Sunday, April 28, 2019

Innovators have a beginner's mindset

This post is in continuation to my post on 'My Talk on Innovation'. As i promised, i am double-clicking on some aspects that i shared in my talk to awesome internship batch at my organization.

The Andy Grove story:
I think i read this story a while back in Andy Grove's book:  Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company and i have quoted this quite a few times.

Let me do it one more time here:

Years ago, the original product of Intel was D-RAM which is basically memory for computers and they had just started to invent the micro-processor. They had a real business problem, the Japanese were killing them in the D-RAM market, just destroying their market share.

So Andy Grove and Robert Noyce were at the office late one night and they were talking to each other.
  • Andy says to Robert: Wow we got a problem!
  • Robert says we sure do.
  • Andy asks- If Board says we would get the new guys to solve this problem, what would the new guys do.
  • Robert says Oh that’s easy, they will get us out of the D-RAM business.
  • So Andy Grove says, Yes why don't we do that before these other guys get in.
What happened next is history. Intel shunned the D-RAM business and got into microprocessor business, leading to one of the most outstanding business turnarounds.

To me, Andy’s question about “what would new guys do” is quite profound because it reflects that Andy was more willing to be a beginner again. Here is what i learn about being a beginner from this inspiriting story:

1. One can think like a beginner at any stage of one's life:
Andy was almost in his mid-life and at the top of the corporate ladder when he and Robert took the call to cannibalize Intel's existing business and start a new one. It was not just the business model change, it was also the change in product category, competitors, suppliers and almost about starting a new company. He could have chosen to rest on his laurels but the fact that he could think like a beginner at that stage and stature, should be a proof enough that being like a beginner is a mindset that could be achieved at any stage and age.

2. Being a beginner is a default state for human beings:
Human beings are not born experts, our default state is that of a beginner. We cover the journey of being an expert from beginner by flexing our learning muscles, building skills and working hard. when Andy decided to go the microprocessor way, there was a huge learning curve ahead of him. He embraced it fully like a beginner and without any pretenses about his skills and was willing to learn from people junior from his, took on reading books and worked through with a solid learning agenda.

3. Beginners are not too attached to their outputs, past achievements:
The fact that Andy could let go of something that he had built so passionately tells that he was pragmatic about things. He wasn't overly attached with what he had achieved and that helped him let go of it and build something even bigger. He could have chosen to rest on his own laurels but he took the hard path, which was also right for the situation Intel was in.

In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities. In a expert's mind, there are only a few. Innovators, generally, are experts at divergent thinking. They think of many ideas before zeroing in on the ones that would have the biggest bang for the buck. It's not to say that the experts cannot be the innovators but right mix, more often, is an expert with beginner's mind.

Image source:

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Innovators know when to stop

This post is in continuation to my post on 'My Talk on Innovation'. As i promised, i am double-clicking on some aspects that i shared in my talk to awesome internship batch at my organization.

My Story:
In my final year of engineering, I appeared in SSB (Services Selection Board) exam for entry into Indian Air Force short service commission. Having cleared the written exam, I had to appear in the next phase of exam in India's holy city of Varanasi.

The next phase of evaluation spanned over couple of days. One of them was an exam that tested
one's physical abilities with a series of courses like jumping from a heighted platform, grabbing the rope and coming down, monkey crossing the rope etc.
One such exercise was climbing a 12ft wall in one go. I was probably among the first ones to have a go at it. I took a long run up and tried to grip one of the grippable portion of the wall and then use the momentum to push myself up. I could reach considerable height but failed to climb up. I somehow picked myself, completed the last routine and went back to staging area.

While at the staging area, I could still see the wall and people attempting the climb. After noticing for a few minutes, I could see the pattern. Most people took a long run up, jumped high, fell short and moved away. Since more than one tries were allowed, they again (one person did 3-4 times) did the same steps but got same result every time.

Persistence vs Blind Persistence:
Persistence, as we all know, is our ability to continue chasing the goal despite the odds and not giving up. I recall to have argued in my head that what I was seeing (people trying to cross the wall again and again using the same method) wasn't really persistence but I didn't have the right word in my vocabulary to describe it.

Years later, when I was doing my professional certification in graphology (handwriting analysis), I came across a personality trait called as 'Blind persistence'. Blind persistence, exactly was what I had observed during the SSB exam that day i.e. trying the same method again and again and expecting a different result, yet failing. (There's was way to know whether one possesses this trait via one's handwriting).

Is Perfection always a favorable trait ?
In summary, the people who possess blind persistence find it hard to decide how soon/when to stop.I have this peculiar observation in my work with innovators. One of the patterns that I see with the first time patent submitters is that they work a lot to perfect their idea before filing the invention
disclosure form. Perfection itself is not a bad trait to possess except when it comes at a cost of progress. The extent of perfection is so dire in some of the first time patent submitters that they take too much time (sometimes spanning multiple quarters) to take feedback or even write an idea draft. This whole cycle of over-mulling of ideas in their head without taking feedback is quite akin to those Air Force aspirants trying to climb the wall without changing their operating methods.

Was it Einstein who defined insanity as thinking same thing over and over again and expecting a different result ? So, In addition to raising your hands which typically indicates the start of innovation process, we ought to also build a sound judgement of when to seek opinions (i.e. sharing ideas in closed circles) and decide when to change course.

Take action on your ideas as soon as possible to know their real worth:

One of the things i tell first time patent submitters is to submit your first invention disclosure as early as possible. Don't sit on the ideas for a long time. Waiting overly on a single idea hurts the innovators in more ways than one could imagine-
1. It makes the existing idea stale. After a while, without actions/feedback gathering on ideas people just go in circles.
2. It blocks the inflow of other ideas. Keeping the focus narrow on just one idea again stalls the innovation process.

When it comes to ideas, it is ideal to have your own idea funnel large (check the Aaron Levie example) with a lot of ideas and have a system to let go of the ideas that don't get validated after the due diligence.

Innovators do know when to stop!

Image source:

Friday, April 26, 2019

Innovators nurture side-projects

This post is in continuation to my post on 'My Talk on Innovation'. As i promised, i am double-clicking on some aspects that i shared in my talk to awesome internship batch at my organization.

My Story:
Earlier in the day, I had a short twitter conversation with Gaurav Mittal. Gaurav was an ex-employee of my current organization (Citrix). My memory of him at Citrix was one of years back. I recall him demoing an interesting technology. It was a wearable device that one could wear on the knuckles and it would assist you with feedback while walking. The device was meant for visually impaired people who could leverage this to make their lives easier. What was demoed was still a prototype with a lot of wires and circuits dangling on the sides.

If i recall correctly, Gaurav worked with the team that was chartered with life cycle maintenance of the products. And he took up the development of this wearable gadget as a side-project. Fast forward 5-6 years, Gaurav is now the Founder and CEO of Eye-D.  
(From the websiteEye-D helps visually impaired be location aware, explore and navigate to nearby places of interest, evaluate surroundings with their smartphone camera and read printed text. Eye-D will serve as the true companion for most of your daily assistance needs.

Last year, I was a judge at a social start-up accelerator where many start-ups pitched to get grants and support. Eye-D was among the start-ups that pitched. If the app/play store penetration of their app and user base and the industry accolades are any indicators to go by, i believe they have had an impressive and a successful run so far.

What qualifies as a side-project ?:
The most interesting part of this story for me, as you might have guessed by now, is the fact that it started as a side-project. For the lack of a better definition, something qualifies as a side project if:
a) It is not a part of your main job.
b) It is something done out of interest and passion.
c) It is something that you do during your discretionary time.

Sometime back, I was reading the book called as Sprint: How To Solve Big Problems and Test
New Ideas in Just Five Days and noticed many examples from Google that started as side-projects but eventually became big. Priority Inbox feature and Google Hangouts to name a few. I was also reading somewhere that Instagram started as a side-project. A few days back, I dissected the case of MailChimp, which was also started as a side-project. Sharing from the blog:

"Mailchimp, named after their most popular ­e-card character, launched in 2001 and remained a side project for several years, earning a few thousand dollars a month. Then in 2007, when it hit 10,000 users, the two decided to commit full-time."

In my experience in running innovation programs, the projects that largely stood-out are the ones that started as a side-project- where the innovators chose to put in all their energies and skills, not because somebody is telling them to but because they just want to.

I understand that side-projects are important, but i don't have time:
This is one of the common reasons for people to not take-up side projects. Time availability (or lack of it) is normally depends upon individual's context. Sometimes there are genuine reasons beyond office that dictate how much time one has at hand. I won't get into specifics but largely i have seen it as a time management issue, as a motivation issue.

Everything else being equal, people who find time for side-projects are the ones:
1. Who are intrinsically motivated.
2. Who have greater hunger, fire-in-the-belly than most.
3. Who are not satisfied with the status-quo and want to do something about it.

Our best work generally happens when we have a big enough challenge and not enough time.

It is very evident that one got to embrace side-project as a potential means to start the innovation journey. Small beginnings often result in big endings.

Image source:

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least

Years ago, I had my first brush with corporate social service (with McAfee). A day after we had been to an orphanage to celebrate the festival of Diwali with my colleagues, I recall asking my friend- "Why do we have so less participation in these events ?".

We were only a handful of people who visited the orphanage and if the smiles and kids' energy was any yardstick to go by, we clearly managed to make a small but surely a positive difference. My friend,Hariharan Srinivasanwho had been organizing these events for long, listened intently to my question and answered in one phrase- "It's all about priority". This phrase somehow stayed with me all this while.

This week, I was a part of another corporate community service event where we teamed up to fix potholes in and around the office area. I was personally attached to this event because I led the first of such initiative 3-4 years back at my organization (Citrix) and part of the road that we fixed, still remains in top condition. I had planned that event impromptu with the help of a few colleagues, we brought the material, studied the potholes fixing process and just went out and did the same. This time, we had partnered with a social organization known as 'PotHoleRaja'.

While going from one pothole to another, I had an interesting and inspiring conversation with the founder of 'PotHoleRaja', Dr. Prathaap. He was the former Air force pilot, operated out of Siachin glacier. A spine compression caused him to bid goodbye to his pilot career. He joined corporate life, had a successful stint there. Did his PhD. And eventually became an entrepreneur running 5 or so companies. Seeing his varied profile and the fact that he managed so many transitions was inspiring. I asked him what keeps him going, how did he manage to achieve so much diversity of experience and success. He said something that may sound familiar to you now. He answered-
"It's about how you prioritize life and the kind of value system you imbibe."

If we do our math right, we all have 24 hours in a day and most of us are privileged to choose how we spend these 24 hours.We could choose to sleep for 2-3 additional hours or we could choose to get us early and go for pothole fixing drive that bunch of us did earlier this week. Before I sound like being anti-sleep person, my point is really not about how much one sleeps, its really about what we choose to do with limited time we have every day.

As we stepped forward, I asked Dr. Prathaap- Aren't we doing the job that government is supposed to do ? His response- "I don't personally follow 'It's not my problem attitude'". Agreed someone in the Government is supposed to do the job but rather than cribbing over it, he chose to see a bigger picture. Every year, thousands of people die because of potholes (i was told that count was even more than terrorism). We just can't let people die in assumption that someone will come and fix the problem. We live in a society where it is very easy to embrace sense of entitlement and let the things go as they have been. In the end, it's again about choice- the choice between taking charge or continue living subdued life.

Didn't Johann Wolfgang von Goethe got it right when he said-
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” 
Have a sense of priority when it comes to your time. Lost money can be regained but the time once lost is gone forever.

Monday, April 22, 2019

How often did Aaron Levie 'Show-up' before succeeding ?

Earlier today, I was reading the book- You Only Have To Be Right Once: The Unprecedented Rise of the Instant Tech Billionaires.
I randomly stumbled upon the story of Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, the enterprise cloud company.

What caught my attention while reading Aaron's story was the below paragraph:

"His high school classmates were more enraptured. While he obsessed over the business models underpinning this new thing calledthe Internet, his buddy Jeff Queisser, who lived four houses down would haul over his twenty-pound Dell tower and CRT monitor forall-night coding sleepovers. Some fifteen startups ensued. There was an Internet kiosk for hotels and malls, a Web portal for real estate, and "Zizap." which Levie described as a "really slow, pay-to-play search engine."
They all failed, though Levie considers that word too binary: "Failure? I wouldn't put it that way. They didn't take off, sure, but I got something out of every one.""
In summary, Aaron indulged himself in some 15 start-ups, all of them didn't take off before coming up with Box. You read that number right, 15!

I found this reading timely as it was yesterday that I blogged about Innovators show up more often than everyone else. I drove the blog with my story, but Aaron's story really validates that:

1. Success in any endeavor is not an overnight phenomenon.

2. It requires trying the hell out of all the available options.
3. It requires being curious, and not being limited in thinking.
4. It requires being courageous, being unafraid of failure, rather wearing failure as a badge of honour.

Images source:,204,203,200_.jpg

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Innovators show-up more often than everyone else

This post is in continuation to my post on 'My Talk on Innovation'. As i promised, i am double-clicking on some aspects that i shared in my talk to awesome internship batch at my organization.

I narrated the story from my first job. I started working in an organization known as 'Quark Media House Pvt. Ltd.'. It was a publishing software product company, relatively lesser known in Indian tech scene that was dominated by by Indian services companies at that phase. Quark, at that stage, was ahead of Adobe in the publishing software segment.

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.

The reason I share this story and my learnings from it is two-fold:

1. Having worked with a lot of innovators in the recent past, I can vouch that Innovators simply don't lose a moment to grab the opportunities that matter to them. Many a times i see similar people participating in the innovation programs and gaining on multiple dimensions. They simply know the knack of showing-up more often than anyone else. They simply don't have the levers that pull them down in any way.

2. Second, was more of a personal learning that i inculcated from the story I shared. I found the words to express the learning from the podcast featuring Ravi Venkatesan and Pankaj Mishra. In that instance, I allowed myself to come in the way of my own progress. As Ravi narrated:

The biggest obstacle to your success is you. Sooner or later, we each become the barriers to other's success. We have to learn to get out of our own way.It takes high degree of self-awareness.
Metaphor of a giant balloon: Think of a giant hot-air balloon which has a huge lift, thats your potential. You could be anything but this balloon is held down by thick ropes or chains. These chains are your weaknesses, your fears.
Don't create stories in your mind that are self-limiting.
People who are able to succeed beyond luck are the ones that are able to see whats holding them down and gradually unshakle themselves.

Needless to say, that instance taught me a lesson for a lifetime that I can recall even now and share. That made me show-up more often than I even have, every day, every month, every year.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

My Talk on Innovation

I recently got an opportunity to talk to a talented batch of interns on the subject of innovation. My focus on this talk was essentially on the mindset that makes innovators. It was based on something that i have observed while working closely with innovation teams in the last couple of years.

I couldn't get a chance to prepare a shiny powerpoint. Having less time at hand was a factor, but for most part it was intentional to talk literally face-to-face and not 'through the PPT'. I relied on an mind-map created a few hours before the talk.  In the hindsight, it turned out to be my tribute to Tony Buzan, the father of mind-map, who sadly passed away a few days back.

I share my mind-map and the key points i shared during this talk as below. In the upcoming blogs, I will double-click on some of the stories i shared during this talk.

Mindset of an Innovator:
1. Innovators show-up more often than everyone else.
2. Innovators nurture side projects.
3. Innovators know when to stop.
4. Innovators have a beginners mindset.
5. Innovators have a bias towards action.
6. Innovators embrace constraints.
7. Innovators embrace diversity in teams.
8. Innovators don't hesitate to ask for help.
9. Innovators are situationally aware.
10. Innovators follow compass, not maps.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

How does visual thinking help us understand/think better ? (Part-2)

In continuation with my last post, I am sharing the key points of my conversation with Ashok Thiruvengadam for the SmartBites series.

In the last blog, i did write about how visual thinking helps in being more aware, and live in the moment and also beings in brevity in communication that is much needed these days.

Here are a few more areas where visual thinking has helped me.

3. Being more intentional about listening:
Some time back, I had organized a session on Quantum Computing in my organization. Quantum Computing is not a routine topic to comprehend and explain. My colleague, Maha did a wonderful job breaking down the basics of the subject and making it understandable for the audience. I sat down during this session with my digital sketchpad (Lenovo laptop) and stylus pen. And started to 'draw' the session being imparted as the session went on.

This experience of live sketchnoting was an eye-opener for me. It was more of a lesson in active listening that no book or podcast could have taught me. For me, to draw the summary of the ongoing session was more an exercise of eliminating what was not needed than really to gather what was needed. In short, it was an exercise of separating noise from signal. 

Visual thinking has made me more intentional about listening. While the left side of brain was busy understanding the content, segregating into different knowledge buckets, the right side of brain was actively engaged in drawing pictorials metaphors of all the gathered knowledge. The beauty of this process was that it was all happening in tandem while the session was going on- i.e. listening, assimilating, categorizing, elimination, metaphorization, coming up with pictorial equivalents and finally putting it all on canvas. This was one of the most complete listening experiences i have had.

4. Retaining more info:
The fact that you can draw the summary of a session or an article or a book or literally anything you like, helps to retain more info in your mind. 
I loved this quote from David Heinemeier:
'I’ve realized that the hard part about most books is not reading them but recalling their knowledge or insight when you need it the most.'
Sketchnoting helps you achieve exactly that. The simple act of putting pen to paper helps you remember more but the fact that you can see the sketchnotes anytime you like (they are all over my work area) means that you always tend to actively or passively glance through this.This act helps in ensuring that you build strong neural connections in the brain.

5. Building Networks:
Finally, one of the biggest blessings i got from my journey of visual thinking is that it helped me connect with various accomplished people, most of whom helped me make a better person and professional. 
I remember I read this quote that stayed with me (I think from the book- 'Show your Work'):
Networking is less about knowing people and more about putting your best work out in the open. that attracts the best people out there.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

How does visual thinking help us understand/think better ? (Part-1)

In continuation with my last post, I am sharing the key points of my conversation with Ashok Thiruvengadam for the SmartBites series.

[Ashok] 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?

[Anuj] Let me sharing 3-4 perspectives on this one:

Visual thinking helps you be more aware, be present in the moment:
Not so long ago, I had a post-dinner rare ice-cream with my family. In the ice-cream shop, there was an interesting menu (on a big board) which represented the whole list of ice-creams on offer in a sort of story form. The whole menu board was divided into different sections depicting each season and each section listed the ice creams on offer for the said season. Not only that, it had cool graphics representing each sections and the ice-cream names were called out in a very interesting set of fonts. The visual thinker in me was quite busy absorbing the whole layout with the keenness to try out some of the fonts on return to home.
If you replay my entire experience at the ice-cream shop, what is more evident is the whole experience of embracing the moment and appreciating the art and life around you. Most of the visual artists (i don't claim to be an expert one yet) take inspiration for their art from the surroundings. They are deeply observant and over a period of time, they develop this ability to be present in the moment and embracing life to the full. This self-awareness really helps to extract more life out of each moment.

Visual thinking brings in brevity in communication:
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.

Will be sharing more in the Part-2 of this blog. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 15, 2019

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

In continuation with my last post, I am sharing the key points of my conversation with Ashok Thiruvengadam for the SmartBites series.

[Ashok] Creativity and lateral thinking are seen as very important traits for all, certainly for QA too. What are non-QA skills that are essential a QA person to working smartly? 

[Anuj] Broadly speaking, I would like to think of these skills being divided in these 2 categories:
1. Elementary skills
2. Timeless skills

I believe that these are so important to the overall success and hence deserve this categorization.

When were are born as a human beings, which are the first few skills that we learn ? We announce our arrival to the world by speaking our first word/sentence, so that's verbal communication as a skill. Somewhere down the line, we learn how to hold the pen and scribbling on the paper, so that's drawing/doodling as a skill. We learn to write alphabets in our chosen language, so that's written communication as a skill. And then we start to read alphabets/sentences, so that's reading as a skill.

I call these set of skills (in bold) as Elementary skills because these are the first few skills we learn in our lives. And I believe that these skills have maximum impact in defining our success as a human beings in any field of endeavors.

If we fast forward our lives to now and think about the people/leaders we admire, be is Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Nandan Nilekani or even sports people like Roger Federer, Virat Kohli and likes. One thing that stands out in these people is that they are so effective not just because they have mastered their core functional skills like running a business or playing tennis/cricket, but they are extremely good at many of these elementary skills. As an example, Roger Federer can express himself verbally as well as anybody and hence has become such a huge influence in today's generation.

If anything, I prefer to call Elementary skills a force-multiplier of positive things in one's career and lives.

Second set of skills that I call our here are the Timeless skills. I get this phrase after listening to Ravi Venkatesan, the former CEO of Microsoft India. Timeless skills are the ones that would remain relevant irrespective of all the disruption that we see happening around us. These are truly timeless in nature. There are many of these, but for the purposes of this discussion, i would call out 2 of these:

The first one is situational awareness. Having run various high impact technology specific programs in my organization, I can vouch for the fact that people who are eventually successful in an organization are the ones that are most aware of what's happening in and around themselves. They intently listen to what the CEO and other leaders are telling about our successes and problems as an organization. They are hooked on to all the right channels. They build network with right kind of people. They attend all employee briefings, all-hands type events and ensure that they pick-up enough signals and leverage these to accurately spot the gap areas in the organization and then help to close them.

The second one is learning agility. I didn't say learning ability but learning agility. Sharing this from my previous blog (inspired from Ravi Venkatesan's podcast).

Learning agility is really about- 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.

Stay tuned for more updates from my conversation with Ashok Thiruvengadam.

Please do share your comments/feedback.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

A Conversation on “Creativity and Visual Thinking” (SmartBites series)

A couple of weeks back, a dear friend of mine Ashok Thiruvengadam (founder and CEO of Stag Software) reached out to record a video on the theme of  “Creativity, Visual thinking ..” to inspire QA to “Think better. Test rapidly”. 

He recently launched a new initiative called as SMART QA. The theme of Smart QA ( 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. 

The first part of this video conversation was released a few days back and I am sharing it here. I will be writing a bit more on this conversation in the upcoming blog-posts.

Would appreciate you taking time to go through this and sharing your feedback.

LinkedIn Post:

Facebook Post:

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Two Perspectives on Building Resilience

As Merriam-Webster dictionary defines:
In physics, resilience is the ability of an elastic material (such as rubber or animal tissue) to absorb energy (such as from a blow) and release that energy as it springs back to its original shape. 

For human beings, resilience is an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

Not so long ago at work, i found myself and team around me in a sort of difficult situation. The project that we were working on went off-track primarily for non-technical reasons. While it's too early to do a post-mortem and give you a prescription to deal with similar issues now (may be later!), I would focus a bit more on the myriad of reactions it generated within the team. 

Some team members got into fault finding mode, some tried to over-analyze the situation, some tried to find reasons why we were in the situation we were in, some blamed the 'forces' tried to detail the project, some tried to work through the way forward, some stayed quiet, some didn't seem bothered.

Political situations at work are ugly and hardly comes with an algorithmic solution that everyone can follow. If there is anything true about such situations, it is that as long as human beings are at play, there will be politics and there is no running away from it.  This post is not a primer on how to deal with politics in an organization but i do want to focus on a small part pertaining to that i.e. what should our immediate reaction to such situations be ? More clearly, how should we build resilience to deal with these situations.

I don't claim to be an expert in the field of building resilience but i do want to leave you would 2 distinct perspectives.

The Sheryl Sandberg way:
Sheryl Sandberg is a high-flying executive, currently the COO of Facebook. A couple of years ago, she was in news for a very different reason. Her husband Dave Goldberg (then CEO of passed away suddenly. She shares the journey of her coming to terms with this loss in her book- Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy

In this book, Sheryl teamed up with Adam Grant to bring forward varied perspectives on the topic of Resilience. Sharing a few quotes from this book that relevant to this discussion.
"Resilience is a muscle that needs to be built not during a crisis but during normal low
stress times."
“I thought resilience was the capacity to endure pain, so I asked Adam how I could figure out how much I had. He explained that our amount of resilience isn’t fixed, so I should be asking instead how I could become resilient. Resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity—and we can build it. 
“Resilience comes from deep within us and from support outside us. It comes from gratitude for what’s good in our lives and from leaning in to the suck. It comes from analyzing how we process grief and from simply accepting that grief. Sometimes we have less control than we think. Other times we have more. I learned that when life pulls you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again.” 
So how is this relevant in the context of tough situations we face in the organizations:
1. Resilience as a skill can be learned.
2. We need not wait for tough situation to arrive before learning about Resilience. One of the ways is to communicate often with people who are undergoing pain and genuinely figure out how to help them.
3. Resilience comes from improving the way we process the emotions when faced with tough situations. Accepting that we are in an unusual, challenging situation is one part. The other spectrum is to be thankful for what we have at all moments.

The Deepa Malik way:
Deepa Malik is an India Paralympic athlete. She is the first Indian woman to win a medal in Paralympic games. She holds world records in multiple paralympic sports categories. He sports career started at the age of 36 and has so far won 18 international medals.

I was recently to her podcast with Deepak Jayaraman and Deepa shared the following practical perspective on the subject of resilience.

The biggest help that come in dealing from in maintaining resilience or solving a particular problem is to automatically shift into a solution finding gear rather than harping on the problem. So that's what i do, whenever i am faced with a challenge, i immediately start looking for a solution on how to go about it. And solution finding will again come back to learning. Learning about the situation or in other words,  a challenge is a change because you want a thing to happen in a certain way and it doesn't. So it automatically says there is a change. How good are you in adapting to a change, how flexible you are to quickly mold yourself to the situation. I think that automatically sets the bar of your resilience. If you are rigid, you are not adapting to the change, you are not willing to learn about the change, you don't want to find a solution to tackle with a situation, then where will the resilience come from. I am very quick to find solutions or alternatives. I think it goes back to the fact that do you have the contingency planning, which reflects the same way as finding the solution.
Asking the same question, how is this advice relevant in the context of problems we face in organizations. While Sheryl Sandberg taught us on mindset to adopt too enhance resilience, what Deepa Malik is really telling us is to train ourselves to bypass the melodrama and self-pity that is usually associated when faced with tough situations and adopt a mindset that seeks solutions as soon as we are faced with problems.

Our goodness in handling changing situations, she says lies in our ability to mold ourselves to the situation at hand. And what stops us from doing that ? It is our decision, our choice to mull over the problem in our head, beyond what is needed.
Keep emotions aside, find your solution finding gear and commit yourself fully to solve the problem.

What are your ways to build resilience ? Do write in comments and share your learnings.

Images source:

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Your 1st workout will be weak, but your 1000th will be strong

Had an interesting interaction on Twitter earlier this week. I got this question a couple of days back. Having taken-up running more than a decade back and continued doing so with the passion of a beginner, i felt compelled to share my perspectives and learnings.

Did a 5K run this morning after a long time. Need to improve timings though. Now the key is to go from 5k to 10k. Any tips and guidance?
My Response:
1. Increase distance gradually. Say 1 km a week. 2. Listen to your body and adapt to the situation. 3. At any moment, Focus on next step, not the finish line. 4. It's ok to mix walk and run. 5. Find the rhythm that works for you physically and mentally and stick to it. 6. Forgot to add one last, but important tip- Don't worry too much about timings as long as you reach finish line without injury and strong. Speed may or (more often) may not help achieve the mind-body rhythm. It's a run, not a (rat) race after all. 🙂

In summary, when it comes to building endurance-
1. Patience is a virtue.
2. One got to be Ok to go through the grind daily, but in smaller chunks.
3. Suspend all the comparisons with others. Only comparison worth doing is with yesterday's self.

This tweet from the author James Clear beautifully sums up the mindset i am proposing in this post:
Your 1st blog post will be bad, but your 1000th will be great. Your 1st workout will be weak, but your 1000th will be strong. Your 1st meditation will be scattered, but your 1000th will be focused. Put in your reps.
Thank you for reading. Please share your thoughts, comments, experiences. 

It's all in the mind

I recall my early association with the sport of Cricket was when i followws Cricket world cup for the first time. The year was 1987. It was a special world cup given that India were the defending champions for the first time and the tournament was being hosted outside England for the first time, with India being one of the hosts.

Recently, I reminisced about one of the memories from that world cup. It was the world cup finals

being hosted at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. England were chasing the score set by Australia. At one stage, England looked all set and cruising towards victory. With 2 or so wickets down for a healthy score and their captain, Mike Gatting was on crease.

While facing left-arm spin from Allan Border, Mike attempted a reverse sweep shot. In 1987, cricket wasn't as commercialized as it is currently. I remember this world-cup was played in traditional white clothes (probably the last one in non-colored clothing) and also recall one of the sponsors of India's captain Kapil Dev were offering him INR 500 for every four he hit and probably INR 1000 for every six, quite meager considering today's lofty standards.
The fancy shots weren't quite a part of the game and the game did have a lot of traditional touch. In such a scenario, playing a shot like reverse sweep was considered as nothing short of a luxury. As luck would have it, Mike Gatting couldn't connect the ball as well and was caught out. England eventually lost the world cup finals by 7 runs and Mike was heavily criticized for playing an irresponsible shot.

Fast forward to 2019 and focusing our attention on a different sport. In the recently concluded Azlan Shah Cup Hockey tournament, South Korean captain Lee Nam Young scored the goal with this unbelievable shot that went right over goalkeeper's head . This was during the finals of the event and during the penalty shootout.

Comparing these 2 situations:
1. The pressure to perform (being finals of a major tournament) was almost the same.
2. Both captains attempted outrageous shots at a crucial junctures during the finals.
3. One succeeded, Other failed.
How does one explain such disparate results in almost similar pressure situation while trying an out-of-the box shot ?
The quest to find answer to this intriguing question took me to Prakash Iyer's book- "The Habit of Winning". Prakash narrated a story about India batsman Robin Uthappa in a match against England
in 2007. While chasing England's score of 316, India needed 10 runs in the last over and had just 2 wickets in hand. After taking 2 singles in the first 2 balls, the equation read- 8 runs needed off 4 balls. At this stage, Robin produced a risky looking scoop shot that sent the ball over wicketkeeper's head for 4. India eventually won that match.
Post the match, Robin was asked what was going through his mind when he decided to play that shot. Didn't he think that if he had missed it, he would have been heavily criticized (like Mike Gatting was).
Robin's response was simple- 'I never thought I'd miss'

Attempting to put all the learnings together:

1. We eventually become what we visualize ourselves to be

I strongly believe that every event that occurs in our lives happens 2 times- one in our head, and then in reality. If i need to reverse engineer the events in the blog, I can hypothesize that Mike Gatting was tentative in visualizing the outcome, whereas Lee Nam Young and Robin Uthappa played out perfect movies in their head before executing those outrageous shots. Now, i know that i am speculating here but i am confident that you get the point here. How well you visualize does make a difference to the eventual outcome.

B.P. Ram validates this thinking in his book- 'Winning Habits Techniques for Excellence in Sports' quotes Jack Nicklaus, the champion golfer from his book "Golf My Way", how he used the techniques of visualization. He writes:

"I never hit shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, In-focus picture of it my head. It's like a colour movie. First I "see" the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes and I "see" tne ball going there, its path, trajectory and shape, even its behaviour on landing. Then there is sort of a fade out. And the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality.Then he adds the tip, Just make sure your movies show a perfect shot. We don't want any horror films of shots flying into sand or water on out of bounds.'

2. Fear of failure defeats well-laid plans:

In high risk situations (or even otherwise), the quality of your outcome also depends upon the nature of thoughts you feed in your mind.

Prakash Iyer further explains Robin Uthappa's case in the said book where he shares-
The difference between successful people and failures is rather simple. Those who succeed recall past successes and wins. And those you fail remember only misses and failures. And, as its often said, it's all in the mind.

The last line says it all- 'Its all in the mind'. You could get trained by best skill masters in the world but if on the day of performance you choose to let defeatist thoughts dominate your mind, then no coaching intervention can help you.

3. People who succeed embrace risk-taking:

For all the bashing Mike Gatting received here as well as post that shot in 1987, I would have to admin one thing that I admire about him, he was a risk taker. Unlike Lee Nam Young and Robin Uthappa, his risk didn't pay-off that day but he did achieve great heights in his cricketing career by becoming a captain of a national side.

Update on 12th-Apr:
Grateful that Prakash Iyer read this article and shared this wonderful summary on twitter

Interesting read. Two lessons I think. 1. Champions visualise success - in their minds, before the actual event. And 2. Champions know they may not always win, but they don’t let the fear of failure come in the way. They just do it!

Images Source/Acknowledgement: (Azlan Shah Cup video source),204,203,200_.jpg