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!