Sunday, August 19, 2012


I recently read Switch, a book by Chip and Dan Heath - same guys who wrote, Made to Stick.

The book is about how to push change, be it in teams, organizations, villages and perhaps even countries. What I liked about the book is that it is almost like a to-do manual on bringing about change.

They have characterised the human mind as an elephant and rider. The former, the emotional side of the brain and the latter as the rational side of the brain need to be co-opted in order for the change to be accepted, implemented and not reversed. They have used it give several examples of successes and failures of implementing change.

Another thing we often do not do while attacking a problem is to not look at bright spots (as I discovered myself recently) within the affected area - which may have a solution in itself, many a time.

So, the next time you are implementing a large change management initiative, this is a good book to have by your side!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On Appearances

Appearances are important - in everything. A part of being in business is the appearance of doing business.

Exhibit 1: I was travelling in a bus a few years back - and the bus made a halt at some unearthly hour for 'tea'. The tea-shop was a bustling place with atleast 10 buses at that specific point while we halted and I am sure over the night, serviced many more vehicles. For 3 am, the place sure was busy. But what was intriguing was that a biscuit stall owner, right next to the tea stall was busy, incredibly busy arranging his biscuits, moving them a bit here, a bit there and generally appearing busy. And he was doing brisk business. There was no reason to be cleaning the shop at 3 am which in all probability was his busiest part of the day. Perhaps.

Exhibit 2: There is this 'pressure cooker' repairman I often see. To be fair, I have seen him handle a real customer just once. At all other times, he is incredibly busy. Walks up and down, cleans the cookers he has, rearranges his shop and generally appears incredibly busy. He has another trick up his sleeve, he walks around apartments with a cooker in his hand - he appears busy.

This is typical behaviour that you see, and not in the bigger shops, but in the smaller ones - the ones which are the old world types. Those small restaurants that you would see near railway stations, bus stations, tourist hot spots and the like.

And the explanation I have for it is that people like to walk into a shop which appears busy (and that means they are 'doing' business) and not at a place where the shopkeeper is sitting, waiting for business.

And bring that back to your business. How do appearances matter? What do you have to do to 'get' business? What do your people have to do, when they are 'apparently idle'? And how can you use that to keep them focused and sharp?

Learning from the Olympics

Arguably, the greatest show on earth, the London Olympics 2012 has come to an end. Until the next edition in 2016, Rio De Janerio Brazil, all will be quiet -for people like you and me, the armchair viewers and keyboard experts though.

It is anything but quiet for those aspiring to be there in 2016. Those athletes who will make a mark in 2016 are likely training each day in quest of that elusive gold medal. There are a few from 2012 who will be around in 2012, but a big chunk of them will be new.

They will spend the next four years doggedly in pursuit of that goal. They will rise in the morning, focus themselves and get into training. Day and day out. For the next four years – perhaps exceeding 10 hours each day. That will roughly give them 10,000 hours of practice just in the next four years. And most likely, these athletes, sportspersons would have already reached that 10,000 hours milestone multiple times in their lives already. And each 10,000 hours they will perfect one more nuance, one more skill, one more muscle, one more move until it all falls in place.

Or perhaps it wont. Who knows? For each sport, there are exactly 3 medals on offer (give or take a few depending on rules). 3 medals for the entire world. And if  you miss that chance, it is an only chance. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you get it 4 years later. And then for many, age wont be on their side. Or an injury may show up. Or something else.

How many of us can find that focus to pursue one single thing all our lives and practically give up everything else in its quest? Each of our sportsmen, India in the last couple of Olympics have produced stellar performances from individual athletes, has done that. Abhinav Bindra, Saina Nehwal are great examples. And someone like Sushil Kumar is the first Indian athlete, ever to win a medal in two consecutive Olympics. Phew. To get to the top of the world and stay there for 4 years? Takes some focus. And shut yourself from the world – its distractions, its troubles, its politics, its temptations and whatnot.

What is true for Olympics is true for almost anything else. To reach the top a single minded focus is necessary. Whether it is career or sports or politics or arts or anything else. But not everyone can do it. Some can focus, some cannot.

Some do it their own way and stay interested in a million things all their life. They wont win Olympic medals for sure, but then that is perhaps not what they are after in any case.

As Robert Heinlein said, “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

So what is right? Neither. What is right is what makes you happy. If you are happy staying focused, stay that way. If you are happy doing a thousand, stay that way. So, don’t crib. To win that elusive medal a lot of hard work, sacrifice is required. If you are not willing to do it, that medal is not yours. Rest content knowing that fact.

So, as someone who cannot focus and who likes to do a thousand things – I doff my hat to those who can stay focused and chip away at a specific goal. Hats off to you.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Do what you love anyway

This lovely post from Big Think, got me thinking. A long time fan of Malcolm Gladwells writings, it was nice to see this insight. What Gladwell says is very simple, keep doing what you love, whether you see an immediate payoff or not.

And we know it, instinctively, but we keep getting distracted by short term speedbreakers.

Keep focused on work and don’t worry about the results.

Which can be reinterpreted as Do what you love and success will follow.

Which is essentially what Mr. Gladwel is saying.

Therefore as he says, Do what you love – whether it succeeds or not, you will still be doing what you love! And what is a greater payoff than that!

Sometimes, random reading and thoughts come and pop into our minds at the right time (call it coincidence, providence, confirmation bias or anything else). Just when you thought you had it all figured out, there is a googly to keep you thinking yet again. Such it goes...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Radio and songs

No, this is not a post that evokes memories of a bygone era and wishes that we were still in an era where there was socialism and a radio.

Now that I got that out of the way, lets get onto the topic.

When I grew up, we heard songs on the radio – at home, at the barber shop, sometimes in a shop - more than on television. Since televisions were far and few to begin with and there was just one channel, so the chances of seeing a song was quite rare and chancy. Thus it was, that our mind created images of the song in the way that we created our own picturization of a song. So, when I heard a song, I would have no idea who it is picturized on (though sometimes I did) and how. And our mind creates a mental map of how the song would possibly look like.

And later, when you see that song on say, a youtube or even a TV, sometimes you go – what? This song was picturized this badly? Or I did not know this song was picturized on XYZ.

On the other hand, there are those that make you go wow…

Similarly, sometimes we go with an idea of what we are going to learn and the entire content underwhelms us or overwhelms us. How to avoid that? How does one walk the tightrope walk of getting everything so right that it all feels "perfect"?