Tuesday, March 20, 2018

5 Cultural Stages (TED Talk: Tribal Leadership by David Logan)

I have recently changed my job and was noticing the cultural differences between the organization I had worked for before and the one serving now. I was thinking what causes the difference in culture? Of course, it is it's people. But I wanted to get a better understanding how those people shape up the culture? This TED talk by David Logan gave the answers I was looking for. I found it impressive and interesting so I wanted to mention it on my blog.

David Logan shows how the tribes (a group of around 20 to 150 people) form and adopt a culture suiting their outlook towards life. He shows most organizations operate at Stage 3 which is incidentally the larger population too.
Source: http://www.triballeadership.net/business-culture/five-stages-of-culture
Having this knowledge allows us to identify what kind of tribe we are part of and why there are  cultural differences across the groups operating at different cultural stages and how to evolve and move forward. And this understanding also makes us more tolerant towards the groups in the lower stages of culture.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Book Review: Portrait of a Serial Killer by Khushwant Singh

This is a collection of 58 short essays written by Khushwant Singh over many decades published in various newspapers and magazines but not in a book form before. This book is divided into four sections, grouping the essays by People, Places, Indian Way and Politics.

In the first section about people, author writes about his meetings with Lata Mangeshkar at her home and a dinner with Dev Anand. There is a chapter on author's perspectives on Nehru as a writer and in another chapter he describes the life Amir Khusrau had lived being a courtier and being close to a saint at the same time. Book’s title ‘Portrait of a serial killer’ is a chapter in this section where in author constructs the life story and looks into how the mind of a serial killer works based on the information available about him.

Second section is about places. Here author gives summary of his experiences in visiting the places across India and the fascinating stories behind them. It has an interesting story of sudden appearance of numerous snakes in a village and how they find what had caused it. This section has chapters on Hyderabad, Agra, Amritsar, Haridwar, Delhi and villages in Madhya Pradesh.

Third section is about the way Indians think and behave. And the last section is about the political dramas and the stories as seen by the author. Here author dons the role of a journalist and the language becomes critical and he suggests how we should see things differently and act.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the first two sections of this book. This book was on my night stand for a week as a warm companion to relax and put me to good sleep.

Khushwant Singh had many hats to wear – that of author, lawyer, diplomat, journalist and politician. He read and wrote voraciously and has numerous books to his credit. He died in 1994 at the age of 99. This book was a compilation of his works by his daughter and was published in 2015 on the hundredth anniversary of author’s birth.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Competition is good but who are we competing with?

From childhood, we have been taught by our parents and teachers to compete and win. We were told competition is good and necessary. Probably they wanted to introduce us to the unfairness of life brings early upon. But who were we competing with? During school days, we had running races with our own classmates. Of course, I did not win in any of them but I would congratulate the winners. I was scoring well in academics. It had made me feel good to draw attention and feel like a winner. But what about those who did not win either in sports or academics? How did they feel? In the eyes of teachers and winning students, they had remained an unimportant mediocre mass. Were they not destined to be successful?

Out of curiosity, I started learning how those my classmates are doing in their lives after a gap of 20 years we finished schooling. Some of them had remained mediocre, time had not brought any change in them. But few were surprisingly successful. I started looking for details. They did not draw attention when they were in school but they had better social life and had a wider friends circle than winners had. These mediocre students did not make their parents proud but they were the dependable most and were available at a call for any petty help to making things run during their absence. They made their parents social circles theirs too and slowly got into the business their fathers were running. When they had passed out of school or college, they were confident enough to run the business their parents were running. Over time they became street-smart businessmen too. Some of them ventured into politics. Few of them built schools though themselves were weak in studies but had hired the right people to run those schools and work for them. And the interesting point is, they had formed a network of friends (who too were mediocre in school) and they stood for each other always. They became a testament to how good life can be if we learn to cooperate than compete with our own fellow schoolmates.

And those who were winners in schools and got on to corporate life have continued competing at every phase of life. Today I was seeing how the office-goers rush out of metro station in Bangalore competing with fellow passengers to check out as early as possible. I was wondering how many seconds they would save outsmarting others who traveled with them. Well, competition is in their blood now, they would not let any opportunity slip off their hands. They cannot let go of any promotions in their office and they would compete fiercely to get to the top-notch job. They will tell you if they let go of the opportunity, someone else will seize it and step on you in the career pyramid. Wow, winning makes them less empathetic. They do care less about who are not winning. They do promote competition in their kids too. And the relay continues to next generation.

Taking a step back, seeing both instances with a longer-term perspective of life, it feels important for me to have a happy life than competing constantly and winning. Winners will be left with few friends as their ability to to make friends reduce and preferences differ. It makes sense for me not to win and retain friends thereby. I would rather cultivate cooperation in my kids than competition. I would feel good if we stood for each other than force ourselves through career pyramids. I see that many European countries are valuing life more than career especially the Scandinavian countries. No wonder people are happier there than rest of the world.

After the metamorphosis, I took a conscious decision to get off the corporate treadmill. I still need employment for some more time but I would avoid competing with my own friends and make way for those who are in a hurry. I have changed the job to have a better work-life balance and foreclosed much of my debt. I have informed my family that I would not be buying any assets in future rather prefer a slow life being a non-rich person. I am letting go of the opportunities to earn higher amounts of money and acquire assets thereby. I am out of that race and I would not mind being termed a loser.

My desires are tamed now and I am at peace with myself. I think this is what Buddha had realized two thousand years ago, under a Bhodhi tree. And that is all any fool would learn in future as well.

Corporate Lessons: Observations from 20 years of work experience

While I was studying and when had I started working, I had assumed few things to be important over others. But over years, I learnt the hard way that those I assumed important are overrated and which I ignored were underrated. Let me describe those things here.

Dressing is overrated:
This is unless you work in a fashion industry or in a customer facing role. I do not contest at all the pleasing appearance good-appearance brings in. But one needs to go beyond that too. Having a great presence of mind is needed to shoulder higher responsibilities and fetch the rewards come with that. At the next level, a compassionate heart earns you comradery over fellow colleagues and that leads to the path of leadership.

Close your eyes and visualize the people you know well. You may likely see their face and their attitude towards you may come to your mind rather that what dress they wear. In the long term, we tend to remember the personality more than just outward looks. Now you may see my point. Another point I want to make is, I have seen may executives with not so pleasing looks but carrying themselves with high confidence and getting the results they wanted. If you only see their gestures and body language, you may conclude they may not be considered for a minor supporting role in Bollywood or TV serials, but they are business savvy. They make right business decisions and act on what is critical. Their deficiencies in physical appearance if any, is completely ignored by their conduct.

Networking is overrated:
In the beginning of my career I was told networking or how many people you know is important. It may be true if you are in marketing or similar fields. But for rest of us, it is grossly overrated. If you know just handful of people in key positions, it may be enough for getting mentored and for your career progression. It is just like having hundreds of friends who you barely know over few friends who know you better than you know yourself.

My point is, there is nothing wrong in knowing more people but rather spending that time and energy in strengthening the relationships with the people you already know might be more helpful.

Communication is underrated at junior levels and overrated at senior levels:
At junior levels, technical skills are perceived to be important but if the ideas and thoughts are not communicated clearly in written or spoken words, it may not have the desired impact and they may fail to draw the attention those junior employees deserve. Similarly, executives focus more on the preparing presentation slides and conveniently ignore the fact that Steve Jobs and Elon Musk did so well without slides.

In the beginning of career, while striving to gain mastery over one domain, it is also necessary to spend time in improving communication skills. And as one steps up the career ladder, they also need to stay relevant with the changing technologies to command respect from their juniors.

Interpersonal skills, most ignored but can be a dark-knight:
If you can read another person’s emotions, understand what drives or influences him or her and have tolerance to work with people having different attitudes and approach, there is nothing which can prevent you from growing in your career. Of course, interpersonal skills do come with mastery over one’s personal emotions which require understanding the emotional intelligence aspects. It would mean understanding how people behave in different phases of life, varying preferences across different personality types, cultural differences and different motivations and fears driving the human beings.

Go and study any great leader in the history, from Alexander to Napoleon, from Mahatma Gandhi to Abraham Lincoln, you would notice how they built trust in their followers. If you lack interpersonal skills, you are unlikely to have any following. Develop empathy and have genuine interest in others, you will see your circle of influence widening too.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Book Review: Two Saints by Arun Shourie

This is about the incidents from the lives of two saints, that of Sri Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi. Both were acclaimed spiritual masters lived similar lives but with slightly different
approaches to self-realization. Both had gone through similar phases in life and have faced similar experiences. Drawing upon those incidents, the author looks at what the medical and psychological sciences say about them. Drawing heavily from the research and surveys information, he tries to see if the experiences of the saints were caused by hypnosis or placebo effect or any other psychological illusions and observe the differences.

This book gives detailed account of the personal lives of two saints as observed by those who lived with them. Sri Ramakrishna had chosen the path of Bhakti Yoga. Though he was ardent devotee of the mother goddess Kali, he is also seen worshiping Rama at one instance and Krishna another time and Allah and Jesus too. It is mesmerizing to know he could take the diseases from those common people who were visiting him and suffer from those ailments while his visitors got cured. Much of it cannot be explained by the science so they just remain part of the spiritual world. Similarly some of the teachings of Ramana Maharshi like the one in which he says ”it is the ego which takes rebirth” cannot be affirmed with science. At the end, author concludes it will not be possible for all of us to do what those Saints did but an effort towards it can better our lives.

Arun Shouri is a seasoned journalist and this is his 37th book.