Musings on Life’s purpose

The last few weeks have brought on smiles, chuckles, frowns – a rainbow of emotions – an invariable event when the World Cup is on. This blog too tended to stay away from brooding for a few weeks, however a question from a friend got me reflecting back on more heady matters.

The question was one of those really simple yet profound ones that keep popping up unexpectedly, race around the brain for a while and then just disappear.

“What really is driving us – and how do we define success?”

Philosophers – I know – have engaged this question in plenty of detail and come back with detailed explanations. I thought I’d ask a few acquaintances – and here’s what I came up with:

Most live their lives for a future result – in many cases, one they may not live to experience in the flesh in this life. Consider:

1. Many are driven by the legacy they will leave behind:
– Biological genes (As in kids and grandkids who will change the world).

– Ideas (these are the guys who hope to leave behind an invention that will propel mankind further)

– Sagas (People who leave behind stories that will inspire future generations by their deeds)

2. Some are driven by a belief (from religion/ society) –

– Many devout christians live so they are called to the right side of the ledger on judgement day, many hindus live so they earn the right karma for a favourable rebirth and so on..

– Some live propelled by the vision of a better world they can help establish – usually by eradicating some blemish of society. Feminists, Caste(race)-free and Minority-right crusaders all live for a cause they believe in very strongly – though they know they may not live to see it happen in their lifetime

Interestingly, there are some people who don’t live for the future – but live in the present. Consider:

– Sages – they live as witnesses, unaffected by life but fully contributing to it.Think “ramana maharishi” for instance.

– Many scientists and even technocrats live by this credo – where they live not for the success of their experiments but for the joy of participating in the experiment and driven by curiosity more than anything else. This is best of course exemplified by Steve Job’s quote “The journey is the reward”. Or Robert Pirsig’s view that “sometimes its a little better to travel than to arrive”.

The majority of us however seem to live defined by our constraints. If you were to ask such folks what propells them, they’d not be able to define it – they can however very clearly define what constrains their journey (we would have all heard these sometime!):
– financial dependence
– inadequate family support/ need to support family
– not the best childhood/ pedigree..

Some actually define their life in terms of sacrifices made – these are the career “victims”. They always a have a story of how much nature/ world/ family/ Colleagues/ fate always stunted “what could have been”. Many a time, “the what may have been” is vague – leaving life unfulfilled….

I am of course unqualified to say which one of these is the best one – or even if there is a better set that I haven’t been exposed yet to. What I do know is some of this exchanges today’s joys for a belief in what tomorrow would bring – though in many instances, its these belief’s that underpin actions to provide us with a stable society. This is the “mind” winning over the “heart” – conservative, thoughtful, planned.

In sharp contradistinction, the other option brings in joy today – with a neigh a care for what will happen tomorrow. There’s an acceptance of “what will be, will be” – no point worrying about it. Those from this group often have a song in their hearts and their joy inspires our spirits as well. This is the maverick at work – joyous, spontaneous, wild.

The question really I guess is – which one of these are we? And is that who we want to be…

Football, a world cup and a wildly cheering populace!

Its World Cup time folks and the world is being dazzled by some of the world’s best footballers in the home of the game – Brazil. Its a wonderful sight, and everywhere you go there’s football fever in the air.


And why not? For one thing the football is just awesome. You get to see some great footwork, some brilliant saves, great thrillers, moving melodrama, victory dances – a whole world of wonder. But football is special I guess for other reasons too:


1. It provides great insight into management and team dynamics (what a first up point huh!): Its the only sport I know where the players turn out in Tees, shorts and tattoos while the management come fully decked in suits and ties – looking like they are in a shareholder’s meet. While the players are fresh and vigorous (and could step right into an advertisement for a health spa), the managers (paunchy, older, i trust wiser!) look like they have serious bouts of indigestion (actually they resemble parents of specially troublesome teens – which is perhaps not a bad comparision)!  And yes, there are the experts too – these are like our very own corporate gurus – they know tons of stuff but get the results often wrong! The only very reliable predictor so far has been the octopus in the 2010 edition – and am not sure Paul took an advanced course in statistical prediction at Harvard!


2. You see fashion statements everywhere: Looks like the current haircut of choice is a mushroomy attempt which leaves one looking like a bushy umbrella (without the stalk) or a small UFO has settled onto one’s head. There are variations of this – there’s a sunflower variant, there’s one seemingly inspired by the evergreen bridges of chirapunji – even a pony- tail- type effort which seems straight out of the vedic times. Of course these are instagram-friendly and about 300 times more expensive than their counterparts!


3. Footballers may be stars, but they also have the spirit of youth alright (almost feel like singing Nirvana’s – “smells like teen spirit”!). No matter if a player is from a sophisticated EU country, a hard-working Asian, a sporting Australian, a capitalist American – when he is upset he cusses. And it takes very little to upset him. Which goes on to prove that the language of the rebel (in sailor blushing detail at that!) is perhaps the official language of the youth – the world over. There’s just one difference – sometimes, they decide that football skills are a better way to express their emotions – and when they do that – boy, oh boy – do they make your heart sing!


4.It gives everyone a chance to bring out the sports(wo)man in them- and I don’t mean just the players. 50,000 spectators are on the grounds cheering their teams every match and half the world is cheering them on TV/ Web whatever – truly it brings out the sporting spirit in each of us. A grandfather uses his fork to show his grandson how Pele used to do it, a teenager emulates Ochoa’s hairstyle in a last-ditch attempt to win some attention from that girl across the street who seems immune to all his charms, a manager cancels a meeting (to the relief of all involved) as he decides his football team deserves his attention more for a very important fixture, a child deduces the goalpost must really be in the television set and smashes the screen in – everywhere the spirit is on display. Smiles, grins, exasperation (oh! if only he had listened to me on how to take that corner!) – its a rainbow of emotions – everywhere.


I guess all of this is what makes this perhaps the greatest spectacle in the world. And this time around, there are wonderful places to catch all the action:

– On TV of course – live action unlimited

– Go to the google homepage and some wonderful doodles are present, clicking on which you get details of all the action

– Social media has plenty of analysis and streaming news. Check the World Cup page on twitter – simply, simply wonderful..

and on and on….


So enjoy the game – and may your whistles and cheering be louder than ever. If you’ll excuse me now – got to go take a look at a match myself!

Delightful stuff – from a master of humor and poetry

Doing the weekend tidying-up activity, I came across a much loved book from long ago  – Shel Silverstein’s book of witty, wicked poems which would delight the child in everyone. Eagerly I looked for some of my favourites – there they were tucked into the book and as wonderful as ever. I present a few for your pleasure – beware reading will leave you with a big goofy grin!


First up – how do you determine if a window is open (no, we are not talking about Bill Gates’ software here!):? Here’s his poem titled “STONE TELLING”

How do we tell if a window is open?

Just throw a stone at it.

Does it make a noise?

It doesn’t?

Well, it was open.

Now, lets try another…


It wasn’t! 


Have you wondered if you are giving kids’ conflicting advice? Here’s one kid musing in a poem titled “MA AND GOD”

God gave us fingers – Ma says, “Use your fork.”

God gave us voices,- Ma says, “Don’t scream.”

Ma says eat brocolli, cereal and carrots.

But God gave us tasteys for maple ice cream.


God gave us fingers – Ma says, “Use your hanky.”

God gave us puddles – Ma says, “Don’t splash.”

Ma says, “Be quiet, your father is sleeping.”

But God gave us garbage can covers to crash.


God gave us fingers – Ma says “put your gloves on.”

God gave us raindrops – Ma says “Don’t get wet.”

Ma says be careful, and don’t get too near to

Those strange lovely dogs that God gave us to pet.

God gave us fingers – Ma says “go wash ’em.”

Bod God gave us coal bins and nice little bodies.

And I ain’t too smart, but there’s one thing for certain –

Either Ma’s wrong or else God is.


And finally here’s his take (from the poem EARLY BIRD) on the “Early bed gets the worm” proverb:

Oh, if you’re a bird, be an early bird.

And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.

If you’re a bird, be an early bird –

But if you are a worm, sleep late.


All of this (and some more awesome ones are in his “Where the Sidewalk ends” – trust that the afternoon looks sunnier already?!!

Performance Management time – ramblings from the other side!

Its that time of the year again – the time when managers get to play judge (or god if you will!) and sift through their teams – leaving the successes on one side and the not-so-successful on the other.

Yes, I am talking about the promotion cycle – when men and women suddenly find themselves deciding another’s destiny. Many – infact most of the folks I know – dread this period. While you can take pride in the fact that a few from your team will now play wider roles, the emotional drain is massive.

“You wouldn’t have this problem if you set the right goals and criteria” – say the management gurus. And they are right – in their own way. But there are other aspects, consider:

1. Many of your Colleagues have morphed into your friends. Joys and worries have been shared, laughter and sorrows have been shared. Families are friends, sometimes thicker than relatives. The thought of your friend having to tell his/ her young one that he isn’t the chosen one this year is heart wrenching. I had a leader on my team almost in tears last year when he got the “promotion list” for his team ready (based on very extensive analysis and as he said “to the best of his ability”) – it meant leaving a very hard worker (and very trustworthy guy) out. He checked back many times and was convinced he did the right thing – that just didn’t make it any easier for him.

2. A large part of today’s life is uncontrollable. An oil crisis, a climatic phenomenon like the El Niño, a landslide election mandate, a president’s veto or the bank’s response to inflation, a friendly client deciding to move on – can (and do) change success outcomes dramatically (unless like steve job’ you decide the “journey is the reward”) – and it is extremely complicated to decide who the winners really are. Are the results we are seeing the effect of “causation” “correlation”? Who decides?

3. There are people who will make some noise, who will cajole, threaten consequences, plead if they don’t make it. There are heroes who sleep for a while and then when their project is in crisis mode – turn things around brilliantly. There are others who will perform quietly – always green – all signal, no noise. These guys wont even pop up on your radar (unless you are listening very intently with your ears to the ground). Differentiating between these categories is really tough – and sometimes – you may be tempted to take the easy route and go with the noise (after all thats how the world runs for the most part right – follow the noise!)

And on and on……

We understand performance management, and its certainly essential to the well being of the corporate world. People want to perform well and be rewarded for their performance. Its but the right thing to do.

While its the right thing to do. its not easy to do. Or easy to accept. And the mental energies required are immense. As a friend quipped

“when I lose out on a promotion, I certainly take it hard. The world seems a less sunnier place. Friends and family see me brooding. However, we humans understand life is unfair – there’s always a readily available sympathetic ear nearby. My family takes extra care of me too.

The challenge is when I am not able to get someone else promoted really. Everyone on my peer team has a favourite they think should have gone through instead of the final list – and they really cannot understand how you couldn’t have not seen such a simple thing as this! Boy, are they disappointed! And everyone agrees unanimously that those who didn’t make it on your list deserve a sympathetic (and many times hard conversation) with you – the emotional drain on you is immense. Don’t we also need some empathy for the guys who play judge as well?!!“.

Amen to that!