Don’t Complain, Create.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also Read at QAspire:

Craftsman Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consume Less, Create More

That was my mantra in 2015 and beyond. As we start a new year, I revisited this mantra and a few additional thoughts came to the fore.

Consume Less

Consumption is a critical element in one’s ability to create anything. So, consumption, by itself, is not all that bad. The problem of our times is  consumption by default. We first consume and then think if we really needed it. This is true for almost everything – from stuff we buy to the content we read, from events we attend to conversations we engage in. Unfortunately, technology has made consumption all the more easier which only adds to the problem. Have we not seen people who are constantly busy on their phones consuming stuff without moving a needle for anyone? We need to jump off the consumption treadmill.

The goal, then, is to consume mindfully and there seem to be two ways to do it:

1) Consume mindfully by having right set of filters that help you decide if something will *really* add value and increase your ability to create. When you consume mindfully, less is actually more. When you have better filters, you gain that which is relevant. Consuming mindfully also means being in the moment while you consume and not rush through the process.

2) Practice the fine art of subtraction – we don’t need more and more. We need less that is more (useful/helpful/enriching etc.) Sometimes, the only way to find if something is useful is to “try” it. But often, once we try something, it stays with us because we are not so good at subtracting stuff – at eliminating that which we don’t really need.

“Minimalism is not subtraction for the sake of subtraction. Minimalism is subtraction for the sake of focus” – Source

Create more

Most of us, I assume, long to create stuff that changes us and others for better – whether it is a radical new product or a one-on-one conversation with a colleague. Mindful consumption increases our capacity to create.

“Create what?” – you may ask.

When we exercise mindfully, we create health. When we consume food mindfully, we create wellness. When we travel mindfully, we create enriching experiences. When we converse mindfully, we create relationships. When we create what we truly love, we create joy and meaning. When we share generously, we create connections and conversations. When we connect mindfully, we create learning. When we work mindfully, we create remarkable results. When we prioritize mindfully, we create focus. When we serve mindfully, we create contentment. When we meditate, we create wellness. And we make a positive difference to ourselves and others through our creations.

To be mindful is to be present in the moment, immersed in doing whatever you choose to do. The fact that individually, we can only do so much, we have to choose our battles carefully and subtract the rest!

The time saved through mindful consumption is the time spared for engaging in creative pursuits.

So my mantra for 2016 (and beyond) is the same as it was in 2015 – Consume Less, Create More. I look forward to doing better and raising the bar for myself.

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Also read at QAspire:

Emilie Wapnick on Being a Multipotentialite

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

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

In her talk, she explains:

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

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

She then defines a multipotentialite as:

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

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

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

And finally, in the words of Emilie Wapnick:

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

Yes!

Building Critical Thinking Muscle: An L&D Mandate

Last week, I was invited as a guest on PeopleMatters #TChat (Twitter chat) on the topic of developing critical thinking muscle within the organization and the role of learning and development. I was joined by Mahalaxmi R who is the CLO & Global Head Talent at Airtel and Rajesh Lele. It was fun contributing and learning a great deal in return from the Twitter HR community. Here are the highlights from the chat. (You can see more tweets at the storified version of the chat)

Q1: Why do you think Critical Thinking is an essential skill to be built across the organization in today’s context?

A1 Organization grows (or doesn’t) one decision at a time. Critical thinking is an enabler of effective decision making. – Tanmay Vora

A1. Helps in reducing risk in & raises quality of decision-making. Helps problem-definition & solving by testing assumptions. – Rajesh Lele

A1 It’s a VUCA world! Crucial decisions are needed to be taken at every level in the organization, everyday without much guidance – PearsonTalentLensInd

A1. The application of #CriticalThinking results in better decisions, fewer mistakes & improves d level of collaboration – Ester Martinez

A1. Today’s interconnected #VUCA world demands CT as a necessary competency. – Tanaz H Mulla

A1 Critical thinking skills are basic building blocks for higher level competencies like strategic thinking. – Tanmay Vora

Critical Thinking is identified as one of the core skills of 21st century workforce to deal with an evolving landscape. – Sahana Chattopadhyay

A1 Several important workplace competencies hinge on critical thinking – PearsonTalentLensInd

Q2:How can Critical Thinking be developed? Share interventions that work best to build Critical Thinking?

A2 Assessments are a good starting point – both for evaluating current competencies as well as when hiring talent. – Tanmay Vora

A2.“Clear thinking requires courage rather than intelligence.” ~ Thomas Szasz –Develop courageous conversations – Rajesh Lele

A2 When you need quick strengthening of CT skills, selecting critical thinkers during hiring yields faster results  – Tanmay Vora

A2 Self Assessment and Development of Data driven approach are some of the tool to develop #CrticalThinkingAkanksha Mishra

A2 Having leaders in organization who are critical thinkers sets the right precedence for everyone to think critically – Tanmay Vora

A2. Developing Critical Thinking requires skills like reflection, assessing assumptions and biases, evaluating options. – Sahana Chattopadhyay

A2. Projects that bring divergent thoughts and multi stakeholders together =best way to learn. – MAHALAKSHMI R

A2 Case studies, Simulations, Summary of past business decisions Experience, if not forgotten, can be a guide to the future. – Gurpreet Bajaj

A2/2 Leaders to encourage others to voice their thinking. Ensure employees have the ability to get to an answer by solid reasoning – Gurpreet Bajaj

A2 Beyond training, experiential learning sessions & workshops involving problem solving, thinking and writing helps. – Tanmay Vora

Don’t forget traditional problem solving tools –5Why, TRIZ, etc & go beyond. Build a “love for solving problems” – Rajesh Lele

A2 Developing CriticalThinking needs practice to train the mind to think in a certain way. RED model helps – PearsonTalentLensInd

Q3. Who is the owner and stakeholders involved in this process of infusing Critical Thinking across the organization?

Critical Thinking is every corporate citizen’s responsibility. Begins at the individual’s desk. Institutional approach secondary. – Rajesh Lele

A3 Senior leaders of the organizations are the first stakeholders in creating the culture of critical thinking. – Tanmay Vora

Most orgs now anyways look for leaders who can connect the dots +build strategy that’s inclusive which is a clear case for CT – MAHALAKSHMI R

Everyone, it is part of organizational culture – Subir Chatterjee

a) Leadership to Demonstrate open culture to challenge status quo b) L&D to Drive c) People to be naturally inquisitive! – Gurpreet Bajaj

Managers, leaders & each individual. Managers as coaches. Individuals as self-driven learners. It’s a life skill everyone needs – Sahana Chattopadhyay

It is the leadership teams role. If all decisions are data driven and not people dependant then it will percolate – Gautam Ghosh

Anyone who decides in an org context is a stakeholder – esp. senior leadership and middle management – Tanmay Vora

Q4: What are the road blocks that L&D practitioners & Managers are likely to face in implementing these change intervention?

Danger in focus only on tool/ methodology without behavioral anchors in implementing critical thinking skills – Rajesh Lele

Biggest challenge: aligning every single decision making individual to the critical thinking agenda. – Tanmay Vora

Roadblocks in the form of established processes, drive for productivity/speed over quality, mindset of what worked in the past – Sahana Chattopadhyay

Biggest roadblock would be if CT becomes a HR agenda instead of biz demand – MAHALAKSHMI R

When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal, you do not change your decision to get there, Zig Ziglar – Ester Martinez

Failure to take real problems of the business in the intervention. #ActionLearning & real projects best teacher – Rajesh Lele

A4. Fixed Mindset is the biggest challenge. Leaders, by majority, have a bias towards action. CT hence lags behind – Tanaz H Mulla

A4 Over reliance on best practices and past experiences without aligning them to current context can be a major roadblock.Tanmay Vora

Managing resistance – Critical thinking isn’t easy and doesn’t come to everyone naturally. – Tanmay Vora

A4 a) Conflicting Cultural Hypocrisy- Open vs Closed; b)Training Program vs Change? c) Limited business grounding for mentoring CT – Gurpreet Bajaj

Q5. What are the benefits that organizations can derive from these training interventions?

A5 Better decisions and planning. Better problem solving. Improved analytical skills. – Tanmay Vora

Resilience and ability to deal with change, agility over rigidity, growth over fixed mindset when #criticalthinking is adopted. – Sahana Chattopadhyay

Thinkers at all levels; Empowered and engaged employees who can see their impact on bottom line,Transparency,Respect,Innovation – Gurpreet Bajaj

Sustained biz success due to a.Well thought through strategy. b. Higher thought diversity & inclusion c. Long term view – MAHALAKSHMI R

A5 An organization with critical thinkers is likely to be more collaborative, strategic, innovative, make better decisions & grow well. – PearsonTalentLensInd

Critical thinking and creative problem solving are intricately linked – drivers of innovation. – Tanmay Vora

This is the reason why I love tweet chats – in just about 30 minutes of time, so many diverse perspectives came to the fore from equally diverse participants – talk about the power of community in learning!


Also read: My article series on critical thinking at Pearson TalentLens Blog.  

The Culture of Innovation and People Dimension: #IHRChat

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

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

Q1: How do you define innovation ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q2: What is the difference between innovation and creativity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q3: What drives innovation in a company?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q7: How can we measure innovation?

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

Value creation is the ultimate measurement – Shishir Misra

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The journey then, is the purpose and the reward!

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

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When Your Best Ideas are Shot Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Great Quotes: Bill Watterson on Life and Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watterson concluded his speech with this brilliant quote:

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

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

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

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In 100 Words: The Art of Seeing Possibilities

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

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

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

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

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

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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

Bite Sized Insights on Personal Branding #IndiaHRChat

For the first time, I participated in a Twitter Chat (#IndiaHRChat) on the topic “Personal Branding for HR Professionals“. People from diverse backgrounds shared their views on personal branding in presence of special guest Mr. Anand Pillai, Chief Learning Officer of Reliance Industries.

It was fun to share my insights on personal branding and they were well received. Gautam Ghosh, an eminent blogger and HR Professional, storified the entire chat where you can read all the ideas shared by others. Here are the bite sized ideas on personal branding that I shared.

On definition of personal branding

Personal Branding: a unique perception that marketplace associates with you based on your work/results you deliver.#indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Real accomplishments are a starting point of creating a personal brand. Establishing thought leadership is a way to grow it. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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When you begin the journey of creating a personal brand, it has to be a pro-active effort to differentiate yourself. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Proactive means thinking about what sets you apart, identify critical intersections with gaps and then execute. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Personal Brand happens when what you think, say and do are aligned with consistent set of values as reflected in the outcomes. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

On pre-requisites for creating a personal brand

Pre-requisite for creating a personal brand: A history of ‘real’ accomplishments’ and thought leadership. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Blogs, social tools are just ways to create personal brand. It is important to be intentional and have a unique voice. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Thought leaders are the ones who disrupt established thinking/habits about issues that concern organizations. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Personal branding, in my experience, happens at the intersections. Small areas where two important things intersect. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Mainstreams are crowded and noisy. Intersections are opportunities to dig deeper and differentiate. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Strong brand happens when you are deeply interested/curious abt your work and explore possibilities that others cannot see. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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To create a personal brand, you need to see nuances of your work, the subtle part of it. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Most professionals grow by staying on top of the explicit knowledge. Personal brands, almost always, focus on the implicit. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Personal brand is created when you focus on your contribution more than getting something out of it. It’s a selfless pursuit. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Also, if you have to declare that you are a brand, you are not. It is something others bestow on you! #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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The question is whether you have built it by default or by design. RT @_Kavi: EVERYBODY has a personal brand. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Personal branding, just for sake of branding may not help in long run, if it does not provoke a meaningful change. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

On How to Create Personal Brand

For #HR, every single interaction with other people is an opportunity to build a personal brand. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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To create a reliable and strong personal brand, be focused on real accomplishments. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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@_Kavi: Our quest to be should stem from our understanding of who we are. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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The world needs your ideas, understanding of nuances & insights. Be authentic in sharing them & you start building a brand. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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No shortcuts in life & no shortcuts in building a brand. It takes time & discipline. It is a journey, not a destination. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Use social media wisely to provide maximum value.Focus on what you can “contribute” not what you can “extract”. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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If personal branding is a journey, passion for work and learning are the fuel! #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

Ability to differentiate yourself and build a strong personal brand is important to grow and flourish in a competitive environment. More than that, the journey of differentiating yourself is deeply fulfilling and enriching.

BONUS: If you are someone who is interested in differentiating yourself, you might like the free PDF ebook titled “Personal Branding for Technology Professionals” by Rajesh Setty and his super-useful series on Differentiating Yourself.

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In 100 Words: To Be Creative

Here’s a story from Sir Ken Robinson.

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

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

How would they be so creative?

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Posts

Great Quotes: Focus on Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo Credit: Stephan Comelli’s Flickr Photostream

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Related Posts at QAspire:

Enjoy the Process

Enjoy the Process – 2

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In 100 Words: Love Made Visible

Seeing someone turning a mundane activity into art is always very gratifying.

Meet Dr. Soda. He sells flavored soda on the roadside. He loves his work and calls himself a “Ph.D. in Soda”. For him, making soda is the medium to entertain people. He juggles soda bottles, makes a soda blindfold, speaks three languages, entertains kids, initiates conversations, smiles a lot and offers a distinct experience – all for just 10 bucks. Each soda is his opportunity to build a connection and deliver his art.

No work is small if you know how to enjoy it. Work is love made visible.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Posts

Great Quote: On System of Management by Deming

W. Edwards Deming, the pioneer and guru in quality revolution wrote the following paragraph when commenting on Peter Senge’s book “The Fifth Discipline” and it instantly struck the chord.

Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people. People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-respect, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy in learning.
The forces of destruction begin with toddlers — a prize for the best Halloween costume, grades in school, gold stars — and on up through the university.  On the job people, teams, and divisions are ranked, reward for the top, punishment for the bottom. Management by Objectives, quotas, incentive pay, business plans, put together separately, division by division, cause further loss, unknown and unknowable.

The birth of an organization happens with a technical idea that solves a problem. It starts with creativity, passion and inventive thinking. When people start organizations, their sole interest is to focus on excellence to deliver best results. Success breeds success and somewhere in the growth process, the focus shifts from creativity and passion to profits and numbers. At one point, this focus on numbers becomes a chronic obsession. Organization starts being driven by numbers alone and the human aspects of work (respect for people, intrinsic motivation, creativity, innovation etc.) are pushed into the margins. Physical infrastructure gains prominence over emotional infrastructure.

Deming said this in 1990’s and still sounds so true in current context when we look at how our schools, colleges and organizations are being driven.

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Usman Riaz and Attitude of Self-Directed Learning

One of the most critical skills for modern day students and professionals is ability to learn beyond the confines of a class room. We are fortunate that so much of profound learning is available for free – why do we not learn then?

There is a saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. One can have presence on all sorts of social media channels but that does not ensure learning. Because learning starts with an intent, an inner force to know more, dig deeper and understand. It expands as we internalize what we learn and then do something about it. Learning is not one-time-4-year-degree-course, but a lifelong commitment. Degree may be a launch pad, but ability to learn beyond the classroom, self-directed effort to learn and do are wings!

Consider the story of 21 years old Usman Riaz, a Pakistani music composer and an ace acoustic guitar player. Usman grew up learning the art of percussive guitar by watching videos on YouTube.

Usman recently played onstage at TEDGlobal 2012 followed by a brilliant solo performance from the master of percussive guitar, Preston Reed. These two guitarists then took on a very spur-of-the-moment improvisation to stamp their mastery.

Watch this demonstration of what wonders self-directed learning can do.

In an interview, Usman Riaz says (emphasis added),

I think my generation is one of the luckiest generations of people because up until the Internet became such an integral part of our lives (for me it was around 7 or 8 ) I had seen how the world functioned without the Internet, which just made me appreciate it even more and not take it for granted.

We have so much knowledge available to us at our fingertips. I try to use it to the best of my ability. I want to get better everyday. You can never stop learning.

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You may also like reading:

  1. Lifelong Learning: Lesson From A Cab Driver

  2. On Personal Mastery and Commitment to Learning

  3. Lifelong Learning – 20 Lessons

On Creativity: SRK and Seth Godin!

Two personalities from two diverse nations; One is an Indian mega-star Shahrukh Khan (SRK) and the other is a relentless instigator (and my hero) Seth Godin. Both live a creative life and express themselves fully through their work. Both have a significant impact on large number of people. Recently, both expressed their views on creativity.

At his recent talk as Chubb Fellow at Yale University, SRK shared his view on creativity and said,

Creativity is your gift to the world. It was never meant to be barter for anything, not even appreciation. You have to believe, that you create only because this is the biggest gift you have to give to your world. Maybe that’s why we even say God is a creator. It’s not about the cars or houses…it never was… those are peripherals. They never come about because of your talent or your creative outpourings… they come out of a business that people around you do. Those people are in the business of barter — not you. Yours is the business of giving and learning. Your work of art may never be complete in your lifetime. Your fulfillment will always lie in your creative expression not in its products.

In his usual provocative style, Seth Godin urges us not to expect applause. He says,

But when you expect applause, when you do your work in order (and because of) applause, you have sold yourself short. That’s because your work is depending on something out of your control. You have given away part of your art. If your work is filled with the hope and longing for applause, it’s no longer your work–the dependence on approval has corrupted it, turned it into a process where you are striving for ever more approval.

These insights led me to think and following lessons emerged:

  1. Don’t barter your originality and expression with external drivers, and rewards. When recognitions or rewards happen, cherish them. Treat them as by-products. But don’t let that get into your head, because once it does, logic rules. And when logic is a dominant force over emotion, creativity quickly eludes us.
  2. The pre-requisite of being creative is to first be yourself. If we are not true to our authentic selves, if we are not aware about our inherent interests, it is hard to be creative.
  3. Being true to your self means that you might need to break some rules, re-invent some and create a few. Non-conformance is good for creative diversity.

Also read: 5 Insights on Creativity from Osho

5 Insights on Creativity from Osho

Creativity is at the core of building quality in design. People rarely innovate when they simply follow instructions. This led me to think more about creativity – the act of doing something in an unconventional way, the act of creating something meaningful that changes you and hence the world. Traditionally (in an industrial world), only artists were meant to be creative – painters, dancers, poets and so on. In the knowledge world, every professional has an opportunity (and a need) to be creative – to see patterns that others don’t see, to create and initiate.

Around the same time I was thinking about creativity, I stumbled upon a great book titled “Creativity – Unleashing the Forces Within” written by 20th century spiritual teacher Osho. I read the book with great interest and gained some very enlightening insights. Here are a few:

Ego is the enemy of creativity. You are at your creative best when you do things because you find joy in doing it, because it has an intrinsic value to you. When you do things with a purpose of gaining recognition (and hence satisfy your ego), creativity is limited. Our need for external validation for our work stops us from being receptive, open and curious.

Creativity is a paradox. The more you try to be creative, the less creative you will be. Conscious effort to be creative comes in your way to be creative – that is because creativity flows. I wrote earlier that constraints help us become creative – but being in a state flow, being with the work, being in the work is the key to be creative. The book says, “It is not a question of what you do, it is the question of how you do it. And ultimately it is a question of whether you do it or you allow it to happen.”

Creativity means letting go of past. Too much reliance on our past stops you from being creative. Creative person is the one who lives in the moment, understands the context and looks at possibilities. As Osho rightly says in the book, “To bring intelligence into activity, you don’t need more information, you need more meditation. You need to become less mind and more heart.”

Creativity is an inner game. It stems from your love for the subject. It stems from your passion to practice, courage to try and learn by doing. Osho says, “If your act is your love affair then it becomes creative. Creativity is the quality you bring to the activity you are doing. It is an attitude, an inner approach – how you look at things. Whatsoever you do, if you do it joyfully, if you do it lovingly, then it is creative”

Creativity demands a lot of courage. Because doing something unconventionally requires you take risks, be prepared for failure, and learn from it. Osho observes that once you recognition and respect (external validation) keeps us from experimenting, because we are too afraid to fail.

Bottom line:

Creativity isn’t always about doing something that no one has done before – but in my view, it is always about executing your ideas with great love, great joy and a deep interest. If world recognizes it, you will be grateful. If not, you will still find intrinsic joy and happiness. Being creative is a selfish act!

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Related Posts at QAspire:

– The Creative (Process) – A Few Thoughts
Engaging in Alternative ‘Creative Pursuit’ to Be More Effective
Managers, Nurture Creativity. Don’t Kill It!
Creativity, Effectiveness and Constraints

On “Systems Thinking” and Improvement

A few years back, when I was struggling with some repetitive/difficult situations at work, one of my seniors (and a good friend) asked me, “Do you know the root cause of your problem?”. He went on to draw a diagram on his notebook, and connected the problem to the other parts of the organizational system. I realized that I was fighting the symptom, whereas the root cause was something completely different.

He told me, “As long as you fight individual fires and try to find single reason for all your problems without looking at the bigger picture, you will never see any improvement in your work.

Today, when I am responsible for improvements in a business environment, this lesson serves me well. My friend introduced me to the powerful concept of “systems thinking.” Ability to see relationships and patterns in different (and seemingly unrelated) elements of work is an essential skill for a modern day professional, because we are surrounded by systems. Right from human body to software we write and communities we belong to, everything is a system and improvement can only happen when we really understand the interconnectedness between different components within a system.

You can change the system only when you know the system – and knowing the system is a curious and creative pursuit. Improvement starts when you are “intentional” about being curious and creative.

I have seen doctors who try to “cure” isolated parts of the body without worrying about the root causes and I have seen leaders who try to “quick fix” every problem that comes their way. Systems thinking (or seeing the bigger picture) is not just a problem solving method, but an important tool for continual improvement.

In his book “The Fifth Discipline”, Peter Senge emphasizes that 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

He adds, “Reality is made up of circles, but we see straight lines."

Bottom line: Think systems, not events. Next time you solve a problem or implement a significant change: Solve the immediate problems, but do not forget to look for systemic connections and causes. Observe trends, see patterns, study the history of changes. Remain curious and be creative.

Join in the conversation: How do you see patterns and systems? How well do you connect the different parts of your work? What would you recommend?

The Creative (Process) – A Few Thoughts

I picked up a conversation with a few friends yesterday on the creative process, and that got me thinking about how inspiration or muse strikes. I have been a “process” guy professionally who also understands/respects the importance of creativity, the sort of creativity that changes the world for better. 

Our schools teach us “formulas” and we become obsessed with them thereafter. We look for sure fire ways of doing things and somewhere in this quest for certainty, our creativity is lost.

When we discussed further, our conversation revealed that creativity starts with an attitude to see things that others are not able to see, to see the new, to feel the difference before it happens, to follow our intuition, to decide that something is important and then to ‘do’ something about it. Whatever happens after the intuition/inspiration/muse/new (or whatever you call it) strikes the brain (and our mind) can be a process. But there is no formula I know, to get these ideas, to see the gaps, to connect discrete things and generate a new meaning. Creativity is more innate/personal because we bring ourselves, our values, our intuition and our DNA into the play.

In the same context, I stumbled upon an old article on Adweek which nails it:

The most celebrated acts of creativity in the world are the result of individuals deciding that something just feels right. Picasso did not need a viability study to decide where to apply his brush. And yet his highly unscientific pursuits continue to touch people in ways most ad campaigns never will. Tolstoy did not pass his concepts by focus groups for input. And yet his books and ideas endure.

Process is extrinsic. It augments the creative process and helps in better execution. It allows us to elevate our performance, visualize gaps and improve constantly. The processes employed by creative people are difficult to decode, but they surely exist. We don’t see a process there because we are untrained in that context.

Increasing competition means that we have to be “operationally” better than others, where process comes in. But it also means that we have to be “creatively” better than others, take more risks, innovate and execute great ideas, which is where our intuition comes in.

It is only when creativity marries the process that organizations can achieve greatness and remarkability.

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Join in the conversation: What do you think? Is there a process to get more creative? Can we implement processes more creatively? How does inspiration strike you? Let us know.

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Related Post: Creativity, Effectiveness and Constraints