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:

Ideation and Entrepreneurship: Interview with Liz Alexander and Naveen Lakkur

Dr. Liz Alexander (who I interviewed in 2013 on the topic of thought leadership) and Naveen Lakkur (Director, Founder Institute, India) wrote a new book titled “FOUND – Transforming Your Unlimited Ideas Into One Sustainable Business. The book is short but powerful enough to help entrepreneurs and ideators in bringing their ideas to life by following a proven five part framework. I loved the simplicity of the framework and real-life case studies which complement the insights.


I interviewed Dr. Liz and Naveen Lakkur to learn more about the book and how it can help ideators and entrepreneurs.

[Tanmay Vora] Thank you Liz and Naveen, for sharing your insights here. I read your new book “FOUND – Transforming Your Unlimited Ideas Into One Sustainable Business” with great interest. I was curious to know what prompted you to write this book?

Thank you, Tanmay, for your interest in FOUND, which was a labor of love for us both. We always intended that this contribution be a catalyst that increases the success rate of entrepreneurship, not just remain a book. Especially since there seemed to be such a waste of time, energy and financial resources by many entrepreneurs in pursuing ideas that could not support sustainable businesses. You may have seen the statistic quoted by Adeo Ressi, the CEO and founder of Founder Institute in the Foreword to our book, that only about four in every 1,000 startups founded each year create a global impact. That equates to a 0.4% success rate, which I think you will agree is shockingly low. We sincerely hope that by following the proven, five-part process outlined in our book, we will see a considerable improvement in this figure in the months and years to come.

only about four in every 1,000 startups founded each year create a global impact. That equates to a 0.4% success rate

[Tanmay Vora] What is the number one thing according to you that keeps people from acting on their ideas?

It’s a great feeling, isn’t it, when you have what you believe to be a winning idea? You imagine that executing on it will be fun, easy, and rewarding. It’s only when you have to take action that you are thrust back into the world of reality. So we would say “fear of failure” is the top thing that stops people from moving forward with their ideas. Because then they have to face up to the fact that their desired outcomes may or may not come about. You have to have a strong heart and a huge amount of commitment to succeed as an entrepreneur—in fact, any kind of ideator. Which is why, for many people, it’s more comfortable for them to say, “I could have gone ahead with this idea, but….” and find excuses for not taking action. Despite the fact that there is always a huge amount of learning and benefit that comes out of seeing whether that idea could have become a viable business or a new product or service within an organisation.

“fear of failure” is the top thing that stops people from moving forward with their ideas.

[Tanmay Vora] Ideas are cheap, they say, execution is everything. But executing on an idea that is not viable is even worse. Is there an approach to guide us when assessing the business viability of our ideas?

You’ve hit the nail on the head of what the FOUND process is all about, Tanmay. The five-part framework we make available to readers reduces the time, money, and effort they may have otherwise expended on an idea that couldn’t become a business.

Let us offer a story from the book to illustrate what we mean. One of mentees that worked with Naveen through the Founder Institute, Bangalore had a background in Human Resources. He had a concept he called “Experience Zones” that he believed would boost employee engagement in large organizations. This, as we know, is a major issue to be solved. So you would expect that there would be no end of companies all vying to back this HR executive’s idea, right?

Sadly, that wasn’t the case. When he had visited 25 different companies to ask them what they thought of his idea, everyone said it was great and he should move ahead with it. But the “N” within the acronym FOUND stands for Negotiation. By that we mean getting more than tacit agreement. This ideator’s assignment was to get at least three letters from companies prepared to financially back his idea. But none of the 25 people who had been so enthusiastic about the overall idea were willing to put money into it.

That’s just one of the five parts of the FOUND process and all of them are essential as a discipline to follow if an entrepreneur (or intrapreneur) wants to confirm they have a market that will pay for their solution.

[Tanmay Vora] What are the top three things that an entrepreneur should do before they start acting on their idea?

What entrepreneurs should always look for is to offer a solution that fills a current or potential market need, rather than create a solution that’s looking for a problem to solve.

We’re going to offer three things that should only come after the five things entrepreneurs need to go through when reading FOUND. And they are all to do with creating a community that truly supports the business:

1. Co-founders who can bring different skills and experience to the business, perhaps through a background in marketing or sales or different technical competencies.

2. Customers who, early on in the development of the business, are willing to pay for the solution and prove there is a ready market for it.

3. Catalysts, such as ideation specialists and intellectual property lawyers whose expertise can help guide the start up through some of the stormy waters that lie ahead.

By engaging with all three of these groups, the business can truly accelerate. What entrepreneurs should always look for is to offer a solution that fills a current or potential market need, rather than create a solution that’s looking for a problem to solve.

[Tanmay Vora] My last question stems from Naveen’s introduction in the book which says “Converting Creative Concepts into Commerce with Compassion”. People believe that in most cases, commerce and compassion don’t go well together in a world of cut-throat competition. What does compassionate commerce really mean?

Thanks for this question, Tanmay. I (Naveen) has always believed that these two concepts can co-exist. If you take the definition of compassion it means having a deep awareness and sensitivity for others, especially when it comes to their misfortune. In the Free-Flow chapter of our book we point to how so many successful ventures have been the result of different emotions experienced by the founders.

It is that compassion in understanding that there are major pain points that you can solve for others that makes for the most successful commercial enterprises

Take redBus in India, for example. The whole idea came from the fact that one of the co-founders, Phanindra Sama, wasn’t able to buy a ticket to travel back to his home town during a major festival. It wasn’t just his disappointment that caused him to take action and create redBus but his recognition of how much distress this kind of lack of organization causes others.

In fact, we quote his co-founder, Charan Padmaraju in the same chapter who said, “It was all about building something that would be useful to someone.” It is that compassion in understanding that there are major pain points that you can solve for others that makes for the most successful commercial enterprises, in my view.

My specialization is to play the role of a catalyst to help these creative concepts become commercial realities, with compassion built in. Otherwise all we have is cutthroat competition.

[Tanmay Vora] Thank you so much for sharing your views here, Naveen and Dr. Liz. I am sure readers of this blog will find these ideas and your book, useful in bringing their creative concepts to life.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our perspectives on the ideation process, Tanmay. We’d like to close by pointing out that by following a similarly disciplined process to the one outlined in our book, the Founder Institute has achieved a 91% success rate in terms of ideas that survive, a 70% success rate of entrepreneurs that execute on their plans, and close to 45% success rate of ventures that have attracted external funding. By any measure, all of those statistics are considerable improvements on the 0.4% figure we mentioned in our first response.

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Related Posts at QAspire:

Building a Business Culture That Works for Everyone: An Interview with Diane K. Adams


Diane K. Adams is Chief People Officer at Qlik (NASDAQ: QLIK), one of the fastest-growing high-tech companies worldwide with nearly 2,300 employees in 30 countries. She has spent her career leading teams in Fortune 500 Human Resources organizations. Chief executives of smaller companies and international and national organizations and leaders also regularly tap her expertise as coach, consultant, and/or lecturer to help them hone their positive cultures. More than a ‘Human Resources’ executive, Adams is a ‘Culture and Talent’ expert. She specializes in helping companies recognize what’s required to energize their people and to achieve long-term success at the bottom line.

Diane recently published her new book “It Takes More Than Casual Fridays and Free Coffee – Building a Business Culture That Works for Everyone” which I read recently. Being a student of organization excellence, I caught up with Diane on a conversation about building high performance cultures. Here is what she shared:

[Tanmay Vora] Hi Diane, Congratulations for the new book. Culture of an organization always exists – either it is designed consciously or it happens by default. How can organizations be more deliberate about their culture?

[Diane K. Adams] Thanks Tanmay. You’re so right about culture. Every organization does have its own culture. Your company, your favorite sports team, a college or university, even a church, mosque or synagogue has its own culture.

Culture, after all, is the set of clear values that drive the thinking, actions, and attitudes of an organization and its people. One of my favorite definitions: culture is what you do when no one is looking.

Culture, after all, is the set of clear values that drive the thinking, actions, and attitudes of an organization and its people.

At successful companies, the culture is positive and values-based. It’s pervasive and intentional, and is reflected in everything the organization and its people say and do, in every action and every process internally and externally. In turn, team members, along with their companies, achieve excellence personally and professionally.

Whatever the culture, though, it’s important to remember that culture comes from the top. That means that to intentionally mold a culture starts with the leadership deciding those values that are important, and then modeling them in everything that’s said and done. Too often lofty values end up simply rhetoric. If a company’s leaders decide honesty and integrity is an essential value, they must act accordingly. Everyone, every action—from hiring and firing, to decisions, discussions, and more–must reflect honesty and integrity. For example, how someone’s employment is terminated says everything about a company’s culture. This is a time when everyone is watching. Too often terminations lack respect for the individual.

When it comes to reinforcing positive behaviors, top companies may reward team members who demonstrate excellence in terms of a specific value. The “reward” often is in the form of recognition—a note of praise from the leader or a mention of job-well-done at a peer meeting.

My personal approach to deliberately creating a successful culture adheres to the 7 Points to Culture Success outlined in my book. They include:

  1. Define Your Cultural Values and Behaviors
  2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
  3. Integrate Your Values into All Aspects of Your Company
  4. Drive Culture through Leadership
  5. Show You Care: Engage and Invest in Your Team
  6. Give Back: Make a Difference beyond the Workplace
  7. Make It Fun: Reward, Recognize, and Celebrate

[Tanmay Vora] Corporations have vision, mission and values that are propagated across the company through various programs. But culture is built around actions by people at all levels. How can organizations bridge the gap between values and behaviors?

[Diane K. Adams] That’s an excellent question. Again, it’s about modeling the behavior you expect of others—living the value and acting on it. Also keep in mind that reward and recognition drive behaviors. Therefore, the primary way to bridge the gap between values and behaviors is to reward and recognize employees who demonstrate the positive behavior.

it’s about modeling the behavior you expect of others—living the value and acting on it.

For example, consider the value social responsibility, so important to energize your teams and foster long-term loyalty internally and among your customers. As a leader, you help cement the value in your people with your behavior. You act in ways that give back to the community—volunteering your time, your efforts, your expertise in ways to help others.

At my employer, Qlik, for example, on our internal website we highlight givebacks by our team members. Recently we ran an internal campaign–How Was Your Day?–and each day highlighted how a different individual used his or her volunteer day to give back to the community.

[Tanmay Vora] The book has a chapter on building culture of innovation. What advice would you share with a CEO who is struggling to build a culture of innovation?

[Diane K. Adams] First, kudos for recognizing the importance of innovation. After all, if you’re not constantly innovating, you’re falling behind your competition.

It’s not enough to say innovation matters. Companies and their leaders must instill a mindset of innovation across the entire company, not just in the product or research and development organizations. Every leader and every employee must continually ask the question, what’s the newest and best way to accomplish a goal–whatever that goal might be.

As I mentioned above, you can encourage this innovative behavior by highlighting individuals who have creative and innovative ideas. That means a recognition program and often a rewards one, too, for the best of the best.

The additional advice I would offer a CEO is also to strive for a culture of collaboration. That’s because collaboration fosters teamwork, brainstorming, and ultimately generates the best ideas. Remember, success is a team effort. No matter your company, industry, or competition, it’s important to constantly ask each other and yourself the question, how can something be accomplished better, faster, and more efficiently.

[Tanmay Vora] How helpful are cultural assessments (based on standard models) in culture building initiatives?

[Diane K. Adams] Very. At Qlik we regularly do full-blown culture assessments with the help of metrics and organizations like the Great Place to Work® Institute. The results provide us a measure of our progress and lay the foundation for developing very thorough action plans so that we can continually be at our best.

In addition, we do interim assessments of various aspects of our culture. For example, we might use an assessment tool to measure our progress in maintaining two-way communications. We also use in-house surveys from organizations like Survey Monkey.

After all, to accomplish a goal, you first have to know where you are in order to develop the right strategies to get there.

[Tanmay Vora] What are your top 3 tips for creating a culture of learning and development?

[Diane K. Adams] 1. First, it’s important to create an environment in which every team member has an annual individual learning plan (ILP). The plan sets goals, lays out strategies for achieving those goals, and helps each individual see clearly how he or she will learn, grow, and succeed along with the company. The best companies with true learning and development cultures view ILP goals with the same importance as annual performance goals.

It’s important to create an environment in which every team member has an annual individual learning plan

To achieve the highest performance rating, for example, an individual must excel in his or her performance as well as with his or her personal learning goals.

2. Leverage your talent. Learning and development doesn’t have to cost lots of money. Everyone contributes in his or her own way, so capitalize on this broad expertise that’s already available to you. First, identify individual talents (often utilizing a StrengthsFinder assessment tool), and then be intentional about providing opportunities for your people to learn from each other.

Be intentional about providing opportunities for your people to learn from each other.

Some ways to do that include holding internal webinars on specific topics that are led by team members who excel in that area. For example, someone with outstanding presentation skills could share his or her expertise with other team members. Another example could be holding monthly “lunch and learn” meetings with your team. Everyone gets together for lunch and a team member leads the training. The “teacher” could alternate depending on the topic and the person’s area of expertise. The company could pick up the lunch tab, or it could even be a pitch-in lunch with the company providing the drinks and the facility space.

Another way to leverage your talent is with a simple mentoring plan. Again, it starts with identifying the strengths of individuals throughout the company, and then making those talents known and available to others. That way if someone needs improvement in a specific area, he or she can then reach out to the right person.

3. Conduct annual talent reviews to identify and understand the strengths of your individual team members and their career goals. In turn, leadership then can be intentional with developmental career moves for its team members.

Research indicates that 70 percent of our learning comes through experience, which is why career development job moves are so important.

[Tanmay Vora] There are a lot of assessments, theories and best practices for building a culture of excellence. How does one “make it all happen”?

[Diane K. Adams] That’s another great question, and it’s what inspired me to write this book. The answer goes back to the basic definition of culture. Remember, creating a positive values-based culture is about being intentional and pervasive about each of the 7 Points to Culture Success.

So, the secret to a successful culture lies in intentionally defining your values and integrating them into every part of your organization.

For example, are your values incorporated into your performance review process? Do you have a recognition process for individuals who excel at the core values? Are your leaders rewarded for building a positive-based culture? Those are just a few of the ways you incorporate your values into and make your positive culture happen. It all ties back to the 7 Points to Culture.

[Tanmay Vora] If there is only ONE advice from your book that you would like to share with companies and start-ups, what would that be?

[Diane K. Adams] Every person and every company has the potential to be extraordinary. Creating a positive values-based culture provides an environment to do just that.

[Tanmay Vora] Diane, thank you for writing this book and for sharing your valuable insights here. I am sure readers of this blog will find your book and ideas very helpful in their own journeys of building excellent culture within their teams and organizations.

[Diane K. Adams] Thank you Tanmay. One last thought for your readers: Creating that great culture doesn’t have to be overwhelming or expensive. But it does take a recognition of those positive values that matter to you and your company, and then the commitment and courage to live those values in everything the company and its people say and do.

If you would like to learn more about how you can build a positive culture in your organization, please check out the FREE online workbook that accompanies my book at my website, www.DianeKAdams.com.

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Also read: Other Book Reviews at QAspire Blog

The Booker Award: Books I Love

Michael Wade is one of my favorite bloggers who is just amazing. Daily and consistently, he ships goodness on his blog Execupundit where topics range from self-development, great quotes and book reviews to management insights. Michael Wade has nominated me for the “The Booker Award”. This award requires me to list my five favorite books of all time and mention at least five other bloggers who deserve this award.

If you choose to participate, the rules of the award are to: 1) Nominate 5-10 bloggers and let your recipients know. (2) Post The Booker Award picture. (3) Share your top 5 books of all time.

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I read a lot and wish I could read a lot more. I cultivated the habit of reading observing my dad who is a voracious reader and a very fine writer. I want to cultivate the love for reading in my kids and I think the only way to do that is to model that behavior.

With all the books that I read, it is incredibly hard to keep this list to just 5 books, but here I try. These books have shaped up a lot of my perspectives and practices. I have included snippets from these books to make it a little more interesting. So, here they go (in no particular order) :

1) The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma

“You will recall that in the middle of the garden stood a magnificent lighthouse. This symbol will remind you of yet another ancient principle for enlightened living: the purpose of life is a life of purpose.

2) On Writing by Stephen King

“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.

3) The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge

“We need to cultivate ‘a discipline to see the wholes’, a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than snapshots. Reality is made up of circles, but we see straight lines.

4) Linchpin by Seth Godin (Read my review of Linchpin and Seth’s Interview here)

“You get paid to go to work and do something of value. But your job is also a platform for generosity, for expression, for art. Every interaction you have with a coworker or customer is an opportunity to practice the art of interaction. Every product you make represents an opportunity to design something that has never been designed, to create an interaction like any other.”

5) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top.”

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So, who will I tag? I would love to know what books have been all time favorites for: Rajesh Setty (I know he loves great books), Lisa Haneberg, Jesse Lyn Stoner, Becky Robinson and Utpal Vaishnav.

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Join in the conversation: What are you reading? What are your favorite books of all time? Tell us in the comments.

Never-Ending New Beginnings: Interview with Lisa Haneberg

Lisa Haneberg is a great friend who is an expert (and a lifelong student) on the craft of management. I have been following her blog and her work since last six years and she has greatly influenced my own blogging journey so far. Lisa is an expert in the areas of organization development, management, leadership, talent management, and personal and organizational success. With over 25 years of rich experience in providing departmental leadership, consulting, training and coaching solutions for manufacturing, health care, high technology, government, and nonprofit organizations, Lisa has written 13 business books and speaks on a broad range of topics of interest to leaders and managers.

Lisa recently released a new book titled “Never-Ending New Beginnings – A Manifesto on Personal Impact” which features 69 best posts from her blog Management Craft. It was my long term wish to bring Lisa’s thoughts to the readers of this blog and I grabbed this opportunity to catch up a conversation. Here is goes (emphasis added on important lessons):

[Tanmay] Lisa, I have enjoyed your blog since many years and I am so glad you have compiled a book with “best from Management Craft” posts. Tell us a little bit about your blogging journey so far and how blogging helped you evolve.

[Lisa] I started blogging in August of 2004 and I had no idea what I was doing or what great blogs looked like. I became a blog reader and a blog writer at the same time. I don’t recommend this! My learning curve was steep and I had to learn a lot of lessons. Eight years later I can say that blogging has helped me develop a unique voice and greater authenticity. When I write books, the publisher often wants a fairly formal treatment of a topic. But the blog is informal and therefore more me. So my blog helped me find the real me.

[Tanmay]  At QAspire, I write on the “human” aspect of leading others for excellence. I loved the post where you say that all of us are “beautifully flawed persons”. What according to you makes these flaws beautiful?

[Lisa] I think that flaws are beautiful when we get things done in spite of them. The leader who builds a great team even though he is shy.The manager that struggles against her defensiveness to be more inclusive. Our most interesting qualities are usually productive flaws. And I think we are beautiful when we work well with people regardless of their flaws or ours.

[Tanmay] How do you see the role of manager evolving in a knowledge-intensive world where teams are distributed across the globe?

[Lisa] I think we need to be better at showing the love. Really. As our ways of working become more physically detached, I think we need to try extra hard to create connection and build ownership. Managers need to become expert connectors and they need to learn to show warmth, care, and support through the phone, email, IM, and social networks. Not easy!  – not a set of tasks to do. We help people do their best work.

[Tanmay] How was your experience curating and editing “The ASTD Management Development Handbook”? Any lessons from that journey that you would like to share?

[Lisa] I was honored to be asked to select and work with a collection of nearly 40 authors. The best part was finding and inviting people. The toughest part was keeping them all in the loop. If I were doing it over, I would have done a better job with communication. Perhaps I need to apply my own advice from the previous question.

[Tanmay] If there was one key message from “Never-Ending New Beginnings” that you had to share with today’s manager, what would that be?

[Lisa] That we will enjoy a better career and impact more people if we constantly reinvent ourselves. Always look inside yourself first to discover the path to catalyze breakthroughs in organizations. That is why the name of the book is what it is – there is no single post with this title, but it is the central idea. Never stop reinventing.

[Tanmay] Thank you Lisa, for your thoughtful responses. Thank you also for inspiring me at various points in my blogging journey so far. I am pretty sure readers of this blog would find your blog/books useful and inspiring.

[Lisa] Tanmay – thank you so much. I have enjoyed reading your work, admire your thinking, and look forward to seeing what you do next!

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Getting Ahead: Interview with Joel Garfinkle

I had a pleasure of reading a new book titled Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level by Joel Garfinkle (@workcoach4you). Joel is the founder of Garfinkle Executive Coaching, author and one of the top 50 coaches in America. Joel was kind enough to share his book with me, which focuses on perception, visibility and influence as key tools for advancing our career.

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[Tanmay Vora] Joel, it is a pleasure interviewing you. "Getting Ahead’ is essentially a career oriented book. Why did you write this book now and how is it different from a lot of other career books out there?

[Joel Garfinkle] I spent the last 16 years working with thousands of executives, senior managers, directors and employees at the world’s leading companies. I realized that when a business professional works on only these 3 areas (Perception, Visibility and Influence) they will be successful. It is guaranteed. My research showed that it didn’t matter what a person’s title, background, location or responsibility. The most successful utilized the PVI model better than anyone else.

Getting Ahead is different than a lot of other career books because it provides immediate benefit, reward and easy implementation. You have only 3 concepts (PVI model) to work on and implement. With less content and concepts to be focused upon, what the reader needs to learn from this book becomes easily known, applied and implemented.

[Tanmay Vora] What does the book broadly cover?

[Joel Garfinkle] While some people leave the fate of their careers in someone else’s hands, others determine their future using these three critical skills (1) improve your perception, (2) increase your visibility, and (3) exert your influence. This book will teach you the PVI-model of professional advancement. Through practical advice, true-to-life examples, and action-oriented tips, you will learn how to:

– Create the right image
– Increase your profile across the organization
– Exert influence by driving change and inspiring people
– Identify and recruit advocates who will speak up on their behalf
– Become a known, valued and desired at your company
– Get effective tools to implement immediately so you can become an invaluable–and noticeable–resource for their company.

[Tanmay Vora] In the book, you talk about improving perception to grow in your career. Perception is a very subjective thing and while we can always be conscious about how we are being perceived, it is very challenging to always manage the perceptions of others. What advice would you share with readers of this blog about managing perception?

[Joel Garfinkle] If you don’t take control of how others see you, you will undermine both your career and your future success. People form opinions about you without any input from you. You can’t leave the fate of your career in someone else’s hands. Here’s how to manage your perception:

1. Notice how your behavior affects others. When interacting with people at work, how do they respond to you? What do they say and do? Document the patterns you notice based on your daily interactions. Learn to take the negative reactions and find specific ways to improve upon them. At the same time, it’s important to identify behaviors that cause positive perceptions and engage in them more frequently.

2. Gain advocates who speak positively about you. You can directly change others’ perceptions of you by having people express their enthusiasm for the impressive work you are doing. Whether it’s your success on the projects you are leading, the accomplishments you achieve, or the recognition you receive from others, it’s vital that you have people in your company singing your praise and promoting your value.

[Tanmay Vora] If you had to summarize three key messages from the book to readers of this blog, what would those be?

[Joel Garfinkle] Here they go:

1. The most successful leaders have gotten to where they are by leveraging and applying perception, visibility, and influence better than anyone else.

2. The reality you face at work is that talent, results, and competence alone simply will not allow you to attain the success you deserve.

3. The PVI model is your guiding light throughout your entire career, so you can maximize your potential and realize your professional greatness.

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You can also find out more and download a free chapter of getting ahead. http://www.garfinkleexecutivecoaching.com/getting-ahead-book.html. View his books and FREE articles at Garfinkle Executive Coaching.

Review: “Love Presenting…” by Nicholas Bate

Love Presenting Hate (badly used) Powerpoint

In an ever-expanding new world of work, leaders have to reach out to more people and spread their ideas. A lot of leaders do presentations of all kinds (sales/training/conferences) but are not sure how to make them really effective.

Nicholas Bate delivers what the world really wants – an effective guide titled “Love Presenting Hate (badly used) PowerPoint” on creating and delivering presentations that get people to act.

Here is the basic premise of book, in author’s own words:

We’re going to restore the joy of attending a presentation and re-discovering what it is to present with passion. We’re going to remember that there is a reason for having the very expensive gathering of people in that room: it is to get people to do something. And finally we’re going to remind ourselves there is a very thin line between chaos and creation in a presentation.”

Design and content organization in the book is a great example of an effective presentation. Vibrant cover, hand-drawn illustrations (more on his blog) and succinctly presented content (with a lot of lists, of course) makes this reading experience a very pleasant one.

Here’s what I have observed in many presentations attended: there is too much of “information” and too little of “inspiration”. Without inspiration, it is very difficult to get people to do something. Isn’t it? Like any other art, the purpose of presentation is simple: to transfer the energy and emotion, not just information. A presentation that does not do this, fails to make any mark.

This book is a quick read with less than 100 pages, and the one that you might want to refer before every presentation you deliver.

Poke The Box: A Review and One Question to Seth Godin

Last year, Seth Godin showed us a way to become a Linchpin. This year, he urges us to “Poke the Box” – to act, to start, to initiate, to experiment, to try (and fail and learn from it) and most importantly to finish and deliver. Poking the box is about taking initiatives, not just waiting for someone to delegate them to us.

Seth has packed a lot of punch into this book, so much that the passion and force in his writing almost instigates us to start/act.

With Poke the Box, Seth is also challenging the traditional methods of content distribution adopted by the publishing industry. He started “The Domino Project” – his new publishing venture with Amazon that is aimed at changing the the way books are built, sold and spread. He leads by example!

Here are some gems from the book

“The job isn’t to catch up to the status quo; The job is to invent the status quo.”

“The world is changing too fast. Without the spark of initiative, you have no choice but to simply react to the world. Without the ability to instigate and experiment, you are stuck, adrift, waiting to be shoved.”

“Excellence isn’t about working extra hard to do what you’re told. It’s about taking the initiative to do work you decide is worth doing. It’s a personal, urgent, this-is-my-call/this-is-my-calling way to do your job.”

One question to Seth Godin

After reading this book, I thought about reasons why people stay away from taking initiative in organizations and what could leaders do about it. This led to me to ask one question to Seth Godin:

Tanmay: The readers of my blog are people who are leaders, aspiring leaders and the ones who are willing to make a difference. How can a leader prepare others so that more people from their circle of influence initiate meaningful things and poke the box?

Seth Godin: Simple, but scary: don’t punish failure, reward it. Reward smart initiative, even when it doesn’t work.

Thanks Seth, for nudging us (or rather pushing us) to initiate.

Over to you

I think anyone who is willing to make a difference by doing meaningful work should read this book. You can read Q & A with Seth Godin at the Amazon page and learn more about The Domino Project.

So, what are you doing to poke the box? What are you initiating? Great questions for the mid week.

Author Interview: ‘Awesomely Simple’ by John Spence

John Spence has done a brilliant job of writing a very useful handbook titled “Awesomely Simple – Essential Business Strategies For Turning Ideas Into Action”. It is a privilege to interview John on his book. Business is complex and this book is a great attempt to simplify it through ideas and how they can be turned into action.

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[Tanmay Vora] John, it is a pleasure interviewing you. Please tell us something about how did you come up with the idea of a business book that turns essential business strategies into actions?

[John Spence] There are many fine business books, and truthfully most of them focus on the same basic ideas, but what I wanted to do with this book was to make it as easy as possible for the reader to take the key ideas in the book and put them into immediate action in their business. I have been teaching a class on strategic thinking at the Wharton school of business at the University of Pennsylvania for the past several years and I always ask the attendees of my program (typically about 100 senior executives) what the single biggest hurdle is that stands in the way of organizational success. The answer, year after year, is lack of disciplined execution. These are very smart folks, that know what it takes to be successful, but still struggle to turn their great ideas into actions. That is why my entire book focuses on excellent ideas combined with specific action steps to implement those ideas.

[Tanmay Vora] The title of the book is really interesting – ‘Awesomely Simple’. Why did you decide to focus on the simplicity aspect of business essentials?

[John Spence] Well Tanmay, I have actually based my entire career on making complex things simple to understand. Whether the topic is business excellence, leadership, teamwork, building a winning organizational culture… I try to take massive amounts of research and years and years of personal experience as a business executive – and boil it all down to the essential, fundamental things that make up the foundation of success. As an example, I have read a minimum of 100 business books a year, and listened to an additional 30 to 50 audio business books, every year since 1989. The books alone would not be enough to truly understand what I’m studying, but combined with nearly 17 years of working for some of the top companies around the world, when I put the two things together and then focus them on looking for a pattern of excellence, it allows me to try to make the complex and challenging parts of business as simple and clear as possible.

[Tanmay Vora] What does the book broadly cover?

[John Spence] The book covers what I feel are the six essential strategies for business success: 1) having a clear and well-communicated vision for the organization. 2)hiring absolutely the best people you can possibly get on your team. 3) high levels of open, honest and transparent communication. 4) a culture of urgency were people want to get the important things done right now. 5) a culture of disciplined execution where people take the great ideas in the business and turn them into positive action in the business. 6) extreme customer focus – taking the first five elements I’ve just mentioned and focusing them all on delivering consistently superior customer service that creates loyal and engaged customers.

[Tanmay Vora] If you had to summarize three key messages from the book to readers of this blog, what would those be?

[John Spence] Actually, I have boiled all the ideas in the book down to a simple equation: (T+C+ECF) x DE = Business Success.

The T stands for talent, C is culture, ECF is extreme customer focus and DE stands for disciplines execution. To me, this equation does a pretty good job of capturing the fundamental formula for business success.

[Tanmay Vora] Thank you John for your time and I am sure readers of this blog will be able to pick up some very useful insights and turn complex business strategies into simple actions.

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Have a GREAT day!

In Review: The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau

I have been following Chris Guillebeau’s remarkable work via his blog since last couple of years. So when I heard about his new book “The Art of Non-Conformity”, I could not wait to order it. I am glad I did, because this book instantly made it to my favorite books in 2010 which also includes Seth Godin’s Linchpin.

The book is sub-titled “Set Your Own Rules. Live The Life You Want and Change the World” – very apt because the book tells you how to do that using a combination of powerful personal stories, anecdotes and some solid advice on success and living a remarkable life.

The underlying message that Chris delivers through this book is, “You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to.” According to Chris, we all have a choice. To comply to the rules set by others or to rewrite the rules. He says, “The possibilities are unlimited, but it all begins with a deliberate choice to think differently”.

That choice of living a remarkable life starts with waking up to our current realities, setting your terms for the unconventional life, challenging the status quo, undertaking contrarian adventures, building serious competence, organizing your personal finances, living in possibilities and thinking about your legacy now. The journey through this book contains these important milestones and some very practical advice on each of these.

I loved it when Chris divided all our work in two parts – “’busy work (responding to things)’ and ‘legacy work (creating something that outlasts us)’. Each chapter has number of such useful ideas that will help you surge ahead.

The messages in this book are so powerful that when I was reading it, I was compelled to take short breaks to reflect on what I had just read. This book will push you to think about your life and how you want to live it.

“The Art of Non-Conformity”, in many ways, adds to and complements the ideas presented in ‘Linchpin” by Seth Godin. This led me to ask one question to Chris (the same one that I asked Seth Godin about in Linchpin’s book review).

Tanmay: Changing the world is impossible without actualizing with one’s gifts (that we are all born with). How does one discover these gifts and unwrap them for the world?

Chris Guillebeau: I’m not sure it’s impossible, but I agree it’s a lot easier to change the world if you know what you are good at and what you are motivated to do. It’s very difficult to motivate yourself into doing something you don’t care about. When you find something that keeps you up at night with good ideas, start thinking seriously about how to do more of it. That’s where the unwrapping comes from.

Tanmay: Your book made for a wonderful read. I just wanted to thank you for writing a book that will change people and world around us for better.

Chris Guillebeau: Thanks, Tanmay! That’s very kind of you to say. Good luck with your own world domination plans.

If you are looking forward to lead a remarkable life, or if you think you are stuck, this book is a must read for you. For readers in India, “The Art of Non-Conformity” is available via Flipkart.com. Go, get it and you will be doing a worthwhile investment in yourself.

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Chris Guillebeau is a true non-conformist himself. He is on a mission to help people live unconventional lives and he sets a powerful example for others. He is on a personal quest to visit every country in the world. He has been to more than 125 countries so far. The book carries some very interesting anecdotes from Chris’ travel in different countries.

Have a GREAT week ahead!

Book Review: Everyone Communicates, Few Connect

A few weeks back, my friend Becky Robinson at Mountain State University gifted me with a copy of John C. Maxwell’s latest book “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect”. The book, as the title suggests, is all about establishing meaningful connections to build great relationships at work and in personal life. The book introduction says,

“Connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate with them in a way that increases your influence with them. And the ability to communicate and connect with others is a major determining factor in reaching your potential. to be successful, you must work with others. To do that at your absolute best, you must learn to connect”

It was interesting to note the difference between “communication” and “connection”. I learned that communication is about content and connection is about relevance of that content and how it is received by others. Connecting with others is more than just transactional communication. It is about seeing others as human beings, understanding them, their energies and establish a deeper connection.

I have observed that all great “performers” are great connectors too. A singer has to understand the taste of audience and sing accordingly. A trainer has to connect with participants. An actor has to truly connect with the character being played. A blogger has to connect with the readers. An organization needs to connect with the customers.

Ability to build meaningful connections is the first step towards engaging others and building an influence. Connecting with others accelerates learning and spreads the ideas.

Maxwell’s book offers useful ideas for connecting with a group, connecting one-on-one and connecting with audience. The book does not offer any ground breaking ideas – we all know that we need to connect effectively. Still, the book does a GREAT job of outlining and reinforcing the fundamentals of connecting through explanations, stories and action points at the end of each chapter.

If you are a leader, an aspiring one or a professional who wants to make a big difference, this is a great book to pick up and read.

Have a GREAT week ahead!

Are You An Artist? A Review of Seth Godin’s LINCHPIN

Over last couple of weeks, I was reading and re-reading Seth Godin’s remarkable book “Linchpin”. I have been following Seth’s blog and books since last 4 years. This book has brilliant ideas that can change the way you work, how you work and most importantly, why you work.

Linchpin urges us all to be artists – to be the best we can, to take our work to such a level that it is viewed as an art. Seth says that manufacturing world required cogs – people who follow the instructions, were compliant, low-paid and replaceable. New world of work needs people who care, who are original thinkers, risk-takers, provocateurs – Linchpins, who are difficult to replace.

Linchpin is about being remarkable – being different and being original.

On being an artist – Seth says:

‘You can be an artist who works with oil paints or marble, sure. But there are artists who work with numbers, business models, and customer conversations. Art is about intent and communication, not substances.”

This book also introduces us to “Lizard Brain” – a little voice inside our head that prevents us from being different. This voice convinces us to stick to old ways of doing work – because doing it differently is a risk, of failure and embarrassment. Lizard brain thrives on our strongest emotion – fear.

Organizations need more linchpins to deliver more value – and for people, their jobs are a platform to deliver value, to be generous, to express their unique skills and be an artist.

The book also made me realize that doing “emotional labor” is extremely important to be a linchpin. Emotional labor is the task of doing an important work, even when it is not easy. It is about walking that extra mile, when you don’t feel like doing it. A larger part of work involves doing things we don’t particularly love doing. But unless that is done, art cannot happen.

The book is a GREAT read (also a NY Times bestseller), because it drives important points home with brilliant examples and stories along the way. I specially liked the diagrammatic representation of ideas – making it simple and easy.  A blog post is way too short to express the profoundness of messages this book encapsulates.

Most people don’t know about their unique gifts – their art. It sometimes takes a lifetime to discover what their art really is. This prompted me to ask a question to Seth. Here is the question and Seth Godin’s response:

Tanmay: Being a Linchpin is impossible without actualizing with one’s gifts (that we are all born with). How does one discover these gifts and unwrap them for the world?

Seth Godin: To use your analogy, if you want to find gifts, you have to look under the tree. And if you don’t know which tree, look under all of them. Too many people want a promise that the effort will be instantly rewarded. It won’t. Fail frequently. That’s the only way I know.

Tanmay: Thank you so much. “Fail Frequently. Ship Early. Ship Often. Realign” that is my takeaway and probably the only way to discover your gifts.

Seth Godin: Thanks Tanmay! Keep Shipping.

Thanks Seth, for that insightful conversation through your book and your response.

Linchpin is a wake-up call – to stop being ordinary and compliant and start being remarkable. Life – as Seth says – is too short not to do something that matters!

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P.S: Check out Carnival of Management Improvement at Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog by John Hunter – fantastic collection of posts on leadership, improvement, lean and quality. Carnival includes my post “Building a Culture To Promote Differential Thinking

Book Review: The Leadership Test by Timothy R. Clark

leadership_test_book_cover[1] Businesses today are plagued by people who are "installed" in leadership positions just because of their prior performance as a "worker". I have seen some excellent technical brains failing miserably as project leaders. Why so?

The answer is simple – they got into a leadership position as a natural progression without any reality check on their aptitude, skills and capability to lead.

When I interview people for technical positions, one question I invariably ask is – "Where do you see yourself two years down the line?". Most of these would answer that they want to be a team lead, manage people and projects. That is a noble aspiration, because business needs good leaders. But why do they want to lead? There are plenty of resources available to address "How to lead?" aspect. But a very few touch upon "Why do you want to be a leader?"

Any one who aspires to be a leader must read "The Leadership Test – Will You Pass?" by Timothy R. Clark, Ph.D. (His Blog) The book is organized in form of conversation between a teacher (named Isadore Kroll, Izzy) and his former student (Marcus), who is now facing a dilemma of whether he should accept a leadership position being offered to him by his company. The teacher takes Marcus through a soul-searching process to address "Why" aspect of leadership. At the end, teacher puts Marcus through a leadership test. Quite a revelation!

Here are a few very important excerpts from the book on spectrum of leadership –

“Leadership is a business of influence, but what kind of influence? Think about it on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is manipulation. At the other end is coercion. In the middle is persuasion.”

“All three may be considered to be forms of influence, but only persuasion is leadership. Only persuasion really helps people. The other two hurt people.”

“Leadership is based on influence-through-persuasion at the front end, combined with accountability at the back end.”

Most important of all leadership test questions is the fourth question “Take the Oath” – a personal oath to act with honesty and integrity at all times. The organization or society may not need it, but it is up to you to take that oath and enforce it. I find this more important because private virtue is the most important factor that determines growth/health of a team, organization or a society. No point in having leaders who are self-centered or dishonest.

At the end of all this, the book emphasizes the most important fact – “Leadership is about RESULTS”. Leadership is an applied-science. You can think about leadership, but that won’t help until you practice it to execute and deliver.

Reading this book cover to cover took me 30 minutes, but story of Marcus and Izzy still occupies my mind space. The more I think about it, the more it reveals.

That, to me, is a power of well written book. Go, read “The Leadership Test” to kick start some serious soul-searching and self-assessment on leadership.

Have a happy Monday and a great week ahead!

Book Review – ‘There’s An Adult In My Soup’ By Kim and Jason Kotecki

adult_in_my_soup_front_1 I am currently reading a simple yet amazing book titled “There’s An Adult In My Soup” by Kim and Jason Kotecki. Thanks to Kim and Jason for sending me a signed copy. They are on a mission fighting “Adultitis” – typical adult syndromes that infect us as we grow. In that process, we loose our child-like qualities that made us happy and jovial. Our daily conundrums trap us and we forget that life happens to us when we are busy making other things happen. This book is a gentle reminder to remain open, optimistic and child-like to enjoy the simple joys of life.

Excerpt From chapter “Trading the Cracker Jack Prizes for the Peanuts”

God has scattered these free prizes all around us: a watercolor sunset, the smell of fresh cut grass, the intricacy of a snowflake. We’re so busy being self-absorbed and stressed-out that we miss them all because they’re hidden just below the surface of our hurried consciousness.

Any book that relates well with your current circumstances will quickly hit you. So if you are going through a “busyness” syndrome and looking out for more from life, this book will quickly break the ice and become a good guiding friend. Better yet, this book will lead to some self-revelation if you are suffering from adultitis but don’t know about it yet! Jason’s illustrations in the beginning of every chapter makes it more interactive and light-weight.

Excerpt From chapter “While you were busy, life passed by”

Here’s what’s really happening: life is passing us by. We miss out on important stuff because we’re convinced that the busyness is a standard operating procedure. And we’re deceived by the mirage that someday, if we work hard enough, our to-do list will be cleared. As David Allen reminds us in Getting Things Done, you will die with things STILL in your to-do list. This never-ending hamster wheel is a part of adulthood we need to escape from now and then.

If you like the book, you will also love reading Kim and Jason’s Blog

Book Review – “ThinkTweet” by Rajesh Setty

If you ever thought that 140 characters were not enough to convey powerful thoughts – think again!

If you ever thought Twitter is a tool for mindless chatter or personal updates – think again!

Rajesh Setty (@upbeatnow on Twitter) has recently published a collection of 140 insightful tweets in form of a book titled “#TH!NKtweet – Bite-sized lessons for a fast paced world. The best gift you can give someone is the gift of ideas – and that’s what Rajesh Setty does so effectively via his books, blog, tweets and speaking engagements. I have been an ardent follower of Rajesh’s thoughts on management, leadership, relationships and networking.

The book is incredibly simple – yet incredibly profound! 140 key insights in less than 100 pages. It cannot get any simpler than this. Every page has one or two tweets and every tweet will stop you there for a while and make you think. ThinkTweet is a tweet that makes you think. The tweets are insightful, surprising and provocative – leading to some great thinking. By the way, this is the first book ever that was written entirely on Twitter.

Here are a few #ThinkTweets for you as a preview. If you like them, you can buy the book.

  • Really good help may not be available even if you pay a premium. You have to earn it.
  • You have a “problem” when you don’t know the solution. You have a “bigger problem” when you don’t know about the problem.
  • Do you have any gaps in your organization? If yes, start filling them and you are on your way to becoming a leader.

ThinkTweet is one book you can read over and over again – and everytime you read, you will find something new and be wiser than what you were before you picked up the book. When you interact with Rajesh Setty, ROII is guaranteed. Not sure what ROII means? Check it out here.

Thanks Rajesh for your valuable contribution by sharing these very useful insights.