Sunday, May 26, 2019

17 things I learned from Erik Weihenmayer's talk


I had a privilege of listening live to Erik Weihenmayer during the recently concluded Citrix Synergy event. Erik is the first BLIND person to climb Mount Everest. He is also among 150 people who have successfully climbed Seven Summits, the highest peaks in 7 continents only BLIND person to do so.

He came on to stage with his dog who peacefully sat while he weaved magic with his words. He was articulate, fluid and super clear in his thought process. His intensity was high and it only grew as his talk proceeded. I could see his eyes moist while he narrated the stories of his and the differently-abled persons like him, who achieved feats that average full bodied people consider as impossible.

I have to admit that I left his session earlier than the finish time. It was less due to the fact that I had a meeting bordering on the close time but more to do with the fact that I got more than what I thought I would in an hour that I spent. In short, I found my emotional and mental cups overflowing with unprecedented wisdom. I have to admit this was the first time I felt that I got so much that I couldn't take anymore.


May be some day I would want to go back and watch the recording, but for today I just want to share the wisdom that I gathered in the nuggeTs that follow:


Three types of people:
There are 3 types of people:
Quitters,
Campers,
Climbers.


What makes Climbers rare:
“Climbers are a rare group. They continue to grow, evolve, and explore. They continue to challenge themselves until the day the die.”


Why is being a Climber so hard:
“The question is, how do we climb when it is so much easier to camp?”


How does growth happen?
"It would be nice if growth happened in a nice linear curve. The truth is, growth happens the way a volcano spews lava."


My favorite learning from this session:
"What's within you is stronger than what's in your way."


When you are lost, remember...
“There is always a way forward, but it doesn’t always start in a glamorous way.”


Surround yourself with positive people:
“My secret weapon was the people I surrounded myself with”


“Link yourself with great people, tap into each other’s experience and wisdom. Stop each other from falling.”


Dealing with adversary:
"The amount of adversity we allow into our lives is directly related to the length of our reach"


"Alchemists will always find the way, even with the adversity. Harnessing the challenges in our lives is our greatest advantage."


"Alchemists always find a way." "Keep climbing!"
"We're all in the elevation business."


When we commit to this no barriers life we bring adversity into our lives... and then you commit tremendous energy to attacking the adversities that wear us down. It takes a courageous team to square off with adversity and head into the storm. -


Don't build walls around yourself:
“I was tired of building walls around myself. Life is full of choices."


When you are down, don't forget to try:
"Never say you can't do it. Don't ever not TRY."


“The process is always the same. Iterate, fail & try again. Never stop innovating.”


Embrace an no-excuse mindset:
"Many make excuses and accentuate challenges, instead of using them as fuel to move forward and make a meaningful impact."

"You have to come down the mountain before the climb really matters. The culmination of the journey isn't when we're standing on the summit, it's when we use the gifts we've been given to elevate our lives."


Are you living a no barriers life? Commit today to attack what is in your way.

A Simple Playbook for Effective Conference Presence


I spent most of the last week at Citrix Synergy in Atlanta. Synergy is one of the primer conferences on end-user computing. With the conference happening at a massive venue at Georgia World Congress building and 5000 plus people attending, I got to interact with many customers, partners and colleagues.
One of my colleague who captured everyone's attention was Manbinder Singh. Manbinder is a Senior technologist at Citrix's. He had a few expert sessions at Synergy and he pulled them off well with his technical acumen. For me, one of the highlights was how Manbinder pulled off a great presence at the event.

Rather than me starting to put in words, let me start by sharing this video from his session.



Let me dissect what you saw in this video in what I call a simple playbook for effective conference presence.

Key principles in building effective conference presence:

1. Be as interesting (to others) as you can be.
2. Bring your own uniqueness to the fore.
3. Be at ease, comfortable carrying yourself.
4. Hustle, hustle, hustle

5. Have an surprise element.

Five phases of building conference presence:

1. Conceptualize and Prepare
2. Before the conference begins.
3. During the conference.
4. During the session.
5. After the conference.

How five phases pan out ?:

In the first phase, look out your unique skills that you can bring towards the conference. Marrying his avid passion towards a musical instrument called as Tumbi and his interest in singing, Manbinder penned a song that went with the theme of his presentation (check the video).
Not only this, he designed an add-on to his attire, a Rocket that went with the theme that he chose for his session.
In doing this, he successfully applied the principles of being interesting and bringing your uniqueness to the fore


In the second phase, a few days before the conference began he started to periodically tweet about what people can expect from his sessions. He gave little teasers almost every day with the right hashtags to make his messages searchable
He thus applied the principle of hustling to generate interest and capture attention in advance.


In the third phase, during the conference Manbinder ensured his presence. It was a three day conference with ample networking time and opportunity. When his session was not on, Manbinder ensured that he always wore the specially designed rocket add-on. Seeing an unusual add-on, it intrigued people and drew them towards him. Many people approached him to enquire about the concept and helped him build bridges. His Rocket add-on also had a QR code that people could simply scan to register for his session.
In doing this, he applied the principles of being interesting and also the principle of being comfortable carrying himself.


In the fourth phase, what happened is very evident in the video shared. He started with aeroplane theme (very apt as the attendees had flown to the venue), introduced himself as copilot and put together a spectacular song performance very aligned to the theme.
He successfully applied the principle of bringing his uniqueness to the fore while being interesting to the audience.


In the last phase, post the conference he again took to Twitter to thank the new fans and followers and ensured a good level of engagement. As a measure of success, he gained 30% more followers on Twitter.

In many of my conversations with Manbinder during the event, his approach quite resonated with me which inspired me to write this post. In many of my public presentations, I had followed doing small magic shows as ice breaker. Doing something unexpected always catches people's attention positively and has a potential to make an otherwise routine topic interesting.


Did you find this post useful? What is your playbook to build effective conference presence?
Please share in comments.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Power of Rehersals

I am attending Citrix Synergy at Atlanta this week. The below tweet by Citrix CEO made me think of something. David Henshall is a seasoned public speaker. I admire him for his ability to bring a certain effortlessness in the way he communicates on the stage. The lucid way he crafts his message certifies his authenticity. He is known to give forward looking speeches. Only time he looks backwards is when he thanks the team for all the efforts and outcomes. This speaks of his empathetic nature.
 

Having seen him at All Hands, employee meetings and several other forums, I always got the sense that public speaking came so naturally to him, almost as if it's his second nature. So when i heard the word 'Keynote rehersals', it really made me wonder- no matter how seasoned you are at your craft, it is the consistent honing of elements that make up your expertise- which makes an eventual difference to the outcome.

The virtue of practice becomes more so important for a skill as visible as public speaking. Not only there's an audience in the room but there's also an audience connected virtually. It's almost as if people watching you get a license to judge you. And if you are a speaker, you got to see it as an opportunity to positively influence, inspire (note that i did not use the word 'impress') and add value to the audience. Rehersals are a sure-shot way of ensuring that you are doing justice to the role as a speaker.

While on the flight to Atlanta, i completed the book: 'Why I Stopped Wearing My Socks'. The author Alok Kejriwal (Founder, CEO of contests2win.com)
shares his learnings on the subject of rehersals

As a salesperson, have learned to practice practise, practise till I have become near perfect. When it becomes painful, I think myself as a movie star, getting my 'take' right. If you are starting up, I would advise you to practise your pitch on friends and colleagues and make them object, askyou random silly questions and agitate you. When you go out in the real world to sell, these things are going to happen to you. So practise beforehand. Finally, remember that when you sell, you not only sell your service or product, but you also sell yourself. Think of the last time you bought something from a dull, snobbish or ill-tempered salesman. Entrepreneurs have to keep selling themselves to VCs, the press, strategic clients, and customers and it's important that they remember the golden mantra: 'Practice Makes makes a man perfect'.
I personally have a habit of rehearsing the sequence of an important event or a speaking all in my mind just before i sleep or if i find quite time. One place that I have found useful to practise is the lonely car rides where you have to of course focus on the road, but it is always possible to carve out a bit of attention to practice the message.

What are your strategies for rehearsing?

Monday, May 20, 2019

Most effective mentors ask hard-hitting questions

I was reading the book 'Why I stopped wearing my socks'. This book outlines Alok Kejriwal's journey as an entrepreneur. This blog is inspired by the of the stories in the book.

During the early phases of evolution of Alok's company- Contest2win.com, he was speaking with a lot of venture capitalists. One of them was eVenture. At one of the meetings, eVenture's representative Neeraj Bhargava asked Aolk a couple of questions before giving a go ahead for further funding:


1. Asked for more clarity on business model (they weren't charging their clients any money then)
2. Asked for the credentials of his team (he didn't have anyone from pedigreed Ivy league institutes).

While Alok gathered composure and answered as well as he could, Neeraj dropped another tough exercise on Alok as he asked him to list his top 10 clients along with their numbers so that he could call them and check their credibility.

Alok narrates this incident in the book and mentions that he had tremendous learning from this conversation. Though it was not a direct mentoring conversation, he took it as being mentors while answering these tough situations.

During the Innovation programs that I run, one of the key things is how the teams choose their mentors. While many teams take the familiar route and choose the mentors who are familiar to themselves or are technically good. But the teams that are more successful in achieving the intended outcomes from these programs are the ones who choose mentors that makes them uncomfortable.

Collating the learnings from Alok's story, here is what I believe the playbook for business mentorship should be looking like:


1. Choose a mentor who asks you tough and hard-hitting questions.
2. Choose a mentor who can potentially upset you with his/her questions.
3. Don't always look for formal mentorship. Be open to be mentored in unlikliest of the situations (like Alok did with the VC in this story).
4. Don't take any tough questions and flaws in business approaches personally. Many people foolishly let go of good relationships when rendered into uncomfortable situations by mentors.


What else would you add to this ?

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My SmartBites Interview with Ashok Thiruvengadam

Last month, I had the privilege of being interviewed by a dear friend of mine Ashok Thiruvengadam (founder and CEO of Stag Software). Ashok had reached out to record a video on the theme of  “Creativity, Visual thinking, Careers ..” to inspire QA to “Think better. Test rapidly”.

He has recently launched a new initiative called as SMART QA. The theme of Smart QA (smartqa.stagsoftware.com) is to explore the various dimensions of smartness so that we leapfrog into the new age of software development, to accomplish more with less by exploiting our intellect along with technology.

In the last few weeks, I worked to write the responses i shared in this interview by means of a few blogposts. I am sharing the consolidated list below:

1. What are the non-functional skills that are essential for working smartly ?

2. As an avid visual thinker who uses SketchNotes to communicate, please tell us the importance of visual thinking and how it can help us understand/think better, and influence people?
Part-1 Part-2 

3. Should I Embrace a Non-Linear Career or not ?

4. How important is the 'skill' of reinventing yourself?

5. What is the role of human intellect in QA? Is it still required?

Here are the videos that were published:

SmartBites - “Creativity and Visual Thinking”



SmartBites - “Reinventing yourself in these changing times”



Would appreciate your feedback comments.

What is the role of human intellect in QA? Is it still required?

This is in continuation of my last post on conversation with a dear friend of mine Ashok Thiruvengadam (founder and CEO of Stag Software). Ashok had reached out to record a video on the theme of  “Reinventing yourself in these changing times


[Ashok] What is the role of human intellect in QA? Is it still required?

[Anuj] I would like to answer this with an analogy. There is often a certain kind of mystique associated with playing chess in it's correlation with intellect. People often consider those playing chess as the one having abundance of wisdom.

There's a book written by Chess legend Gary Kasparov called as Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins. In a particular portion in this book, he captures
his journey as a chess player in relation to the advances in technology. Unlike most of his fellow chess players, he was one of this first (I think he was the first!) Chess players to play a computer at the public stage. I think it was in 1983 or somewhere around that time. In that series, he managed to comfortably beat the computer. That kind of proved that humans are still superior to machines.

Kasparov continued his quest to prove his supremacy over machines by playing occasional public matches.

Come 1998 or 1999, things were changing with machines evolving at a faster pace. Around this time, Kasparov played and lost for the first time in public against IBMs Deep Blue computer. After this match, people started writing obituaries not only for Kasparov's supremacy but also for Chess as a sport.
Fast forward to 2 decades from the time Kasparov lost, now we have a Chess Champion from Norway- Magnus Carlson. His consistency over the years have prompted many Chess experts to comment that he may be the greatest Chess player of all time. So, Chess not only survived this turbulent phase but even produced a champion that is winning everything that the game has to offer. Magnus is know to leverage computers to help him improve his skills as a Chess player.
If you take a moment and rewind these sequence of events, it can be summarized as:
First humans fought the machines to prove their dominance.
Next phase, the machines evolved in power and skill and eventually beat the humans.
Later phase, humans found a way to coexist with the machines and learned to leverage them to augment and enhance it's own intelligence.

I do foresee the same sequence play out in a lot of other professions as well. Automation would eventually return more time for human beings. It's up to the humans to figure out how to use this time to make them better.

So the role of human intellect is greater than ever in this dynamic phase.
For the QA profession to evolve, it has to be seen as a mindset more than a department. In my belief, QA as a mindset will never get extinct but the QA as a department may get overhauled with the changes happening all around us.

How important is the 'skill' of reinventing yourself?


This is in continuation of my last post on conversation with a dear friend of mine Ashok Thiruvengadam (founder and CEO of Stag Software). Ashok had reached out to record a video on the theme of  “Reinventing yourself in these changing times


[Ashok] How important is the skill of reinventing yourself?

[Anuj] I would like to start with mentioning a book that had a profound impact on me- The Medici Effect. Medicis were the family from Florence, Italy (in 17th century maybe) who we're credited to
have brought together the professionals from various fields like Architects, Engineers, Town Planners, Doctors, Writers and many more. They helped form this community of progressive people with divergent views. Interestingly, the resultant amalgamation of ideas brought forward by this community is credited to have formed the genesis of a phase in history called as Renaissance.

The moot point here is that if we allow the different fields to intersect, the magic happens.
Now, you can question why this magic does not happen very often. One of the things that I learned earlier on my career was that the biggest obstacle in our careers is not the external forces but it is more often yourself.

Your biggest troll is not the one hiding somewhere in social media with a faceless image but your biggest troll is that negative voice that resides between your two ears. It is this pessimistic voice that routinely tells you that 'you can't achieve this goal', 'you don't have the talent' etc.

Being restricted with this thinking makes us believe that we cannot try out new things, cannot learn new areas and do not give enough chance for things to merge together.

All this is related to the topic of reinvention in my opinion. I have seen companies reinvent in the course of their lifetime. Citrix is an relevant case in the point. Citrix was founded in 1989, when internet was still a university project, Windows was as old as v2.1, Dotcom bust was way too far, mobile revolution hasn't happened yet, social media didn't exist. For a company to have seen through the transitions so drastic, it must know the art of reinvention. It's just the testimony to all the right reasons that lead to longevity of the organization.

At the same time, we have examples like Nokia smart phones that within a short period of time fell from being a market leader to being almost extinct when Apple came into scene.

My hypothesis after studying these extreme examples is that the companies that followed the compass approach as against the maps approach survived and thrived. Compass is something that gives you a sense of direction of where you are headed to and that sense of direction comes from being aware of what is happening in your field whereas the maps tell you how to go from point A to point B and not worry too much about what's happening beyond that.

The same analogy works well with careers as well. If you follow compass approach, we would be encouraged to figure out what is happening in our ecosystem, understanding it's implications and define the next steps accordingly. And if you follow the maps approach, your thinking is limited to talking about what the next step in growth is. The growth as defined by career paths e.g. moving from Software Engineer to Senior Software Engineer etc. The problem with maps approach to careers is that while you may be happy chasing the next step in probably the wrong ladder, while the world around you may be changing at a pace unknown to you.

One of the thinkers that I have been impressed with his Ravi Venkatesan who was earlier the CEO of Microsoft India and played very different roles in his career. In one of the conversations, I remember him saying:
We should not be fooled into thinking that we have lifelong careers. At any time, we should be able to stand on our feet and deal with the challenges that comes with uncertainty.

Anything that you and me know today is either going to be obsolete or would need to be overhauled in 2-3 years time. One line of thought leading from this is that we should study and learn continuously and keep ourselves up-to-date, which is very obvious given the times. Other line of thought is that we should be thinking of Reinvention as a skill. We don't often give it a stature of a skill because there is say no designated credits or say a certification (on a lighter note) like 'Certified Career Reinvention Expert'.

In order for us to be relevant, we should be thinking of reinvention as a skill and what cones with it is aspects like ability to unlearn something, ability to give up your expertise while embracing something that's more relevant for the future, not getting hung on to the status quo for too long and so on and so forth.
Even though the career paths gives us the comfort, we should be forcing ourselves to reinvent ourselves

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