Sunday, December 29, 2013

On Accents (and a bit of grammar)

Many months ago, when I was training a set of people, someone told me, "I have a bad accent, therefore I cannot train people in Oracle." I have heard quite a few variants of this. One is - My accent is not good, therefore, I have to take on a different accent - and this at a job interview. And so on and so forth. The one which takes the cake is this one- "His grammar is not good therefore, he cannot conduct 'Oracle' training". To this one my response is "My grammar is awesome, but Oracle is zero - you really don't want me taking your Oracle training do you?"

Somehow, we in India seem to prize foreign accents - mostly American or European, never Arabic or African (and there is an answer somewhere there). We do not like our accents - so much so that we even have a term for it - Mother Tongue Influence- we call it. I personally feel that this accent thing is overrated.

My favourite example is at a cricket commentary - the West Indians have their own accents - Michael Holding for example, the Brits and the South Africans as well as the Pakistani and the Lankans - each speaks their own accent of English. And if I may add - even the Indians. And none of them are trying to change their accent to sound like someone else.

At work, I have seen Chinese speakers at ease with their accents as much as Polish and German and Australian. Why, even the US itself has so many regional variations in accents and pronunciations. In fact, every language has accent and pronunciation variations (think of any language and I will show you variations) and that is what makes the language beautiful and grows the language. 

Perhaps (and I do not buy this fully), an accent was needed when the call centre industry was at its infancy and we wanted Indians to sound like Americans. This is a bit of an impersonation if you ask me and a smarter way would have been to continue with our own accents and do a great job at it. After all, if you do a great job does your accent matter? And if you have an accent, can you get by with lesser quality work?

And today, when the industry has made a name for itself, do we really need to focus on accents or focus on work? I would think work. And definitely, comprehension and articulation - but accents? Sorry, I dont buy that. Maybe a bit of polishing of grammar here and there, but no, one does not need to be a Wren and Martin specialist to get work done. It is all these idiosyncracies that make our language beautiful. Without that, no language would grow and evolve.

So, embrace your accents - talk a little slowly, explain a little slowly, ask if people are able to comprehend you - and do great work.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Diversity thoughts...

Diversity is a buzzword these days. Anybody and their uncle are after diversity. If you can talk about diversity, rest assured that you will have an audience that will eat out of your hands.

Last week, I met an interesting person who argued that diversity the way we see it  - especially from a gender perspective often just involves making a woman compete in a race where the rules are set by men. His point was that while we talk diversity, we often want the woman to be more like men - driving hard deadlines, setting tasks etc etc. The larger discussion was about masculinity and femininity and perhaps even larger around the 'left' and 'right' brain.

And that begets the question - what exactly is diversity. Is it just hiring a few women into the workplace - which is the easiest thing to do - especially when you want to show numbers.

But (and this has been my view for a while), is that diversity really resulting in thought diversity? And I dont mean you hire sociopaths and misogynists for thought diversity. Thought diversity means hiring people who have sharper strengths as opposed to rounded strengths. And then some. But the question I have in my mind - are we hiring for thought diversity (and this may or not may result from cultural diversity and educational diversity and diversity of experiences) as opposed to plain gender diversity.

So, are the creative people in the team given space to be creative and the process oriented people given the space to be comfortable in their processes and yet being accountable to the same high standard - just an example.

Caution: Developing thought


Monday, December 9, 2013

The Expert Facilitator

Had the pleasure of watching and working with an expert facilitator in action. Most of us think that facilitation is about standing and talking. That is not facilitation - that is just reading news. Or sharing information.

Facilitation is about engaging with people, teasing out viewpoints, hidden thoughts, the bullies, the soft voices, the games, the tactics and all not with a sense of superiority or grandstanding, but as an equal participant. Even as the room is going in a single direction, the facilitator can sense the need for changing direction. Even as the room is smug in its understanding, the facilitator can drop a bomb exposing the ignorance. Even as the room grapples with itself, the facilitator kindly assures them that grappling is fine. The facilitator is never on the pulpit or on the victory podium. He is there, but not there. In the shadows usually, helping the room. Sometimes, on the mat - sometimes putting someone on the mat - not for her personal triumph, but in getting the participant realize themselves. 

It is the verbal equivalent of a martial arts match - ever alert, prowling along, watching, knowing, understanding - and in the end, there is only one winner - the participants!

Such joy!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Clash of Clans again



We are still into clash of clans -the third week running. We have joined a clan, we donate troops (good citizen), we attack and defend with gusto etc etc. while keeping up with the levels.

It is engaging. No doubt. Addictive – perhaps yes. But then, well, the positive side is that if something so engaging is addictive as well, surely, it means that one has the capacity to stay engaged and get deep into something. And the addiction can be controlled by setting a few rules to the children, who in turn follow it.

But what is fascinating is the learning out of games like these – not a direct learning, but an indirect one.
In games, unless your resources are kept rolling, victory is not assured (whatever victory means). And these games, help you get there by small victories – in the form of points, trophies, achievements and so on.

Almost any game with resources follows this simple premise. Keep the money in circulation. Make your money work. If you have played Monopoly the only way to win is to keep the money rolling and invested. 

Games like these teach one a lot about resource allocation. Unless you allocate resources wisely and build the right things – it is tough to progress. And most often given limited resources, the choice is a tough one – makes one think logically as to what to do with the resoures. Even the design of the village allows for quite a bit of creative thinking.   

And then of course, influencing skills – the more you donate, the more the chance that you can become a clan elder – which he is now fascinated about – that gives you ‘influence’ within the clan. And nowadays a lot of conversation is about this logic – what to do next in clash of clans.

Interesting parallel to life as well. Hoarded knowledge never helps – it stagnates – bit by bit. Like money. Unless your knowledge is shared and growing, it is practically useless.But knowledge shared makes you a clan elder and gives you influence.

What level are you at again?

Don't Worry



A few days ago, our internet connection went down. The modem which has rendered yeoman service kicked the bucket. And we were suddenly like fish without water. Imagine no internet. No google. No download. No customer service numbers. 

And of course, our progress in Clash of Clans was affected. And I thought that the little one would be distraught. So, I asked him how do we progress without the internet and what if we logged in back and found our village destroyed etc. etc. (I wanted to check his feeling - and if I may admit sheepishly, I was missing clash of clans.)

And he said, “Only if you have the internet you will worry about it. If there is no internet at all, then why will I worry about it. Whenever the connection is back, we can see what to do.”

Ahem, I told myself, that is a humbling response. That is a great lesson. Why worry about factors not under our control and feel bad about something that might happen.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The boy and the gate

Some days ago, I rode into my apartment on my cycle. And there was a little boy who, looked at me coming in - his eyes lit up - and he ran to the gate to open the gate for me. I usually push open the gate open myself, but seeing his smile and excitement I let him open the gate for me. The security staff, were watching him and thankfully did not stop him from enjoying himself.

I thanked him and entered - and I showed him how muddy my cycle was and after a quick few words, he went off to play.

And I thought later, this is innocence at its best. A few years later, many things will stop the boy from expressing himself, like this. Someone may rebuke him for playing with the security guards or doing the securities job. And slowly, surely, we will make him like one of us.

And, we as adults, rarely open the gate of our complex, when we see a known face come in, even if we are centimeters away from the gate. We become conscious of status, of our so called reputations and of course, the classic 'It is not my job'.

My own little lesson there! Thank you, little boy.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Clash of clans

The little one is now a fan of Clash of Clans.

Whatever the merit of the game - I like the way it is organized. And since gamification is the rage now, it made me think of a combination of gamification and 'social' as the means to achieve a goal.

Now if you 'gamify' and 'social' anything, does not mean it will work. But I think there are some thumb rules - purely based on what I see in Clash of Clans.

  • Degree of difficulty - it has to be 'so near, yet so far'. Anything too easy is not worth a challenge, anything too difficult may cause the kids to give up.
  • You play by yourself upto a point and just at that point of inflection where you may feel inclined to give up (because with stingy dads who wont buy you anything, it is a steep climb) there comes a breather and a new motivation -you get to join a clan and meet your friends online and play.
  • Small rewards along the way - not too easy and not too tough.
  • Even if you lose you dont lose everything - someone attacks, but you lose a little gold and elixir - not all of it, enough to demotivate you.
  • You can see what success looks like. You can see other clans and their villages and the way they are set up with fire breathing walls and dark elixir and it is very motivating to look at our own little hut and wooden wall - and thinking that we can get there.
  • Limited resources - so there is a constant cost -benefit thought going on in the head.
  • It has to be 'wow'. Just wrapping a few exams and assessments and making it 'gamified' and 'social' is a sureshot way to disaster.
  • Hidden treasures - every small actions and even small actions need a payoff. Just when you are about to give up, there is a small thing that you can do to get those motivation levels up.
 Anyway, I gotta go now. We have to get 40000 Gold to build that castle that will let us join a clan!

Team Huddles and Energy calls

Once upon a time the Indian cricket team was going through a crisis and if I remember right, this was around the 2003 World Cup - and they started getting into a huddle before every match.

In sport, a huddle is an action of a team gathering together, usually in a tight circle, to strategise, motivate or celebrate. It is a popular strategy for keeping opponents insulated from sensitive information, and acts as a form of insulation when the level of noise in the venue is such that normal on-field communication is difficult. Commonly the leader of the huddle is the team captain and it is the captain who will try to inspire his fellow team members to achieve success. Similarly after an event a huddle may take place to congratulate one another for the teams success, or to commiserate a defeat. The term "huddle" can be used as a verb as in "huddling up". (wikipedia)

This is recognized as a universal strategy. I have seen this in manufacturing industries as the morning prayer (I remember one of the mantras was Karagre Vasate Lakshmi - a beautiful shloka about the hands - so apt in a the factory where people work with their hands). Rugby teams do it, army units do it. Indeed, as it happens, even teams working in technology and BPO do it.

It has a great motivational effect. Coming together before the days work, deciding what needs to be done, understanding what needs to be done and so on and so forth. And perhaps I will segue that into a story on the importance of 'ritual' at some point, but that is for later.

A few months ago, as part of a stage play - we followed a ritual. We would recite, Angikam Bhuvanam (never realised that this was connected to dance). We called it the energy call. And it had an amazing energizing quality to it. People were energised and it directed us into a 'zone' of performance.

Various things happen in a huddle. Sometimes, it is sharing a thought. Sometimes, wishing someone. Sometimes, reiterating the goal. Sometimes, it is just a chant that gives energy!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The argument for better content

One of my favourite analogies to test how effective any material is the Airline safety placard and and the airline safety instructions. I ask people the last time they flew, did they really hear what the instructions were or did they just hear some noise. The thing is that most people dont.

Like google ads, they dont 'exist' because your mind is so attuned to it that those instructions just do not register. The attendants are doing their job -because it a regulation and you are there as a captive audience.

This is a great example of how many of our trainings are. The moment they come into a 'class' see the familiar settings, the familiar templates - thats it - it is a cue for the mind to switch off.

In both these examples, there are two arguments. One is that content need not be exciting, because it is their job/their responsibility whatever. The other is that the content can and should be different (if not exciting) because very often the mind needs to be tricked.


 And that is exactly what this video of Virgin America does. A 5 minte rap song on airline safety (Via @ghate) makes you sit up and take notice. Time for an item number on airline saftey on one of our local airlines?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Building a USP

Recently we visited a few temples in Tamil Nadu - across Rameswaram and Kanyakumari and the vicinity. Rameswaram, of course, is the site of the place from Rama made his epic journey to Sri Lanka and the place is filled with numerous references to the Ramayana. The government could, of course, create a 'Ramayana Trail' like Sri Lanka has done, but leave that aside for the moment, because what the government cannot or will not do is created by the market and the auto-drivers and tour operators and temples have done that.

But across the landscape every temple we visited had a USP. Like the Bhagavathy Amman temple in Kanyakumari - its USP was that the reflection of the diamond nose ring of the goddess idol used to be visible from the sea. The Tiruchendur temple, apart from its antiquity and historical and mythological significance, practically located on the beach has a wall where you hear 'Om' if your put your ear to it (created by the sea breeze). The Uttirakosamangai temple has a 6 foot emerald idol. Imagine that these USP's have existed for millenia and people keep coming to it even today. For some it is the architecture. For some it is the religious significance. For some it is history. And so on.

As we build various things - sites, programs, services, think about the USP - the branding - what does that brand stand for? How do you get your audience to come there? What is the USP for the various audiences who you intend to service? And are you able to communicate it? Are you able to sustain it? Are you able to serve the value you intend to?

What is the USP - or UVP - Unique Value Proposition that will keep people coming to it for many years - again and again? Worth a thought!

What are you?

As a support team, we are often faced with this dilemma. What are we? What is our identity? What is our role? And this question applies across the spectrum regardless of which type of role you play - Human Resources, Innovation, Risk or anything else.

Some roles are created by authority - as per mandate - this type of work needs approval from so and so. This is reminiscent of the old command and control structure where, someone is the gatekeeper. Like the gatekeeper at any place, their role is to restrict the entry of people or things.

Some roles are created by influence - like the sherpas of Nepal/Tibet - this type of work needs no approval and they are highly sought after - based on their expertise and knowledge of the mountains.

You may argue that each of them is different, but there is no reason that someone in the role of a gatekeeper can grow as an enabler. A lot of time it is how you see the role.

Being a gatekeeper is very easy. I have to do this, because someone has mandated that only I can approve this. On the other hand, being an enabler requires true expertise, genuine interest in solving the problem and a win-win thought process. For the gatekeeper you are the problem, but the enabler is focused on finding a solution to your problem.

And this flows into the work that we do. If your work is about exploring options, coming up with solutions, enabling end to end execution for your stakeholders, truly working with teams in helping them find solutions, creating forward looking reports, trying to understand what your can give your stakeholders other than just an 'approved' email, you are being more of an enabler.

If your work is sending reports that nobody reads, attending meetings like a piece of furniture and identifying so called gaps without helping teams fix it, or sending 'approved' emails after 5 days in your inbox - you are more of a gatekeeper.

And finally, what do your stakeholders say about you? Both in front of you and behind your back? Do they recommend you? (if you are an entrepreneur this is easy - you can measure it in your referrals)

Do they say that your team is a curmudgeon that nobody can get work done out of? Or do they say that each time I have walked up to them, they have added value and helped me find a solution?

What do you want them to say about you? (And this applies regardless of whichever type of job you are in)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Bio toilet behaviour

Recently, in an train, we saw a bio toilet. Indian Railways toilets have evolved little from a hole in the floor - but it looks like they are into producing newer coaches with bio toilets. This is a very good initiative except that they are looking at over a 100 years of behaviour to be modified.

The previous toilets were just a hole in the floor and people would throw just about anything into it - garbage for example or used bottles - among other things.

But in the new toilet, throwing anything into the toilet -will mess with the bio digester. Read more here.

Now the problem. When one enters into the bio toilet there is nothing that tells you that this is a bio toilet. I mean, there is a notice, but from what I gathered not too many people are into reading notices in train toilet.

So, how does one change the behaviour? From my experience, behaviour change requires a bit of nudge or a cue. In this case, biotoilets should 'scream' biotoilet from the time one enters into it. Perhaps paint it green. Make the notice in big bold lettering and put up messages where people can see them. Or make the lamp inside with a green tinge or put a green small led, but something that makes the user go 'wow' and reminds them that this a biotoilet. That will remind them each time they entire that this is a different toilet and hence requires a slightly different behaviour!

Can we make something with this?

Ever so often, the little ones come up to their appa (father) (me) and say, "Can we make something with this?" The 'this' could be an empty soap packaging, a paper cup, a satin ribbon or a huge piece of cardboard or thermocol from leftover packaging. Sometimes, the asks are specific - like- can you make a house for me? But mostly, it is an open question.

Earlier, the ideas would come from me, but over time, the ideation is outsourced to them - think what you think you can make with this. Reject the first, obvious idea and think what else you can do with it. The results have been fantastic - not necessarily with the outcome, but with the thinking process.

Sometimes, the answer is not apparent and that point it goes into a collection box - which is emptied once in a while - and stays there until an idea or boredom happens. This has resulted in a little bit of collection of junk - but we call it recycling.

A few days back, the question was posed to me once again - with some an innocuous ice cream stick and my immediate response was to say, "No, you cannot make anything with this." But I paused at that point and said, "Lets see what we can make with it." And sure enough, that innocuous icecream stick became the handle of a shield.

And then, epiphany. Ever so often we are put into opportunities that are essentially problems in disguise. Sometimes, it is a vendor who quotes a high price and you have to do something very quickly, by yourself. Sometimes, there is so much change from a current position of comfort that it shakes you up and sometimes you want to say no.

But if we could change that no, to "Can we make something with this" - it helps. After all, destiny is what you make with what you get, right?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Learning Hindi

Many years ago, North Indians tried to impose Hindi on South Indians. Many things happened since then. Hindi was banned and the South became an English superpower. But Hindi made its inroads, mostly thanks to the phillum industry. What diktats and Hindi diwas could not do, Hindi movies achieved it. And perhaps a bit of paneer butter masala as well.

In cosmpolitan Bangalore - nobody speaks Hindi. Children speak a mix of languages at home Tamil, Kannada - English outside while playing and at school - cartoons are also seen in English. But in the school the second language is Hindi. (Why, you ask? Simple utility - it lets you get around the country etc etc.) But, the little ones are unable to comprehend why are they learning a language that is not used anywhere. Unlike when (and where) I grew up, the lingua franca was Hindi, here it is not.

Now, learning a language without having to use or converse is about as motivating as having to learn to swim without a swimming pool (bad simile, but I wanted a simile at this point). Needless to say, we grapple with Hindi at multiple levels- from words to sentences to grammar to whythehellamidoingthis to exams to show and tell.

But in the meantime, Hindi songs and old movie clips are helping us...perhaps. Though I am not sure if he has to make a sentence in Hindi he will use the line of some song... and whether that may lead to the parents being called to school?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

On site skit

As we drove on the Mysore road yesterday, there was a traffic jam - for some reason traffic slowed down to almost one lane on the busy highway. Perhaps some sort of a police checkpost we thought. Or perhaps a random accident. Or some vehicle has broken down in the middle of the road.

As the traffic inched its way forward, we saw banners of Toyota Logistics Kishor Limited warning about the dangers of drunk driving, and a set up of an accident. A biker with blood on his face, bike fallen down and the person (an actor) lying still in that pose. And a messaging.

I thought it was a novel way to create awareness. Accidents are never there nor meant to be seen, but then creating a live scene like this was a fantastic idea for people to realize the gruesomeness and the seriousness of the whole situation. Sure, they created a traffic jam, but this was for a great cause and with both the banners and the actual visual depiction (which, crosses language barriers) that made it like a street play (more like a street still) drove home the point very well.

Its Showtime!

I had earlier blogged about the theatre learning experience through the 12 week workshop that I had attended earlier this year. The entire project culminates with a real play that is played to a real audience complete with props, costumes etc. It is hard work. 12 Sundays of training followed by a few weeks of rehearsals – nearly 5 times a week.

First the trainings get you prepped up. Use your body. Use your mind. Voice. Train. Get physically fit. Handle each other. Trust. Work. Alone. Work. Together. Form, Storm and Norm (see earlier post).

Getting the lines right is just the first part. Then the moves. Then changes. Then some variation. Then, the script gets dropped. Then you see that the entire so called play looks like people reading news. Then you work on tweaking it, until it ultimately becomes a play. All the people in the scene have to put their best foot forward. And work work work. Get the beat right. Get the rhythm right. Get the timing right down to the last T. Expressions. Inflexions. Make those practiced dialogues sound spontaneous.

Until you are ready to perform. Dress rehearsal. Tech rehearsal. As the time for the first show nears, it is an exhilarating feeling. Butterflies in the stomach. Make up. Costumes. Planning. Rehearsing. Re-rehearsing.

And then the lights go off in the wings. The bell rings. And the show begins. As you sit in the wings, waiting for the audience reactions. Are they laughing? Do they like it? Are we doing well? And then you walk on stage, in character. Deliver your lines. A glance at the wings shows that your entire team is watching you. Banking on you. They don’t want you to fail. They want you to succeed – take it scene by scene to a different level.

And the audience warms up. With a few laughs. That makes you comfortable on stage. But let that not go to your head. Continue in character. And they laugh a little more. Somehow, that makes you more energetic. You get the wind under your wings. And then you let go. Have fun on stage. Get deeper into character. Let that energy feed you and take you higher. But not to your head. And then you go back into the wings, inspiring the others and preparing for the next show.

It is truly an unbelievable experience. That has to be experienced by being there.

And in the end people tell you, how good an actor you are. And you know that, behind that is just a lot of sweat and a lot of crossed mountains!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Building a team

How does one build a team? And ensures that it performs? We all know Tuckmans four stages of teams - Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. 

But ever so often, you will find that in teams that there are some who do not contribute as much as they should. Or as much as they had all committed to at the outset when they were selected or self selected into the team. In my view, what works in building effective things are these things:

Get commitment from the team early on about the goal and what they will do in order to make it happen. At this stage, it is necessary to give people a choice about whether they want to be part of the goal at all. If not, find options for them to support the main team with what they can do - if there is scope to do that.

Once that goal level commitment is established, get the tactical level commitment - if it means showing up each day without making excuses and so on and so forth. At this stage, again, it is important for all the team members to agree on a code of sorts. Again, those who cannot give their commitments need to be asked to decide - commit or leave.

And then once again, weed out non performers early. Carrying passengers is good for trains, not for teams. Every team needs as many engines as it possibly can. And when I say engines, I mean, commitment engines because there are times when every ounce of energy is required.

Often, we make mistakes here. In weeding out non performers. In calling out issues early. And replacing passengers with engines. Because we want to be nice. Because they were nominated. Because of a million reasons to cop out than call out issues...Because, we want to be seen as nice guys..etc. etc.

But if you are the team captain, you need a laser sharp focus on the goal and unless every team member contributes that is never going to happen. Lesson learnt...

A summer with SPOT

SPOT stands for Summer Project On Theatre, an initiative by Bangalore Little Theatre. Each summer for nearly, the last 30 odd years, Vijay Padaki, cobbles together a set of rank amateurs - and takes them through 12 weeks of training. At the end of 12 weeks, these amateurs star in an amateur theatre production. Impossible as that may sound, he has done it - for nearly 30 years now.

The fact that Vijay has done so for 30 odd years means that is safe to suggest that if anyone landed there, he can make an actor out of you. An amateur actor - and show you the gate - through which you walk in case you want to continue the pursuit of this field further.

And that is what I did. Showed up on a Sunday in May to sign up for SPOT 2013.

Many of my friends have been part of SPOTand have come back with amazing experiences.I myself watched a couple of their plays and found them to be quite mind blowing.

Imagine that you part of a training that is also a project. Imagine that you will be taken through a series of exercises where you work with yourself and others. The training is structured - though you as a participant will not know what is coming next. But each week, you will progress - bit by little bit. Of course, you need to work. And you need to participate. But once you have committed internally, the rest of the journey will happen. And in the end, the project takes shape with practically everything you learnt in the training. (As an aside this is an interesting model for trainings, but thats another thought for another day.)

Work with your body. Move. Dance. Stretch. Exercise. Explore body states.
Work with your voice. Sing. Stretch those vocal chords. Shout. Whisper.
Work with your mind. Get out and participate. Get out of your tortoise shell. Work with yourself.

And over 12 weeks, challenge yourself and slowly but surely, you reach the end of the project with an amateur play to show for yourself. And the trainers push you to go beyond your comfort zones every single day of those 12 odd spot sessions.

Then you rehearse. With the stage settings. With the moves blocked out. Work on your dialogues.

On stage, whispers are by action only - the voice is still, a shout. Stage angles, body states, actions, dragging legs, limp hands...little by little, you work your character on stage...

And, yes, like in all learning efforts, you go through a learning curve that is at times demanding, has its inflection points, but finally, you will have your own eureka, breakthrough moment that will see you through...

How cool is that? More on this later...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Mythical Nitin

Some years back, I was handed over charge of a new team. As always, I was taking it slow in trying to understand the team from the team members and from the stakeholders.

The stakeholders had a lot of feedback, as they usually do, when a new leader takes over. And in trying to go back to the team to see their view on the same, I ran into Nitin.

There was new technology lying unused. The teams response, "Only Nitin knows how to use it".
There were processes that were broken. The teams response, "Nitin created this process".
There were reports that were not being sent. The teams response, "Nitin used to send those reports".

The list went on and on. For everything, the buck seemed to stop at Nitin. Nitin clearly was a superhero of an employee. When he was around, everything seemed to run smoothly. Walls were scaled. Crashes were prevented. The bad guys were defeated. And all was well in the world.

The only problem. Nitin was no longer a member of the team. Indeed, he was not even an employee of the firm for atleast 6 months at the time I had joined. And yet for every problem, the teams answer was Nitin. At one point, I contemplated calling up Nitin and meet him to meet this mythical superhero.

But for the stakeholders, no Nitin existed - atleast in their conversations with me. And they did not care, rightly so. For them, processes were broken and service delivery was affected.

As I investigated further, I discovered that whatever Nitin did was of his own personal interest. The process was never institutionalized. And it was not uniform either. It was a one off attempt that broke when the 'hero' left.

My learning in this whole experience was that, if processes ran well when you had one person in your team, chances are that the process never existed in the first place. What good is a 'process' if it depends on a single 'person' to be maintained.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Authorized guide

Many years ago (and I realized that this movie was a 1991 release) in a Malayalam movie (a classic, remade in multiple languages) - Kilukkam - the lead actor Mohanlal - plays a tourist guide. And a supporting actor plays an authorized guide.

In most tourist destinations, even today, there are 'authorized' guides who charge you 'fees' fixed by the 'authority' and do some good 'guiding' if you are lucky. And there are also 'unauthorized' guides who will charge you 'less' and 'guide' you as well.

My own experience with both kinds of guides has been iffy. The authorized guide has not brought anything that great to the table. And my experience with unauthorized guides has been equally non descript.

But in the movie, the authorized guide is a drunk who cares little about the destinations or the tourists and is only looking to make a fast buck. The unauthorized guide on the other hand, predictably, is the good guy.

But as far as metaphors go, it is a good metaphor. What do you bring to the table, your certificate or your passion (continuing from the previous post)? And when I have to get in touch with you, why do I do so? Because protocol states that I contact the training department for training? Or because I know you bring knowledge, passion, enthusiasm among other things to the table?

If the sole reason why people get in touch with you is certification or protocol, then, remember, it will get you a foot into the door, but not too much beyond that. What gets you forward is the other things beyond the piece of paper or org chart that you bring to your role!

What do you bring to the table?

In the space of the last few months, I have met two 'nutrionists' (spellcheck has put a red squiggly under this for some reason). And my main purpose was to know what diet changes I can make in order to achieve my health goals.

Now, a caveat. Most people take pride in their 'interior decoration' skills or 'aesthetic' 'taste' or prize their own 'skills' or 'talent' in something or the other. For me diet and nutrition happens to be one of those things.

I read practically everything on 'diet' and it is wont be an understatement to say that I am upto speed into the most of the current 'theories' of nutrition. Like for example: have small meals through the day. Avoid junk food. Have more fibre in your food. Dinner atleast 2 hours before bedtime. Among other things...

And this is the basic stuff. At an intermediate level, I am aware of the benefits of flax seed oil, coconut oil (yes, those old theories claiming it to be a bad oil are gone). I have read (multiple times) Michael Pollans seminal article (and the book which followed). The importance of mixing cooking oils rather than sticking to one.

And at an advanced level, the importance of fermented food in diets. Miso. Kombucha.Quinoa. (these three I have not yet figured out how to get in India). And I can keep going on and on on this topic. Upto the intermediate level I have been able to put stuff into practice and I keep experimenting to see how to reach the advanced level and keep pace with emerging thoughts in this field.

Now the nutritionist had nothing to tell me beyond the basic level. And that too not much - because I told her most of it.

The point being, the internet has democratized most basic information available in most fields. And if one is passionate about it you can get all the information (and a fair bit of knowledge as well) you want. On anything. Nutrition. Fitness. Accounting. Customer Service. Income Tax.

So, what happens when you as a 'qualified' expert meet someone who has come there with 'passion' and 'interest'. So, this is what happened when I met the qualified nutritionist. Complete disaster. If this was an engagement where I had to pay, then the nutritionist would surely not get a second appointment.

As a practitioner, one needs to go beyond the obvious. This is easy if what you are working on is your passion as well. If not, beware, passion will always triumph qualifications. And when you as a 'certificate holding nutritionist' meets the 'passionate health freak' thats it.

Ask yourself, which of the two you are? Can you add 'passion to your qualification' or 'qualification to your passion'?

And therefore, what value do you bring to the table? Certificate or Passion?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Role of a leader

Creating a course is not easy. Especially a kind of course a senior leader wants for his team.With tight deadlines.

There are two ways out there. One is tried and tested. The other, to try out something different - something you think is worth a try based on the talking to experts. The first one is a possibility sometimes, when the leader wants something, very fast, instant. The second one is worth a try when the leader gives you the freedom to try. And some time. And a little patience. Once that is done, the work begins.

To begin with it means understanding your audience, what they want, what they like, what makes them tick, what is their level of knowledge. It means, preparing.  It means, keeping your ears close to the ground.

As it progresses, it means, working with various stakeholders and making them part of the creation process as well. It means, asking questions. It means, iteration.

While delivering, it means, making the audience think. It means, respecting their intelligence. It means, co-opting them as part of the process.It means making their few hours worth it. It means, at times, taking a decision on the spot. It means, facing tough questions and still guiding them to the right answers.

All of this and much more. And doing all of this has no guarantee that the course you put together will work.

So, it means, suspension of belief at some point. Especially when you taking them away from a tried and tested concept and want them to touch new shores. And making them believe - in themselves - with a new technique.

All of this is no guarantee of success. And there are many reasons it may work or it may not work.

But one great reason it can work is when the leader of the team is with you. Right through the entire session. Without stepping out for a phone call. Standing with his team as they try. Asking questions. Pushing them to think. Making them reflect. Walking amidst the teams as they work. At times, contributing at a table as any other participant would. Applauding their effort. Goading them to take steps. Letting them be. Keeping them honest. It is a never ending list.

But you will know it when you see it. Leading from the front...

(More on this to come - have seen the fantastic effect of leaders in many an intervention. Makes a difference on how the audience absorbs it.)