Sunday, March 11, 2018

My Address at Illinois Institute of Technology's 19th Graduation Ceremony

I was recently invited at the Illinois Institute of Technology, India's 19th graduation ceremony as a dignitary and had to address the graduating masters students.

[Update on 26th-Mar, the video of speech available on YouTube]

Sharing the part of the speech that i could reproduce as below:

I always see myself as a sportsperson disguised as a corporate professional. I have never been a natural advise-giver but in the spirit of trying, i will share some things today.

Stay in the present, enjoy the moment:
In Jan 2018, I ran Mumbai marathon. A full marathon is a distance of 42.195 Km. Depending upon your speed, it may take up to 3, 4, 5 or 6 hours. Marathons are also considered as metaphors for life because a runner has to typically deal with so many ups and downs while on track.

I was running in my zone and completed till about 30 km when I bumped into a runner who looked very exhausted, his shoulders dropping and barely able to move. I decided to break my momentum, slow-down and talk to him (with intention of helping him). He told me that he was a first time full marathon runner and finding it quite hard at the moment. (Around 30 Km mark is incidentally also known as “hitting the wall” in marathon parlance. It’s when your body is out of every ounce of energy, your legs are heavy and feet blistered and you are mentally battered with the constant pounding your body has undergone in the last many hours.). Eager to learn and finish the run, this runner asked for my advice. I clearly remember the advice I gave him-

"don't think about the finish-line, don’t think about how you will feel at 35 or 38 km, don’t think about the up-slope that’s coming, just think about the next step, then the next one and then the next. And block your mind of anything else. If you are able to compartmentalize your life to just thinking about the next steps for 2 hours or so, you will see the distance.”

I was very glad to see him at finish line close to 2 hours later.
In short, what I was telling him was to stay in the moment and not to get overwhelmed by enormity of what lays ahead.

This is the first thing i would like to mention to all of you. It's your big day, and I know unknowingly your mind would be playing tricks today and lure you to think about the future- how this degree will help you, how will it shape your career, how will  you make a giant leap.
I would ask all of you to take a step back, and with all your senses embrace this moment. Just block all the future thoughts and bask in the glory of current moment. You deserve it with all the hardships that you have undergone to reach this stage and it will be a shame if you are not able to enjoy the today. Today is the great moment in your lives and the careers so stay in present and seize the moment as well as you can.

Let this not be the defining moment of your life:
Secondly, I want to tell you a short story related to India winning the Under 19 Cricket World cup recently. After winning the world cup, the legendary coach of India team- Rahul Dravid was asked about his comment on the victory.
After praising the team that achieved a spectacularly one-sided victory, he said something like "It's great to see the team win so comprehensively but i don't want this win to be a defining moment of the young team's life. They should be thinking bigger than this."

He then went on to say- "the 2012 final featured India and Australia; the result of the final will tell you that India beat Australia. Six years down the line, while only one of those boys played a couple of one-day games for India, four-five Australians have gone on to play for Australia. So, more of their guys have gone on to play first-class cricket. The debatable point is actually who won that final, if you look back six years later."

I found this so simple yet so profound. Profound because the core purpose of U-19 tournaments is to build the talent pipeline for the future, which Australia had clearly achieved despite losing the world cup.

With due respect to all the efforts you have put in to attain the degree and with due respect to Illinois Institute of Technology for providing a wonderful platform, I firmly believe that 

“Educational Qualifications are not the ends in itself, they are the means to achieve something greater.”

Please don’t let this moment become the defining moments of your life. In all fairness, this is a great milestone (as I had said) but you should promise yourself that 5-6 years down the line when you look back at today, you would have defined and achieved your own world cups, scaled your own mountains and you would achieved something bigger and made your company, surroundings and the society better.

Embrace Non-linearity:
One last thing I would like to share today. It would be clichĂ©d to talk about the impact automation powered by technologies such as AI/ML. There’s a lot being said about it by the industry leaders and a lot of contrasting opinion emerging.

However, I do want to mention that the workplaces are
undergoing a tremendous change. The skills have much shorter shelf life. I mean skills do have an expiry date and this expiry date is shortening by the day. During the dot com time of 2000, it was said that if you know Java, you are set for life. There is no such phrase as “set for life” in today’s world. Continuous learning is not a differentiator anymore, it is a mandatory.

I would request you to consider the phrase- “non-linearity” when planning for careers. All the respected dignitaries who spoke before me and the ones who will speak after me- none of them had a career that followed the linear path. I am sure their motivations weren’t to just reach the next level. Their motivations would likely be to enable and create as much impact as possible. Their missions were neither tied, defined nor limited by job descriptions. They thought beyond the traditional organizational career paths and defined their own path.

The concept of “non-linearity” also would be instrumental in dealing with the fast changing world that we are approaching. In our career-times itself, we would be competing with one important variable- machines for the jobs.

Jack Ma, the legendary CEO of Alibaba, recently said in an World Economic Forum event-
“If we do not change the way we teach, 30 years from now we will be in trouble. -These are the soft skills we need to be teaching our children Values, Believing, Independent Thinking, Team Work ,Care for Others -We should teach our kids- Sports, Music, Painting, Art”

More we focus on perfecting the human skills, the more we will differentiate ourselves in the future. Empathy as a skill will find a large space in careers of the future. I don’t see as many courses on empathy today, as I find on AL/ML/Blockchain. I feel that will change in next 5-7 years’ time.
Satya Nadella in his book "Hit Refresh" mentions-
"It is impossible to be an empathetic leader sitting in an office behind a computer screen all day. An empathetic leader needs to be out in the world, meeting people where they live and seeing how the technology we create affects their daily activities."
I would like to sum-up my talk by reiterating these 3 nuggets:
  1. Stay in the present.
  2. Let this degree not be the defining moments of your lives.
  3. Embrace non-linearity.

I too have done majority of my higher education alongside with the job. I bet you would unanimously agree with me the role your family members have played to let you reach where you have. As i end my address, i would want all of you to give a big hand to your family.

Congratulations once again, Thank you and all the best!

Images Source:


TV said...

Anuj, this is great stuff. I love how you bring the examples and metaphors from sports and connect them to real-life! It was wonderful listening to your talk the other day, and look forward to more in the coming time...

Smriti Metikurke said...

Just loved the article. Really great examples. If you have a video version, it would be great to listen

Apurv Anand said...

Anuj, there is a lot of truth and honesty in your words on what we should focus and embrace as humans. You have been able to put this across in very easy and simplified way. As always, you continue to impress me.

Anuj Magazine said...

Thank you TV, Smriti and Apurv. Means a lot that you found time to read and leave a comment.

@Smriti: Video version expected to be available in a few days time.