Friday, March 29, 2019

Is there a secret sauce to leading non-linear careers?

Last week, i was speaking with Chris Fleck, VP and Technical Fellow at my organization. The conversation was around careers, how they evolve, what works and what doesn't.

If we divide careers into 2 halves- one being the early to mid-stage and second being post mid-life, it would be fair to say that comparatively, it is easier to succeed in the first half than the second. In the first half, armed with the shiny college degrees (that largely prepares us to become good to solve the problems individually), one tends to solve technical problems of reasonable difficulty and in it find satisfaction and growth. In the second, the metrics of success takes a dramatic shift and while individual brilliance is taken as a given, success is often driven by how we manage relationships and people, and how we embrace complexity- among other things.

That's why picking Chris's brains on this subject was enlightening for me as only a handful of people traverse through to the peak of technical ladder in the organization and are recognized as seasoned thought-leaders as Chris is.

Part of conversation led to Chris sharing that all things being equal, our career trajectories are defined by our abilities to find gaps in the organization and our subsequent actions to fill those gaps. He narrated that he has followed the similar approach to drive growth in his career.

Finding gaps and being seen as one who fulfills the shortcomings in the organization is a refreshing
way of looking at careers and the related planning. This is something i have followed (but i will reserve my case for a later blog). Understanding the why of this approach is not difficult given that gaps really represent something that's not working or where poor status quo is considered as a given.

What is more challenging is to comprehend how can one find organizational gaps ? These gaps are usually disguised as ugly situations, unpleasant conversations, long held problems, situations of despair, future opportunity areas, employee experience problems, repeated customer problems or an emerging unmet need. In short, gaps are hard to identify as they are often concealed or they don't sound obvious or they something appear as problems seemingly beyond our control.

In my career time when i was leading large teams, i often cited the story of Brian Fitzpatrick (Google) to my teams. This case appeared in HBR a few years ago but the nuances of it are still relevant. Gist of his story- Brian joined Google as a Senior Software Engineer. Based on his interests and inclination, he became the champion for various end-user focused on initiatives. In his quest to better the end-user needs, he identified strategic gap in the organization. Precisely that gap was- Google wasn't doing good enough job in giving users better control of their personal data. He teamed-up with amicable and aligned individuals and led the project that took shape as Google Takeout that allowed users to export the captured user data from various Google Services (like Gmail, Blogger, Calendar, Chrome, Photos etc.). So much was the impact of this project that the then CEO Eric Schmidt started highlighting Takeout to regulators and customers to build a strong case for Google's non-monopolistic practices and focus on user's privacy.

There was another story that caught my attention recently. Beau Jessup, a 16 year old, went along with her Dad to China (who was on a business trip). During the trip, they met Dad's business colleague who asked Beau to suggest an English name for her daughter. Beau took that request seriously since naming a child is an important event in one's life, something that stays for rest of their lives. She asked the family various characteristics they wanted their kid to have and suggested an apt name. Upon returning, Beau did some research to figure out that there wasn't any organized business (a gap!) that helped Chinese families name their kid in English language. She found an unmet need, while all Chinese babies were given traditional Chinese names at birth, there was a growing demand to name kids in English language too. So far, she has helped name 670,000 babies.

I find these stories relevant, interesting and to a large degree they just hit the nail right on the head as far as the context of this post is concerned. Let me share a few things these stories teach me:

1. Attend Employee All Hands, Listen intently to Exec's words: One of the things Brian Fitzpatrick did constantly was that he kept himself updated about organization's priorities and prevailing problems from the lens of CEO or high-flying execs. He apparently made note of what is being said in different public and internal forums and this helped shape his thinking around which "gaps" matter more. Every organizations have myriad of problems and we have limited time. It's only in our best interests that we use that time to solve the problems that matter to people who matter.
Most of the employees tend to give events like employee all-hands a pass but what they are really doing is depriving them of a chance to gain crucial insights that can lead to career defining initiatives.

2. Show Insatiable Curiosity: It's good to attend employee all-hands and such events where execs are present at a regular cadence but it is not enough. One can still gain a lot by passively listening to words of wisdom about business, problems that company is facing but the learning takes different dimensions when one engages execs in conversation. Good questions are an outcome of a curious, fearless mind, a mind that's gives priority to extract as much learning as possible in a given moment and situation.

3. Build internal networks: Citing Brian Fitzpatrick's case, he didn't achieve what he eventually did

alone. Lone geniuses exist only in fairy tales. He liasioned with like-minded individuals who were brought into his vision and helped him multiply the pace and quality of the outcome. More often, people let networking happen by chance and it need not be that way. Conscious efforts to reach out to people helps bridge gaps in knowledge and speed-up outcomes.  Sometimes a simple conversation with people in an informal setting like lunch-time leads to identifying gap areas.
Austin Kleon in his book "Show Your Work" argues that your connections are the natural out-growth of the things that you well. And he quotes record producer Steve Albini, "being good at things is the only thing that earns you clout or connections"

4. Be situationally aware: 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.

5. When life gives you lemon, make lemonade: Beau's case represents a great point. She was able to smell a business opportunity by a single gap she stumbled upon by chance. One could say that she got lucky but it bears repeating that she did make an effort to prove her hypothesis about the gap in the market she saw. In most situations, where you feel that you have come closer to identifying a new idea, it is important to stay persistent still a reasonable amount of time till you are sure of it's potential. Giving up on an idea too soon without doing due diligence and asking next set of questions doesn't help.

6. Don't execute work in isolation, align to broader strategy: Alignment may sound like a very corporate-ish term but the fact of the mattter is that unless we prove alignment of ideas to overall strategy, we may still do the work but it would eventually be a throw-away. Brian used his understanding of organization's strategy as his compass that guided him through the next steps. For Beau, the alignment had a different meaning, that of aligning with a distinct culture.

7. Have your personal board of advisors: One can't over-state the value of having a mentor. Mentor asks you tough questions, convinces you to change course if you are headed south-wards. For all the value mentor brings, it's presence alone isn't enough. For the side projects to scale, one needs to have a buy-in from sponsors. In case of Brian, as project picked-up, it got a buy-in from the CEO. For Beau, it was a matter of convincing her sponsor who was investing in her idea. Having a personal board of advisors (much like company's board of directors) helps achieve unimaginable acceleration in the progress.

8. Think big, not small:  Once you are clear that your idea (gap proposal) would attract the people who matter, one shouldn't restrict the thinking to just build a PoC and wait endlessly. Rather one should think "if i have all the resources i would ever need, how would my plans/thinking change".
Thinking big is a skill that most B-School's don't teach but often turns out to be a key differentiator in defining the career trajectories.

Do these 8 points resonate with you ? Do you agree that the secret sauce to leading non-linear careers is building the muscle around identifying the organization's gap and plan next steps and actions ?

Do leave your thoughts in the comments.

Images source:

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

17 Perspectives that I Learned from Michael Phelps

In January, I had the privilege of listening live to Michael Phelps, an Olympics legend (23 Olympic Gold medals, 28 medals overall) at Citrix Summit in Orlando.hashtaCitrixSummit. Thank you
hashtag Sharing some nuggets of wisdom he shared during an inspirational panel talk: On Goal setting: 1. Broken down goals to 100th of a second. 2. I wasn't afraid to dream as big as I could. 3. You don't know what you can do unless you dream and do On importance of practice: 4. Practice is what you control. 5. I made sure I was over prepared. 6. If I prepare one more day a week, I get 52 more days a year than anyone else. On raising the bar higher consistently: 7. Stay at top is harder than reaching top. 8. Help each other become better. I couldn't have done what I did all by myself. 9. Attitude: If I fall short, I will come back stranger. 10. Learn from losses. On focus: 11. When I stand up on block, I can't see anyone. Just focus on next step. 12. Music helped me focus. 13. See the goals every day. Post them somewhere to see them everyday. On mental health: 14. I struggle with anxiety but that helps me be me. I love my journey. It's challenging. 15. It's ok to not be ok. 16. Showing vulnerability is fine. Open up. 17. Want to teach kids importance of water safety. hashtagashtag

Sunday, March 24, 2019

When it comes to Products, Focus is your Best Friend

"After School Snacks"- this is how the title of a routine email reads in my apartment mailing list. A couple of friends of ours started this service where they offer snacks to the kids after they come from school in the evening around 3:30 PM-4:00 PM. From what i hear, they are sold-out on most of the days. On thinking about it, the reason i feel this initiative has worked is because school kids are hungry when they reach and most of the families have both parents working, hence it is a convenient option for them to give instructions to the care-taker of kids to get these snacks (which are healthy) and give to kids.
If i really think hard i tend to converge on a single reason why they are successful. "After School Snacks" focus is laser-sharp. Their target-market is crystal clear- kids returning from school. Their delivery timings are set. Their menu is aligned to target audience. They addressed a very specific need.

I was reading the book- Platform Revolution – How Networked Markets Are Transforming the Economy–and How to Make Them Work for You and it presented a case of Facebook and MySpace, especially during their early days. What happened to MySpace and the unprecedented heights that Facebook achieved doesn't need any more commentary, with so much more written about these competing cases. A specific thing struck me while reading the book and i present the excerpt from the book below (with full credit to authors):
Myspace was the dominant social network before Facebook was launched in 2004, and remained so until 2008. Even in its early days, it had much of the functionality that would be familiar to users of today's social networks. Its internal staff created a wide variety of features, such as instant messaging, classified ads, video playback, karaoke, "self-serve advertising easily purchased through the use of simple online menus, and more. However, because of limited engineering resources, these features were often buggy, leading to a poor user experience.
While MySpace went overboard with adding features (often at the expense of quality) thinking that this approach will attract more users, Facebook apparently stayed lean feature-wise. One winning move that Facebook made was opening up of its platform. This act allowed Facebook to leverage the platform to extend the capabilities (creating more apps) and hence making the platform more useful for it's users and eventually the advertisers.

The book cites Chris DeWolfe, cofounder of Myspace, recalling the company's flawed thinking in a 2011 interview: "We tried to create every feature in the world and said, 'O.K., we can do it, why should we open up to let a third party do it? We should have picked 5 to 10 key features
that we totally focused on and let other people innovate on every thing else."

MySpace's demise and Facebook's acceleration to invincibility can be boiled down to one word- Focus. MySpace's rigid approach to add more features 'assuming' that users would be attracted was outwitted by Facebook's flexible approach to go lean initially and subsequently open the platform.

In one of the recent projects that i was working on, the Product Leader cautioned us to ensure that we go narrow first before we go broad. The essence of going narrow isn't just in ensuring that feature-set during early stages is focused, but also that initial successes set us up for bigger things later on. Sometimes, it's a hard trade-off to achieve, especially in high visibility projects where everyone wants you to achieve more in less time. But it's not just wise, but often essential to out your foot down and you the right thing i.e. to focus.

I will leave you with the recent tweet that i read:
“Make each program do one thing well. To do a new job, build afresh rather than complicate old programs by adding new features.” - Eric S. Raymond

Image source:

Sunday, March 17, 2019

An idea to create a net of Psychological Safety for demo presenters

Not so long ago, Google researchers set out on a project code-named Project Aristotle - a tribute to Aristotle’s quote, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts". Their goal was to answer the question: “What makes a team effective at Google?

The key findings from Google's research can be found here. For the rest of this article, I want to focus on one of the 5 findings that this study brought forward about building an effective team, Here goes:

Psychological safety: Psychological safety refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.

In other words, Psychological safety is about how much risk team members perceive and what consequences they believe they may face when asking a question, suggesting a new idea, or owning up to a problem (in essence, the team members’ ability to trust others on the team)

The core question is: How can a leader build the feeling of Psychological safety in the work environment ? I was faced with this question sometime back. While leading a high profile Innovation program, i anticipated a situation where people wouldn't feel comfortable receiving the feedback for their demo pitch presentation practice session in a public setting in presence of other teams (with people of varying seniority).

One may argue why would i have wanted to give feedback on pitch presentation in an open setting. There were a few reasons:

1. Giving feedback openly helps in creating an multiplication effect i.e. smart teams learn from the feedback being given to other teams and improve even before getting on practice stage.
2. Secondly, I believe that the hallmark of an open culture is where people can convey and receive any sort of feedback openly.

To deal with the situation, I took inspiration from my past association with Toastmasters club. Toastmasters International is a US headquartered nonprofit educational organization that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of promoting communication and public speaking skills. A few years back, Toasmasters club was installed in the organization. I was one of the few participants from the first batch and completed the entire duration that had some interesting communication/presentation challenges. 

For all the goodness that Toastmasters club brought in, one of the things that stayed with was the way the feedback was given during Toastmasters sessions. From among the Toastmasters in the audience, different roles were designated for capturing the feedback from each speech, some of which were:

  • Ah-Counter: The purpose of the Ah-Counter is to note any overused words or filler sounds.
  • Grammarian: The Grammarian helps club members improve their grammar and vocabulary.
  • Timer: A Timer is responsible for monitoring the time of meeting segments and speakers.
  • Evaluator: Evaluators provide verbal and written feedback to meeting speakers.
So every speech was dissected by each of these judges and feedback conveyed right after the speech, in front of everyone. As i experienced, it worked wonders as speakers got immediate feedback and very specific, actionable insights.

While thinking to solve the problem that i was trying to solve about creating the psychological safety of demo presenters during practice sessions, i thought about how did the process work so well during Toastmasters sessions. Further thinking led me to believe that part of the reason it worked was because speakers were told upfront about the culture in the speaking room and the rules of the whole setting.

The mere act of upfront communication, followed by quality reinforcement led to not only the right setting of expectations but also creating that often elusive safety net for presenters that led them to believe that 'It's ok to make mistakes'.

I followed the similar approach of laying out the rules of the demo pitch presentation sessions upfront and send it over email and promoting using all other means like pasting on the walls while ensuring that people get the message.

What rules did I create ? They are as listed below:

Did these work ? How did i measure the effect of creating these rules ? Unfortunately, there was no objective way to measure other than counting the number of participants (which showed a positive trend since). But anecdotal feedback about bringing this revealed that people liked an environment where they weren't being judged and they loved the stage where they could experiment with demo presentation approaches and get better.


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Work doesn't speak for itself

Work doesn't speak for itself. These are some of the lines i recently read in Austin Kleon's book-'Show Your Work'. I will share a couple of stories that ran through my mind on reading this:

First one....
A while ago, during my early days as a manager (i am no longer a practicing manager), i had one reportee, lets call him Amit. Amit had a belief that I do a great work (which was true) and he also believed that if i continue doing good work, my work will be eventually heard and i will get my due.

Second one...
One of the Innovation programs that i lead in my current organization is the Technology Fair. This program has a high visibility demo day where execs participate and review the demos. Great demos that align with business and project value and impact for the organization gets rewarded and lucky amongst those wins prizes under different categories. In the build-up to this event, I plan impactful demo presentation trainings and subsequently the demo pitch practice sessions. General observation, the attendance in these two sessions tend to be less than ideal.
Now there can be many reasons for the attendance to be low like training quality not good (not in this case), people busy with their work, people having schedule conflicts, or simply they think they don't need training on pitch presentation.

The last point is significant to this discussion. People feel they are good presenters and they would carry along demo well. Or they just think the content of their work is so good that the 'work will speak for itself.'

As evident, the whole idea that 'work will speak for itself' has played many times in my career. And I know that I am not alone to have experienced that

In the book that I called out earlier in this blog- 'Show Your Work', there's a mention of an experiment- gist of which goes like this:

A few people went to thrift stores and brought a few insignificant items with average cost of $1.25 per item. They then hired story writers who wrote compelling stories about the items purchased. They listed these items on eBay with the associated stories produced by the writers. Collectively, the items fetched close to 30 times more than the collective price of original items.

This little experiment goes on to prove that:
1. Stories matter, more than what we think they do.
2. Items didn't speak for themselves, they needed stories to be their voice.
3. Story telling is one of the most underrated skill.

Taking cues from this experiment, the demos with strong technical contents does have a great value but if it is wrapped with a strong storyline, it's value, metaphorically, can be 30 times as much.

Whether we realize it or not, we are always telling stories about our work- be it during 1:1 with manager, in a team meeting, in meeting with customer or even while writing emails. But more often we fail to appreciate the importance these situations and don't tell effective stories that amplifies our work. In a hyper-connected, geographically split workplace, it is even more important that we treat story telling as a skill.

One of my favorite lines that I used to tell my team was- 'The work shouldn't be considered as done till it is communicated. Communication about the work done is not separate from work, it's wise to consider it as a part of work.'

Finally, I will leave you with the lines from the book I quoted in this blog-

Words matter. Artists love to trot out the tired line, "My work speaks for itself," but the truth is, our work doesn't speak for itself. Human beings want to know where things came from, how they were made, and who made them. The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work,and how people feel and what they understand about your work effects how they value it.

Our work doesn't exist in vacuum. There's an ecosystem of people and groups that are dependent on or are related to our work. It's prudent that we attach a voice to it and amplify the impact of it without sounding boastful and disrespectful.

What do you think?

Image source:

Management is a noble profession

I recently listened to the 'Play to Potential' podcast, in which Deepak Jayaraman hosted Suresh Narayanan, the Chairman and MD of Nestle India.

Among many things that they discussed, one of the questions Deepak asked Suresh was his advise to younger generation that is joining the workspace. Deepak shared these 5 points:

1. Work to your strengths.
2. Work with commitment. Work with passion.
3. Don't keep looking across your shoulder (don't compare). When you take away the fear of being as good as someone else, you become successful. In a world of diverging paths, it doesn't make sense to compare with how your peers are doing or your cohort at work.

4. Have courage to speak up or speak out, especially when things are going wrong.
5. Work for your people- I succeed because of strength and competence of people around me, irrespective of the size of organization. If you take care of your people, they take care of you.
These are all actionable and well-intentioned points. The last one, especially caught my attention. It reminded me of what i read in Clayton Christensen's book, How Will You Measure Your Life?,  here goes a specific text:
Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team.

Of all the adjectives used to describe the profession of management, "noble" is very underused and refreshing. If we look at the job description of a typical manager role, it consists of myriad responsibilities. A manager in a typical day handles things that are complex and equivalent to a high volume of work.
One of the typical responsibilities that makes a management job special is the ability to coach and mentor others to bring a lasting change to the organization and the work lives of the people. Much like parents cannot simply pass the responsibility of raising their kids on to someone else, managers should not delegate development of the people for whom they are directly responsible. Good managers tend to become restless if they don't feel that people for whom they are responsible are growing and learning each day on the job.
A host of leaders and CEOs featured in Corner Office space at brilliantly acknowledge the role mentors played in helping them reach the pinnacle of success.
Larry Bossidy, former CEO of AlliedSignal, once said, "At the end of the day, you bet on people, not strategies.” Managers are the people with the special role that encourages people to work and play to their highest potential. Management as a profession becomes noble only if managers demonstrate the willingness to take their role a step further by committing to creating memorable experiences for their employees.
Leaders create value; managers count value. Leaders exercise influence; managers exercise power. Leaders inspire and motivate; managers simply plan, organize, and coordinate.
Many articles that explore the differences between leadership and management are written in a way that undermines the importance of managers, while projecting leadership as the superior of the two. 
I, for one, believe that management, if practiced well, is a noble profession and gets much less credit for its existence than it deserves.
What do you think ?
In this article, I have reproduced some of the text from my own article at
Image source:,204,203,200_.jpg

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

We are really the masters of our own destiny

I had written about my earlier meeting with Utkarsh Rai that i wrote about here. We had an interaction again recently and that led me to a few more learnings.

After have a successful professional career, Utkarsh decided to disrupt his life in the spirit of exploring the unknown and improving himself. After leaving his job as Managing Director of Infinera India (he wrote 3 books during this tenure), he became a certified coach and also took courses in acting and recently acted in a high profile Bollywood movie with a renowned director and actor.
That is what i call as 360 degrees disruption. Simply put, it is excelling in a totally unrelated field in a very short timeframe possible. In my span, i haven't seen any corporate leader of a large organization making such a dramatic shift in profession, in such a short time.

This actually reminded of something very riveting i read a while back. It was about Max Deutsch, a Chess novice who challenged Magnus Carlsen, the greatest chess player of this generation, on track too be a GOAT (Greatest of All Time). He describes himself as an extreme learner. From this profound article:

Starting in November 2016, as part of his Month to Master project, Max has mastered one expert-level skill every month, blogging daily about the process. So far, Max has become a grandmaster of memory, learned to draw realistic portraits, solved a Rubik’s Cube in 17 seconds, landed a standing backflip, played a five-minute improvisational blues guitar solo, held a 30-minute conversation in a foreign language, built a self-driving car, and developed perfect pitch.

A story worth following and something that resonated with me as i spoke with Utkarsh recently.  Sharing what i learned from the conversation.

Being Vulnerable:
I know i started this article praising Utkarsh's achievements and risk-taking abilities but what stoood out for me was his ability to sound fully in control of his destiny, was as vulnerable as any lesser mortals would be. He shared unsafe side of risks he had taken with his life and was fully present to find the way out of these situations. Accepting to be vulnerable is a sign of a balanced and authentic human being.

Embracing discomfort:
In our talk, he made a candid admission that he has disrupted his life completely. He was advised against doing it by many of his well-wishes, yet he went by instinct and in return, earned valuable experiences and some fine achievements. While explaining his situation, he talked about physical and mental discomfort that he chose to put himself into. Like all of us, he had the choice to be happy in the current situation and in the bubble of comfort zone.
We are all the result of choices we make every day. Our small decisions shape our destiny. Making risky choices may result in short-term discomfort but may also come with long-term gains. I am sure when Utkarsh looks back many years later at this time, he would look back with much more awe and satisfaction that he would have had he been leading a predictable life.

Conviction that tomorrow would be better:
I heard him say that I beleive tomorrow would be a better day, always no matter what. And often it turns out to be true.
I listed to one podcast where Ravi Venkatesan (Former Microsoft India CEO) referred to a book called as 'Learned Optimism', where he said that optimism can be learned.
Positive thinking almost always shows the path forward, should be a default state but yet struggle to master it and give way to negative thoughts.

Thank you Utkarsh, for teaching that we are really the masters of our destiny. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication when it comes to Corporate Communication

I recently drive a presentation for the work/project i am involved in executing. It was for an audience that did not have much inkling about the project.

To establish a connect with people, i tried and gave some analogies about the building block of the project i.e. the APIs. 

Wikipedia definition of API is:
In computer programming, an application programming interface (API) is a set of subroutine definitions, communication protocols, and tools for building software. In general terms, it is a set of clearly defined methods of communication among various components.
For anyone unaware about APIs, the above definition can turn out to be quite overwhelming. So i resorted to giving analogies to explain the concept.  I picked these up from this thoughtful a16z podcast.

Analogies for describing an API:
#1. Door of the house. Software is the house and door is the one that gives you access to all that's inside.

#2. Say you are building a castle (analogous to software product) and the castle has different lego pieces of different colors and different shapes. Those are the different micro-services and how they actually and how they connect each other is via the 4 end points which are the APIs

#3. Software is a body and APIs are the veins that are moving information inside the body. They take information from different organs of the body and move all the information around.

My inference from this experience:
Everyone loves simplicity but for various reasons professionals tend to express things in a complicated way. Some of this complexity is thrust upon by organizational culture especially the ones that are inclined to give more respect to people who use heavy jargons. (Just a disclaimer: I have nothing personal against people who use heavy jargons, most of them are learned people for whom these jargons form second nature.)

One of the lessons i learned from a leader i admire was that upcoming leaders should align with corporate vocabulary. The words that form corporate vocabulary actually stems of what CEO and the leadership teams speak externally, with customers, with partners and with employees. So, if the source that forms corporate vocabulary, there are heavy jargons , TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms), the rest of organizations tend to follow the same.

I am reminded of this tweet from Vala Afsher about Elon Musk's dislike for acronyms.

The tendency to form own terms, jargons and acronyms slows down the communication in the organization and hence should be discouraged.

Organizations would do well to embrace Leonardo da Vinci's ageless lines when it comes to communication within the organization.

 "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." 

What are your strategies to uncomplexify communication ?

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Notes from Leadership Summit: Great Leaders Take Risk

This one's really a blast from the past. I had attended a Leadership Summit back in 2010, which had a positive impact on me. I remember this conference for a couple of reasons.

First reason was obvious- various sessions at this conference were chaired was industry leaders including a few luminaries. In addition to the learnings i gathered, it was a sort of fan boy moment to hear them live.

A more
inconspicuous reason was related to my note taking skills. I remember that I managed to note most of the stories and key points I gathered in this conference. It may sound like a routine thing to many and you may wonder why I feel proud about it. I have a perspective on this and I
wish to share it here.
I feel note-taking is one of the most underrated yet most effective skills. The fact that almost 9 years later I am reproducing my learnings via this blog is a reason enough to consider note taking as a serious skill. Without these notes, I may have had these learnings hidden at some corner of my mind but that wouldn't have helped me nor the readers- just because of sheer inability to reproduce them at the moment of need.

The session notes that I reproduce here from a session on risk taking. A cool thing about this panel session was that it was chaired by country heads of my current and the former organization.
Risk taking is an often talked about virtue and at the same time one of the least understood one too.
There are numerous examples about risk taking that one can learn about yet it is a concept that is hard to internalize with just reading theory. You got to take risks to truly understand what risk taking is all about.

Here are some nuggets from the session that I made note of. Hope you enjoy going through these as much as I did re-reading these again.

Great Leaders take Risk
Sridhar Jayanthi, Senior VP, Engineering & Managing Director, McAfee India
Rakesh Singh, VP, products and Managing Director, Citrix R&D India

My assessment notes:
·       This was again a panel discussion and quite enlightening of all.
·       This session was again not PPT driven and involved sharing of real life experiences around risk taking. This was moderated by Sridhar Jayanthi.

Key Takeaways:
·       Both panelists seem to agree that one of the biggest risk that a professional can take is deciding to start a Start-up operation.

·       In Start-ups, the major risks are around constraints and having to manage your new born business around those inevitable constraints.

·       In a Leadership team, Risk is a way of life.

·       There was a reference to the book- “Design of Business” in one of the discussions.

·       One striking quote- “If you don’t take risk, you are stagnant. And if you are stagnant, you are not going linear but falling back literally.”

·       Take risk to grow people and help them take your place.
o   One such risk story was narrated by Sridhar Jayanthi. In one of his previous organizations, they I think hired a person (who was a construction worker) to take care of cleaning/housekeeping stuff. This guy had not even completed his schooling but was quite passionate. One of the tasks that he was involved in doing was collect the printouts near the printer and ensuring that the place was clean. One of the things, he observed was that during every Friday, there were many printouts (around 100s) that were fired and the printer invariably used to give problems in printing the jobs on Fridays. This guy was a keen observer and he could figure out the problem and not only fixed it but suggested a very productive way of doing the routine job that not anyone else could think of.  Foreseeing his talent, One of the bosses there spotted him and took a risk of training this guy on programming languages and computing stuff. This person picked up the stuff quite steadily and started contributing a role of Engineer very soon. Within few years, he scaled himself as a Manager of Development and by the time Sridhar left the organization, he had scaled up as a Director of Development.
o   An Amazing story of a construction worker who turned out to be an immense success in technology areas. This happened primarily because some took a risk with him and considered him suitable for a technical role.

·       Building Risk culture requires-
o   Risk Enablers
o   People who are grounded having Inner peace.
§  Rakesh Singh narrated a story of founder of Runners High, Dr. Rajat Chauhan, who showed tremendous guts to leave the job (after a successful higher education in US) to do something he found more meaningful for life i.e. become a running coach. It takes great deal of peace with inner self to do something you really want to do especially when going against the tide.
o   Sense of humors
§  Rakesh Singh again illustrated an example of a Pakistan cricket player- Shahid Afridi. During the recent Test cricket series with Australia, he 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.

·       Create a risk environment in the organization-
o   What you rewards and how you handle failure determines the risk taking appetite of the organization.
o   There was a talk of organization which used to reward the Best failure. How many organizations do that ?

·       How can Managers become risk takers ?
o   First and foremost- One got to be a risk taker.
o   A lot of times success and failures in career is because of what opportunity one picks up. Great leaders grab the opportunity when they find it.
o   Get buy-in from the people. What people say about you and way they perceive you is important.
o    Be genuine and be visible-
§  People should be high skilled communicators.
§  Don’t be arrogant or boastful but be visible and market yourself and your achievement in a right manner.
§  Quiet achievers are very hard to find in an organization.

Images source/credits:,f_auto,fl_progressive,q_80,w_800/18m5vfjl1jqjmjpg.jpg