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…’.

Hard Truths about Being a Leader

Everyone I meet in the corporate world wants to become a leader, irrespective of what their psychological disposition is. disproportionately high CEO salaries don’t help. Everyone wants to earn more and the fastest way to earn more is to get into the management cadre in an MNC. What people don’t realise is that becoming a leader or in the management cadre is not for everyone. Like any other job, it requires a very clearly defined skillset and mindset.

Here is a list of things that you need to know before you aspire to become a leader in your organisation

1) Being a leader means you are going to be lonely and in a position where you won’t have too many people to go to for advice or help.

2) Being a leader means that you will no longer have time to practice your craft, which means that you might have to forget a lot of your work practices and learn to give up control on a lot of different levels.

3) Being a leader means that your focus is now on getting things done rather than doing sh*t yourself.

4) Being a leader means that you will not get as much feedback as you used to. It is now your responsibility to seek out feedback for yourself from all levels.

5) Being a leader means that you need to give a lot of feedback (which is not so easy to do, as you will find out).

6) Being a leader means that you get to make all the tough decisions. The decisions that will not only affect you but everyone whom you lead and their family. And you will be doing while you are constantly being in the spotlight and being judged.

7) Being a leader is emotional. As you are in the spotlight all the time, you need to be on your best self all the time. You don’t have the option or the privilege to lose your cool or not be your best self at all the time. This takes a toll on your emotional well-being.

8) Being a leader means that you need to learn how to put people under the spotlight and yet make them feel comfortable.

9) Being a leader means that you need to judge people and look for potential (or the absence of it) in people around you.

10) Being a leader You become the Shit umbrella. You need to deal with shit so your team doesn’t have to. You need to learn to be comfortable with that.

If you think you have a personality that can handle all of these changes (they will become reality the day you take on the role).

Game on…. Are you ready?

Building a Better Version of Ourselves

Premise:

I strongly believe that irrespective of where we are in our lives, there is always a better place to be. We can always be a better person than we are today, we can have a better impact on our world than we are having right now. There is always a better future to look forward to. There is always a better goal to aspire for. If we agree about this, what is the force that can propel us to become the better person that we can become, create the bigger and more meaningful impact that we can create or even create the better future that we can envisage? Once we truly believe this to be true, we need to figure out what is it that we need to learn in order to create the better future or the better version of ourselves.

Reality Check:

The process of creating a better version of ourselves or a better future always starts with a reality check. We can do a reality check by asking ourselves questions like:

•What is working well? Why?
•What could be better? Why?
•What needs to stay as it is? Why?

Vision:

Once we have identified, what needs to change, we need to think about what does it need to change to? This is where our imagination and vision comes into play. Since we are imagining the future and building a vision, we can as well imagine something truly remarkable. Something that can take our breath away. Something that we truly believe will bring in the better future that we aspire for. In this process, it is okay to dream big, for that matter, it is better to dream big and imagine a future that is worth working towards. This future vision needs to be compelling enough for us to continue to put in hard work, even in the face of hardships and challenges, which will definitely come along.

Skill gaps:

Once we have a compelling vision of the future that we want to create, we need to look at ourselves and our teams (yes, I believe that there is nothing worthwhile that can be achieved without working with other like-minded people as teams). We need to self-reflect and find out what are the skills that we might need to build in order to work towards the future that we want to create. Some of these skills could be meta-skills that everyone of us in the team needs to work on (learning to learn, team work, collaboration, conflict management, communication, emotional intelligence, etc) and some of these skills could be specific skills that specific people in our team need to learn (coding, marketing, finance, selling, operational excellence, PR, etc). Not all of us need to learn these skills but someone on the team needs to have these skills.

Learning:

Once we have identified the skill gaps that we need to cover, we then need to go about acquiring these skills. In today’s world, we are both fortunate and unfortunate to be living in a world with information abundance. There are a lot of channels through which we can learn, without having to spend too much time or money. Sue Beckingham has put together a great list of resources where we can learn a new language or a new skill or take an online course. You can checkout all the resources she has put together here. The sheer volume of the sources is both an opportunity and a challenge. There is so much available that there is a possibility that we can get overwhelmed and not start learning anything at all.

Here I would like to suggest three strategies that we can use to learn better and continue our march towards the better future that we envisage.

Habitual Learning:

We all know that we are creatures of habit. Anything that we are able to commit to habit, we can be sure to do. There has been a lot of focus on habits, how can we create, replace or stop habitual behaviours. The key points that I have learnt from all this research can be summarised as below:

•It is easier to instill a new habit when you combine it with an existing habit.
•It is easier to replace a bad habit with a new habit (hopefully less bad) than completely stopping that habit.
•Every habit needs a cue to be triggered.
•Most habits are triggered in a specific place or a specific time (usually both).

Based on this knowledge, we can surmise that it is infinitely better for us to create a habit of learning than to depend on our willpower to do so.

We can find more information about how to create the habits here, here, here and here.

Deep learning:

Once we create a habit of learning, we need to learn the skill to do deep learning. There are multiple ways to learn deeply and thoroughly. However, one of the best learning techniques that I have seen is the Feynmann Technique. Richard Feynman posited that if you can’t explain a concept to a child clearly and simply, you haven’t learnt and understood the concept well enough. Here is a blog post (https://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2012/04/learn-anything-faster-with-the-feynman-technique) by Shane Parish who runs the immensely popular Farnam Street blog (https://www.farnamstreetblog.com) which explains this technique really well.

It is critical that when we learn something, we are able to learn it well and enough to be able to teach someone else the topic and answer any and all of their questions. If we are unable to answer the questions posed, it is a good sign that there is still a lot to learn about the topic.

Communal learning:

There is only so much time that we have in our days and there is so much more to do. There is a lot more to be done if we are going after creating a better future. This means that the total amount of time that we have that we can use for learning is a small fraction. The question that we need to answer in this case is the following:

“How do we use this small amount of time to maximum impact?”

One technique that I have used in my career really well is what I would call communal learning, i.e., we learn not as individuals but as a community. What this means is that each one of us or we divide ourselves into pairs and each pair goes off to learn something new and once they have been able to learn the topic deeply, they then teach the topic to the rest of the team members who need that skill. They in turn will teach what they have learnt to the others. This way everyone is teaching something (having become experts) and at the same time also learning something (keeping them humble and hungry for more). This also helps create a good side-effect. By this process, we are able to build teams that have “T” shaped people. People, who are great at something and good at a lot of other things. We used a half the time we had for our weekly team meeting, for a pair (or an individual) to teach the rest of us what they learnt. This not only helps everyone to learn but also bonds the team really well.

Execute:

Once you have a vision, a strategy to execute the vision, learn well to ensure that we have the skills necessary to achieve the vision, the only thing left to do then is to execute on our strategy. This is the step where most of us stumble.

This is also where an analogy can help us a lot. All of us know how to drive our cars and reach our offices and homes. These are the behaviours that we already know. Now, imagine, if we have to do a cross-country drive (from Bangalore to Jammu or from New York to Los Angeles). You need to be able to drive but, in order for you to do well and not stress out, we also need to learn a few more things. We need to know how to read maps, basic understanding of the car to be able to do some basic repair if needed, knowledge of the service centers of the cars, some plan of how much we will drive in a given day, which cities will be rest at, what routes to avoid and the general direction that we need to go in. Knowing all of this will not take us to Jammu or Los Angeles. We need to sit in the car, start it and move. Once we start our journey, there will be times when our plans would come to life really well and days when it will not. We don’t just give up mid-way. We course correct based on our current situation and continue our journey, until we reach Jammu or LA.

In Conclusion:

The same it is here. We need to take action and commit to the future. We will run into obstacles. As someone said, these obstacles are put in place to make us stronger and test our commitment to our journey. People who are committed to the journey and push through these walls or obstacles will find that not only do they reach their destination, they have become stronger in the process as well. So much so that they can now go on a much more tougher journey.

The point is that as long as we are alive, these journey’s will never end or rather it’s better that they never end. We constantly strive for a better future. Every time we build that future, we start again.

The important point is that we enjoy this journey. If we don’t enjoy the entire process of learning, doing and repeating, we will never be able to act on it.

So, the question is:

“What is the future that you are working to create?”

Quest for the elusive Innovation Framework

Premise:

I have read countless blog posts, wrote a few myself, watched videos, did innovation courses, read books on innovation, all in the quest to learn what makes innovation happen and if there is a way to institutionalize innovation. While there are people who claim that they can do so, I have come to the decision that it is an elusive quest, one that we may never be able to complete.

Innovation and Parenting:

As is usual, when I was taking a walk post lunch today, I was thinking about innovation and if there is a way to institutionalize it. I then realised that the process of innovation is very similar to parenting.

As parents, we want our children to do well in life and turn out to be good citizens. We try to create the right environment for our children to grow in, take care of them, ensure that they develop the right habits, send them to good schools so they learn well, coach them, get them to sports events, music classes, etc. We do this in the hope that they can find their passions and build their lives around these passions.

As leaders, we do very similar things to foster innovation. We try and create the right environment, help build the right practices, employ the right frameworks, bring in external experts to help our teams. We send our teams to conferences, to workshops and creative retreats, all in the hope that they learn something and can come up with interesting breakthroughs.

However, just like parents we can’t guarantee that every one of our children will turn out to be good citizens and a successful professional, we as leaders can’t guarantee that any of this will result in a successful product.

We have seen siblings grow up in the same home, with the same parents, under the same conditions, yet turn out to be very different from each other. So can two different products being developed by the same team under the same conditions, using the same processes and frameworks can have different results when it comes to success.

There are times when we have children growing in tough conditions go on to become really great men. There are times when we can see that products that were developed in not so great conditions for innovation go on to become extremely successful.

In Conclusion:

Realising this, I believe that just like we as parents can’t fully control the destiny of our children but only control what we can (teach them good habits, give them a good loving, caring environment, teach them well, allow them to make their own mistakes and learn) and hope that they go out in the world and do well; as leaders responsible for innovation should do the same (help our teams build good habits, allow them to make their mistakes & learn from them, give them a good loving, caring environment, let them learn well, etc) and hope that they come up with interesting and successful products.

There is no institutionalizing of innovation. So, instead of spending our time to find this ever elusive framework, it is better for us to behave like parents and allow our teams to innovate, in their very own pace and using a framework, the one that works for them. And see magic happening.

PS: This post is in part inspired by a book that I have read by Prashun Dutta (https://in.sagepub.com/en-in/sas/systems-thinking-for-effective-managers/book259327).

The Journey is the Reward – 5P’s 


Premise:

As entrepreneurs, our journey is almost never complete. There is this constant urge to do the next thing.. There is a new product to launch, a new market to capture, a new competitor to quell. A new revenue goal to achieve, a new milestone to reach..

And if we do sell off our existing company and cash out, there is always another company to build!

In this ever changing and evolving goals, the key is for us to enjoy the journey as the reward in and by itself.  If we dont enjoy the journey for itself, this becomes one of the most difficult and the toughest job in the world.

Now, this is easy to say but difficult to do. So, how do we ensure that we enjoy the journey:

  1. Purpose: Know why we started on this journey. Keep it written on a small visiting card and in your pocket. When things get difficult, as they will, take it out and read it. This sense of purpose and the “why” gives us the determination and grit needed to survive and overcome the current challenge (whatever it is).
  2. Priming: One other way that we can continue to enjoy the journey is by priming ourselves to enjoy the journey. When we get up in the morning and tell ourselves that this is an amazing ride that we are on and are one day closer to our success, it primes our brain to look for everything that corraborates this world view.
  3. People: Hire people whom you would love to take home and have fun with. The entrepreneurial journey is tough by itself, dont make it harder by hiring people who are axxholes and who bring a lot of angst and negativity in your life. Be extra careful to hire people who bring in energy and are also fun to be with. THis doesn’t mean that you don’t look for competency. This means that just being competent is not enough. That is just the baseline for someone to quality to get considered.
  4. Progress: Another thing that most of us fail to do is to see the progress we have made. There is solid research that indicates that if we are able to see the progress we make on a daily basis, we are in a much better position to persevere. You could do this by designing the day so that there are a lot of tiny wins that you see through out the day. These are small little challenges that you need to overcome and once you do, taking a moment and celebrating them.
  5. Play: At times we get so focused on our work that we push not only ourself but our teams to the brim of breakdown. The best way to avoid this is to schedule play time wth our team. There are two ways to do this. First is that we block certain time blocks in a week or once in two weeks which are designated play times. This is when we go out and play with our teams and create a easy, relaxed environment so that we can all unwind. The second way is to bring in elements of play in everything that we do. It could come up in the way we brand our company, product, the way we run our meetings, the way we engage with our customers/partners, the way we hire, etc. You get the flow. Play becomes a thread in our culture. THe first way is easier to implement than the second one. I would prefer a combination of both. I would love to work and lead a company where play is encouraged in every form and fashion and then there is also a designated date/time specifically to unwind as a team together.

Conclusion:

It is important for all of us to celebrate the journey much more than the moment when we achieve the goals that we set out to achieve. In this post I talk about a few ways that we can make the journey more fun and celebrated. There can be a lot more ways that we can do this. What is critical here is that we need to make it intentional to enjoy the journey. It is extremely easy to get bogged down in the whirlwind that is running an enterprise to lose sight of the importance to enjoy the journey. So, as a leader it is important to let others in our team know that it is their responsibility to point it out to us when we lose track of this important insight, so we can get back on track and start enjoying the journey again.

Entrepreneurship is fun, challenging and immensely rewarding (emotionally, financially, psychologically, spiritually and socially). Let’s make sure we enjoy our ride!