Does every story need a Moral? Is success always relative?

Try Try Try again…until you succeed.

I grew up listening to this proverb. A constant reminder about the need for perseverance, the need to keep trying, to never give up, always telling you that you need to succeed. What is this success?

As I reflect further on my upbringing, it was always about the need to succeed. Success was about competitively advancing ahead of the reference set. In class, success was about getting good grades – the reference set for learning. It was about getting the top ranks in class, the reference set for relative performance. In society it was about good behavior, the reference set for social acceptance & alignment to norms.  At home it was about respect, obedience and discipline, the reference set for conformance and alignment to authority. At work it’s about your ratings, a reference set for peer performance, yet again. A conduit that defines the reference set for your fiscal status, a reference for relative peer performance to the society.

All through life success was always being better that someone else or a predetermined benchmark. It was never about being unique in the field. It was never about exploring your capacity. It was never about challenging assumptions. It was never about breaking new ground. It was always about results.

Upon further reflection, I realize that every story I was ever told, always had a moral. Whether it was my family or at the school, they always wanted to know if you could decipher the moral of the story. And it always had only one right answer. It reinforced one view, one paradigm, one angle, one measure, one benchmark. Anyone who didn’t get it, didn’t fit in. They were unconventional, outliers, social non-conformists.

Why does everything need a moral, a takeaway, a result?  Why does one have to measure everything, compare, evaluate define what’s the better option?

Why can we never do things for the “experience”? Why can we not allow the experience to be an end it itself?

It struck me that experiences have no measure. There is no measure for happiness. No measure for love and affection. No measure for generosity. No benchmark for passion. No metrics for kindness. The unconditional love of a mother for her child cannot be captured, defined or measured.

There is no measure for the calm and tranquility of a sunset at the beach, or the measure for the sheer adrenalin rush that I felt when I plunged down from an airplane at 14000 feet for a free fall.

What if we measured people on “doing one act of generosity every day”? What if you had a target for the number of times you smiled in a day?  What if people had to do something that they enjoy the doing and not focus on the result..eg walking barefoot on grass with fresh morning dew.

Success seems to be “exclusive”. Experience seems to be “inclusive”. Most of us wish to emulate someone else’ success benchmarks.

Success appears to be a social journey. Its about becoming the prima donna in the society. It breeds differentiation. Experience seems a personal journey, its about sharing & breeds belonging.

Success generates the emotion of envy. Experience seems to generate respect and awe.

Every story does not need a moral. My reflection created an interesting experience for me, raised a lot of questions and thoughts.

What if we put experience ahead of success? Happy iFluencing …

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Successful Archetypes…

Reliable Experience, Credible Expertise, Transformative Enabler

Growing up in the corporate jungle, I observed people, motivations & outcomes and I developed some of my own insights into successful people. I tried to connect the underlying patterns & triggers and found that there are 3 primary patterns of successful people at work. The patterns are not mutually exclusive. There are very few people who transcend all three patterns and those people typically turn out to be the leaders amongst this very successful group.

Just Do It – The Task Leaders – Getting Things Done, Delivering output
Given a defined solution to a defined problem, they excel at the execution of the solution and help achieve the intended outcome.
It appears simplistic but the ability to ensure successful execution of a defined solution needs a lot of planning, discipline & focus. As they say, the devil is in the detail. The variables may be defined and measurable, but Murphy is always lurking. The ability to get into extensive detail on defining, planning and executing the agreed plan-of-action defines success. Such people also develop a strong ability to make quick on-ground tactical decisions to enable successful achievement of the outcome. They also develop the experience to anticipate implications and consequences of typical/pre-defined variables. For example a top-notch event manager would know the 20 things that can go wrong in event execution and would have built plans around that experience. They would also have back-up plans for each of these failure points in their business task.
More than 80% of all those who are successful @ work fall in this category. They are seen as experienced people who have seen many business cycles. Their wisdom is associated with their ability to deliver predictable outcomes in the context of well defined variables. Typically they create scale and replicability in business models and are activity centric in their approach and metrics.

The Problem Solvers – The Solution Leaders – The fixers – Defining Options
They have the ability to define a solution for a well defined problem.
Successful people in this category have the ability to simulate interdependence of variables and visualize the potential consequences and outcomes. They combine their experience and their scenario building capabilities and render solutions to business problems. There are varying degrees of scenario management that separate the level of leadership impact they create. For example most of them would be able to simulate business impact scenarios of their solution options and weigh the pros and cons. However few of them will also be able to weigh in the implications on human capital. Even fewer will be able to visualize the implications on larger ecosystem like the social fabric, the environment, the political implications & future sustainability etc. Those who visualize the 360degree impact of their business scenarios tend to be able to articulate the solution and its desired and undesirable consequences to all the stakeholders, enabling sensitive business decisions rather than purely ruthless economic decisions.

People in this category tend to rise into senior decision making roles in most organizations. They also tend to grow faster than the Task Leaders since they typically expand their supervisor’s capacity for problem solving, even when they are in the Task focused roles. People in this group also tend to be identified as experts. Their expertise is leveraged to solve business problems, with simple or complex ecosystem of consequences. They occupy most leadership roles in the corporate world and define structure, process and measures for predictable and repeatable business success.

The Growth Leaders – The Thought Leaders – The Builders – The Possibilities Artist
This successful group of people tend to focus on the articulation of the problem definition (and hence the opportunity definition). They cut through clutter and connect patterns and outcomes that appear seemingly unconnected. They focus on underlying issues rather than superficial symptoms. They epitomize proactive and not reactive. They create paths and beliefs. They engage people emotionally and empower them with a compelling vision of the future. More importantly, they articulate the future state in a manner in which each individual or role holder can visualize their future role and growth. They expand mindsets, markets, structures, perspectives. Through the expansionary approach, they create alignment, since the team focuses their collective energy on creating space for everyone (and themselves) rather than fighting for territory, control, recognition and reward within the same current pie.
The people in this category are extremely self assured. Their deep sense of purpose is both intimidating and differentiating. It creates the anchor for alignment. The purpose can be social, scientific, artistic, political etc. They are less than 2% of the successful managers group. They are change agents, catalysts, transformation artists.

Leaders, who can transcend the 3 phases, tend to create disproportionate impact. They handle the well-defined as well as they help define patterns in the chaos. They distil music from the noise & clutter around us. They embody the sense of direction, purpose and stability that helps other humans align. They create cults resulting in creation of a new culture. They are the kings of modern society, the economic kingdoms that they create carry their idioms, their stories of success, their theorems. They travel the path from Delivering output to Defining options and Enabling possibilities.

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Mediocrity – the reward of taking no risk

Mediocrity..the reward of taking no-risk !!

In the midst of the herd, there is no risk of being heard,
no need to define , but freedom to opine.
the comfort of familiarity, of people, process and regularity
the sense of total safety, hidden in the perceived solidarity.
The wicked pleasure of watching, the fall of those who dare,
learning their lesson, to stay within the bounds of conformity.
the illusion of leading, in the confines of being led
edging out those, who ever dared to tread.
creating clones of their traits, breeding a community
that rises with the wave, and always expects immunity.
The cancer it breeds, as mediocrity multiplies
Unseen the rot succeeds, and slowly the core dies.

Let go of stagnation, wake up to opportunity
Learn new things and try, the world is full of possibility.
Push the boundaries of capability, creating growth and joy
Live a full life of giving & learning, you got once to experiment, enjoy.

Kartik

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Powerful or Power-fool : some perspectives

Human beings grow with lots of ambitions and desires. The most important driver in our society is benchmarking success or achievement. Hierarchy is one of the most used measures of success. After all, even the gods have a hierarchy.
I grew up with the belief that the higher the position in the hierarchy, the more powerful the person.
It’s amazing that the President of United States is considered as the most powerful man on this earth. Ever thought why? You are right, because he holds the trigger to the single largest nuclear arsenal in the world, capable of annihilating significant portions of our earth and creating irreparable destructive consequences. Alternatively, he was sitting on the most important financial stockpile of the world $$$ and could economically starve you to destruction. Does this all-powerful man in the world have the ability to resurrect the dying economy of the nation? Does this all-powerful man in the world have the ability to bring back the jobs in the US? Suddenly we need god, senate, policy, bipartisanship…etc
As I grew in my career I realized that as I gained stature (hierarchical), I was actually more burdened. I had phenomenal power, on paper. The reality was that every decision of mine, would now impact the careers, households, dreams and livelihoods of more and more families. I could hurt with my decisions. The reality was that I was further and further removed from where the transaction happened – from where the organization created value.
The reality that I learned as I grew in my career, is that the power that you wield & gain as you grow in the hierarchy, which people fear and respect, is the power to destroy.
It is a very sad realization that true power that hierarchy hands the role-holder, is the power to inflict harm. Power is synonymous with fear. The emotions triggered by the word are negative. It’s is this side of power and its use and abuse, that has been recorded in history, time and again.
If I ask you to name the most powerful men in the world, names such as Alexander the great, Genghis Khan, Akbar the great would find the first mention. If I were to say that Gautam Buddha was the most powerful man on earth, it would be difficult to connect. To think that Thomas Edison would be on that list, is even more remote a possibility. Many times, we ignore the fact that the power at the top can be deployed with phenomenal impact if layered with generosity, a lot of willingness to give. It requires a lot of self-assurance and the realization that such generous giving will create amazing long-lasting impact and will generate awe, but no fear and hence no “hierarchical” perception of everyday power.
So what is this power of generosity that I experienced on my way & at the top. I have the power to influence direction. I have the power to influence thoughts. I have the power to influence ideas. I have the power to influence destiny. I have the power to spot and shape new opportunities. I have the power to recognize, reward and celebrate passion and hard work. I have the power to provide air-cover, confidence & security to those who are willing to invest their time and effort in building a better tomorrow, risking some of the short term gains that most others are chasing and managing. I have the power to allow failure, because it reinforces that someone is really trying to make things happen. I have the power to respect and not rebuke. I have the power to be generous, the power to share success & happiness. I have the power to create space & growth. The power to make every individual feel wanted, listened to & cared for.
I have always been a firm believer that leaders are those who build & shape. Not those to manage and steer. Leaders paint dreams, managers develop plans. Leaders shape beliefs, help taking leaps of faith, managers minimize risk. Leaders set you free, managers focus on control. Leaders inspire, managers usually review. Leaders perform, managers demand. Leaders explore new pathways, managers maintain through processes. Leaders create, educate & facilitate, managers typically critique, intimidate.
I have merely chosen to contrast the power choices of a leader in the context of typical short-term results driven managers. Powerful or Powerless is not defined by the hierarchical level of our achievement, it is defined by the number of people whom we impacted generously. The power to choose is universally available and it’s for each of us to decide the nature of power that we wish to wield.
Go ahead and i-fluence the world around you. Be Powerful. The power to give, lies within us.

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Does corporate culture inadvertently promote Task Leadership?

In my last blog, I touched on a topic that I have often debated within my mind. Task leadership and success definition v/s People leadership and success definition. The journey, the experiences, the outcomes, the social impact and the personal residuals are all very different.

The task oriented leaders are people who are extremely driven, who define very quantified, aggressive and medium to long term goals and ambitions, and assiduously chase them. They have elaborate project plans, milestones, scenarios, risk assessments, fail-over plans etc. They run their projects and their life in the same way – a series of well defined tasks. The tasks have to be achieved by bringing together role holders, technology etc. The human beings involved are almost expected to be humanoid robots, with clearly defined production capacity, turnaround times, predictable behavior patterns etc.  They operate on the basis of task and progress reviews. The system is somewhat punitive, ie lack of adequate progress or lack of adherence to task timelines, efforts etc is met with negative feedback, increased pressure, intimidation and many times public humiliation. The focus is always comparative and competitive. The people who participate in such projects and tasks rarely have a sense of achievement. They tend to live from task to task, avoiding the ignominy of group reprimand for relative task completion.

The people oriented leaders are driven too, but by dreams. They paint dreams that people love to chase. They set out seemingly amorphous yet very lofty ambitions that people strive to attain. They create a desire for others around them to be part of the momentum, be part of a community that is working collectively to achieve a higher order end-state. They tend to operate purely by spotting the strength in each individual that they interact or meet. They unleash the collective power of individual brilliance, by enabling the individual contribution to be always recognized in the quest of the collective ambition. They rarely review or reprimand. They continuously focus on helping people uncover their personal potential. They tend to celebrate every day and every action. They find learning moments from failures and setbacks. There is no penalty or public reprimand. The collective dream is so powerful that when individual outcomes fail to keep pace, the individuals show remarkable ownership themselves, and focus on finding ways and means to correct the situation and putting the collective team back on track.   Team members in this group appear to be on an artificial stimulant. Their capabilities seem exalted and they seem to ride a wave of invincibility.  The collective power of dreams and faith is amazing.

One of the other very significant differences in the two approaches is the time spent in conversations. It is my experience that corporate cultures encourage formal agenda driven meetings, with a focus on solving problems and trying to move ahead with decisions. However, it is also my observation, over several years of watching this process, that there is very limited collective commitment to the decisions made in such meetings. However, the people driven leadership style has multiple open conversations. The conversations tend to be without formal agenda. It allows for creative divergence and enables people to express views and opinions. These conversations are also far more regular and impromptu. In fact, it is almost like having a bunch of close friends, who stumbled into running a business together. Such groups tend to complete each other’s sentences and thoughts. They rarely need to be formally told when another team member has reached a conclusion or taken a stand. They also intuitively respect each other’s individual expertise and grant space for the same.

Its also been my experience that most large corporations recognize the lack of innovation but fail to recognize that its the strongly accountable performance culture, that leads to intimidating task leadership. They have inadvertently arrived at a destination, that is strongly operational, is command and control in approach and expects mechanical results to tasks and goals. They have promoted risk-aversion.

I recognize that we need both leadership styles to coexist and ideally, all of us should have the ability to balance the two avatars. However, people are not machines. Organizations are a community of people. In the past, the tribes defined the community culture, became kingdoms and then sovereign countries. However, in today’s world, where country boundaries are slowly disappearing, Companies are the center of culture and communities.Well that’s a topic that deserves it’s own discussion blog.

In summary, it is my realization that if individuals and organizations can facilitate an active recognition of this leadership balance and cultivate the people leaders (through a different set of outcome measures), the impact will not only be visible in their top-line & bottom-line, but will significantly enhance the organization’s lifeline of success.

I constantly reflect on my personal balance between the two styles. The people leadership style requires a significant amount of generosity. It requires a lot of inner security and emotional calmness. It requires me to let-go of a lot of control and operate on my inherent faith in people and their sub-conscious alignment to the dream.  I would love to hear from you, if you have reflected on your styles or of those who have led you.

Happy I-fluencing!! Happy Leading!!

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20 years of experience or 1000 weeks of Trial and Error

What does 20+ years of Experience mean?

In my life I have come across 2 basic categories of people – Category A : those who spent 2 decades minimizing risk, meeting incremental targets & climbing the corporate ladder doing “more of the same” or Category B : those who spent 1000 weeks experimenting with the people, products, markets, technology that they interact with, trying to push the barriers and unlock the unharnessed potential, individually, interdependently or collectively.
As you can imagine, Category B is a rare breed. A very small group of self-assured individuals who follow their intuition. A very small group of people who are willing to mix the ingredients differently, add new parameters to their life & business model, work beyond their primary zones of comfort.

Unfortulately, many times, we associate stereotypical cliches with experimenters & risk takers. We assume they are rash, wild, flamboyant, atypical etc. But the reality is that Category B is a group of curious men and women, wanting to understanding the underlying connections between people, objects, actions, reactions, events, emotions, behaviour, physics, chemistry, language, nature etc. They are therefore willing to review the boundaries, rejig the parameters, introduce new variables and test the outcomes.

To them, an outcome is a learning experience. A statistical point in their plotting of impact of variables on an activity, decision. Such a mindset allows them to look at each outcome as a learning opportunity, rather than associating the outcomes with personal success or failure. They can derive learning from the experience because they recognize that their experiment introduced new variables and parameters. They can also measure & assimilate the learning because they knew the desired impact that they were trying to create of their experiment.

The category A people focus on “are others happy with my work?”, “am I part of the accepted group”, “do I look aligned?”, “i hope i am not usetting the apple cart”, “dont fix if it aint broken” etc. Hence they rarely focus on the variables or the outcome of their experiments. Hence when results are not to their liking, they tend to find “blameholders” for the failure. In extreme cases, they become victims of their own “blamestorming”.

Its a self fulfilling prophecy. The more aware you are, the more curious and experimentative you tend to be, and the more secure & self assured you become!! The vice versa also holds true!!

Its important to reflect back on our career and ascertain if the glorious periods of our career were those, where you and your team (supervisor/subordinates) were focused on weekly experiments, or when you were busy rubberstamping business as usual. Its the difference between knowing when we made a difference and when we were merely beneficiaries of the flow.

This topic leads us to 2 very powerful concepts. The first one is about “Performance v/s Outperformance”. The second one is about “Success at the end of the journey, or Success during the course of the journey”.  I hope to share my perspectives on the same over the next few bloglets.

Thanks again for your feedback on my thoughts. I look forward to your thoughts and insights on the impact of the “i” on our life @ work or @ home. I am enjoying sharing my experiences with you and “I-Fluencing” you. 

Happy I-Fluencing.

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Innovation Process – is this an Oxymoron?

Innovation Process – is it an Oxymoron

The desire to innovate is universal. Everybody wants to be creative & cool. Almost every Fortune 500 company in the world is spending time and money trying to figure out how to replicate the innovativeness of Google, Apple, Facebook or 3M.

Having worked in 4 very different organizations, 2 of which were entrepreneur run, I believe that there is a pattern to disruptive success & innovativeness.

It is interesting that in all 4 organizations are looking for that “magic potion” – the “replicable process” or the “method and tools” that enable innovation. They have all set up committees, dedicated senior resources, hired expensive consultants and spent tremendous time decomposing the strands of their success stories. After all, who doesn’t want to replicate the DNA of Steve Jobs or Jack Welch or Mark Zuckerberg??

But the reality that stares at all of us is that innovation & success at expanding the sphere of business influence, often, is a result of some of the elements that are fundamentally contrarian to process, framework & governance. Large companies focus on functional and business silos to create expertise, continuity and global consistency. However the unintended consequence of such sharp functional expertise is the need for committees, functional representation and siloed expertise. So theoretically, if a light bulb had to be changed in such an organization, you would first form a committee, you would then assemble a set of experts comprising of sales, product, ops, HR, technology, risk, finance, etc etc, who would eventually focus on finding the most effective, least cost, highest globally replicable approach to the replacement of the bulb. Effectively, sharpness of expertise, has led to significant loss of cross functional trust, and hence low effectiveness in outcomes, but great perception of collaboration.

Sometimes I feel that most large organizations create such heavy internally focused workload that they don’t need competition to prevent their focus on growth.

I believe that the key ingredients to innovation is to empower a set of people who dare to aggressively dream. A team that blindly trusts one another. A team that understands that there there is complementary expertise that they individually bring, but have the comfort to allow roles to be loosely defined. A team that is focused on a collective outcome. A team that is willing to rethink underlying principles. A team that focuses on decomposing and reconstructing. A team that can work with the grey and not always need the black and white clarity…..

I often wonder if Mark Zuckerberg had the expertise in social networking? Did the Google team have years of experience in building stable, scalable, business models? Did Steve Jobs appoint committees to conduct research & design the user interface for his apple products? Would they have ever been given the opportunity to be the leaders of innovation in conventional large corporations??

In our quest to find a method, a framework and a process to everything, we end up inadvertently creating boundaries to a process that is meant to reset the boundaries.

Rethink innovation. Free up the unbelievable potential of passionate people. Invest into leaps of faith around human beings and their dreams.

Happy I-Fluencing…

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