Emilie Wapnick on Being a Multipotentialite

Some of us are fortunate to have found one true calling early in our lives and career but for most of the others, finding what really interests us is an ongoing exploration – a journey where we go along the direction of our energy. And then there people who are wired to have many different (and often evolving) interests.

In her TED Talk titled “Why some of us don’t have one true calling”, Emilie Wapnick refers to people with many interests as “Multipotentialites.”

In her talk, she explains:

“The notion of the narrowly focused life is highly romanticized in our culture. It’s this idea of destiny or the one true calling, the idea that we each have one great thing we are meant to do during our time on this earth, and you need to figure out what that thing is and devote your life to it.

But what if you’re someone who isn’t wired this way? What if there are a lot of different subjects that you’re curious about, and many different things you want to do?”

She then defines a multipotentialite as:

“someone with many interests and creative pursuits. It’s a mouthful to say. It might help if you break it up into three parts: multi, potential, and ite. You can also use one of the other terms that connote the same idea, such as polymath, the Renaissance person.”

Being drawn to many different things can be easily seen as a limitation but what Emilie found out is that there are tremendous strengths in being this way.

Based on the talk, here is a sketch note depicting the multipotentialite superpowers.

And finally, in the words of Emilie Wapnick:

to you I say: embrace your many passions. Follow your curiosity down those rabbit holes. Explore your intersections. Embracing our inner wiring leads to a happier, more authentic life. And perhaps more importantly — multipotentialites, the world needs us.

Yes!

Better Leadership in 2015 (And Beyond): 9 Essentials

Year 2015 is knocking the door. A few hours later, fireworks in the sky will mark the beginning of another new year. Last few days of a year often pulls us into a retrospective mood and we tend to look back and look forward at the same time. As I write this, I am thinking about leadership.

Our world of work is constantly changing at a rate that is almost unnerving. Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous (VUCA) best describes the times we live in. People’s expectations from their leaders are increasing all the time. Generational shifts at workplace combined with business model disruptions is only adding to the woes of being a leader in the current times.

But the same challenges are also opportunities to practice better leadership provided we understand what it takes to succeed as a leader in 2015 (and beyond).

Here are 9 key thoughts on leading in 2015 and beyond:

  1. Leaders need to understand the new definition of power. It is not in titles or how large an office they occupy or where they stand in the pecking order of hierarchy. In this world of work, a leader derives power by engaging others, collaborating with them, build a positive influence and build an environment where people can thrive.
  2. Stability is a myth. As a leader, if you are not making forward progress, you are already moving backwards. Leaders have to maintain constant positive momentum towards achieving the vision and goals of the team. Constant improvement (and innovation) in products and processes is one of the ways to maintain positive momentum.
  3. Communication, collaboration, creativity and commitment are 4C’s that empower leaders in this world of work.
  4. In a complex environment, a leader’s ability to introduce and manage changes is as important as responding effectively to external changes. Leaders have to be creators of change too.
  5. Leaders need to stop trying to motivate people. This may sound counter-intuitive but intrinsic motivation, the one that lasts, cannot be generated externally. Creating an environment and system where intrinsic motivation is more likely to happen is the primary expectation from a leader.
  6. People need two things: purpose and meaning. A leader’s primary (and ongoing) challenge is to clarify the purpose and outline the meaning of work that people do. This is one of the key drivers of engagement that requires a lot of communication and context setting by the leader.
  7. For leaders, constant and self-initiated learning is not optional anymore. Constant learning equips leaders to remain agile in the face of uncertainty (and it sets a great example for people to follow).
  8. Work is a tool to develop people who, in turn, do great work. Traditional view of leadership is that leaders get work done through people. Which is true, however, I also believe that available body of work is an opportunity to develop people. You can use people as ‘resources’ OR you can use work as a ‘resource’ to develop people.
  9. Leaders in the new world have to be graceful and decent – even when facing uncertainties and chaos. They have to respect people, their time and their strengths.

Bonus:

With those thoughts, I wish you a glorious 2015!


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#2014in5Words: Opportunities. Change. Learning. Serendipity. Love.

I came across the hash tag #2014in5Words on Twitter and that prompted me to write more about it. It is interesting how 5 discrete words can describe the core themes of a year gone by. On Twitter, I wrote:

#2014in5Words Opportunities. Change. Learning. Serendipity. Love.

Opportunities.

In 2014, I got plenty of opportunities to make a positive difference to individuals and businesses. Opportunities came in all sizes – from small help requests to large scale consulting assignments and everything in between. I am grateful for all opportunities I encountered to help others, share my lessons and learn a great deal in return. My big lesson?

Opportunity never comes across labeled as opportunity. It comes in form of a problem or situation. Apply your skills, experience and competence to solve the problem without anyone asking you to do so and you increase your chances of getting more opportunities.

Change.

2014 was really a year of transition. Taking up a senior leadership role at a large financial services product company was a leap of faith in many ways. It required me to move to a different city (with family) and experience a completely new culture/people.  I had so many reasons to resist this change, and yet, I just went in head first. This was not merely a change, but a transition. Change is everything that happens externally – outside of us. Change is gross. Transition happen within us, and is subtle. My big lesson?

In change, we grow. In transitions, we evolve!

Learning.

I have been a huge fan of self-initiated, self-directed learning. Everything I have learned so far has been self driven. To continue that streak, I took up a few MOOC courses, read so many good business books, hundreds of blogs and participated/contributed in various Twitter Chats. My big lesson?

Learning agility – ability to learn (and unlearn) constantly and apply those lessons to a specific business context is a critical career (and life) competency.

Serendipity.

I like to plan things in advance and execute those plans with zeal. But after everything experienced in 2014, I learned that serendipity can take you to places you never imagined. It is not the same thing as getting lucky. It is about doing great work and creating the dots. Serendipity connects those dots in mysterious ways and brings forward an opportunity. I was fortunate to be at the right place at a right time on my occasions – not because I planned for it but because I constantly focused on creating the dots by doing, contributing and sharing. My big lesson?

In a networked world, you increase your chances of serendipity if you share your skills, learning and expertise generously to add value; even when the fruits of your efforts are not tangible or visible. 

Love.

“To be excellent at anything we must first love our work”, they say. Like everyone else, I love my family and friends – the foundation on which I can stand tall. But I am also grateful to have work that I really love doing and knowing that it makes a difference. My big lesson?

Love is an ultimate leadership tool – it is about how much care about your people and their well being. Leadership love is about creating an environment and establishing a context where people shine. This ecosystem is the key driver of engagement.

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Over to you! If you were to describe your #2014in5Words, what would those words be? Share them in the comment or via Twitter.

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Leadership in VUCA World: Perspectives on #IndiaHRChat

Today’s business environment is best described as VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. VUCA is, quite simply, the expression of the fact that the rate of change is outpacing our ability to adapt. As a result of this, businesses, industries and careers are disrupted faster than ever before. We have to seriously rethink about how we lead ourselves, others and our organizations. Old ways of leadership have to give way to newer mental models based on agility in decision making, critical thinking, adaptable learning, people orientation and responsiveness to change.

What challenges does VUCA world pose to us as professionals, leaders and learners? This was the topic of June Edition of #IndiaHRChat in presence of special guest Faisal Hoque – an entrepreneur, author of Everything Connects – How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability (McGraw Hill, Spring 2014) and contributor to FastCompany and Huffington Post.

The vibrant and thriving community members of #IndiaHRChat from all across the globe jumped into this conversation and added nuggets of their wisdom to enrich the collective lessons of all participants.

Here is a snapshot of the chat with a few selected tweets that capture the essence of ideas to lead in the VUCA world.

Is VUCA more hype than reality? How have you experienced it in your work?

The world was always VUCA. Accelerated rate of change has just made it more prominent. ~ @tnvora

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We can call it whatever we want — overcoming #adversity is what work and life is about. ~ @faisal_hoque

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VUCA is real. Business models are being challenged and disrupted. Pace of change is increasing. Its crazy! ~ @siddharthnagpal

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High level of adaptability and flexibility with agile mind that is buoyant is necessary for survival today ~ @vivekparanjpe

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Speed and breadth of change only increases the potential of disruption and makes it overwhelming. ~ @tnvora

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It’s about #mindfulness, #devotion, and #authentic path to find our true callings. That’s where #inspiration come from. ~ @faisal_hoque

What is the biggest challenge of living in a VUCA world as an individual/organization?

Creative destruction is the essence! Fuelled by choice! ~ @_Kavi

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@_Kavi absolutely! And building one’s learning agility :) http://bit.ly/1ji1EV6 ~ @GautamGhosh

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There are no prototypes to fall back on. No check lists. No maps. ~ @tanvi_gautam

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CHALLENGE IS IN HAVING A VISION. Challenge is in evolving road map every day to reach what’s planned. ~ @vivekparanjpe

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Staying positivity, building resiliency, and be focused on impact while balancing the short term and the long term. ~ @faisal_hoque

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From local to global to now social, the time to adapt has crunched, can be volatile and complex to deal with for many ~ @pujakohli2

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Agility – tuning and shifting technology, processes, people and structure constantly for adapting to change. ~ @tnvora

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Every day/ every moment is unique, no historical data, no road map on guidelines. Look for answer within, adapt. ~ @paraskhatri

How should learning journeys shift to adapt to a VUCA world?

The ‘building your plane as you’re flying it’ analogy describes the challenges of the VUCA world ~ @sundertrg

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Orgs must learn at the speed of the business. In a VUCA world, Learning Now > Retrospect ~ @sundertrg

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The most resilient among us will often find a way to fight it by embracing it. ~ @faisal_hoque

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Learning must move from a rail road (fixed path) model to a sail boat (responsive to winds of change) model. ~ @tanvi_gautam

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Leadership development focused on learning agility, self-awareness, comfort with ambiguity, & strategic thinking ~ @vivekparanjpe

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VUCA is about on-the-go. Contextual.Dynamic. If learning isn’t readying you for this, it isn’t learning ~ @_Kavi

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Constant learning, re-learning (in line with given context) and unlearning is vital. ~ @tnvora

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Learning in a VUCA world is experiential. All about experiencing and developing responses ~ @JoyAndLife

How are VUCA world careers different from the old economy careers?

Portfolio careers: One person, many careers are here to stay! ~ @tanvi_gautam

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VUCA careers of the future will be like that of film stars, you play different roles in every second movie :-) ~ @ideabound

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Never say I am specialized in this or that. Careers are about saying I open to do what is needed. I am open to learn ~ @vivekparanjpe

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A VUCA resume isn’t about a set of companies worked in. But about a bag of expertise picked up! ~ @_Kavi

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The only way that we can deal with our blind spots is to find people who have different ones ~ @faisal_hoque

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Careers are being built on – I CAN rather than IQ ! ~ @tanvi_gautam

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You have to craft your own career. It is not the responsibility of HR, your boss, your company. Wake up ! ~ @tanvi_gautam

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Inclusion, diversity and collaborating through an inter-generational workforce would be the hallmark of success ~ @nohrgyan

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"Portable skills" combined with powerful big-picture view is the key to succeed in VUCA world. ~ @tnvora

What skills enable one to survive & thrive in a VUCA world ?

First – Learning agility. Everything else after that. If you don’t have Learning Agility, it’s game over. ~ @JoyAndLife

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Adaptability & buoyancy ~ @sandeepcen

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Lean into the challenges and be energized with change ~ @tnvora

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Sense making from ambiguity, social intelligence, novel thinking, cross culture competency, design, digital. ~ @yagiwal

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"Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. This is another paradox: What is soft is strong." ~ @faisal_hoque

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Compassion for self and others would be a great need in the VUCA world ~ @nohrgyan

Willingness to reconfigure plans in a short notice. ~ @tanvi_gautam

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Critical thinking dealing with complexity ambiguity and speed will be critical in #VUCA world. ~ @vivekparanjpe

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The ability to visualize our dreams creates a mindset that makes our ambitions possible. ~ @faisal_hoque

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A mindset of collaboration not competition.Fluidity not fixatedness.Fundamentals not formulas. ~ @tanvi_gautam

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Ability to turn on a dime.To destory your own plans and adopt another’s.To quickly tweak or reinvent. ~ @JoyAndLife

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Adversity inherently invokes pain. Accepting and growing through our pain is part of our personal growth. ~ @faisal_hoque

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In a VUCA world must learn to “color outside the lines” recognizing the artificial boundaries that keep us from progress ~ @SusanMazza

What is the ideal profile of a VUCA world leader?

The ideal profile is a person of opposites. Humble but self-assured. Decisive but seeks opinion. Analytical but intuitive.~ @JoyAndLife

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To read much from a few words.to distill. To disrupt.To demand. And of course to design the future ~ @_Kavi

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Is True to the vision.Communicates clearly. Has Deep understanding of business. Agile.Empathetic. People oriented. ~ @tnvora

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A6 to realize that he/she is not a leader :) ~ @GautamGhosh

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They Curate Talents ~ @faisal_hoque

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They Power Innovation ~ @faisal_hoque

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The leader who leads from the BACK of the crowd & harnesses the power of diversity.~ @tanvi_gautam

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VUCA is not build for ideal. Stereotypes won’t work & we don’t know what will. It’s the process of figuring out & adapting ~ @sundertrg

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Vision Understanding Clarity Agility – (VUCA) are few key Leadership skills ~ @shweta_hr

 

What is the opportunity presented by living in a VUCA world ?

Appreciating, Accepting and Adjusting are the three A’s to cope up in a VUCA world ~ @khushbootanna21

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To create your own sliver of the world :) ~ @GautamGhosh

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The opportunity to renew.To serve. To relearn & most importantly – To stay young! ~ @_Kavi

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Opportunity to be learning constantly and meeting so many fine people is the greatest personal gift of the VUCA world ~ @nohrgyan

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The gift of VUCA – learners for life.Appreciation for the here and now.Interdependence of goals. ~ @tanvi_gautam

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In VUCA world – Ideas are winners. Not people, not lineage & certainly not experience ~ @sundertrg

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Forces us to connect with ourselves and others — as result we have better opportunity to create and impact. ~ @faisal_hoque

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In VUCA world – Opportunities end where the imagination does ~ @sundertrg

 

That’s it from this edition of #IndiaHRChat. In just about one hours time, 1153 bite sized ideas were posted by 95 contributors reaching more than 400000 people. Amazing, isn’t it?

Happy Leading!

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Also Read at QAspire:

Fostering Emergent Leadership: Bite Sized Insights on #IndiaHRChat

Bite Sized Insights on Personal Branding #IndiaHRChat

Coaching Culture: The Art and Science of Success #IndiaHRChat

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In 100 Words: No Strength Without Struggle

The caterpillar was turning into a butterfly. In that biology lab, the teacher explained how butterfly struggles to break the cocoon as students curiously observed this metamorphosis. Before leaving the class, she urged students to just observe and not help the butterfly.

After a while, one of the students took pity on the struggling butterfly and broke the cocoon to help. But shortly afterwards, the butterfly died.

When the teacher returned, she saw what had happened. “Your help killed the butterfly. Struggle helps butterfly in developing and strengthening its wings,” she said.

“Our struggles are the source of our strength.”

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Photograph by: Tanmay Vora, Butterfly in the Park

Change: The Power of Gradual

In a fast paced environment, we notice things that are urgent, immediate and abrupt in nature. We forget to notice the gradual.

One small serving of unhealthy food doesn’t seem to harm but many such servings over a long duration increase the odds of having a health problem manifold. One conversation that went wrong now doesn’t seem to have any direct impact on a relationship but with every such conversation, trust is eroded till it reaches a point where relationship ends.

In an organization, this becomes even more complex where larger system is a collection of many independent sub-systems. Decisions and conversations in each of these sub-system affects the whole. The impact of one strategic failure may not be visible in a short term but can prove fatal in a long run.

The good news is: the converse is also true. Any great success is, almost always, a result of many small things done right. Careers are built one opportunity at time. Trust is earned one deed at a time, lessons are learned one experience at a time and great teams are built one conversation at a time. It is gradual and very powerful.

Why do we fail to notice the gradual then? Because we are too obsessed in responding to the immediate. Because doing takes a precedence over thinking. Because we fail to see living systems as “systems”. We work on components without considering the impact on the system as a whole.

This reminds me of a metaphor of a boiling frog

A frog, when placed in boiling water will jump out immediately because of heat. However, if placed in cold water that is heated very slowly, the frog does not perceive the danger and enjoys the warmth. Incrementally, as warmth turns into heat, it becomes groggy unable to climb up. Eventually, it is boiled to death.

As leaders and professionals, our ability to notice the slow and subtle changes in the system is as important as our ability to respond to urgent and immediate changes. 

In the novel “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway, one of the lead characters Mike Campbell is asked, “How did you go bankrupt?”. Mike responded, “Gradually… and then suddenly.”

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Photograph Courtesy: Chaula Vora – Red Eyed Frog, Costa Rica

In 100 Words: Elevate Your Game

Statue of Three Smiths, Helsinki, Finland

The coach felt the undercurrent. There was a visible problem between the two teams who were trying to kill each other’s morale before the big game.

One day, the coach gathered both teams in one room. He then drew two lines on the board; one longer than the other. When one of the captains was asked to match the lines, he just erased the part of longer line to match.

The coach smiled and said, “You could have done the same thing by extending the shorter line. To win, we should elevate ourselves rather than trying to pull others down.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Managing Aggression in a Team – A Short Tale

Cute Pug, Angry Expression!

The cricket coach had some wise words for his team. This team was reeling under pressure to perform and was marred by penalties imposed on key players due to their overly aggressive behavior on the field. Coach knew that some course correction was required.

“Aggression” he said, “is a double edged sword. If used correctly, aggression can lead to improved performance. It elevates the intensity of your game”.

The coach continued, “I like to call this ‘good aggression’ because it is instrumental in generating new energy within the team. As a team, we must be aggressive but only assertively. The purpose of our aggression is to help ‘ourselves’ not to harm others.”

The team was slowly realizing their folly.

“What I call as ‘bad aggression’ makes us hostile, unfriendly and negative because we try to draw our energy from negating and obstructing others. It may improve our performance in a short term but is not healthy in a longer run. The energy within us manifests itself in many ways and aggression is just one of the ways our energy comes out. We only need to positively direct this energy.” the coach said.

He then asked the team to think about how some of the greatest players in the history of cricket handled their own aggression. After a few quiet moments, the team members realized that best players always kept their aggression in their bellies, not in their heads. They were able to channelize this aggressive energy into a constructive one.

When the team returned to nets for practice sessions, they knew they had a choice to exercise. They chose to be constructively aggressive. No snide remarks on the field, no dissent, no fierce expressions and no more clenching of fists; just a consistent focus on performance of the self and the team.

The coach silently observed them from a distance and smiled because he knew the players had learned something that will not only improve their conduct in sport but also in their lives!

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P.S.: I participated in a corporate cricket tournament recently and this post is partly inspired by my lessons from the tournament and conversations around each game.

Consulting, Content and Context: A Fable

contentcontext

It was the first day of his job as a consultant with this large consulting house. The consultant entered the office and walked across the corridor confidently, armed with his knowledge about methodologies, tools and best practices.

In next few weeks of his induction, the challenge was to apply his knowledge on several simulated situations that consultants usually face during their real assignments. He provided solutions that were in tune with some or the other best practice but impractical to implement in a given situation.

The boss was observing this from a distance since a few weeks and his disappointment grew with each passing day.

It is said that when only thing you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Consultant was trying to nail the problems with the only hammer he had – the best practices .

Knowing that things were not heading in a right direction, boss called the consultant for a counseling session over a cup of coffee.

It was clear that the consultant was loaded with content but did not do enough to understand the context of the problem – the culture, people, business model, root causes of problems and specific situations.

The boss explained, “Unless you put your lessons in a frame of reference, those lessons mean a little. You can endlessly talk about your knowledge, but unless mapped to a context, it has no meaning.”

The consultant was curious to know more about the context.

The boss continued, “Context is a powerful thing. It is a perspective you form based on a situation. A freedom fighter of one country may be considered as a terrorist by the other. One man and two different ways to look at him based on the context he is into.”

He explained further, “Your success as a consultant (and professional) is less about knowledge of best practices and more about your ability to map them to a specific business context. Context provides meaning to content. If you think of your knowledge content as water, context is the glass that holds it, gives it a shape; an identity. Our knowledge is static and defined whereas situations are dynamic and uncertain.”

As the wisdom unfolded, consultant felt as if he was beginning a new chapter in his consulting career. He realized that context always trumps content.

The lessons he learned from this short counseling session would stay with him throughout his career!

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BONUS: I recently had an interesting Twitter conversation on Quality, Process and Culture in a Complex Business World with Tom Peters, Mark Graban, John Kordyback, Sunil Malhotra, Jatin Jhala and others. Read the storified version of the conversation here.

Learning in a Connected Age: Leveraging Social Media

Learning in a Connected Age

Before language evolved, we used symbols and expressions. They evolved to form words and hence sentences. Language allowed us to create stories and human beings learned through stories shared in a social context. Learning was social in nature.

Then, literature evolved and allowed many people to learn from the same sources. In this world, the more knowledge you possessed, the more powerful you were. Learning was imparted by one to many and progression of our knowledge was linear – one level after the other.

Then a revolution happened and all literature went online – Wikipedia democratized information and knowledge is now available in form of eBooks, Blogs, Online Communities, Social Media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, Online Video resources and now MOOCS (Massively Open Online Courses).

We moved from industrial age to knowledge economy and now into a creative one. In this economy, just having (and hoarding) knowledge is not powerful, what you do with that knowledge is!

Internet is a great equalizer – we all have access to a network that is open and connected. Open means we have access to all fundamental knowledge, resources, technology, online courses etc. Connected means we are able to form groups and communities, exchange knowledge, compile and synthesize ideas, source solutions of our problems through a community, provide solutions to a community, take the ideas forward and collaborate with global community.

In an open and connected world, learning is imparted by many to many. Progression of knowledge is non-linear, rapid and broad.

Social and informal learning can (and should) complement the classroom learning. That is because a classroom imparts knowledge that is explicit. Social and informal learning impacts knowledge that is implicit/tacit – something that no syllabus can cover or teach.

“When data is ubiquitously accessible, facts are increasingly less important than the ability to place these facts in a context and deliver them with an emotional impact” – Dan Pink, The Whole New Mind

Why do we take all the pain to learn on our own when we are paying so much to the university?

Because we live in a fast paced world which is constantly changing. Because we compete globally. Because learning is never static. Because in this world, continuous and self-directed learning is the only sustainable competitive advantage we all have.

You have an opportunity to accelerate your learning process, take more chances, connect meaningfully, take your career to the next level and make a greater difference. Learning starts with an intention and the focus is on YOU.

We have come a full cycle and learning is social again.

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Over to you! How has social media platforms contributed to your learning? What techniques or tools do you employ to leverage social media as a learning platform – for yourself or for your organization?

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Note: This post is based on a talk I recently delivered at Nirma University, Institute of Law on their annual event “Confluence 2013”. My talk was well received and students asked a lot of questions during the panel discussion on how they can leverage social media for learning.

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Sports, Life and Leadership: A Game and a Few Lessons

Table Tennis

When it comes to playing table tennis (ping pong), I like hitting hard smacks. But in this particular game, the opponents were playing defensively. The first few times I tried smacking the ball, I lost the points.

Just then, my doubles partner whispered something in my ears, “Reciprocate your game. Don’t just play your style, but adapt to how they are playing.”  When I did adapt, my game stabilized and that added some pressure on the opponents. I learned that adaptability and contextual alignment is so important – be it family, work or a game of ping pong!

I acted on my partners advice and focused on just one simple thing: pass the ball consistently to the other side of net. No heroic shots when simple shots can do. The opponents lost a few points just trying hard to disrupt my rhythm. I realized that doing simple things consistently over long haul and improvising every single time  can sometimes be more powerful than doing something drastic or heroic in a spurt.

“Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” – John Wooden

 

In a yet another singles game, my opponent was anxious. A technically sound player, he took his game too seriously. He practiced through the day and would clinch his fists to curse himself every time he played a wrong shot. The driving force behind his hard practice was an imaginary fear of failure; that kept him from really enjoying his game. By the time game started, he was already exhausted! When your practice matures, it should help you gain more composure, not more anxiety!

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Don’t miss first part of this post (written in 2010) – A Few Parallels Between Sports, Life and Leadership

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Photo Courtesy: Theunis Viljoen’s Flickr Photostream

6 Lessons On Creating a Lasting Influence

Influence

Mahatma Gandhi, as we know, was a simple man who had no position, no wealth, no power and no authority. Yet, he altered the course of history by leading India to Independence through power of people. How could a man with no formal authority take on an empire and influence the hearts and minds of so many people across the country?

Gandhi’s impact is a testimony to the fact that you don’t need positional power to influence others. No matter who you are or where you are in the order, you can make a difference.

Every time I think of influence, I think of Gandhi. He worked with others and through others to achieve his objectives. In the process, he never compromised on his own principles.

In an organizational context, ability to influence is at the heart of a leader’s success in driving changes, building great teams, delivering results and implementing the strategic vision. At an individual level, your ability to influence others is at the core of building relationships, creating a network and achieving your goals.

How does one generate influence? What are the building blocks to be considered? Here is what I have learned about generating influence:

  1. Having substance is a pre-requisite for generating influence. An empty vessel only makes more noise. Having real accomplishments, experience, subject matter expertise, passion for the subject and credibility are the foundations on which influence can happen.
  2. Trust, as in leadership, is the currency of influence. People get influenced and change only when they trust you. People trust you when you deliver what you promise, speak from your heart and be integral and ethical.
  3. Thought leadership accelerates trust and hence influence. When you challenge conventional beliefs, advance the ideas and provide new points of view, people get engaged and start trusting. Gandhi’s idea of non-violence serves as a great example of thought leadership.
  4. Influence spreads on pollens of generous actions. The process of influencing others start with a genuine intention to share and contribute first. It is not about what you want to say, but what helps others.
  5. Only intention is not enough, commitment is the key. Influence is rarely generated overnight. It requires commitment, patience and being persistent over a long time.
  6. Real influence provokes change. Influence is only valuable when it provokes change in how people operate and think; when it inspires them to take required action. It is a myth that just having an audience and followers means influence.

Join in the conversation: Who are you influenced by? What are specific qualities that you are influenced by? Share your lessons!

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In case you have missed:

How to Prepare Well: 3 Lessons

A man giving finishing touch to a stone, Vijaynagar, Gujarat.

A few years back, I was coordinating the interview process of my team members with the client before they start working on the client projects. My team members were not fully confident because they had never faced a client interview before. To build their confidence, we planned three mock interview sessions where I would play the role of a client. We did these interviews in-person and over-the-call. With each call, the confidence increased and communication was tuned for clarity. In the real interview, they did well and client was happy with how candidates represented their skills.

Candidates did well because they were prepared. They practiced, rehearsed and improved before the final show.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

Preparation is so important yet so ignored in corporate environment where we see people representing things without preparing. They do meetings, discussions, calls and even address large groups of people without preparing. They think they would “go with the flow” and “take things as they come.” But they don’t realize that being unprepared, in lean terms, is a huge cost and sometimes, it costs a reputation!

The work “prepare” comes from Latin praeparare which means ‘to make ready beforehand’. Preparation (or lack of it) has been a major determinant in my successes and failures so far. Preparation sharpens your saw, equips you to deliver better and with greater confidence.

Based on my experiences so far, here are some of my lessons on how to prepare well:

  1. Purpose drives preparation. It helps to get clear about “why” you are doing what you are doing. If the purpose and end result is not clearly visible, your preparation may lack enthusiasm and direction. If you are a leader, your #1 job is to first clarify purpose before you start helping your team with preparation.
  2. It is not just about content, but also about context. The art of preparation is not just about the content of your outcome but also the context in which the outcome is delivered. E.g. you have mastered your pitch (content) for that client presentation but you also need to know client’s business, their expectations, key stakeholders and the bigger picture. Context is a part of your preparation.
  3. Preparation should allow you to be more flexible, not rigid. I have seen people who prepare well on content but if things don’t go as planned, they just freeze because they failed to consider the alternatives, variables and how they would respond to it. It is very much a part of your preparation. No matter how well you prepare, uncertainty is almost inevitable and hence preparation should help you remain agile and adaptable to changing situations.

Over to you: If there is one lesson you have to share about the art of preparing well, what would that be?

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Also check out my newest post on Pearson TalentLens Blog: 10 Most Important Traits of a Leader Who Thinks Critically

In 100 Words: What Are You Building?

Photo Courtesy: Tanmay Vora's Flickr photostream

Day-to-day work can sometimes feel boring, but we need to adjust the lens we use to see our work and focus on ‘purpose of the work.’

Two workers were toiling outside of a huge new structure. The first one was exhausted, disengaged and uninspired. “What are you working on?” asked a passerby. “Cutting some stones!” was the terse reply.

The other worker was then asked the same question. “Sorry, can’t speak too long,” was the passionate response, “I’m in the process of building a cathedral.”

So, next time you find your work boring, just ask yourself, “What am I building?”

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

How To Get Better? Focus on ‘Touch Time’

In manufacturing, “touch-time” is when the raw material actually touches the machinery and moves one level up in the production cycle. In a factory, more capacity to produce does not yield results if “touch-time” is low. In lean methodology, it is also referred to as “processing time”.

As a professional, you have required skills and knowledge that increases your capacity to deliver. But that is of no use if your “professional touch-time” is less i.e. time when your unique abilities and talents are at work to produce meaningful results. In a typical work day, how often do we get sucked into activities that adds no or little value but just ends up filling the time?

If you are a programmer, what percentage of your time is spent in actually writing/improving code and building awesomeness into your software? If you are a sales professional, how much of productive time do you spend on reporting/MIS versus actually talking to a prospect and making a sale? If you are a CEO, how much of your time goes into driving strategy versus implementing tactics? If you are a writer, how many hours per day goes into actual writing?

When you are in “touch” with your work, you become better. You concentrate. You start spotting opportunities to improve. You optimize it. Nuances of your work start showing up. You build a serious expertise and get creative. You start adding “real value” to the customers.

The only way to improve quality of our work is to do the real work – not just preparing for it, but doing it.

Critical questions then are: When did you last measure how you spend your productive time in the day? What is your professional touch-time?

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Great Quotes: Bill Watterson on Life and Success

Bill Watterson, creator of comic series Calvin and Hobbes, gave an inspiring commencement speech at Kenyon College in May 1990 and it made for a very interesting read. Here is an excerpt from this thought-provoking speech:

Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you’re really buying into someone else’s system of values, rules and rewards.

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

Glorious words of wisdom that got me thinking.  People work long and hard, achieve the so-called success and still feel desperate and incomplete. Why? Probably because they keep doing something they don’t love, just because it pays.

There are plenty of jobs for people who prefer money over meaning. The key to professional success, fulfillment and happiness is to find work you love and a way to get paid for it. Making meaning (and difference), it turns out, is the most potent way to make money.

Watterson concluded his speech with this brilliant quote:

Your preparation for the real world is not in the answers you’ve learned, but in the questions you’ve learned how to ask yourself.

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Bonus: Here is Seth Godin’s view on Doing what you love. He says,

Doing what you love is as important as ever, but if you’re going to make a living at it, it helps to find a niche where money flows as a regular consequence of the success of your idea. Loving what you do is almost as important as doing what you love, especially if you need to make a living at it. Go find a job you can commit to, a career or a business you can fall in love with.

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In 100 Words: At the Right Place?

 

A baby camel once asked the mother, “Why do we have a hump?” Mother camel replied, “We are desert animals and we need hump to store water.”

Curious, the baby asked further, “Why do we have long rounded legs and long eyelashes?” The mother proudly replied, “Long legs help us walk in desert and eyelashes protect us from desert sand and wind.”

The baby said, “Oh! We have everything we need to survive in a desert. Then what the hell are we doing in a zoo?”

Skills, knowledge and abilities are only useful if you are at the right place.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

What is Heard and What is Felt

This may sound very simple but communication is all about transferring emotion and energy. Words are simply carriers of that emotion. Yes, choice of words matter, but that is not communication.

Consider this example.

The new sales director was on boarded with a lot of frenzy. In his first address to all the team members, he delivered a well crafted introduction. He spoke about himself, his past projects and then about how he intends to take this organization to new heights. If a transcript was created out of his speech, it would be a perfectly worded one. Yet, he was not able to establish the connection in this first address. At water-cooler conversations, people expressed skepticism. Even when everything he said was right, something was not right!

Clearly, there was a lot of focus on delivery and content and less on emotion, energy, intensity and conviction. His overall demeanor suggested that he was putting his own agendas first before focusing on others. He expressed his goals and desires without focusing on the need to understand the current context. He said it, but people felt that he did not mean it. 

Bottom line: As a leader, you talk to people more clearly through experiences you extend, not just through well-crafted words. Your words may be heard, but your attitude, emotion and intent are always felt.

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Photo Courtesy: KrossBow’s Flickr Photostream

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Other Related Posts at QAspire:

Quality: Ownership and Getting Better

Helsinki Lutherian Cathedral, Finland Photo By: Tanmay Vora

Quality you deliver has everything to do with how much you own your work, your actions and its respective impact on the other parts of the system you operate in. When you produce work that is useful, qualitative and something that others find valuable, it feeds your self-esteem and makes you a better individual. By consistently delivering better than you did last time, you raise the bar and grow.

It is a cyclic process and the one that starts with an intention to do better, not with just having better or superior skills. It is the same intention that drives the thing we call “ownership”. This means, unless you own your work, you will never be able to deliver better than you did last time. And when you do that, work becomes a part of your identity and you value it higher. You do well in things that you value more. In a knowledge world, your work carries your fingerprints. It tells a story about you. This is even more so if you are a leader at any level.

Downed by things like organizational hierarchy, our fear of failure, lack of trust with superiors, micromanagement and poor management, we often treat our work as a transaction. I do this and I get this. You do only that which is required by the job. Work like this for a few months and you will be indifferent, uninspired and if you are ambitious, stressed. Quality of your work will plummet down and growth will be stalled. Not a great way to work and live, particularly when this is the only life you (and we all) have!

Better alternative is to take charge from where you are. Acknowledge the problems, evaluate possible solutions and work your way out. This may not be easy, but on a long run, compromising on quality of your work because of these external factors and not growing through your work can be both painful and costly!

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In 100 Words: Catch That Ostrich

Photo Courtesy: National Geographic

It is easy for us to get into denial mode when faced with a change, challenge or impending danger. People call this “ostrich effect” because there is a common (and false) legend about ostriches burying their heads in the sand to avoid danger.

We often see humans behaving like ostriches in families, teams and in leadership positions. They lack courage to address apparent problems or do important work. When they are driven by fear, they expose their weaker side even more.

Here’s the catch: You blind yourself as much to the opportunity as to the fear of confronting the problem.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Interesting Stuff: There is a new magazine on personal branding titled “Me Inc.” and I am glad to have contributed to the first edition in form of my article “The Passion Equation” (read web version or read full article in magazine, page 24).

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Photo Courtesy: National Geographic