Saturday, December 20, 2014

Learning these days

It is indeed the age of the autodidact and the world is filled with Ekalavyas. It is fascinating to see how they learn - especially on the things that they are motivated about.

There is new fad called the Rainbow Loom that has somewhat taken the kids by storm. This involves making things using special rubber bands which are I think specially manufactured for this purpose. (I say that, because the rubber bands are better in quality than the cheap ones we are used to and have some designs on it - among other things).

There is an entire body of knowledge on the internet on the design of these bands. It has its own jargon - with names for the design. There are a million youtube videos from which they learn. The process is also fueled by somewhat of a social component. The kids talk and show each other the newest designs they have learnt to make and they come home and try out new stuff. All in all it fuels a vicious cycle of learning and creativity.

This is the nature of learning in almost any group exercise - a cycle of positive competition and learning.

There is almost no formal teacher for this process - at least not in the conventional way. There is nobody giving instructions, no curriculum, no framework. Every kid, depending on his or her motivation does what he or she feels like doing.  Of course, only a small fraction of even the known universe is into this.

Predictably, other school kids are into other things, but I am sure the approach is similar.

This is the generation that will enter colleges soon and I suppose some of the earliest entrants of this generation are already in the workforce.

How do we train them. How do we harness that virtuous cycle of positive competition to create a learning organization? How do we ensure that learners stay motivated and keep wanting to outdo, not each other, but themselves? Do we even ensure? Or do we let the process take charge? And if so, what would that process look like?

Notice that in this whole story, there is a notable absence of trainers - there are no trainers - only practitioners. There is also a complete absence of curriculums or structure - it is like a buffet without designated start and end points - users pick what they want, when they want and go about it. Also note the complete lack of goals. I think that is three strikes against any corporate program with its trainers, curriculum and goals.

While, it scares the exalted training community - it is important to bear this thought in mind - that this is the reality. Are we prepared for it? And even if we are, are systems prepared for it? Really? Is it even possible to replicate this? All interesting questions!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Experiential Training Summit

I had a chance to attend the first Experiential Training Summit in Bangalore today - thanks to the good people at Ozone. Organized by Center for Experiential Education, the conference, true to its name was all Experiential.

The keynote by Vijay Padaki was good - only he can pull of what he did - combining esoteric theory into a simple package with timing and wit.

It was followed by workshops - which were real, experiential workshops - where every participant got to do something or other. Whether it was by Satish of Somethings cooking or by Rajeev of Knolskape or by Ashley of Graphic Facilitation or the Pankaj of Center of Creative Leadership or Anirban of Painted Sky.

(I had to miss the last couple of workshops, but they did promise to be interesting - they were on storytelling and theatre).

But that experience made it really worth it. Of course, its obvious that for an experiential training summit, the workshops would be experiential, but to pull it off is something else.

And as an attendee, it was a refreshing conference to attend and I hope they repeat it again next year on a bigger scale

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Building Change

I have written about this before, but, if you want to build change in the organization, would you not use your managers to drive it? I mean, engage an external consultant by all means, but your managers have to lead the charge and your leaders have to be viscerally engaged in the change process.

That means it is not enough if your managers and leaders are certified in a (any) methodology and they regurgitate it. (See here on why that might not be enough.)

But it is an interesting question. On how does one build change? Change culture?

The answer is in the sustenance of the change. What happens at a session is an event. But culture change is not an event. It is a process. A long drawn out process. And it is necessarily led by the leaders. And their reportees. And their reportees. And so on.

A friend was talking about an Indian services company to me. This company sponsors major running events today (yes, go take a guess). In this company, from the top down, the company is into running. The C-suite is into running. They run. They sponsor running programs. Organize running coaching (I think). And their entire company is running. That is one example.

This could not have happened even if they got Milkha Singh or PT Usha (I mean, who is a better running example in India even today?) to give a hundred speeches.

(Aside: When Narendra Modi wields the broom impromptu, he lives the example. When he talks about not being personally being corrupt - he lives the example. Changing a country is a gargantuan task, but you got to give it to the guy - he is taking a stab at it.)

Back to the question. How does one build change?

A few years ago, I was asked this question. Why isn't our business knowledge increasing as a team? The answer was a simple one, really. If my manager discusses metrics, I focus on delivery of metrics. If my manager discusses, ideas, I focus on delivery of ideas. If my manager is not talking about business at all, why the hell will I ever focus on business?

So, you want change. It has to start at the top. You want fitness. Lead the way. A leader who I know and admire 'walks' the talk on fitness.

As you might imagine, I have not put an answer on exactly how. I wish I knew it that simply. But change is tough. And unless you as a leader roll up your sleeves and get into it, nothing will change. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Our scores dropped, let us do something

Many moons ago, an organization faced a problem. They had rolled out a survey and the survey showed a drop in some points on some parameter (I can tell you, but I would have to kill you).

And then, with remarkable, alacrity, along came a program that was touted as the solution to all ills related to survey points dropping down.

Consultants were engaged. A master program was created. Supporting technology was conceptualized and all budgets for the project were green lighted. The portal was built. Calendars were cleared out. Sessions were organized. Master trainers were trained and created. These master trainers then spread the message among the minions. They did it. But then real work caught up with them. So, the boxes were ticked. And they went back to work. And the survey happened again. And they waited. With bated breath. For the next survey result. Which came. And the scores stayed there and in some cases, dropped down.

And then the sessions and the trainers were remembered again. And they rolled out the sessions again. And...

Wait. Does that sound familiar?

So, what happens here? Some hypothesis - I do not claim to have a silver bullet.

One, a disconnect at an action level. The leadership has not entirely bought into it. And I do not mean, saying the right things. Yes, the leadership has presumably spoken about it, cut ribbons, supported it, but do they really show it in their actions? And if they don't, their next levels are quick to spot the level of interest or disinterest and thereby act accordingly.

Two, ownership. Is it a KRA for the managers/leaders. If not, they won't do it - because they already have a zillion things to do (a relic of current or past KRAs). Do they see it as their program or as somebody else's program. If is it not theirs, they don't it. Remember - nobody ever washed a rental car.

Three, timing. If you do it as a reactionary measure, like all reactionary measures, it will fade away when the leadership changes. It will fade away when more important work takes over. And people can see reactionary measures by the timing. Oh there is a problem, let us react - you have people running for cover already. BOHICA.

Four, Clarity on what are we going after? Are we going after the numbers or are we going after something more fundamental. The former is a reactionary, short term approach - the latter on the other hand is a bigger change that requires mountains to be moved.

So, to conclude, the sessions did not work because the people who ran it did not believe it and their actions did not show it. Those who ran it ticked their boxes and said, "see we did our bit." Those who facilitated it ticked their boxes and said, "see we did our bit". Thankfully, there was no box for what you believed in.

(Which means, the fundamental underlying problem was lying unsolved).

Friday, December 5, 2014

How do you know you have done something insightful?

For anybody in any service type of function - be it Human Resources, Training, PMO - there are always two ways to do the role.

One is to take that little black book, a pencil and ask, at every table, "Sir, what can I get you?" (Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like - but notice, I did not mention the uniform.)

The slightly sophisticated method around the above is to use some really cool digital stuff to take those orders - like they do in fancy restaurants - where they use blackberry (then) or tablets (now) and that sends the order right into the kitchen. And sometimes they give you these buzzing thingies that even buzz when your order is ready (how cool is that). (But yes, again, it is exactly what it sounds like.)

Variants of the above include when the customer says, there is too much salt in my salad - to take it back and fix it immediately. Or when the customer says, the room is too hot, apologize profusely and talk about other things and hope that works.

Or, as I mentioned in my previous post, deliver insight. Now that is not terribly insightful is it? How do you know that what you did was insightful?

One is post - where you know that something you did is there beyond your time there. Maybe you put together a great learning idea that is worth being used even when you are no longer there - and you left it in a state that it will run regardless of who runs it. Maybe you changed the way they do things by perhaps changing the process or a system. Maybe you created something beautiful that is worth being used long after you are gone. But that does not help does it  - because you have to leave and then see what survived the cleansing.

The other is in the present - when your stakeholder goes, "hmmm..now you are making me think" or "I did not think of it that way" or "That is an interesting way to look at the data, show me what you got". That means, you are delivering insight.

But insight cannot be delivered unless you speak the language of the business, you can push the customer, you have powerful communication skills, know what drives the business etc etc (and you guessed it, these are among the 'challenger' competencies).

The buck stops at the leader

As someone who has led teams and been on teams led by a variety of leaders, I believe that the leader is accountable for anything you see on a team.

Any thing you see on any team, there are only two ways to interpret it. Either the leader wants it that way or the leader is blissfully unaware of what is happening in the team. If there are issues in the team (of any nature), and the leader has not acted to resolve it - it only means that the leader has not done enough to change it or is happy to let the status quo continue. There is no third way at all.

For a short span of time it is possible that the leader may not be aware of certain issues - but the moment she is made aware of it, the leader has to act - decisively. If the leader does not - there are only two possibilities - the leader chooses not to or the leader is not effective.

PV Narasimha Rao, the former Indian Prime Minister once said - Not doing anything is a conscious choice and he was a master tactician - but not everybody is a PVNR and using that as a reason to stay quiet is hardly leadership.

If the team has low credibility, it is because of the leader. (The leader can establish credibility starting with herself).

If the team is not scaling up, it is because of the leader. (The leader has to make right choices in people and hiring). Perhaps the leader wants it that way. (And why would that be, ask yourself)

If the team is not skilled enough, it is because of the leader. (Skill building is no accident). A leader actively builds skills of the team - and never feels insecure about it. Budget or no budget, skill building is an active choice.

If the team has culture issues, it is because of the leader. (Culture follows the path followed by the leader). Show me an insecure team and I will show you an insecure leader. Show me a team that is fraught with internal issues and I will show you a vacillating leader. Show me a team that operates in a silos and I will show you a poor leader. Show me a team that refuses to collaborate, share and be open and I will show you a closed leader.

If the team is stuck doing low value added work, either the leader does not want the team to scale up or the leader is setting the wrong example by taking on the wrong kind of work.

If the team is on every table and asked to make the least contribution - most likely, it is led by a leader who is happy with the team marking its presence in meetings without any significant contribution.

If the team is waiting for work, I will show you a leader who sits at his desk waiting for work.

I can go on and on, but you get the drift - everything in the team good or bad can be traced back to the actions (mostly actions not intention) of the leader.

Yes, the buck does stop at the leader...

Monday, December 1, 2014

The power of insight!


I was reading this fascinating book - The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson about what makes Sales people successful based on research from CEB and it just struck me that the Challenger profile applies for practically any service job. (And the book does mention that)

But more importantly, in tune with my earlier post on relationship management, the book trashes the point of relationship management and these sentences caught my eye, 

"Personally, I believe that a customer relationship is a result of and not the cause of successful selling. It is a reward that the salesperson earns by creating value." 

"The corollary to being a Relationship builder is to be seen as an order taker in other functional areas" [Quotes from the book]

Nuff said. 

But moving on, in any work we do, it is important that we generate insight - and the Challenger profile of people do exactly that. 

But yes, all in all a fascinating read - for anybody in any field really - though the book is largely about sales...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The goldfish, the baby and the cat

A speaker at a session gave this analogy recently and I just loved it.

He said,

Imagine a goldfish swimming in a bowl. The goldfish represents a new idea in the organization. 

The cat is outside, watching the goldfish. The cat wants to kill the goldfish (the idea)

The baby is outside, watching the goldfish. The baby is curious - wants to know more, do more.

All to often, manages end up being the cat, while they should really be the baby!

Beautiful analogy, I thought.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The e-learning conundrum

So, what about e-learnings?

The trouble with e-learnings is that they are too linear. One dimensional. Given what we saw about live trainings, e-learnings rarely offer any of them. So, how to make e-learning more interesting.

The answer lies partially in the name. The level of interaction e-learning offers is quite low - as compared to an online learning or a live virtual session where the interaction is much higher.

So, e-learnings can be used to up a point - which is the 10% - substitute a part of the classroom  training with an e-learning.

It does not provide the interaction that a classroom does - so try and see if that can be done.

The other thing an e-learning can do is to become like games - and I am not saying gamify - the question is how to make it challenging.

Can an e-learning become more non-linear - give a different outcome depending on how one interacts with it? So that each time you interact with it (like a game), your outcome is slightly different and you feel challenged each time.

IF you just want a linear course, why not just use a video or a podcast?

Live Training

Five days of live training - and then you realise why an e-learning done in the way e-learnings are traditionally done just doesnt cut it.

No, it is not about interaction, engagement and all that - while that exists. It is also not about jazzy content. It is not about making people do unintellectual activities in the name of engaging the audience.

And all these 5 days, there were none of those irritating energizers, no bullshit.

So what makes a great live training? These are my observations:

Dont get me a trainer - get me a person who has been there done that, or done research into what she has come to talk to me about. So, I get real answers, not hypothetical.

Build on my knowledge - you may be an expert trainer, but do not underestimate what I bring to the table. Get groups to work, bring out collective knowledge. Use what I know and build on it.

Show me something I have not seen despite all that I know - you may be an expert, but you still need to make me think and make me do and then show me an outcome. Let me come up with an insight.


Give- give your assets, give them something to work on , give them something to carry back (not useless workbooks though), give them something to mull over.

Technology does not matter - Jazzy presentations do not matter. What matters is just value addition. I got back thinking, yes, I learnt something here.

Elicit learning - make them think, ask questions, probe, prod, push and let them get the answers...

Come with more than your slides - meaning, if all you know is in those slides, it is a disaster. Your slides are a small sliver of your knowledge - feel free to use it when those unprecedented questions hit you.

In summary, Great Knowledge and great facilitation - it is not so much about facilitation or about knowledge, but a real interaction of both. One without the other is useless.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A map of strategy concepts


Got the above image from here.

It was explained to me at a session, but I googled to see if there was an actual map that depicted all the strategy concepts.

I have nothing more to add on this, but the thought process intrigued me!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Mintzberg triangle

At a recent training, someone spoke about the Mintzberg triangle. I located it here. Image from that page reproduced here.

The page linked above has a better explanation of diagram above, but what intrigued me was that the triangle exists for practically anything.

The facilitator referred to this in the context of facilitation. Of how facilitation has science, craft and art to it.

That is so true,  I thought. Worth a thought!

Need to read of Mintzberg though...

Accents and all that

Sitting in a room filled with as many English accents as people. I could not help but wonder about how some people are obsessed with getting rid of Mother Tongue Influence in India.

Call me an ignoramus, but I think this focus on so called mother tongue influence is all wrong.

Nobody, no f8ing body wants to hear your goddamn accent you perfected somewhere. They are here to hear your skill, what you bring to the table, what is your role in solving the problem they have.

Whether you speak with a mother tongue influence or not has no bearing whatsover in the process. Whether you solve a problem has a major bearing in the process.

Imagine a situation where the person speaks perfect English but ruins your work. Hope that helps.

Almost anybody focussed on this mother tongue influence bullshit is getting it wrong. What is need is more skills not more language.

(There are exceptions, like call centres who want to pretend that they are located in Louisiana while being located in Ludhiana or if you are giving a voice over to a foreign audience and suchlike, but otherwise, well...)

The language is about putting lipstick on a pig. The question really is, is that a pig you want or something else?

End of rant. Earlier rant, here.

On Relationship

Build relationships, network they tell you. (Business context all through)

If  you have a great relationship you can absorb a lot of shocks.

Sounds good, but it sounds a bit like the event manager who thinks he can get away with crappy work because he knows the guy who controls the purse strings. While this is true and people did work like this once upon a time, it is a process that is not sustainable.

Here comes the training guy asking the same questions again and again. Here comes the training guy asking for a meeting again. You see where this is going.

Relationships are a by-product.

Read that again. Relationship is not a hi-bye relationship, but something that is a result of visceral engagement and solving a business problem. If you solved a business problem, you have a relationship.

It is like buying a product. Each time you bought the product, the product delivered. You wont buy a product that does not deliver.

Ditto for relationships.

Focus on work, relationships will follow.

I dont do relationship management, I often say, I work. If I am not having a relationship with someone, it just means, we are not doing any work for them as a team.

Just got off a conversation where a sales guy taught me how his industry was changing - and couldnt help relate to this story from my own experience.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lego Serious Play Method

So, after a long wait and mail exchanges, I finally had a chance to attend and get certified in the Lego Serious Play Method. With an expert facilitator like Per Kristiansen and a set of diverse set of participants, the session was a lively one.

And that makes yours truly one of the few certified trainers (in India) in the said methodology.

It was something I had wanted to do for a long time, partly because I am a great fan of Lego bricks and partly because of the success of other design based interventions.

The session and the methodology did not disappoint and it was fascinating to see Per at work as a facilitator.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What is creativity?

What is creativity? I have attempted to answer this question a few times here and many times in my own mind.

There is no real confusion in the minds of those who do it. But for the outside world, there is often a confusion between aesthetic creativity and problem solving creativity.

Most people only recognize the former as creativity while missing the latter. So, if you ask people, the common answers that you will get on creativity is about music, movies, filmstars and such like. And often creativity is also confused with being 'fashionable' or 'wearing the right clothes' or 'I am different'  and this is creative, no doubt - because even being different is creative, but it may not result in any direct contribution to anything.

So, if you are called in as a 'creative' expert to beautify/colour/spruce up some junk that someone else made, then believe me, you are being aesthetically creative (most likely) or perhaps helping a lazy person survive in the organization, but not really adding value. In other words, you are in the business of constructing decorations as Edward Tufte says. (Honourable exceptions, graphic designers with a knowledge and expertise and people in similar professions.)

Enough rant. So, what is my definition of creativity?

Can the above set of people, create those presentations they are called into spruce up? And if they can, why are they not called into create them? (therein lies part of the answer). Therefore, this kind of creativity is superficial creativity (caveat: it is likely that such people can be genuinely creative). Refuse this kind of work each time it comes to you and ask yourself what is the knowledge you can equip yourself with in order to get there.

But real creativity cannot come with deep knowledge. Without knowledge, you will be employed only for superficial creativity. With knowledge you will be employed to solve real problems.

Creativity then, is your ability to have a deep knowledge of any (or many) fields - and yet being able to step out of the imposed boundaries of those rules and think differently and solve a problem.
If you can, with a deep knowledge of music, create a different music? Think AR Rehman.
If you can, with a deep knowledge of surgery, create a different approach? Think Aravind.

Therefore, If you can, with a deep knowledge of <substitute your field of expertise> solve something there, that is it, you are creative.

Without knowledge, there is no creativity. Perhaps there is, in children - who are being creative without really knowing anything.

If you can retain that healthy attitude of questioning of a child with the knowledge of an adult, you may be onto something.

Friday, October 3, 2014

One track or explorer?

When I was in MBA, one of the favourite lines we heard about job hopping MBAs justifying their job hopping was this "You have may 30 years experience, but it is actually 1 year experience multiplied 30 times".

While not exactly true (and it is a much longer topic to discuss), it is an important think while thinking about a long term career.

One way to make a career is to do one thing and get really good at it (and there is no escape from getting better at something if you want a good career).

Key questions if you are a one thing person is: Are you doing that one thing for fear of not exploring other things? And if you are in that one thing are you contemporary on all those things that you need to be upto date in those things? The world is changing rapidly - are you on top of them? Are you in touch with the latest developments? Do you experiment? Do you try out new things (both for yourself and for your team)? Or are you happily claustrophobic in your office? And what is your delta year on year? (Check that such a person is not a close minded person while you hire a person of this nature.)

The second way to make a career is to keep your eyes open. This is about exploring 'Adjacent Possibilities' (I think I read it somewhere in a different context - aha, found it). 

These adjacent possibilities chaps are different from the 'one track' people. They try different things. Fail in a few, work in a few, are not afraid to change direction, handle change - but they are constantly growing, learning and trying out new things. The one track guy may also be doing it, but the Adjacent possibility guys have to do it - it is an imperative. It is more likely that your adjacent possibility guy may be a better choice if you are looking at someone who is open minded, flexible, creative etc. (They may lack focus, but I hope your recruiting process takes care of that).

Evolving thought, so, pardon the lack of coherency!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Decoded Company

I picked this book from my boss - and the title of the book did not seem very inspiring. But the book was quite a page turner. The book is all about analytics in the company - mostly from an HR space, but clearly this is an emerging field. (Question for those in HR - how many people think this is a competency that they can readily take up - and this is in my mind, an outlying competency that will be very important in the near future.)

The book rests on the Question - What if you knew your talent better than your customers? And that is a great question, because very few companies approach this question in that manner today.

This coincides with a lecture I attended a few weeks ago on HR Analytics. This lecture blew my mind on my possibilities of analytics.

Coming back to Decoded company - it is a great book with a variety of examples on how to use analytics across the HR function - Staffing, Generalists, Development and others. It is loaded with examples on how companies have done it - though for someone to do it, it takes a fair stretch both in imagination, technology and attitude...

And like all books today, it has a website and some resources as well.

I think I have to read this book again!

Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull

I picked up Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull quite on an impulse. The blurb seemed interesting. It was all about a practitioner who has managed creative teams across Pixar and Disney and how! From the time I have picked up the book, it has not disappointed  - on any count. Pixar is all about stories and Ed has many stories to share through the journey – which made it an interesting read.

But more than that, this book is a must read for anyone who manages creative teams (you may not manage a creative team at the level of a Pixar, but hell, all teams are creative in their own ways). I would rate it as a must read for anyone who manages teams. The lessons will work anywhere – at many a point, I found a reaffirmation of some of the things I have believed in and found that extremely gratifying.

“The way I see it, my job as a manager is to create a fertile environment, keep it healthy and watch for the things that undermine it (ruthlessly eliminate them as well). I believe , to my core, that everybody has the potential to be creative-whatever form that creativity takes-and that to encourage such development is a noble thing. More interesting to me though, are the blocks that get in the way, often without us noticing and hinder the creativity that resides within any thriving company” (bolded notes in brackets mine)

This para blew me away – because this is a belief that I like to think I carry – and everything Ed says after that are extremely thoughtful, almost like learning from a ‘guru’ who has been there, done that.

Great insights.  

"If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team,they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better…Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the idea right!” I have seen this happen so many times.

“Be patient. Be authentic. And be consistent. The trust will come". There is no point hurrying trust – it takes time.

Another thing that comes out – but it is not very obvious – to people, especially about creativity. We often associate creativity with dilettantes – but that in all likelihood is either a fallacy or an excuse. Pixar is a creative shop – but there is a deep technical, domain expertise that is used to harness that creativity in the form of stories and present it to people. Creativity is not about putting colors and pictures – it is all about deep domain and technical expertise – and there can be no creativity without a deep knowledge of the subject that you are working on. That means, being able to balance – on the one hand, a body of existing knowledge – and on the other, having the capability to question and reinterpret that body of knowledge in a different way – this is an acquired skill- and never an accident. Therefore, continuous learning is an integral part of creativity.

For me, as someone who gets to manage creative teams and people in my own small way, the book has many takeaways – and I think it is one of the best books ever written by any business leader…

Career Lessons

Some learnings from my career... (an edited version of what I sent to my team)

Two things about trust. Trust is built by solving problems - especially unstated. Find a problem, and a solution and take it to your stakeholders – that builds relationships better than meetings and order taking ever can. And second, trust is reciprocal, always – and that is the only way to build it. Assume Goodwill – trust pays.

Two ways to work – one is to do what one is asked and the second is to go out there and take ownership and deliver. I am a big fan of the second model – and that comes with a risk of putting ourselves out there committing that we will deliver.

Value added work is never given – it is always taken. Value added work has a benefit – it gets you a chance to do more great work. Likewise for other categories.

Don’t befriend TINA. TINA stands for There Is No Alternative – and is the first line of defence to continue entrenched practices.  Always believe that an alternate way is possible especially when you see constraints  - it is also a good belief system to have in life as well – there is always an alternative.

Go put your strengths to work – yours, your teams and everyone has some strength that can be used. A collective force of individual strengths as a team is a far better way to go out there than using papered over weaknesses to appear uniform.

Walls and boundaries are for kingdoms and countries – not in teams. Break every wall you encounter.

While listening is a great skill to have – it is equally important to have a voice on every table – after all that is the reason you have a seat on the table. If seats do not get converted into voices – the seat is wasted. And if you have a seat but no voice, best to give up that seat.

Know your lines and draw them. If you don’t, you will find yourself framed in someone else’s drawing – and that is never a great place to be. Likewise for shoes. Never fill in someone elses shoes. Find your shoes and walk in them.

Never be afraid to ask – because if you never ask, the answer is always no – which is my second favourite line of all time.

And that brings me to the line I live by – which is – you never know until you try…

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The best example of an an elevator pitch

Just the other day, we were discussing about elevator pitches. And in one such session, the trainer told the audience (both of whom shall go unnamed) - that the idea of the elevator pitch is to concisely project the idea to the person you are pitching it to - in the time that it takes to get to the floor.

While this is true, it misses the point. So what, if you concisely projected the idea? What is the expected outcome?

The outcome in my view, is to evince interest in the person you pitched it to, so she tells you, "Set up time with me to go through this" - that is the measure of the success of the pitch. After all isn't that why it is called a pitch.

The best example of this is a trailer of a movie -that is designed to woo audiences in those 3 or 4 minutes. In those fast cut motion sequences - there is a dash of what all the movie promises to bring. If it is humour, music, action or a little bit of all of them - the trailer gets you a concise pitch so that - so that you turn up to watch the damn movie.

(Yes, no better example than that right?)


Saturday, September 13, 2014

The power of emotion


This is a very well known video. With Ed Catmulls book, Creativity Inc. being read, we ended up googling for some Pixar short films and ended up finding this video.

I shared this with the little one - the story is tragic to say the least, but for a small child, the full import of it does not hit home (and that is good for now). But something amazing happened. As we watched the video, the little one said, Appa, this is a very sad video - and all because of what happens at 2.20 in the video. At that point, the Kiwi sheds a tear - just a single tear and that is enough to connect the audience with all the emotion being conveyed.

For the rest of us - grown up, the whole story is poignant - but even if you do not understand everything - just that one moment establishes the connect.

That is the power of emotion!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Building a successful ecosystem

I have started reading this book, Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull the head of Pixar. And I have barely reached a few pages into it and it has already made for some great reading.

The question Ed attempts to answer is 'how to sustain a creative high performing culture' - so it is actually a practitioners perspective.So, far the book has made for some fascinating reading. It speaks of the managers role in maintaining an open culture and mulls over it and this is what I hope to get some more insight into.

I will write a longer post when done, but what is fascinating in the story of all the people in that era. Whether it is Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and many others - the role that their university and industry ecosystem played was simply amazing. Person after person talks of how that ecosystem fosters collaboration, deep dive research, experimentation and the hunger to do more.How does one create an ecosystem in ones own team - is it possible? What about the overweening culture of the company - is it fostering creativity or hierarchy? How does one do it in a city?  In Bangalore? How to create a culture of research? Of pushing boundaries? Does it start in industry or in colleges? (Because our colleges are hardly known for doing so, right?) What constitutes an ecosystem? Does it start on its own or does it need a catalyst(s)?

Much food for thought!

A competency model question

Consider the game of cricket. In the 70s if you looked at our cricket stalwarts - lets say a Sunil Gavaskar and built a competency model based on Gavaskar  - there is no way a Virendra Sehwag would make the cut or a Jonty Rhodes or perhaps even a Krish Srikkanth.  Most likely a Sachin Tendulkar would also fall by the wayside.

Ditto for almost any other sport or discipline.

So, what gives? For one, the sport has moved. From test cricket in the 70s to one day cricket in the 80s to faster pace of cricket in the 90s to the shorter format therafter. Suddenly with the entry of Jonty Rhodes, fielding (direct hits) became a competency that was hitherto ignored. With the arrival of Jayasuriya, pinch hitting became a competency.

Second, it ignores what an individual brings to the role. And herein is the bigger issue.

Two persons can succeed in a role in a very different way. And that is their strength. A look at competency is a bit of reinforcement of confirmation bias - and an existing competency map is perhaps no way of predicting future movement - because that depends on the industry movement also.

Take HR for instance. HR used to be an engagement driven department with everybody there who had nothing to do with numbers and data. But Analytics is catching up, but it is barely registered as a competency these days. How will an existing competency model capture this movement?

Interesting question!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

You want real change? Get involved

Recently, we had to design a change management program for a set of people. Now, for most change management programs there are two objectives. One is the actual change - the change needed - the cultural change and the effectiveness of it and so on. But, there is a second unstated objective - signalling. Telling the powers that be that 'I am working on it', 'creating noise' and 'some event management'. All too often, the second objective overtakes the first.

With the result that there is a lot of short term happiness of something being rolled out, the sound of boxes being ticked, but without an eye on the real (actual) change that is expected as an outcome. Usually, the shortest path to get there is to get a training consultant - usually a marquee consultant with a big name. Now, nothing wrong with this - but the risk of doing this is to kind of place your second objective before the first. On the other hand, it is smarter to get an organizational consultant who will work with you over time - with a neutral perspective - and yet work with you to achieve the change - by understanding the culture and the need for change and driving it.

Alongwith this, if you want real change and you want the first objective to be met - it is very important for your senior leaders to be part of it. And when I say part of it, viscerally part of it. (In the previous example that I had mentioned the senior leaders led teams from the front - part of every single meeting and stood up on stage to make core technical presentations.)

I also remember two great leadership engagements where the leadership team spent two days with the team on a very 'different' assignment - the immersion that you get out of such a program can be never be got by a vendor driven program.

The moral of the story being - if you want real change, it is important that you are neck deep in the process. Roll up your sleeves and be a part of it - whethere at design or at implementation or at follow up. The commitment from the leaders drives change better than any slogan or campaign. Simply, this cannot be outsourced!

A small tweak

A few weeks ago, we had to work on a leadership meeting - which was essentially a series of technical presentations. And the problem at hand was to 'design' it. It is a senior audience, so there was no point over-engineering it (and that applies even if it is a junior audience) - though over-engineering is often a temptation one succumbs to.

But some design element had to be used - and thats when we got an idea of using a scoring system for each presentation. This scoring system was designed with certain constraints so that the most common problem in scoring systems (socialistic distribution) is eliminated. We also provided another constraint as a team to team scoring rather than an individual to team scoring. All of which was a method of peer to peer evaluation.

This one small change, completely changed the behaviour of the groups. Suddenly, there was competition, motivation, energy and the groups competed with each other to put their best foot forward. We also ensured that the top leaders owned each presentation - so with the scoring system - it was as if their reputations were on the line.

For me, it was a learning about how a small design tweak can so completely change the experience.

Invisible conversations

It is extremely difficult to do a presentation these days. Because there are two conversations in the room. One, the visible conversation where the person is talking, sharing views and so on and so forth. The second - which is the invisible conversations is the messages and the whatsapp flying across the room (and perhaps even outside the room).

Some conferences have made this into a fine art by allowing twitter feeds and hashtags - but not every meeting is amenable to being shared publicly.

These invisible conversations set the pace across the room. If an 'influencer' finds the talk boring or painful - the sentiment is transmitted across the room in a nanosecond. (And again, it is not the influencer - but the fact that the sentiments shared across the room are affirmed and confirmed so quickly that if your talk is a bore, it sinks faster than a stone that cannot swim.)

Cracking this is difficult. What does one do from a design standpoint? Well, simply put, harness it. Which means, double the engagement - digital and real. How does one that do that? There are many ways - is all I would say right now.

The 'second screen' as they say is a reality at all points in life - not just in front of the TV.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Stated and Unstated

Years ago, practically on the first day of my career - I was given some advice. "Today, our hiring process guarantees that almost anybody we hire can do what they are told to do. But, what differentiates the high performer is the ability to do what they are not told to do"

Simple profound words.

A few weeks back interacting with a set of first time supervisors - this became the focal point of discussion. The first time you manage work - the entire expectation moves from stated to unstated needs - cracking this is perhaps the biggest learning for a newly promoted manager.

To go back to a Charles Handy terminology of Type A and Type B errors - Type A are direct mistakes and Type B are opportunities lost - this is also like that. Doing what one is told to do - and then finding out other things to do that are not directly in your 'stated' line of responsibility.

This is the one thing that makes a big difference in my view...

Evolving through!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

On Learning technique

Over the past few months, we have been trying out some learning techniques. One of these is 'eliciting' learnings from the audience.

Earlier, the courses we created (and I refer to Instructor Led sessions) were 'fact heavy' where the instructor taught on dos and donts, tips, rules and a lot of other gyan. Pure gyan based sessions are one way downloads and the people go back sleepwalking.

Over time we tried to change it into a mode where the learning happens based on peer interaction, eliciting learning using various activities or other modes of learning.Pure elicting sessions tend to give the impression to the audience that the facilitator did not add value.

So what we realised that there needs to be a balance between the two. People tend to not like something that is heavily laden on the former nor on the latter. What is that balance - I dont know, but there is some balance here that I think will get to a point where the audience goes back happy. And those are thoughts for another day - on how to get there - as we get a grip on the problem.

Activities - if you use the same activities again and again - the learning is lost - so any activity that is embedded has to be unique and fairly non-repeatable and even contextual if possible. But that is hard work for the trainer - which is why people tend to fall back on the same insipid activities for everything. 

Takeaways dont work - definitely not hard cards are filed away so deep that nobody can reach them in reality leave alone from memory. 

But what can the learner carry as a both a physical and a mental takeaway from the session? And how to make it stick? We think there is an answer in there somewhere...

Grand plans

Grand plans need time. Grand plans cannot be done in a jiffy. Especially something that involves technical development, device compatibility, digital experience. Perhaps they can be done in some place - where funds are not a constraint neither is effort or if all talent is internal, but if you have to go to a vendor and get something done, it takes a long long time before it can see light of day.

We realised this the hard way while 'designing' for an event - jazzy, grand plans come to nought when they meet time, budget and of course, bureaucracy.

But deliver we had to - so we delivered an interactive experience using mechanical interactivity - instead of digital interactivity. Well, that is a term we coined ourselves - but we were pleased with the output in the end. Cheaper than technology, faster and yes, fun too.

We were called in with a purpose - to provide a 'different' experience and we delivered...And this is a concept worth exploring - a mechanical arcade. Our end results were not quite like it - thanks to the demons of time and budget, but well...

Devils advocate

A few weeks ago, in some context, I heard in a meeting - Let me play devils advocate here. And I was reminded of Seth Godins post - where he says, The devil doesn't need an advocate. The brave need supporters, not critics.

Truth is, the self proclaimed devils advocates, never created anything - not a single creation in the world has come about due to a devils advocate - it has happened due to someone advocating a forward movement, not a block (like a devils advocate does).

It is easy to be a devils advocate - it is difficult to stand up and try something different. Or support those who are. Why is that so?

Possibly, because since the industrial age, there is this committee - managers, supervisors that sits on top of things, reviews things, asks questions, pushes things back but rarely contributes anything. Governments (especially the kind of hand me down governments that colonies like India got) are of the same type. Obstructionist, rarely contributing. And somehow, some managers are continuing their god given responsibility of being gatekeepers.

The belief that ideas are top down and that the lower level folks know nothing has to go...

In theatre there is an exercise in which one is supposed to say, Yes, and and not Yes but. try that next time, all those who think they are doing a great job of being a devils advocate...

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Its not about you, but the user

The new Apple ad exemplifies this.






Nowhere does it talk about the RAM or the OS or the Gorilla glass - it talks instead of the user. The person with the iPhone and what you as user can do with it. It is not about the greatness of the phone, but the power that the user has with the phone. It sounds obvious, but most often people talk about products and their greatness and not so much about about what a user can do with it.

And linking this back to work - do you talk about your projects and programs or do you tell the user how it makes them powerful.

Putting the user in the centre, as it were..

Saturday, August 2, 2014

10,000 start ups

At the recent NASSCOM HR Conference in Chennai, like any other conference, there were panels and discussions and speakers and events.

On one side however, there were a few start ups who had set up small kiosks to showcase the work they have done.

The energy of these guys was amazing. New ideas. Using technology to solve 'unstated' needs. Most of the ideas were truly innovative - if not the idea itself, the approach surely was.


As companies, I think one great way to take businesses forward is to engage with start ups on a proactive basis. Companies routinely spend money on a lot of things - some of it would be well spent if they engaged with start ups on piloting an idea. Works for the company and for the start up as well - and for the ecosystem as a whole. And there is a lot of give and take on the same.

And guess what, just yesterday Vishal Sikka of Infosys is talking along the same lines...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The app life cycle

Caution: Amateur post

Recently, we started playing 'Threes'. And while Clash of Clans was a favourite, interest on it is waning - though it is still in demand. Subway Surfers has long since been forgotten. For a short while Tiny Troopers ruled the roost. Some of the drawing and sketching apps are still in demand - but they are not addictive. And yes, for a while, we did play Dragon box.

First phase, you heard about the app and there is immense curiosity. You want to know the mechanics and you want to get the better of it. This is also the learning phase. With most good apps, this would last a few minutes. If it is boring or 'not good enough' most likely, the interest level drops here itself. Flappy bird did not cross this phase - it was too difficult.

If the interest level is good, one continues. Next phase, is to work through the challenges of the app. Here the experience of the app begins. As you cross the first few levels, life is good and one begins to enjoy the challenges. Push cars and a couple of programming apps kept us hooked through this phase. As did a few initial levels of Cut the rope and Angry birds. This is the most engaging phase perhaps.

At the next level is the plateau and some inflexion points. This is tough. Each level one reaches a plateau - either it takes too much time or it is way too complex and one has to cross those inflexion points. Clash of clans crossed quite a few of them. Dragon box crossed almost all of them. But in many other games, it is just too long - like Tiny Troopers.

Most apps give up here and then are consigned to the unused apps bin and from there they get deleted.

The non-addictive apps - like the sketching apps and the photo apps - which are more about the users skills still continue because here the level is in the users mind.

Now to check my amateur theory with some real data!

How not to learn 'computers'


This is a snapshot from the little ones text book on 'Computers'.  Now, computers does not mean that they learn programming. They are learning, of all things, MS Word. And they are learning the theory of MS Word (if there ever can be such a thing) and then working on some lab exercises. 

Now, my take on this is that, it is practically useless. There are concepts one needs to know - and these concepts like indenting text and column breaks are supposed to be learnt when it is to be used. I really do not see the point making children learn by rote such concepts like indenting and then trying to explain it in theory. MS Word will be used by these kids in a few years from now, when they create project documents or something like that. And at that point, they will learn it. There is no dying need for children in class 4 to learn MS Word. Sure, they can play around with computers - and playing around DOES NOT mean Excel and Powerpoint (isnt that what people do in workplaces). 

If there is something to be taught, it is perhaps about a simple programming language, like Scratch that makes programming fun. The way they learn 'computers' today they will most likely grow around to hate it. 

Most likely, this is a 'sponsored program' - a software company must have sponsored it -maybe software, maybe labs - is one possibility. 
Second, the kind of money teachers are paid, it is tough for any school to get any decent programmer to teach its kids - so they go for a check in the box approach and teach MS Word and people think their children are learning something useful.
Third, limited lab time. Schools have a few machines on which each student spends perhaps half an hour a week on the lab - which is but about enough time to copy paste junk from one page to another. 
Fourth, some idiot who decided the syllabus knows MS Word and MS Excel and decided to make it a part of the curriculum.

All in all, garbage in garbage out. 

Now, the same kid with some enthusiastic parents at home will learn so much more - through programming apps, by playing around and then goes to school and learns to describe 'indenting'. This is beyond irony. It is learning to fly a kite - without ever getting close to trying and learning. 

Whatever happened to learning by doing?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Range of thoughts

What is the motivation for someone to play a game?
How to create a cool new game that everybody wants to play?
How to create stickiness for an event?
How to build a bridge so that the audience in an event takes away something meaningful?
How to change a team culture?
Why does an organization need vendor co-ordinators? [Alert: Coordination is not a skill!]
How to create a course that delivers what it promises!

Hoping to find creative solutions to every one of these questions and many other questions!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Gamification ahoy

Gamification is the new Social Media. Which in turn was the new Web2.0. Which in turn was the new Black.  Everybody wants to be Apple - but well, you cannot.

Thus it is that everybody wants a piece of the latest buzzword. So, today it is gamification.

Now gamification is not about overlaying badges and trophies on an elearning. It is clearly much more than that. But more often than not, this fake gamification is used an excuse to beautify otherwise pathetic content.

Gamification has to be inbuilt into the experience, it is not a separate piece that stands out like a bad comedy track in the movies. And real gamification is hard work - it means looking at the content and literally constructing a game out of it - that means competition, levels, hidden alleys, wild cards and a tough algorithm - among other things. And by the way, some randomness and unpredictability as well.

Read the wiki page and find out if your 'gamifying' idea can hold its own against the many mentioned there!

Just by awarding a  few trophies and putting up a few badges does not get you anywhere. It gives a bad name to gamification and worse, the next time you do a real gamifying experience, you have lost the audience before you even start.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Subjective versus Objective

Years ago, I was at a training class. This training was on martial arts. There was one person who taught us a bunch of things each class and then moved on to a different set of things each class and thus it went. Class after class, we were taught a set of things - seemingly connected - but for us, it did not make sense. We learnt technique after technique and promptly forgot technique after technique - because there was nothing to keep those techniques internlinked - no framework - nothing. No way to recap. Nothing to take away. No multiple repetition. No structure.

And then I had the opportunity to be coached by a different person. Now this person was an expert -  actually there were two of them. They taught from the start. Basics. Repeat. Steps. And then week by week they increased the complexity till we got one step right.  And as we progressed, we also learnt techniques.

Which one do you think is more amenable to be learnt by students? The latter, quite obviously. A process or a structure allows students to assimilate learning rather than throwing things at students and hoping that they learn.

A similar approach often happens in organizations. Subjective processes can be only with experience - which is all very fine, but if you expect it to be scalable, then the process has to be objective. A lot of times, people keep things subjective because in a way, it protects them. When  you go with frameworks scale follows. So, if you want scale, build frameworks.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Leapfrogging

Leapfrogging is a technology concept, where countries (typically) skip a development mode of an developed country and directly reach the next level.

So, if one takes the case of India - India never really achieved landline connectivity in phones and leapfrogged into the mobile phone age - and achieved far greater connectivity and much faster. Most likely, the power revolution will go the same way - we may achieve far greater green power reach without the intermediate step of dirty power.

Extend that to the personal world. Sometimes, refusing to upgrade to a new technology immediately, assures one of a technological leapfrog later. For example, if one had skipped purchasing a high end DVD player - the door is open to invest in a streaming device - which is what the world is moving to. Waiting a little longer for a new technology to emerge may result in some benefits later on.

Organizations typically invest in a big ticket technology or system and then are saddled with it for a while. Is there an optimal solution there? Perhaps not. 

Filed under useless posts, I suppose!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Making users do remarkable things...

The little one was talking with passion about the Lego bricks that he has. He has a ton of them - and enjoys playing with them. The things he makes cannot be imagined by anyone - like it is for any other child. Every child goes into his or her own world when they play with these blocks. No other toy ever has sustained his (or any other childs) enthusiasm for such a long time. Lego knows - after all it has been in business for nearly a hundred years. There are new toys, fads, gimmicks, extensions, but Lego rules the roost.

Yes, Lego is a consummate marketeer - they create new bricks, new themes, new ideas and they are as consumerist as they come - after all, kids WANT Lego. And Lego is a premium brand. But think about it, what makes them tick?

For one, it is a premium brand - their products do not fail. They deliver what they promise - often much more than that. So, customer delight is almost a given.

Second, their customer service is exemplary and I have experienced it myself - it is clearly not hearsay.

But beyond all this, the biggest thing that Lego does is about 'what it makes the user do'. Lego is very little about itself - the power that it gives the user is what it gives it so much credence. It is all about letting the user fly in his or her imagination. The worlds that children get into with Lego is amazing. It is all about giving power to your users.

Now think about this from a Learning and Development perspective. Do your trainings and offerings and educational things  - put power in the hands of the user or are they designed to put the user in their place? Think about putting power in the hands of the user and your entire perspective changes. Of course, a traditional HR person would not want to empower people - because of the nature of control  - but these days, nobody wants gatekeepers - they want enablers.

This is what Kathy Sierra had spoken about, many years back, and it has remained in my head ever since. It is all about making users remarkable...

Friday, June 13, 2014

When neurons fire

I recently had the good fortune to meet a number of people who are the pioneers in their fields. As part of this, I met someone who is working on some pioneering things in gamification. And maybe gamification is a buzzword today like social media was yesterday and web 2.0 was the day before, but meeting with this person was an absolutely inspiring meeting.

I call these meetings, neuron firing meetings. You come away with the neurons in the brain firing on full capacity.

What happens?
One, they discover a common passion
Two, the passion for a particular idea is passed on from one person to another.
Three, one person says one thing, the other builds on it and like building blocks, they keep building on and on until something emerges.
Four, the conversation moves forward, relentlessly.
Five, there are no barriers in sharing - like this is my idea I cannot share it and so on.
Six, contrary to the above, there is a lot of sharing of ideas, potential and 'change the world' topics.

At the end, one comes out all neurons firing and a whole world of possibility opens up. How often has this happened to you?



Tesla gives away patents



Tesla, the electric car company is planning to make its patents open source. This is a counter intuitive move. On the one hand there are big firms that spend tons of money maintaining a troop of lawyers who fight patent infringement and scientists who are, really patent trolls, but spend time creating layers of patents so that nobody can use anything. Sure, both sides are justified in their own way and they may have legitimate reasons for doing so, but from a learning standpoint, the latter course of thought appeals to me.

 A few years ago while heading a learning team, I had told the team to give away their content. This simple proposal was met with a howl of protest.
How could we give it up, they argued.
We have spent hours doing this work, they said, indignantly.
If we give away our content, what will become of us, they asked, ever more insecure.

And I was able to convince the team that they need to do exactly that. Give up their content. They finally, reluctantly, agreed.

And guess what, some of their best work came after they gave up on all the old content, created new content of different types, innovated and took their team a few levels up.

Giving stuff away makes one do more, much much more. Now, I know comparing patents from a high tech company to creating learning courses is not the same thing, but if innovation is your forte and you continue to innovate and do great work, giving away stuff is a great idea.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

When disruption happens

Some days ago I attended a technology presentation. On Learning and Development. The vendors (like many others) have a grand (working) platform of technology enabled learning. And with the season being one of analytics and data – they offer a bouquet of data and analytics as well – more than what you know you can do with it.

As technology becomes more and more prevalent, traditional trainings are taking a back seat. There are e-learnings, e-assessments, MOOCs and e-everything. Traditional trainers have a reason to run scared. And this is true across the spectrum – any type of training.

But very often, the first state is one of denial. "This wont affect us". But the fact is that it will.

Whenever a technology reduces cost, improves scalability and provides consistency to anything – any industry – the industry will face a shake up.

When mass manufacturing came by, this happened and the hand crafted industry went through a dip.
Automatic watches wiped out the HMTs of the industry.
When cinema happened, theatre faced the same issue. Ironically, video made the same threat to cinema.
When e-learnings happened, training faced the same threat. And now MOOCs threaten universities.
When IRCTC happened, training clerks were thrown out by Indian Railways. (No, you can pause your breath on this one for now)

You can take any example and the answer is the same.

Denial was the first recourse for all these industries. But denial wont help.

Because this will shake up the industry. Like all the earlier disruptors did in their respective areas. The laggards will be wiped out. And then, like with all disruptions, those who reinvent themselves will prosper significantly.  So, the question is, how does training prosper? Ah, I wont say it that easily, will I?  

All I can say that there is a significant set of people and training organizations who really need to do better. Deliver better trainings. With passion. Explore. Push the boundaries. Ensure knowledge. Consistency. Recognize that the learning process is a constant and that as trainers they need to learn as well and stay on top of the game. Dive deep. And not stay in mediocre platitudes. Every single time. With every single customer. Open new markets. Open new customers.

And it is not just vendors who face the threat. And this is true even if you are in a training department in an organization. Your job is not safe anymore – especially if you think you can exist as a pen pusher to execute vendor solutions. Imagine an Amazon like marketplace where all vendors are listed, with ratings from peers and all vendors a click away. Ah, that whoosh was the sound of the pink slip. Yes, the same- exact same thing above is needed for a training team as well – more passion, more understanding, more value.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Tough questions

Why is only a water melon a water melon?
What is an orange not a water orange? It also has the same amount of juice. Or sweet lime. Or Lemon. Or passion fruit. Or pineapple.
Why is a coconut not a water coconut - it has real water inside.

I don't know. I give up.

On Leadership

Yesterday, a historic election result happened in India. For the first time, a non-Congress party, the BJP got a majority by itself. This is unprecedented, even unexpected. But the last 10 years Congress has provided insipid, corruption ridden, uninspiring leadership that has led India slip in all possible indices. On the contrary, the incumbent, Narendra Modi has turned his state over his 14 year rule into a powerhouse.

The leadership styles could not be contrary. I will not delve into the political nuances of it - since this is a blog on learning.

What is leadership? Some lessons for people in the corporate ladder and worklife and perhaps in life as well - since leadership lessons largely tend to be the same everywhere.

Leadership is being visible, being active, right at the front. Back seat drivers exist only in cars, not in leadership. It means, facing questions, talking, communicating.The Prime Ministers victory speeches exemplify this and his style of functioning so far - which is unlikely to change.

Leadership is staying in control - this is not about control like in control freak - but leadership is about not losing control. Staying on top of every situation.Not shrugging shoulders and claiming 'hun kee karan' like a victim. The bomb blasts at Patna during his rally and how he held is calm.
 
Leadership is about taking decisions. That often means, that some people may find some decisions unpleasant. But leadership is not about making everybody feel good. This quest of being good to everybody usually ends in disastrous leadership. You will be seen as a vacillating, indecisive and procrastinating. Modi had to move many old entrenched leaders as part of this campaign.

Leadership means, always, always, always doing the right thing - not what is easy or expedient. The latter is usually easiest when one is following the 'I want to be good to everybody' path. And that path is a myth. It does not exist. Doing the right thing takes guts. It means tough messages have to be given. And the best part of doing the right thing is that your team sees you as meaning well for the team. Do something expedient and there is a marginal short term gain, but a massive long term loss. This is well known - on many things, Modi has continued to do the right thing - without ever taking the easier path.

Leadership means showing faith in people. Letting the next level do what they are assigned to do. And if need be, following their instinct. The way Amit Shah ran his campaign in UP - he had a free hand - and the dissenters went whining to him - they were asked to shape up or ship out.

Leadership is all about connect. Many of his twitter followers got a personalised message for working with him. Yes, it was perhaps sent by a automated software, but well, he cared to send that. 

There is much more to be said and perhaps I will, as we see our Prime Minister start working through the many things that will come his way. But this much I must say - for the first time, we have an inspirational political figure in India, in our lifetime.

Yes, not everyone can be a leader - see our outgoing leadership. These are the people who are on vacations when asked to take difficult calls, do the easy things because the right things are difficult, spout spiritual quotes and do the exact opposite. Believe me, the nation can see it - and if the nation can see it, so can your teams.