Self-Expression Through Service

“Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Service is the highest form of self-expression” read the title of an editorial in Times of India by Janina Gomes and it got me thinking about service.

I realized that the only way to grow yourself, your teams, your organization is to think about what you have to offer from a service perspective. Who and what do you serve? You can directly serve others or serve a cause that enriches others. We all know about great examples of servant leaders from Gandhi to Mandela. But what about Steve Jobs? I like to think that he devoted his life serving the cause of simplifying technology and design.

But why is service the highest form of self-expression, you may ask?

Because mindset of service subdues the ego and real self-expression (and also learning) cannot happen when you wear a mask of your ego. And the truth is, real service is not about you, it is about purpose and people. And when you think about purpose and receivers of your service, YOU become the medium and not the source. Ego and entitlement must take a back seat if you are truly set out to serve others and when that happens, the whole foundation of your engagement with the cause is transformed.

Gandhi famously said,

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service of others.”

It doesn’t matter if you are an artist, employee, a team member, a leader or an entrepreneur – you are paid to serve something or someone. Breaking the cocoon of your limited beliefs and thinking about who/what you serve is also a powerful way to also discover your unique purpose.

Here is a quick doodle to encapsulate this wonderful thought!

Also Read at QAspire:

Sketchnotes: My Interview in a French Book

“For every disciplined effort, there is a multiple reward.” – Jim Rohn

I started creating sketch notes only in mid of 2015 as an experiment to learn better and simplify ideas. Little did I know that this experiment will grow into something amazing.

I have been in pursuit of simplifying ideas and extract signals in a noisy world since 2009 when I wrote my first book #QUALITYtweet. My sharing on Twitter, experiment of 100 word posts and lists are all directed towards brevity without losing the substance of the message. I have learned a great deal out of it.

“It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

I was happily surprised last year when Philippe BouKobza reached out to me with a few questions on my journey in creating sketchnotes for his upcoming book. Earlier this year, the interview and a sample sketchnote was published in a French book titled  “Travailler avec le sketchnoting. Comment gagner en efficacité et en sérénité grâce à la pensée visuelle” roughly meaning “Work with sketchnoting. How to gain efficiency and serenity through visual thinking.”. It is an excellent resource for sketchnote enthusiasts and I wish the book comes out in English sometime soon.

Since the interview is published in French, I thought of sharing the insights here in English too (some people also requested this on Twitter). So, here it goes:

Since when do you use Visual note-taking / Sketchnoting?

[Tanmay Vora] In school, I remember using the last page of my notebooks to doodle. Back then, I used to write my own name in different ways and experiment with letters. After I got into corporate life, I have used visual notations, process flow diagrams and blocks to make sense of things while consulting customers and during internal team meetings. But I got started into visual note taking only in mid of 2015. I only wish I had started sooner.

How did you discover this technique? 

[Tanmay Vora] I discovered the technique of visual note taking through a blog post on the same topic by Abhijit Bhaduri. I have been blogging about leadership, learning and quality since last 10 years and I found a great new way to represent some of these ideas visually to simplify the understanding for myself and for the readers. I learned a great deal from the wonderful sketchnote community on social media where people like Mike Rohde, Mauro Toselli and many others generously share their learning on art and craft of creating sketchnotes.

In your opinion, what are the benefits of Sketchnoting?

[Tanmay Vora] I think the biggest benefit of creating and consuming information in sketch note form is that it simplifies learning and eases comprehension both for the creator and for the consumer. Visual metaphors allows the brain to fill the gaps enabling connection and synthesis of ideas. I find sketch notes a great way to organize and summarize the insights in a way that raises attention and engagement.

John Medina, in his book “Brain Rules” said that we remember 15% of what we read (text), 35% of what we see (pictures) and 65% of what we read and see (text + pictures). Visual notes are a great tool for sense making and easy communication of ideas.

· What are your main uses of this technique? 

[Tanmay Vora] I use visual notes extensively to:

  • Simplify learning for myself and others
  • Summarize insights on leadership, learning and quality
  • Sense-making through idea synthesis
  • Brainstorming
  • Creative problem solving
  • Visual communication (as social objects) to drive conversations and change

How does your entourage react when they see your sketchnotes?

[Tanmay Vora] Hand drawn sketch notes add a human element into the digital world and that’s the reason people instantly connect with sketch notes. My followers on Twitter, Facebook and blog use my sketch notes as useful reminders of some of the most important concepts in leadership and learning areas. I often get pictures of how my sketch notes are decorating someone’s home or office space in form of a poster. Sketch notes I created have made it to several live events including global conferences and TEDx talks. I feel immensely grateful when my work intersects with real world and I get positive feedback on how it helps others in their own learning journeys.

Just like I was inspired to create sketchnotes through inspiration from others, my own work in visual note taking has inspired several people to start taking visual notes. I feel very happy when my work sparks inspiration for others. That is why I do everything that I do.

Also See: What Creating Sketchnotes Taught Me About #Learning

Five Not-So-Radical Ideas For Nurturing Change

When everything around is constantly changing, it is easy to:

  • Get carried away by latest fads, best practices etc.
  • Execute changes that may not be significant in shifting results to positive direction
  • Implement solutions to half-baked problem statements
  • Isolate people affected by change in a rush to just change things
  • Get confused between change and transformation initiatives

We often see this happening all around us. There is so much conversation going on about change and transformation that it is easy to get carried away when the “Big WHY” of change is not clear.

In this context, I read Paul Taylor’s latest post titled “Three Simple Ideas To Stop Change Failing” where he offers not so radical ideas to ensure that change does not fail. He emphasizes on importance of mindset, getting influence devolved to people closest to change, change through small experimentation and not initiating change without a clear problem statement and some evidence that proposed solution will result in net positive business outcome.

These are simple ideas, but powerful ones. Simplicity after all is not all that flashy and it takes far more thinking and work to simplify things. Which is probably why we take the easier route of adding complexity, heh!

Here are a few excerpts from Paul’s post:

change is best served when we devolve power, and the institutions and hierarchy get out of the way

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Our change programmes rarely answer the question “Why are we changing?” in a truly coherent way.

This – combined with our cultural bias for execution over problem definition – is why change often fails. We may solve a problem – just not the right one.

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And here’s a quick sketch note summary of key ideas from the post:

Related Posts on Managing Change

How to Accelerate Team Learning

A team’s ability to learn quickly is at the heart of adapting to constant changes. In fact, it seems that constant learning is the only key to agility as a team and organization.

Jack Welch famously said,

“An organizations ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the greatest competitive advantage.”

On this blog, we have visually explored various facets of creating a learning organization. It all starts from understanding why organizations don’t learn. Peter Senge’s seminal work on creating a learning organizations outlines learning disabilities that plague organizations. To overcome these disabilities, we explored disciplines of a learning organization and the role of reflection in how we learn.

Along the same lines, I read Elizabeth Doty’s post titled “How to Accelerate Learning on Your Team” at Strategy+Business blog with great interest. It adds on to the ideas we have explored further and provides fresh perspective on how to catalyze learning within teams.

I encourage you to read the full post and here are my visual notes from the same article.

P.S: I wrote a post in 2011 that outlined 10 actions for leaders to create learning organizations and further outlined Three Rituals For Constant Alignment And Learning that just aligns with some of the ideas suggested in this post. Do check them out.

In 100 Words: Feed Your Focus

Nicholas Bate once sent me a bunch of inspiring cards made with lot of love. One of those cards read,

Every YES contains a NO (YES to staying late is NO to Lego with your daughter)”

Every NO contains a YES (NO to the gym is YES to more stress)”

When we say YES to being available to the world all the time (especially when it is so easy to do that), we say NO to focus. If we don’t focus, how will we think, plan, execute, review and align?

NO to distractions, YES to focus and space for creativity. 


Also Read at QAspire:

Peter Senge: How to Overcome Learning Disabilities in Organizations

As an organization grows, managing the flow demands work items to move from one team/department to another. In quest to make these teams accountable, very specific KPI’s are established and that breeds non-systemic thinking. People look at meeting their own numbers and push the work to next stage and often, what happens is that while people win (in short term), the system fails. Every team meets the KPI numbers and yet, customers remain disgruntled.

Peter Senge, in his book “The Fifth Discipline – The Art and Practice of Learning Organization” outlines 7 organizational learning disabilities. He says,

“It is no accident that most organizations learn poorly. The way they are designed and managed, the way people’s jobs are defined, and, most importantly, the way we have all been taught to think and interact (not only in organizations but more broadly) create fundamental learning disabilities. These disabilities operate despite the best effort of bright, committed people. Often the harder they try to solve problems, the worse the results. What learning does occur takes place despite these learning disabilities – for they pervade all organizations to some degree.”

It then becomes very crucial that we identify clearly these learning disabilities. Here is a sketch note summary of these 7 learning disabilities.

Critical question then is: How to we overcome these learning disabilities and truly create an organization that learns better? Peter Senge answers that question through his 5 disciplines of learning organizations that I have written about in the past. Here is a sketchnote summary of five disciplines:

More on Creating Learning Organization at QAspire:

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:

5 Elements of Working Out Loud by @JohnStepper

When I started this blog in 2006, I only thought of it as a repository of my own lessons as a new manager. Little did I know that this space will become one of the most important learning and sharing tools for me over years.

The benefits of putting myself out there in a way that it helps others has been immense both intrinsically and extrinsically. I have evolved as a professional and human being writing this blog, sharing my work and getting plenty of constructive feedback and validation in return.

Along the way, the topics I covered on this blog also became starting point of many enriching conversations offline and enabled deep relationships with others based on ideas.

John Stepper defines this as working out loud:

Working out loud is an approach to building relationships that can help you in some way. It’s a practice that combines conventional wisdom about relationships with modern ways to reach and engage people. When you work out loud, you feel good and empowered at the same time.

Learning is a social act and sharing our work, building relationships and feeding our communities are at the heart of how we should learn. Technology and social media only accelerates the process of sharing beyond boundaries and amplifies our reach.

John Stepper outlines five elements of working out loud that addresses the “why” of working out loud and here is a quick sketch note outlining these five elements. Please read the original post for more elaboration from John Stepper.

 

To add to this conversation, here is a sketch note on “How to Work out Loud” with insights from John Stepper. I am so grateful to John for having included this sketch in his recent TEDx Navesink talk.

 

Related Reading at QAspire:

10 Characteristics of Companies that Succeed

What differentiates companies that succeed over a long run from those that don’t? As the rate of change and disruption continues to accelerate, companies need a strong foundation of fundamentals that enable long term success and growth.

In this respect, I recently read Leandro Herrero’s post on characteristics of companies that succeed in long run. 10 characteristics are outlined in the sketch note below.

Also Read:

Organizational Leader as a Social Architect

Leadership success is largely governed by, amongst other things, one’s ability to create an ecosystem of engagement, meaning, performance and growth. A leader creates this ecosystem through conversations, communication (leading to clarity), connection, systems, rituals, processes and decisions.

Leandro Herrero, in his post, “Five spaces that the organizational leader needs to design and nurture”, calls leader a social architect. The idea resonated very strongly with me since social architecture (physical and psychological spaces) is a way to create the ecosystem of high performance. 

“Yes, leaders need to see themselves as architects, as space designers, creators, and implementors. This is an area where what the leader says counts less than what the leader does in this social engineering. It is therefore very silent, but the spaces will be very visible and the legacy will be enormous.” – Leandro Herrero

Here is a quick sketch note I created based on the ideas presented in the post.

Related Posts/Sketchnotes at QAspire:

In 100 Words: Face The Light

 

In moments of uncertainty, inspiration came to me in form of a tweet with a visual that read,

“If you see shadows, it is because there is light.”

I instinctively told myself,

“If you face the light, shadows fall behind.”

The mindset of abundance asks, “What’s possible?” instead of “What could go wrong?” and focuses on those possibilities because constraints are almost a given in work and life.

Only then, we can start focusing on possibilities, thinking beyond the boundaries, raising the bar, stepping into the unknown and doing what truly matters.

We try. We err. And then, we learn!


Also Read at QAspire:

Putting People First: Leading in an Era of Constant Transformation

Leading in an era of constant disruption, change and transformation is not easy. In such transformation efforts, soft aspects of leadership play as crucial role as the hard aspects like systems thinking, innovation and execution of change.

Last week, I saw an insightful TED talk by Jim Hemerling where he outlined 5 ways to lead in an era of constant changes. He says,

Let’s acknowledge that change is hard. People naturally resist change, especially when it’s imposed on them. But there are things that organizations do that make change even harder and more exhausting for people than it needs to be. First of all, leaders often wait too long to act. As a result, everything is happening in crisis mode. Which, of course, tends to be exhausting. Or, given the urgency, what they’ll do is they’ll just focus on the short-term results, but that doesn’t give any hope for the future. Or they’ll just take a superficial, one-off approach, hoping that they can return back to business as usual as soon as the crisis is over.

Sustainable change and transformation requires inclusive leadership that inspires through purpose, develops people and builds a culture of continuous learning.

Here are my sketch notes summarizing the key insights from the talk.

 

Related Posts/Sketchnotes at QAspire:

In 100 Words: An Open Mind for Lifelong Learning

When our mind is like a mountain, it is nothing but a heap of fixed beliefs and knowledge that does not evolve.

To have a mind like a valley, we need to pursue things with a sense of wonder, knowing that we don’t know and having a receptive frame of mind ready to absorb. An open mind enables critical thinking, diverse experiences, experimentation and iterative learning by connecting the dots.

Isaac Asimov echoed the same sentiment. He said,

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”


Also Read at QAspire

5 C’s for Great Talent

What do you look for when you look for talent?

Competence is the key to solving problems but competence alone is not sufficient for success. In current context, I would define talent as a combination of competence, commitment, learning agility, attitude/character, communication skills, ability to collaborate across different cultures, critical thinking and creative problem solving.

Back in 2010, I interviewed John Spence on this blog when he released his new book titled Awesomely Simple – Essential Business Strategies For Turning Ideas Into Action. The book offers great ideas to simplify work life which I often refer.

In the same year 2010, American Management Association released result of their Critical skill survey which outlined Creativity, Communication, Collaboration and Critical Thinking as key skills for future success.

In the book, John defines business success as a combination of culture and great talent, and further offers 5 C’s of Great Talent, which I found very useful. 

Here is a quick sketch note version of 5 C’s of Great Talent.

Related Reading at QAspire: Skills For Future Success in a Disruptive World of Work

In 100 Words: Finding Inspiration

We either wait for inspiration to happen to us or try finding it from somewhere (books/blogs/videos etc). I have spent countless hours trying to wait or find inspiration. It helped, but only for a short while.

A better way to create inspiration, in my experience, is to get down to doing things. Once you dedicate yourself to the cycle of doing, delivering and improving, that becomes the source of your inspiration, the one that feeds more inspiration.

Ralph Waldo Emerson rightly said, “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.”

The best inspiration happens while doing the work!

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Also Read at QAspire

Making Work More Effective

Here is what leaders often do – when faced with a complex situation at work, they add more meetings, task forces, new procedures and governance structures that makes things more complex. What we need to handle complex challenges is simplicity that leads to effectiveness.

Simon Terry, whose thinking I really admire, wrote a short post titled “Five Ways to Make Work More Effective” offering vital ideas about efficient work.

Meetings, unending email threads, too much focus on consensus building, siloed thinking and lack of experimentation are some of the biggest wastes in an organization. They sap productivity, hurt engagement and kill accountability.

If you are a leader or a manager, this might just be a reminder you need often to ensure that you create an environment of effective work – smart work as they call it!

Here’s a quick sketch summary of the post!

Related Reading at QAspire

The Neo-Generalist

The books I love the most are not the ones that offer off-the-shelf “solutions” but ones that start a conversation, catalyze thinking, elevate understanding and help in thinking about a topic in novel ways.

And that’s why I loved reading “The Neo-Generalist” by Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin.  It is a book that bridges the gap between two extremes of specialism and generalism and introduces a neo-generalist as:

“The neo-generalist is both specialist and generalist, often able to master multiple disciplines. We all carry within us the potential to specialise and generalise. Many of us are unwittingly eclectic, innately curious. There is a continuum between the extremes of specialism and generalism, a spectrum of possibilities. Where we stand on that continuum at a given point in time is governed by context.”

The book introduces the concept and then takes it forward with the help of stories from many people who were interviewed as a part of the research for this book. Reading diverse journeys of so many multi-disciplinarians was insightful and only added new dimensions to the topic.

Somewhere in these narratives and stories, I could sense a deep connection with my own inclination towards neo-generalism right from my choices in school to how I have evolved as a professional. From that perspective, reading this book was very rewarding because it helped me map my own journey to the specialist-generalist continuum that this book talks about. Gaining new perspectives and expanding my own understanding of how we learn, choose and do things was a huge bonus.

I also loved the organization of book where quotes so eloquently encompass and extend the essence of the ideas. The bibliography section of book recommends other rich resources for extending the conversation.

Here is a sketch note summary of key points from the book that may offer a small preview of some key insights from this treasure.

More on The Neo-Generalist
Related Topics at QAspire

Nobody Rises To Low Expectations

If you are dealing with a mediocre team or average performance from people, check what you are expecting from them. People respond to expectations (implicit and explicit) and raising the bar of expectations is a great way to enable growth and potential in people.

Raising Expectations Doesn’t Mean Pressurizing People

Setting high expectation means providing clarity of purpose, helping people find meaning of their work, helping them see what success looks like and then helping them along the way. It is a common misconception that the only way to raise expectations is to put undue pressure on people. Pressure can help people perform, but only till a certain point beyond which it results in a burnout. In a creative world of work, people step up when they know the difference their effort can make. It is a leader’s job to enable the ecosystem of conversation, clarity and collaboration.

To Believe that People Can Do Better

When you raise expectations, people will falter. The key is to have a belief that people can do better. It is easy to give up on someone and blame their limitations. It is incredibly hard to handhold, believe, enable and help.

Know Where to Raise Expectations

To be able to set the expectations higher, a leader has to have a deep understanding of the work people do. As a leader, if you don’t understand the nuances of how work is done, you will never be able to raise the bar for others. Leader also needs ability to decide when to focus on details (activities, task, operational aspects) and when to see a broad picture (values, behaviors, methods, results etc).

Finally…

Once you raise expectations, be a catalyst of their performance. When you see their efforts towards raising the bar, acknowledge it early and often. Celebrate small milestones because appreciation is the fuel of high performance. Fail to do this and people will fall into the trap of “it is never enough” mindset. When they know that you are raising expectations only to squeeze something out of them, they will soon disengage.

Bottomline: If you are a leader at any level (yes, parents are leaders too), do keep raising the bar of expectations. You will be surprised to see how people step up and respond!

By the way, this also applies to expectations that you have from your own self!

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Also Check Out:

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Thanks to Sebastian Andreo for sharing his view via Twitter on acknowledging, appreciating and celebrating the efforts. I updated the post.

Six Rules to Simplify Work

Most re-organization efforts either focus on hard stuff (processes, strategy, structure, KPI’s) or on soft stuff (culture, values, relationships, feelings). I have seen very few reorganization efforts in my career that are focused on the most important aspect of how value is delivered to customers: Simplicity

Simplicity stems from decentralization of power. “New Power” as they call it, is all about empowering people, creating conducive ecosystems for performance, learning collectively and encouraging collaboration. Most complexity in organization is introduced in an attempt to centralize power. The focus then is on adding more checks, processes, structures, metrics, KPI’s, incentives, coordinating offices and such.

Yesterday, I saw a very interesting TED talk by Yves Morieux (Boston Consulting Group) where he says,

Complicatedness: This is your battle, business leaders. The real battle is not against competitors. This is rubbish, very abstract. When do we meet competitors to fight them? The real battle is against ourselves, against our bureaucracy, our complicatedness. Only you can fight, can do it.

The talk sets the context on how organizations increase complexity and offers useful ideas on how work can be simplified. Here are my notes from the talk and I recommend you watch this insightful and provocative talk to gain a more well rounded view.

More Posts on Simplicity at QAspire

Leading and Learning: How to Feed a Community

When I started this blog in April 2006, little did I understand about how a community works. I would write posts each week only to be read by my immediate colleagues and friends. Till a point when I learned that,

“conversation and sharing is the currency of a social community”

I started following many other blogs, take the conversation forward through comments and share along good stuff. I learned the art of building a community through excellent blogs of Michael Wade, Rajesh Setty and Lisa Haneberg. Their work fueled my own journey of understanding how a social community works.

Getting into Twitter in 2009 opened up new avenues to contribute and accelerate my ability to connect with multiple like minded people through sharing and conversation. Today, I am very happy to have a personal learning network – a group of fellow learners and explorers who share as they learn and work out loud.

Lisa Haneberg, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote about how to feed a community where she said,

if we want to belong to a vibrant community we have to feed it.

And then, we belong to offline communities at work and outside of work. There again, conversation, generous sharing and helping others make meaningful progress is at the heart of building a community. I learned a great deal of this by going through my mentor Rajesh Setty’s program “The Right Hustle” which he defines as:

To hustle right is to choreograph the actions of those that matter to create meaningful accomplishments in an arrangement where everybody involved finds a win.

It became quite clear to me that

learning is a social act and we learn the most when we learn together.

In the communities that we choose to belong to (online and offline), we have to do our part in feeding it. It is only when we are generous about sharing our gifts that we build credibility to receive anything meaningful in return, build influence, thought leadership and learn.

Harold Jarche’s Personal Knowledge Mastery and the mindset of working out loud evangelized by John Stepper are great ways to feed your community and learn.

I wrote a post earlier titled “3 C’s for Leading and Learning on Social Media” which may offer helpful ideas to feed your community. Here is a quick sketchnote of Lisa Haneberg’s ideas on how to feed a community.

Bonus

As an extension to the ideas above, here is a sketch note version of “How to Work Out Loud” which John Stepper included in his recent TEDx Navesink talk.


My Community

People who read this blog, follow me on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere is my community and I am very grateful about it. I am intentional about feeding this community by sharing my lessons, summarizing insights visually, helping others move the needle and share resources that help.

Critical Questions

What about you? What learning communities do you belong to – online and offline? How do you feed your community? Critical questions as we start a new week. Do share your insights in the comments!