a non-male warrior Shikhandi in front and Arjuna throwing arrows from behind him. Drona was killed by spreading rumors that his beloved son Ashwaththama was killed. Whereas Bheema had killed an elephant of the same name. Karna was killed while he was unarmed, trying to resurrect his chariot. Duryodhana was killed by hitting gada on his thigh which was entirely against rules of the war. Each and every strategy that was adopted was a jugaad.


All these stories are foundation of our childhood thinking. We tell these stories to our children to help them decipher what is right and what is wrong. No wonder jugaad is considered legitimate. No wonder we look up to it.


I am not qualified to comment on whether jugaad is positive or negative, right or wrong, a transient phase or trademark problem solving approach of Indians. All I know is, it is glorified and deeply ingrained in our psyche. It is certainly a differentiating unique survival skill possessed by most Indians. It is a gift from Gods... literally!




Read extended short story version of Why Do Indians blogs with a few more interesting indian inscrutable ways in Why Do Indians..? - The Book


Monday, October 7, 2013

My experiments of truth with iPad and my son



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Late Steve Jobs in his wildest imagination would not have thought how his invention would spell trouble for upwardly mobile, well-to-do parents all over the world. Keeping kids away from iPad is as difficult as keeping magnet's north pole away from south pole.

We found this out hard way on my 3Xth birthday, when my wife got an iPad as a surprise gift. That was the first and last day I could hold it for five full minutes without my son snatching it from me. My access to iPad diminished by week and soon I had to ask my son about whereabouts of the iPad. We started off with child friendly applications and story books but soon car racing games, gun fights filled all iPad pages. He figured out how to get on youtube and find his favorite episodes of "Tom and Jerry" and preferred to watch them on iPad rather than on TV.

We tried to put a passcode to iPad. He would try to crack it. Once he found the iPad unlocked, he started playing with it without asking for any permission. We tried to limit his time to use iPad, that made the matters worse. We said finish your homework / dinner / any other work that he didn't want to do first, then we can give iPad. He would hurriedly finish it and get his prized iPad time. He would be cranky and irritable in all activities preceding and following iPad time.

In short, it was a mess. We had a great learning tool in our hand but it was not effective. Me and my wife sat down to think on how we can reverse the situation.

We realized that our enemy was not usage of iPad but our son's obsession with iPad. We found that even when he was playing at playground or we were in a mall he would be thinking about iPad. By saying "finish this and then take iPad" we were unknowingly telling him that the thing you finish first is not so important and the prize of doing that is iPad. Our first step was to kill his obsession with iPad. "If he is obsessed he would crack every code, bend every rule or find every loophole", we thought. To beginwith, we lifted all restrictions on iPad usage. He could use it whenever he wants and for how much-ever time he wants. No passcode, no screen time restrictions nothing. Our risky move paid off, soon the special status of iPad as a toy vanished. Ipad became as available as other toys, iPad time was not anything to look forward to. He would get bored with it after sometime and start playing with other toys. He would insist on going to friend's place or playground for physical play.

We figured out that he used to spend maximum time watching videos on iPad and not playing games. He used the iPad in the same way as we use TV. Switch off the brain, watch the screen and call it entertainment. We decided to de-bundle active and passive entertainment. We removed youtube or any other browser application from iPad and told him to watch his Tom and Jerry on TV. Now iPad ceased to be passive entertainment. He had to play some game or do something actively to stay entertained. That naturally reduced the time he spent on iPad.

We limited the number applications / games to one iPad screen. We told him that is all he could have. If he wanted another game he had to get rid of one of the games from the screen. This helped us to limit expectations on what iPad can offer him. Soon it became a limited entertainment rather than a toy with endless possibilities. He learnt the trade-off. He learnt to forgo familiar but boring games to unknown and exciting ones. He started choosing games more carefully.

Buoyed with initial success, we implemented another rule - if he wanted a new game he needed to abstain from iPad for one complete day. This was tough to implement but soon he got habituated to this. He would plan his new game purchase and keep iPad away for a day. He really started valuing the games he had. We also told him that keeping the iPad charged was his responsibility, which he gladly accepted.

Initially we had kept all educational, brain development applications and car racing type games in different folders. That was all lose proposition. My son was smart enough to realize that the folder with racing games was more entertaining than the other one. We corrected our stupid move by mixing games with quizzes, memory games, mathematics apps, brain development games. With no artificial classification he explored all applications with an open mind as if they were games. He started liking logo quiz, flag quiz. He would do some simple sums and spellings as a part of the game without realizing the distinction.

My son is just 6 and we have a long way to go in our parenting journey. We have a lot to learn, re-learn to manage iPad and kids. But with these initial simple steps we have attained equilibrium with iPad. Although, my son has iPad at his disposal he chucks it away when his friend comes over. Playground time slots are back. Whats more, he learnt elementary chess on iPad, he learnt solar system on iPad app, he knows flags of over 60-70 countries, he can do simple sums.... And still counting.

At least for now, we breathe easy as my son treats iPad as just another toy, albeit the most favorite one.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Species in panel discussion

Panel discussion is a specialized event within the conference. All speakers are invited together on the stage and a moderator asks some questions about the topic under discussion. These questions are perhaps a step forward from the original speech and usually involves specific opinions of the panelists. The questions may sound like , "in your speech you mentioned that so and so trend looks promising, what do you think will happen by 2015?"

This is where the problem lies. You can prepare very well for your speech but you can probably never prepare well for a panel discussion. Delivering your speech is like acting in a movie, panel discussion is like acting on stage. Its all live, no retakes, no second chances. You have to think on your feet. Express your opinion without hurting other panelist - who may well be your clients. If countered and cornered, you should be able to retreat graciously. All this needs to be done live with no time to think or contemplate. This complexity brings out a different array of "species".

Speech ++ : This category of panelist have a strong hangover of their own speech. Either they have prepared so well and thought about the speech so much that they are unable to think about anything else or they are genuinely unable to think of anything else. Whatever is the reason, their response to any question starts with , "As i mentioned in my speech earlier....." They use this prelude for answering any question, even if it is not related to their presentation. Somehow they see a continuum between what they presented and rest of the world, which others fail to appreciate.

Time-machines : This panelist typically is on the wrong side of fifties or more. Thats the defining characteristic. They quickly realize that they are the most "experienced" among the entire lot of panelist and that becomes their foundation of anything they say. They claim to know who's who across the spectrum due to their associations earlier in their careers. Even if you are 40 something they address you as young generation, making you feel like a teenager. They talk passionately about companies that may not exist or may be on their way down. Somehow they claim to be present in or even claim to be the brains behind situations that redefined the history or caused a serious breakthru'. Their anecdotes sound like , "In 198x, when so and so company was on the verge of collapsing, the MD Mr. Who's who called me / came to my office/ called me for a drink and that's when I gave him this idea, which made sure company is still live and kicking today." They share breakthroughs that the "young generation" around fails to relate to or appreciate. But I must say, their memories and stories are astonishing by any yardstick. Their typical response to any question raised during panel discussion sounds like "in 1964 when me and MD of so and so company were discussing, I mentioned to him so and so which he implemented in his next launch" You can't help but wonder, if he is such an influential person and if he has caused so many historic moments, then why haven't you heard about him before and how the hell has he managed stay below the media radar for so long. Since I belong to "young generation" I may never find a good answer to this.

Patronizing Panelists: Some panelists I have come across are more interested in patronizing or attacking co-panelists than responding to the questions or stating their opinions. They may have strong opinions and disagreements with other panelists, given a chance they want to shred their opponents to pieces. But they wear veil of nicety and bearing of a gentleman. They start their answers with a smile on their face - which is on the borderline of a smirk - "With due respect to Mr. So and so opinion...." Or "I almost agree with you on this...." Or "that is a great alternate theory about what is happening". All these sentences respectively mean "Mr. So and so is an idiot and does not deserve any respect" or "I completely disagree with you but it is politically incorrect for me to accept it. " or "you have no clue about what is happening, what you have mentioned does not make sense at all". God forbid, if you have to join such a panelist. There is no sure shot way to deal with such panelist without looking bad. The only thing which had once worked for me was pre-empting. During a coffee break and other interactions throughout the day, I had spotted a patronizing panelist who was supposed to be on the same panel. I would append my answer with a sentence tag - "I am aware that Mr. Patronizing panelist may disagree and present his alternative view but let us not forget three important aspects that determine the outcome". If those three important aspects were considered no logical alternate view was possible. This effectively took wind of the sail from Mr. Patronizing panelist.
One wonders why such disruptive, abrasive personalities get included in the panel at all. Because organizers love them. They make the debate lively, crack some jokes, ensure that the topic under discussion sounds important. That is extremely compelling reason! For me, I must say, I almost like them.

Gubugubugubu : When I was a child and I used to visit my grand parents town, there would be an unique visitor. We used to call him "nandi bail" or bull named nandi. This bull named nandi was supposed to have powers. He could predict the rains, how would the crop yield be or whether the challenges facing the town would vanish. The drill went like this : the man with the bull would ask the bull ," Nandi tell us whether it would rain on time" then his drum would go "gubugubugubu" Then Nandi would nod affirmatively. Then the onlookers would hand over some change to the man for giving the good news.
At age 7, I figured out that Nandi can only nod affirmatively and all the questions and the Nandi-man coins the questions to ensure affirmative answer is the most desirable one. Well, I have come across so many panelist who are waiting to agree to other panelist. It saves them the effort of having their own unique opinion and having to defend it. They are also weary of Patronizing Panelist - one of the best ways to deal with them is also to join the forces and agree with them. These panelists have rather forgettable existence in the panel only exception being those who vehemently agree with both opposing opinions causing deep rooted confusion among the conference delegates about what their real opinion is.

But that does not matter, conference is an event for making contacts, network and make friends, if you can. It is not an event for radical opinions, incisive scrutiny and defining ideologies. Conferences have their own charm. They make me feel important, wanted and knowledgeable. It boosts my alter ego and keeps up my motivation up and going. I have met some very interesting personalities during conference. What's more, I could pen down 3 blogs on it. Thanks all those who invited me to their conferences!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Speaker "Species" at Conference

As a part of my job I have to go and speak at various conferences and demonstrate thought leadership of our company at a public forum. There is a fine balance one needs to attain. On most occasions the organizers would have paid a paltry sum to cover for expenses, which essentially means whatever content you give out is free. You don't want to give away too much at the same time you need to convince the audience that you know enough about the subject.

However, all speakers don't have these constraints. For some speakers it is an excellent opportunity to explain their product, service or solution to an informed audience and they might have paid an handsome sum of money to get that speaking slot. For some others it is industry obligation, for some others it is ticket to networking and for very few others it is an excuse to get a sponsored trip. This assembly of well dressed, well prepared presenters who have gathered to do the same activity but with completely different intent makes the whole experience very comical. So after presenting some species among delegates in my last blog, here are some species among speakers.

Last Speaker of the day : Networking session after your speech is your magic moment. You get a stage for yourself, to proclaim your expertise on the subject and irrespective of whatever you speak, it works like a magic on the audience. Networking starts after their speech. Whatever is your intent one does enjoy the attention, flattering comments and limelight moments after the speech. Delegates start flocking around and congratulate on the speech.
This is where the last speaker of the day suffers the most. The problem with Last Speaker is he knows he may not get such an opportunity. He is not even sure whether these delegates would stay back. In his mind he is kicking himself for accepting that speaking slot and is also mildly jealous of fellow speakers who hog limelight one after another. So he starts campaigning for his speech since morning. He does not take any conversation to its logical end. He initiates it, when the debate heats up, with a vicious smile he says,"I would like to answer this in my speech".

Unable to lose the bearing : Some speakers are really very passionate. They deliver energetic speeches. They may come from a company who does need that stage to communicate to the world eg. some start up working on a new idea or company that is knocking doors of the big league or some i dustry association propagating a new concept and gathering industry participants etc. . Invariably, they have some aspect of their speech that is debatable. During the networking fellow speakers or Aspiring Speakers may flock around politely give them another perspective. Actually, there is an obvious way to handle such situation during off-stage disagreements. The speakers can just listen to someone who presents a contrary point of view. Then give a nice and polite answer which sounds like ,"great point. I will think about it more deeply now. Thank you". But Unable to lose bearing speakers are different. They continue debating in during off-stage with the same passion and try to convince off-stage audience. If they run into an equally passionate Aspiring Speaker sparks start flying, temperatures rise and tempers show up. Despite their great speech and interesting thoughts they make more enemies than friends, their speaker feedback rankings suffer and they themselves go back frustrated, just because they were not able to lose their bearing.

The Surprised Speaker : Very often you run into a comical situation in which the speaker appears genuinely surprised at his own slides. They have a strange, mystic expression on their face which can arise out of the situation which goes something like this. Just imagine, you are going about doing your errands in a market with your partner. Your partner says, "Honey, (or sweetie or Baby or whatever your calling card might be) i will be right back." Soon you run into a common friend and your partner turns up. What would your facial expression be if your partner's looks are completely changed and he/she is looking straight of the fashion show ramp or like a movie star? They have similar expression on their face. They are familiar with the content but are completely bowled over by looks of the presentation and have no time to react. My hunch is the speaker might have approved the draft version of the presentation and sent to graphic designers. They may keep the content but jazz up the presentation beyond recognition. The presentation goes from graphic designer to his secretary and then to organizers. Secretary confirms that organizers have loaded the presentation so this poor speakers ambles around confidently till he his faced with his own presentation. For some of these speakers to shock is so much that they almost forget their speech. They admire their own slides but eventually start reading out the content. Their good speech is killed by their own graphic team.

The reluctant speaker: Walking up the stage and talking to room full of people is considered to be among top 5 dreaded things in the world. It is evident when you come across the reluctant speaker. Either due to genuine stage fright or due to reserved personality or lack of preparation time , every now and then you run into a speaker who hates to be there. He does not like the lime light, does not like approaching delegates. He tends to take a coffee break when other speakers are speaking and goes thru their notes during the coffee break. They act very nervously, finish off all the water bottles they can lay their hands on and then keep visiting rest room to balance the situation. They may present reasonably well but find it hard to accept any compliments. There is a sea-change in their body language after their speech. They become very friendly, may start of the discussion left half way during the day. Very early in my public speaking career, I was on this boarder line. So I have complete sympathy and understanding of what they might be going through. I do hope that one day they overcome this dreaded fearful event.

The travel bug: invariably, you run into speakers who have accepted to speak at the conference to get their trip to this destination sponsored. What is even worse, they don't hesitate to make it obvious. I have met some speakers of who have gone so far down this track that they make a convenient assumption that all other speakers are also here to do the same. They are completely oblivious to any other reasons for speaking at the conference. The conversations with such speakers can be really funny. If you strike a conversation with them they may start asking personal details about you such as where do you live, for how long, where all you have travelled, whether you are vegetarian or not, what are your hobbies etc. Initially, you don't know where the conversation is going, then you start feeling that they are genuinely interested in you but the real reason is they want travel tips. If you are from the same city, the conversation can derail into unusual places of interest, obviously because they are thorough on usual places of interest. They may ask for favorite local food haunts, local dishes, pubs etc etc. The conversation soon derails into travel habits, tips to get complimentary upgrades in airlines and hotels, which airlines are the best etc. These speakers can get along only with reluctant speakers. For the Last speakers or Unable to lose bearing speakers, these guys are a big waste of time. They may permanently away from travel bugs through out the conference. But The Travel Bugs don't care. They exist in the conference for a difference purpose. They don't waste even one minute after their speaking slot at the venue. They get very upset if the schedule is delayed or their speaking slot is preceded by the unstoppable speaker. It may put their entire schedule in jeopardy, a situation that they are not willing to accept.

The Unstoppables : I suspect that in earlier days this was the most common type of speakers at the conference. Because most of the conference organizers have elaborate systems to prevent time overruns at the conference, largely caused by the unstoppables. Conference organizers review length of the presentation, keep 5 to 10 minutes after each presentation to cover for the overruns, they have a dedicated timekeeper sitting in the last row, away from public eye, with placards showing "5 minutes left" "1 minute left" and "time up". But the urge to speak and share their experience and perspective with the educated, qualified audience for these speakers is simply unstoppable. They may have limited number of slides but somewhere in the middle of the presentation they may take a wrong memory lane and wander in woods. Good eloquent speakers may entertain the crowd with their anecdotal nostalgic experiences, but it would cause a major delay. The timekeeper on last bench may start waving his placard vehemently but they will pretend to look elsewhere. The master of ceremony or chairman of the session may switch on their mike suggestively. The nervous next speaker may queue up but these unstoppables are lost in their nostalgic memories, unable to find their way back to rest of the presentation. It is cruel on them, frustrating for organizers but a moment to be amused and chuckle a little bit for all others.

In my next blog, I plan to write about species in panel discussions. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Delegate "Species" at Conference

One of the important elements of my job is to speak at conferences. Typically, conferences are events centered around a topic, with speakers lined up for the whole day - some of whom flown in from overseas and delegates who attend primarily for networking but some of them may also be interested in acquiring the information about the central theme. There are speeches, panel discussions lined up for the day with sufficient time around coffee breaks, lunch breaks for delegates and speakers to network. I have attended a lot of such events and observed some peculiar "species".

What I have realized is irrespective of the topic and venue of the conference there are several commonalities. Organizers have the same facial expressions - caught between making sure all lose ends are tied and appear in control and courteous. The registration desks are always (wo)manned with impeccably dressed good looking girls, who always have trouble finding my name tag. They invariably mistake me for those MBA students who are encouraged to attend such events to get industry perspective. I can confidently say that the tea, coffee and sandwiches in all conferences taste the same.

But what is perhaps most striking is the "species" whom you meet at these conference. These are a group of people who show similar characteristics, talk and act in same way and you are likely to meet them at every conference.

Let us look at some species among delegates first.
Business card crusaders : "My name is XXX from YYY company", a small built, busy looking, not-so-impressively dressed delegate spoke to me, holding his business card for me. I accepted the card, reached out to mine, handed it over with my introduction. both of us said, "nice to meet you." as I started inspecting his card. "what is your company......", I asked as I looked up, but I had no chance to complete my sentence as Mr. XXX had vanished. I could see him in an adjacent cluster, introducing himself. I knew I had just met a Business Card Hunter.
Sole aim of this species is to collect as many business cards as possible. Everyone in the conference wants to collects business cards but these guys are different. They are not interested in anything else other than the business card. You can see them jumping around from one group to another making sure they don't get stuck into any lengthy and meaningful discussion. They strike early to make sure they reach everyone before their cards are over. During the speeches they pull out their attendees list and keeping ticking names of delegates whom they have "covered". I am sure specimen of these species would be catching up with each other to understand trends and passing tips "go to so and so guy, his cards are getting over" or "dont waste your time on so and so he the "Lost types" ". Lost types is our next species.

The Lost types : "I am Vivek from Frost & Sullivan", I introduced myself as I held my business card for my fellow speaker. He shook hands and said "nice to meet you" and suddenly his face turned very apologetic. He had forgotten his business cards and was feeling very stupid. (rightly so). He was a knowledgeable person but unable to continue the conversation as he had forgotten the simple basic thing. Surprisingly, I meet at least one such person in every conference.
The primary objective of organizing and attending any conference is networking. Carrying a stack of business card is as essential as wearing your tie. Yet in every conference I meet up with couple of lost type specimen. For some reasons these guys don't have realistic idea of what they are getting into. They have a lost look on their face or they are not dressed appropriately or forgotten to shave. But the most striking characteristics of these species is they have forgotten to bring their business cards. They feel majorly apologetic about it, they are not able to engage in any discussion and keep assuring you that they will keep in touch thru' email. The business card hunters stay away from their meaningless existence in the conference. However, if you find a confident looking "Lost type" person either he has done it very often and has made peace with this fact or he is a "Targeted Card Distributor". This is a sub-species who are very selective about whom to hand over their cards, mostly because they have limited business cards. If they meet an important enough person they may shamelessly flash the card and go on with their business as if nothing has happened.

The Foody types: Different things appeal to different people, to these species food is the most important part of the conference. They are characterized by extended breaks, overflowing plates and multiple serving. They may leave a speech early to beat the queue at coffee breaks and lunch breaks. They can be solitary or place themselves in a discussion groups. In discussion groups, they tend to be very good listeners - for obvious reasons. Lunch epitomizes the moment of truth for these species. If the lunch is too bad, they may be very disappointed with the 'content' of the organization and decide to leave early. They may also leave early, if the lunch is significantly better than their expectations - due to overeating. The existence of this species as helped immensely in solving the puzzling phenomenon of dropping attendance for post lunch sessions. In every single conference.

Aspiring speakers : You always find couple of delegates who are really disappointed with the content and quality of speakers. They are kicking themselves in their minds for not attempting the speaker slot or for paying the full delegate fee for such an ordinary conference. They can be seen discussing and debating vociferously in the networking sessions. They try to capture the public sympathies and win popularity that helps them to corner the speakers or get approvals for their "out of the box" views. Although, they are not happy with the conference, they are one of the last ones to leave the conference. Their enthusiasm and concentration level seldom drops and they leave the venue with determination that they will turn up as a speaker, one day.

Speaker hunters: These species is perhaps the most visible after speakers on the stage. They specialize in asking difficult questions to speakers on stage. They may be Aspiring Speaker species or may belong to some NGO who is working against the topics being discussed in the conference or may be a related to academic sector and been on the receiving end of such difficult situations. Their questions may sound like , "on your slide number 15, the third number in your table does not appear to be accurate." If they are from NGO they may pose a question that questions the whole basis of organizing this conference. In one of the electrical vehicle related conference, after I made a presentation about how EV companies are concerned about safety of battery in EVs, one Speaker Hunter asked me about my opinion on hazards of recycling the Lithium Ionian battery. God forbid if you come across a Speaker Hunter and Aspiring Speaker rolled into one. Once I was asked if cellphone companies can innovate to make telephony wireless why can't power generation companies innovate to transmit power wireless! Its a valid question in some sense but nothing to do with original topic of batteries for electric vehicles.
Only silver lining to this dark cloud as a speaker is most of the Speaker Hunters are not really expecting an answer. They get their kick out of asking a difficult question. They have got their attention, their limelight, their moment in the history. One of the gracious ways of exiting this situation is to appreciate their thought process behind the question. Thank them for bringing in out-of-the-box views to the table. Also praise the organizers for having such a high quality topics and delegates and do this long enough for the audience to forget the question and organizers to call it timeout. Trust me the you will win top rating from Speaker Hunters with this strategy.

In next blog, I will talk about some species among the speakers.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Classic role reversal

I was born in 70s. I grew up in a household where black and white television and landline telephones were considered luxuries and a vespa scooter was good enough to flaunt your wealth. I also grew up watching my mother busy cooking and my father always out on some work. Father not being home was the default situation and we were quite close to mom. We used to confide in mom, share all our situations, take it easy, bend some rules. We could not do so when father was around. Father was the hero and disciplinarian. Mom would often say ,"clean up the mess, father is about to come". Sound of his scooter or his footsteps was good the cue for us to switch on that "good boy" mode and start to study hard or switch off the television or pretend to sleep. Whatever we needed had to be asked to father, who needed fair bit of convincing and negotiations to get it. Mom would be the undercover supporter. She would ask key questions at important moments to help us build our case and eventually get us what we wanted. In short, our father was disciplinarian and mother was confidant. We would take it easy with our mother but never take our chances with father. Father was the decision maker and mother was undercover ally.

Fast forward 20-25 years. I have a son. My wife is busy in the household, cooking, cleaning, shopping, ironing and managing the paraphernalia. I am busy in office for minimum 12 hours a day, when in station. Missing for entire working week, when I am traveling. On the face of it, situation is quite similar.

But if I scratch the surface I realize, that something has changed. By 180 deg. Is my guess.

When my son needs something he comes and makes a demand with me. Then me and him devise strategies to get it past his mom. He is not afraid to throw his things around rather than being orderly, when he is with me. But the moment he hears his mom, he would pretend that he was always cleaning up. Very often I hear my wife saying that the discipline slackens big time when I am around.
I checked this out with my friends and colleagues, the situation is quite similar.

Broadly, I can say that roles have reversed. For current "screenagers" father is the confidant and under cover ally and mother is the decision maker and disciplinarian.

Is it because fathers have started shouldering more responsibilities than their fathers and have found an easy way out?

Is it because all moms have seen softer approach of their moms not working on them and have shunned it?

Or is it because son's are trying to emulate their mothers and daughters are trying to emulate their fathers, thanks to their natural attraction and role modeling?

I really don't know the reason. I would like you guys to share your views. Feel free to share your thoughts on my blog. Would be a great discussion!!

Let the thoughts flow!!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Rahul Dravid, IPL and Art of Retirement

It is delightful to see Rahul Dravid in this IPL. His team Rajsthan Royals has done so well but I am not referring to that. I am referring to Rahul Dravid as a batsman. Yeah, he is not the orange cap guy nor has he hit fastest century or hit 6 sixes in one over but there is something delightful about his battingnthis year. He is trying out everything that he did not or I must say could not in his long illustrious career. In one of the matches, he lofted a ball from outside the off stump and deposited it on mid wicket fence. "This is so unlike Rahul Dravid - shot", said Harsha Bhogle, in cheerful voice, astonished tone and with half a giggle.

That set me thinking. Rahul Dravid to me represents that class of corporate workers that is completely capable of leading the team, getting that next promotion or be in the limelight but they just could not. Just like Rahul Dravid they did everything the situation asked for, whole heartedly, without complaints but lime light, flamboyance or the oomph factor always stayed away from them. Rahul Dravid really cherished playing at no. 3 position but he opened the batting when he was asked to, played at no. 5 or no. 6 position to accommodate VVS. He kept wickets during the entire world cup to just because selectors could not find a genuine all rounder. He even captained the side when their captain fell sick looking at the grass on the wicket. He is second highest run getter for India, third in the world and played a supporting role in one of the best counter attack in test match in our times. He also retired quietly. There were no wars fought among the fans about his retirement, no TV shows, no discussions about right timing or timing it right. This pretty much sounds like a significantly above average corporate career.

Thats why it is delightful to watch him blossom after retirement. He seems to enjoy himself. There is nothing left to be proven anymore. He can open up the shoulders to play any shot he feels like as they are not burdened with any national responsibility anymore. He can now try any fancy shot, get beaten and still there will not be hoo- haas in the stadium. So far he played for his captain, his team, his country and now he can play for himself.

I want to follow his footsteps in retirement. I want to do things, I have never done before. I want to try those things which I would most likely to fail. I want people to exclaim , "That's so unlike-Vivek thing".

I learnt a lot from Rahul Dravid when he was playing, I will learn lot from him even after he has retired.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Why did fish leave water to live on ground?

I started my career with a motorcycle company as a sales person. My job was to sell targeted number of motorcycles through the dealer network every month. It involved very close personal interactions with quite wealthy people and getting things done through them. I distinctly remember one such interaction about 15 years ago. In those days, there were very few car dealerships around and I was discussing with one of my dealers why he did not take up car dealership. He pulled out a sheet that showed merely lending that money at prevalent interest rates would earn far more money than investing in a risky new venture. He did not think that the business case for a car dealership was stronger than simply lending the money. The calculation was impeccable but somehow the conclusion didn't seem right. I could not think of what was wrong but I could feel it.

Now when he looks back he must be regretting his decision. The bike dealership must have grown but car dealerships have grown multifold and are raking money. Gradually, their business proposition became much stronger than lending money.

This story is not isolated. There are many inventions or new business venture that were shunned by astute business minds as they failed to prove their attractiveness on an excel sheet. No financial model or theory could prove their merit. Someone had to take an uncalculated risk, someone had to listen to her gut than cash flow analysis and put their heart and soul to bring that idea to life and make it successful. As Ratan Tata famously said the one needs to work on making the decision right rather than just worrying about whether the decision was right.

This situation is however, not really unique to humans. It has happened in nature many times. The life on the earth started in water. Fish had everything needed inside water, the food, their oxygen, their eco-system. Still some fish decided to venture on land. Nobody is really sure why they did so or what the trigger was. Was there too much competition for food or too many predators or just boredom with status quo or all of the above? Or whether these fish were visionaries, we may never know. Some fish made their mind to plunge into the unknown, try to breathe in air, crawl instead of swim and the results are apparent. They started a whole new cycle of evolution of which we are all beneficiaries. We would not have existed in this shape and form if they had not taken the risk.

Challenging status quo without any apparent reasons and logical benefits has its own rewards as well as risks. Thats the reason this path is less travelled. If there is an idea, a new activity which you strongly feel about, which you think is going to change things around but no excel sheet supports your claim or none of the facts in the past point towards the success think of the fish who left the water for land. Think of my dealer who refused to expand to unknown just because immediate excel sheet did not support it.

May be you will get courage to start a big cycle of evolution! May be you will know why did fish leave water to live on ground!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Leadership Lesson from a Navigation System

I was returning from an unusually bad day at office. Till this morning I thought, I had everything worked out. The goals were attainable. I had worked every minute aspect of execution plan and I was with my team leading the mission from front. Every deviation was noticed, relevant team members were involved and corrective actions were taken. Then why did this happen?

I was lost deep in my thoughts as I got behind the steering wheel. I had to go one of acquaintance's home for dinner. I didn't know the way so just entered their address in navigation system and went back to my train of thoughts. I was quite happy with the progress so far on the project. We were well on track and ahead of schedule. Today, we delivered a milestone and received positive feedback from the client. Today was supposed to be a team lunch to celebrate a milestone but it turned out to be a grievance sharing meeting. My team felt directionless. They felt everything around was uncertain and I was virtually sitting in a command room and asking them to do certain tasks with no lead time. They failed to see the big picture. Although, I assured them that we were on right course, they were not sure. I failed to empathize with them. Why would you think directionless when you are perfectly on course!

I didn't know the answer as I kept driving. The navigation system was doing its job and asking me to take turns, exits, keep lane and I was just following the orders. As I switched off from my thoughts and started concentrating on the driving, the first thing I noticed was I didn't know where I was headed. I didn't know how from my current location, I would arrive at my destination. I didn't know what the navigation system would order next. And suddenly, I started empathizing with my team. May be navigation system had it all worked out but I didn't know, so I was feeling the same directionlessness when probably I was on right course.

I decided to pull over and take a closer look at the navigation map. I took an overview, looked at my current position and final destination. Looked at which direction I was generally headed and started driving again. It worked like a magic! Now I could anticipate what the next turn might be. I still needed the navigation system commands to stay on course but since I knew the big picture I could understand and appreciate what was happening. The directionlessness had vanished and I was quite sure where I was headed.

Needless to say, I spent next few days showing the big picture to my team and help them anticipate what direction they may have to take. I was still in the command room but now my orders were well understood and well received.

Unless, your team knows and has a buy-in in the big picture they will feel directionless irrespective of where you are headed. Knowing the big picture does not eliminate the need for having a navigation system. It is still required to work out the nitty-gritties, warn us about speed traps and slow moving traffic to enable course correction. But knowing big picture makes the driving experience so much more predictable. This was a great leadership lesson from an inanimate object.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Armor test to get a lifelong client

Akbar was a noble mughal king who ruled India in 12th century. It is said that he had a very intelligent, witty and smart advisor called Birbal in his court.

Birbal was quite friendly and approachable for anyone who faced problems with burocracy or dealing with ministers, courts and the King in general. One day he was approached by the best armor supplier for royal army. When the supplier's men were delivering armors as per usual routine, they were stopped by some ministers who were jealous of his success and wanted to promote other suppliers. They took out an armor kept it on floor and attacked it with sword with all their might. The armor broke into pieces. They reported this to Akbar who was naturally very upset and had summoned the armor supplier to the court the next day. He sought Birbal's advice on how to deal with situation.

"But why did your armor broke into pieces? Was it bad quality?" queried Birbal. "No", exclaimed the supplier, "you put any armor on the floor and attack with the sword it would break. Thats not how it is supposed to be tested. An armor is supposed to be tested by putting it on". Birbal thought for a while and said, "then that is precisely what you should do tomorrow".

The next day, the armor supplier reached the court wearing the armor. He requested, "I would ask the mightiest warrior to run a sword on me now. If I survive that means my armor is good quality. If the armor breaks, I would die any way and thats the punishment I deserve". Needless to say, he passed this test with flying colors and won back the armor contract.

I thought this story is relevant in corporate environment today. Isn't it quite common that no matter how good you are and how well you serve the client, there would be a set of people who would not want you to be there. They will put roadblocks and create situations to get you out. Sounds familiar?

It is also quite common that the clients would evaluate your product or service in a completely wrong way and blame you for results. Thats not all, it may be impossible to tell the client that their testing or evaluation criteria are wrong. What do you do in such a case?

Well, the big boss has to wear the armor and face the mightiest warrior from the client side. No doubt it is risky. There are chances that armor may break. But that is your best chance. Unless you show unshakeable confidence in your product, service or solution, how can you win back the trust? What is good about risky decisions is they also come with high reward.

You can earn clients for life but you should be ready to pass armor-test with them every once in a while.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Wrong story - right conclusion!

It was story time with my 5 year old son again and today's story was "Friend in need is friend indeed"

An old man wanted to cross the jungle and reach his village as fast as he could. He met a young man who was also going in the same direction. Both decided to travel together and help each other if there is a difficulty. Suddenly, they saw a bear chasing them. Both started to run. Obviously, young man ran faster. Old man said, "I can't run fast. Let's take my stick and fight with the bear". The young man did not listen and climbed the tree and hid. The old man shouted for help but no avail. Suddenly, he thought of a bright idea. He lay still on the ground as if he was dead. The bear sniffed and went away as the bears don't eat animals which are already dead. The young man climbed the tree down and asked old man what happened. The Old man was quite upset and said,"the bear whispered in his ears that the young man was not worthy to be his friend since he did not help him to save his situation." Moral : Friend in need is friend indeed.

With all due respect, the old man was expecting too much from the young man. What was he supposed to do? Fighting the bear with stick does not sound like an exciting plan and had very low probability of success. Running as fast as you can when the hunter is chasing you is an animal instinct. It is in our genes we can't not do it. When a herd of wild buffaloes is chased by lions, they run. If the stay together as a group instead of running probably lion won't be able to hunt them. But they don't. They run for their lives. Thats what the young man did. He did not want the old man to die. He just wanted to save himself.

My real problem with this story is that we are setting a wrong expectation in our children's young minds about what a real friend is. This story sets the bar too high. Nobody including your best friend should be "expected" to make a sacrifice or put their life in danger for you. If they do it, they are great and are definitely the best friends but if they don't do it one can't blame them.

We have to educate our kids that in extreme situations they have to take their own responsibility. In real life , that is what happens. For extreme situations, the best person to counter the situation is YOU and you have to do it bravely. That is likely to bring out the best in you, like it did for the old man. As long as he was expecting the young man to help, he did not do anything to help himself. When he knew he was alone and young man was not going to help, he came up with a brilliant idea to save himself.

This story tries to deliver a positive and altruistic conclusion by sighting a negative example. That is simply not convincing. I agree with the conclusion but story does not do justice to the great thought. So I decided to re-write the story.

An old man wanted to cross the jungle and reach his village on the other side as fast as he could. He met a young man who was also going in the same direction. Both decided to travel together and help each other if there is a difficulty. Suddenly, they saw a bear chasing them. Both started to run. Obviously, young man ran faster. As they were running they thought of a plan. The old man to lay down still on the ground and the young man climbed a nearby tree. As the bear came nearer the young man reached out to some balloons in his pocket. He quickly blew up a few balloons and as bear bent down to sniff the old man and he bursted them to create a loud bang. The bear got scared and ran away. Both were happy that their plan worked. They became very good friends for rest of their lives. Moral : Friend in need is friend indeed.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Dream Team - Utzon and Columbus

I was inspired to write this blog when I visited Sydney Opera House recently. They have a beautiful tour within Sydney Opera house to explain the history and the making of Opera House, the story of how opera house came into being. A global competition was held for designing Opera house. Most reknowned architects and designers participated from all over the world. Most of the entries had shown a roomy, boxy conventional designs, except for a dutch architect Mr. Utzon, which eventually got selected and is standing near harbor bridge for us to see. We all know that the design is very distinctive, innovative etc etc. But what intrigued me was when Mr. Utzon sent this design it was just a sketch. They liked it but nobody knew for sure - including Mr. Utzon whether such a structure could be built. They just embarked on a dream project and eventually fulfilled the dream after several years of delay and several million dollars spent over budget. Mr. Utzon oversaw the project for a very long time but Sydney government had to relieve him of his duties as he could not get job done. Mr. Utzon, despite making such a great design, could never visit his dream project after its completion. The creator of the concept just remained a pure dreamer who could not even see his dream turned to reality because of his poor execution skills.

That reminded me of Columbus - the great for different reason altogether. He had a completely different skill set. He set out to find alternate route to India and accidentally landed in American continent near carribian islands. When he landed he did not know where he was, when he returned he could not explain where he had been. Till he died he believed that he had found an alternate route to Indian subcontinent. In short, he had absolutely no idea about where he has reached but he did complete 3 more voyages to America in next few years. Without knowing big picture he could achieve the same result under complex conditions with impeccable accuracy. Thats what I called implementation excellence.

Look around you. You will easily spot lots of Utzons and Columbuses. The Utzons may tell stories that look infeasible, may appear dreamy and may be easily written off as useless. Thats where the columbus should begin. he should strive hard to get that dream to reality. He may not understand the dream or appreciate the big picture but thats not his job. His job is to implement it without worrying about whether its doable or not.

We find scores of Utzons and Columbuses in any organization. Both of them may struggle to find their own space and succeed in the organization. Somehow, our modern organizations are built for people who are closer to the median on most organizational skills, not for people closer to extremes. Thats where the management skill is required to bring these two complimentary skills to gather and make the dream team. The team that has capability to dream the impossible and then bring to reality against all odds, again and again, the team that consists of Mr. Utzon and Mr. Columbus.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Managing the Career - Diet plan way

One of my friends recently underwent a detox­ cum ­weightloss program. His daily diet consisted of some pills that had measured and balanced nutrition with all the vitamins, proteins and carbs, he needed for the day. Technically, he could just pop those few pills and all his nutritional needs were met. He need not eat anything else for rest of the day for his nutritional needs. But diet plan consisting of pills won’t work as the stomach is not built to run on pills. Hunger strikes and then you got to eat certain volume of food. His diet program had a fiber jelly which just filled the stomach and did not have considerable nutrition. Thats how the balance in the diet was managed.

I thought our careers were no different. A balanced career should keep you gainfully occupied for the whole day and should pay you enough at the end of the month. Keeping gainfully occupied is similar to nutritional value provided by your diet and salary at the end of the month fills your stomach..literally.

But how many of us really have such careers?

Feeling underpaid and overworked is quite common and apparent. This is very similar to spotting a hungry person, quite straight forward. If you look around you would find many who are not happy with their salary. There are many who complain about the being overworked. It is quite easy to spot the problem and even correct the situation - just find yourselves a better paying job.

But there are many who are suffering in silence because they feel underutilized. Their pay might be good but the job does not challenge them enough or does not give them enough mental fodder to think about. The job is simply not challenging enough. It feels as if your brain is rusting. This is very similar to sufficient diet which is not nutritious enough.

Watch out ... have you fallen in this trap? Unfortunately, if you have then you have to go the diet­plan way. Separate feeling of being well utilized from feeling well paid. You deserve to have both. Push yourself in current job, get out of your comfort zone, volunteer for the new position nobody wants to take. If none of these is possible, look for something that will challenge you outside your workplace. Volunteer to run the charity donation drive, join support groups, mentor a budding entrepreneurs, teach some students... Make sure you feel well utilized.

You can easily spot imbalance in diet and join a plan to set it right. Balanced diet means enough quantity with sufficient nutrition. We should also look at our careers once in awhile and rebalance it. Like a balance diet, you should be well paid and also well utilized. There is no real choice.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Power of Restart

S**t happens. Projects get screwed up. Schedules go haywire. Your most trusted team member may vanish when you needed the most. Computers crash. The PO you wanted the most may not come despite all verbal assurances. Shipments get delayed.

What does it do to you? Well you feel overwhelmed or cheated or fooled or let down or infuriated or frustrated or all of these. The worst part is, it does not matter who screwed up, it is your job to set it right. You feel as if you are asked to move a mountain-sized debris with a mini-sized shovel. All problems appear larger than life, everything is equally urgent, no re-scheduling ever looks feasible.

What do you do in such a case? Well, Learn from Microsoft Windows. Most of Windows problems disappear on restart. Perhaps, our mind works the same way. Switch off, wait for sometime, ensure you have forgotten about the problem. Then approach the problem all over again.

You would have got your bearings back, your natural instincts would be much sharper. The the most powerful muscle in your body, the brain, would have got adjusted to the crisis and subconsciously would have worked a few things out. If the news about the crisis has spread and if there are any allies around you, they would be on their way with help.

It hasn't just worked for me but this a successful recipe of millions of Windows users worldwide. Restarting has miraculous effects. Try it!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Are you a dinosaur? How I wish...

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Dinosaurs as a metaphor is quite popular in boardrooms and corporate corridors. It stands for something that is outdated, not able to keep up with the time or simply not advanced enough. Till recently I also used this metaphor at will without giving it a second thought.
Last night I was reading kids encyclopedia to my son. It had an interesting concept called world clock. The concept is quite simple, entire earth's history were to be converted to 24 hours. First signs of life arrived by midnight and it took 9 PM for the animal to appear on land. Dinosaurs ruled the earth from half past 9 PM to 11 PM. I was eager to read about human history. The entire human history is squeezed into last quarter of a second. Just compare quarter of a second to two long hours?
Isn't it amazing we humans who are walking on earth for just about 300,000 years call dinosaurs who ruled the earth for 135 million years a failure? They discovered flying long before we did, they stood on two legs long before we did, they went around the earth long before we did, still we call them failures just because they are not here.
There are many theories about why they were extinct. These theories vary from asteroids to volcanos to mammals eating their eggs. None of the theories mention that dinosaurs failed to adapt in any way. They were extinct because spike in external conditions, not because they failed to adapt.
Now look at humans. We appeared on earth clock half a second ago. In another infinitesimally small amount of time we have destroyed 50% of forest cover on the mother planet. We are plundering her resources like there is no tomorrow. It is our activities that is causing depletion of Ozone layer and global warming. Do we have what it takes to last 230 million years? If we are extinct before that it is not because of
Dinosaurs stayed on earth without destroying it. Human race would be better off learning from them how they could do it...rather than calling them a failure.
There are many set beliefs around us going around unquestioned, unchallenged. Look around, think, challenge them once in awhile. There may be big learnings from what we conventionally considered as failures.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Right Story - Wrong Conclusions!

It was bedtime for my son and following usual routine I was reading him some stories. Today we picked Aesop fables - The hare and the tortoise.
The hare was very proud that he was the fastest. The tortoise challenged him. The race started and the the hare sprinted on the race track as the tortoise slowly prodded along. The hare had almost reached when he thought of taking some rest and he slept. The tortoise slowly continued and reached the finishing line as the hare kept sleeping. The hare woke up and realized he had lost the race.
Moral : slow and steady wins the race!

My son was asleep but I was wide awake! I am sure most of us have grown up reading this story and believing the moral without questioning it. However, today I was thinking about it afresh. I looked around me in the office. None of the winners were slow and steady. And those who were slow and steady did not win every time.

I started analyzing the story dispassionately. Well, the tortoise did not really have any strategy at all. He was relying on his competition to make some mistake. He was plain and simple lucky to pull off an upset win. His success was flash in the pan, not really a sustained strategy. What would happen if the hare challenged the tortoise again? What are the chances the hare would make the same mistake again? What are the chances he would ever sleep during the race?

In the corporate world, when we are competing against other value chains, organizations, departments, teams or even individual we need strategies that would give us sustained advantage. Knowledge and wisdom is freely available in todays world. We must try to become the hare who does not sleep. He has far higher chances of winning over the tortoise. But what if you are the tortoise competing with the hare in today's world?

What should the tortoise do then? How does he compete? Does he have any chance at all? Well, yes. The tortoise has to plan his strategy based on the assumption that the hare will not sleep. The tortoises's success will depend on how well he can play to his strength. He can't run faster but can certainly swim faster. His success depends on whether he can find a short cut through water that takes him to finishing before the sprinting hare.

A strategically thinking tortoise who plays to his strength has a far higher chances of winning than a slow and steady tortoise in today's world.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Management Lessons from Ants

If I ask a question, who is good at running large organizations
A. Man
B. Ant.
I bet, Very few would choose option B.

Ant is an incredible species. They walked on the earth with dinosaurs. They survived conditions that the mighty dinosaurs could not. They have conquered every climate condition on the earth - from deserts to rain forests, from savana to swamps, even densely populated urban areas. They have achieved this by running very large organizations - their colonies - successfully. Usually each colony has a few thousand individual ants but scientists have found colony of ants colonies with millions of ants and stretched over 6,000 km.
( http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/animals/news-beware-ants )
Each colony has to gather the food, feed the young, maintain the nest and defend itself against attacks from competition. In short, it has to perform all the functions that a modern organization has to perform.

This is how the organization works. The queen ant is probably the most significant individual ant but she just lays eggs but does not control the nest or colony. Rest of the Ants are divided in 3 categories based on their primary tasks. There are soldier ants who defend the nest, food gatherers whom we usually notice and nest maintenance ants. As a rule, they perform their own function but if the situation changes say a large stock of food is found or nest is attacked or there is an obstruction near the nest, the ants switch the role. The nest maintenance work is stopped to collect the food or food gathering is stopped to defend the nest so on and so forth.

Older the colony better it is at handling uncertain situations. The colony as a group seems to learn and get better at managing themselves in uncertain conditions. The colonies last for years together but what is most amazing is each individual ant except for queen ant lives only for 40 odd days.

The most astonishing part is this is a leaderless management. There is no single individual ant or a committee who asks the ants to do certain tasks. Each ant seems to make her own decision based on her understanding of the external situation. Also there is continuous knowledge transfer happening within the individual ants. Amazingly, they seem to get it right for over few hundred million years.

As a management professional I am awestruck by this phenomenon. Leaving decision making to individuals and hope that the collective goals are achieved is empowerment of the highest order. In human world we can only dream about such a style of management. We also struggle big time to manage our knowledge, share it with the team and ultimately contribute to Organizational wisdom.

Organizational wisdom is of a significantly higher order than knowledge. The organization has to gain its experience under different external conditions, try out many things, accurately judge what worked and why it worked so that next time similar situation arises its easy to overcome. This in short is organizational wisdom. Most of the companies I interact with are still grappling with managing the knowledge. Organizational wisdom is nowhere on the radar. There are no conscious efforts to build or nurture organizational wisdom.

Ants are able to run very large organizations successfully as they have figured out how to empower the frontline, build organizational wisdom based on their experience and use it to build longevity of the organization. We, humans, have a lot to learn from the ants.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Success or Failure - How long!

Everyone wants to be successful. Nobody wants to fail. Research has proven that our fear for failure is higher than burning desire to succeed.
What is success and failure anyway? Who defines them? Should you accept their definition? Why or why not?

There are many aspects to success and failure but perhaps the least considered aspect is time span. History has taught us that failure can be first step to success. Steve Jobs was thrown out the company, he founded himself. He then came back and made it into the most valuable digital company in the world. He went from success to failure to dizzying success. Xerox, blackberry and Michael Jackson were considered very Invincible once. They are no longer considered a success story. They did not stand the test of time.

Both success and failures are transient stages. One leads to another seamlessly very often without sufficient notice. Most importantly there are absolutely no guarantees.
Next time you say, "This is success" or "This is failure", the right question to ask is "how long?"

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Singapore Way Vs Japanese Way

There is a lot you can learn from countries. Every country has a "view of the world" and their policies are designed and governed by them. Nothing right or wrong... Just need to pick­up whatever suits you.

Singapore is famous in the world as "fine" city. Fine is defined for every violations and rules are clearly spelled out everywhere. Even emergency stop for a train comes with a tag of misuse penalty $500. They say as soon as a new rule comes into play people ask, "what is the fine?"
It works very well on most of the occasions. City is well disciplined, clean neat, nice. Over a period of time you get used to "no food or drinks" in public transport so much so that I don't eat or drink even in other cities. But then there are bad times. You often find littering in last train of the day or after a large event like fire works is over. If you sense that you can break the rule and get away, you are tempted.

Singapore's view of the world is to enforce rules, you need to design them well, communicate them well, encourage people to follow and if they don't catch them and fine them. Perfectly valid, right?

Even I used to think this is the only way till I travelled around Japan. In Singapore, the onus of enforcing the rule is on police not on people. Japan has a completely different view of the world. Japan runs by norms not by rules. People seek to adhere to socially accepted norms. Thats what runs the society. In Japan's public trains the norm is you should not speak on mobile phone. There is no fine, no command, just a request. People just follow it. Once I called my colleague and he got down from the train, spoke to me and got into the next train. Even though there was no fine, no police or no camera to catch him.

If you are leading a team of people, you have decide whether to go Japan way or Singapore way. Shifting the onus of setting and following the rules to the team lowers the cost of following the rules. No policing, monitoring required, team norms ensure adherence. You just have to keep reminding people about the norms. If you choose Singapore­way, you need to think through every rule, every loop hole, every corner that can be bended. You need strong network of enforcing and monitoring.

Both ways work. Choose the one that suits you view of the world.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Paradox of Power

If you go around office, you will find many colleagues complaining that they don't have power to make the required change happen. They believe power lies high above somewhere in the hierarchy. Therefore keep blaming the status quo, rather than doing something about it.

Taking a step back if you really start looking for powerful people in the society, they can be of 3 different types, politicians, business leaders and spiritual leaders. (I am choosing to ignore negative elements in the society like criminals, gangsters, terrorists etc. )

Now look at what makes the politician powerful. Votes, right? Who gives the vote, people like you and me. The common man, who typically considers himself powerless. Look at business leaders. Their power comes from their successful business. Their customers find their product or service useful and they pay. If their customer is another business, they have to sell their product / service to other businesses till they find an individual customer who will pay for all. Irrespective of what business they are in, their success depends on the success of value chain they are part of and whether the individual customer is ready to pay their value chain. Similarly, power of spiritual leaders come from faith and trust of their followers, without which it would be difficult for them to exert their influence.

Vote, money and faith are the sources of power of a common man, which they often give away without thinking much and later complain that they are powerless.
Similarly, at your workplace, look for your sources of power. It may be your performance, it may be your relationship with customers or suppliers, it may be some special skill you possess, it may be the way you handle crisis or it may simply be your opinion. If you haven't found it so
far most probably it is something which you consider worthless but is secretly valued by your organization.

Those we think are powerful are actually power aggregators, the actual power lies with those who have vote, money or faith or whatever else the power aggregators are looking at.

Power to make change happen lies at every level. Those who complain don't know where the power lies, those who know don't remain powerless.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Is your segmentation (still) valid?

Blackberry has become an object of ridicule, blackberry owners are likely to hide it under their iPad..... I read in newspaper. Being a blackberry and iPad user myself I could understand....

What went wrong? It was a perfect business proposition. Busy executives need mails on the go, they need to be delivered securely, they need a closed chat program, all nicely packaged by blackberry. Status symbol not so long ago, why should people hide it now.

Apple and android phones who could easily connect to any wifi network and could many more things spoilt blackberry's party. Blackberry is still the most secure and reliable phone but customers don't want it anymore. Why?

Guess the assumptions for customer segmentations failed. Office executives were no different from other smartphone users after all. They got lured by exactly the same thing that lured the teenager to the smartphone. How about security? Well, that was the users concern anyway. That was MIS departments headache. Why should the user worry about them.

There may be several technological reasons but from marketing standpoint blackberry failed to see changing customer segmentations in ever evolving market.

In this fast paced, ever evolving market if you are marketing something you should ask yourself everyday - Is my segmentation still valid?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Never say the Parrot is dead!

Akbar was a noble mughal king who ruled India in 12th
century. It is said that he had a very intelligent, witty and smart
advisor called Birbal in his court. Once a traveller from a distant
land who had a talking parrot visited Akbar's court. The parrot
charmed Akbar and he fell in love with parrot. He appointed skilled
caretakers for the parrot. To ensure they are serious about the job
and understand the importance of the parrot he said, "whoever tells
me the parrot is dead, will get his head chopped off". It worked
like magic and all caretakers worked round the clock to take care
of the parrot. But they could not avoid the inevitable. One day the
parrot died and caretakers did not have anyone else but Birbal to
go to. As always, Birbal had a trick. When Akbar asked about the
parrot next time. They said, "he has been behaving quite
differently. He neither eats, nor drinks anything. He has his eyes
closed and does not move much." Surprised Akbar walked up to the
cage and exclaimed, "oh! Parrot is dead. Why didn't you tell me
that way". "Everyone wanted their head to be saved", exclaimed
Birbal. Like Akbar, every boss has a parrot. A pet idea, a new
project they are in love with. However irrational it may sound they
don't want to hear any bad news about it. In many Asian cultures
saying a direct "No" to any request is considered rude and it is
outright unacceptable.

Describing the facts for the boss to conclude that the parrot is dead,
rather than announcing the parrot is dead, can save a lot of things,
a head for instance.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Its ok to be a reptile...

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="371"](Image source: deviantart.net) Reptiles seem to be quite focussed...[/caption]

Mammals are characterized by their active lifestyle. They are walking, jumping, swinging in the trees. They find food very proactively. They search for the prey by breaking their camafloge code,  secretly get near them , chase them and catch. They also employ superior strategies to catch the prey. Wild dogs work in a large group and catch the prey of any size by merely tiring them. Lionesses surround the large prey from all sides and chimpanzees insert wooden sticks in ant hills and catch the ants that hold on to the stick.


Despite this the best success rate killers like lions achieve is 33%. Mammals waste a lot of energy in searching for food, which if conserved would reduce their need for food. Proactive search for food or business has a built-in risk of wastage. One has to run equally hard for each kill, with20% conversion rate generally seen in business transactions 1 in 5 will succeed. All unsuccessful chases would leave you feeling exhausted, frustrated and filled with self doubt.


Consider a reptiles strategy on the other had. They are passive hunters. They position themselves where food would unsuspectingly come to them. They have patience to keep steady till the kill is in the striking distance. Once the kill is in range they move very rapidly, use secret weapons like camaflouge, poison or hypnotic sounds to catch the prey. Reptiles are cool, aka cold blooded. They have better work life balance as they take long vacations in their hibernation spots. Well all this gets them spectacular results too. Compared to mammals of same size, reptiles have longer life span.


If you are tired of being a mammal at work, if futile chases are demotivating you, if wasteful activities are sapping out precious time out of crunched schedule, its OK to be reptile. Its OK to wait for the opportunity or the customer to walk up to you. Its OK to take a long vacation and recharge your batteries. Its OK to be cool than just running around. There are chances you will not burn out and survive longer in your job!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What are you - hunter, farmer, fisherman or gatherer?

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="400"] What are you a Hunter or farmer or.....?[/caption]

Human being is 250,000 year old species. It outlived other human like
species due to superior food gathering strategies. These strategies
are in our genes and they manifest themselves in corporate world in
the way we get business or get the next order or find the right
candidate or the supplier for that matter.


Hunters require ability to spot the target when its quite far, reach
close to the target smoothly without unsettling her and sprint or take
out the weapon when you are close enough and go for it. Hunters
necessarily need to rest after the kill and should have large enough
stomach to go hungry till they spot the next kill.


Farmers on the other hand need to find fertile land, seeds, water,
sunshine an d truck loads of patience. Some seeds may not germinate so
sow more. When all factors are favorable you will get a bumper crop.
If you can survive on fruits, without touching the tree... You don't
need to do much except for keeping out the pastes, weeds and others
who may be eyeing your fruits.


Fisherman needs to be a silent operator. Should be sure there is fish
around before you throw the bet. Sharpen the risk appetite and wait.
You never know, you may even catch a blue whale.


Gatherer needs to have an open mind for sure. No need to define  what
you are looking for. As long as you are able to use what you have
gathered to feed yourself its fine. Enjoy the variety and
uncertainties, forget the stress.


There is no right or wrong strategy. Key is know who you are and like
the food you find.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Corporate Mantra

Friends,


Wish you a very happy and prosperous 2013!!


Excited to commence my fourth blog-series : Corporate Mantra.


Corporate life is uncertain, stressful and challenging.  Perhaps we spend more time with our bosses and colleagues than with our family. Each situation we face is new and unique. How we wish we had guides or cheat codes!! Fact is there are no definite answers. What we have are only perspectives.


Have you ever watched a 3D movie without 3D glasses? It's a diffused, multi-layered 2D picture. Wearing 3D glasses is the moment that magically brings crystal clarity and life-like reality to the hazy picture.


Corporate Mantra is an honest attempt to provide those 3D glasses to the everyday situations in our work-life!


Read, reflect and share!


Vivek