Self Awareness – perspectives from a corporate coach and a spiritual teacher

Over the last few weeks,  I have had the opportunity to connect with two very different leaders – a corporate coach and a spiritual teacher. Both of them were expounding on a common topic – how to more “self aware” and in the processes deepening empathy (ability to put oneself in others shoes).

The self they talked was not the same though – the coach equated the self to our personalities – and he was looking to improve my personality (a tough ask!). He was looking for me to learn well – gain deep knowledge, best practices, intellectually intense one-one sessions – and the learning will elevate my personality.

The spiritual teacher was talking about the Self (note the capitalisation here) – the “god” within each of us. This “Self” is your true nature – the only reason you cannot find it is because it is hidden behind all the learning and conditioning over the years (indeed lifetimes!). “Unlearn well and your nature will reveal itself ” he intoned.

So one wanted me to be an expert learner and the other – an expert at unlearning!.

But that wasn’t all.The coach focusses on thought and theory. He wants me to reflect on some of my life experiences, take inventory of my thoughts, judge them (as positive vs negative thoughts) and label them (e.g. differentiating between being skeptical vs cynical). The list that emerges out of this involved intellectual exercise is then representative of my “emotional intelligence quotient” he opines. The more words that I am able to show in your journal (all neatly classified and labelled) – the more I am becoming emotionally intelligent. And I’d do well to read a little (pick daniel goldman’s classic as a first step) and be diligent with my paper exercises (inventory, classification and labelling) – and over time, results will follow. How would I know I am truly more self aware – my DISC or equivalent psychological scorecard, a couple of positioning charts will all help me rate myself against my benchmarks. In his view, self awareness and emotional intelligence are a skill and knowledge that needs to be learned.

The spiritual guru is not interested in thought – he neither likes them or dislikes them – he just dosent care about them. His is not the way of the mind but the heart. He recommends we observe sensations in the body, gently pushing aside thoughts – not quite suppressing them – not celebrating them either. And there is no classification of what is good or bad – observe and over time you yourself will recognise how you are getting along. The recognition comes out of experience and not a intellectual score card. Everyone is on his or her unique journey – and has the necessary native intelligence to recognise what is best for themselves. Awareness for him is more about unlearning rather than learning – you remove layers of conditioning and knowledge – and presto you will begin to see things the way they truly are. And once you get there, you will relate to yourself and to others automatically in a deeper way – for “empathy and authenticity” are the very essence of being human.

They back themselves differently too. The coach considers himself successful using a model similar to that he advocates – professional credentials, monetary wealth, testimonials, impressiveness of his client list. His models and frameworks have worked with over 500 of his customers – and therefore it should work for you as well. If it doesn’t – you are doing something wrong – after all, the model is proven!

The spiritual leader vouches for your divinity on the back of having experienced all of nature as one and his conviction from that experience on the true nature of the human form. Indeed he does not see himself as a doer – he sees himself as an instrument through which existence is playing its lilas – just like you, its just that you aren’t aware of it yet. For him rediscovery is an unique journey – there is no pass or fail here – and once you find your compass, you will do what is right for you – irrespective of whether it aligns to society and corporate success measures.

Two very diametric approaches – and in their own way can contribute to the individual requirements.  The important point though is to become aware first of the two selves (personality and internalised godhead!) and decide which one we want to pursue! Its easy to mistake one for the other – a mistake that can turn out to be costly! Agree? Thanks for reading – do comment/share/like – would love to keep the conversation going!

Success in a VUCA world – ancient wisdom

It’s a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambigous). How do we survive here?

I guess the best answers will come from other times that were even more VUCA than this. For instance let’s travel back to the times of the “Gita” which is a dialogue occurring in a battlefield with both sides having weapons drawn and ready to fight. Or the times of Marcus A’s “Meditations” which chronicle’s a Roman emperor’s thoughts during a period of extreme uncertainty on all fronts. The answers these tomes which were written to counter a VUCA world and have survived until now surely must have insights for us?

I guess so, lets check them out.

Volatility: The antitode to volatility seems to be in embracing it. Looking into the fear (albeit a watered down version) consciously gets the fear to flee. Seneca advised us to periodically fast so as to be rid of the fear of hunger – indeed to live occasionally a “life of poverty by choice” is liberating! Ignoring volatility until the odds are overwhelming is defintiely fatal – its better to get used to volatility periodically (you actually get stronger – there’s a superb explanation by Taleb on why this is so).

Of course, if you happen to own a lot of bitcoins, the advice is harder…..

Uncertain: The best way to handle uncertainity is to do two things:

a. Create strategies that have limited downside and lots of upside

b. Accept that you will work toward your plans, but in no way can you determine the outcome for sure

This is best encapsulated by a beautiful word “saranagati” – which by the way is not a misspelling for the Sarengeti national park! It can be translated as “thy will be done” – but setting up a situation in such a way that the downside is limited.

For instance, ascetics try to reason like an unwell child who cries for chocolate but is handed over some bitter medicine by their mother instead. It’s impossible for the child to understand the benefits of the medicine at this time – the only thing it can do is trust. So they set themselves up in such a way that they surrender to an higher ideal (god/eternal consciousness etc) and expend all their efforts in a system (yoga/ prayer/ meditation – whatever) they have investigated and trust to take them there. They also give up other desires (limited downside) and any failures related to the experience are but medicine for them – they remain steadfast in their goal.

Or in a more materialistic model, a businessman may invest in a venture and mentally write off the sum. If it succeeds big time – he’s happy (all upside). If it fails, that’s ok (he’s already written it off). The secret is in capping downside.

Complex: A series of rituals that unpack the complex into very many simple activities is the prescription. And in todays world you may want to then automate some of these simple ones as well! Unpacking the complex into many simple ones allows you to feel more in control and also refactoring where required with minimum impact to the whole (yeah unless it’s that butterfly whose wings cause rainfall across continents!)

This I believe is why all ancient wisdom is encapsulated into a series of small rituals that remove the complexity of a situation and build positive muscle memory through successes (its easier to do a simple ritual successfully) over time as well.

Ambiguous: Its tough to even see if we are winning sometimes. Your portfolio goes up and up and up and it seems like it will forever. And just as you are preparing your winner’s speech, it disappears out of sight. The antidote for ambiguity is a very simple definition of what you are after (good) and what you are not (bad).

Ancient wisdom has this too. Good/ truth is what does not change (permanent through time). Bad/ untruth is what can change rightaway. And it also adds a third component (mithya) which stands for stuff that is relatively stable (say a man’s life – for 100 years he’s alive). So just looking at these three – give you a view and a metric of how you are doing. In the portfolio example – transient movements shouldn’t be your metric of success – you have established criteria irrespective of other factors that decide your actions.

So that’s one lens on looking at a VUCA world. Do you agree?

How to stay happy all the time (or at least be less anxious)!

It’s that time of the year, when everyone is actively looking for a “Kabali” ticket. Filing your taxes and watching Kabali – are the only two worthwhile goals for the month! The tribes on Whatsapp are profusely sharing  reviews/ opinions/ experiences on the movie – read them all and you realise an important fact – most of them are comparisons:

  1. Kabali rocks, way too good when compared to his earlier movie Lingaa
  2. The movie’s good, but not quite in the Baasha class….
  3. Thalaivar’s movie appeals globally. Almost like Muthu gathered popularity in japan, this one is likely too everywhere…….

You get the idea – everywhere the movie is judged, appreciated and rejoiced – and the degree of appreciation depends not on the intrinsic quality of the movie itself but on its relative compare with an ideal in the speaker’s mind.

Which brings me round to today’s topic – on how to be happy (or at least less anxious), irrespective of the situations we find ourselves in. As always, the ancients had this nailed down perfectly. When something bad/ undesirable happened, in their trademark, pithy way they had this to say (translated form Tamil – and not very well at that!)

“Bad luck that was to have taken your head, just took away your head-dress! Be thankful, persevere!”

In short, their remedy was for you to imagine the greater misfortunes that could have occurred but didn’t – a remedy that instantly calmed your mind. While seeming simple, it’s a remarkable cure. Let me elaborate with an example:

You slam your car against an obstacle and get your car dented (I recently did by the way!) and immediately start fretting over what you could have done better. You playback videos of alternate scenarios (With dent-less cars as the outcome of course!) in you mind – you could have driven slower, taken a better road, looked at the weather and chosen a more clement time to venture out etc. etc. Then the senior-most member in your family consoles you with the above proverb in her typically compassionate way. And you realize that the accident is actually much less severe that you imagine it to be. Consider the worse alternatives to a car dented but no other casualties;

–          The pain, grief and worry if you had hit an animal (or god forbid) a villager instead of the inanimate object

–          What if a drunken driver had hit your car at speed (and god knows in the early hours, there are many around!)

–          What if a tire had burst instead on the highway and you had lost control

The scenarios are endless – and from a pure probability standpoint are just as likely as that freak accident. As this realization dawns on you, you are grateful – thankful that a more disastrous outcome didn’t result and as a bonus you also become lot more mindful (perhaps decreasing the odds of future accidents as well!).

You can also apply it to situations where you are playing “victim” in over-drive mode. For instance, let’s say you have to go and inform a team member that their much awaited promotion is not happening.  You castigate the world and your system for being unfair (they could have accommodated an extra slot for him, the system seems pre-disposed toward another group etc. etc.). In short, the perfect moment to try out our miraculous medicine – the proverb from above. Apply it – and you ask yourself –  isn’t this task (distasteful as it is) so much better than for instance:

  1. The doctor who has to let his non-smoking patient know he has tested positively for cancer of the lungs?
  2. The policeman who has to inform his colleague’s wife of her husband’s death in a random, drive by shooting – being plagued by guilt himself for staying alive and not being able to have helped out.

And so it goes. There’s always a worse thing that could have happened -and therefore always a reason to stay grateful to providence. Further as Rumi quotes:

Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure.

Its hard to internalise this though because we tend to compare our performances and abilities with those who appear to be lesser qualified than us and our misfortunes with those who are apparently luckier. Just shifting the comparisons will make life a lot less burdensome.

I try the approach out for a day – it seems to work everywhere. A slow driver who makes you wait for a signal more – check. A random motorcyclist who nicks your car – check. You don’t get tickets for Kabali on the first weekend – check.

You also tend to appreciate all the good things that have happened in your life a lot better. And that truly is the icing on the cake.

A hot cup of coffee on a cold evening – enjoy the heavenly experience (imagine Siberian prison life if you can for a really powerful view of what could have happened had you been born in another time, another place – this is what one of the world’s best ever writers (Dostovesky) went through!). Should you receive an award – cherish it unconditionally (imagine what Marie Curie went through!). if you have a friend to call and crib on demand – you are indeed blessed – most people don’t have this luxury.

Indeed when you practice this for a while, the sense of “entitlement” that pervades our lives gets transmuted into a sense of “humility and awe”. And in itself, that sense of benediction is a miracle of the highest order. Wouldn’t you agree?

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?

 

Falling off the pedastal

As a rule, we like to put our celebrities on pedestals. For a change, I thought about a different context – how about when we are placed on a pedestal and brought down (and before you call it narcissistic, let me assure you that each of us is held up to a pedestal by someone – a team member, a friend, a relative (moms’ of course don’t count!)). The pedestal can be one of many types – you can be on a “kindness” pedestal (meaning someone sees you as a very kind guy), a “fairness” pedestal (probably outcome of a few appraisal cycles sometime!), a “wisdom” pedestal (maybe you just refuse to get angry no matter what the provocation), a “generosity” pedestal and so on…Like I said, there are infinite pedestals and you can find yourself being put on one of them –  irrespective of whether want to be on one or not. Of course choosing to stay on top is your decision.

Let me elaborate with a story. Recently, a team member told me I had betrayed “his trust”. Or in other words I had fallen off his pedestal. A pedestal he assured me he had put me on for 5 years at least. Picking myself up and brushing off the dust, I asked him what made him put me down – and more importantly, how is it that I climbed that pedestal in the first place?

What he told me (first hesitantly and then fluently) opened my eyes to a whole new world. It appeared I had taken some very fair (in his view) decisions consistently over the years. Decisions he had thought I would buckle under (like putting a very able but first-class-jerk in his place and so on) I had aced. I had also stayed true to my words. And then this year, I had taken a decision to promote someone (and that too at his cost!) who he felt was surely unworthy. There was consequently a breach in the trust, but he advised me that I could do do my image a bit of good if I could promise him I’d do the right thing the next time around.

I thanked him for his candor but told him I couldn’t promise anything a year away (given the economic uncertainty, I would need an astrologer mindset to predict anything at all with some confidence!). I also walked him through the logic of my decisions (as far as was possible and as well as I could stitch it together – I suspect some unconscious embellishment to make me look rational would have figured too!) – and the constraints. I emphasized also that while I owned the decision, it was really a group call – so while the decisions could have been wrong, they were designed to reduce bias.

But the thought didn’t leave me – something big was at play here – and as I started seeking wiser counsel, I realized it was indeed. Many leaders I admired told me they had experienced “being placed on pedestals and then dropped” as well. And the following were the major inferences/ advice to avoid being crippled:

  1. Remember the pedestal is a mental construct of someone else’s. And therefore by definition it isn’t true. So just because someone puts your image on the king’s throne you are not a king – its just another doll on a make-believe seat. If on the other hand, you start believing the whole pedestal thing, you will begin to need conforming to a different morality standard. Since you are on someone else’s pedestal – to retain the position – you will need to confirm to his views and morality and that can be very limiting – as we discuss in the next point
  2. A pedestal is always finite (or in other words limited) – a few feet wide and a few feet long at most. Not enough room to move around – put yourself on someone’s pedestal and you’ll start feeling claustrophobic
  3. Pedestals require effort from the guy who’s building it. And the more effort, taller the pedestal – and greater his expectations of you. And taller the pedestal, the more impactful the fall. This is why public feels “devastated” when celebrities fail (but are ok to forgive a commoner when he does not fulfil their expectations – afterall he’s just a man!)
  4. This does not mean we should be ungrateful to the pedestal builders. We should thank them – but let them know that the pedestal is fiction. And once they understand that, they will appreciate you more for it
  5. Where possible, its best not to not build pedestals for ourselves for others – if the object of our admiration is a wise man – any pedestal failure will hurt us not the object
  6. Try new experiences, meet new friends, renew yourself afresh. Pedestals take time to solidify, so don’t give yourself the time (both ways!)
  7.  Finally, never make the mistake of building a pedestal for your self. This will mean schizophrenia – feeling betrayed and angry on yourself – can give rise to a very destructive vicious loop.

 

So that’s it for now. One leader said it best “ Once you know all the pedestals are just dolls, it takes a tremendous weight off your shoulders and the world becomes your playground – enjoy it”. Would you agree?

Setting an example

We have often been told by our parents, relatives, bosses and numerous others that we have to set an example to others. Younger brothers, team members and children are watching and they’ll take after us. We’ve often told our teams and family members the same – “go set an example, make us proud.”

I got to thinking about this a little today. At first it seemed very self evident – set a standard of excellence and others will be inspired. Be the bar that others in the neighborhood look upto.

But what if you failed? What if you flunked your exams, threw tantrums (that you aren’t proud of – but what the heck?!). What if you were the poorest performer in your group? What indeed if you were the guys that people pointed to in the street and said – “do your homework and respect your elders – or you’ll end up like him?”.  Were we doomed to a life of guilt – after all, no matter what the score there will be as many losers as there are winners?

Everything in life has two tails – none better than the other – could this “example setting” alone be different?

And I had my “aha” moment – “setting an example” is for the benefit of those that follow. For the student who studies an example – who he should be is just as important as who he should not be. He can learn as much from the generous (what he should do) as from the miser (what he should not do). He can learn as much from the policeman (how to correct a wrong) as a thief (why he should not steal from others).

Indeed – there is no difference at all. So irrespective of whether you set an example toward greatness or are the epitome of slackness – the value to those who look to you will be the same. The difference is in what you enjoy, what your loved ones enjoy – the fame, adulation etc. alone.

This seemed such a powerful thought, that I thought some great minds would have already explored this one  – and what better tome to reach for than Kahlil Gibran’s Prophet. To my delight, he seemed to concur with this view. Indeed he states that we are but a microcosm of our society – hence we are equally responsible for the criminal as well. Indeed – he does not operate without our sanction, albeit an unconscious one.

Here’s the prophet talking about this:

Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.
But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you,
So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.
And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree,
So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.
Like a procession you walk together towards your god-self.
You are the way and the wayfarers.
And when one of you falls down he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone.
Ay, and he falls for those ahead of him, who though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone.

So, here’s some balm oil for all of you. By all means, try to be the best person you can be – that is your birth right and your duty. But don’t carry guilt about past failures and mis-deeds (yes, don’t do them again for god’s sake!) for they would have served as signposts too for those that are walking the same path. And that’s a comforting feeling isn’t it?

We have often been told by our parents, relatives, bosses and numerous others that we have to set an example to others. Younger brothers, team members and children are watching and they’ll take after us. We’ve often told our teams and family members the same – “go set an example, make us proud.”

I got to thinking about this a little today. At first it seemed very self evident – set a standard of excellence and others will be inspired. Be the bar that others in the neighborhood look upto.

But what if you failed? What if you flunked your exams, threw tantrums (that you aren’t proud of – but what the heck?!). What if you were the poorest performer in your group? What indeed if you were the guys that people pointed to in the street and said – “do your homework and respect your elders – or you’ll end up like him?”.  Were we doomed to a life of guilt – after all, no matter what the score there will be as many losers as there are winners?

Everything in life has two tails – none better than the other – could this “example setting” alone be different?

And I had my “aha” moment – “setting an example” is for the benefit of those that follow. For the student who studies an example – who he should be is just as important as who he should not be. He can learn as much from the generous (what he should do) as from the miser (what he should not do). He can learn as much from the policeman (how to correct a wrong) as a thief (why he should not steal from others).

Indeed – there is no difference at all. So irrespective of whether you set an example toward greatness or are the epitome of slackness – the value to those who look to you will be the same. The difference is in what you enjoy, what your loved ones enjoy – the fame, adulation etc. alone.

This seemed such a powerful thought, that I thought some great minds would have already explored this one  – and what better tome to reach for than Kahlil Gibran’s Prophet. To my delight, he seemed to concur with this view. Indeed he states that we are but a microcosm of our society – hence we are equally responsible for the criminal as well. Indeed – he does not operate without our sanction, albeit an unconscious one.

Here’s the prophet talking about this:

Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.
But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you,
So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.
And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree,
So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.
Like a procession you walk together towards your god-self.
You are the way and the wayfarers.

And when one of you falls down he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone.
Ay, and he falls for those ahead of him, who though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone.

So, here’s some balm oil for all of you. By all means, try to be the best person you can be – that is your birth right and your duty. But don’t carry guilt about past failures and mis-deeds (yes, don’t do them again for god’s sake!) for they would have served as signposts too for those that are walking the same path. And that’s a comforting feeling isn’t it?

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.

Three generations of heroes – and counting!

We’ve been privy to three generations of heroes:

1. The icons of old were those who “owned or controlled” the most capital – money, assets and people. Remember those early industrialists (think Rockfeller for instance) whose legendary status emanated from their skills managing capital best in those times? It is of course a tribute to many of these great minds that they were also philanthropic (and their successors continue the spirit of giving) – Rockefeller/ Carnegie/ Tatas – you get the idea!

2. Then there was the time when those who had the ability to own the “information flow” were the kings. Newspapers, Radio and TV were the guys who gave us gospel truths. We followed these pied pipers with our wallets – and minds. This was the period when the media and advertising companies and TRP was truly king. The Murdoch empire springs to mind in this context, dosent it

3. Today, the folks who have the most “reach” seem to be the “new gods”. Facebook, Airbnb, Uber, amazon, google, apple – its an almost frenetic race to capture the most reach. The Sharing economy has thrown up new heroes – these guys dont necessarily own the message – they are but facilitators/ platforms where people share stuff/ experiences – and the more authenticitic the platform allows the participants to be, the more do people flock there. Think how Amazon’s user reviews and Airbnb’s shared rentals work – and this becomes very clear?

So what’s the next step of evolution? I have no idea – I do know though that it’s going to be exciting. That said, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the “reaching out” of today evolved into a “reaching within” movement tomorrow – an evolution that allowed each of us to understand ourselves better and make truly authentic choices and a sustainable world? Of course the RoI then would be a greener, happier, world!

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.

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.

Lead without a title – a Robin Sharma seminar experience

Late last week I attended my first Robin Sharma seminar – this one was titled “lead without a title”. This post captures my impressions and a few takeaways (have taken a lot of poetic license with the verbiage but trust it would cover the essence well) that I thought will benefit all my readers.

It took place at a prominent Chennai landmark – the ITC Grand Chola – and was packed to capacity – about 800 delegates turned out for the meeting. What stood out was Robin’s involvement in the seminar – a lot of the delegates were leaders in their own right (and perhaps cynical of management guru speak) – to his credit, Robin displayed great energy, focus and had the participants engaged through the 3 hour meet. His delivery and voice modulation (not to mention the simple but impactful slideware) added to the experience.

He opened with a very engaging question “In your last hour of your last day on this planet, what would you be proud of?”.

At that point obviously office sizes didn’t matter, nor did bank balances or assets owned. He let the question hanging in the air for a while and offered an answer – you will be proud of just two things – on that fateful hour of the destined day:

1. Who you have become as a person

2. And how many people you have helped

Reinforcing this point was a wonderful Steve Jobs quote

“being the richest man in the graveyard doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed knowing we have done something wonderful matters to me.”

That got us thinking – and we were invited to identify 1 idea that was most meaningful to us – and the idea had to be expressed in just a few words. An example chosen by one of the delegates (who led a 3000 strong company) was “make 3000 leaders”. Another doctor decided “founding a medical college” was most meaningful for him.

Ideas have no value until they get implemented was the next clarion call.

Toward implementation, a few powerful insights were provided:

1. The 90-90-1 rule: For the next 90 days, spend the 1st 90 minutes (which apparently are the most productive minutes of the day) on your most powerful business opportunity/ personal goal identified in the para above. The focus would make this a reality

2. The 66 day rule: If one kept up a behavior for 66 days, it would become part of your muscle memory – become a habit infact. Great sportsman for instance don’t think about the special moves they make – the moves are hardwired into their system by force of daily habit. Interestingly, the Hindus (and I suspect the Buddhists) believe that 21 is the magic number (also called a mandala) – so whatever works for you – 66 is Robin’s magic number though

3. Genius = Focus.Practice.Grit. Genius is not about only talent. His view was 5% are super achievers (the majority 95% are the average set!) not because they have the maximum talent but because they were persistent in developing genius through continued focus, extensive practice and remarkable grit.

A couple other vignettes which caught my attention:

a. An average person apparently spends 2.1 hours/ day getting distracted.  And why would they do that – because being distracted makes people feel productive! Busyness is not equal to effectiveness! Eliminating this he opined will alone free up enormous times

b. You are paid not just to work, you are paid to be scared! His feel was that if we felt we were successful due to being associated with a successful company, we were very vulnerable. The seduction of safety is most dangerous people!

Finally, there was this Mary Angelou quote somewhere toward the end which I thought summed it all very well

 “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Thanks Robin and the organizers – Eyeball Media  – was a good experience – and time to pass on the stories for others interested as well……

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…