Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life (Book Review)

Ikigai is the Japanese art of living. I am a fan of Japanese way of thinking whether it is related to how they led the quality movement or how they exercise their craftsman spirit in day to day life. I had heard and read about Ikigai and wanted to dive deeper into the underlying philosophy because I feel that finding our Ikigai – our reason for being – is vital for us to be better human beings and hence leaders.

I therefore picked up the book Ikigai – The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life hoping to find ways to discover our calling, our reason for being, raison d’être.

My Review of the Book

I feel that while the book covers a lot of good content, it lacks depth. In less than 200 pages, the authors try to cover many things like ageing, food, yoga, tai chi, stress management, concept of flow state, stories about centenarians from Okinawa in Japan, resilience, meditation and antifragility. Reading about so many different things tied to the core concept of Ikigai without going into depth can only lead to basic awareness. So, the book is good for beginners who are exposed to these topics for the first time. I would personally prefer a more nuanced conversation around the topic rather than cursory information on many related topics.

What I liked though was the stories and quotes from centenarians of Ogimi region which is one of the blue zones that boasts of highest life expectancy in the world.

Key Highlights

“essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”

“Our ikigai is different for all of us, but one thing we have in common is that we are all searching for meaning.”

“Life is not a problem to be solved. Just remember to have something that keeps you busy doing what you love while being surrounded by the people who love you.”

“The happiest people are not the ones who achieve the most. They are the ones who spend more time than others in a state of flow.”

“Being in a hurry is inversely proportional to quality of life. As the old saying goes, ‘Walk slowly and you’ll go far.’ When we leave urgency behind, life and time take on new meaning.​”

“the people who live the longest have two dispositional traits in common: a positive attitude and a high degree of emotional awareness. In other words, those who face challenges with a positive outlook and are able to manage their emotions are already well on their way toward longevity.”

“In order to achieve this optimal experience, we have to focus on increasing the time we spend on activities that bring us to this state of flow, rather than allowing ourselves to get caught up in activities that offer immediate pleasure.”

“Our ability to turn routine tasks into moments of microflow, into something we enjoy, is key to our being happy, since we all have to do such tasks.”

“Artists know how important it is to protect their space, control their environment, and be free of distractions”

“There is a passion inside you, a unique talent that gives meaning to your days and drives you to share the best of yourself until the very end. If you don’t know what your ikigai is yet, as Viktor Frankl says, your mission is to discover it.”

10 Rules of Ikigai

One thing I liked the most was the summary of book in form of 10 Rules of Ikigai. It summarizes the overall approach to living a good life. Finding your Ikigai is a lifelong journey of understanding yourself better, doing things that you love, putting your gifts to significant use and learning along the way.

Here is a sketchnote summary of 10 Rules of Ikigai:

Related Posts at QAspire

In 100 Words: Three Questions to Lead the Self

A priest was confronted by a soldier while he was walking down a road in pre-revolutionary Russia. The soldier, aiming his rifle at the priest, called out,

“Who are you?

Where are you going?

Why are you going there?”

Unfazed, the priest calmly replied, “How much do they pay you?” Somewhat surprised, the soldier responded, “Twenty-five kopecks a month.”

The priest paused, and in a deeply thoughtful manner said, “I have a proposal for you. I’ll pay you fifty kopecks each month if you stop me here every day and challenge me to respond to those same three questions.”

Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables and Posts

Looking back at 2019

On Transitions – Outside and Within

Life is all about transitions, big and small. Everything within and around us is in a constant state of flux, but we only see the changes that are explicit.

Internal transitions precede external transitions in life and careers. Our thinking, emotions, needs, wants and deep internal motivations shift all the time as a result of our life stage, our journey so far and changing circumstances. But just because these are deeply internal shifts, they are too gradual and subtle to notice. And that means, we continue to navigate our way trying to meet/respond to the needs of external world (outside-in).

2019 for me was a year of being more self-aware, cultivating stillness, paying more attention to the changing landscape within the self, mapping my internal world, reassessing my motivations and aligning my external world accordingly (inside-out).

“Success means using your knowledge and experience to satisfy yourself. Significance means using your knowledge and experience to change the lives of others.” – Bob Buford

In personal life, this theme of transitions resulted into continued focus on holistic health including physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social well-being. The journey of internal exploration continues.

Enabling People and Culture For High-Performance

After I took charge as a Country Head at Basware India, I have dedicated myself to build the country organization as a strategic asset with focus on people, culture, leadership, capabilities and operational excellence. Amidst a constantly evolving business context and many challenging situations at work, it has been a blessing to work with committed colleagues who are passionate about making things happen with a right mindset. Basware has been a great playground that challenges and inspires in equal measure – providing space and opportunities to lead from the front and build ecosystems of engagement, growth and high-performance.

 “It’s not what you achieve, it’s what you overcome. That’s what defines your career.” —Carlton Fisk

QAspire Blog – 13 Years and Counting

Blogging used to be the original social network and I have been blogging here consistently for over 13 years with hundreds of posts, sketch notes, stories and resources that bring tens of thousands of readers each month. This blog and I have evolved together – and this has been a platform for me to learn, think clearly and share insights through posts and sketchnotes.

 “That’s what I consider true generosity: You give your all and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing.” —Simone de Beauvoir

While this year was also slow on posting frequency, I wrote following key posts with sketchnotes.

My hope for 2020 is more frequent sharing of not just curated ideas but my own insights and lessons.

Sketchnote Project – Going Far and Wide

I started my year 2019 with a TEDx talk on the topic  “3 L’s of Self-Directed Learning”.  My entire presentation was a sketch note that evolved as talk progressed. I later posted the sketch note on this blog as well.

Throughout the year, my visual insights were featured at so many places including several events in US, Reykjavik, Buenos Aires, Sri Lanka, India and Germany.  Thank God, these events were attended by at least one person who was aware about my work and that’s how I came to know about it.

I find so much joy when visual notes I create become social objects of sharing, conversation and connection. I am immensely grateful for the privilege of being able to do that.


More at: IdeasDrawn

Visual Thinking Workshops

In 2019, I also advanced my pursuit of helping others think visually to ideate, understand and communicate. I helped close to 100 people in different workshop formats (online and offline) and it was fascinating to see people reconnect with their visual superpower and put pencil to paper.


Find more at: IdeasDrawn Visual Thinking Workshop


I consider all recognitions as by-products of the pursuit and once in a while, when you think of them, they only encourage the pursuit.

For the sixth consecutive year, I was fortunate to be ranked amongst Top SHRM Indian HR Influencers in May 2019.

Each year, being featured on Kurt Harden’s list of 25 Blogs Guaranteed to Make You Smarter  is always an honor since I find company of amazing and inspiring thinkers/bloggers like Michael Wade and Nicholas Bate amongst others who I  respect so much.


I am grateful to all the readers of this blog, people who share my work on social media, podcasters who initiate awesome conversations, fellow bloggers who share their knowledge so generously, people who use my work and people who support it. If I start writing their names here, the list may go on forever.

The spirit of internet, as we know it, is the spirit of collective learning, of raising the bar, of doing the work that matters and bring possibilities to life.

Here’s wishing you a glorious 2020 full of possibilities.

Being a Self-Aware Leader: Tasha Eurich

I created a series of sketch notes for Tiffani Bova’s “What’s Next” podcast where she meets brilliant people to discuss customer experience, growth and innovation. Tiffani Bova is a Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. I will post sketchnote versions of selected podcast episodes that enlightened me. Tiffani is also the author of a WSJ bestseller book “Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business

“Knowledge workers must, effectively, be their own chief executive officers. It is up to you to carve out your place, to know when to change course, and to keep yourself engaged and productive during a work life that may span some 50 years. To do those things well, you’ll need to cultivate a deep understanding of yourself – not only what your strengths and weaknesses are but also how you learn, how you work with others, what your values are, and where you can make the greatest contribution. Because only when you operate from strengths can you achieve true excellence.” – Peter Drucker, Managing Oneself

As human beings, we evolve and change continuously. Over a period of time, our interests, world view, ways of working, speed of thinking, approach to learning changes. This combined with longer careers, rise in independent workers (gig workers) and disruptive changes only means that professionals have to take charge of their own careers and constantly map the changing self with a changing world to stay relevant.

In this conversation with Tiffani Bova at WhatsNext podcast, Tasha Eurich outlines two kinds of self-awareness. Internal self-awareness (insight) is about knowing who we truly are, our values and what we value. External self-awareness (outsight) is about  knowing how other people see us.

In a world where people are so busy responding to external expectations and go with the flow, it takes courage to peep within, develop insight about self, build outsight and find ways to do a more meaningful contribution.

Do enjoy the full conversation and here is the sketchnote summary of key insights from the podcast that I enjoyed.


Other Sketchnotes I created for WhatsNext Podcast:

Leadership and Self-Awareness: Insights from Tasha Eurich Part 1

In the spirit of “slow learning”, I have been using my commute and travel time to listen to selected podcasts where thought-leaders and doers from different disciplines share their nuanced insight on what it means to lead, learn and change in a new world of work.

Play to Potential podcast by my friend Deepak Jayaraman is one of my favorites. Deepak recently interacted with Dr. Tasha Eurich – an organizational psychologist whose recent book “Insight” is all about self-awareness being the secret ingredient of success in 21st century.

I believe that all external leadership starts from being able to lead the self effectively. Self-awareness therefore is the starting point of leadership.

Unless we are clear about who we truly are, what we value, what difference we seek to make and how the world sees us and our work, we cannot be effective leaders.

In the conversation, Tasha Eurich emphasizes on importance of self-awareness as a meta skill that can set the upper limit of success.

We are living in a world where we are more and more focused on ourselves and at the same time seeing our selves less and less clearly. – Dr. Tasha Eurich

Do check out full conversation and here is a quick sketchnote summary I created for this episode:

Also Read at QAspire:

Mental Habits that Support Lifelong Learning

No significant learning happens only through consumption of insights. It happens when we act on what we learn, go through the experience, take risks and then develop insights through the lens of that experience.

Just like organizations need to build right mental models for creating a learning organization, individuals need to build mental habits that enable lifelong learning. After all, as Whitney Johnson puts it, the fundamental unit of change is an individual.

What are these habits? I summarized 20 lessons on lifelong learning in my 2011 post where I emphasized on risk taking, developing commitment, being a part of a learning community, stepping out of your comfort zone, learn from failures, reading, listening and seeking feedback from others on what we do.

Recently, I was re-reading John Kotter’s book “Leading Change” from HBR Press and came across a chapter dedicated to leadership and lifelong learning with a short summary of mental habits that support lifelong learning.

I quickly summarized those key habits into the following #sketchnote:


Related Reading at QAspire.com

Future of Work: Back to Crafts

When you consistently create novel work with care and attention in a way that changes others for better, you can call yourself a craftsperson.

Because craft is about adding your uniqueness into each piece of work you ship. Craft is about creating an experience for others through your work. Craft is about generous sharing with your community. Craft is about exercising your judgment, nuanced process and intuition through your work. It is about adding your unique personality in the work.

Craftsperson is someone who delivers consistently, shapes a conversation, resets the expectation and makes a difference. Craftsperson is someone we look up to.

Laetitia Vitaud in her Medium post titled “Back to Craftsmanship” says:

human work will produce value when it’s not machine-like and that artisanal work can be expected to thrive. Routine work is essentially alienating work whose automation or crowdsourcing is a liberating phenomenon.

Craft, in this day and age, is not just about traditional art as we know it. The spirit of Craft is visible when someone engineers an experience, writes elegant code, builds a new business model, writes a piece that moves us, teaches in a way that changes people, sells in a way that creates win:win and connects in a meaningful way.

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said,

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

We can do our work as a “routine” or we can use it as an opportunity to truly express ourselves. It is the latter that builds meaning of our work and insulates us from long ranging effects of technological forces like automation.

Here is a sketchnote summary of insights from Laetitia Vitaud’s post.


Last month, I was interviewed by kind folks at IMD1 (I am the One) portal where I shared my insights on leadership and art. Do read the full interview here.

The Smart Side of Rewards and Recognition

Appreciating people at the right time and in a meaningful way is the fuel that keeps them going. With automated work processes, real time metrics and sophisticated HR technology available, it is easier than ever before to recognize people for their efforts in the right direction.

Rewards that tap into an individual’s intrinsic motivation are real rewards. The growth one experiences after a rewarding role change, a premium learning experience, a key role in a project, a lateral movement into desired role etc. (and long term career impact of that reward) may outlive the joy of receiving a one-time project bonus. It also builds a culture of growth and learning. 

Here is an excerpt from my 2012 post titled “Building Engaged Teams with Power of Appreciation” –

People work for reasons beyond pay. They want work that challenges them. They want to contribute meaningfully and make a difference. They want to grow and learn. They want a ‘connection’ with organization’s vision, values and their own peers. When they are striving hard and run out of fuel, they need someone to pat their back and validate their direction. They seek acceptance.”

With technology integrated with work, how do leaders approach rewards and recognition and raise the bar to make them truly smart?

When folks at DarwinBox – a leading HR Tech company requested my views on this topic, I created this sketchnote outlining journey to the smart side of employee recognition that was published in their Newspaper styled bulletin launched last week at TechHR19 conference by PeopleMatters.

Here is a sketchnote summary of key insights I shared and I am glad they included my insights in form of sketchnotes instead of a typical wordy article.


Also Read:

Taking Charge of YOUR Learning


Working with so many people, I have come to a rough observation that professionals broadly fall in two categories – ones that ‘have a plan’ around their learning pathways and the ones that don’t.

We live in a world of infinite possibilities and sometimes, the very breadth of choices available to use can blind us, paralyze us into inaction. I have seen many professionals who choose to simply coast along the current context. They usually end up being the victims of their circumstances (crushed by the wave) because they never could think ahead and plan “their own thing”. In a strange way, they almost surrender themselves to their current work context and remain stuck in finite set of activities.

On the other hand, there are people who map their internal potential and interests with opportunities outside. They “pick” their battles ahead of time (ready to ride the wave), prepare for it, invest proactively in learning both explicit and implicit aspects of the subject, seek out c0mmunities of learning and leverage opportunities in current context to practice their learning.

Lewis Caroll famously said,

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

In a world where shelf life of knowledge is continuously shrinking, we need

Organizations are in a state of constant flux with business models becoming obsolete, new models emerging  and new technologies disrupting businesses/individuals.

Thriving in such a world means actively managing your future, learning at the speed of change, making quick sense of big shifts and responding accordingly.

As business theorist Arie de Gues said in his 1988 HBR article titled “Planning as Learning”,

“We understand that the only competitive advantage the company of the future will have is its managers’ ability to learn faster than their competitors.”

This was true in 1988 and it is even more relevant today.

Also Read:

Social Media for Better Leadership and Learning

Leadership in a connected world is a complex sport. Leaders risk relevance quite fast if they continue to operate in an isolated box within a tight hierarchy.

When the complexity around us increases, we need more connected leadership that is constantly making sense of evolving patterns, thinking and mindset.

Leadership that is social in approach when it comes to building communities, enabling engagement and participating in knowledge flows across the network (both inside the organization through corporate social tools as well as external social media).

I was fortunate that when I started leading teams in 2006, I started my blog to document my lessons and share them along. Little did I know then that I was stepping into something that would totally transform how I think about leadership and learning. Fellow bloggers, people who commented on this blog, authors and later communities of learning on Twitter groomed me as a leader and shaped a lot of my thinking.

Thanks to social engagement, I am able to stay in touch with current thinking, participate in conversations/tweet chats around topics of my interest and become a part of an empowering network. I could learn, absorb patterns, prepare for the waves of changes likely to come, put some of those lessons into practice at work, and share my reflections back with community. In my case, social media made me a clearer thinker, better leader and a curious learner.

In the spirit of learning from community, I recently followed Twitter backchannel of #SocialNow conference in Lisbon to absorb key insights.

In one of the talks, Celine Schillinger referred to her Forbes article titled “Three Ways Social Media Make You A Better Leader” where she writes,

“In times of deep social and technological change, social media enables leaders to take advantage of the radical cognitive and relational transformations that are taking place everywhere. Social media creates within leaders and through them more capacity to metabolize the complexity of our modern world and turn it into a strategic advantage.”

A lot of insights she presents in the article resonated with me and my own journey as a leader so far. In the article, Celine outlines three ways social media can enable sensemaking for better leadership and engagement.

You can read the full article here and here is a #sketchnote summary of key insights from the article.


Here are a few posts and visual notes I have created in the past touching upon the mindset shift required for organization transformation, critical competencies for leadership in future, social mindset for better engagement and role of organizational leader as a social architect.

SHRM India HR Influencers 2019


I am so glad to be sharing the space with HR leaders and fellow learners in the latest SHRM Influencers Report 2019 unveiled at SHRM Tech APAC Conference at Hyderabad yesterday. I am humbled to find a spot in this report for sixth consecutive year.

Real Influence is a By-Product

I strongly believe that influence can never be the goal in itself, but a by-product of doing meaningful work and sharing your journey along the way generously. When the cycle of doing and sharing enables others to do better, influence is more likely to happen.


Evaluation Method

The ranking in the report is done based on parameters of Power (Quantum of reach in the community) and Interest (Engagement of Community with the activity). Influencers are placed on a 2×2 matrix comprising of broad categories like Expert (High Power, High Interest), Generalist (High Power, Low Interest), Specialist (Low Power High Interest) and Newcomers (Low Power Low Interest).

I continue to be inspired by a wonderful learning community I am a part of online and offline. Recognitions like these provide a gentle nudge to continue this journey (and do it better), curate insights that take us forward and share it all meaningfully.

You can read the full report here (2019, PDF).

The Fog


Our train encountered heavy fog on that winter morning. At one point when visibility was less than 100 meters, I thought the train will not move forward. We had little choice but to stay put and trust that things will start moving. And it did, although quite slowly.

It was an interesting setting. When I got down of the train at a quaint station to click some pictures (and also stretch a leg after hours of non-stop journey), my mind went on a train of thoughts as it usually does during travel.

The train. Dense fog around. People moving here and there on the platform. The hazy trees at a distance. It all seemed very familiar. I felt as if I had seen this before. We all have probably seen it before.

A lot of our life is like this. If you can clearly see the path before you, you may be among the lucky few. For the rest of us, it is mostly difficult to see past the haze and uncertainty of the very next moment. But we move on, even if slowly, with a hope to get to clearer views. We trust something within ourselves and something beyond us and that keeps things moving. We persevere and keep the faith and suddenly, the vistas clear up offering magnificent views. The struggle through the fog makes it even more special.

The next time I am surrounded by fog in life, I will remember this – that the tracks are still in place, the green hazy trees at a distance will get clearer, hope will guide me there. That I need to trust the process.

That I need to just keep walking.

(Written: 2016)

8 Factors of Happiness

There is a lot written about happiness and its elusive nature. However, what we can do is create conditions within and outside of us where happiness is more likely to happen. Happiness is not a thing that happens to us but rather an thing that we create for ourselves through our mindset, how we relate with our problems and how we generally see the world.

Last year I stumbled upon an old research by Duke University (2006) on Happiness. I tried finding the research paper on Duke university resources but could not find it. Nevertheless, the ideas from the research were worthy enough of sharing, so I summarized them in sketchnote (but had forgotten to share it in 2018!).

It is easy to get carried away by the demands of the external world and feel anxious about changes happening around us all the time. I have seen leaders (very senior ones too) getting carried away by the sweeping changes so much that they either step back or turn toxic.

But our inner strength comes from the calm that we cultivate inside of us. The world we see and create outside is merely a reflection of the world we create within us.

I was recently discussing with a friend who is responsible for leading a large team through major and unnerving changes. I ended up telling her, “As a leader, the next best thing you can do when faced with uncertainty and chaos is the next right thing that is waiting to be done. The key is to not focus on what all is happening beyond the point of acknowledgement, but rather focus on what you can do about it.”

As leaders, we are bound to face uncertainty and chaos along our journey, especially if you are the one initiating changes and disrupting things.

Learning to create conditions of happiness around us amidst uncertainties of daily life is a significant service to ourselves as well as people we work with.

And for that, these 8 tips from Duke University’s study may be really helpful.


More ‘Happiness’ at QAspire Blog:

Leaders as Multipliers

I created a series of sketch notes for Tiffani Bova’s “What’s Next” podcast where she meets brilliant people to discuss customer experience, growth and innovation. Tiffani Bova is a Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. I will post sketchnote versions of selected podcast episodes that enlightened me. Tiffani is also the author of a WSJ bestseller book “Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business

The traditional (Tailorian) view of managing others was to “use people as resources to get work done” whereas the new context of work demands the mindset of “using work as a resource to develop people”.

It is a different conversation that sits on a fine line between tasks and relationships, between accountability and engagement.

Leaders cannot have limited view of people even when people themselves have a limited view of their own selves. Great leaders look at possibilities within people that people cannot see themselves to create pathways of performance. That’s when they create an ecosystem of trust, relationships and meaningful accomplishments with others rather than through others.

That’s when your leadership becomes a gift for others to create a multiplier effect. 

“Multipliers see people more than what they are.”

I was fascinated by this conversation between Tiffani Bova and Liz Wiseman because it outlined what many of us may have experienced in our work life – dealing with a boss who was a diminisher instead of being a multiplier – people who are smart but they don’t enable others around them to be as smart.

In this conversation, Liz Wiseman offers very useful nuggets of wisdom on how to deal with diminishers and if you are a leader, how to be a multiplier.

In a nutshell, multipliers:
  • See people more than what they are.
  • Make people around them smarter.
  • Are supportive and have high expectations from others.
  • Challenge people.
  • Set the right context for others to perform.
  • Let go of control to put others in-charge.
  • Most importantly, let others be in-charge when crisis hits.
  • Support and coach others to bring out the best in them.

Do check out the full podcast episode here for more ideas. Here is a sketch note summary of some of the key insights. 


Other Sketchnotes from WhatsNext Podcast:

Leadership and Trust: 3 Elements

I see many business leaders who excessively focus of creating a grand vision, have a compelling strategy, run great communication programs and have innovative ideas but still fail to engage people and get desired results.

That’s because they don’t focus enough on the foundation of leadership – building trust. In absence of trust, results don’t happen. In absence of results, people trust the leader even less. And it becomes a downward spiral.

Here’s what I have broadly learned about building trust from my own experience:

  • Trust starts with intentional clarity. Before you starting acting on your plans, you need to clarify your intent, understand the intent of others and arrive at a point where intent overlaps and aligns.
  • Trust happens when you deliver on that intent and make a positive impact on your people, customers and stakeholders. When things you do show that you care, people start trusting you.
  • Trust goes deeper through consistency in thoughts, words, actions and results (they call it integrity).

Leaders (and organizations) build trust primarily on the foundation of consistent results, great relationships and expertise. In their recent HBR article, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman touch upon three foundational elements of trust – Positive Relationships, Good Judgment and Expertise and Consistency.

In their post, they underline the importance of positive relationships:

Intuitively we thought that consistency would be the most important element. Saying one thing and doing another seems like it would hurt trust the most. While our analysis showed that inconsistency does have a negative impact (trust went down 17 points), it was relationships that had the most substantial impact. When relationships were low and both judgment and consistency were high, trust went down 33 points. This may be because many leaders are seen as occasionally inconsistent. We all intend to do things that don’t get done, but once a relationship is damaged or if it was never formed in the first place, it’s difficult for people to trust.

Do read the full post at HBR and here is a short visual summary of the key insights:


More on “Building Trust” at QAspire.com

The Art of Successful Giving: Adam Grant

I created a series of sketch notes for Tiffani Bova’s “What’s Next” podcast where she meets brilliant people to discuss customer experience, growth and innovation. Tiffani Bova is a Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. I will post sketchnote versions of selected podcast episodes that enlightened me. Tiffani is also the author of a WSJ bestseller book “Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business

We don’t accomplish anything meaningful in isolation. We have to interact and work with other people to get anything significant done. And our approach to these interpersonal interactions play a huge role in our ability to focus, work and add value.

Too often, we often see people who are generous with how much they share with others without any expectation, people who wait to get something first before they start giving and people who simply use other people’s skills and approaches to get their own work done.

In this episode of What’s Next podcast with Tiffani Bova, Adam Grant shares his insights on successful giving. He outlines three styles of interpersonal interactions in teams and organizations – giving, taking and matching. Here’s what they look like:

  • Givers: “What Can I do for you?”
  • Takers: “What can you do for me?”
  • Matchers: “I’ll do something for you if you do something for me”

Earlier in my career, I often ended up doing other people’s job simply because they delegated their work to me as my seniors. Over a period of time, I had to learn to say no and set boundaries (and the truth is I still find it difficult to say no sometimes). If I timidly served all requests that I got, I would have spread myself thin accomplishing things for others but not for the purpose I was serving.

I did not want to be a failed giver who thinks they have to give in every role and relationship.

Adam Grant mentions that that successful givers set boundaries on who they help, how they help and when they help and focus on giving where they can add maximum value.

What resonated with me the most was that successful giving is not about being nice and agreeable all the time. In fact, as Adam points out, successful giving (and adding real value) happens by being disagreeable, challenging the status quo, giving tough feedback and pointing out problems.

Effective teams, he says, is a combination of givers and matchers where as takers suck the energy out of the team and they should be screened out.

Do check out the full podcast episode here for more ideas. Here is a sketch note summary of some of the key insights.

Tiffani Bova AdamGrant v1 600px

Other Sketchnotes from WhatsNext Podcast:

Impatiently Patient


My throat was very sore and the upcoming week was taxing at work where I need to speak a lot with a lot of people around. I had a sleepless night because of the discomfort.

So, I visited the doctor who checked me quickly and prescribed some medicines to treat the viral throat infection.

I asked him anxiously, “Will I be able to sleep tonight? Will these medicines relieve the soreness today?”

The doctor smiled gently and said something that also doubles up as a life advice. He said, “Mr. Vora, some troubles in life come quite unexpectedly but they take their own time to go. Just focus on the basics and things should be fine in a day or two.”

As I was driving back home, I thought about how impatient we tend to become when faced with adversity and messy situations. Patience is a silent virtue that seems difficult to practice in a world obsessed with speed, connection and noise. Everything happens in an instant, or so it seems.

But things that we build organically like health, finances, relationships, career etc. don’t work that way. They need time and effort to mature. That’s where we cannot take charge. We just need to endure, follow the route, persist patiently, trust the process and just do earnestly whatever is rightly required in the moment without worrying too much about the immediate outcomes or relief.

So in a way, we need to be impatiently patient. Impatient when it comes to doing the right thing at the right time for a right cause. But patient when it comes to our expectations of outcomes because effort and outcome may not always be linearly related.

The winding road to building anything remarkable, making an important change or recovering from adversity may be slow, long, hard and unnerving. The key is to not let the bumpy road drive you off the track or worst yet, bring you to a standstill.

Patience, especially in the face of adversity and external resistance can be the source of our hope and strength of our soul.

P.S: Thanks to Mike Taylor for featuring my sketchnote/post on “Three L’s from Self-Directed Learning: Insights from my first TEDx talk” in his latest round-up of Best in Learning, Design and Technology.

3L’s of Self-Directed Learning: Insights from My TEDx Talk

I started 2019 by delivering a TEDx talk at TEDxGCET in Vallabh Vidyanagar. This post covers a few key insights extracted from the talk. Video to be posted soon.

Formal education is a launch pad that equips us with fundamentals. But we need wings to fly long and high in the direction of our dreams. Ability to learn in a self-initiated mode is one of the most critical skills to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

“In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer

Real learning is an inside-out process. It starts from a deep internal desire to know something, do something and change something. That’s when you take charge of your own learning.

If I look at my own journey and connect the dots, I find three things that that forms my 3L framework for self-directed learning.

The first L is “Labor of Love”

My son is fascinated by drawing and he loves creating greeting cards. When he is immersed in the process of making the card, he completely loses the sense of time and place. Fully concentrated in creating the lines and coloring.

For him, it is not work but it is play. He does it NOT because someone is asking him to do it. He does it because HE finds pleasure in it.

That to me is labor of love. Playing where our passion is. The key questions to ask then are:

  • What is it that you would do even if no one paid you to do it or asked you to do it?
  • What are your intrinsic skills – things that come naturally to you?
  • What puts you in the flow state?
  • What change do you truly want to see around you?

From an early age, I wrote because I wanted to express myself. This need to express translated into other related mediums like blogging, speaking, leading teams, running organizations, writing books and creating sketch notes.

In each case, I started at a very basic level but when I continued doing it persistently, I eventually got better at it.

When we play at the intersection of passion and effort, we elevate our game and improvise without even noticing it.

The second L is for “Lifelong Learning”

Our school system trains us to be passive learners and we always rely on someone else for our learning.

The essence of self-directed learning is to keep the inner fire alive, have an open and curious mind, , creating new knowledge through action and experimentation, make new connections to your existing knowledge, improve upon your skills and collaborate with others. It is about exposing yourself to diverse experiences and disciplines to generate independent thought and recognize patterns.

My journey into social media and blogging taught me one of the most important things about self-driven learning:

We don’t learn anything in isolation and our best learning happens when we learn with others.

Internet has made it easier to find your heroes, watch them do the work and learn from their journeys. We need to invest in finding likeminded people to share our work with, draw inspiration from, learn and collaborate.

Network and community is a great learning enabler.

One more element of lifelong learning is having a multidisciplinary approach to work. When you pursue different disciplines, you can easily use expertise from one domain into a totally different area.

Differentiation in career and innovation always happens where two disciplines intersect.

My sketchnote project is the intersection of my ideas from my blog and my drawing practice from 20 years ago when I was preparing for architecture entrance exam.

In his Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs said that when he was studying at Reed College, he got into learning calligraphy. And many years later, his understanding of calligraphy inspired beautiful typography in Apple products.

He nailed it when he said that dots eventually connect. Whatever we choose to do, it eventually connects.

Lifelong learning and multiple interests empower us to seize unique possibilities when faced with adversity.

Finally, the third L is “Leverage”

Leverage, in simplest terms means finding a way to make a positive impact for yourself and others through your learning. It is about putting your learning to good use. We don’t truly learn till we execute our learning to solve real world problems.

My leadership improved when I looked at my role as a way to serve those I was responsible for.

Real learning is in the act, in putting your learning to significant service of others. Your work becomes art when it changes the self and others for better.

Today, knowledge has become a commodity and everything you want to know is out there on internet. We have moved from an industrial world to knowledge world to a creative world now. In this world, what you know is not as important as what you do with it and how you apply your knowledge to solve real world problems.

We are living in the golden age of self-directed learning. Getting information, sharing your work and connecting with others is just a click away. We have a world of possibilities now open to us.

The problem is that we are used to navigate with the help of predefined maps. Self-Directed Learning is an exploration of what lies within us, what lies outside of us and finding that sweet intersection where the magic really happens.

That’s when you truly learn things that are unique to you. That’s when you can differentiate yourself.

That’s when you stand a chance to change the world within and outside for better.

Here is the visual summary of the talk in a #sketchnote form.


And, here is the picture of me delivering the talk Smile


Looking Back at 2018

This blog has been my online home for over 12 years, even before I got onto Facebook and Twitter. The blog has evolved along with me. It is a platform for me to learn, think clearly and share whatever I learn through posts and sketchnotes.

This blog has had an amazing journey so far. Hundreds of posts, tens of thousands of readers each month and plenty of social sharing just encourages me further to continue this journey.

This year was a slow one for blogging but here is a round up of some of the most popular post written in 2018:

For 2019, one of my intentions is to get back to blogging more regularly (once a week) and get into a regular rhythm of consuming meaningful stuff, thinking, reflecting on my experiences, learning and sharing.

The Year of Sketchnotes Going Places

My pursuit of synthesizing and curating my lessons through sketchnotes found newer grounds.

One of the major milestones in this journey was visualizing case studies for Tiffani Bova’s new book “Growth IQ – Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business” and it was a great learning experience.


It is an amazing book that became a Wall Street Journal bestseller within a few weeks and Tiffani has squeezed years of experience in this book to outline 10 growth paths through well researched case studies for each growth path.

Apart from this, sketch notes also went places and here are a few glimpses:


I created a sketchnote selfie last year and it inspired Claire (National Health Services, UK) to encourage her workshop participants to create their sketchnote selfies. Here are a bunch of people with their sketchnote selfies!


My blog was featured in Training and Development magazine (published by Association of Training and Development) last year with a special mention of sketchnotes.


My sketchnote on “Working Out Loud” was featured at European Commission in June.


Karyn Prather from Kimberly Clark (a consumer packaged goods company that has created strong five billion-dollar brands including Huggies, Kleenex, and Scott) presented my sketchnote (and insights from the amazing John Stepper) at Microsoft Ignite Content 2018, Orlando FL in September 2018.


My #sketchnote on Mindset Shifts for Transformation was presented at AIM Norway Symposium, University of Oslo by Thomas Anglero. AIM stands for Artificial Intelligence, Minds+Machines.



Richard Tubb for sharing my insights and sketchnote to French IT and MSP companies in early December at Paris.

My biggest lesson from all this?

Labor of love is powerful. Applying what you learn is powerful. And when your gifts are deployed in significant service of others through generous sharing, it results in leverage and learning.

Grateful for all the Recognitions

I consider all recognitions as by-products of the pursuit and once in a while, when you think of them, they only encourage the pursuit.

For the Fifth consecutive year, I was fortunate to be ranked amongst Top 30 Indian HR Influencers on Social Media in May 2018.

Also, a big thanks to my friend Kurt Harden for including QAspire blog in his annual list of “25 Blogs Guaranteed to Make You Smarter” for 6th consecutive year. Love all the selections in this list and always grateful for his generosity.

Change is a Constant Work

At work, it was again a year of change. Leading an organization in times of change is a challenge and an opportunity to learn a great deal in the process. Nothing in business is (and can be) stagnant and job of leaders is to communicate relentlessly and enable people make sense of changes. Leaders create an ecosystem where people not only adapt to change but also contribute positively to it.

And Other Stuff

I tried as much as possible to stay close to my intent of consuming less and creating more, dwelling in possibility and simplifying. I think I can do better on that last bit of simplifying since I have a tendency to take on more than I can handle.

Competing with the self is always exhausting because you never win!  But guided by intent of learning constantly, sharing generously and putting it al to good use, my journey continues.

A Note of Gratitude

This blog is not possible without YOU – who care to read what I write, share it along widely and encourage me all the way. I am extremely grateful for everyone who read this blog, are connected on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Here’s to a glorious 2019!

Peter Senge on Leadership Development

Real leadership does not happen after we get hold of lofty titles and peak positions in the hierarchy.

Real leadership happens when we are aware of our gifts (given to us), when we hone those gifts in the spirit of serving others, when we find whitespaces (gap between our vision and the current reality) and put our gifts to good use in filling up those gaps. Real leadership happens irrespective of external validations and titles. In fact, titles and external validations are only the by-products of the pursuit.

The reward of leadership is not just the difference we make to the context or to the people we work with, but also the kind of person we may become as a result of the pursuit.

Peter Senge on Developing Leaders

The Fifth Discipline – The Art and Practice of Learning Organization” by Peter Senge is such a profound book that each time I revisit it, I find something deep in a way that it serves as a timely reminder for initiatives that I may be working on. The book has an entire section that really clarifies what being a leader really looks like.

It was interesting to know that the root of the word “leadership” comes from Indo-European word “leith” which means to cross a threshold. It points to having courage to extend the boundaries, think differently and going beyond the normal call of duty.

The heart of leadership development lies in the word “charisma” as Peter Senge clarifies it.

“In fact, the word ‘charism’ comes from the Catholic church, where it means one’s distinctive personal “gifts” given  by the Holy spirit. To be charismatic, then, means to develop one’s gift. In short, we develop as true charismatic leaders to the extent that we become ourselves.”

The section outlines the concept of creative tension – that all great leaders have to deal with the tension between holding a vision and deeply assessing the current reality. It is the gap between the two that becomes a force of change. It is the source of all great leadership – at a personal level as well at an organizational level.

Finally, Senge argues that real leaders rarely see themselves as leaders. Instead, they focus on doing the work – on what needs to be done, the larger system in which they operate and people they work with.

Here is a visual summary of a particular section focusing on leadership development.


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