Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Good Old Elephant Story

Remember the story of the Elephant and four blind men. How every person feels one part of the elephant while blindfolded and reports what he ‘sees’. I’m not sure what was the lesson back when my mom would have told me the story…she probably didn’t spell it out and left it our imagination.

The story of course has great universal appeal because it’s so simple and yet so powerful. If the four men were left to argue, they would continue on and on about what they saw…If the four men are dumb they’ll continue making the same point again…and if they are smart they may form a better, more complete understanding of the animal.

Life and work is so much like that. Our opinions are shaped by what we have seen, our own experiences and our perspectives.  

Many a times I see smart people arguing to great lengths about how things should be…and many a times all they have is one reference point. “I saw this at so-and-so place” or “I know this is how it is”.

Lets change the course of the story, a little, and figure what the four men could ‘agree’ on.
- An elephant is a living breathing being
- An elephant is large
- An elephant is something I have not yet seen visually.
- There are other people who ‘view’ elephant much different from myself.

With the above agreements, it would be much simpler to move forward…
- Each person sees respect for their own views
- Each person accepts, ‘there may be more out there’
- There are some agreements, so people aren’t from different planets

Once people are looking for agreements, they can find more.

Everybody is correct in what they report, but they aren’t complete. In today’s complex world, it’s increasingly difficult to be ‘complete’ with what you know. There’s way too much out there to know it all. The only way to make a larger, better understanding is to pool in knowledge, perspectives and opinions from different sources.

When people come up to you and say something that you don’t agree on…it’s very likely that the person was at the other end of the elephant !

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Ah! The joys of festivals. We just can’t get enough of it. The decorations, shopping, fireworks, parties and ofcourse, food, food and more food.

Isn’t it interesting that the MTV generation seems to be fully immersed in celebrating Diwali.

We were supposed to be spoilt on western culture and should have forgotten about Diwali and Dusshera…but 20-25 yrs later…most of us still haven’t. We certainly have more days to celebrate though.

Some things have surely changed. …more diyas are wax based, readymade of course…safer and burn much better…lights are LED…consume less power and more reliable, Sweets are less Mithai and more of other snacks…dry fruits, cookies, some chocolates too…perhaps more healthy.

Come of to think of it, we may have actually improved upon the celebrations.

Isn’t it great! And proves a point that we must not forget.

A good thing isn’t going to go away, just because another new strong, radically different influence comes in. It may actually improve and get better over time because of the new influence.

What MTV was to earlier generations, Internet is to today’s generation.

Once again, similar apprehensions exist, and nobody clearly knows how to deal with it and what all influences it’ll bring to us.  But most certainly there's confidence that it'll turn out well.

And guess what happened to MTV…today, it’s hard to find english music on it. MTV has become just TV...but for the logo, it could be any other channel.

Anyway, Here’s a great example of why MTV wasn’t appreciated by our parents and was so cool for us…one of my favorite. Be patient, listen & watch the whole video.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Lucy extended her hand and waited…Mr Tumnus simply looked at her extended hand, not knowing what to do. Lucy says, ‘you shake it’, Mr Tumnus replies, “Why”…

When we meet….we greet and shake hands….no questions asked. Why do we do that? Because that’s how it is done…that’s how we’ve been greeting for as far back as we can remember…that’s how others expect it to be.
A birthday cake is mandatory today…even if you don’t spend a lot on arranging a big birthday party, a simple cake cutting makes up for a lot. A birthday wouldn’t be complete without one.

That’s the power of Traditions. Of Social norms. You don’t question them. You accept them without a hitch. Even the usually unacceptable becomes acceptable.

This is ofcourse, festival time in India, and you can see traditions being literally ‘played’ out all across the country. Gambling or Jua is considered a social evil…but it’s ok to Gamble when it’s Diwali. Even people who would not enter a casino usually…plan and host gambling get togethers.

Although we see traditions as something that has a history…and has been handed down for sometime…perhaps, religious…however, all traditions don’t exactly have a big history.

New traditions can be created. You can create one.

A tradition of writing a song for every product release that you make.
A tradition to cook as a family on Saturday.
A tradition to volunteer, as a team or a family.
A tradition to celebrate and recount all the deliverables made by the team last month.

I lived in Hyderabad once, and noticed that our neighbors always bought some gold or made some financial investment on their kids birthday. It’s a tradition for them, their parents did the same. A great way to ensure some financial security for the kids education!

Is it possible that many of the traditions that we follow today, have some good logic behind them, besides the religious reason? Cleaning up the house and decorating on Diwali, after the rainy season in India…buying gold on Akshaythritiya…donating to temples on special occasions (remember Temples were the center of social activities in the past including development of art and knowledge).

The world around us is changing, and changing drastically…and we need newer traditions to keep some of the good things around. We also need to be open to accept newer traditions and norms…

What are you going to start this festival season? Think...and wish you all a very happy and prosperous Diwali.

Monday, October 18, 2010

All is well syndrome…

India bagged 38th gold medals in Commonwealth Games 2010! Surprise victories kept showing up, like in women’s discuss throw, where India won the gold, Silver and the Bronze.

I’m just glad that we got to watch the moments of glory for all the athletes, rather than all the hoopla…that preceded the games.

While there is no reason to write more about the pre game games…there’s a very common pattern that is worth talking about.

…the eagerness to declare “All is well”.

We just don’t like to report a less than perfect status and we don’t like to hear less perfect status. It’s just human nature…everybody loves good news.

For most part, a little sugar coating of the bad news is mostly acceptable… “we are short on this count, but will catch up soon.”. Though there will come a time, when there’s no scope for sugar coating also.

Things get dangerous, when facts distort into fiction. After that it’s mostly another twist to keep up with the last twist.

Denial isn’t gonna work usually…acceptance will.

Once there’s acceptance, the focus is turned towards course correction. Help shows up from unusual quarters…and in the end everybody turns out to be the winner. Almost always…because people want you to succeed, that’s why you were given the opportunity.

Or you may have to cut the losses and bite the bullet and make some major changes…Remember, Tata Nano! The project was in deep trouble, and instead of reporting all is well, the Tata’s voiced their concern…and when week after week assessment wasn’t matching their charted course, they quietly got to working at the alternatives.

IPL  in South Africa…who would have thought Indian league in South Africa…

Another side effect is the loss of credibility, which would happen with repeated fictional reporting. We live is a networked world…word will get out, sooner or later.

Once credibility is lost, we have a larger problem at hand…

So it’s try and keep it real…All doesn’t have to be ‘well’ all the time.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Will the replacements take over…

Last week, one business news stood out for me. Nokia lost 20% of the Indian handset market share. (ET Link). Now, THAT is not just a drop, it’s a ‘slide’. I looked at my Nokia handset, which I have been using for last one year and have no real complains.

The product is still solid. Works great but clearly has lost favor in the marketplace.

Something similar happens to individuals also. We are good at something, and we evolve, learn new skills too, but we can still find ourselves out of favor.

Why?... Because being good at something isn’t good enough, you got be ‘better’ and you got to be relevant.

Two dimensions need consideration.

  • the ‘competitive’ dimension
  • and change of pace around us.
Indian hockey is another great example of how people can loose the plot. We were the greatest, especially when it came to ‘dribbling’. However, the game changed due to movement in technology (faster turf), change in rules and rise of other nations, like Germany that excelled. Speed became more important than dribbling.

Are you the best in the field that you play in? Are you the best in the changing field that you play in? Will you “continue” to be the best in the ever changing field that you will play in?

Being good or ‘the best’ at something, also brings in a sense of complacency but that’s not always the case.

The bigger danger is the ‘inward looking’ behavior. You tend to keep looking at yourself, your methodology, your efficiency….so while you continuously improve when compared to yourself last year…it isn’t good enough when it compares to rest of the marketplace.

There are always the new kids on the block, with zero legacy and a burning desire. While they lack the experience, they make it up with the hard work and smart thinking. They change the playing field, up the ante…and every existing player needs to step up.

And, BTW, I’m a Nokia fan. Over the last ten yrs of Mobile phone usage, I must have bought over 20 Nokia phones for myself and family…but I wonder, if my next phone will be Nokia.

Will the replacements take over? We’ll see…

PS: Discalimer: I have no opinion on whether the data in ET is correct or not. It did stand out for me, being a Nokia fan.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fear Steer…

As the half yearly exams approach for most school kids in India, the level and intensity of threats to the child increases. If you don’t practice this, you’ll loose marks. If you don’t complete all the revision work today, you’ll get one fat one on your bum.

Kids in high school see a complete different level of threats…the threats near doomsday predictions. If you don’t get through to engineering, you’ll regret for rest of your life.

We practically grow up approaching any challenge with a heavy dose of fear!

Problem is, Fear has exactly the opposite effect on performance. Higher the fear, lower the performance.

There are those managers who drive via fear. From a somewhat direct, “If you don’t deliver this there will be trouble” to an outright threat like “If you can’t deliver this by Monday, start looking for a job”.

To be fair, it is important that consequences of missing a deadline or a commitment should be made clear and understood, but repeated such behavior points to an inherent problem in the management model.

Many times, the Manager can actually get short term results via this method but eventually this will be counter productive.

An effective manager empowers the team, such that individuals can take decisions and act on their own free will, in the right way and for the benefit of the product, team and organization.

However, Fear creates Inaction.

When fear prevails, people stop applying themselves and making decisions and may rather wait for somebody else to make a decision, or folks may take more time to analyze every what if scenario, before making a call.

Either way, it’s a loss of productivity.

Fear makes us focus on the ‘consequence’ as opposed to the task at hand. The goal becomes defensive, which is to make the least amount of mistakes…rather than excelling & exceeding at what we do.

Check your fear meter today…look at the last 10 decisions that you made.

…did you take the safe route repeatedly?
…did you delay the decision unnecessarily?
…did you defer the decision to someone else?
…did you create fear for someone else?

Is fear your steer? Think.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Attention Deficit - did I miss something?

Two lines of a song...Shrieking of a cartoon character...incessant rant of a newscaster...another cartoon...dubbed into Hindi from Japanese...cricket...

All of that in less than 60 seconds...

I ask my 11 yr old son on what he is watching, and he gave me a good answer. He was 'Channel Surfing'. Sigh! Which today qualifies to be a legitimate activity.

Funny part is, even when we watch a good program, we tend to navigate away from it at first opportunity.

....we may be in the middle of a conversation or a meeting...but can't resist to see who sent the sms. (Clearly SMS can't be urgent...right?)

The age of instant information has created a huge attention deficit problem.

Look around you and you'll find that everybody is doing something + more.

Well we can always argue that the human brain can actually handle multiple tasks...we drive while we listen to radio. Or eat popcorn, while watching a movie.

Which is true, but for one distinction. Awareness Vs Focus.

We can be 'aware' of many things but focus is singleton.

There's passive information and stuff happening in the background, that you get bombarded with, but that doesn't really take away anything too much. However, there is active information that make you think and takes away your attention from task at hand.

So what's the down side, if you do indeed multi-task?

I think, two key problems tend to happen.

#1: We don't get to enjoy a good thing going.
#2: People feel short changed.

Would you really enjoy a good movie if you keep checking email every 10 mins?

There should be a very good reason, why you should stop a nice little conversation with your mom, to look at the SMS that just came in.

We show dis-interest in the current activity or person, when we switch away.

It is almost, as if we are looking for something else to do.

To be fair, a lot of this happens very involuntary but that's exactly the problem. We have almost gotten used to it so much that we have accepted it as part of the life.

It isn't supposed to be so.

Believe me, nothing different will happen if you check email at the end of the meeting.
....look at the sms after you are done talking to one person.
...don't check status of something while you are on vacation.

Enjoy what you are doing right now...without worrying about what may be happening else where.

Make the current conversation the most important conversation for this moment!

Everything else can wait. Really!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reality Check: … are you really on your way?

Driving in India is an adventure. We don’t usually carry a map…we carry a list of landmarks or town and village names, to drive through. There is so much uncertainty along the way...that every time we had to take a turn, we asked the auto fellow parked at the junction, about which way to turn for the next town on the list. Then we drive a short distance and double check with another person, if that’s the correct way to go.

Still there were wrong turns taken, and time & effort spent to recover. There are helpful people, who’ll help you get out of a traffic jam, direct you out of the wrong lane and set you back on your way.

Almost always, we reach our destination.

Contrast this with how we approach our life goals.

For most part, there isn’t a plan to achieve the goals. There’s a desire for sure…but no clear understanding of what it’ll take to get there.

Given all the uncertainlty, would it help, if we just drive fast and don’t stop to double check? Not really.

Most people want to get that next promotion. They work hard everyday…and believe that hard work will get them there. It is certainly necessary but it’s no guarantee. Many don’t take the time to understand what it would take to get there. What new technical and professional skills need to be developed…what new roles need to be played.

I see kids in class 12, spending a lot of time in going to school, then tutions and the father’s favorite, IIT coaching. A lot of effort, and grind…but most don’t measure if all that hard work and time spent is really being effective in getting them closer to cracking the exam.

We hope and pray for success. We work hard. We spend the money required. We make sacrifices.

We also need periodic reality checks.

Stop, see what’s happening around you, understand the new realities…re-adjust and start again Get your bearings right.

It’s very easy to get “busy” doing what we do, and then the routine takes over our lives. Newton’s First law of motion sets in. “Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

We need that external force to change the state. A good vacation…a mentor…your mom or wife.

Get your bearings right. Plan a reality check.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Incentives - Everybody gets it...

It was sign written in Hindi, probably an untrained hand, and it said “Ek kilo meat ke saath, Ande free…”. Which translates into “Eggs free with One kg meat”. I couldn’t help but smile.

It was a small shop, likely to be run by somebody who isn’t a marketing graduate. But the owner certainly understood basic the principal of “Incentives”.

For some very primary ingrained reason, humans respond “better” to incentives.

A cranky child wailing at the top of the voice, has an incentive to do so…attention from Mother.

We all love to shop when we get a discount…an incentive to pay less.

Teenagers rebel, to satisfy the incentive of “being their own self” and “imposing their own free will”. A break from the past, where parents were the masters.

Of course, every organization has incentives built into the system.

You may have a job to do, but you’ll do it much better when there are incentives built into performing the job.

Incentives aren’t always monetary, although, it’s easier to create a monetary incentive, for example, Bonuses offered by organizations and discounts offered by retailers. The more powerful incentives are of the ‘Moral’ or ‘Social’ kind.. Which appeals to the inner self, and satisfy at a much deeper level.

When trying to understand somebody’s behavior, Ask yourself “What is his/her incentive…” in behaving so.

Or, if you’d like a certain behavior or action from somebody, attach an incentive to it.

Here’s a great video that demonstrates the power of incentives: The Piano Stairs

PS: I recommend the book “Super Freakonomics” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. A great collection of some very interesting case studies.
The piano stairs blog post from the authors: http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/13/who-will-climb-the-piano-stairs/

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Breeze Around You

Have you noticed people walking in nice cool breeze seem to be chilled out.

The exact opposite happens when the surroundings are uncomfortable, like a railway station. Too much heat, too less space and not enough information.

Every organization advertises a good work environment, described in many forms…conducive, productive, relaxed, creative, growth oriented !

It’s fairly well acknowledged that a good work environment is essential for many different reasons.

By a very simple generalized equation:
Good Environment => Good Thoughts => Good Actions => Good Results

Clearly an over simplification but lets play along.

What makes your environment?

Some Rules - Policies, procedures to be followed
Physical workplace – your cube, cafeteria, coffee room, parking lot
People – co-workers, managers, peers, friends
And you!

A place, work or home, with too many and too strict rules and procedures isn’t a fun place to be. Perhaps that’s why, schools of our times (70’s and 80’s) weren’t as much fun as they are today. Kids today are so much smarter!

People around you make a huge impact on your environment. They interact with you…share opinions, experiences, misery.

In general, we view the environment as an external to us…something that we don’t have control over.

But it isn’t exactly so…

Each one of us contributes to environment around us. What is throw around us, is what we’ll see everyday.

Something, as simple as, greeting others with smile and warmth, sets the tone of your day…and future interactions with the same people.

We own our environment.

Doesn’t mean we control all of it…but we certainly own our outlook and responses to whatever the environment throws at us.

A workplace will have all kind of people, that’s what makes it interesting and real. Some of them will fall into this category called “generally frustrated”. This set of people always find a reason to be frustrated, whatever be the event. If we decide to make them a key player in our environment, hang around with them…it’s only natural that we’ll get to see some their perspective…and you’ll start finding the dark lining in the silver cloud. Unfortunately, negativity rubs on easy.

We have a choice to limit our interaction, or simply refuse to listen to the frustration.

Making your environment positive, vibrant and productive may require some effort as well. Over time it’s easy to slip into a routine which isn’t so…for example, spending weekend after weekend, buying groceries and watching TV...no real family activity, no creativity…no Re-charge of your body and mind!  Monday and rest of the week may not be very different.

So choose to make the environment you’d like to live in.

Choose to set the cool breeze around you.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lead and Lag…

I think, it’s time for some theory, and I found this subject to be much less talked about than it deserves to be…so here we go.

One of my friends recently wrote a little joke…she found a machine that goes from zero to 120 in one second! Unfortunately, it’s a weighing machine and not a race car.

Many of us, including me, check our weight religiously. We possibly can also remember how the weight has moved in last week, month and years.

Can we also recall, what our diet was just yesterday? How many calories we added on an average per day, in last week, month or an year.
Extremely unlikely!

While we focus on the outcome measure (weight), we don’t have as much attention to the real impacting measure (food intake).

In this example, Weight is a Lag Measure and Calories Consumed is a Lead Measure. While an eye on the Weight (Lag measure) is important, the focus should really be Calories/Food intake. (Lead Measure).

Everytime I go home and enjoy my Mom’s cooking, I know I’m going to gain weight, because I know I’m going to eat more.
Understanding of the movement in Lead measure, will help us know what the outcome is likely to be.

Besides, food intake, you must also spend time at the gym know what exercises help.

You can have multiple or combination of lead measures which contribute to the same lag measure.

Another great example is, the “marks scored” by the kids. It is a favorite topic around March and April, and most kids are constantly encouraged to score more. Kids get rewarded for 25 out of 25 and parents feel proud of the genetics.

What if, we change our focus a little, and reward the kid for regular hours of study everyday? What if we track the Revision and practice hours? And reward the kids for doing so.

It is highly likely; the kid will get better grades and more importantly, will create more learning.

Lead measures are also the “Drivers”, and keeping up with good lead measures should get you to good lag measure score.

We are perhaps, tuned to the phrase, “Result Orientation”, and mistake it for a sharpened focus on the outcome measures. If you are truly result oriented, and would like to achieve good results consistently, you’ll have to focus on lead measures.

Also, keeping track of food intake or exercise hours is way more difficult than hopping on to the weight scale. Lead measures are usually more difficult to keep track of than the lag or outcome measure. Which is another reason, why most people find it convenient to focus on the lag measure.

While the concept is talked more in context of performance management in business, I think, it can be applied to more situations at home and community.
Try it out…and see the difference.

Disclaimer: Neither the subject or the examples are new. There is a ton of material online and books that may talk about this subject. My attempt is only to explain it my words.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Failures – Accept, Learn and Move On

As a college going kid, I used to watch many martial arts movies, mostly made in Hong Kong and dubbed in English. One common character in these movies was a Master (Sensei) who would throw rocks of wisdom at every opportunity. I remember from one of them…”It’s not the man who can hit the hardest, but the man who can take the hardest punch who will come out winner every time”.

How true. When we fight, we must have the ability to handle a punch, a hard punch at that…in order to be in the fight and finish it our way.

Accept it, if you are in a fight, you are going to get punched....
If you are in traffic, you will get stuck....
If you can run, you can fall...

In our work life, we always aim for a success, but face it, some failures are bound to happen. These could be small or large. But our approach to the failures will decide the outcome of the project. Can we take it and turn things around?

Every failure will bring it’s own learnings. That’s why champions never quit when down. How many times have we seen Roger Federer fight from two sets down, or winning a set when trailing 1-4. There’s an inherent belief, that he can overcome the challenge, and being a few games down or a set under, can change if he continues to work at it. Of course, the game plan changes, he may attack the net a little more or prolong the rallies..

Failure, Problem, Issue or an unexpected undesirable event or outcome will happen, sooner or later…and by Murphy’s law, it may happen at the worst time of the project. We can do a much better job of overcoming or getting around the problems, if we accept them first. Develop an understanding and figure a strategy to work, and Move

We can always find a solution, or find people who can find the solution. Or it’ll be a new thing…hence opportunity to innovate!

Either way, you come out a winner.

What differentiates you from the crowd is your ability to execute a difficult project, since easy ones can be executed by anyone.

So prepare yourself for failures, expect them as much as you expect success…and as Sensei in the Kung Fu movie said, you’ll win the match.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Just Ask...It's not so Difficult

It is amazing how many questions go “un-asked”.... and every now and then we have a moment, when we look at somebody and say “I wish you had asked that before”.

Many of us have an endearing memory of admiring the girl next door, but never “Asking”…it makes for excellent drama for sure. Always charming...but perhaps it should be left that way!

I can’t remember where I read this, but easiest way of getting a discount is to “Just ask”. We all love discounts, but for some reason or the other, we shy away from asking for it…perhaps we don’t want ourselves to look cheap…or the value of discount looks trivial. But it must be the easiest way to have more of your own money in your wallet, …just ask for it.

Go to a store, and see keenly scanning the isles, with commando like eye movements...looking for that particular product... we may actually walk around, looking for it, sometimes even pass by the salesperson (often wearing, 'May i help you' T Shirt) , but not Ask. Of course, in the process we loose time and delay the acquisition of our favorite cereal that day.

Men not asking for directions, is a well known fact. That’s why Online maps is the greatest gift to the modern man (and to their frustrated family in the car).

At workplace, asking questions is perhaps the easiest and one of the most impacting thing you can do. Asking questions, creates a good dialog, helps in better understanding. It gives you a better chance of reaching a consensus and coming out with an acceptable solution. It may avoid assumptions, which needn’t be made.

My first Manager, had a (rather tacky) chart in his office, which said, “When in Doubt, just ASK”. (I think Archies used to sell it). As a very young programmer, trying to make my boss happy, I, of course, took it verbatim and probably asked one too many questions, but this made sure I understood what was expected when I walked out of his office.

If you are new on the job, you always have the dilemma of whether to ask a question or not, after all there is a lot to catch up on, and perhaps, the question will sound trivial to all others in the forum. It is a legitimate thought, but just for kicks...just give it a try. You may be surprised how many people in the forum did not know the real answer. Alternatively, It is best to note down such questions, and seek answers later on.

For a “Culture of Asking” to prevail, it must be supported by two other behaviors, “Listening” and “Answering” (responding). As individuals we must make a sincere attempt to: First listen, and then respond with complete earnestness, when somebody asks. We must try not shoot-down the question, or respond before understanding the question.

Not Asking leads to assumptions, which can prove costly or cause unnecessary heart burn.

As a Parent do you have the courage and an open enough relationship to ask, if your kid smoked?

Whatever role we play, and whatever be the situation, there are questions waiting to be asked…so don’t assume the worst or the best, please Just Ask...it's not so difficult.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Think or not

Welcome to my blog...atleast for today, this place will be called 'Think or not'...

Why? because when presented with a question, a choice was made.

Choices are something!

If you don't have any...it's really bad.
If you have too many...it's a problem.

Choices make us think...

Choices have consequences...that makes us think more.

Not making a choice has consequences too...

No escape from choices and no escape for thinking...

Let me know what you Think or not...Welcome again!