Leadership in VUCA World: Perspectives on #IndiaHRChat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Adaptability & buoyancy ~ @sandeepcen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the ideal profile of a VUCA world leader?

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

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

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

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

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They Curate Talents ~ @faisal_hoque

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They Power Innovation ~ @faisal_hoque

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

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

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


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

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

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To create your own sliver of the world 🙂 ~ @GautamGhosh

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Happy Leading!

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Also Read at QAspire:

Fostering Emergent Leadership: Bite Sized Insights on #IndiaHRChat

Bite Sized Insights on Personal Branding #IndiaHRChat

Coaching Culture: The Art and Science of Success #IndiaHRChat

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Social Media and Leadership Success: A Few Parallels

When I first learned playing Guitar, I focused too much on notes, specifics and techniques. The more I practiced, the more I realized that notes, specifics and techniques are important for producing good music, but not sufficient.

So what was missing? The starting point of becoming a good artist is to have an emotion, an intent. Once you can touch the emotion and are intentional about it, tools and techniques are generally not difficult to master. Music played with technique may entertain us at the best but music played with emotion can move us.

In casual conversations, a lot of friends express a desire to start a blog. This desire is mostly fueled by success of others. They seek help in starting a blog, in creating a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account. Here’s what I tell them:

The intent of connecting with others meaningfully is at the heart of social media (and leadership) success. With intent comes emotion which leads to difference. It is about liking people, interacting with them, learning from them and contributing back.

It is not about being like someone else, not about ability to use tools but about being your authentic and credible self. Once you are intentional and have right emotion to feel the content (be it music, writing, social media, programming, whatever), tools and techniques are easy to learn.

Unfortunately, most people do the inverse. They first focus on tricks and techniques and then search for emotional connect. Even before they start doing something, they want to measure their success. They end up spreading themselves thin on various social channels and often create noise.

Finally, like any other successful journeys, social media is a process and not a destination. Here again, intent and emotion fuels us through the road. I have seen companies hiring a social media marketing lead and expecting immediate business leads. It seldom happens.

Once you understand the four aspects below, you will do better, not only in social media but in other areas of life as well:

  • Be intentional. Develop an internal need to do something before attempting it.
  • Fuel it with emotion. Understand the impact of what you say and do. Be passionate.
  • In the beginning, don’t measure. Focus on contribution, not on results. Later, measure right things.
  • Enjoy the journey. Seek out new avenues. Connect meaningfully with others. Make a difference.

Join in the conversation: How do you use social media? What parallels can you draw that can help us in other areas of life and work?

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Note: This ideas in this post emerged while talking to Becky Robinson at Weaving Influence – as the name of her blog suggests, she uses social media to connect authors with online audiences, weave an influence and make a difference. Thanks Becky!

Leadership, Self-Awareness and A Story

Last week, I delivered a talk at a leading b-school and interacted with final year MBA students who are now ready for their first jobs. Their faces radiated hope and aspiration. To me, they seemed like caterpillars who are changing into butterflies, ready to break the cocoon of academics and enter into the world of work.

My talk started with the topic of self-awareness (also called ‘intra-personal intelligence’) and I emphasized that businesses today need more people who are aware about their strengths (inherent and acquired) and are passionate about what they are doing. In the process, I told them a story of my friend named Nish.

After schooling, when Nish was at the cross road of career selection, he told his father, “Give me an inch of space in electronics and I will make a whole world out of it”. These words came from someone who seemed to be an average student then, but extremely passionate about electronics.

I remember his room with a lot of books, used printed circuit boards and some soldering guns hanging out of the wall. In school days,  when most students remain too busy (and often anxious) doing their assignments and tests, he assembled transistors and explored electronics. His father allowed him and he first took a diploma course in electronics. His grades in diploma allowed him to get a lateral entry into Bachelor of Engineering course. He went on to do his M.S in Satellite Electronics and then a Ph.D. in communication technologies from UK. This long academic journey was fuelled by only one thing: his passion for electronics.

Nish is a successful entrepreneur, a hands-on technologist and a creative human being who also teaches. He identified his strengths early on and built on it.

The journey of building a career is nothing but a quest to seek our strengths and then utilize those strengths fully to make a positive difference. If our goal as students, professionals and seekers is to express ourselves fully in our chosen area of pursuit, all recognitions and extrinsic rewards become a by-product.

The story resonated well with the students and I wish they take clues from it as they embark on the road to professional excellence.

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Similar stories at QAspire:

– Passion in Work: What’s Your Ice-Cream?

Actualizing with the self

Great Quote: Vincent Van Gogh on Profession and Passion

Passion in Work – Taking It Further

Couple of weeks back, I wrote about Passion in Work. Around the same time, I read this post titled, “Forget Passion, Focus on Process” at 37Signals blog which really got me thinking.

The premise?

The problem with the “follow your passion” chorus: We can’t all love the products we work with. Someone has to do the jobs and sell the things that don’t seem sexy but make the world go round.

Here are a few important observations:

First thing – a lot of people I have met/seen don’t really know what their passion is. Most of them take up the work they encounter first and keep doing it. They get into it by a chance. A few bold ones experiment with different areas of work before finally finding out something that they really enjoy doing everyday.

Second thing – people don’t always like what they do, but they still keep doing it well because the larger context of their work excites them. Even when people pursue work they love doing, there is a lot of chunk within that same work which they may not like (daily grind).

Third thing – ideas of ‘passion’ and ‘job satisfaction’ only come into play when we have a choice. There are millions of people across the globe who don’t have any choice about what they are doing. Their options are limited, and hence they try to be the best in whatever they do without thinking too much about their passion. (Read this story). The key is to do the work where we can expand our choices.

Finally, different people are passionate about different things. If our passion is aligned to a very narrow activity (e.g. performance testing of a software) then we are more likely to lose motivation at some point. So, our passion has to be defined by a broader context (e.g. constantly raise the bar of quality we deliver to customer). While the former is very specific, the latter provides us many more avenues to pursue our passion.

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Join in the conversation: Is this “passion” thing overrated? Does thinking too much about our passion make us even more unhappy with our current work? Is it always possible to find the work we really love doing? Tell us what you think.

Thriving By “Initiating”, “Creating” and “Improving”

The most memorable things in our career are the ones we initiated. People love saying, “I was the one who started the NY office” or “I defined the testing processes here” or “I bought our first consulting assignment” or “I started it from scratch”. During the hiring process, I encounter a number of people who cherish what they had built at their previous assignments.

We, as humans, crave for meaning. Our deeper satisfaction comes from “creating” something, “improving” the stuff and making a larger difference to the organization or people.

What it means for business leaders

  • Identify people who are keen to make a difference.
  • People who demonstrate active thinking about work.
  • Involve them in strategic and tactical initiatives (either as a part of their primary KRA or as a part-time initiative).
  • Explain them the importance of that initiative for the organization.
  • Train them, if needed, to think from a ”possibility” standpoint”. (Read this GREAT story)
  • Review progress and ask open-ended questions to provoke thinking.
  • Let them run with those initiatives, but stay in loop to do course correction when needed.
  • Validate the person and his/her thinking process.
  • Recognize and reward the participation.

What it means for you as a “personal leader”

  • Look at the current gaps within your organization.
  • Gaps in operations, gaps that directly impact your work or areas where nothing exists.
  • Those are your opportunities to initiate something meaningful.
  • Talk to your immediate peers about what you can do to fill those gaps.
  • Discuss, ideate and brainstorm with your immediate superior. (You can also find a workplace mentor to help you.)
  • Take charge and commitment from the senior management.
  • Draw out a plan with ideas, possible constraints and approach.
  • Validate your plan with others – seek support.
  • Execute the plan and review the progress.
  • Track the impact of your initiative.


The degree of our satisfaction depends on the degree of our contributions to the organization. By simply “doing-as-directed”, you may survive at best. But to thrive, flourish and grow, you have to think beyond the obvious and see possibilities. Initiate things. Follow them through. Deliver drastic improvements. Fill in the gaps. Bring about a big difference. Be memorable.

Have a great start into the week!

Working and Walking – Where Are You Going?

Working (hard) is much like walking. Where you walk matters.

Walk on a beach and you see vast expanse of the sea.

Walk in the park and you can smell freshly cut grass. Listen the birds chirping early morning songs.

Walk in the gym and you only watch other people working out.

The effort (you put in walking) remains the same. Goal remains the same.

But where you walk changes your perspective.


Common perception is that we do our work. In reality, our work does us.

It shapes us. Our thinking. Our attitude. Our approach to life.


When it comes to working, walking on a treadmill is not a good idea.

It takes as much hard work, and doesn’t take you anywhere.

“Busyness” is not equal to progress.

“Busyness” (walking fast) in wrong direction can quickly lead to failure.


Critical questions then are –

  • How is your work shaping you up?
  • Where is it taking you to?
  • Are you walking on a treadmill?

Photo Courtesy: RMontoro’s Flickr Photostream

Spotlight: An Upbeat Interview with Rajesh Setty

Rajesh Setty is a visionary entrepreneur, author of several books including “Life Beyond Code” and an avid blogger. It is a privilege to interview Rajesh on his recently launched book “Upbeat – Cultivating the right attitude to thrive in tough times“. Upbeat is not only a book for the recessionary times, but is a great resource for some very useful ideas on career management.

[Tanmay Vora] Rajesh, it’s a pleasure interviewing you. First of all, how was “Upbeat” conceptualized? How did you come up with the idea of writing  this book?

[Rajesh Setty]
Thank you Tanmay for the opportunity to have this conversation.
I had an opportunity to build my first startup during the previous recession. It was not easy. The easiest way to define what was happening then was that “nobody was buying anything from anyone and everybody was trying selling something to everyone.” If we loved bad news, then we were in luck. There was bad news everyday – on the TV, in the newspapers, on the radio and there was generally some bad news shared during any interaction with anyone – online or offline.

We learned a lot during that period as the only way to have survived running a “bootstrapped” startup was to stay Upbeat. So I wrote most of it during that journey but by the time I completed the book, that recession was over. So I packed it up and and kept it aside.  I didn’t have to wait for long as there was a another recession very soon. I unpacked the book, updated it and got it published.

[Tanmay Vora]  Why do you think this book was necessary and who all will it help?

[Rajesh Setty]
There are so many opportunities for us to get bogged down today. You can find depressing news via the media – I mean all kinds of media – newspapers, blogs, websites, twitter etc. If you want to find a reason to be unhappy or down, then you will find it plenty outside.
Of course, by being in a bad mood, you can’t get much done. At best, you will find a great excuse for not accomplishing much. Take a look at this equation
Big Dreams + Brilliant Excuses = Success in a Fantasy World.

During tough times people are handed “brilliant excuses” almost everyday. If you take the bait, then you got a license for inaction.

The book is short and talks about how you can avoid getting into this trap and actually take some action during tough times – not just to survive but to thrive!

[Tanmay Vora]  What areas does this book cover?

[Rajesh Setty]
There are five sections in the book:

  1. The Trap: Addresses why we are in a trap today. By just knowing how we get into the trap, we might be able to avoid the trap.
  2. The Discipline: The ultimate discipline is to keep a promise that we make to ourselves. This section talks about how to get into the discipline.
  3. The Strategy: Uncommon problems cannot be solved by common strategies. This section will talk about why you need to “invent” a new strategy and why “common” of “current” strategies won’t work.
  4. The Network: You can rarely do anything significant alone. This section talks about why “giving” (and not “getting”) is the right way to build your network.
  5. The Action: Sitting on the sidelines rarely gets you trophies. This section talks about the need to take action and some immediate steps.

The second part of the book is a workbook and it ends with some suggested action steps for each of the sections mentioned above.

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

[Rajesh Setty] Here they go:

  1. You have only so much time in your day. So please focus on things that will add capacity to you and others around you to contribute more. This means you will automatically avoid focusing on bad news, gossip and unnecessary “sympathy exchanges” as that will neither add capacity to you or people around you to contribute more.
  2. Relevance all the time: Recession is a time when what was working stops working (typically.) So if something has stopped working for you, the first thing to do is to see if what you were doing is still relevant. If not, it is time to change your game.
  3. Spend less AND spend more. The first quick response to a recession is to cut back on everything. In the process, we tend to cut back on key investments – investments that are required for our growth. This is the time to increase those investments as you need to be growing rapidly. Spend less – meaning cut back on your expenses. Spend more – meaning increase your investments on yourself.

[Tanmay Vora]  Thank you Rajesh for your time and I am sure readers of this blog will be able to pick up some very useful insights from Upbeat to stay upbeat!

Explicit versus Tacit – Content versus Process

Difficult situations like slowdown force organizations/managers to do cost-benefit analysis. Salary you are paid is a cost and what you do in the organization for that cost generates value.

Value has two components – tangible and intangible.

Tangible value (easier to visualize) is explicit knowledge of subject (e.g. knowledge of .NET programming or software testing), revenue, efficiencies, numbers etc. This is important.

Intangible value (which is also hard to visualize) is tacit knowledge, knowledge on processes, knowledge on how to deal with typical situations/clients, attitude, different ways of doing things, workarounds etc. This is hard to visualize and measure. But impact of this value is huge.

So from organization/manager’s standpoint – it is important to see value as a sum-total of tangible and intangible value that someone brings on board while rewarding or hiring.

In this regards, I loved what Seth Godin has written in his post “What are you good at?”. He writes about explicit versus tacit knowledge. Crux is that explicit knowledge on subject can be easily learnt. Tacit knowledge only comes with experience within and outside the organizations. There are no shortcuts to acquire tacit knowledge.

Seth Godin writes:

As you consider marketing yourself for your next gig, consider the difference between process and content.

Content is domain knowledge. People you know or skills you’ve developed. Playing the piano or writing copy about furniture sales. A rolodex of movers in a given industry, or your ability to compute stress ratios in your head.
Domain knowledge is important, but it’s (often) easily learnable.

Process, on the other hand, refers to the emotional intelligence skills you have about managing projects, visualizing success, persuading other people of your point of view, dealing with multiple priorities, etc. This stuff is insanely valuable and hard to learn. Unfortunately, it’s usually overlooked by headhunters and HR folks, partly because it’s hard to accredit or check off in a database.

Knowing difference between explicit and tacit aspects of one’s knowledge is very crucial from an individual standpoint.

I can easily relate contents of this post with Tom Peter’s saying “Hard is soft. Soft is Hard.” More elaboration on this in the next post.

Have a fantastic weekend!