Hello world!

<Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!>

Ok. I will leave that first line as it is. Sentiment! You see, it has taken me more than 10 years to start blogging. This is perhaps the maximum I have ever (if at all) procrastinated on anything in my life. So.

Procrastination led to “Ruminations & Illuminations”. This is Me 2.0; opening my thoughts to the world (that cares to read this, that is) by writing, upgraded from Me 1.0 a read-only Self! Me 1.0 was much too private, punishingly selective, an exclusive recluse when it came to writing but not a frugal teacher nor a restrained talker at any point! Me 2.0 that you see and read here (and relate to, hopefully) is a sincere attempt at transformation – of the self, of the mind. A talking mirror, if you wish to give it a definition.

Friends, family, well-wishers and a few similar others who shared uninhibited fervor to embarrass me have been after me to post “stuff”. In the olden days, long before many of you were born, us Gen Y used to write to each other using a medium called the e-mail. It was largely fun; attaching pictures, changing fonts, running spell-checks, worrying about Bcc’s and Cc’s and finally praying the ever-fun-spoiling firewalls would let through the message, pictures & videos and all. Now, some of those gems shall also be recycled here in the coming days. Simply because I want to enjoy the ease of posting, the lightness of sharing without any accompanying panic and worries.

For the most part, I plan to ruminate, to reflect, and at times react. The illumination bit is to be dug through. Hopefully, what I have to share, to offer as insight as against any opinionated rant, will illumine your intellect and your heart. I hope to also provoke, occasionally only though, your beliefs, your imagination of this world and it’s people & places & things, and your passions.

In college, a little over 20 years back, I was introduced to free-writing. Delightful, scary, enjoyable, agonizing and all the other things it did to me, it’s all coming back now as I write these blogs. Whatever it will be, it won’t be cathartic. I do not wish upon you the outpourings of a frustrated mind and a restless soul, things I myself am not. So, we’ll see how this evolves, how the thoughts blossom, how the experiences take form and how the ruminations move from my reality to yours!

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The 3 Rules of “Process”

I am a big believer in process. But I think the business world is being led down a garden path by specialists who prescribe process as a panacea to every problem. Don’t get me wrong – there is an opportunity to implement ‘process’ to improve everything. It’s just that the way it is mostly done does not necessarily produce the right result.

Process-Simplify-NTAK-Blog-1

 

Call me old-fashioned but here are 3 rules that in my experience act as drivers to successfully implementing a process: simplify, clarify and exemplify.

Let me explain.

1. Simplify. If a new or improved process does not make something simple or simpler than before then don’t roll out that process. Ordering a cab on Uber never ceases to amaze me on how easy it has become to not only “call a cab” but also to complete the journey. On the other hand, try using the Internet banking process of Axis bank or transacting with Reliance customer service for your cell phone connection. They both will leave you wondering what these companies are spending money on if it only results in frustrating their customers with complexity!

2. Clarify. The best designed processes express the purpose clearly when implemented. This is also the basis for adaptability. Nothing highlights this better than the apparent ‘failure’ of India’s Unique Identification project Aadhar. A seminal instrument for social advancement mired in confused enrolment exercise and unclear ecosystem for usage purposes, the project’s appeal to a billion citizens lacked purposeful communication and intent. Contrast this with a hundred year old system of the Postal department’s Money Order service.

3. Exemplify. Does the process spell out the benefit for stake holders upfront in the best possible manner? And can the process be repurposed? I remember the pioneering ‘tele banking’ service in India launched by Citibank in the early ’90’s (“a million branches in the sky”). Overcoming the restriction on number of bank branches allowed in the country at the time, the process was simple, scalable and most importantly gave customers an alternate method to query & transact anytime, de-congesting the branch teller queues. The transition to e-banking in the Internet era a few years down was natural and similar for the customers. Nothing exemplified convergence of industries (telecom and banking) and channels (virtual and physical branches) better!

But effective processes – that pass the three tests above – can sustain only in the right culture. A culture underpinned by a strong sense of ownership, where discipline outranks the latest management fad and passion for the customer scores over financial expediency. So the next time around, try and apply these three rudimentary rules and you will prevent implementing a process for the sake of ‘process’. Or being explained why something has to remain complex despite being subject to a “process improvement”.

 

 

 

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20 Questions

What’s your first reaction to uncertainty?

What’s the most valuable thing you have delivered to someone?

What’s more important – being right or being good?

What gives you maximum joy?

How important is winning?

Have you ever been happy losing?

What do you work for?

If there was only one thing to care about in the world, what would it be for you?

Who will you listen to always, unconditionally?

Do you have enemies?

What do you do when you have nothing to do?

Have you ever caught yourself trying to be someone you aren’t?

Have you ever sacrificed something dear to keep a promise?

How long can you stay focused?

When someone is unfair to you, what do you do?

When someone is unfair, what do you do?

What are the top 3 things you want to acquire?

What do you like most about what you see in the mirror?

Who do you see in the mirror?

What is your biggest fear?

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Learning creativity

Can one learn to be creative? I am learning to be a better photographer, something I am passionate about but find little time or patience for. My all time favourite Photo Journalist Dewitt Jones (of National Geographic fame) shares his creative experiences here, on how one can embrace creativity to turn the ordinary into extraordinary, everyday. I have got some amazing insights from this 20-minute video:

http://www.trainingabc.com/everyday-creativity/

This is what I am learning from photography. That exploring our creative side is like falling in love; we gain energy for action and connect with our passion. But creativity starts with changing our perspective. When we begin to see that every problem could present many correct solutions, we are ready to seek a fresh perspective sans the fear of the unknown. We stop fearing change as we realise a sense of abundance as against a sense of scarcity. A great photographer, not unlike a great leader, takes in everything before focusing on the most important. Creativity also takes us into a realm where we are not afraid of making mistakes because they become learning opportunities: a win-lose situation can be transformed to a “win-learn” situation. Every bad snap of mine has now become as valuable as a good one gets cherished.

When I was a first-time professional management consultant, my client taught me a lesson I remind myself everyday: it’s easy to find problem solvers. But to discover, re-define and re-imagine the problem is what makes for a creative consultant. Reframing a problem into an opportunity marks out a creative approach from a merely diligent one. By choosing to be creative, we find better ways of doing things even when they are going smooth. Creativity, hence, is a disciplined choice. It need not be the hallmark of genius only.

I think photography and decision making (like, in the corporate world where it is getting so increasingly complex) are similar in every way. Timing, speed, attention to details, appreciation of the ‘bigger picture’ and perseverance trump technique. Vision and focus, literally and figuratively, matter more than circumstances. Creativity is all about learning to put this to practice!

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Small talk

Talk’s cheap. Not listening, however, could be expensive. Here’s some small-talk-big-to-listen-to things I shared with a group of bright career upstarts.

My take on what works at work, especially when you’re starting your career: be a 5 point someone. No, not the Chetan Bhagat variety, but someone who follows these 5 points. I learnt them the hard way as a rookie manager but they have stood the test of time for me.

5. Pay attention to the small things. Do not make small mistakes (“sorry about the typos in the agenda and material for the client meeting yesterday”) because they make you look small. If you must, then make big, honest mistakes that you – and everyone around you – can learn from.

4. You are not a ball to be chased. “Sorry, forgot to update you that I was going to miss the deadline to submit that proposal”. The worst thing you could do to your credibility is to have someone follow up on things you owe them. Colleague, customer, boss, subordinate, flat-mate who lent you money, whoever.

3. You are not a ball to be kicked around either. Bouncy enthusiasm for more work is great but to show it in every step of your way at work is to invite chaos. Make your own agenda too and let it be known; be open to have many masters to learn from but choose which one (or two) you will do everything for.

2. Have a personal vision, ambition is over-rated. Money, power, title, next car, more exclusive vacations – once you achieve them, they seem so futile but never enough. They also lead to ambitions. Some mistakenly call this ‘drive’, which eventually leads to a ‘crash’. Personal vision on the other hand (“I will become a leader who will change the way my team delivers value to clients while still sticking to values”) gives meaning beyond work. Ambition allows for manipulation, purpose elevates you to look beyond short-term gratification.

1. Don’t work to impress. It doesn’t last so the efforts are completely wasted. Work, instead, to learn. When you learn more, you serve better and that’s the most genuine, lasting means to becoming a good manager, leader, professional.

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Minimise

Minimise. For elegance.

Meeting with and listening to Matthew May, author of The Laws Of Subtraction, was an intellectually intense experience. At a global Innovation Summit in Chennai yesterday, he mesmerised the audience with his brilliant articulation of his philosophy of reducing features to maximise impact.

From Toyota to Apple, the greatest product and marketing innovations have always ridden on eliminating the inessential and focusing on the few simple but revolutionary things that makes a product great. The result is elegance, an idea that is hard to define but felt when encountered: think the click-wheel of the first iPod or the Bose Sound Wave music system. Listen to Philip Glass and Pandit Ravishankar. Drive a Lexus. Fly in an almost noiseless 787. Or just read the profundity of thoughts expressed in the 140-character tweets of Nassim Taleb. Elegance is the mainstay of excellence. Elegance comes not from adding features but from eliminating most. Elegance in work is attained when you are focused more on the not-to-do list than adding to your endless to-do’s.

The elegance of minimalism was perhaps best expressed by Lao-Tzu the Chinese philosopher poet thus, “profit arises from what is there / usefulness from what is not there”. He made that beautiful philosophy cerebrally pervasive when he deducted that “to attain knowledge add something everyday, to attain wisdom remove something everyday”. Jim Collins, author of the famous Good To Great, summarised the contribution of minimal to being great in a simple way: a great piece of art is composed of not only what is in it but equally what is not.

Reflect today on what you want to be best at, what is it you want to produce that lasts as a perfect product or an excellent service, however minor the work may be in its size or significance. Yes, including that 100-slide PowerPoint presentation your boss wants as an update for that departmental review. Go on to remove from it the clutter of features, the noise of options and the urge to express all your knowledge through it. Eliminate. Then reduce further. Then again, remove everything from it that does not make it great for the one single thing it should be useful for or admired for. Yes? Done? Congratulations! You are no different from Steve Jobs who, it is rumoured, wore only turtle-necks because it had no buttons and he hated buttons so much he had them removed not only from Apple’s phones and tablets but also in elevators in iStores! And you could be as artistically creative as Leonardo Da Vinci or Michelangelo. For you see, they too were faced with multitudes but chose to focus on the minimum. We call them geniuses today. When all they did was to eliminate the inessential!

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Remembering An Innovator

Jatin Desai, author of “Innovation Engine”, is no more. It has taken me a full week for this loss to sink in. It is still unbelievable, how much we take this ephemeral life for granted. We had planned to meet next week and collaborate on a number of things ranging from outsourcing innovation design to planning to write together to working on a free school’s digital classroom.

This is not an obituary. This is a salute to someone who spent his life relentlessly helping people around him in every way he could – with his skills, knowledge, and his resources. Jatin was as much a respected innovation consultant as he was a passionate philanthropist. Working with Vijay Govindarajan on higher education for HBR or raising funds to educate the under privileged in India brought forth equal intensity and energy from Jatin. His humility is worth emulating; his accessibility admirable.

Jatin talked about “duality” as the new normal for business leaders in his book: managing the performance engine while building the innovation engine for long-term growth. As an ardent spiritual aspirant and practitioner, Jatin’s duality merged with his beloved Guru & God. As a tribute, my colleague Anubha Gumashta, while working on an innovation project with me, created this doodle encapsulating the “innovation engine” that drives businesses and also life.

From Jatin Desai's book "Innovation Engine" - Driving Execution for Breakthrough Results. The model depicts linking performance and innovation engines to drive long-term growth in the midst of challenges in the environment.

From Jatin Desai’s book “Innovation Engine” – Driving Execution for Breakthrough Results. The model depicts linking performance and innovation engines to drive long-term growth in the midst of challenges in the environment.

RIP Jatin. You will live forever through your legacy: your work, your words and your service.

Jatin DeSai-Book Bio

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The Art Of…Everything

“Innovation and intuition are common to both business and spirituality”. I first heard that when invited to speak at a global conference on Corporate Culture & Spirituality earlier this year. Organized by the Art of Living Foundation’s world renowned teacher of meditation and peace His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the conference was bringing together business professionals, political leaders and entrepreneurs to promote spirituality at workplace.

 I was intrigued. Of course I believe that spirituality and human values are not distinct from the material aspects of life. They are not just complementary but absolutely integral if we must have a sustainably happy and peaceful life. But this was the first time I was confronted with understanding the link between two very opposite concepts (or at least I thought so). Can profits and peace co-exist? Should compassion be practiced while competing? Does serving others promote leadership? I was keen to learn.

 I was also excited at the opportunity to perhaps meet with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of whom I had heard much. A global phenomenon in the spiritual realm advocating peace in the world through the Art of Living , He has a world-wide follower base of over 300 million and His spiritual organization engaged in social service in over 150 countries. His advocacy of spirituality is neither arcane nor abstract. Rooted in everyday pragmatism, He promotes inner harmony through meditation (“Kriya”) synchronizing body, mind and the reality around us towards a higher peace. He is as much revered in the business and political world as He is adored by millions of ardent spiritual seekers from common walks of life.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, spiritual Guru and founder of the Art of Living FOundation, in a meditation session. His practical spirituality has touched the lives of millions in over 150 countries and He is a much sought after advisor to several leaders globally. Sri Sri or Guru ji as he referred to fondly is an embodiment of peace and joy. He is an inspiration to businesses, governments and people of all faiths to find peace and purpose through meditation.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, spiritual Guru and founder of the Art of Living FOundation, in a meditation session. His practical spirituality has touched the lives of millions in over 150 countries and He is a much sought after advisor to several leaders globally. Sri Sri or Guru ji as he referred to fondly is an embodiment of peace and joy. He is an inspiration to businesses, governments and people of all faiths to find peace and purpose through meditation (Pic courtsey: Sri Sri University students).

 To understand better, I went back to the roots of “innovation” and “intuition”.

 The meaning of innovation – and its context in business – is perhaps more straightforward to comprehend. Innovation (Latin: innovatus) means to renew, to alter, to novate as in redefine and re-establish. Every business has examples of it, with innovation becoming the most important competitive differentiator. Does this have a place in ‘spirituality’?

 Intuition, on the other hand, means direct perception of the truth independent of any reasoning. The ‘vision’ one has without any noise or prompting, to look within and find the answer. CEOs like JackWelch and Steve Jobs – the most successful and celebrated leaders in business in recent times – come to mind. Do such leadership styles have a ‘spiritual’ import?

 The connection between the two, innovation and intuition, is the connection between the head and the heart. Yes, business and spirituality have intuition and innovation in common because both are about continuous renewal and perception of the truth. Renewal also means inner cleansing and unhindered perception of the truth that strengthens the strategy to achieve your goals.

 And what is this ‘connection’ that ties the two? I received the answer from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Himself through His talks: meditation.

In the business world, we are fast realizing that reflection as a leadership tool is yet to be leveraged fully for development. The Art of Living teaches meditation for people from all walks of life (spiritual or business or political or just the common man) to live holistically.

 The conference saw Sri Sri Ravi Shankar speaking in the inaugural session. I was awed by His simplicity and profound articulation of the concept in just so few words. He began by saying, “Business and Spirituality are like a pair of scissors and needle: one cuts and the other sews. But both must go hand in hand working together to create the fabric called society”.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says that business and spirituality are not separate but integral to the development of society. The key to the integration, however, is a stress-free body and mind.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says that business and spirituality are not separate but integral to the development of society. The key to the integration, however, is a stress-free body and mind (Pic courtesy: Sri Sri University students).

During the next two days, I had the blissful opportunity to hear more and understand deeper. Some samples from my learning:

 “For a good manager, it is important to be in the present moment with patience and poise”. We all need time for reflection and meditation. That is how we tap the source of our strength that lies deep within us. This source is our intuition. Meditation helps us focus on the non-changing aspect of our consciousness which gives us courage and creativity. (“Management Mantras” by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar)

 “There are seven levels to our existence: body, breath, mind, memory, intellect, ego and the Self. When we get to know a little about each of these layers, transformation begins”.

 “The sign of true success is the ability to smile at all times. You are successful when you are compassionate, cultured and committed”. Management education should provide these values.

 “To follow ethics in business, we need to be free from stress”. He talks about “spiritualizing” politics and “socializing” corporate businesses (i.e., integrating business with social responsibility)

 The discussion panels that followed comprised of a veritable who’s who list of leaders from the world of business. K.V.Kamath, Mohandas Pai, Harish Bhatt (Tata’s), Kishore Biyani, political leaders from EU and India, and a very nervous and under-qualified yours truly. I spoke, motivated by an inner urge to bring together the passion to excel and the human values needed for a holistic living. I found examples of professional excellence in spiritual discourses and lessons of practical spirituality in business scenarios. (An inspired member of the audience has graciously blogged the talk here!)

 For me personally – and also as a professional – the two days spent with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the conference taught me 3 key lessons from His interactions. I will elaborate them here based on my feelings (heart) rather than analysis (head) alone!

 1. Business is about balance

 Passion and dispassion are not opposites but must go hand in hand together. We need to be passionate about our duty yet emotionally detached from the outcome (this is the quintessential message of The Bhagavad Gita too – a universal Scripture founded on God’s advice to a warrior fighting against his own brothers). Balance is also about walking the line consistently and with conviction between ethics and profit, between courage and compromise, between shareholders and society and between ruthless focus and compassion. When the balance is upset, business – as in life – becomes unsustainable, sometimes even dangerous.

 2. Leadership is about serving

 “Paroksha Priyahi vai devaha” – in Sanskrit this means the manager of the Universe is invisible and loves to serve without being seen. Leadership is not about control but about enabling. The best organizations are valued for their service not for their dominance. Similarly, both in work (business) and in life (spirituality) the goal of serving delivers sustainable results.

 3. Living is about giving

 In the ancient Indian Scriptures, more than 5000 years old, a chapter named Shikshavalli (essence of education) from Taitriyopanishad enumerates the principles of leading life through charity and compassion. In a convocation of sorts at the “graduating” ceremony, the Guru urges the student to practice giving in order to achieve balance in life.

 Sraddhaya Dheyam, Asraddhaya Adheyam | Sriya Dheyam | Hriya Dheyam | Bhiya Dheyam | Samvidha Dheyam

 In Sanskrit, it means “Give in full earnestness. Do not give without involvement and interest”. On how to give, the Guru says “Give in abundance (Sriya), give with humility (Hriya), give with a sense of awe and respect (Hriya) and finally, give with affection and compassion (Samvidha)”.

 Every word of this and its import is applicable to the corporate world. If only we could integrate giving and sharing as much as we place value in growing and earning, a new economic reality may perhaps emerge to deliver the business world from the various crises we have managed to create out of our own hubris!

My audience with the Guru was short, intense and left an indelible impression of peace and serenity. The first thing that touched me deeply was his smile, an unconditional and all embracing smile. The conversation that followed was friendly and informal – just some simple words between two long lost friends; a Guru detached and loving and a wannabe disciple in awe and confusion. His simplicity – and accessibility – is astounding. A deep voice from within, long forgotten and long unused to a relationship without any agenda, spoke up on its own, “Guru ji, may I please offer you the traditional ‘paada namaskar’”? (Obeisance reciting the traditional prayer that surrenders the student’s Self to the Master’s feet). He accepted smilingly and at that moment everything between us – time, space and unfamiliarity – melted into a blissful feeling of a deep learning within.

Michael Fischman in his inspiring book on life with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Stumbling Into Infinity, identifies five things that happen in the presence of an enlightened master when you surrender to learn: knowledge flourishes, sorrow diminishes, joy wells up without any reason, abundance flows and talents manifest.

 As I read this book in the serene silence of the Ashram in the outskirts of Bangalore, I could not help reflecting on my own inner voice urging me to go find that elusive balance amongst the various roles we play in this journey called ‘life’ and understand the common principles that tie all of them. Business is no different from spirituality, in its most practical manifestation. And working for a living need be no different from living for a higher purpose.

The science of living deals with the finite while the art of living pushes one to the infinite; our endless potential, boundless possibilities and limitless passion: The Art of…well, everything!

With the Faculty and the 1st batch of MBA students of Sri Sri University, Bubhaneshwar

With the Faculty and the 1st batch of MBA students of Sri Sri University, Bubhaneshwar. I was blessed to be invited to deliver the Global Leadership Series lecture and had an inspiring experience interacting with future leaders undergoing a niche management education program.

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