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Sunday, 29 October 2017

When you experience the Sai Moment, it will transform you....

As we walked towards Entrance Gate 3 of the Shirdi Sai Baba temple, a person walked to us and said that he will get us a VIP (Very Important Person) Darshan without the crowds. Of course, this was for a fee. We just walked past him as though we had not heard him and walked in to the temple. This was exactly what Sai Baba had talked against in the 19th Century. He didn't want any such difference based on economic criteria or for that matter any such criteria. These touts and many of us have forgotten the very tenets that Sai stood for and now make a living out of the temple in ways that leave a lot to be desired.

As he helped the elderly lady up the staircase, I saw the Sai in him. Another one bought tea for those who could not afford it. So many others donated blood at the temple's blood camp. Many others stood as volunteers helping and guiding pilgrims through the confusing temple campus. Still, so many others served water free to all those who needed it. There was a Sai in every one of them.

Many a time, we forget to see all these Sais in the temple and focus on those few touts who sell their souls to make a living. 

After the darshan, we headed back to the hotel. It was a really hot afternoon. We were tired and stopped for a cold mango milkshake. As we enjoyed the milkshake, an elderly lady walked up to us and asked for some money. One look at her and somehow I felt I had reached her soul. Not sure why this happened to me, but it did. She needed something cold too and she was very hungry. Yet, there was calm in the eyes and total peace in the face. I got her a milkshake. She lifted her frail hands, placed it on my head and blessed. She then pointed to her eyes and gestured to me that she saw me. I saw peace and calm in her despite the fact that she did not have food and was asking others for it. I saw Sai in her. I had experienced the Sai moment!!!

As we headed back to the hotel to get some rest before we left for Bangalore, I couldn't help but think of this experience. Sai had given me this amazing opportunity to be of service to this elderly lady. In turn, I got peace, calm and a feeling that I am unable to describe. The feeling brought up all kinds of emotions inside me. My wife had brought me to the temple as it was our 25th Wedding Anniversary and she said that it would be the best experience for both of us. Indeed, it was!!!

If we are lucky, each of us will have these moments...and these moments can be experienced right through our lives. The search is inside each of us and I am convinced. It is, for me, recognizing the fact that we are each given opportunities to pour our love and be of help to those who need it. If we choose to grab these opportunities and are grateful that we got these opportunities,  we become the chosen ones and will experience the Sai Moment.

Take this to the corporate world or in to our every day lives - as Leaders, we can seize these moments that come to us daily. I don't believe that we need to go searching for these Sai Moments. They present themselves to us in various types and forms. The true Leader recognizes these moments and is there to make a difference to her/his organization and the world around her/him. In turn, these Sai Moments transform the Leader in to a better human being...after all, Leadership is all about being human and not just about human beings.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Technology becomes the best pacifier...

As the two year old grew restless and cranky, I watched to see how his parents would respond. He had been throwing a tantrum for 5 minutes. They reacted more than responded. Out came the smart phone from the bag, was handed over and the child was all quiet in a matter of seconds, totally engrossed in the gadget. This is a true story….

As I walked out of the school’s auditorium, I could see my daughter with her friends. They had not met in months as my daughter had moved to a new school. They all missed each other. Two of them came over and gave such a tight hug to my daughter and one of them started crying. As they hugged each other, they drew comfort and everything settled in so quickly. This is the pacifier that I am used to - The human touch. Most of the times, no words are needed. There is no better pacifier in this world than the touch of the mother or father or a very good friend or relative.

I am still wondering how we got to a situation where we managed to get a gadget to become a pacifier instead of someone who we know and love. We are in a world of instant gratification. We have improved our standards of living and have reached a stage where we do not want to say “No” to our children – ever!!! So much so that we do not differentiate between a need or a want. Everything is satiated in minutes. The children don’t have to wait and over a period of time, they do not want to wait.

I do sincerely believe that we will be judged by history as a series of generations that did not know how to raise our children. This is also because we are so busy in our own lives – work, commute, visiting friends, some fun time, etc. that we do not have time for our children – so, we let technology take over and outsource bringing up our children with Schools, Day Care Centres, Nannies, Grand-parents….and, of course, Technology - the Television/Play Stations/Smart Phones set the rules.

I prefer my children playing football on the field and not on a smart phone or laptop. They need to fall, get hurt, fight with their friends, make up with them in no time, run around, sweat, roll in the sand, etc….if they do not do these, they grow up to be loners with a whole load of friends on Facebook or We Chat or the likes…I am sure you get the drift (no offence meant to Facebook or We Chat).

I have seen a significant increase in children in the age group of 2 to 6 with developmental delays – could be speech delay, unable to get along with other children, children lost in themselves, children not being able to concentrate or focus on anything for even 10 seconds, children not wanting to play…and the list goes on. I have also seen a significant increase in the number of parents who do not want their children to play out in the sand or under the sun, want soft flooring in play areas so that their children don’t get hurt if they fall, want sponge padded cricket bats and balls…here again, the list goes on.

I guess, we have forgotten the concept of Parenting because we have outsourced it. And for everything, of course, there is Google…I jokingly call such parents as Google Parents – they read up on Google, don’t want to take risks on trying something out with their child and then come back and blame the school when things get rough.

If you chose to become a parent, then, do what is good for your child – spend time with her/him. S/he needs that. If you cannot do this, you are not doing your role as a parent. Say “no” when you have to, draw the line, tell children their role in the family, get them to help you in household work, send them out to play with their friends, specify study time, give them time to themselves…If you believe, you cannot do all of this, then, you lose your right to be or become a parent!!!

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The arbitrage game is over....

All Indian companies have been playing the arbitrage game since the 1980s. These companies talk of going up the value chain, of having kicked the arbitrage game, etc. But, they are still steeped in it. Otherwise, why would they still hire in our colleges for ready-to-code experts? And in such large numbers….

The recent announcement by Infosys that it will be hiring 10,000 people in the US is being widely reported as a move to please President Trump and his administration. Whilst Infy says that it supports the idea of more American jobs, it also mentions the truth somewhere else. It talks of rapidly changing technology and the need to be closer to customers.

Technology has always been changing. There has always been a need to be closer to customers. There was always need for empathy. So, nothing new. What is new is that the change in technology is now more towards Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Digital, Analytics and Data Sciences. Machines are doing more of the work that humans were doing hitherto. This has resulted in significant skill set and business model changes. The education systems in Europe and US lend themselves to better meet the needs of the new age rather than the rote learning systems in India. The need now is more of Leaders…original thinkers…empathetic thinkers…design thinkers….and at scale. The need is more of people who are better at self-learning. Universities in US and Europe do not get students who are ready-to-use coders in languages like Java and C++. They prepare students who can learn and unlearn rapidly. That is the need of the hour.

However, Indian corporates cannot accept this bitter truth at this point in time. They have been too steeped in making money without realizing that the age of arbitrage has long passed over and new technologies need new skill sets. They have not pro-actively worked with Universities in India to demand a change in syllabus. We still teach what is relevant for the 1990s and the early 2000s. Our students are equipped for technologies of the past. It will take us years to catch up to build such skill sets at scale and in good quality. The US and European Universities are years ahead of us. However, demographics are not in favour of US and Europe. So, they will have to import talent from countries like India. Indians will now study in US and European Universities and get hired by the likes of Infosys in scale, not in India, but in various countries.

Indian corporates will be forced to hire in US and Europe. It is different that Rightist Governments in these geographies are pushing companies to hire locally. However, it suits Indian companies really well. Billings will be higher given changes in need for skill sets. So, Indian companies can afford to hire from across the world.

The question arises if Infosys can hire 10,000 in the US over the next 2 to 3 years. I am quite sure they can. There are thousands of computer engineers landing up in the US to study. They need to be hired and trained differently to make them useful to the new Digital Economy. Will it be a struggle? Absolutely yes. However, it can happen. Just imagine engineers from across the world learning at the Infosys Institute in Mysore…learning how to navigate this Digital World. And with teachers from across the world. That day is not far away and our corporates and schools have no choice but to change.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Brahma and Brahmos - The Leadership Deficit

We have only seen wars for centuries now. There have always been Kings (read Leaders) who have had unbridled ambitions - to conquer and win what is not theirs - be that land, be that other forms of wealth, be that women. Such Leaders - Alexander, Napoleon, Chandragupta, Asoka, Babur, Akbar, Robert Clive, etc have always been celebrated by us. These are people who caused the deaths of thousands of humans and yet we see them as great Leaders. Then the 2 World Wars and, more recently, the relentless wars across different parts of this world.

These leaders were then supplemented by unscrupulous business persons. From small traders to East India Company to now the Multinationals, humans have caused havoc on this planet and unleashed the worst kind of behaviour on themselves and other creatures.

Spiritual Leaders appeared but whatever they preached was turned in to "code", made in to religion and, today, this has become the biggest business opportunity in the world.  This world lacks genuine leaders - people who can just speak the truth, leaders who can help, leaders who can give, leaders who genuinely have concern for all fellow creatures - be that human or any other species.

There is a huge need for love, healing, tolerance, giving and a human race that is not driven by greed and such unbridled ambition. Bringing this to the corporate world, we really need leaders who are kind and compassionate. We have enough of them who believe they are right and will do everything or anything to meet the next quarter numbers/results.  We need leaders who are kind, not right. How can we make this happen? It needs a different set of Leaders to get the next generation of Leaders ready. We need a new Takshashila, a new Nalanda, a new Oxford, a new Harvard, a new MIT...new Institutions that inculcate values that are not what they are today. Values that help youngsters understand that true Leadership strength lies inside each of us and not outside. We need Leaders who are deeply spiritual, not driven by religion. For example, if each of us understand that half our lungs are in the tree outside, will we cut down that tree? If we understand that we need marine life to preserve the oceans, will be do such wanton hunting down of those creatures? That artificial fattening animals before they are slaughtered for meat in order to increase productivity is backfiring on all of us. We need Leaders who will bring to book corporates and other leaders who are driven by greed.

We are 7 billion on this earth now. We were around 1.6 billion in 1900. Have grown over 4 times in 117 years but the earth and its resources are the same. We have been resourceful and exploited the earth and the creatures that live on it. However, we have not been mindful in our relentless chase for control over resources. We have cheated, bribed, taken bribes, lied, killed, maimed, etc...all on our way to what we call success.

The Leadership Qualities that companies are recruiting for now include leading to serve, building value for shareholders, building relationships, collaboration, personal courage, having a vision, etc.... however, all these end with "Maximisation of shareholder wealth" that was a maxim floated by American Thought Leaders back in the 1930s. This maxim has long lost its significance. Instead of maximizing stakeholder wealth, we must focus on shareholders wealth. Leaders are rewarded to focus on shareholders. Obviously, there is a lack of focus on other stakeholders. Profits are important but if they become the only goal, we swing to extremes in terms of behaviours. Whatever, we say, corporates are now measured in these terms. The "Street" is interested only in "Top Line and Bottom Line".

If we want new Leadership, the values we are driven by have to be different. These cannot be "profit at any cost". As Gus Speth says, "I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But, I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy...and to deal with those, we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And, we scientists don't know how to do that."

The Lord Brahma, the Creator (as per Hindu Belief), must be wondering why the Brahmos Missile, a cruise missile and a destroyer, is named after him. Well, it is not - it is named after two rivers, the Brahmaputra and the Moskva...and, He does not seem to know that His creation uses His name to destroy.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Reflections on Relationships

As I sat down to meditate in the dimly lit room, I looked at the Linga Bhairavi picture. Her large eyes looked straight at me and were fiery...somewhat frightening...as though she was angry. Over the years, I have come to realize that whenever I smiled at her, she was smiling back. When I was sad, it appeared that she was sad too. When I was angry, it appeared that she was angry too. Whatever type of energy I gave out, I seemed to get back from her. She was reflecting my mood!!!

Likewise, in every aspect of life. What you give is what you get. If you sow happiness, peace, calm, truth, respect, love, you get back all of these and you get them back in abundance. If you sow anger, jealousy, hatred, lies, violence, you get back all of these and, I believe, in good measure too. So, you have to choose what you want. People call this Karma - the Universal Law of Cause and Effect - As you sow, so shall you reap.

I came across this story which is from Associated Press and reported by Kurt Westervelt. I must thank my good friend, Anoop Bakhtani, for forwarding this story to me.

On March 23, 1994 the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus and concluded that he died from a shotgun wound to the head. Mr. Opus had jumped from the top of a ten-story building intending to commit suicide. He left a note to the effect indicating his despondency. As he fell past the ninth floor his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast passing through a window, which killed him instantly. Neither the shooter nor the deceased was aware that a safety net had been installed just below the eighth floor level to protect some building workers and that Ronald Opus would not have been able to complete his suicide the way he had planned.

"Ordinarily," Dr Mills continued, "A person, who sets out to commit suicide and ultimately succeeds, even though the mechanism might not be what he intended, is still defined as committing suicide." That Mr. Opus was shot on the way to certain death, but probably would not have been successful because of the safety net, caused the medical examiner to feel that he had a homicide on his hands. The room on the ninth floor, where the shotgun blast emanated, was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. They were arguing vigorously and he was threatening her with a shotgun. The man was so upset that when he pulled the trigger he completely missed his wife and the pellets went through the window striking Mr. Opus.

When one intends to kill subject "A" but kills subject "B" in the attempt, one is guilty of the murder of subject "B". When confronted with the murder charge the old man and his wife were both adamant and both said that they thought the shotgun was unloaded. The old man said it was a long-standing habit to threaten his wife with the unloaded shotgun. He had no intention to murder her. Therefore the killing of Mr. Opus appeared to be an accident; that is, if the gun had been accidentally loaded.
The continuing investigation turned up a witness who saw the old couple's son loading the shotgun about six weeks prior to the fatal accident. It transpired that the old lady had cut off her son's financial support and the son, knowing the propensity of his father to use the shotgun threateningly, loaded the gun with the expectation that his father would shoot his mother. Since the loader of the gun was aware of this, he was guilty of the murder even though he didn't actually pull the trigger.
The case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus. Now comes the exquisite twist.

Further investigation revealed that the son was, in fact, Ronald Opus. He had become increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to engineer his mother's murder. This led him to jump off the ten-story building on March 23rd, only to be killed by a shotgun blast passing through the ninth story window.
The son had actually murdered himself, so the medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.
There are so many such stories. Bring this to the corporate world and you see the same everywhere. The people you meet on your way up are the same you meet on your way down. It is those relationships that you build that matters. It helps build trust and confidence in the long run at an individual level.
It has been over 3 years that I have moved out of active corporate life. It took me over a year to settle down to do what I wanted. However, I was not fully occupied. So, I decided to keep myself busy. As I was wondering what I should do, I felt that my key strengths were Leadership and Innovation. So, I decided to focus on Leadership Workshops initially and then, few months later, took up Workshops on Design Thinking. As I went about marketing my services, it was wonderful to see all my old friends come forward to help. They trusted that I would do a decent job and gave me assignments. Clearly, the time I had taken to build relationships was working for me now. As a dear friend put it, "It is Brand Ravi working for you now. Before long, the brand of the work that you do in this new avatar will take over."
When I look back, I believe that it is good Karma. As I close this post, I think of what Buddha says, "Be kind to all creatures. That is true religion."

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The VUCA World - Who Cares

So much is talked of our world - that it is filled with Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Every time, one or more of the VUCA elements set in, there are opportunities waiting to be exploited.  So, I am not sure what worries us? In fact, we should be happy. This world is throwing so many opportunities at us and we are not using them.

All of us settle in to a comfort zone and just don't like to be disturbed. Any change that is likely (even remotely) to get us out of this comfort zone becomes a massive change and we struggle to accept this change. I am sure many of us who have lived in different cities and/or countries will vouch that each time we shifted, it was a huge task. Once we moved mentally, the physical move was a breeze. Many of us struggle to make this mental move and so, everything else becomes difficult. How many times have we searched for jobs in the city that we live in? We may not like the organization that we work for but we don't move till we get a better role/job in the same city - hopefully, closer home!!! And guess what, we have reasons for this - family, children's schooling (as though other places in the world don't have schools), and the like - I am sure you get the drift.

Recently, I talked to a Leadership group on the VUCA world. To me a VUCA world is a bundle of opportunities that we should welcome with both arms open rather than fear. This comes with years of conditioning that "change" is good. Look at the disruption happening around in this world. As the old order gives way to the new, some companies who still embrace the "old" are struggling while those who are riding the "new" wave are enjoying this change. One of the leaders commented that a lot of these changes are far away from India and would take few years to come. So, he still had time to sweat the assets that he had in the "old" wave. Whilst he was partially correct, I asked him as to what he is doing to re-skill his large organization as they will not be in a position to handle the new requirements. He responded that his teams have identified the "good" ones and are spending on their training and also investing on them to bring in the new wave. However, he planned to let go many others as they were unwilling to embrace the change. I asked him if it was easier to just re-train his staff rather than hire new ones because they were used to the culture of his organization, they were with him for years, etc. His response was that it was easier to buy out the skill sets by hiring instead of spending money on re-training those who just didn't want to get re-trained.

This is the crux of most of the VUCA issues. We don't want to move out of our comfort zones to re-skill ourselves. Over my career spanning 35 years, I have re-skilled myself over 10 times - once every 3 years!!! And, I expect this to become once every 2 years as technology becomes all pervasive. What made it easy for me to re-skill continuously? It was the ability to manage myself, read the needs of the market, prepare myself for change and actually change. 

So, it all starts with you!!! If you are ready to change, the VUCA world will actually mean nothing. All this talk of VUCA Leadership, etc all starts and ends with the individual. Manage yourself and you will manage the ever changing world around you. VUCA would then read as Velocity (or Vision), Unorthodoxy (or Understanding), Co-Creation (or Collaboration or Clarity) and Abundance (or Agility)....you will be in a position to decide how the acronym should read!!!

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

A dose of Empathy - helps design Life better

I had a placard in my room that read, "Please wear a smile while entering my space. It is part of the attire."  Most of us seem to have forgotten to smile. There is so much to smile for but we don't seem to appreciate that. We go through life with a long and serious face. I was wondering why this is so?

The spirit of giving, of being grateful for whatever we have, of just being cheerful and fun loving, of making a fool of yourself at times, at putting a smile in to the face of someone else, are all part of us. We need to just bring them out.

Why are only few able to bring it out? Empathy is the answer. Warren Buffet refers to the ovarian lottery. What he means is that if you are studying in a good school or college or your parents can afford to feed you, you are better off than 85% of the world. Would you trade your place for being born again? Most would not as the chances of being in the 85% is higher than the 15%. So, he recognises that those who have won the ovarian lottery should recognise that and do everything in their power to help those who have not. There will be some who have moved from the 85% to the 15%. These people will not only understand what it is to be in the 85% but also feel what it is to be in the 85%. So, they will definitely do their best to help the rest. This empathy is what will see the world go around with lesser and lesser of violence, terrorism, theft, murders, etc.

As Paul Parkin puts it beautifully, "Empathy is not about thinking that it is like a hat that we need to put on. Oh, someone is in distress, let me put on my empathy hat and punch in the empathy time. It is better that empathy is like the spectacles that we wear. It shapes the way we see things and connect to people and circumstances all the time. And when the other person also wears spectacles, the connection gets to the deepest level."

Bring it to the corporate world, and you will see empathy is now being seen as the key to all design principles - be that process, products, people related problems, customer problems, etc. Design Thinking focuses on empathy. Design Thinking knows that each one of us is born with the capability to empathize. However, it is left to us to cultivate it. Paul Parkin who did his research on empathy, put it beautifully - What is needed is the ability to observe a situation and forge communication that is inquisitive, non-judgemental, validating and compassionate. What this does is that it primarily changes us and the narrative that we end up having about others in ourselves. We look at others and the situations that they are, in the kindest way possible. 

If this world has to be a better place to live in, we need more and more of us to be empathetic. Unless, we find this aspect of our life, we will go through life without actually living it. As Dalai Lama puts it, "We need more humans to be kind rather than correct."