Giving Ourselves the Best Gift Ever Possible

I recently watched this video from Apostolos on the Design Collector Feed. Apart from being a visually stunning piece of work, the video also talks about a very important, if not the most important thing that each and everyone of us should never forget – to live in the moment and be fully present in the NOW.

Before I go further, request you to take the 3 minutes and 47 seconds to watch and listen to the video first.

Splendor of Existence from Apostolos Stefanopoulos on Vimeo.

Its that time of the year, when we are either reflecting on what we did well or did not do well in the past year or contemplating what we would like to do in the year ahead. While it is important or even critical to do this exercise of reflection and contemplation, it is equally important, if not vastly more, to ensure that we do not end up living either in the past or in the future.

The Keystone Habit

Charles Duhigg, in his book “The Power of Habit” talks about the importance of Keystone Habits. These are habits or routines, that have a positive cascading impact on most of your other habits. If you only have the time to work on and improve one single habit, it would be wise to identify a keystone habit in your life and work on that one habit.

The habit of staying in the NOW is one such habit. If we just work on improving on this one aspect of our behaviour, we have the potential to bring in a positive cascading impact on our lives, by allowing to build strong relationships, by allowing us to spot opportunities around us and most of all, by allowing us to truly and fully enjoy our time here in this journey called life.

I know for sure that this is something that I am guilty of not doing. I have the habit of constantly thinking of something and being lost in thought – either in the past or in the future. My wife has pointed this out to me many a times and has been the cause of a lot of not so comfortable discussions between the two of us.

What this video did was to remind me of this habit and also poignantly point out and drive home the importance of building this habit of being in the NOW.

The Best Gift Possible:

As they say, the best gift that one could give to oneself is to develop the ability to be present in the present, almost always. The best gift that one could give someone else is our complete, undivided attention.

Starting right now, I publicly commit to learning to and building the keystone habit of being present in the present and embrace “NOWNESS”. I know that by making this commitment in public, I am allowing my wife, my friends, colleagues and my readers to hold me accountable to this behaviour and help me on my journey to embrace “NOWNESS”.

I hope that some of you, who are also afflicted by the same challenge that I have regarding staying constantly distracted, also, make this commitment to embracing #NowNess.

This is even more critical if you are a leader, because, then it is not just you and your life that we would be impacted by this commitment, but the lives of every single soul that you lead will be positively impacted by your commitment to #NowNess.

Lets go experience the wonder that is, Our Life on this Beautiful Universe.. Click To Tweet

Personal Focus in a Word for 2015


I read on Mitch Joel’s blog about the concept of 3 words in a year that Chris Brogan started and Mitch and others have made into a tradition. I tried this out last year and decided to go with a single word instead of three – “Transformation”. I must say that this helped me a lot by being my compass in everything that i did and I grew more than I had ever did. You can find my post at the start of the year and my self-appraisal at the end of the year.

So, it is time to pick the focus word for 2015. 

And the word is “Habits“. I would like to create new habits and replace some old habits with new one’s – one’s that work. It is now scientifically proven that “Will Power” is like any other muscle and that we need to exercise it as we need to exercise any other muscle and that it is a limited resource that we can run out of if used a lot. 

This is probably the reason why it is difficult for us to do the right thing all the time. Each time we think about something and make a decision, we are using some amount of our will power.

The research has also indicated that it is exactly what habits are capable of short circuiting – if we are in the habit of exercising, we don’t expend any energy on the decision to exercise; if we are in the habit of being respectful and considerate of others, we don’t expend any energy on doing so; if we are in the habit of reading or writing, we don’t expend any energy on doing so and it becomes easier for us to do what we want to do without much difficulty and conserve the energy or will power to tackle more difficult and far reaching decisions that we need to make, decisions that we are not required to make routinely.

Charles Duhigg in his book – “The Power of Habit” talks about how to build a new habit or replace an existing one. He breaks down every habit into three key components: 

  • Identify the Cue
  • Do the Routine 
  • Enjoy the Reward

Most of us concentrate on the routine, when it is critical to concentrate on all three aspects in order to be able to build new habits or replace old one’s. 

When I say that i want to build habits, I would like to do them in the following dimensions of my life: 

Physical Dimension: 

Exercising and drinking enough water is key for a healthy body. So, I want to build both of these into habits. 

Intellectual Dimension: 

Being open to new thoughts and ideas is critical for us to remain intellectually stimulated. I want to build a habit that allows me to continue to read/listen/meet with interesting people who can open my minds to new possibilities. 

Emotional Dimension: 

Listening well and being empathetic is critical in any relationship – personal or professional. It is also key to be fully immerse yourself in one thing at a time so that you can bring your whole self into that situation. These are the habits i want to build – being fully present, listening well and being empathetic. 

Financial Dimension: 

I want to build habits around investing and financial management, ie, taking care of all the financial incomes and expenses time and completing the investments that are planned. 

Spiritual Dimension: 

I want to build a habit of meditating, self-reflection and reading spiritual texts and practicing some of what they teach us. Being helpful, supporting the needy, etc. 

Some might think that these are just too many goals that i have set for myself and that it would be really difficult for one to achieve all of these. This is where the single word comes into being. I am not focusing on every goal all the time but focusing on the one word, every single moment in the context of the moment. 

So, 2015 is going to be the year of “Habits” for me. What about you? What goals are you setting for yourself? 



How To Build Organizational Culture

Recently, I was moderating a design thinking workshop and talking about how it is critical to foster a culture of innovation within the organization and that it is responsibility of the leaders to build & nurture this culture.

Some one stopped me and asked the following question:

” As a leader, what can i do to build the culture that i want for my team or organization”.

For a moment, i was lost for the right words. I then took a pause and collected my thoughts and responded such:

Building a culture is like gardening. Irrespective of what you do or dont do, something will grow. As a gardner,

  • its upto you to have a vision for how you want your garden to look like (full of flowers or vegetables for self-consumption, etc).
  • You then need to identify the right seeds or saplings to plant in the garden. You need to understand the right combination of plants to plant.
  • You then need to tend (water, sunlight, trim, fertilizers, etc) to them as they grow.
  • You need to remove the weed that grows in the garden. You need to protect the garden from insect attack or diseases.
  • If a particular plant doesn’t seem to take to the soil, you need to replace it quickly.
  • You need to build a habit of tending to the garden everyday.

As a leader, you are the gardener. The plants that you plant are your people and the garden is your organizational culture.

If I have to expand this analogy to an organizational setting, I think that culture is at the intersection of “People, Performance & Process”.

Culture as the intersection of People, Process & Performance.
Culture as the intersection of People, Process & Performance.


As leader, you need to:

  • Ensure that cultural fit to be a critical aspect of your hiring process. This is similar to know what seeds/saplings you want to plant in your garden.
  • You need to continue to train and coach them well. This is like tending to the plants that you have planted.
  • You need to identify wrong hires (from a cultural fit perspective) and fire them quickly, but respectfully. This is like ridding your garden off weeds.
  • As Gary Veynurchuk says, he is the Chief HR officer for his company. You can listen to him share his thoughts on this topic here.


As a leader, it is critical for leaders to

  • Consistently provide feedback to your people so that they can continue to improve.
  • Reward behaviors first rather than results. By rewarding for behaviors, you are setting expectations that it is critical to put in the effort irrespective of the results. Once everyone puts in the effort, results will automatically follow and will be consistent rather than being unpredictable.
  • Set clear expectations from their people. Identify lead indicators and create KPI’s around them. Monitor them consistently and course correct whenever necessary.
  • Remain consistent in your evaluation of the performance. This is a key aspect in building any culture.


As leaders, it is your responsibility to

  • Identify critical aspects of your business and create a process for these aspects which have zero tolerance. Use the 80/20 principle to set process only for the 20% of the activities that create the 80% of value for your business.
  • Think processes as organizational habits. You need to cultivate good habits and replace bad habits. Read “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg to learn about creating and replacing habits.
  • Remember that no set process is also a process – using individual judgement. Trust the judgement of your people and they shall repay you for the rest of the 80% of processes. Do make it clear that you do expect them to use their best judgement.

I think the analogy of the gardener and the garden was well received by the participants in the workshop. What do you think? Is there any other analogy that could explain this better? Please share it with us.

Transforming Organization Culture

This weekend I happened to watch a play by “Yours Truly Theatre” titled “Bhagwaan Dhoondo“, which loosely translated means “The Search for your Own God”. It was by all means an enthralling performance, which ended with a standing ovation from the audience. It was funny, thought provoking and entertaining throughout.

What was most interesting thing about the play was that it was of a genre called “Interactive Theatre”, which is a kind of Improv theatre and has two parts to the play:

  1. The first part is rehearsed and performed by the actors. This part tells a story of the protagonist. It stops at a place, where the protagonist is at a cross-road and has a decision to make.
  2. The second part of the show is decided by the audience. The moderator of the play comes on stage and leads a discussion about the situation and what options does the protagonist have and what should he/she do in this situation. Based on the audience reactions, the actors then incorporate the feedback and play out the rest of the story impromptu.

When I stood applauding the performance, it stuck me that this would be a great way for an organization to design or transform its culture.

If  as a leader, you want to transform the culture of your organization, you want everyone in your organization to understand and act according to the new values.

Gather around your employees and get them to play out the situations that they face in their day-to-day work and stop them at a moment-of-truth, a moment where they need to make a decision and act on it, a decision that defines the culture of the organization. Now, stop the role play and ensue in a discussion about the various choices that the employees have at that juncture and let them offer their choices. Most of this will be based on the current culture. Now you can either continue to steer the discussion towards the decision that you want them to make as that will reflect the new culture you want to inculcate. Then get the same set of employees to improvise and enact the rest of the scene on this course.

In order to be successful, you as a leader need to be able to determine the Keystone habits of your organization that needs to be changed and use this exercise to influence that habit, which can then start an avalanche of change within the organization.

This method of influencing the culture of the organization has some significant benefits like:

  • This leaves no scope for ambiguity in the team as to how they are expected to behave in the specific scenarios that have been staged.
  • This can also bring forth all the other ramifications that need to be taken care of, all dependencies exposed, which can then be worked upon. It is in such details that most culture transformation exercises fail.
  • This also allows you to try the different options for the teams in a way that does not cost money or lost time.
  • This is also a fun activity for the team to do. Specially, when the team is able to exaggerate the situation a bit and is able to have some fun at themselves and the current policies.
  • This also creates a sense of caraderie among the team along with a sense of ownership for the new behavior as it was arrived together with them and not ordered by someone in the “Corporate”, who doesn’t understand a thing about how things work in reality. This substantially increases the odds for the new behavior to take root.

Do share your thoughts about this approach for culture transformation.

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PS: Charles Duhigg talks about Keystone habits and how to change habits