Staying relevant in A Fast Changing World

The 40 – 40 Chasm?

Last week, I was attending a conference for senior marketers in Bangalore. One of the things that stuck with me from that conference was something that host Jessie Paul mentioned – the 40 – 40 chasm. She explained that if you are above 40 in age and earned 40Lakhs INR, you are supposed to be an endangered species in a corporate environment. She went on to talk about how most of us at this age have stopped learning and growing as individuals. What surprised me, even more, was the fact that most people in the audience (again in the 40-40 chasm) agreed with her comment.

Not me! Why?

This surprised me because I have never stopped learning. I learn
– by reading books                                                                                                                                – by listening to podcasts
– by interviewing thought leaders for a podcast that I host
– by attending conferences

and finally
– by participating in online courses via platforms like Coursera, Udacity, CreativeLive.

For the past couple of years, I have even taken a premium membership of SkillShare and this has become my go-to-channel for ongoing online learning (aside of coursera). I have learned from such stalwarts like Seth Godin, Simon Sinek & James Victore.

Free 2-month-premium membership!

All-in-all, I believe that this is an extremely important topic and one that all of us should pay attention to. If you are not already using some of these online platforms to continue to learn all life, I invite you to try out SkillShare. They have been kind enough to offer 2 months of premium membership to all my friends who join SkillShare using this link.

Find a buddy

A long journey (such as life & continuous learning) is best enjoyed with good company. So, find that one person (your son/daughter/spouse or colleague or a friend) with whom you would like to go on this journey and invite them to join with you. This way, not only will you learn something together but build a stronger bond with this person, thereby nourishing the relationship.

Best way to learn is to teach

I remember one of my professors in college telling me that the best way to learn and retain what we learn is to teach it to somebody else. Taking this to heart, I have decided that for my very own internalisation of everything important that I learn and to spread the knowledge, I shall start teaching. As my preferred platform of choice to learn is SkillShare, it was natural for me to choose SkillShare as the platform to teach on as well.

Start of my teaching career at SkillShare

I recently launched a course (first of many more to come, I am sure) on “How to run a good brainstorming session” on SkillShare. You can find this course on SkillShare here. If you do decide to join Skillshare and check my class out, please do send me an email with your feedback on the class and if there is anything that I can do better or could have done differently. I will be grateful for all your advice and inputs. If you think someone in your team, family or friends can benefit from running a good brainstorming session, please do share this course with them as well and help spread the word.

As Harold Jarche says, let’s stay in ‘perpetual beta…’.

Mime Artists & A City’s Transformation

I came across a story that could potentially be a Hollywood blockbuster. This is the story of a mayor who transformed an entire city, an unruly one into one that learnt to follow rules. He did this by breaking all the rules about how a politician should look like or behave like. And the entire transformation of the city started by getting “Mime” artists performing on the street.


To understand the extent of the ingenuity, lets first try to comprehend the problem that was being tackled (sounds a lot like our cities):
  1. Lots of people dying on the roads due to accidents.
  2. Traffic jams galore around the city as neither pedestrians nor motorists would not follow the traffic rules.
  3. Corrupt cops who would prefer accepting bribes & letting traffic violators go against fining them and bringing them in to face the law.
Trying to tackle even just one of these problems would be difficult enough, try addressing all three together.
Lets just take a minute and think about what would you do if you were elected mayor of a city like this one…


Instead of increasing the policing or launching a mass media advertising campaign to ask people to behave, the mayor took a group of “mime” artists to the street and asked them to show people what their rights were on the road (both motorists and pedestrians). And make it a spectacle of doing it. Though, most people dismissed the idea as a gimmick and expected it to not work…


Boy did it work… Deaths on the roads reduced by more than 50%… traffic jams reduced as people started following the rules… This allowed the mayor to weed out the corrupt cops, some of whom then went on to sign up to become the “mimes” on the road educating and humoring people on road etiquette.
The transformation of the city had just begun. This mayor went on to do great work changing how people acted in the cities.
He brought in “The Carrot Rule”, which was that the city will not be allowed to party post 1:00AM and many more.
He was followed by another mayor equally innovative, who changed the way the entire city looked. He built 100’s of public parks, migrated slum dwellers in to low-cost housing, built some of the best schools and libraries in the poorest neighbourhood.
Within 3 terms between them, together they transformed the entire city.
The city we are talking about is Bogotá. The mayors we are Antanus Mockus and Enrique Penalosa.
You can watch an entire documentary film on how these two mayors transformed Bogotá here (Strongly recommend that you go watch this documentary).


There are a few things that I learn from this transformation story:
  1. To solve a large complex problems, you don’t need a large and complex solution. Rather you need simple solutions to solve complex problems.
  2. Trying to solve complex problems in isolation doesn’t really work. We need to look at a holistic solution and a solution that works like a ripple travelling through multiple complex problems and solving them all with the same single idea
  3. Large scale behaviour problems can best be tackled with emotional solutions. Solutions that address our primal emotions like love, hate or shame. This is the exact idea that Mahatma Gandhi used against the British in the Indian fight for independence.
  4. One other reason not to throw out crazy ideas out the door without giving them serious consideration.
  5. The importance of connecting disparate fields to come up with a novel solution for a problem is the best way to solve any given problem.

In conclusion:

From a social context, I think our cities are again in need of such mayors and politicians who are able to think creatively and who can bring together a team that can go about transforming our cities.
From a business context, I think we need to develop the skill to look at a given problem and not be wary of trying out seemingly crazy ideas to solve them.

PBTO S2E3: The Importance of “Imaginativefulness” in the Creative Process

Jeffrey Baumgartner

Who is on the show:

In this episode, we host Jeffrey Baumgartner. He is an entrepreneur, artist, teacher, author and an innovation consultant and not  your typical Innovation consultant.

He is the author of the books, “The Way of the Innovation Master” & “The Insane Journey

He is also the creator of a new & effective creative thinking methodology called “Anti-Conventional Thinking” as an alternative to traditional brainstorming methods.

He also runs the Report 103, which is one of the longest running eJournal or blog on creativity and innovation in business.

Why is he on the show

He is not your typical innovation consultant or author. He is a great guy, who understands the psychology behind creativity and has a great sense of humor. He has coined the term “Imaginativefulness” as in “mindfulness”.

What did i learn from the conversation

One of the most important things that I learnt from this conversation is the importance of letting go of all the seriousness that we carry along with us as business folks and let the child inside of us to sometimes take over.

Another one of the learning is the reinforcement that we have the potential to be at our creative best when we are moving rather than being stationary in our office desk or the office meeting room.

We also discuss briefly about status quo and when is it important to be happy with status quo and when it is important to shake things up and how to go about doing that.

How can you reach Jeffrey:

You can reach him on his Facebook page here. He asks some very interesting questions and gets even more interesting answers for those questions from his friends.

Book Review – Three Box Solution

Name of the book: The Three Box Solution: A Simple Framework for                    leading  innovation
Author of the book: Vijay Govindarajan
Publisher: HBR Press
Overall Rating: 4/5
Implementability of ideas: 4/5

This is a book about how to lead innovation in an organisation. The framework that Vijay suggests is simple to learn and keep in mind. As he rightly says in his book, easy to remember doesn’t mean easy to implement. Leading innovation isn’t easy either. However, the simplicity of the framework is a big plus. No need to remember complicated stuff. This also means that we can put in place strategies to ensure that we are able to follow the three-box approach. So, from an implementation point-of-view, I think this book also deserves a 4/5.

Readability: 4/5

The book is clearly divided into sections (one to set up the context, one each for each box and then one to summarise. Each section talks about a specific organisation that used the approach that Vijay is sharing via this book and how they were able to benefit from the framework, The book is easy to read as it contains a lot of anecdotes, stories and analogies. So, from a readability perspective, I would say it rates 4/5.

What I learnt from the book:

The three boxes that Vijay references in the book are as below:

1. Create the future
2. Forget the past
3. Manage the present.
4. Keeping them all in balance

Create the future: This is the set of activities where we bet on a specific trend or a product or a technology and bet on it for the long term. This is like investing in a self-driving car when no one is even thinking about it. This is the box in which we can envisage a bold future, one that is radical, transformative, has the potential to disrupt not only competitors but also our existing cash cows. This is where disruptive innovation is at home. This is where you make the kind of bets that you can bet your company’s future on.

Forget the past: In most organisations, the idea for the future of the organisation exists within the organisation. However, the past success (and to some extent failures) put on shackles on the ideas with future potential. So, in order to be able to bet on the future, some of these shackles need to be cut. Some of the past actions and belief’s that led to success/failure in the past needs to be forgotten and change mandated. It is important to know which one of these actions of the past needs to be forgotten and which one of these past actions/beliefs need to be not just remembered but brought into the consciousness of the organisation again. It is the leader’s job to find out which section of the past belongs where and share that within the organisation.

Manage the present: Unless we are able to continually increase our efficiency in the present, there will be no future to be worried about. So, it is critically important that the present needs to be managed well. This is where operational efficiency and incremental innovation lives. This is where we need an engine which functions smoothly and continually improves itself. This is the success and the cash cow that will fund the future. There will come a time when we might have to bring the future in the present. Until then, the only thing that we need to worry about in the present is to keep the lights on and the profits coming in.

Keeping them all in balance: As Vijay puts it, one needs to be able to manage all of these three kinds of activities at the same time at any point in time. Failure to do so inevitably leads the business into a crisis mode sooner than later. So, how does a leader keep all the three box rolling, all at the same time? By ensuring that (s)he puts in time and effort (visibly) in all the three boxes. It can be done by a simple rule of thumb calculation like (1 day in a week focusing in the future, 1 day in a week on forgetting the past and 3 days in a week on managing the present) or by some complicated scheduling mechanism. A leader can also identify leaders who fit the profile needed to manage each box and allow them to manage each one of the boxes and (s)he can then focus on managing these leaders in turn. In any case, it is important for the leader to be visibly engaged in all the three boxes in order for this process to work.

In Conclusion:

Vijay talks about an analogy of the Hindu trinity and how it led him to create the three box framework. I believe that it is easier to remember the framework once we learn about the Hindu mythology behind the Hindu trinity:

In Hindu mythology, there are there important deities, who are considered to be the root of everything in this world:

– Brahma – the creator
– Vishnu – the protector
– Shiva – the destroyer

All of them play an equally important role in keeping the world going. At any given point in time, all of them are active. There is always something new being created. There is always something that grows and needs protection. There is always something being destroyed. So, all the three processes of creation, protection and destruction happen at the same time.

So it is with innovation. We need to invest in the creation of the future, protection of the current and destroy things from the past, in order to continue to evolve. IF we forget to do any one of these, it creates an imbalance, which inevitably leads o stress and stagnancy and eventually death.

So, the question to as is the following:

 “Are your boxes in balance?” If not, how do you bring them in balance?

Become a Referrals Ninja

It is a well-known fact that one of the best ways to generate new leads for a business is by asking for referrals. However, not all referrals are created equal.

Here are some tips to get the best possible referrals and get so good at it that you can become a referral ninja:

Whom to ask for referrals:

It is a good idea to ask for a referral only from a good customer. The definition of a good customer according to me is the following:

  •  A customer who sees a lot of value from buying/using your products/services.
  •  A customer who pays you on time
  •  A customer who is as close to your ideal customer as possible.
  •  A customer who is not demanding but not so much that serving them/him/her is no longer profitable.

The reason is that people like to hang out with people like themselves or people who are better than themselves. So, if you ask for a referral from one of your good customers, chances are that their referrals would turn out to be as good as this customer or at times even better.

For the very same reason, it is not a good idea to ask for referrals from customers who are not profitable to serve or don’t pay on time or pose any other challenge as their referrals might end up being the same way.

When to ask for referrals:

  • It is a good idea to ask for referrals at certain touch points and avoid asking for referrals at certain other touch points.
  • Just before you close a sale with them. There is always some paperwork that needs to be done to close the deal. It is a good idea for you to ask for referrals while the paperwork is done. They are feeling good about the purchase and are most open to provide referrals during this time.
  • Immediately after they have used the product or service. If your product requires implementation, then immediately after they complete the implementation and their go-live, as long as the go-live went as per plan. This is a time when they will be most open to giving referrals.
  •  A few days after your support team resolved an issue for your customer and did it well.
  •  A few days after you have done them a favour of any sorts (could be connecting to someone they have been wanting to be connected or shared a lead for their business or any other such thing). Not immediately after but a few days later.
  •  At the start of a quarter or month. At the start of the quarter, you can reach out to all your customers saying that you could use a bit of help from your customers as you are building up a list of prospective businesses that you want to engage with.

When not to ask for a referral:

  •  Immediately after closing a deal.
  •  Immediately after you help them out in one way or other
  •  After an escalation

How to ask for a referral:

What I have seen work really well is being upfront and honest. Ask them for a favour. Tell them that they are a very valuable customer who has benefitted from their product or service. So, it would be great if they could refer their friends or business just like themselves or their customers, {who might benefit from your product/service as well} so that you can serve them as well.

The order of preference:

  •  Ask them to call the reference and tell them that they would connect you to the prospect and that they should meet you when possible. They should also tell them they are your customers and have been happy with your product/service
  • Then Ask them to email their reference copying you on the email. You need to make it really easy by sharing a template that they can use to introduce you to their friends.
  •  If the above is not possible, ask them to share the email/phone number of the prospect and take their permission to tell the prospect that the customer gave you their contact and asked to get in touch. Then do so, when reaching out to the prospect.
  •  If none of this is possible, it might be a good idea to just take the contact and do a cold call. In that case, you should tell the prospect that as you are able to add value to the referring customer, you think that you will be able to add value to them as well. So, would it be possible to get some time to pitch your product or service?

What to do post a referral:

It is not enough to ask for a referral. It is critically important that you go back and update your customer who gave the referral what happened with their referral.

  • If you close a sale with the referral, go ahead and send a thank you card or a bouquet of flowers or anything else that shows gratitude. This is a good time to ask for another referral.
  •  If you didn’t close a sale, go ahead and still send a thank you note with a short note about what happened. This is a good time for you to ask for another referral.
  •  If it takes too long to close a sale, keep them updated on the progress you are having with the reference.

In conclusion:

Once we are able to close a referral deal, go back and repeat the same process with the new customer. When done effectively, it continues to improve our pipeline and at the same time keeps an ongoing engagement with our current customers. Research shows that if someone helps you once, there is a good chance that they will continue to help you as long as you don’t break their trust.