Make More Art

Make more art.

Art that is not only confined to traditional understanding, but doing things in a way that changes others and ecosystem for better. In that sense, each one of us has a possibility to be an artist.

A project delivered successfully that enables a customer in a big way, a conversation that moves a needle for someone, generously sharing to build a community, a quick post that inspires someone, an improved process that eases life of your colleague, a talk that provokes thinking, a nudge for someone to raise the bar, a small handwritten note of gratitude to someone, thinking differently to challenge the status quo, learning something all the time, creating a piece of work that moves the conversation forward, initiating and delivering – it is all art if it makes world a better place. In fact, that’s also what real leadership looks like.

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” ― Edgar Degas

It is as much about small things as it is about big things. Being an artist is about raising the bar. Just when the world settles into a definition for an artist, the artist raises the bar, delivers a surprising outcome or an expected outcome in a surprising way.

To be an artist at work means pursuing craftsman spirit.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” ― Martha Graham

In this context, I loved a quote from Robert Twigger’s book “Micromastery” by Andy Warhol. I included that quote in my visual book review of Micromastery, but the quote is so inspiring that it deserved a separate visual.

Related Reading at QAspire

Disconnect to Connect

For our creativity to thrive and learning to happen, we need unburdened spaces in our life – physical spaces too, but most importantly, mental spaces.

In a world of never-ending streams of updates, pictures and sound bites that constantly crave for our attention, we need an intentional effort to disconnect.

We need to reclaim the disconnected and real space where we can make sense of it all, spend time reading a good book without getting anxious about sharing what we are reading, explore places and ideas with sense of wonder, have real conversations with people, reflect on our experiences, create and discover our true selves.

I believe that minimalism and act of subtraction is at the very heart of discovering ourselves because to understand who we really are, we need to prune everything that we are not. We need to be comfortable with ‘missing out’ on things that everyone else does or consumes or shares, so that we can think, reflect, create and just be. Letting it go is as much about our thoughts and beliefs as it is about the objects of our desire.

Here’s a quick visual nudge to disconnect once in a while, step away from the cacophony that surrounds us and do it intentionally. Who knows, it may enrich us in a way no technology ever can!

Also Read at QAspire.com:

Micromastery: A Hidden Path to Learning and Happiness

Learning anything new is not a daunting challenge, but a journey where each step counts. Fundamentally, we learn so that we can be happy and joyful. Micromastery is a great way to eliminate anxiety in learning.

Two years back, I was fascinated by people creating sketchnotes and I wanted to learn how to create them. I was unaware of what goes into creating a great sketchnote but I decided to give it a try anyway. I remember taking up a quote and creating some rudimentary visual which I then shared on Twitter as a showoffable outcome. A couple of generous folks appreciated and that feedback fueled further exploration. I then explored more to learn about structure. My second sketchnote was incrementally better than the first one. It had a structure, some use of typography and separation of key ideas. I pushed it a bit further, one step at a time, by exploring visual metaphors, learning from the community, getting better at image quality and editing/coloring them using digital tools. And then, they started getting noticed. Each step fueled the other resulting in a body of work that I am incredibly proud of.

I never felt overwhelmed along this journey because I was doing it for the joy of doing it. I wanted to get better and at the end of every iteration, I wanted myself and the world to see an improved outcome. I was pursuing what Robert Twigger calls “Micromastery”.

This approach has served me well while learning how to write, speak in public, play a few songs on harmonica (mouth organ), sing solo and play a guitar.

Truth is, that is how we learn as kids. I can see my 5 years old son dabbling into so many things, learning in small increments and then improving upon it. He doesn’t want to be a specialist. He just wants to explore whatever interests him. His latest fascination is drawing the Amazon logo and he is getting better at it. His eyes shine when he succeeds at creating stick figures.

I read this book “Micromastery” by Robert Twigger with great interest. He defines micromastery as:

“A micromastery is a self-contained unit of doing, complete in itself but connected to a greater field.”

The book nicely explores different facets connecting micromastery to dynamic learning, getting into flow, polymathism (Neogeneralism, multipotentialite) and happiness. In many ways, reading this book was liberating because it tells us that we neither need permission to learn anything nor an overwhelming plan. We just need to find what we love doing, however insignificant, and start pursuing it.

If you are a keen learner who is interested in learning wide array of things instead of going just deep, this book is for you.

Here is a sketchnote covering some ideas from the book:

In 100 Words: Immersion and Doing Work that Matters

We cannot be anxious about something “out there” – a goal, a target, an external reward, a validation from others and generally things that feed our ego – and be immersed in what we do at the same time.

To be able to do great work/art that changes others for better, we need to let “joy” rule us instead of “ego”. Then there is no self in the game: self is just a conducive medium for the inspiration to show up in form of work.

If/when this happens, rewards and recognition will be by-products of the pursuit, not the pursuit itself.  


Also Read at QAspire:

Move And The Way Appears

I am a big fan of taking small, daily steps in the direction where your energy takes you. I started this blog 11 years back with very insignificant posts that no one read. My first sketch note a couple of years back was far from being good. My first steps towards a health and wellness were slow and tentative. But how does that matter?

Because, those first few insignificant posts did not deter me from moving forward. I wrote, and wrote more. And as I did that, I learned how it works. I did more of what worked and here we are – a blog with tens of thousands of readers each month, sharing their encouragement to me via comments, likes and shares on several social channels. This blog has a life of its own.

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things bought together.” – Vincent Van Gogh

I remember I was hesitant in sharing my first sketch note. But less than 2 years after I shared the first one, the sketch notes have gone viral – from social media to global conferences to office walls to being included in books. When I started, did I have a purpose to make them viral? I just knew that I enjoyed making them, learning along the way and improving all the time. I was pursuing joy and suddenly, the way started appearing. 

“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid of only standing still.” – Chinese Proverb

I lost significant weight (nearly 12% of my total body weight) in past 4 months.  My big plan was to move one small step at a time – read a bit about what it takes, take small steps towards cleaner eating, do small changes in lifestyle, get more active and suddenly, it all started revealing. Lessons came to the fore as a result of moving forward slowly, daily and steadily.

My biggest lesson in learning is:

It doesn’t matter what you wish to do. It never happens in one big bang. Instead, it happens in a series of small steps taken with an open mind, learning along each step and putting that learning back into the next step. And then it grows, purpose reveals and you are on a journey before you realize. Forward motion, however small, feeds our esteem and inspires us.

Purpose may not always be the starting point of your journey. Sometimes, you start the journey and the purpose reveals itself.

And who knows, small steps you take in the direction of your heart may open up new paths for you and inspire others? Small is never insignificant, but a powerful step towards a higher purpose.

Move, and the way appears! 


A Round-up of Related Posts at QAspire to add to the conversation:

In 100 Words: Boundary

We get too bogged down by our self-imposed boundaries.

Boss won’t allow.

That is not our process.

I’ve never been told!

Not my job.

They need to do it!

And it goes on. But what if we cross that boundary and get into the realm of:

What can I do?

Who can I influence?

How can we make it better?

How can I elicit their commitment for this?

It’s a different conversation that requires great deal of emotional labor. As Seth Godin says in Poke the Box, boundaries are in our heads, not anywhere else.


Related Posts at QAspire.com

Don’t Complain, Create.

At the heart of living a creative life is ability to do something about things you don’t like. What we do instead is keep complaining.

We all have our own circle of influence – things we can change ourselves or exert our influence to create change. Everything else outside this circle are circumstances (or circle of concern). We need to simply accept them and move on. I my post “Circle of Influence”, I wrote –

Acknowledging these concerns is important but constantly spending our scarce energy only on these concerns is futile. When faced with situations, challenges and concerns, it may be useful to ask the following questions:

  • Can I do something about it myself? Is it under my direct control? Is the onus of resolution or change on me? (Direct control)

  • If not, can I influence someone who can address/solve/change this? (Influence)

In this context, I encourage you to spend 20 minutes watching Tina Roth Eisenberg’s super inspiring talk at 99u Conference where she describes her journey of building creative businesses that stemmed from her frustrations. In the talk, she outlines 5 powerful rules of life and one of them is “Don’t Complain, make things better.”

In this thought-provoking talk with many takeaways, she says,

“I have a rule: If I keep complaining about something, I either do something about it or let it go. – Tina Roth Eisenberg

That truly resonated with me and I created a quick Doodle Card that I hope to print and put it on my soft board as a reminder every time I find myself stuck in the whirlwind of complaining.

Also Read at QAspire:

Craftsman Spirit

Do you consider yourself as an artist and your work as art?

Art isn’t just about doing fancy stuff or indulging into painting, dancing etc. Your work becomes art when it changes others for better. When your ideas and insights change the conversations. When you overcome resistance to start, execute and most importantly, finish what you start. When you have the humility to accept what needs to improve and change. When you have the courage to truly ship your work, let it intersect with the context and make a difference. When you bring your humanity into everything you do. When you refine, improvise and evolve your art.

I learned a great deal of this from Seth’ Godin’s life changing book “Linchpin” which I also reviewed on this blog (with one question interview with Seth Godin).

In Japanese, the word “Shokunin” means artisan or craftsman. Shokunin Kishitshu means “craftsman spirit”. I read an interesting post on some of the key elements of Shokunin spirit.

Here is a quick sketch note I created based on the post by Karri R. at Warrior Life. When I created this sketchnote, I was prompted to ask three questions:

  • Are you doing the work you can be truly proud of? Do you take pride in whatever you are currently doing knowing that the way you do it makes a difference?
  •  Are you raising the bar for yourself? Do you always try to refine your ways of working and elevate the level of your work? Do you constantly look for newer ideas and insights that can help you in your work – directly or indirectly?
  • Is your work making a difference to others? In what ways? Are you aware of the impact of your work and do you try to maximize the impact to bring about a positive difference around you?

BONUS: Read this 100 word story “In 100 Words: Improvement and Tending a Garden” that captures the second element of craftsman spirit so well.

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!

What Creating Sketchnotes Taught Me About #Learning

There are people who stick to their primary pursuits for long and then there are those whose energy keeps changing direction. Between these two extremes, there are people who stick to their primary pursuit but still manage to go wherever their energy takes them. I have figured out that I belong to that middle path.

My alternative pursuits like writing, blogging, photography, social media etc. are my source of creative energy that helps me become more effective at work. The goal of these learning experiments is simple: to experience deeply, learn immersively and share generously.

The latest addition to these learning experiments is sketch noting. If you are reading this blog regularly, you would have noticed that every post has a sketch note – a visual representation of ideas in one page.

Inspired by a post from Abhijit Bhaduri and work of Mike Rohde, I started sketch noting ideas two months back and sharing them here. Each week, I created two sketch notes on ideas that really resonated with me out of so many things that I read/saw daily. I enhanced my visual library by studying other sketch notes for illustrations and fonts. I created about 25+ sketch notes in two months and most of these were widely acknowledged via shares, likes, re-tweets and comments.

Learning becomes even more purposeful when you know others are using your creations meaningfully. Folks at NHS, UK converted my sketch note on 6 Rules of Change into a poster. Some authors requested their ideas in form of sketch notes so they can use it for promotional purposes. People shared these sketch notes in their classes, meetings and even during conferences. Australian HR Institute’s HRMOnline featured my sketch note in their weekly round up video.

And along the way, I found interesting new applications of this newfound skill. I created handmade “thank you” cards to appreciate people in my team. I experimented with creating sketch quotes – a sketch that adds a different dimension to a quote by someone else. I eventually used sketch note as a presentation for my talk recently. All of this in about 2 months as a side project!

But then, all this started as a learning experiment. So what did I learn about learning while learning how to create sketch notes? Here we go.

  • Everything you do (or have done) connects: I cleared a state level architecture entrance exam back in 1995 (right after my schooling) for which I worked on my sketching/drawing skills. I could not secure admission and I thought it was all a waste of my time. But when I started creating sketch notes, that practice came in handy. I just had to hone it. Here is my big take away: Not everything we do yields instant rewards and not all rewards are visible. And yet, everything we do (or have done) helps us somewhere in some unique way. Knowing this is the key to synthesize our skills and lessons to create or address a unique context. 
  • Intersections are powerful: Explicit learning deals with absolutes and absolutes are crowded with a lot of commoditized knowledge. Real learning (tacit) happens at the intersection of two or more things. That is where ideas overlap and innovation happens. People create sketch notes about everything – travel, to do lists, notes and so on. I decided to create sketch notes on business topics I care about. That way, I can bring in my own ideas, experiences and interpretations to the illustrations. This is where my ability to represent visually intersects with my interest in the topic and my unique experiences.
  • Learn, Do, Share, Adapt: The first sketch note I created was quite naive (and unfinished) but I still gathered courage to share it on Twitter. Almost instantly, people responded affirmatively. This led to more creation, sharing, feedback and hence improvement. I gained confidence at each stage of this cycle. When we learn from open networks, it is our obligation to give it back in whatever form we can. The feedback, encouragement and support we receive from these networks is just a huge bonus. We need to “learn out loud.” Or as Harold Jarche puts it, co-create knowledge by adding value to existing knowledge through our unique perspectives.
  • Going where your energy takes you is NOT a waste of time: We often think of “return on investment” when learning. But our best learning happens when we learn out of joy. Everything that I have learned so far (personally as well as professionally), I have learned because I was drawn towards it. All I had to do was go with the flow rather than resisting it. And the great thing is – when you learn out of joy, you will never feel like you did a lot of “hard work” to learn. Learning then becomes a way of life.
  • Visual is powerful: Writing about things is a great way to learn but words alone are not sufficient to make the connection between ideas visible. And it is not about drawing skills at all. It is about making the connections between ideas visible, even if it is on your whiteboard. For me, representing ideas in sketch note form allows them to penetrate deeper into my sub-conscious. Research says that doodling improves learning and I’ve experienced it first hand!
  • Excitement is contagious: Learning things builds your mental muscles and generate a different positive energy within you which is contagious. One day, my 9 years old daughter walked up to me with a request to teach her how to create a sketch note. She saw me doodling and instantly wanted to do it. A few people in my teams attempted to represent their project related ideas in form of basic sketch notes. I instantly knew that if I am inspired by learning journeys of others, my own journey may be inspiring others. It is both a privilege and a responsibility.

We learn by seeing (visual), hearing (auditory), reading/writing and doing (kinesthetic). What is fascinating about sketch noting is that it brings all these modes of learning in the game as soon as you start scribbling your ideas onto that blank piece of paper.

I am so looking forward to lessons this journey unfolds from here.

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Additional Resources for sketchnote enthusiasts:

  1. Read a sample chapter from Mike Rohde’s book “The Sketchnote Handbook
  2. The sketchnote podcast by Mike Rohde is a great way to learn the fundamentals.
  3. See the work of beginners featured at Sketchnotearmy.com

The Culture of Innovation and People Dimension: #IHRChat

Yesterday, I managed to get back to favorite social learning platform – #IHRChat to learn and contribute my insights on the all important topic of building a culture of innovation and the people dimension.

The guest on the chat was Steve Shapiro who is a leading keynote speaker, author and innovation advisor. Here are some of the key lessons from the tweet chat. (Read the storified version of the chat here).

Q1: How do you define innovation ?

Innovation is not always about new, but about value addition in meaningful manner – Dr. Tanvi Gautam

Two definitions. 1) adaptability. 2) value – Stephen Shapiro

To truly innovate, you must look at problems with a different lens. BREAK the #StatusQuo – Steven Z. Ehrlich

To innovate is to ensure survival in an uncertain world – Dr. Tanvi Gautam

Innovation is about acknowledging new frontiers. Kodak knew that digital will disrupt, but never acknowledged. – Tanmay Vora

Change that unsettles us and helps us look at the world and its problems differently – Nidhi Sand

And it is an end-to-end process that starts with an opportunity/problem and ends with the creation of value – Stephen Shapiro

Q2: What is the difference between innovation and creativity?

Creativity is about ideas. Innovation is about the creation of value. – Stephen Shapiro

Asking for ideas…is a bad idea. Focus on solutions to well-framed challenges. Stephen Shapiro

Creativity is the seed. Innovation is the fruit. – Gurprriet Siingh

Innovation is NOT about thinking outside the box!!! You want to find a better box. – Stephen Shapiro

Creativity is the fuel that fires the rocket of innovation into orbit! No fuel, no innovation. – Rajesh Kamath

Innovation leads to value creation for customers, partners, corporations and people. Creativity may create value. – Vivek Paranjpe

You can be creative without being innovative but not vice versa. – Dr. Tanvi Gautam

Q3: What drives innovation in a company?

Create a culture of experimentation. You don’t want to fail…you want to learn through small scalable experiments. – Stephen Shapiro

More often than not, it is the human desire to make a difference that drives innovation anywhere. – Gurprriet Siingh

Largescale innovations need Leadership of cross functional teams based on competence need of the time not based on hierarchy. – Vivek Paranjpe

Vision is one the principle drivers of innovation. Culture and Leadership are the others – Vipul Agarwal

Org has to be very clear about what is the difference between incremental change and innovation. – Jaya Narayan

Know where to innovate. Innovate where you differentiate. This is CRITICAL! Don’t innovate everywhere. – Stephen Shapiro

Leadership and strong cultural to ‘be the change’ fosters innovation – Mayanka Batra

“If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.” William McKnight #Culture – Tanmay Vora

Q4: What are the competencies and mental models of an innovator ?

3M is masterful at taking a solution from adhesives and applying to reflective or abrasives. Cross-pollination is helpful. – Stephen Shapiro

Another competency: don’t get attached to your own ideas. Confirmation bias will kill innovation. – Stephen Shapiro

When the latest innovation is being lapped up by the  market, the innovator asks ‘what’s next’? – Rajesh Kamath

Very high on perseverance, influencing ability, keen observation, experiential quick learning & ownership – Sneha Khasgiwale

Tolerance for ambiguity. Patience with Failure. Impatience with good enough. – Dr. Tanvi Gautam

Take risk, Learn from failure, Do better than before and Explore new frontiers – Shishir Misra

When most people tend to ask why, innovators tend to ask why not! – Dr. Tanvi Gautam

The ability to connect the dots. Bring solutions form one domain to another. – Stephen Shapiro

Innovators are Problem finders. Risk Takers. Persistent. Adaptable. – Tanmay Vora

Q5: Where do organizations go wrong when it comes to innovation ?

Mistake: attempting to innovate everywhere. Only innovate where you differentiate! Work with partners for the rest. – Stephen Shapiro

Incremental ideas tend to get flushed as innovation. – Kaushik Srinivasan

Innovation requires time, space, flexibility, freedom. Not allowing these could be disastrous. – Keerthi Kariappa

Overly focusing on ‘old school’ ways like bell curves, KRA’s, narrow metrics, command&control while still expecting innovation. – Tanmay Vora

Thinking that this Innovation will last a decade. – Rajesh Kamath

Expecting everyone to innovate. In all areas. Carpet-bombing versus targeted innovation. – Gurprriet Siingh

Delegating innovation to someone else basis hierarchy and process. – Tanvi Mishra

Organizations put the ‘ideas’ guys on pedestal but don’t celebrate the ‘execution’ folks enough! – Eklavya Sinha

Q6: How do you deal with people out to kill innovation ?

You need to create “pain” for others if they are to change. So if someone is killing innovation, you need to create a pain. – Stephen Shapiro

Stop trying to win over them; start trying to win them over! – Rajesh Kamath

If all else fails, walk away and find a more supportive environment. Be pragmatic and realistic about what won’t work. – Gurprriet Siingh

Often its easier to “flip” the opinion of opponents by problem solving their concerns. Ambivalent people are toughest. – Greg Githens

They are not detractors, they just haven’t been converted yet. Leveraging innovative ways of evangelising is key. – Michael Carty

Communicate relentlessly. Elevate your game. Raise the bar. Focus on “Why” before “How” – Tanmay Vora

Show them their benefit, create strong networks so they believe in you and show them ‘what’s in it for them’ – Mayanka Batra

Best way is to start with small experiments that prove your ideas. – Stephen Shapiro

Q7: How can we measure innovation?

How much it changed the lives of people along with not impacting the environment adversely; while creating material value! – Rajesh Kamath

Value creation is the ultimate measurement – Shishir Misra

Measure innovation not just by ROI but the investment in the future – Dr. Tanvi Gautam

the end game is of course value creation. But that is a lagging indicator. – Stephen Shapiro

Setting up metrics before innovating will kill innovation. After innovating, the only metric is value generated. – Tanmay Vora

With over 1.5K tweets in less than one hour, it was almost like boarding the super-fast learning train on innovation. While the chat was progressing, the hashtag #IHRChat was trending at #1 in India on Twitter – simply amazing!

Thanks to the #IHRChat community for their generosity and to Dr. Tanvi Gautam for building up this wonderful community of learners and teachers.


P.S: Thanks to Georgia Tech for mention of my article “Indispensible Traits of A Collaborative Leader” in their Leadership Education and Development section.

Commitment and Power of Daily Practice

In 2010, one of my goals was to publish on this blog thrice a week – on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. By committing completely  to this schedule, I eliminated the self-discretion associated with it. I did not have to think if I should write on a particular day, because I had to show up and write. No one would have punished me if I failed to write but I still wrote as if someone would. It lead me to read more, connect more and explore more.

What did I learn from this experience?

In situations where we have a choice of not doing  and no external penalties associated, we end up compromising. Isn’t this the reason why most people find it difficult to keep their own resolutions? We need an external force to be disciplined in areas that we ourselves feel are important!

One of the themes that occupies me is the power of daily practice. Can I do something everyday about things that matter to me? We grow in our careers and learn because we show up for the work and do it daily. We sleep everyday. We eat everyday and it nourishes us.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar

I believe that daily practice is as nourishing– it forms a pattern of activities and these patterns are powerful. They inculcate habits. They ‘train’ us. They help us focus. Whether it is writing, learning a new skill, physical exercise, eating right or pursuing your hobbies, there are few things as powerful as a commitment to do it daily. When we eliminate the choice of doing it, we create space for creativity. We can focus on “how” we do the thing. We can alter our ways. We can make it better. We can adapt and optimize. And then, we learn.

“I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.” – Haruki Murakami (via Brain Pickings)

So, here are my first two steps in this journey of daily practice.

  • Identify (or acknowledge) things that matter the most.
  • Do them daily.

Sometimes, simplifying our lives is just about making things binary – either we do it completely with the whole heart in it or not at all. It is a commitment to overcome the first hurdle – our own resistance. A commitment to do, adapt and learn.

I am keen to see what lessons does this journey manifest!

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In the Photo: Graffiti art at abandoned factories in Tampere, Finland (Jan 2015). Artists use these dead walls as a canvas for their art to give them a new lease of colorful life.

The Journey is the Purpose: An Inspiring Tale of Nek Chand Saini

Nek Chand Rock Garden in Chandigarh, India is a true marvel of creativity and innovation. Built by Nek Chand Saini, a self-taught innovator, Rock garden is one-of-its-kind sculpture garden in Chandigarh which almost looks like a miniature of an ancient kingdom spread over forty acres. What makes this truly unique is the fact that all the sculptures in this garden are made from recycled material like ceramic pieces, bottles, glasses, ceramic pots, earthen pots, bottle caps, sinks, electrical waste, crockery, broken bangles, dust, pieces of tar, rocks and pebbles. The garden comprises of twisted, narrow and walled pathways leading to large open spaces. These open spaces house plazas, pavilions, theatre and hundreds of sculptures of men, women, dancers, animals, houses, temples, wells and decorated walls. Seeing hundreds of statues filling the canvas is nothing less than a spectacle. Interlinked and cascading waterfalls nicely complement the sculptures and walls to extend a very soothing ambiance.

The description above may sound a bit like a travelogue but it is not just that. It is an intriguing tale of passion, suspense, drama and finally the triumph of creativity over all the odds. A story with an important lesson.

Many villages were demolished when Chandigarh, India’s first planned city, was being built according to design by French architect Le Corbusier. Nek Chand Saini worked as a road inspector for the public works department when he started collecting the discarded material from these demolition sites. A few years later, he secretly started working on assembling these recycled material to create a sculpture garden that depicted his vision of an Indian village life. This hobby expanded soon into a full-fledged work of art on a government conserved forest land in the foothills of Shivalik Moutain Range. Since his work was illegal, he kept it a secret for ten long years before it was discovered by city inspectors. As the word spread, people began flocking to see this work of a genius that was already spread in 12 acres of land by the time it was discovered. Amidst the looming threat and uproar of destroying this illegal work that occupied forest conservancy, Nek Chand was able to get public opinion and support on his side. In 1976, the Rock Garden was inaugurated as a public space. Nek Chand was offered a government salary and a staff of 50 laborers so that he can expand his vision and continue his expression of creativity. In 1996, Rock Garden was again attacked by vandals after which city administration took charge of managing the park.

Today, with over 4000 visitors daily, Rock Garden is the most visited folk art sites in the world. Statues made by Nek Chand Saini decorate some of the best folk art galleries across the globe.

It is an inspiring journey of personal transformation from mundane to magnificent. He created a sublime space of innovation and creativity just out of his imagination, creativity and sheer hard work. How many of us today would spend this amount of effort and creative energy in creating something just out of love for doing it? Will we do it without any expectation on rewards or recognition? Nishkama Karma (action performed without any attachment to fruits or results) is the central message of Bhagwad Gita and Nek Chan Saini truly exemplifies it.

Did Nek Chand Saini work with a goal of becoming famous one day? Did he plan to win all the awards that he has won? Clearly, he did it just for the joy he derived out of doing it. He simply enjoyed giving form to his ideas through sculptures. He built his legacy one statue at a time.

The story of Nek Chand Saini just tells me that our work may not always be a transaction. That if we are passionate about our pursuits, have lot of conviction to do the required hard work and derive joy from simply doing it then external rewards and recognition do not matter. They are merely by-products of doing something you love doing.

The journey then, is the purpose and the reward!

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P.S.: On 15 Dec 2014, Nek Chand Saini, the wizard of creativity completes 90 years!

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When Your Best Ideas are Shot Down

It is very likely that your best ideas will get shot down.

It happened with me a few years ago. I went to the boss with my bright idea that had potential to generate additional revenue for the organization. My idea was shot down at first. No wonder, I was disappointed.

When our best ideas are shot down, there are reasons behind it. Sometimes, you are not able to explain the idea in a way that it generates the required buy-in. Sometimes, your timing is just not correct. Most of the other times, people are not equipped to handle anxiety and fear that comes along when judging new ideas.

What do you do? Blame them for being dumb enough and not understanding your idea? Do nothing because the someone else shot it down or simply avoid sharing your ideas in future?

I have seen many professionals who just step back when their ideas are rejected. That is the easiest way out because it involves no risk. That’s also a lame strategy. The result? Your ideas never see the light of the day!

Coming back to my own experience, what did I do when my idea was shot down? I further validated my idea with a few more people. I researched about the potential of my idea. I collected research reports, industry trend analysis from leading consulting houses and I collected newspaper clippings about the recent trends. I compiled all of it and went back to boss again – this time with more conviction. My preparation paid off and my idea got a life!

So next time your bright idea is shot down, do a bit more research. Validate your own assumptions. Fine tune it if required. Put it out to the world. Seek more feedback. Adjust your approach.And most importantly – persist.

It is equally important to ensure that you don’t fall in love with your idea just because it is “yours”. So be flexible when your ideas fail to generate required validation.

Your organization needs your ideas. Just because someone else is not able to ‘get it’ at first does not mean your ideas are not worthy. Just give it one more try – this time with more preparation, zeal and conviction.

If your idea is really worthy, it is your obligation to bring it to life.

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Join in the conversation: Were your ideas ever shot down? How did you handle the rejection and what did you learn out of it?

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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: The Art of Seeing Possibilities

Benjamin Zander’s book “The Art of Possibility” starts with this story:

A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business.

One sends back a telegram saying, SITUATION HOPELESS. STOP. NO ONE WEARS SHOES.

The other writes back triumphantly, GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY. STOP. THEY HAVE NO SHOES.

How often does fear win over our hopes and dreams? We constantly keep thinking about our frustrations but not about the potential that we still have in us. Don’t let your failures so far interfere with what is still possible for you to do.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Bonus: See Benjamin Zander in action in this Pop!Tech 2008 Video where he shows what it means to live in a world of possibilities.

In 100 Words: To Be Creative

Here’s a story from Sir Ken Robinson.

A little girl was sitting at the back of the classroom and drawing something. When teacher asked, “What are you drawing?” the girl replied, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” And the girl promptly replied, “They will in a minute.”

Kids don’t fear taking chances. They fail, fall but never stop exploring. They don’t worry about what others think of them – if they did, how dare they try giving shape to something they had never seen before?

How would they be so creative?

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Posts

Great Quotes: Focus on Experience

In a competitive world obsessed with goals, people recommend that we should periodically review our performance. Performance appraisals in organizations are almost a necessary evil. The problem with focusing excessively on our ‘performance’ is that performance is always judged by others, by some external entity. When you constantly try to align yourself to external expectations, you dilute your own expression and voice.

I read the following quote in Peter Bergman’s recent Harvard Business Review post titled “Stop Focusing on Your Performance”. He says,

When you’re performing, your success is disturbingly short-lived. As soon as you’ve achieved one milestone or received a particular standing ovation, it’s no longer relevant. Your unending question is: what’s next?

When you’re experiencing though, it’s not about the end result, it’s about the moment. You’re not pursuing a feeling after, you’re having a feeling during. You can’t be manipulated by a fickle, outside measure because you’re motivated by a stable internal one.

Here is a related quote from my 2010 post titled “Enjoy the Process”:

Focusing on the moment, on task currently on our hands enables us to fully express ourselves. One of the best gifts we can give ourselves is to enjoy the work while we are doing it (being in the moment) – and expressing our skills fully. It is both gratifying and satisfying.

The joy is in the work itself. Focus on experience and performance will eventually take care of itself.

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Photo Credit: Stephan Comelli’s Flickr Photostream

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Related Posts at QAspire:

Enjoy the Process

Enjoy the Process – 2

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