Sunday, July 28, 2019

People matter more than programming

I am finding the book i am reading at the moment fascinating for many reasons. The book is Creative Selection: Inside Apple's Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs.

This book is almost autobiographical in nature, but of a different kind. I have read autobiographies of the leaders from various fields in life but this one covers the events in a life of an Apple engineer (Ken Kocienda) and through that lens explains company's unique design philosophy. He covers his journey through the various projects including the first-ever soft keyboard design, creation of WebKit for composing webmail, building Safari browser from scratch and even shares difficult technical concepts with relatable analogies.

The part that i intend to talk about in this blog is not the analogies Ken writes (i do want to write about it sometime), not the technologies but the phrase that he uses somewhere in the book:

People matter more than programming
Ken was disappointed at not been given the managerial position after successfully delivering Safari browser project. Apparently, his colleague was favored over him. Though he moved on to a different project, the disappointment stayed with him. He appeared for interview with Google and eventually reached a stage where he was asked to confirm the offer. At this stage, he spoke with his Scott Forstall, who was the VP at that time. Infact, Scott himself reached out to him and understood what made him tick and assured that he wouldn't want Ken to leave. Though there wasn't any managerial positions open at that time, Scott figured out a new project (about making Web email work with Apple mail) that had visibility at the level of Steve Jobs. Ken hung on and delivered on the project.

During the execution of the project, he was faced with a typical technical issue where he wasn't able to place the cursor at the right place when the user chose to reply via HTML. On surface, this seemed like an easy problem but deep within, it had various nuances that needed to be taken care of. Feeling struck, he reached out to his old manager (who over-looked him for managerial position, but was still a friend). He suggested to seek guidance of 2 of the senior colleagues. Later, Ken explained the problem and brainstormed the solution with the suggested people. He was eventually able to clear his mind and fix the problem and deliver on the project.

Looking at these two distinct experiences, the situations could easily have gotten out of Ken's favor if they were approached with a binary mindset. Most technology decisions are binary, in the sense that there is a right solution and there isn't one. There are trade-offs but more often decisions tend to be this way. When it comes to people, there are far many variables at play least of which are motivations, emotions, personal situations, backgrounds, context under which they are operating.

Scott couldn't have given Ken his personal attention and Apple would have lost him to Google. With the busyness of Scott's schedule, he could have just said he was busy and chose not to meet Ken. Or he might have met and not shown enough empathy and follow up.

Don could have simply let his ego overtake himself (as Ken expressed displeasure on his decision to not give him managerial position) and given an half-hearted advice to Ken. Or Ken could have chosen to not listen to advice given by colleagues and shown vanity by thinking his skills were above anyone else.

None of these situations happened. It didn't happen because all the people involved in the situations showed exemplary emotional intelligence. They showed awareness of situation they were in, they showed empathy and showed maturity in not letting their egos overtake them.
These behaviors eventually helped solve the problems that were technical and that were deep but without them writing a single line of code.

Ken sums up these experiences beautifully when he says:

As a programmer and self-professed geek, possessed of typical geek programmer's communication skills, it was a revelation to me that both the setting and the solution to my hardest technical problem turned as much on the social side of my job it did on the software side.

Image source:

Sunday, July 21, 2019

You get what you ask for

A couple of days back, I was on the way to Chai Point with my family members for a tea outing. On the way to Chai Point outlet, I noticed a car getting temporarily struck in the badly laid out man-hole (below).

I along with my brother-in-law picked up a cement brick and put it in front of the manhole as an indicator to arriving traffic of a potential danger. Satisfied with our effort, we went to the outlet, had a good tea and snacks over some lively discussions.

On our way back, we passed through the same man-hole only to note that the cement brick had fallen into the man-hole (possibly by a nudge from the ongoing traffic) and observed that a scooter almost losing balance when it unknowingly crossed over the man-hole.

While one noble auto-rickshaw guy, sensing that the accident was waiting to happen, got down and put more cement bricks around it. I was mightily concerned with the state of affairs that day and decided to do something about it.

While walking back to my home,  I wrote the following message to a 'Traffic personnel/volunteers' WhatsApp group that I am a part of. I messaged the following after attaching the picture:
This one is opposite to Natural Ice cream parlor at Wipro signal. Quite dangerous as saw car getting struck and bike losing balance. This needs attention and some indicator for ongoing traffic to know.
After sending this, I quietly went home with my family, had dinner and slept off. I got up early next morning, went for my run. My usual post-run ritual is to go to a small tea shop closeby my house and sip my favorite lemon tea with honey. As i was walking back to home, I decided to take a short detour to see the man-hole. To my pleasant surprise, I saw a proper barricade had now being put ensuring that passing traffic now had enough heads-up for the traffic.

I was glad knowing that a mere act of asking someone who i thought was closest to providing the help really solved the problem, albeit temporarily.

Man-hole area after the barricade was put

This experience was a good reminder for me on several fronts. Like many of us in urban cities, I have also been guilty of ignoring the problems that I see around me and not doing what I could possibly do to contribute to solving them.  In such situations, all that is needed is to ask a question- "Who can help me solve this problem?" "Is there anyone in the circles that I am part of?".

Most of the times the help is just a message away but we tend to not take that step thinking laxly that "It's not my problem anyway."

All that is needed is just type in a message and ask. One of the unwritten rules of life truly is "One gets what one asks for".

Do you agree ? What's been your experience ?

Sunday, July 14, 2019

How 'aggregation of marginal gains' philosophy helps achieving compound gains in sports, and in software development ?

How do you go one to win 60% of cycling Gold medals on offer in Beijing Olympics in 2008 especially after having won just 1 Gold in last 110 years ?

This is exactly what England team did in 2008 Olympics. A story narrated in the book- 'Atomic Habits' credits this transformation to one individual and to one performance philosophy.

That individual is Dave Brailsford, the (then) performance director of England cycling team. And the performance philosophy that he introduced was 'aggregation of marginal gains'.

As James Clear explains in his book-
'The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improve it by 1 percent, you will get an significant increase when you put them all together.'
What did Dave and his team improve ? Here are some of the examples:

1. Bike seat was redesigned to make it comfortable.
2. Riders wore electrically heated overshots to maintain optimum muscle temperature.
3. For better grips, rubbed alcohol on the tires.
4. Hired a surgeon to teach players a way to wash their hands so they reduce chances of catching cold.
5. Tested different types of massage gels for muscle recovery.

Image source:
This poster quite summarizes the concept of 'aggregation of marginal gains'. If you find a way to improve 1% of parts that make your field, aggregation of gains by end of the year would be staggering. Conversely, if your improvements are underwhelming, the gains are way under.

Incidentally, I was also reading Creative Selection: Inside Apple's Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs and one of the stories that established an equivalent of 'aggregation of marginal gains' philosophy in the field of software.

Ken Kocienda (author of the said book) was a part of the team that was tasked to build new browser by Apple (later called as 'Safari'). Of all things that Steve Jobs wanted in the new browser, the top-most in the list was performance. Jobs wanted the browser performance to be top-notch. One of the things that Ken was tasked to build was a tool that would assess the performance of browser against all the established parameters. This tool, that came to be known as PLT, Page Load Test was run everytime the code was changed and the new features were added.

PLT became a sort of conditioning coach for the software. It was almost a mandate to run PLT and ensure that no new change is degrading the software performance. Incrementally, every change was measured. Though it was quite difficult, given the complexity of software architecture, to ensure that every change improved the performance. Slowly but surely they reached their goal.

This method, Ken Kocienda doesn't call it in as many words as following 'aggregation of marginal gains' but in principle it was the same. They figured out  a way to measure tiniest of performance degradation and that eventually led to big gains in the end.

Do you relate to these examples ? Please do share any more examples on these lines.

Images source:

Friday, July 12, 2019

How to come up with creative ideas: Build tools that mine gold rather than mining gold yourself

[Note: I recently started sharing my scribbles on How to come up with creative ideas. To reiterate, my idea in sharing these is to look back at this list for my own inspiration and for those who are interested.]

(Editing in progress, this a draft blog post)

I was recently reading this book The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator, Silicon Valley's Most Exclusive School for Startups and found the below mention interesting. Here's sharing the mention as is from the book:
They took heart from "Selling Pickaxes During a Gold Rush," a blog post published a couple of months earlier, in February, by Chris Dixon, a seed investor who was based in New York City but well known and respected in Silicon Valley. During the California gold rush, some of the most successful business people—like Levi Strauss—didn't mine for gold themselves but did well selling supplies to those who did. Today, Dixon argues, entrepreneurs who use the latest technology face a similar choice they can sell to consumers-what Dixon calls "mining for gold"-or they can sell the software tools that other developers would use to create the consumer product that is, "selling pickaxes." Dixon mentioned that Y-Combinator's most successful "exit" to date was Heroku, the company that sold cloud-related services to other software companies, the dig!
 I hadn't heard of California Gold Rush story before I read this book and learned a bit more about this phase in history from wikipedia. As wikipedia states:
The California Gold Rush (1848–1855) began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California.[1] The news of gold brought approximately 300,000 people to California from the rest of the United States and abroad.[2] The sudden influx of gold into the money supply reinvigorated the American economy, and the sudden population increase allowed California to go rapidly to statehood.
The story concluded that more than half of gold miners eventually made modest profit. But one of the biggest gains came with the birth of Levi Strauss, who started selling denims in 1853.

I found this story extraordinary. While most people came to California to mine for Gold and get rich quick, the likes of Levi Strauss built an adjacent business by catering to the needs of Gold miners. Likewise, there were quite a few other businesses that thrived during this phase.

Like Chris Dixon mentions in his original article- "In online video, YouTube is often thought of as the big winner; however, to date, more money has been made by online video by infrastructure suppliers like Akamai."

Coming to our core topic of idea generation, this story does provide a conclusive path forward. While a lot of founders ride on technology waves and build meaningful businesses, there's a lot of scope of idea generation around the adjacent opportunities the new technology waves or businesses creates.

Quite a few examples on this:
Just a few minutes ago, I ordered a food item leveraging the services of Dunzo that provides delivery services. The rise of ecommerce providers resulted in emergence of delivery services being a separate category altogether.
The emergence of moving workloads and software to cloud gave rise to trend of continuous delivery. The tools like Jenkins fit the need to automate most of the build and release process.

When ideating about your next venture, think:
1. What technology areas or businesses are thriving around you ?
2. What do these technology areas or businesses need to survive or thrive ?
3. Can you provide the gap that you found in #2 ?

The crux of this post is Build tools that mine gold rather than mining gold yourself.

Image source:

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

How to come up with creative ideas: Follow the mission statement and ask questions

[Note: I recently started sharing my scribbles on How to come up with creative ideas. To reiterate, my idea in sharing these is to look back at this list for my own inspiration and for those who are interested.]

I find vision and mission statements of the organizations fascinating. What intrigues me more is how organizations embrace brevity to communicate what they do in a couple of sentences.

In my recent Lean Start-up workshop in Citrix Patras office, one of the section was that of arriving at the vision statement for their ideas.

Few of the characteristics of a good statement include: Inspiring, Aspirational, Paints a Clear Picture, Desirable, Unique, Focused, Feasible, Easy to communicate.

And here's an example of once such statement:
“To land a man on moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the decade.” -  US President, John F Kennedy

One search on the internet will reveal many inspiring statements but the core purpose of me writing this far is not to re-emphasize the importance of vision statements. But really to explore a different dimension regarding these statements.

Source: Twitter (if you are the one who took this pic, let me know
and i will extend the credits)
In one of the recent ideation conversation with the team, I brought forward this statement encompassing (sort of) mission statement for Citrix Workspace. We started looking at this statement from our own perspectives and then following-up with a question, for example:

1. For a Workspace to be considered as an experience (than just a software), what should happen ? What is the current state ?
2. What are my current painpoints at work that I can expect a digital workspace to solve ?
3. What is an adaptive workspace ? What capabilities does it currently have ? What else can add value ?

This exercise led us to quite a few ideas, some of which eventually were patentable (not mentioning here due to confidentiality reasons).

The core point is that a mere statement of a product citing it's direction can result in unimaginable ideas if we keep active questioning and curiosity on.

Do try this technique and share your thoughts.

My Talk to Emerging Leaders: Embrace Situational Awareness

This blog is in continuation to the earlier blog I wrote about my experience in being a mentor to emerging leaders in my organization.

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
Take efforts to know what's
happening around you
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.

The lesson for all of us from these stories ta that: 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.

Image source:

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Rohit Sharma and the art of living in day-tight compartments

Earlier in the month of June, I was struggling to meet my marathon running schedule. For starters, the plan that I follow requires me to run four times a week with a long run usually on weekends and modest distance runs during the weekdays. This plan works on the premise to increase the mileage gradually over 14 weeks and then tapering down practice before the actual marathon. The issue I was facing after reaching the week 6 was that it was becoming hard for me to pull myself up, encourage myself and go for run. It wasn't really the motivation issue as I was getting up early without fail. It's not quite uncommon for runners to be in this situation for various reasons. I will come to root cause of my situation in a bit and in the meantime shifting your attention to the ongoing Cricket World Cup.

If you are following the ongoing Cricket World cup, like me you might also be astonished at the consistency of Rohit Sharma, the opener from Indian cricket team. Rohit managed to score 5 centuries in 7 matches (highest in a single world cup) and most importantly won man of the match award 4 times.

I quite loved this video from ESPN Cricinfo, hence sharing here (with full credit to ESPN Cricinfo and the creator).

Rohit was an underdog in 2011 World cup but he rose to being ahead of everyone, and on the verge of creating history in 2019 World cup.

So what really changed for Rohit. I tried to decipher the answer to this question by observing what he said in his recent interviews.

Here is what Rohit said prior to the world cup

Look, there's a balance one has to draw between the kind of desperation that exists within you and the calmness you seek, if you've got to keep playing this game at the highest level. Both are important but who you are as a person, that basic desire inside you to remain who you are - that doesn't change. Shouldn't, rather. A certain bit of desperation helps build that hunger; the appetite. On the other hand, composure always keeps you grounded.
Here's what he said after scoring his 4th century (i think against Bangladesh):
I scored only 1 century and that is today. I don't think about yesterday and take the game starting today! I only think about today.
Here's what he said after scoring his 5th century:
I come out thinking I have not played any ODIs or scored any hundreds. That is the challenge as a sportsperson. I know if I play well all these things (records) will come along the way. My job is to keep my head straight and get my team to the finishing line.
These lines from his recent interviews highlights the zen like mindset that Rohit Sharma is in. Let me paraphrase a bit of what I learned from this mindset:

1. Rohit has mastered the art of detaching himself not only from results but also from what has happened in the past (even what happened yesterday on the field).

2. Whether he scored a century or a much lesser score, he is not letting result of past matches impact him.
3. He is taking life at field one day at a time.
4. He is fully present in the moment and hence seeing the ball clearly and planning his strokes.

Seeing this play-out I got reminded of two learnings I have had early in my life.

The first being- Dale Carnegie popularized this concept of living in day-tight compartments. It means that we only think about and focus on the current day. In a compartment, the walls on the left and the right side are closed, meaning we cannot see or go through them.
Second is a phrase that i recall from Geet Sethi's  book 'Success vs Joy' where he says, concentration is simply remaining in the present. Very simply put, hence a very effective definition of focus.

Rohit Sharma's mindset right from the start of this world cup is that of not going beyond himself, and immersing in the current moment. That helped him build a sort of equanimity, that elusive trait of maintaining calm and composure irrespective of whether he succeeds or fails. He found a way to live in day-tight compartment, not worrying about what will happen tomorrow and care much less about what happened yesterday. He is simply in the moment and enjoying being there, in that zone.

Back to my challenges of sticking to marathon schedule. I digged deep and found out that it was because I was getting ahead of myself even before I had stepped on the running track. I had weekly target of mileage to be met and what was happening was that I was letting this target dominate my mind and losing the joy a given moment brings in. If you know that you are chasing 50 Km of run in a week and you allow that thought to dominate your mind, then it becomes exceedingly hard to enjoy running.

Learning from Rohit Sharma's mindset, I tried to inculcate the habit of not being desperate to complete weekly target, stay in the moment, and once the daily run is done just forget about it. And start the next day from 0 km mark.
How did I do this ? By simply raising my awareness and choosing to not come in my own way.

Was it easy to follow this ? Certainly not, but it helped me meet my running target for the last 2 weeks while enjoying almost every run.

Do you think such mindset can be applied in organization's context ? Is it really possible live in a day-tight compartment while doing your work ?

Do share your thoughts.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Summary: My Talk to Emerging Leaders

For the last few days, I have been writing about the things that I recall from my talk to emerging leaders in my organization (Citrix) as a part of 'Next Generation Leadership' program. It was a sort of 'limited time' mentor role (not sure why it was called mentor though) in which I, along with three accomplished peers of mine were a part of panel talk, with 35 plus emerging leaders in the audience.

It was a great experience for me overall and humbling one for sure. These are the occasions you feel lucky to have been chosen to talk when you know that there are more able people in the organization. I am thankful to the L&D team leaders to have given me this opportunity.

In this blog, I am summarizing the access to the key messages from this talk that I blogged about in detail.

Career paths exists as a guidelines, not as mandates
Key Idea: One of my beliefs have been that senior and leadership roles are open ended in nature. What I mean by this is, these roles are not tied just to job description but also has open ended element that should prompt leaders to find their own ways to make organization and products better.
(More Info:

Be authentic to self, your team and your superiors
Key Idea: Authenticity is not something we have or don't have. It's a practice- a conscious choice of how we want to live.- Berne Brown
(More Info:

The concept of life-long careers is long gone
Key Idea: The careers of future are going to be ones in which one need to adapt at solving variety of problems. Once you show the necessary agility needed to solve myriad of problem, it opens up the unknown career paths. 
(More Info:

Learn how to enjoy ambiguity
Key Idea: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
(More Info:

Know how to handle increase in volume and complexity of work
Key Idea:  To reach senior leadership level roles, it is imperative to understand the changes that increase in volume and complexity of work will bring in. It's all about the balancing act between- doing the things right and doing the right things.
(More Info:

Learn how to manage upwards
Key Idea: The management world is replete with articles and books on how to succeed, how to get to the corner office fast and how to be a great leader. But the literature is thinner on how to be a great subordinate, how to deserve before desire, and how to regard understanding what your boss needs as an integral part of your job.
(More Info:

Embrace Situational Awareness
Key Idea: 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. 
(More Info:

Sunday, July 7, 2019

My Talk to Emerging Leaders: Learn how to manage upwards

This blog is in continuation to the earlier blog I wrote about my experience in being a mentor to emerging leaders in my organization.

What did you find to be most challenging as you moved from middle management to senior management leadership ?
(This is the Part-2 of the question i started answering here and here)

One of the VPs I worked with a few years back told me something that stayed with me. He said that after one reaches Director level or equivalent in the organization, the role should focus a lot more on managing upwards.

By managing upwards, he meant not only immediate boss but also boss's boss and all other influencing people in the organization.

He certainly did not mean that managing your team is demeaning or less important. By the time one reaches senior management level, one already have managers reporting into you who takes care of managing the teams.

I had picked-up some of the nuances of managing upwards from R.Gopalakrishnan's book- What the CEO Really Wants From You: The 4 As for Managerial Success

Sharing this excerpt from the book:
The management world is replete with articles and books on how to succeed, how to get to the corner office fast and how to be a great leader. But the literature is thinner on how to be a great subordinate, how to deserve before desire, and how to regard understanding what your boss needs as an integral part of your job. And if you have not been a great subordinate, you are not quite headed towards the C-suite or the corner office!
We live in a world that over-emphasizes leadership and downplays the role followership. Infact, every great leader was an outstanding subordinate once.

One of the things in the book that resonated well with me was the author emphasizing that the relationship between the leader and the sub-ordinate is often asymmetrical. It means that there is a vast difference between what our boss expects out of us as against what we expect our boss to do. Here's an enlightening excerpt from the book:
As part of my training sessions, I conduct an exercise on the subject of expectations. What does the boss owe you? What do you owe the boss? After compiling answers over several hundred candidates' responses, I find that people list nine expectations from their boss but only four from themselves to their boss!
The nine things that managers feel that their boss owes them are: feedback, empowerment, coaching, transparency, recognition, opportunity, clear tasks, access and respect for personal time.The four things that people feel they owe their boss are: one hundred percent effort, loyalty, honesty and get-it-done results.When your consciousness and focus in any relationship is driven by what the other person owes you rather than what you owe that person, that is asymmetry: this means that more often than not, you are giving less than what you take out of the relationship.
Such unbalanced expectations merit some thought, because the asymmetry is the cause of strife and disappointment It is important for any good subordinate to think about the boss's needs as much as he or she would like the boss to think of his or her needs.
The true meaning of managing upwards is to be aware of boss's needs at work and leverage this awareness to help him or her succeed in their role. And not to be do this with any expectations of rewards (rewards always follow right behavior) but more as something do be done as a part of your job role and duty.

What is your experience of managing upwards ? Please do share.

Image source:

How to come up with creative ideas: Think about your own pain-points first (2)

[Note: I recently started sharing my scribbles on How to come up with creative ideas. To reiterate, my idea in sharing these is to look back at this list for my own inspiration and for those who are interested.]

One of the stories that fascinated me early in my career was that of acquisition of one of the first web email service- Hotmail. Sabeer Bhatia, who was one of the co-founders of Hotmail, became a sort of Tech celebrity after the acquisition announcement by Microsoft. If my memory serves me right, it was a deal worth $400 million, which was quite a figure in early part of this century.

I got to relive this story again while reading the book-
Before You Start Up: How to Prepare to
Make Your Startup Dream a Reality

Here's an excerpt of the story reproduced from the book (full credit to author Pankaj Goyal)

The first product of Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith, cofounders of Hotmail, was not a web-based email system. It was a web-based personal directory, called JavaSoft. JavaSoft was a weekend and evening project. They had not quit their jobs yet. However, they now faced a problem. Their employer had installed a firewall and they could no longer exchange personalemail! They could still access the web through the firewall. So, it meant that if there was web access to personal emails, it could solve the problem! And that's how they arrived at their killer idea: web-based email (Livingston, 2007).
In addition to rekindling old memories, this story was of interest to me in my endeavor to find out and share about the secret sauce that leads one to come up with the creative ideas.

A few days back, I had written about how thinking about own pain-points can lead one to find out gaps that could be leveraged to build solutions. This example of Sabeer Bhatia coming up with an idea of a web-based email client also proves that being aware of pain-points that one experiences when using products can be a credible way to come-up with an idea.

I would like to specifically point out that I have not even called out individual brilliance as a key differentiation factor. Of course, individual brilliance matters when the reference point of discussion is how well the ideas do in it's entire life cycle. But if we change the reference point to just coming up with good ideas, what is more needed is the awareness and ability to stay in present and experience the moment (including good and bad experiences in that moment) while being completely immersed. Sabeer Bhatia could have well decided to live with the fact that the traditional way of accessing the email is blocked and hence he will just live with it (like many of us would have done). But the fact that he chose to acknowledge this as a problem that's worth solving really put the seeds in the soil that eventually led to Hotmail.

Just be aware of your surroundings and what you are experiencing, the next big idea might be just there.

Image source:

My Talk to Emerging Leaders: Know how to handle increase in volume and complexity of work

This blog is in continuation to the earlier blog I wrote about my experience in being a mentor to emerging leaders in my organization.

What did you find to be most challenging as you moved from middle management to senior management leadership ?
(This is the Part-2 of the question i started answering here)

In the last blog on the same topic, I highlighted the importance of learning to love ambiguity as one of the challenging aspects for move to senior management roles.

I have also observed that in transition from middle management to senior management roles, there are a few more fundamental aspects that change.

In any growth situation, there are two variables that change: Volume and Complexity.

Simply put, as we move upwards in the proverbial career ladder, we are expected to handle more work in the same amount of time, possibly without or without more personnel help. This is the Volume aspect. When I moved to Director level role from the first time, I led the large engineering team (lets call it Role 1). With the move I got the clear responsibility of 2-3 significant aspects of my function. This change came with more responsibility and more people.

However, when I made a lateral shift from Director of Engineering to an offbeat Director of Technical Operations role (lets call it Role 2), I moved from a leader of large team to almost an individual contributor. However, the extent of work that I was responsible for, increased manifold. In this situation, I was expected to deliver on a very broad charter while evolving an Innovative execution model.

So in my lateral move from Role 1 to Role 2, one variable that significantly changed was the Volume of work i was expected to handle. In Role 1, I had the luxury of having a large team that would help me execute the vision. In Role 2, I had to handle a large Volume of work without the luxury of any team.

I talked about dealing with enhanced volume of work as one trait we should look to master once moving from middle management to senior management. Another aspect that I wish to touch upon is the Complexity.

Simply put, the Complexity in job roles attributes to the decision making moving from hard to harder to hardest. In the early part of our roles, we get used to making hard decisions attributing to products, people, projects, problems etc. As we move, the extent of complexity in decision making also rise. In earlier management roles, we are expected to look at a decision from limited dimensions e.g. If a new rating system is introduced, my focus would be how does it impact my team. But at more senior levels, the focus would certainly be how does it impact my team but it should also have far more dimensions such as why is organization doing it now, will it have any impact on the organization's strategic goals, what are the financial implications of the move, will there be any ethical issues, how will i ensure fairness across the organization, not just my team.

Thus, to reach senior leadership level roles, it is imperative to understand that changes that increase in volume and complexity of work will bring in. It's all about the balancing act between- doing the things right and doing the right things.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

My Talk to Emerging Leaders: Learn How to Enjoy Ambiguity

This blog is in continuation to the earlier blog I wrote about my experience in being a mentor to emerging leaders in my organization.

What did you find to be most challenging as you moved from middle management to senior management leadership ?
(I will answer this question in next few blogs, this is the first part)

In one of the sporting events organized by Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ), I got an chance to meet
Geet Sethi (9 time world champion in Billiards/Snooker). Practicing for a sport like Billiards can be quite repetitive in nature where players practice for hours. One of the conversations I recall with him was a story about his formative years that I read in his book- Success vs Joy. He says that in his early years when he was still learning the nuts and bolts of the sport, one of the things that kept him going amidst hours and hours of practicing same short was a sound. Yes, a sound. He says that he loved the sound of a perfect shot when the cue hit at the right spot of the spherical ball from shot made at a perfect angle. He obsessed over hearing that sound and chased it with intensity in several practice sessions. This is something that kept him going.

The point that I extract from this conversation is that every profession (no matter what the stage) have some painful elements. We got to learn how to efficiently deal with those painful moments to be successful in our chosen endeavors. For Geet Sethi, it was to find a way to make his practice sessions meaningful. Similarly, for senior management roles, one thing that's constant is dealing with ambiguity. As we grow up in organizations, one aspect that gets added in abundance in our job description is changes, most of which are unexpected.

One of the interesting incidents that I am reminded of from my tenure at McAfee was interviewing our CEO, George Samenuk. I was a part of our newsletter team and we got this rare chance. In the interview, I asked George "What's your typical day like?'. Part of his response was- "In a day if I meet 100 people, 95 come to me with a bad news that lead me to act and possibly make decisions to change the direction."

Now, with senior management role stakes being so high, it is crucial to figure out a way to deal with changes. The preferred way that I learned after stumbling/getting bogged down with fierce pace of changes is how to enjoy the ambiguity. To be honest, I don't have a formula on how to develop the live for ambiguity but learning from Geet's story I tried a few things that somewhat worked for me:

1. Find out something about ambiguous situations that you chase and expect. If things are around me aren't changing that, for me, is a sign of things not being in order. In a way, I expect change, and when it comes, welcome it.
2. Second is merely an attitude adjustment. Most of the times we fear the change. But what I did learn is 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger'
(not sure of author of this quote, please let me know if you are aware so that i can pass on the credits)

In summary, for any role change that you approach, just strive to grow your love for ambiguity.

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