Thursday, February 15, 2018

An inspiring excerpt

From Lost Moon: The Perilious Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jeffrey Kluger and Jim Lovell.

After 1961, when President Kennedy outrageously promised to put Americans on the moon by 1970, the space agency knew the old way of doing business had to change. The cautious customs of the aeronautical inventor would continue to be observed, but this natural reserve would be enlivened by a new willingness to gamble. So, no ones ever tried building a 36-story rocket to accelerate a manned spacecraft to 25,000 miles per hour, fling it out of a circular Earth orbit and send it on a screaming beeline to the moon? Then its about time someone did. So, no one's ever contemplated how to build a bungalow-sized, four-legged ship so flimsy it can't even support its own weight, but so strong that it can take off and land under the moon's reduced gravity? Then maybe NASA was the place to do it. There is a thin line between arrogance and confidence, between hubris and true skill, and the engineers and astronauts of NASA spent more than a decade sure-footedly straddling it. [Lost Moon: The Perilious Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jeffrey Kluger and Jim Lovell]

What are you scared of thats never been done before?
What holds you back?

Apollo 13 - the book

I had no idea that the movie Apollo 13 was based on a book. So, when I got the chance, I read the book at full speed.

The movie, as we all know, is one of the most inspirational movies. I am a huge fan of this movie and I have watched it more than a few times. So, I was curious to read the book.

The book takes the story much deeper and there are quite a few differences between the book and the movie, including details about the American space program that are both inspiring and unique and which cannot be covered by a movie.

So, if you are someone who likes to know more about the actual story, this book - Lost Moon: The Perilious Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jeffrey Kluger and Jim Lovell is a great read. 

Having said that the movie makes the story into a far more narrow frame of reference than the book - and while the movie plays the leadership aspect, in the book one realises that it was a much much larger team effort than what the movie makes it out to be. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Yes, and

Yes, and is an improv principle but and for me, in this current journey, it has a lesson that has held up well.

As a consultant, a variety of work gets thrown at you. While there are the obvious not-my-skill or not-my-competency or not-my-interest work that comes your way and you anyway have to say no to it, the intriguing part is that the work that does indeed come to you is not packaged like a dream - not always.

The work in its initial description comes fuzzily, appears different, sometimes impossible, sometimes tricky, sometimes with rocks embedded before the seashore. And this is what I have realised, as a consultant, work will rarely come in neatly packaged boxes. It will come as a bunch of pieces  - some interesting, some not, some disjointed, some sharp, some edges, some centres and it is your job as a consultant to embrace all that is thrown at you with a yes, and.

So to give you a few examples, my very first assignment was a one-of-its-kind workshop (Yes, we have never repeated that ever anywhere) because of the combination of needs it had (and one unique need- no chairs).

And the second one, which was vapourware had a crazy delivery time - 2 weeks - from scratch to end product. Though I met the deadline, the need vanished and it led me to a something new - something I would have never conceptualised had I not said Yes, and to it.

Such examples abound and continue to come my way, but I have learnt that Yes, and-ing work opportunities is a great the only way for you to grow as a consultant. 

(and perhaps for those who are not consultants as well)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Join a library

The last year, as I embarked on my entrepreneurship journey, I ended up buying a ton of books. Being a book lover, it was easy to justify all the purchases. All of them were important to my learning, my development and the development of a practice. 
But what happened - as I observed - was that the range of books I purchased was narrow cast towards my work. 
And my son asked me "You work and you read about work, why dont you read something else?" And that question prompted me to raid a few of his books - From Eragon to Wonder to Divergent (and this is a must read for anyone). 
And I must admit, it made a difference. A different perspective for one and an insight into different stories. One thing led to another and I read a travel book (Seven Sacred Rivers), a classic (Call of the wild) and then a few fiction books as well. 
And since I could not purchase every book that came along - I joined a library. Having been a member of two libraries in the recent past, it was deja-vu. Once you join a library, your book reading behaviour changes...Serendipity kicks in. You pick up books you would normally not buy. Since you are not buying, it is easy to pick up and read books you normally would not. And that enables you to read more, diverse subjects - and if you dont like the book, it is just a quick return away...
So, join a library...if you have one around you so your reading and your perspective goes up...Thats my lesson for January PS: I am tempted to say, adopt a library behaviour - but thats for later ;)


Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath is a book on decision making. There are many books on decision making and a new book on a topic thats already written about quite a bit is not an easy task.

Made to Stick by the same authors still remains my go to book when it comes to thinking of new campaigns and methods.

The book starts with the four processes of decision making, the four villains that make the process go awry and then it goes on to say, how can one conquer the villains using a variety of methods and a framework that they have created...

It is a lucid book, easy to read, peppered with examples.

The cons is that if you read a few books on decision science, from the classic "Thinking Fast and Slow" to a few others, the examples  and stories tend to repeat...

Sunday, January 21, 2018

On bouncy pitches

The Indian team went to South Africa and had a tough time. This was not the first time. This has been a debate for 30 plus years now. Why doesnt the Indian team not perform well on overseas pitches?

The answer is simple. There is no practice. There is no skill building. This answer is also nothing new.

How does one build a new skill? By putting onself out there, trying, failing, learning, unlearning, relearning and finally bit by bit climbing the ladder of skills.

So, if the team has to be play on fast bouncy pitches abroad - they need to play on fast bouncy pitches at home. And that means, when the next generation of kids grow up, they need to learn to play on fast bouncy pitches. In theory, all it means is to have every alternate match to be played on a different pitch. And you do this over a generation - even 5 years, you have a battle ready team.

Cut to business. If you need to learn to handle a difficult conversation like a pro, you have to practice doing it. Simply because having a difficult conversation is not exactly an inborn skill - because emotions kick in, amygdala gets hijacked and other things happen. So, one has to learn to drive through this fog of emotion and it can happen only by practice. The earlier you start, the better and easier in your journey as a leader.

So, the next time, your team (or you) have trouble with something, ask yourself, is there a skill component that is missing? Or will you, use the familiar excuse, oh, but thats an "away" series that happens rarely and therefore shy away from building it...

PS: Yes, you will get heroic performances that click once in a while, but it wont help you sustain...

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Business Trends

Overall, what am I seeing as the trend in this year from where I see it?

The big thing which I see is the reduction of age. Let me explain. Earlier, why, even 10 years ago, an average manager was in his or her early 30s, the average director at about 40 and so on it went...

What I see now, is a far younger corporate India. People in their early 30s are handling entire businesses, people in their 20s are handling functions and people in their 40s are consultants (heh - that last one is a joke). And I also see average CEO age come down - mostly due to the startup rage I suppose, but then again why not.

The second trend which I see as more pronounced is that many of these new companies - the hires are top class. In terms of their skills, confidence and sheer technical (or business) ability - they are second to none.

What does this mean? It means a few things. If you are on the older side, you have to shape up to match these whizkids. If you are a consultant, you better add value. They have no time for nonsense.

What it means for established companies is that if they need to attract top talent and retain them, they have to do more. It also means that routine jobs are more and more 'unpreferred'. If the company still has such jobs, the people who do them will be the bottom-most pile - not motivated and not interested in anything except shooting the breeze and making money. This pile will disappear in due course.

I also see a large segment open and willing to take risks. Both in jobs and in business. And I see this in the unconventional choices that people are willing to make.

The IT services has lost its charm - it is running on borrowed time. And as they transition into ugly ducklings or beautiful swans, it will create both despair and opportunity.

And as the country matures, there are newer and newer problems to solve and I think that will give rise to newer, untapped, very diverse kinds of businesses and ideas...