3 magic words for your success!

Every generation has a favourite question. Ours seems to be this:

How do we find professional fulfilment and depth in a world of distraction?

On reading Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha” last week, I discovered he had a very elegant and simple answer addressing this universal problem. The hero of the story (a monk who applies to a merchant for a job he has no prior experience on) exudes confidence because he has internalised the formula for all success. In three words, here it is:

Think. Fast. Wait.

Are these three words really such a big deal? Let’s dig into them a little deeper, shall we?

Think: Its important we recognise that what Siddhartha is talking about here is contemplation on a worthwhile challenge – not distracted, destructive thoughts. In our modern language, it’s best described as “staying and playing” with “worthwhile” problems.

The best way of course is to ask enough whys (5 to be precise!) to get to the core of the issue. And a playful approach to the “why’s” will yield better results than using a boss’s stick or an object of envy to prod us toward the truth!

Solitude makes a difference too. Reading and contemplation in solitude often uncovers “solutions that are not on the same level as the problem” (to touch up on an Einstein quote!).

Incidentally, Bill Gates takes a couple of “think weeks” every year – just to think and read, Warren Buffet estimates he spends 80% of his time doing just that. Indian sages often spent months (if not years) on wintry, himalayan heights actively searching for the Big Truths. They all can’t be wrong now, can they?

So best to pack your bags (or close your rooms up and no TV allowed!) and get busy involved in contemplation, discover a great idea to work on and subsequently get immersed in deep work! (do read Cal Newport’s lovely book for lots of insights on this).

Fast: Fasting implies limiting the sensory inputs and thereby conserving or even enhancing our personal energies. This energy can then be deployed to focus on the idea from your “thinking”.

The Gita beautifully explains how a tortoise best exemplifies the method of fasting – on seeing an enemy, it simply pulls itself into its shell. In the same way, Siddhartha recommends that we isolate ourselves from anything distracting us from our goal or leaving us fatigued – the wrong food, sensational news, 24*7 digital media, mass emails, violent movies – whatever. And once the noise dies down around you, the signal will be easier to behold.

Wait: This is to me the most important and yet the hardest thing in today’s times. You’ve discovered the area you want to focus on and knocked off the distractions too – but the work hasn’t borne fruit yet. You are impatient! Its worth remembering that all great work is akin to planting a seed. To grow into a tree, it takes time. You have to water it, pull out weeds, add fertiliser and maybe even sing it lullabies! You can never for certain say when it will flower – it depends on the soil, the environment and maybe pure genetics. But you’ve got to wait and you’ve got to keep helping it grow.

This I find is the hardest part for all of us today. In an always-on world, some guy (maybe you or a manager or someone!) is constantly out there with a measuring tape trying to figure how much the plant has grown. If it does not grow for 3 days, we sack the gardener or change the fertiliser – but ironically keep the accountant! The plant isn’t happy, the gardener isn’t and the accountant is hoping for a miracle. It’s a loser’s choice. And for all you know the height of the plant may have no correlation with the quality and quantity of output it produces – who said short, twisted plants can’t bear the best fruits or flowers!

The art of “waiting” that Siddhartha suggests we imbibe describes a state where the “journey is the reward” – and in this state of flow, we saunter to work. The “Joy of working” is the reward – not an arbitrary centimetre’s growth – and interestingly when this approach is taken, the environment gets diffused with joy and effortless work ensues……

Joyful work and anticipation often lead to a “happy state” and happiness leads to better work. This wonderful video explains how happiness leads to success (and not the other way around!).

A few realtime applications to validate this works everywhere:

  1. Feeling anxious, edgy through the day? SOLUTION: FAST. Switch off the news, email, social media (TV and phone!) ahead of dinner – to give you 3 hours of so of family time/ a wholesome read. Watch the edginess melt away of its own!
  2. Feeling angry because a prodigy/ team member made a mistake? SOLUTION: WAIT. Give him time and also provide him with a stimulating, vibrant environment. He will learn from his mistakes and maybe make better decisions than you over time!
  3. Worried about your relevance in the market today? SOLUTION: THINK. Take a week (or a weekend/ an hour a day – whatever works for you) off – read books, watch TED videos, attend workshops, meet with the gurus of fields that excite you – listen to what the best folks are thinking about the future. Pick the area that most appeals to you and specialise further. Take some time out and try out a prototype. You’ll likely find something good or branch out until you find a calling!

And so on. So to wrap up – here is Siddhartha’s simple and yet profound truth for great work.

Think. Fast. Wait.

Wouldn’t you agree?

 

Leading – the Tao Te Ching way!

It’s always beneficial to have our own personal, trusted coach to advice us on our performance anyday. How nice it would be if that trusted leader helped us understand how good a leader we are?

Here’s the Tao Te Ching doing just that – the following two paragraphs are reproduced from Guy Leekley’s lovely translation with just one change – have replaced “Teachers” with “Masters” in the first line:

Our greatest Masters
Are not publicly known;
The next best often
Become famous.

Some with much influence
Become feared and scorned.
If they do not trust,
They are not trusted.

So how does the Master work? Here’s the last paragraph from Steven Mitchell’s very popular and endearing translation:

The Master dosen’t talk, he acts.
When his work is done,
The people say, “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”

So which leader are you – are you a Master, the good and famous – or the one who is feared (but influential)? And would you like to stay that way?!!

A quick review of an unique book

So my good friend and colleague Dhivakar gifted me a wonderful book the other day – “Search Inside Yourself” by Meng. And knowing Dhivakar, am sure he would want me to share the gift of a review with everyone – so here I go!

The book’s author is a senior googler (google employee number 107 for all of you detail-loving chaps) and deals not with technology but surprise of surprises – – with “mindfulness and meditation”.

Now why would a googler (And a senior one at that) want to write a book on something like this? A few minutes into the book is all it takes to realise that this author is as a different as they come. His official title (self affixed I suspect) is:

The jolly good fellow of google
which nobody will deny

Intrigued you turn the pages and find that that he piloted this program at Google after consulting with multiple-giants like Daniel Goleman (yes we are talking about the EQ guru) and to his delight the googlers just lapped it up. Quite a few very inspiring testimonials from the participants dot the book and such run-a-away success at google has led him to aim for something a little bigger – namely world peace (yeah I know- a little bigger!)) – and this book is an effort by him to help folks such as ourselves who aren’t from the google family access the program and reap benefits. And he gets to enjoy the royalty too for the book. So a win-win really!

OK, let’s get this straight – isn’t this what you are thinking right now – Geek boy, meditation, world peace – that combo’s got to be boring!

Well, let me confirm its patently anything but boring. For one thing the author has a wonderfully self-depreciating sense of humour that ensures you leave every page sporting a grin on your face. To top it he has plenty of cartoons distributed throughout – these poke gentle fun at concepts in his own book – while enlightening you on the side. I did say its a fun read, right?

To round up this post, here are a couple of super takeaways for me – that can you get started right off the bat.

1. He starts off on the premise that “self awareness” is the goods for success. Self awareness is really the art of knowing yourself well – and he calls out some very simple methods to get up and running. “So why is this important again?” you ask.  Because it allows you to catch yourself before doing something unwarranted – if you can catch yourself before bursting out with anger at a colleague (and therefore save all that repentance and guilt that would follow the anger like a shadow!) – it makes life that much better no? Mindfulness meditations are his tools for developing self awareness – these are meditations in which you do simple stuff like experiencing how your body reacts to emotions (so when your fist closes and your somatic clenches – you know you are getting angry – and can quickly step out of the scene before an ugly episode!!) and watching your breath. The exercises take 10 minutes or less at a time – and the value is priceless (yep, just like visa!)

2. The second is the biggie – its his experience that the more “self aware” you become, the more empathy you develop for others (colleagues, families, friends, strangers – everybody). So its a case of buy 1, get one free! And what can empathy do – it can help you win friends, nurture relationships and all-in-all make you the most popular guy or girl on earth. And the more you understand another person, the better you will become as well – a bit of a virtuous circle if you will….

3. Finally, as your meditation deepens- a sense of clarity, tremendous productivity and perpetual inner joy become yours for the experiencing. So as he states in his quaint way – you can have your cake and your promotion too!

If you are one of those who want to try the miracle of meditation but don’t know where to begin, some of these exercises are a great startup point(each taking but a few minutes) and soaking in the abundant-data anecdotes may also convince you of meditation’s value in your everyday life – or at least to give it a try. For the experienced meditators out there, you guys (and girls) may get bigger insights into the why’s behind a few of the practices – and of course gain some good anecdotes to share with your skeptic colleagues (with a “I told you so right – now google agrees!”). Most importantly – novice or guru – you’ll enjoy the read. gentle, wise, fun reads are hard to come by – and this one ticks all the boxes. Convinced already? Why not give it a try and blog your experiences for all of us?

If More trust equals More success, how can we inspire more trust? An amble through the Covey framework

Deepavali – the season of colours, crackers and sweets is here. Its also the season of sharing gratitude and wishing each other well. So here’s wishing each of my readers’ abundant success propelled by the magic potion of TRUST; for it is TRUST that makes the world go round.

So what is trust really? A question which brings me neatly to the topic of this post — this post presents an insightful framework on TRUST from Covey’s wonderful book “The Speed of Trust”. And TRUST as he defines it (and we will see as we move further down this essay) includes not just honesty and such stuff which are nice but don’t produce tangible results- he also includes a multi-dimensional view allowing TRUST to inspire mega- success. So let’s get going already.

Here’s a wonderful picture from him elaborating the framework:

Stephen Covey's framework of TRUST

Stephen Covey’s framework of TRUST

1. Integrity:  He’s talking about congruence — where our thoughts, words and deeds all are integrated. Beings with integrity inspire trust — across fields — of course we all remember Gandhi and Mandela as symbols of integrity who spoke from their heart and walked their talk. But other folks — our young Nobel winner this year (Malala), the most successful financial genius of our times (Warren Buffet), maverick entrepreneur (Elon Musk and Steve Jobs before him) — all of them — when you think about it — are congruent in entirety. Integrity while not visible, holds the very foundation of trust (which is why its depicted by the roots)

2. Intent: Do you think win-win consistently? Do you have the welfare of your client, of your team-members, your peers — whoever it is you are dealing with — covered? If not, others will quickly sense this and wouldn’t be comfortable trusting you. The book has a wonderful example where Warren Buffet closes a deal sans lawyers — because he trusts the other team — and the whole deal gets closed much, much faster. Thats the power of intent at work for you!

3. Capabilities:  TRUST also needs capabilities when you think about it. If I am a good guy at heart, you’ll like me — but will you trust me to run your finances? You’ll want to make sure of my capability here. So upscaling continuously is critical to ensure we stay at the top of the game. When we look at the best sportsmen, this becomes clear. We know they have their hearts in the right place and are focussed on winning — but if they want to represent the best teams and be counted among the elite, they have to continuously train and stay on top of the game. Business is no different.

4. Credibility: Let’s say a friend has a health condition that requires a complicated surgery. A young surgeon has graduated at the top of his class (capability), has a great work ethic and inspires trust in his dealings with the medical fraternity and patients (integrity and intent) — wouldn’t we still hesitate to let him operate if this happened to be his first surgery? That’s detailing how critical credibility can be — a track record that establishes credentials and therefore trust is integral to successful partnerships.

Thats one powerful framework in a wonderfully easy-to-remember picture(needless to say, any errors in interpretation are mine alone too!). The book also details a set of behaviours which enable trust to be built (and even a few tips on regaining lost trust) and has a few questionnaires that help you evaluate and orient yourself to a target – in short it leads you by the hand on the steps toward a world of greater trust. Let me reiterate, this is a life changing book — and written well. Do grab a copy when you get the chance — and in the meantime here’s wishing you success in developing all the four dimensions and becoming the epitome of TRUSt for all those who come in contact with you.

Of Goals, Systems and Success metrics!

How do you set yourself up for success and maximise your chances of getting there? Its a question to which I guess philosophers have forever thought about – and will continue to ponder on. I came across a very interesting perspective from Scott Adams’ book “how to fail at almost everything and still win big“- a droll title worthy of the creator of Dilbert. He believes (among other equally entertaining and enlightening things!) that:

1. Believe in systems (not goals!). Systems are for winners (and goals are for losers!) in his mind

2. Prioritize your activities based on your “personal energy” level – your patterns should be the guide and not an external system. So if you are alert in the morning, do your coolest work then and you can do your exercises in the afternoon (or whatever – the key point is that your personal energy levels should guide your activity). This metric he feels will let you be at your most efficient self and therefore significantly improve your chances of succeeding at whatever you happen to be doing.

I know these look anathema to what most of us have been taught so far, so its a little worthwhile to understand how and why he comes to these conclusions – and evaluate if these will indeed make a difference to us – so here goes…

1. Why does he believe its “Systems and not goals” that help people succeed better? Its because goals use up your willpower (and there’s only so much available in the first place!) while systems make use of knowledge so you internalise them better.

Here’s an example in his own words:

“Going to the gym 3-4 times a week is a goal. And it can be a hard one to accomplish for people who don’t enjoy exercise. Exercising 3-4 times a week can feel like punishment – especially if you overdo it because you’re impatient to get results. When you associate discomfort with exercise you inadvertently train yourself to stop doing it. Eventually you will find yourself “too busy” to keep up your 3-4 days of exercise. The real reason will be because it just hurts and you don’t want to do it anymore. And if you do manage to stay with your goal, you use up your limited supply of willpower.

Compare the goal of exercising 3-4 times a week with a system of being active every day at a level that feels good, while continuously learning about the best methods of exercise. Before long your body will be trained, like Pavlov’s dogs, to crave the psychological lift you get from being active every day. It will soon become easier to exercise than to skip it – no willpower required. And your natural inclination for challenge and variety will gently nudge you toward higher levels of daily activity while at the same time you are learning in your spare time how to exercise in the most effective way. That’s a system.”

Check this wonderful post of his where he details his thoughts lucidly.

2. Now let’s say we setup a system – how do we even measure if we are doing good? He recommends aligning activities to our personal energy levels on the premise that when energy levels are high, your best work results. Let’s hear him expound this in his own words again (here’s the link to his own post):

“Maximizing my personal energy means eating right, exercising, avoiding unnecessary stress, getting enough sleep, and all of the obvious steps. But it also means having something in my life that makes me excited to wake up. When I get my personal energy right, the quality of my work is better, and I can complete it faster. That keeps my career on track. And when all of that is working, and I feel relaxed and energetic, my personal life is better too.”

Over the last few days I have tried to test this out (it certainly seems a plausible read but the test of the pudding is in the eating right!) – and initial results are very promising. Let me explain:

– One of my focus areas has been to identify new solutions to take to the marketplace. The traditional approach would be to put a goal “2 new services”, a strategy “say blue ocean strategy”, bung in a timeline and then work toward it. The systems view on the other hand involves exposing myself to more opportunities (twitter/ yammer/ conferences/ books/ blogs/ connects with leaders) across multiple areas. While I may or may not come up with the required number of new “solutions”, I have had multiple leads over the last few days on very interesting paths. I suspect I have increased my chances of success by a factor of 3 (and in just a week!). In addition – some new exciting areas – requests for “speaking” sessions, coaching options, introduction to some great mind minds to learn from etc. – all of which I believe will stand me in better stead have come my way.

– Personal energy as a metric allows you to look at what works for you particularly. For instance, I realized I like to do my writing in the evening hours, but like to do some problem solving/ working ideas out in the morning. Meditation seems easier in the early morning and actually ups the energy level, while walks/ exercise do the same better in the evenings (again this is just for me – one of the laziest guys in existence today!). I realize late evenings generate big ideas well (as do walks, so worth carrying notebooks with you on them!) so spending some time over thoughtful books/ contemplation are an awesome idea – and so on…. Again, am sure these patterns will change – but aligning activities to personal energy certainly does seem to be a good approach and get things done with least will power, better focus and are more productive.

Would you agree with this and would you be prepared to give it a shot? And dont forget to check those posts (and if possible his book as well ) out – some really wonderful ideas detailed out there.

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…

CRASH!

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?!!

Takeaways from the wonderful “Steve Jobs” biography by Walter Isaacson

A few months ago having travelled to attend a conference meet in Pune, I was pleasantly surprised to meet a colleague and a respected leader at the breakfast table. We got talking about various things and the topic drifted to leadership traits when he reminisced about an exercise from long ago where everyone had to pick a leader and profile and his choice had been Steve Jobs – looking back he felt he had certainly picked the right guy – “for all his temperament and idiosyncrasies he’s an undisputed leader”. We talked about this a bit, and he recommended that I watch the movie as it brilliantly captured several shades of this iconic leader. The discussion made me realize how little I really knew about Steve – while I had been following the mercurial Jobs (as I am sure most of my generation would have), I had never really delved deep enough – and rekindled my desire to get to know more.

On my return I dutifully picked Walter Isaacson’s book (the movie is on the to do list) from the local bookstore – given Jobs’ misgivings about the Android OS, it seemed appropriate that I read Jobs’ biography not on my favourite kindle but on a neatly printed, solid tome (its over 700 pages long!). It stayed tucked away in my library – until the last week when I was a touch unwell and rummaging for something to read. And let me tell you, its a wonderful page turner – guaranteed to make you live through a gamut of emotions.

This post is really about a few takeaways for me from the book – a few I trust will come in of use to you as well:

1. No one is perfect at everything. That a surprising start, but the book zeroes in on the need for self awareness and the ability to bring in complementary skills for success. You need to be aware of what you are very good at and make sure you bring in others with “greatness” skills in areas you aren’t master off. There are quite a few references about Steve Jobs’ skills at programming not being top notch (in comparison to say a Steve Woznaik or a Bill Gates) while he was a master on user-centric design – his products though were sublime in both the areas

2. Masters bring in perspectives from seemingly unconnected fields, making big leads in innovation. Jobs for instance changed the desktop publishing industry building on skills acquired from his calligraphy classes, his designs were inspired by Zen minimalism and Italian architecture, several of his greatest innovations were adaptations of the Xerox lab’s work and so on…

3. Work should arise from an intent to “scratch your own itch” – if you build products that you’d love to use, chances are they would turnout awesome. There’s one chapter on the “making of the iphone” for instance where Isaacson details how Steve (and his team) were unhappy with the existing mobile phones (“they didn’t make their heart sing!”) and designed the iPhone to overcome those limitations and be a product they were proud to use.

4. The much discussed “reality distortion field” does wonders – Steve Jobs believed in his vision (or version!) of things so much that he was able to get his team to rally around and do stuff typically considered impossible (there’s a reference to the “6 impossible things before breakfast!” from alice in wonderland in the book too!). Key takeaway – do we really, intensely believe in our work? – if we do, you can be sure people around you will catch the spirit as well and do miracles!

5. Go in search of “purity” as opposed to “compromises”. There are at least three instances quoted where Steve pauses and undertakes major redesign because he feels the work isnt perfect (for instance he completely changed the layout of the apple stores after a discussion with his partner because they found a more congruent way to do things). Time and again, we see instances where the average joe would have compromised a little and gone ahead (on the principle that 90% users wouldnt notice it anyway), steve wouldn’t. He recounts n example from his childhood where his dad encourages Steve to paint the inside of a fence (no one would know but the painter would) as well – a practice which made Steve detail stuff inside the box just as well as he did the outside in his later years.

6. Making sure your messages are very intuitive and targeted at your user . His ads (and the amount of time he spent on getting them right), the macworld appearances – you name it, the message was communicated just brilliantly. For instance the iPod ads didnt talk about memory, they talked about 1000 songs in your pocket.

7. Be brutally honest with feedback – your team will appreciate you for it– while the book lists several occasions where the receiver of the feedback took the feedback badly, there are also several instances where his Colleagues believe workign with him was an immense experience and they wouldn’t exchange the experience for anything in the world. He also is candid about experiments he got wrong (and there are several listed) – he indicates its this ability to be honest with his teams that ensures the team stays top class all the time

8. Learn from experts and share extensively – through the book you see him on long walks bouncing off ideas with extraordinary people – Larry Elison, Mickey Drexler, Andy Grove and many more – even Bill Gates. These are intense discussions – and raise the level of thought across the ecosystem (for want of a better word!). He also talks about how much he gained from others and how he’d like to give back to his country and the Silicon Valley. Worth thinking how many such discussions we seek out with experts and if we dont, maybe should schedule some huh!..

9. And my absolute favourite – he always seems to have had a higher purpose in mind – of changing the world. And the way he went about doing it was special too – check out this maxim of his “the journey is the reward”. And really the book celebrates the journey product after product.

Through the journeys are peppered many goosebumps moments (hope this isn’t a spoiler so will stop with a couple!):
– of how he considers the itunes journey more or less done only when he gets his favourite band “Beatles” onto his store – and his child-like enthusiasm on working on every aspect of getting them onto the store to maximum impact:

– the showman himself lost for words when he meets his idol “Bob Dylan” in person

– Of spending his personal finances on the creative work at pixar (even when he was running a tight ship elsewhere) because he couldn’t say no to artistry…

For those of you who are looking to know more about Steve the person – there’s plenty of stuff in too right from his “vegan” diets, to his zen and india travels in search of enlightenment, his college experience, his turbulent early years. his relationships, $1 salary…the whole nine yards.

So thats it then for this post – there are few biographies that are as well written as this one. Its extremely well researched but written in a very affable way with all typical distractions from scholarly type work (footnotes, jargon etc) eliminated for the most part – the author also stays hidden (no preaching and commentary at all) and gets you into the drama like in a well-written novel.

5 stars from me for this wonderful work and am sure I will be reaching out for his other biographies as well soon…..

Of farms, innovation and all that…

The other day, a few of us got together and the discussions moved on to how we would need to consistently work on ourselves to stay relevant in today’s fast moving world. A collegue Kartic pulled out a slender book “How Stella saved the farm“, and recommended we read it – this is a mini story of how we make the transition from cash cows to the “next big thing” he said.

The book lay on my table until yesterday – when I tentatively started to read it. It proved to be a quick and awesome read – and seemed to be just the topic to offer on the blog post.

First up, you should know that its two authors (Chris and Vijay) are experts at innovation – so expect that to be the theme of the story. Delightfully though, the book is shorn of jargon – and is plotted around an animal-run-farm (yes you got that right!) which is trying to find its next growth business. Its certainly fun and has been written to engage – its hard to not be regaled when stallions, bulls, turkeys and sheep are the central characters in a book – and with a little poetic license it may even turn out to be a good bedtime story for your kids!

Now the story reads well and it has a few questions at the end – if you want to go into “back to school” mode, all you need to do is sharpen your pencils and there are enough queries to have you working for 3 hours or more. There were certain takeaways though that I thought were important – and sharing those in this post:

1. Existing businesses and the “next big thing” both need attention – albeit on different aspects. That said, they also need to coexist and even share some parts (maybe some teams/ infrastructure etc.). And the extent of sharing isn’t static – it keeps changing. So you need to keep your ears close to the ground – The leader makes 5 org structures in the book to reflect changing needs.

2. Next big things(NBT!) need some dedicated teams and they should be measured on different metrics. The book offers a wonderful insight of how viewing NBT progress as a series of disciplined experiments is a better approach than using traditional metrics. This is so cool an idea, I think I need to dedicate one whole post to this sometime. You also need to have the right experts and may need to bring them in from outside – enthusiasm is good, expertise is a must!

3. It has some wonderful leadership stories. How the young CEO’s open dialogue with a very disgruntled (but high performing) elder convinces him to stay on for instance. Or a clarion call to the teams on the ground to stay together and work as one – when things are at their worst – is inspiring. Or the CEO’s ability to create new roles, change operating structures, connect across levels and generally be very agile in her thinking – is worth emulating. Finally, the ability to be humble and own up her mistakes (she forgets to close the gates and a few hens escape!) . Good stuff.

A good yarn – the last time I enjoyed an animal story was a decade or more back when I chanced upon “Animal farm”. That book moved me – this one doesn’t go that far, but its certainly inspiring – and a in a few ways enchanting.

Are there things I would have liked added to the book? A couple – one, the motivations of the animals seem to be very similar to the humans it models – and that is a bit of a downer – but then this is but a fable. Also, there is very little focus on the joy of working (except w.r.t maisie the cow) – its my belief that its this joy is what keeps the folks “in search of he next big thing” going – even more than market conditions?

Thanks kartic for the wonderful share – and will now pass the book along – and keep the learning going.

A book review post

So here it is, first true blog post of 2013 for me. A lots happened over the course of the week, perhaps better to mull over the few books that have come my way this year.

Devdutt pattanaik’s book 7 secrets of Shivais a must read for anyone who is curious about Hindu symbolism. He wades into the symbols and brings alive Shiva, Parvati, their vehicles and children and explains what they mean to us. Myths and symbols interweave in this gem of a book – and the journey leaves you with reverence for these gods and gratitude toward this author. And if you read closely, you also pick up a few priceless tips on life and how to live successfully and be fulfilled at the same time – now, that in itself is worth a read right?

The other book I happened to read was on antifragility. This is a whopper of a book too. Quintessential Taleb, it leverages his deep understanding of probability (and tons of common sense) to peel away the noise around you – and reveals life as it is. You come away with many gems, sample this:

“Absence of evidence cannot be construed as evidence of absence”. If that’s a touch abstract sounding, here’s an example – just because we have found no side effect to a new drug (absence of evidence), we cannot state that there is no side effect at all (evidence of absence) – all it could imply is that we haven’t found any yet.

Anti fragile stuff makes you stronger when stressed – and is therefore the rightful opposite of fragility (which gets weakened by stress). This is a new idea because we generally consider “robustness” (which is ability to bear the stress) as the opposite. If this looks abstract too, think about “fasting” which makes you stronger over time (or for that matter even vaccines) – stuff which makes your body more antifragile while medicines which provide instance relief but harm the body in the long run are fragile.

Add another super insight – some volatility (stressors) actually are good for the system because they make the organism (or system) anti fragile. For example, a taxi driver (who experiences volatility of income on a day-day basis but similar earnings as his brother who is employed in a comfy job with a corporate) is more robust than his brother. The brother lives with a false sense of security (that his financial security is assured for ever) only to find himself in “BIG” trouble if (and when)his job gets terminated without notice. Loss of clients, war or other such stressors on impact the taxi driver way less (and in many cases may even improve his earnings!). Taleb reasons that Nature is antifragile and therefore recommends immense caution (or dire need) before messing with nature’s reactions (so a risky surgery is recommended only in the case of a dying patient, not for those who have a chance to recover through other means).

The book goes on – providing tons of valuable thoughts. It provides you a new set of eyes to see the world in – one that looks at fragility as it really is. Why is this important? Taleb informs us that the world is becoming more prone to “black swans” and it is only such insights that will help us navigate better.

Now I am not Devdutt, nor am I Taleb – and therefore would have embellished their thoughts for sure during the course of this narrative – apologies authors. These are “must reads” though and I would encourage you to pop over to the nearest bookshop (or order them on your kindle) and start reading…

Buddha Pournima – celebrating the day of The Buddha

Today is a special day. It’s Buddha pournima – the night of prince Siddhartha’s metamorphosis into the Buddha (the awakened one). It’s a day of celebration – for a man who graduated with honours on a decidedly singular path and became a trailblazer for the millions who followed him.

Note that the Buddha Pournima is considered by many as the day of his enlightenment (today of course  its celebrated by many as “the day of the Buddha” which represents his birth, enlightenment and death all together \). How many people do we know are honoured for a happening in their lives?  I can only think of Christ, whose day of crucification is honoured as the day of deliverence around the world.

Celebrating an event in the life of a human being thousands of years later is indeed special.  If this is replicated on the material plane (as opposed to the spiritual plane)  –we would perhaps have an apple day (the day the mac was released), a burger day (the day the golden arches flipped their first burger) and a mass-motor day (when Ford released those black cars?)

Back to the holy Buddha pournima day – the moon saw an individual flower into something akin God this day 2500 years or so ago – and while I cannot present her an encore today –  I thought I’d share a few notes on a couple of books that honour the phenomenon called the Buddha, albeit in very non-traditional ways.

The first is the Buddha Manga in 8 volumes by Ozamu Tezuka. A Manga is a Japanese Comic book populated by whimsical characters. Ozamu notes the Wikipedia (running out of breath as it spells out the amazingly gifted man’s repertoire) was a Japanese cartoonist, manga artist, animator, producer, activist and medical doctor( although he never practiced medicine). And his Buddha has won multiple Eisner Awards (which are apparently the equivalent of the Comic Oscar awards).

The book is irreverent, hard-hitting and yet true to the story of this awesome man. And it’s edgy and fun. And the characters sport great hairstyles too. Take a look at some of the pictures – if you want fun and englightenment – (ok at least the fun, for now) – please take a look at this site and pick up a copy.

The second is an awesome interpretation of the “Heart Sutra” in a book titled “The Arrow to the Heart”. The Hearth Sutra is revered as one of Buddhism’s most authoritative titles. In fact, the spiritual essence of the Buddha’s Dhammapada  is available in all its glory in the miniature “Heart Sutra” (only …lines) per many Buddhists.

Ken McLeod’s interpretation (he calls it experiential) is very cool – you have poetry, prose and wisdom extraordinarily packaged. You’ll find inspirations from a very wide set of srouces – ranging from Buddhist monks, Lewis carrol (from her Alice in wonderland) and even rocker, Bob Dylan! The format leads you to some “ah” moments – and this says Ken is what he set out to do. There’s a kindle version (the one I purchased) available – so take a look and may be you will flower into a Buddha in time for the moon’s visit next year.

I’ll leave you with a very inspirational piece of writing from Sadhguru jaggi Vasudev on Buddha’s experience on that momentous full-moon night thousads of years ago where the world witnessed the awakening of the Buddha.