Tuesday, September 3, 2019

How do you manage the balance between creation and consumption ?

We live in a consumption economy. The whole digital revolution seems to built on the premise to offer the contents (in the form of news, updates from friends, images, videos etc.) to us as effortlessly as possible. We now have smartphones that are 24x7 content broadcasting machines. As a result of this, human beings are always in content consumption mode. While access to information is good in one way (it has made us more aware) but largely it has also robbed conciseness from the day-to-day communication. The emails tend now to be longer, verbal updates muddled up and our white-boards more busier than they have ever been.

One of the pieces of writing that recently inspired me was the blog- Create less, Consume more by Tanmay Vora. Sharing couple of pieces of advise from this blog:

Consume mindfully by having right set of filters that help you decide if something will *really* add value and increase your ability to create. When you consume mindfully, less is actually more.  
Practice the fine art of subtraction – we don’t need more and more. We need less that is more (useful/helpful/enriching etc.) Sometimes, the only way to find if something is useful is to “try” it. But often, once we try something, it stays with us because we are not so good at subtracting stuff – at eliminating that which we don’t really need.
The other end in the spectrum of consumption is the creation. Sketchnotes and blogging has really helped me balance the continuum of creation and consumption. Sketchnotes offer a powerful medium that lets you do a concise representation of a book or a large number of words in just one page. It really helps to separate signal from the noise. In short, it improves brevity in communication.

Sharing this recent sketchnote of mine that I created along with my son. This has little nuggets of information that are unique to the beautiful state of Assam.

Would appreciate any feedback ?

Monday, September 2, 2019

Six Lessons from Champion Olympians- Viren Rasquinha and Neha Aggarwal

It has to be a special day when you get to moderate a session with two champion Olympians. I got this privilege last week when the former Olympians Viren Rasquinha (Former captain Indian Hockey team) and Neha Aggarwal (First Indian female Olympian for Table Tennis) visited my organization (Citrix).

Left to Right: Viren Rasquinha, Anuj Magazine, Neha Aggarwal
I have been personally supporting Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ) for a long time. OGQ's mission is to enable athletes to win Gold medals for India at Olympics. Citrix supports OGQ as well.

After meeting with Viren and Neha, we had organized an employee interaction session with them. Till the last minute, I wasn't aware that I would be moderating the session so it was a sort of last minute plan. But eventually it turned out to be a good one.
Some lively conversations and candid stories from their sporting careers kept the audience engaged, entertained and spellbound. Sports has this unique power that makes comprehension of life lessons effortless. Stories of their formative years, perseverance,to eventual glory & later to reinventing themselves made for some awe-inspiring moments of learning. If I have to summarize a few from today's session, they would be: 1. Believe in yourself when nobody does. 2. Always have a fire in belly and keep the desire to excel always on, especially for the things that matter to you. 3. Have shorter feedback mechanisms. Invest in a trust-worthy coach. Once you have one, be non-judgmental about following his/her advice. 4. Be open to experimentation, especially in the areas of performance that are below par. 5. Be bold to traverse an unchartered path.
6. Eventually, it comes down to 'one percent' efforts that becomes key differentiator in the high-stake environment. All the 'one percents' eventually add up and leads to big results. Above learnings sums up a memorable one hour of interaction that hopefully inspired many in the room. Thanks to Sohini Karmakar (Lead CSR initiatives) for helping organize the session. What are your favorite sporting stories? What did you learn from them.

Career Stories Panel Discussion: Reflection on a few Core Career Principles-3

Sharing more perspectives on the core career principles taking the sequence from my previous blogs (this and thisforward:

5. Focus on managing relationships:
There are a few skills that are as much force multipliers in your career as is managing relationships well.
On this subject, I am reminded of my post at techwell.com, which i will reproduce here:

While leadership and management are traditionally thought of top-down, there is a lesser-known aspect of leadership that's referred to as "managing up." Managing up allows you to positively influence the boss—or even the boss’s boss. Few people consider this aspect of leadership as a skill and therefore fail to make necessary connections with bosses. How do tech leaders manage upwards?
In his book Behind the Cloud, salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff talks about his relationship with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison during his tenure at Oracle. "I had many long conversations with my boss, Larry Ellison, about my outside endeavor. Brainstorming with Larry about new ideas and products had always been the best part of my job."
Benioff considered Ellison to be his mentor, and Ellison not only encouraged him verbally on his salesforce.com endeavor, but he also was open enough to suggest and implement an unusual working agreement with Marc by letting him work on salesforce.com in the morning and Oracle in the evening.
You may credit Ellison for his openness and generosity, but what may not seem clear is that Marc played a part in managing Larry. He went out of the traditional manager-employee mold, made Larry his mentor, and established personal rapport about topics of immense interest to Ellison—innovation and futuristic ideas. By working to rise up to Ellison's expectations and interests, he elevated the work relationship to that of a close friend. 
Google made a major management shift late last year and with that the former Android and Chrome Senior Vice President Sundar Pichai was put in the number two spot at Google. When announcing Pichai's promotion, Google's CEO Larry Page said in a memo to employees, "We very much see eye-to-eye when it comes to product, which makes him the perfect fit for this role.”
Other sources suggested that managing Page was one of Pichai's greatest strengths. He seem to have
proven himself as an able ally to Page when in meetings he could translate Page's out-of-this-world and difficult-to-fathom ideas to the rest of the leadership team. 
An employee can do a lot more than just follow the boss to be seen as an able ally. Pichai helped Page's voice and ideas reach the rest of staff and worked hard to align his ideas with that of his boss. And Pichai did all this without being asked to do so, which helped him to win Page's trust.
In his book How Google Works, Google's former CEO Eric Schmidt talks about his early days at Google and being aware of the negative history of CEOs being hired in founder-led companies. He was smart enough to work out an arrangement that didn’t interfere with Larry Page and Sergey Brin's work and decision style. Schmidt says that the challenge for him was to not to make more decisions, but he made peace with making fewer decisions to be effective at his job.
As James Caan mentions in a LinkedIn post, "Being great at your job is half the battle, the other half falls down to managing your manager and creating a happy medium; a working relationship which allows you both to flourish."
6. Focus on functional skills, but double your focus on timeless skills:
More info here on the post that i had written some time back : https://anujmagazine.blogspot.com/2018/07/timeless-skills-for-new-world.html

7. Consider career reinvention as a skill:
More info here on the post that i had written some time back :https://anujmagazine.blogspot.com/2019/05/how-important-is-skill-of-reinventing.html

Hope you liked this series on core career principles. If you like me to expand on some of the expressed thoughts or have any more questions, please do let me know.

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Saturday, August 31, 2019

Career Stories Panel Discussion: Reflection on a few Core Career Principles-2

Sharing more perspectives on the core career principles taking the sequence from my previous blog forward:

3. Embrace Intrapreneurship:
Despite all the attention that entrepreneurs gets, it is arguably not possible for all of us to become one. There could be myriad of reasons for this but many of us consciously find our calling in working for the organizations. If an entrepreneur creates a vision, it's the employees who make it a reality. So this choice is absolutely fine and legitimate.
Source: https://christopherwaldner.com/defining-intrapreneurship/
Being an employee doesn't mean that you cannot exercise the traits that make an entrepreneur. In my career journey, I discovered that one can embrace those traits anytime at work and create a dent in the universe surrounding your organization. Simply put, Intrapreneurship is the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization.

I am reminded for a story that I had narrated in one of my previous blogs:

I was 4-5 months into my first job when i received this email from Country Head (that was broadcasted to all the employees) sharing an opportunity to work on a side-project. The stated project was for Punjab Government tourism sector in which they needed help in building touch screen interface for their upcoming website. The idea behind this project was to provide touch-screen kiosks to the tourists at various prime places. To set the context, i am talking about the time in early 2000s when touch-screens weren't as consumerized as they are now.

I was clueless about the technology expertise needed to build this system so I gave this opportunity a pass and went on with my 'normal' projects. 3-4 months later, I again received an broadcasted email from Country Head, this time announcing the success of the project and thanking the team that was involved in executing the project. I was pleasantly surprised to notice that one of the team members being acknowledged was a peer of mine who had joined almost the same time as I had.

I was surprised because he was also in his first-time job and my assessment suggested that he skill levels were almost similar to mine! Curious to know the details, i approached him and asked him whether he knew about the technologies before signing up for this project. He answered 'No'. I then asked him then how did he sign-up for the project ? He simply said that he was curious to know more about the technology and how such projects are managed and simply offered himself to the project thinking that he will learn the skills along the way.

This was the moment when i felt my brain shift a little for the first time in my professional life. I had simply let go of an opportunity because I thought overly of my weaknesses. My friend had grabbed the opportunity because he chose to think of his strength (curiosity, risk-taking). Something snapped within me with this episode and it made me more open to risk-taking and strengths focused.

This incident, to me, exposed one of the key traits of Intrapreneurship, i.e. to take initiative even when the details are hazy. Don't wait for all the details to accumulate before showing leadership. 

4. Adopt Situational Awareness like MS Dhoni:
MS Dhoni, the former captain of India cricket team and arguably India's most successful captain ever, is known for various commendable virtues. One such virtue that I am a big fan of is his match
MS Dhoni: Legendary awareness levels
awareness. In countless matches, he was simply able to out-think the opposition simply because he was more present in the match. Be it his wicketkeeping or making a move as a captain, he managed to simply stay ahead in the game due to his extraordinary levels of awareness.

Why am I telling a story about MS Dhoni here ? Yes, you guessed it right. Situational awareness is as important in the organization's context as it is in sports.

Gap opportunities often surface unannounced and people are able to take notice of these gaps are the ones who are most aware of context and the situations. Attending exec meetings is one way, other ways to be situationally aware is to dedicate time on your calendar to decipher what is happening in your organization, and in the industry. It helps to be intentional about listening and suspend judgement when hearing the problems. What i have experienced is that having a pen and paper improves listening. The mere act of writing something down tends to open our minds to opportunities that may otherwise seem out of reach.

Stay tuned for more updates on this series in the upcoming blogs.

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Monday, August 26, 2019

Career Stories Panel Discussion: Reflection on a few Core Career Principles-1

In the Career Stories Panel Discussion at my organization last week, I was asked this question:
"a couple of weeks back you mentioned about some core career principles that have worked for you"
I thought it would be apt to articulate some of the principles I shared. Before I delve into the principles, it bears stating explicitly these principles are mostly a work of recollection based on the key phases/events of my career. Of course, I do have a  benefit of hindsight in sharing these but I do sincerely hope these helps you in navigating your career.  I will try and answer this in multi-part blogs. Below is the part-1 on this subject.

1. Learning ability vs Learning agility:
When i started my career, I was told by my early managers, team leads that your growth in IT industry is directly proportional to your ability to quick learn and grasp new concepts. I recall we used to get measured on how quickly were we able to learning a new technology, or a work item and deliver on the results. This was the 'Learning ability era'.

Though I used the word 'era' to describe 'Learning ability', by no means I mean that it is not needed in the current era. What I really mean is that 'Learning ability' is more a tables stakes skill (i.e. minimum that is needed) and not a differentiator anymore.

My Sketchnote on the 'Timeless skills for the new world'

Leveraging what I learned from Ravi Venkatesan (former CEO of Microsoft) and from my previous blog, the measure of Learning agility is:

If a person is thrown into a situation that they have never seen or experienced, how quickly can they figure out what it takes to succeed. 

Learning agility is a muscle, the more you practice, the stronger it becomes.
People who have learning agility
1. tends to be intensely curious about everything,
2. they tend to like to read,
3. they tend to like new challenges,
4. they don’t like predictable things,
4. they like ambiguous situations.
No matter what you know today, in 2 or 3 years it is going to be obsolete. The ability to forget and relearn new things goes a long way.
Each time you take a risk and put yourself out of the comfort zone, learning happens. That's how this muscle called learning agility develops. Repeatedly throw yourself in a completely new situation. This is one of those horizontal skills that you can see that will never be obsolete.

As we enter the world that's dynamic, where future seems hazy and uncertain, it's the extent of Learning agility that will help us survive and thrive.

2. Which is a better measure of Experience- Years or the Extent of Learning ?
One of the things that amuses me is the unthoughtful use of time as a measure of experience in our industry. We have often seen the job descriptions that says-
"Must Have 6+ years of experience in Object Oriented Programming"
or individuals stating theie experience as:
"I have 10+ years in Program Management"

The moot question that I am convinced of answer to is that the passage of time in one's career does not always equate to the extent of wisdom gained. I think it was in Robin Sharma's books or one of his writings where I remember to have read:
"Some people spend the same year 75 times and call it a life"

The career-equivalent version of this quote could be "Some people spend the same year 30 times and call it a career".

The thought here is that experience comes from variety, it comes from experimentation, it comes from making mistakes, it comes from courage to try something new. Experience does not come from hanging on to status quo (which many of us are guilty of), not willing to try unchartered paths.

Wasn't it Mark Twain who had said: 'Good judgement is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgement.'

I was reading Chandramouli Venkatesan's book- Catalyst, where has argued:
Experience is an output, Time is the input. When we equate Experience in years, what we are essentially saying is "Output=Input", which is incorrect.

Experience is always about maximizing what you can learn within a given time (it is not equal to time). Experience is about how much better can you possibly get in the time available with you.

Next time, try not to equate your experience in years. It is a short-sighted view. Try and equate your experience in what memorable body of work have you created, try to articulate it in terms of how effectively you learned from your mistakes.

Stay tuned for more career principles nuggets in the upcoming blogs.

Focus on Functional skills alone vs Focus on Functional + Timeless skills:

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Three Reasons Why I Write

Why do you write ?
This was one of the questions put forward by the moderator during the career stories panel discussion recently.

To be honest, I didn't anticipate this question being asked. I did respond to it then but felt like I should elaborate on it by means of this blog. My reasons to write have evolved over the years. This blog has been in existence for more than 10 years now. I recall that when I started I was doing my bit towards sharing the experience I was gaining. At that time, it was focused mostly for sharing perspectives on software engineering. As I grew in my thinking, so did the list of topics I wrote about.

I have to be honest in sharing that I didn't stop during this time to ponder 'Why do i really write ?'. Though the frequency of my blogs remained inconsistent, I did develop a sort of internal clock which periodically nudged me to consider writing. These internal nudges greatly contributed to the continuity of these blogs and my other writing endeavors over the years.

In interest of brevity and not going too far back in the past, let me delve into a couple of reasons which prompts me to write these days:

1. Writing helps to disconnect from the routine:
There are challenges every day. There are situations every day that tends to pull us down, cause us stress, gives us a moment of jov, achievement and exhilaration. I have a long held belief that we are all playing a zero-sum game when it comes to our careers. At the end of 30-35 years of our careers, we would have unfairly gotten rewarded despite putting in less efforts. On the contrary, we would have unfairly gotten less credit despite putting in quality efforts. It eventually evens out, leading me to call it a zero sum game but the contrasting situations does give us a lot of residual stress to deal with every day. Any hobby, any interest really acts as a distraction that we need to disconnect from the real world. I have had many hobbies, do try to actively add one every year but writing has to be one of the long standing hobby. When i write, i get immersed in the subject for the time keys gets tapped or when pen scribbles on the paper. The more time fingers get to touch the keyboard or the pen, the more it helps to maintain distance from the real-world. Writing has that magical power to teleport us to a different world and that helps add equanimity to the life.

2. Writing as a means to review and reflect:
I was recently reading this book- "Get Better at Getting Better: by Chandramouli Venkatesan. I resonated a lot with this book because of many reasons, one of which was that it put forth the point

that hard-work alone doesn't lead to success, it is a combination of hard-work (effort) and the extent to which you are willing to get better. And one of the techniques it suggests for us to get better is "Review and Reflection". I will come to this technique in a bit but before that I feel it is important to comment that this operates on the premise that you can improve yourself at your area of work much like sportspeople improves themselves i.e. deliberately, during the game, and during the practice.

"Review and Reflection" technique is really about being deliberate to answer these 2 questions periodically (possibly every hour):
1. What could have i done to get better outcomes in last one hour ? (Review question)
2. Why didn't I get the better outcome in the first place itself ? (Reflection question)

In effect, writing helps making this process of improvement much more effective. Scribbing down your answers to the review question and then tothe reflection question really helps to make the process more delibrate, leading to better results. To think over it, it's not a rocket-science. Improving self is just a matter of habit and writing is a tool that helps us achieve that.

3. Writing helps maintain balance between creation and consumption:
I learned about the notion of consumption and creation from Tanmay Vora's blog- Consume less, Create more.
In our busy lives compounded by the role internet, mobile phones and social media plays, we are always in the consumption mode. For an average human being, a good amount of our time is spent in scrolling up and down the contents in our favorite sites and apps. Add to that the content
consumption via emails, slack, documents, we have really become consumption machines. To get the sanity back in our lives, we often need to free time to go off the consumption treadmill.

Why do i feel that mindless consumption isn't desirable ? Let me explain with an analogy. What happens if we eat or drink more than what our body can handle ? We would either throw it off or after a while the extra consumption shows up as a fat in our body. Unfortunate, our mind doesn't have any visible mechanism to show the ill-effects of over consumption of contents. The effects probably surfaces as unclear, muddled thought-process or may be lack of sleep.

The moot point here is that we should endeavor to balance consumption with creation. Writing helps maintain this balance. It helps process the consumed content and gives you creative license to jot down the processed contents in your own ways. To me, this is the biggest reason I write these days. The time i am writing is the time i am away from actively consuming the contents and this is the time that adds balance to my life.

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Friday, August 23, 2019

Learning from failure is one thing, but how do I handle myself when i am experiencing failure ?

"Learning from failure is one thing, but how do I handle myself when i am experiencing failure ?"
This was one of the questions put forward by one of the curious participants at the career stories panel discussion yesterday. I believe it is a very practical question as we are all used to doing retrospectives and extracting learnings from a failure event but often tend to ignore the aspect of handling ourselves when the failure is happening.

Just providing a couple of perspectives (including the one i shared during the session + result of some additional thinking I did on the topic).

#1. Build a defense mechanism against the effects of failure:
Failure will happen when we try something new. This is almost as certain as sunset happening after sunrise. There's absolutely no debate here.

But what happens when we encounter a failure ? Failures tend to demoralize us, put us on the backfoot, make us lose self-belief a bit, shakes our self-confidence and possibly impacts our credibility. Most of these after-effects of failure happen when we allow it is effect the core of what makes us, our personality, our thinking process. And when we allow failure to cross that limit, it can have a damaging effect on our convictions and confidence.

The idea behind building a defense mechanism is to protect our core from the effects of the failure. How do we do that ?

Here is a story i shared during the session (inferring from my previous learning):

During a recent Test cricket series with Australia, Pakistan's Shahid Afridi was faced with barrage of lightning fast bouncer deliveries in an over from Mitchell Johnson. One after the other, he was faced with balls that just whizz past his head, ears, nose etc. and he was all clueless about what was happening. After few such balls, in an unusual gesture, he took off his helmet and just laughed out loudly with mouth wide open (without worrying about millions who were seeing him) to calm his nerves. The lesser mortals who have succumbed to pressure but here was a rather unorthodox action to deal with adversities. What better way than to just laugh off the problems and face what coming next.

Afridi's defense mechanism was laughing the worry (caused by failure) off. 
What is your mechanism ?

Like human beings, defense mechanisms aren't one-size-fits all things. What may work for Afridi may not work for you ? In the panel talk, my fellow panelist shared that he likes to mediate to bring the equanimity needed to deal with failure. I draw strength from my experiences from my running a marathon (covered a bit more in the next point).

#2. Change the frame of reference:
Rather than me keying in words to explain this point, let me share this tweet from Vala Afshar, that I always keep handy. The message in it is profound and the way it is expressed nothing but touching.

We are so consumed with our own worlds that the problems that we face tend to be the tougher than what anybody else might be facing. Just changing the frame of reference to world around us is enough to make us realize that we are among the privileged few and many people would anyday be willing to trade their problem with ours.

I had recently started reading Meb Keflezighi's book "26 Marathons What I Learned About Faith, Identity, Running and Life from My Marathon Career.

In this book, Meb narrates the learnings from each of his 26 professional marathons. His first one was New York City marathon in 2002. In this event, he came 9th with the timing of 2:12:35. Given that he
was a professional runner who had just migrated to full marathon from shorter distances, he was mighty upset with his performance and with the mistakes he made. He had almost made up his mind to not participate in any of future full marathons. He was heart-broken with this result, which he perceived as a failure.A couple of weeks after his first marathon, he went to his native country Eritrea (in Africa) where he grew up. He observed how hard the daily life was for most people there. Struggles to get water from wells miles away, searching for wood to build fires for cooking and much more. He goes on to say- 

"It's not that I'd forgotten these things from my childhood. But seeing them so soon after running my first marathon in one of the world's greatest cities was striking. People in Eritrea live like this, day in and day out, just to survive, I told myself. I thought about what I'd experienced in my marathon. That was a temporary discomfort, I realized, not permanent pain. Also, I told myself, I had a choice- nobody put a gun on my head and said, "You have to run a marathon or finish it." The people I saw in Eritrea had no choice in how they spent their days. So yes, I'd been miserable for maybe 40 minutes in my debut marathon, but I had no room to complain."
Post this, he won a silver medal in 2004 Olympics in the marathon, won the 2009 New York City Marathon and the 2014 Boston Marathon confirming his place as the legends of the sport. But the moot point is, he got the timely wisdom to change the frame of reference with which he was seeing his failure and that helped him deal with the failure.

What are your tactics of dealing with the failure ? Please share in comments, would love to hear them.

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