10 Lessons in Leadership from Amitabh Bachchan’s first movie – Saat Hindustani

Premise:

I have always been wanting to watch Amitabh Bachchan‘s first movie – Saat Hindustani (7 Indians). The story of the movie is how a band of 7 Soldiers wreak havoc in Portuguese occupied Goa and show to the Goans that they are also a part of India and that India had not forgotten their Goan siblings in their fight for freedom.

As I watched the film, I could not notice but see a few things that we can all learn from. I would like to share the same here:

The movie starts off with a large group of Indian satyagrahi’s (freedom fighters) trying to make their way into Goa but are cut off by the Goan army in every one of their attempts. So, the leader decides to send 6 people to carry out a mission and asks for volunteers.

He clearly lays out the argument as to why this is important. He then also clearly indicates that there is a good chance that the people who will volunteer may not come back alive at all. They are not only able to get through but also succeed in their mission.

Lesson 1: Small teams with purpose almost always will win against large teams.

Once he has his volunteers, he gets them onto a rigorous training regimen so they can learn to overpower anyone without having to kill them. As satyagrahis’s, they are supposed to be using non-violent means to fight for freedom. This initial training keeps them in good stead in all their missions.

Lesson 2: Training & team discipline is crucial.

Lesson 3: Clearly defined boundaries help teams execute better.

One very interesting thing that the leader does at the start of the mission is to say that there is will not be a single leader for the mission. Everyday, one of them will get to lead the mission and that everyone else needs to follow the leader and his/her instructions. What this does is it makes everyone feel empowered and understand the burden of leadership and decision-making under duress. This makes the team strong and everyone a leader.

Lesson 4: Everyone in the team is a potential leader and needs to be treated as such.

The six people who volunteer are all from different parts of the country, from different professions, practicing different religions and very different temperaments, strengths and weaknesses. Each one of their strengths comes to play at some point in time.

Lesson 5: Diversity matters.

The seventh Indian is a lady from Goa who meets the rest of the 6 satyagrahi’s once they enter Goa. She knows the topography of the region where they need to execute their missions. She knows the local language. She has the support of the locals, everywhere they go.

Lesson 6: Intimate knowledge of your battle field is critical.

If we don’t have it in our team, we need to bring in someone who has that knowledge. We can either hire them permanently or partner with someone.

The seven Indians are able to take the mighty Portuguese police by surprise through planning and being open to serendipitous opportunities that present themselves. They are able to hoist the Indian flags at 7 police stations manned by the Portuguese police.

Lesson 7: When taking on a big, entrenched player, being nimble and opportunistic works best.

Lesson 8: Symbolism works. This is the reason why national flags & badges still work. Create a symbol that stands for your cause.

At the start the diversity among the 7 Indians leads to stereotyping, chaos and conflict. However, then the team goes through trying times, they are able to come together and become one unit. There is one person in the team who takes initiative to release the tension every time there is a conflict.

Lesson 9: You need someone in the team who can deal with conflict and release tension, which is inevitable in a diverse team.

The movie starts with the same 7 Indians having become disillusioned with the freedom struggle and in some cases, even harbouring anger against each other. Then the story of the past unfolds.

Lesson 10: Team culture can change for the worse anytime if not maintained.

Once we start seeing success, it is quite possible that the team culture can change dramatically. Addition of new people, old people leaving, some people getting promoted or moved to different positions, can all have a telling impact on the culture if care is not taken to continue to maintain the culture that we worked hard to build.

In Conclusion:

I can only say that when I decided to watch the movie, it was due to the fact that I adore the actor and I always wanted to see the first performance of an actor who will rule the Indian cinema for almost 5 decades. I could already see the spark and the potential in his performance and i loved it. These lessons in leadership was a gift that i had not anticipated.

You can watch the full movie here if you want:

In Diversity, We Trust

Premise:

There is a lot of talk about the importance of building diversity in our workforce and how it is to be considered as an investment in top talent, new ideas, and better connections.

Then there is a lot of talk about integrating millennials in our workforce and giving them a lot of exposure and opportunities to bring in their perspective to the business.

Both of these are great thoughts and in principle sound extremely sound ideas to implement. However, most organisations need to be careful about how they go about implementing these within their organisations.

The first question we need to ask ourselves is the following:

What do we mean by workforce diversity?

Is it diversity based on physical traits like gender, race, age?

Is it diversity based on educational qualification or experience?

Is it diversity based on any other attribute?

I believe that there are three kinds of diversity that we need to bring in our workforce to truly reap all the benefits of diversity.

Diversity of Physical Traits:

It is important to have diverse workforce based on their physical attributes. People of different ages, races, genders think differently and bring in their perspectives to play. This is also an easy way to build diversity in the workforce as it is easy to see the composition of our workforce and see where we lack and then go about filling the gap. This is also the most basic kind of diversity which brings in some amount of benefit but if we stop here, we are only scratching the surface when it comes to how much we can benefit from diversity.

Diversity of Thought:

While diverse people from different cultures, races and genders do bring in some amount of diversity of thought, we need to be constantly on the look out for group-think and ways to counter the same.

It is ok to have people who look very similar to each other but their approach to problem solving or challenging situations is very different. We need people who are good at big picture thinking,  people who can execute anything that they put their mind to and connectors who can connect and keep both the kind of people working together.

Diversity of Experience:

We need people who have different experiences. When I say, experiences, i don’t necessarily just mean work experiences. It could be varied experiences like for example someone who loves the outdoors and is passionate about sports, someone who loves reading books, someone who loves meeting new people, someone who loves adventure sports, someone who loves cooking, someone who loves watching movies, all working together in a team, someone who has travelled a lot, etc.

You get the drift. Each one of these experiences and passions teaches them different things and these experiences can come in play when you are need diverse ideas and thinking.

Chaos and Conflicts:

Having a truly diverse workforce means that there will be a lot of tension within the organisation. What this means is that we need two things to be put in place as quickly as possible:

We need to have managers who have high Emotional Intelligence and are able to deal with the conflicts and chaos as they arise, and arise they will. In addition to that they need to be able to able to create this tension, when needed to benefit from the diversity of thought.

We also need to build a culture where people expect these tensions. A part of doing that is to have a clearly defined mechanism to deal with this tension that builds up in the organisation.

If this mechanism to resolve the tension breaks down or we don’t have managers who can’t deal with the conflicts and tensions, all hell breaks loose in an organisation that has significant diversity. . It is important that everyone knows and understands this process clearly and buy-in to the process completely.

Maintaining Diversity:

As with everything else in life, things tend to continuously change. So, will your workforce with time and experience of working in your organisation. Typically, they will learn what works, what doesn’t; what kind of behaviour gets rewarded and what kind doesn’t. This will tend to push people to adopt the kind of behaviour that gets rewarded. This in turn will lead to the erosion of diversity, at all levels, thereby bringing in group think. As leaders it is our responsibility to be aware of this tendency and to be intentional about maintaining diversity at every level and dimension. We can do this by building a culture where it is not  only fine to have a differing opinion but encouraged to have these differences in certain phases

In Conclusion:

While a diverse workforce can be a great strength, it can also lead to situations which, if not managed well, can signal trouble. So, it is important to ensure that we know what we are getting into. It is important to not just bring in the diversity but also to maintain the diversity, at all levels.

 

 

 

Making the upcoming year our best year ever by becoming the best version of ourselves

First things first…

“Wishing you all a very happy 2018 & a year full of wishes coming true!

And a big, heartfelt thanks for allowing me to be a part of your life, by giving your time and attention (two of your most important resources) to my work. I truly appreciate this and will always strive to be worthy of this attention.

Now, let me get to the reason, why I am writing this post. With every new year comes new year resolutions, goals and aspirations to make the coming year, the best year ever. There are many people who have written a lot about how to  set goals or resolutions and how to go about achieving them. I would like to share my thoughts on the different kinds of goals or resolutions that we could aspire for.

I believe that in order for us to really have an impact and lead a life which is balanced and truly successful & happy, we need to focus on preparing to be the best version of ourselves in 6 different areas of our life:

Physical:

Without good health, everything else seems not so good after all. So, it is important that we take good care of our health. One simple thing that we can do that can have a significant effect on our health is to move – any kind of movement can help. Some of us could go for a walk everyday, some of us can do exercises in the gym, some can look at Yoga, some could decide to dance to music or just go for a run. Irrespective of what we do, it is important that we make improving our health a top priority and keep it at the forefront of our attention.

Intellectual:

It is important for everyone of us to grow intellectually. We can do this by learning new skills, learning about new cultures, thinking, philosophy. A simple way to continue to grow intellectually is by reading interesting books, learning new languages or even talking and learning from people whom we generally dont get to meet too often.

Emotional:

We are inherently a social race. It is important for us to belong to a community and have strong relationships both in home, at work and in the community that we live in. It is important that we identify that our emotional energies are a very important source of our happiness and joy. It is important that we identify the most important people in our lives (at home, work and in the community) and decide to find ways to strengthen our relationships with them. It could be as simple as sharing our time, attention and feelings with them or even simpler is to give them the gift of our full attention whenever we are with them.

Spiritual:

Almost all religions suggest that we go on a spiritual journey. I strongly believe from my experience that such a journey is important as it improves our understanding of what we are doing here in this life and makes us wiser. Each one of us can decide what kind of a spiritual journey that we would like to go on. It could be religious or not. It could be as simple as thinking about spirituality or even just deciding to help people whenever and however possible. Displaying kindness and helping others without any expectation of returns could by itself be a start to a larger spiritual journey.

Financial:

We live in a capitalistic world and it is important to be successful financially. All said and done, we do need financial stability and growth in order to have the peace in our lives to pursue everything else. This is like oxygen, we dont notice it until we start missing it. Only thing is that we need to understand that beyond a certain limit, having more of it is of no further use to us and we can benefit from sharing with people who truly need it more than us.

Creative:

All said and done, being able to create something is a great feeling. I can tell that from experience. I think everyone of us is inherently creative, what we need to do is to express our creativity, in some form or factor. It can be in the form of writing, drawing, cooking, designing, speaking, singing, dancing, or any other form of creative expression.

In Conclusion:

When we are looking to becoming the best version of ourselves starting over the next 12 months, I believe that we need to think about these 6 dimensions around which we can continue to improve ourselves.

One way that we can look to continue to work on ourselves without having to depend on our self-discipline is by employing the very strategies that marketers employ to get us to do their bidding – Behavioral design. We can start to understand this by watching the Nobel lecture by Richard Thaler, who happened to win a Nobel price for his work on behavioural economics.

The entire lecture is available here.

I would like to wish you a year full of discovering self, what makes us tick and starting the journey of becoming the best versions of ourselves.

Learning Design Thinking By Design Doing

via GIPHY

I was invited by the organising team of the Society for Technical Communication’s India chapter conference to introduce the concepts of Design thinking to the participants.

We did some brainstorming and decided that instead of giving a lecture for an hour about design thinking and walk off, it would be better if we can find some additional time and get the participants to experience Design thinking methodology by using the process to attempt to solve something that everyone of them are currently facing.

I got about 150 mins at the conference to deliver this experience. After a lot of deliberation and ideation, we decided to use the process and explore if we can make documentation fun.

The idea was to get them an experience which is as close to reality as possible of using the Design thinking methodology, in the time and space that we were allotted.

So, there were no post-it notes, no charts, no empathy maps or customer journey maps, yet, the participants were able to experience and learn about Design thinking. This itself was a challenge to deliver a workshop with about 11 teams of 6 people, with no additional facilitators and in a space that i had so far never used for running a Design thinking workshop.

Despite all these limitations, the teams did really well to not only experience and learn but also come up with some fun and interesting ways to make documentation fun (for themselves and also for those who they create the documentation for).

The teams were not only able to understand the problem better and come up with some ideas but were also able to create and share prototypes for feedback. With more time and iterations, I am confident that the teams would have been able to come up with some very convincing and potentially great ideas to make documentation fun.

Here is the recording of the experience we delivered for the participants.

The second part of the session is here:

If you are new to Design thinking and would like to get to know about the process, these videos can prove to be a good starting place.

How to Run a Good Brainstorming Session

 

Last week I was invited to run a Design thinking experiential workshop for the STC conference in Bangalore. We had about 70 people in the room. All of them experienced technical content writers.

As I always believe, learning happens best when people have a lot of fun while learning. We then retain a lot of what we learn in that setting.  I am getting beside the point.

I am sure that everyone of us, me included, have at one point or other, been invited to join  in a brainstorm to come up with ideas to solve a given problem. As a design thinking coach, I end up facilitating a lot of such brainstorms as it is one of the core steps in the problem solving approach.

Irrespective of the cohort that I am working with, there are a few questions that typically come up every time I facilitate a brainstorming session. They came up last week in the workshop as well.

I will try and share my insights and answers to these most commonly asked questions  on brainstorming sessions.

Generate as many ideas as possible

The first instruction I give to participants is to come up with as many ideas as possible. I might even suggest an insanely high number of ideas that i would expect them to come up with.  The reason behind this is two fold:

Novelty:

Typically, when we ask someone to come up with ideas, there are some common ideas that everyone will come up with. These are the typical ideas, that almost anyone who is asked to come up and typically lack any novelty or creativity.

In order to reach the creative and novel ideas, we need to push through our comfort level of coming with the easiest & the simplest idea.

Ideas come in waves:

If you notice closely, we get ideas in waves. Once you are able to come up with some creative idea, it is much easier to modify, add/subtract something to/from that idea and come up with a lot more ideas. By asking people to go for quantity, we are trying to get them to experience as many such waves of ideas as possible.

Every wave that you experience beyond the 2nd or 3rd wave, you will see that you are moving beyond the typical solutions into the realm of truly unique, creative & novel ideas.

Crazy ideas

Why do we need crazy ideas? I believe that it is easier to make crazy ideas interesting, actionable and a little more sensible than to make a boring regular idea interesting. Think about it. Even better would be for you to try this.

Take a crazy idea to solve any given problem and try to make it more practical. Then take a boring average idea and try to make it interesting and creative.

You will realise that it is much easier to make a crazy idea practical and still retain a large dose of craziness (creative spirit).

Delay judgements

Why do we need to delay judgements? According to me, brainstorming is a two step process:  Generate Ideas, Select ideas and it is important to keep them as two separate steps in the process to get good results.

The most  important reason, why I always recommend that we need to defer judgements, is because it kills creativity faster than you can say “No”.  The moment someone starts judging ideas as good or bad, our minds start applying filters to our creative thinking (no one likes being rejected or ridiculed in front of others, even if it is only perceived and not real). This means, that nothing truly creative can come out of the brainstorm where ideas are judged right at the idea generation part of the discussion. 

Equal Opportunity & Diversity

How can we ensure that everyone gets a chance to share their ideas? As I have indicated above, ideation is a two step process. The first step is to generate ideas. I always suggest to do this in three distinct steps:

Brain Dump:

The first step is to ask every individual to come up with ideas individually. I ask them to come up with as many ideas as possible as individuals, without discussion or sharing their ideas.

Share It:

The second step is to ask every to share their ideas with the team. Others who have the same or similar ideas can cluster their ideas around the idea first proposed. Everyone shares their ideas one-after the other until all ideas are shared.

Build upon it:

The last step in this process is for people to come up with newer ideas (combining, editing, replacing or subtracting from the ideas that have already been shared by someone in the team. This is again done individually first and shared with the team later. The team can then discuss among itself to explore if they can come up with more creative ideas as a team, building upon the ideas that they already have.

Prioritize:

While there are many ways to prioritise ideas once you have a set of them, I prefer to use a simple framework. If I am doing the brainstorming as part of a design thinking workshop, I prefer to pick ideas which are at the intersection of Desirablity, Feasibility and viability and in that order.

We could also use the red dots framework (each person on the team get 10 red dots and they can decide to use all of them in a single idea or spread them out on various ideas).

If brainstorm was a standalone one, which someone called for to solve a specific problem that they are trying to solve, i leave it up to this person to decide which of the ideas he/she would like to explore further.

In conclusion:

Brainstorming is an important activity that has the potential to help stimulate our creativity and solve some of the most pressing challenges. However, if not taken seriously and done rigorously, it is also a great waste of time as nothing of value ever comes out of it. Now, the question we need to ask ourselves is which side of the coin do we want to see.