Tuesday, 18 April 2017

We Indians | #MoreIndianThanYouThink

This incident happened way back in 1998, when I visited Cyprus for  a month on an official tour, for the completion of a huge software project which our organization was doing for the Land Department , Government of Cyprus. I had put up in a hotel in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus.  Another colleague of mine, Rajat Lala had been posted there for a year. He had rented a small apartment and stayed with his wife and 2 year old daughter. 

Every weekend my wanderlust did not let me rest in peace. I had to explore new places around Nicosia.  It was one such weekend when me, Rajat, his wife and daughter set out to visit The Aphrodite's Rock. It was about 1.5 hours drive from Nicosia. 

It was a bright and sunny Sunday morning. The blue sky of Cyprus was captivating. We reached the destination eating  sandwiches, chicken rolls, chips and sang old hindi numbers on our way. 

The beach and the rock was breathtaking !

Legend has it that Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, rose from the waves in this strikingly beautiful spot. There are several versions of the story of the goddess's birth, but the most famous is that Aphrodite rose from the sea on a scallop shell. Blown by the wind, Aphrodite's first stop was on the island of Cythera, but this was such a tiny island that Aphrodite kept moving and eventually got to Cyprus, where she began living in Paphos. 

We sat on the soft white sand , admiring the clear blue water of the sea. The huge , gigantic and beautiful rocks were enchanting. Far away, the clear blue sky and the blue water of the sea mingled with each other giving us a feeling of perfect unison. We were spellbound . 

It was almost sunset. The blue sky started getting streaked with the orange rays of the sun. It was a heavenly sight . 

Suddenly , a lady came towards us.  A sweet little girl, about 3 years old, clutched her hands. 

"Excuse me . Can I request you something ? My husband had gone for a swim about 30 minutes back and has not yet returned. I .. I .. am going towards the end of the rock to check him out. Will you please take care of my daughter for 15 minutes ?

 Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. 

Rajat looked at me . I nodded. 

"Sure ! Don't worry ! She is safe with us ... "

"I know ... You are from India , right ? " 

"Yes !"

The lady managed to smile and went into the water . She started swimming and waved at us. We waved back. 

We gave kaju barfi to the kid to stop her weeping. She liked the sweet and wanted more ! Within minutes, she became friends with Rajat's daughter and started playing. 

Minutes passed. 15.. 20.. 25 .. ! 

The sun was setting.  

We started getting worried. 

Suddenly I saw a small red dot near the rock . 

"Look Rajat ! I think it is the kid's mother .. is she indicating for help ?

The beach was almost isolated. 

"But she was wearing a blue swim suit !"  

"Let's go !" I stood up . 

"But ... we don't have a change ! You will be wet ..."

"She is our guest Rajat , and she has asked for help. See this sweet girl . We have to help.  Atithi Devo Bhava .. our Indian culture .."

Rajat and I dived into the water and swam towards the rock. We could feel the strong current. But we braved ourselves and targeted the red dot near the rock. 

We were totally exhausted when we reached the spot. And it was her ! The lady had somehow perched herself on the rock . She was holding her almost unconcious husband. We had to take him to the shore. 

"Rajat ... how ??? " I squeaked. 

"Wait, I have an expandable  plastic sheet with me in my pocket.  If we can create a sail with that, we will be able to take advantage of the wind blowing towards the land ... but ... how will we create the sail ...we need a rod ... a rope ...  "

We Indians always have a Jugaad mentality . 

"Rajat ! I have a elastic hair band ! I will open it and create a rope !"

The lady looked as. She was completely dazed and exhausted. We were speaking in Hindi and she could not understand anything  But I guess she understood the word "rod". 

"Here ... Here ... " She indicated at something on the rock.  We looked up. Yes... about 2 feet up, there was a small twig, swaying in the wind. 

"Rajat ... quick ... it is getting darker .."

Thank God Rajat had undergone mountaineering training during his college days. That is the reason he had that plastic sheet and now he could climb up and break the twig and we lo ! We had the rod. 

In the increasing current , and all of us precariously perched on the edge of the rock, we created a sail . Then Rajat  held the Lady's husband in one hand and the sail on the other. I and the lady tied the sail with in one hand and swam towards the shore . 

It was very very difficult and exhausting. 

I started chanting Hanuman Chalisa and Rajat too joined me. 

Finally, we reached. 

Rajat's wife was crying frantically. A few local people had gathered and we managed to take him to a nearly hospital. 

I left my email address with the lady. 

After two days , I received the following email ...

Dear Godsend friends, 

I don't know how to thank you. That day you saved my husband and saved our family. My little Anne , my husband Robert and I are forever indebted to all of you. 

You know, when I left my daughter with you, I knew that you will take care of her till I return. You know why I was so sure ? Because you are Indians. You know the value of families. I have read  about India. I know about Mahatma Gandhi and how he helped the people of South Africa. A great man . 

 But I personally experienced the Indian culture that day

You care about your guests. Your great sense of Jugaad helped in saving our family, our lives. I am really amazed at how you created the sail !! How can I learn Jugaad ? 

This is my address. If you visit us , we will be very very happy. 

And yes, now I am determined to visit India for our next vacation.  I want to see the great country who has nurtured people like you !

Thanking you again.

Till we meet ! Namaste !

Gratefully , Susan


Rajat called me yesterday.

"Look at the new advertisement by Luftansa . I have whatsapped you the link .. you will love it .. I was reminded of  that incident in Cyprus ..."

I smiled , took a big bite of Chicken Tandoori and enjoyed the commercial ...


Thursday, 13 April 2017

"Yes Sir !! "

Recently I was privy to a Leadership Council meeting of an organization which has run into choppy waters. The atmosphere in the plush conference room was grave and the top management had grim looks on their faces. 

The MD of the organization initiated the discussion 

"Team , we are not doing well at all ! The cash flow of the organization is stifled and there have been layoffs in all the departments . We need to gear up ... "

"Yes Sir ... " there was unified assertion by everybody in the room. 

"But we have launched a few new initiatives and I think we will be able to recover soon , Right ? " He smiled

"Yes Sir... " everyone smiled.

"Anyone has any suggestions or ideas ? "

All quiet. 

"Yes, Mr. X ... what do you say?  You and your department will never improve, right !"

Mr X squirmed uncomfortably.

As a coach and a consultant, the following week I had several meetings across the organization.  Itreally made me wary about telling the MD about the findings. 

Given the culture of the organization , will he be able to take the feedback ? 

I applied the first rule of giving constructive feedback 

"Sir, I will be giving you some bad news . I hope you are open to it. Mostly it is to do with cultural changes at the top  "

The MD was really taken aback. No one gave him "bad" feedback ! 

"Uh.. hmm ...yes, please go ahead"

I hoped I had made him prepared for the comments . 

Lack of  planned approach towards work  : As an organization, we  do not appreciate planning for work and consider it a wastage of time.  This results in adhoc work, wastage of time and resource, lack of professionalism and customer dissatisfaction. We should promote planning.

Lack of accountability and ownership : As an organization, we should drive accountability and ownership down to the grass root level. This will not happen with a carrot and stick approach, but it  will happen through cultural and behavioural changes from the top. Very frequent feedback,  taking people to task for not doing particular work at the given time / effort,  taking unplanned leaves, not performing as per the expectation.  If after feedback, people do not improve, they should be pruned away from the organization.

Top down culture : We do not take bright ideas from the people on the field. Here we sometimes miss out on opportunities for improvement. On the other hand, anything told from the top is almost never disputed even by the senior members. So , what happens is that we are deprived of contradictory ideas and cannot improve upon the ideas. We should appreciate and encourage people to contradict and give their views rather than agreeing to everything.

Fixed mindset about certain people / department :  There seems to be a  closed and fixed mindset about specific people and departments.  Even when improvement are  done or rectification and corrections are done, the impressions do not change. This results in demotivation and productivity decreases since the feeling is that whatever is being done, it will not be taken well. We should have an open mind and listen and take 360 degree feedback We should look at data and then come to conclusion rather than have a fixed mindset or be judgemental.

The MD did not smile . 

Maybe this was the first time that someone gave him negative comments. 

But high time he learnt to take feedback so that he can bring his company back on track.

Friday, 31 March 2017

The importance of the "Common"

In some of my previous posts too, I have narrated stories from Panchatantra (Wiki link : Wiki link of Panchatantra) . I really find the stories fascinating and so relevant even today . The story below shows the importance of common sense. While we recruit people in the organization, we give a lot of importance to their educational qualifications, credentials etc.  But we also have to see if they have worldly common sense or not.  In my experience, I have found real gems who do not have impressive educational qualifications but due to their aptitude and initiative, they add so much value at the workplace. 

Enjoy the story ....

Once upon a time, there lived four friends  Three of them  were very learned in matters of the Holy Scriptures, but lacked common-sense. . One of them did not have any learning credentials  but had good common-sense.

One day, the four of them  decided, "The knowledge and learning that we have is no good  if we cannot use it to impress the king, or otherwise to earn money!" 

They decided to travel, in order to earn money using their knowledge. But the fourth friend was not learned, so they thought of leaving him behind. They agreed, "What good is common-sense? His talents would not help in earning money, let only three of us travel." 

After much pleading by the fourth Brahmin, they decided, "After all he is our dear friend, let us take him along with us! We will  also share a part of our earnings with him .  That’s what friends are for! "

So, the four of them started their travel to meet the king. While they were travelling through a jungle, they noticed the bones of a dead lion, lying on their way. 

One of them said, "Let us start using our knowledge ! We have a dead lion in front of us. Let us try to bring life into it!" 

While the three Brahmins agreed, the fourth Brahmin did not like the idea. But his preference was ignored by the other three Brahmins, and they started holy rituals. 

One of the Brahmins collected the bones of the lion and  created the skeleton of the lion. 

Another Brahmin used his learning to cover the skeleton with flesh and skin. 
As the lifeless lion stood in front of them, the third Brahmin initiated the rituals to put life into the lion. 

The fourth Brahmin was alarmed, "O friends, if the lion comes to life, he will kill all of us! Please stop what you are doing!" 

The Brahmins ridiculed him, "After reaching so far, are we going to waste our knowledge? You say so, because you are jealous of us and our knowledge ! 

The fourth Brahmin knew there was no point in arguing with them. He pleaded, "Please give me a moment. I wish to climb a tree before you make use of you scholarship." 

He started climbing up a big tree, and could see from above the third Brahmin put life into the lion. 

As soon as the lion became lively, he noticed the three Brahmins, who were celebrating their successful implementation of their scholarship. 

The lion immediately pounced on them, and killed them. 

The fourth Brahmin could do nothing but wait till the lion had gone. Then, he climbed down the tree and returned home alone. 

As leaders, we have to keep our ears and eyes open . 

We should listen to the person who has common sense . Sometimes, we get so much involved in the intricacies of the technicality that we get entangled in the web of our knowledge. 

It is during those critical situations that we should take a step back and try to put some "common" in our senses. 

Only then we will be able to save ourselves like the fourth Brahmin who climbed up the tree . 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Ode to the Women of this World

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,

"Where are you ? It is so late, anything can happen ...."

 "Don't say anything ... let it go... don't you remember how she was defaced with  acid  ?"

"That job involves too much of travel and everyday you will be late ... what will people say?"

 "Sit properly , your straps are showing and  don't laugh so loudly, it is so unladylike .."

Where knowledge is free,

"We can't afford to educate you. Your brother needs education more than you. It is he who will earn and support us  .... You will get married and go to another family ...."

"You will never be able to cope up with the tough engineering subjects.  It is better if you can do a simple graduation in home science or something easy... after all you will just get married in another year or so ...."

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls

"Why do you want to go to your parent's place so often ?  You should understand that your real home is your husband's place and your responsibility is to look after your in laws and not your parents ...."

"Put the pallu on your head ..."

"So what you too have come back from work ? It is your duty to  cook and feed your family... go and prepare tea for your husband .. he is so tired ... "

Where words come out from the depth of truth,

"And one day, a prince charming will come and sweep you off on a horse and make you a queen ...."

"You can do everything ... this world is equal for both men and women ... "

"Do not speak out ... one day people will realize how much you have done  for them ...."

"You are a woman... who selflessly sacrifices her own needs and desires for everybody ,..... "

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection,

"Don't worry too much about your poor marks.. you always have the option of getting married to a handsome rich guy ... chill ..."

"Don't tire yourself too much , it will show up on your face .. "

"Do you really need that promotion ? It will put more responsibility on you .. Will you be able to balance your home and work ? "

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit,

"Come on .. try this fairness cream ... you will become pretty in a month .... "

"You must lose weight ... it is embarrassing for me to take you to official parties ...."

"Don't argue ... , that is the tradition in this family and that is how the world  behaves ...."

"What value can  you add  by becoming a board member of our organization? We take tough decisions ... "

Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action

"This is a perfect job for you ... not very challenging and you will be able to give time to your husband and kids .... "

"You are almost 30 !! When will you get married ? "

"I feel very guilty .. of not giving proper time to my kids ....

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

 Our father in heaven , when will the women of the world  go into that heaven of freedom ?

Happy Women's Day !!


Poem "Where the mind is without fear " - By Rabindranath Tagore

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Heart and Science of it


Two handsome men were standing near the huge window on the 10th floor of a building looking down on the stream of people and vehicles passing on the streets. 

They were silent . One of them was brooding and the other one felt a bit awkward.  The silence was "insanely" reverberating between them. 

Suddenly , the brooding man said softly  Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” 

Yes, you guessed it correctly. 

This is what Steve Jobs said to Pepsi executive John Sculley when he wanted Sculley to join Apple inc. 

Steve Jobs knew that this would hit Sculley where he wanted .  

His heart. 

Jobs had got  it absolutely right.  If you have to win over anyone, target his heart.  

Leadership - a science or an art ? This has been a topic of debate for at least the last 6 - 7 decades.  I ,for one ,strongly believe that it is an art. 

Leaders  lead. 

They have followers. 

They set a goal, motivate people and take them towards the vision. The mission of the leader becomes the team's mission. This can be achieved only if there is emotional bonding between the leader and her followers. And the emotional bonding happens not through any technology but through the heart.  Well , mind too perhaps. But the mind gets dominated by the heart. 

Take the example of the hit Sci-fi movie "ET".  It was a technological wonder when it was released. The concept, the animation, the technological bar was raised by Spielberg.  

But think about it. What was the film about ? It was about the emotions of the extra terrestrial who got left behind on the earth. It was about the bond which he forges with the kids. It was about the sorrow as well as the joy which we felt when finally the ET finally went back to his land.  

Similarly the animation movies "The Little Mermaid", the "Lion King" ... all my favourite , maybe yours too. When we saw the movies, yes, we appreciated the wonderful animations, the voice-overs , the music, but what we remember about them was the story, the joy which had made us laugh  with "Hakuna Matata" and the sorrow of Ariel when she loses her voice ... 

It is our heart.  

In this hour of uncertainty in the economy, I know of leaders who have had to take tough decisions. A leader who is an artist with his words and actions and has integrity, knows how to handle even these unpleasant encounters and still be trusted , respected  and coveted. 

Try this out. 

Name your favourite manager or leader whom you adored , respected and trust and tell me why you think s/he was the greatest.  Most of the things which you will list will be, in all possibility be something which had actually touched your heart and soul in some way or the other. 

Go ahead, share the names and the reasons in the comments below. 

Cheers !

Monday, 13 February 2017

Mind Games

Answer the following in 3 seconds .

What do you think of  Prashant and Jack from the following statements ? 

Prashant : Intelligent, smart, industrious, critical, stubborn , envious 
Jack        : Envious, stubborn, critical, industrious, smart, intelligent

If you are true to yourself , then like most of us, you have viewed Prashant more favourably than Jack.  But if you have taken more than 3 seconds to answer this, then you would have noticed that the adjectives are exactly the same ! But still 90% of us have concluded that Prashant is a better candidate !

Dear readers, our mind is a very very complex thing. 

Here , many things have come into play in the 3 seconds. One is called the "Halo Effect" and the other is called the "Recency effect" . The sequencing of the adjectives have proved to be vital. 

Our mind has believed and visualized the personality of the person after reading the first three adjective.  The "recency" of the words have cast a shadow on our mind and the Prashant got away with the "halo" created around him.  

This is a very subtle thing and in the office environment, this can make or break a person. 

As leaders , we should be aware of this and when we are judging any employee, we should ask ourselves, am I being directed by the mind to believe what I am hearing ? Am I hearing the correct thing ? Am I being fair ? 

A professor realized that when she is correcting the examination papers,  she tends to give marks which are homogenous. That is, if the first answer is very well written and the student got high marks, even if the second answer was not so great, the professor's mind said "How can he make such a mistake ? I am sure he was distracted ...".  So, the marks got influenced. 

Then she changed her method. She corrected the first answers of all the students and then the second answer of all the students and so on ... Though the correction took more time, she was satisfied that she had judged the students fairly without any bias. 

I will end this post with another question. 

Please answer this in 2 seconds . 

A bat and ball costs Rs 1.10
The bat costs one Rupee more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost ?

What number came to your mind ? I know, the number is 10 paisa. 

Sorry, it is the wrong answer. 

It is simple maths. If the bat costs one Rupee more than the ball and the ball costs 10 paisa, then the total cost will be Rs 1.20 ! 

The correct answer is 5 paisa !

The point I want to make is that, the number 10 came intuitively to us and it was wrong !

Leaders, let us be humble. Sometimes what comes instinctively to our mind is not correct. We have to take our minds in control and think rather than jumping to conclusions.  These are the situations where we should try not to be guided too much by our intuition , rather we should try to be more rational. 

Now that the performance appraisal season is soon approaching, can we look at these little things which matter, take our minds and intuition in control , try to be rational before judging anyone ? 

Remember,  for you it might be a small mistake (if you realize it later), but for the person on the other side of the table, it means a lot.  

It is his future, his self pride, his self confidence. 

Take care .  

Be Fair !

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Three Dolls

I am a great fan of the wit of Tenaliraman's  stories (See Wiki :TENALIRAMA). 

Apart from the humour and the wit, I gather a lot of  corporate lessons from these.  From this story we can gather two lessons. But this will be later in the post. First read the story. Here goes ...

The great king Krishna Deva Raya had a lot of wise ministers in his court. The wisest of them was Tenali Rama. One day, a merchant came to the king’s court.  He saluted the king and said, “Your Majesty, I have heard from many people that you have very wise ministers in your court. But with your permission, I would like to test the wisdom of your ministers.” 

"Go ahead " said the King. 

The merchant gave the king three dolls that looked identical

He said, “Though these dolls look similar, they are different in some way. If your ministers can find out the difference, I will bow to their wisdom. But if they can’t, I will assume that there are no wise ministers in your court. I will be back in seven days for the answer.”

Tenali Rama was sick and he was not available in the court.   At the end of three days, none of the ministers could figure out the difference

The king got worried and went to visit Tenali Rama . 

He said to him, “Tenali it is a matter of our honour now. Since no one has been able to find the solution, it is up to you now. You have to find the difference between these dolls.” 

The problem proved difficult for Tenali too, but at last, he was able to figure out the difference. 

He went to the court with the three dolls on the day that the merchant had to return. Then, he announced in front of the whole court that he had found the difference between the dolls. 

He said, “These three dolls are different because one of them is good, one average and one bad.” 

When everyone asked Tenali that which doll was which, he showed them a tiny hole that was present in the ears of each of the dolls. Then, he took a very thin wire and put it in the hole of the first doll’s ear. The wire came out from the doll’s mouth. He did the same with the second doll and the wire came out from the doll’s other ear. In the third doll,the wire went to the heart and did not come out.

"So , can anyone tell me which Doll is which ? " Tenali said

There was a minister in the court who was very jealous of Tenali Rama. 

He laughed derisively. 

"That's easy" he said . 

 “In the first doll, the wire went in through the ear and came out through the mouth. So, this doll is bad as it represents people who cannot keep a secret. In the second doll, the wire came out of the other ear. So, it is average and represents harmless people who do not understand what is said to them. The third doll, in which the wire went to the heart and did not come out, represents good people who will keep the secret that you tell them.”

The king, the merchant and all the courtiers were very impressed with this wise answer. He jealous minister beamed. 

Then Tenali said, “But there can be another explanation too. The first doll represents people who gain knowledge and spread it among others, so it is good. The second doll represents people who do not understand what they are taught, so it is average. The third doll represents people who have knowledge but keep it all to themselves. They do not teach anyone anything and so they are bad people "

The King smiled. The merchant smiled.

I gathered two insights from this story . 

We  see that there are always two sides of any analogy. The personality  of the person reflects through his thoughts. If you are crooked, your thoughts will be crooked and if you are straight and fair, your thoughts will be likewise. 

Second lesson is from Tenali Rama's explanation.  In our organizations, we look for the third kind of persons to be leaders

Leaders  who spread knowledge , grows himself and help others grow !

Cheers to Tenali Rama !