In 100 Words: Heaven or Hell?

A Rabbi used to tell a story of his tour to the heavens.

He first went to the Hell and it was horrible. Tables were laden with sumptuous food yet people looked pale and hungry. Their arms were strapped with wooden planks such they could not bend their hands to put food in their own mouth.

It was the same story in Heaven, except that people looked contented and happy. When he closely observed, he saw that people were using strapped arms to feed each other!

Hell or heaven is not about circumstances but about how we treat each other.

Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

A Few Lessons From My First MRI Experience

Recently, I had my first MRI scan to diagnose a herniated disc in my lower back area. Not a great thing to have, but fortunately, not very severe either. I just need to be extra careful with my back, do exercises and manage the stress well.

MRI, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging involves going into a narrow magnetic tube through which images of internal body structures are taken. The tube is a cramped cold space and once  the procedure starts, it is extremely noisy with deafening and unpleasant sounds. One almost feels like being in the middle of a battle ground. What started as a terrible experience ended with some interesting lessons for me.

I was very anxious when I was being prepared for the scan. My heart started beating faster as I slid into the cold narrow tube. Though, I don’t have claustrophobia, it was unnerving. A few moments later, the procedure started and the noise added to my already high anxiety. To escape the outer chaos, I decided to focus inwards and close my eyes. Focusing on my breathing helped in stabilizing the heart beats.

I then started focusing my mind on all the wonderful experiences I had in my life so far. Images from my past started filling my mind space. I thought about how I climbed to the treetop as a kid, about a cricket tournament that I recently played, about the nutty chocolate ice cream I had the previous day, about my son happily running around the house, about the warmth of my family, about our travels, about the beautiful flowers and birds I photographed and so on. These vibrant impressions occupied the blank space in front of me. Impressions that were so subtle and profound that I was actually smiling in a very uncomfortable setting.

What did I learn? I learned that there are two worlds – the one inside us and the one outside us. The world within is made of subtle – our experiences, emotions, hopes, aspirations, feelings and dreams. The world outside is gross – made up of stuff (mostly). We see the world outside us through the lens of what lies within us. The world inside us is far more colorful, vivid and powerful than the world outside. In moments of difficult choices or adversity, always pay more respect to the world that is within you.

I learned that our experiences are way too precious than the stuff. The quality of our life is largely determined by the quality of our experiences, not by the stuff we possess. When I decided to think about best things in life, only experiences came forward, not the things. The key is to invest in creating experiences that enrich our lives.

Being boxed in that crammed space with no one to talk to and no gadgets to keep me engaged enabled me to peep inside my own self. Solitude is precious for it allows you to be with your own self and appreciate everything beautiful in our lives.

When I came out of the room, I was thinking about how much we learn about life when we foresee a slightest risk to it. I walked out of the diagnostic center more aware about what really matters to me.

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Also Read at QAspire:

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In 100 Words: The Formula for Success

A man approached JP Morgan with an envelope and said, “Sir, in my hand I hold a guaranteed formula for success, which I will gladly sell you for $25,000.”

JP Morgan replied, “I don’t know what is in the envelope, however if I like it, I will pay you what you asked for.”

JP Morgan opened the envelope, and extracted a single sheet of paper. He gave it one look, a mere glance and paid him the agreed-upon $25,000.

The Paper:

1. Every morning, write a list of the things that need to be done that day.

2. Do them.

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Hat Tip to Tom Peters’ collection of Top 41 Quotes (PDF), which is also a must read!

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Photograph by: Tanmay Vora

Managing Aggression in a Team – A Short Tale

Cute Pug, Angry Expression!

The cricket coach had some wise words for his team. This team was reeling under pressure to perform and was marred by penalties imposed on key players due to their overly aggressive behavior on the field. Coach knew that some course correction was required.

“Aggression” he said, “is a double edged sword. If used correctly, aggression can lead to improved performance. It elevates the intensity of your game”.

The coach continued, “I like to call this ‘good aggression’ because it is instrumental in generating new energy within the team. As a team, we must be aggressive but only assertively. The purpose of our aggression is to help ‘ourselves’ not to harm others.”

The team was slowly realizing their folly.

“What I call as ‘bad aggression’ makes us hostile, unfriendly and negative because we try to draw our energy from negating and obstructing others. It may improve our performance in a short term but is not healthy in a longer run. The energy within us manifests itself in many ways and aggression is just one of the ways our energy comes out. We only need to positively direct this energy.” the coach said.

He then asked the team to think about how some of the greatest players in the history of cricket handled their own aggression. After a few quiet moments, the team members realized that best players always kept their aggression in their bellies, not in their heads. They were able to channelize this aggressive energy into a constructive one.

When the team returned to nets for practice sessions, they knew they had a choice to exercise. They chose to be constructively aggressive. No snide remarks on the field, no dissent, no fierce expressions and no more clenching of fists; just a consistent focus on performance of the self and the team.

The coach silently observed them from a distance and smiled because he knew the players had learned something that will not only improve their conduct in sport but also in their lives!

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P.S.: I participated in a corporate cricket tournament recently and this post is partly inspired by my lessons from the tournament and conversations around each game.

Sports, Life and Leadership: A Game and a Few Lessons

Table Tennis

When it comes to playing table tennis (ping pong), I like hitting hard smacks. But in this particular game, the opponents were playing defensively. The first few times I tried smacking the ball, I lost the points.

Just then, my doubles partner whispered something in my ears, “Reciprocate your game. Don’t just play your style, but adapt to how they are playing.”  When I did adapt, my game stabilized and that added some pressure on the opponents. I learned that adaptability and contextual alignment is so important – be it family, work or a game of ping pong!

I acted on my partners advice and focused on just one simple thing: pass the ball consistently to the other side of net. No heroic shots when simple shots can do. The opponents lost a few points just trying hard to disrupt my rhythm. I realized that doing simple things consistently over long haul and improvising every single time  can sometimes be more powerful than doing something drastic or heroic in a spurt.

“Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” – John Wooden


In a yet another singles game, my opponent was anxious. A technically sound player, he took his game too seriously. He practiced through the day and would clinch his fists to curse himself every time he played a wrong shot. The driving force behind his hard practice was an imaginary fear of failure; that kept him from really enjoying his game. By the time game started, he was already exhausted! When your practice matures, it should help you gain more composure, not more anxiety!

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Don’t miss first part of this post (written in 2010) – A Few Parallels Between Sports, Life and Leadership

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Photo Courtesy: Theunis Viljoen’s Flickr Photostream

In 100 Words: Brian Dyson On Life Priorities

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them work, family, health, friends and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same.” Brian Dyson, CEO, Coca-Cola

A good life is all about balancing these balls!

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Image Courtesy: Joe Juggler: The Art of Juggling

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

In 100 Words: Every End is a New Beginning

Tanmay Vora's Flickr Photostream

In one of the podcasts I have, the host tells an interesting story.

While sitting on an airplane next to a gardener, she asked him for one gardening tip. The gardener replied, “My #1 gardening tip is: all plants/flower are only meant to live a certain amount of time. Try to make them live any longer and it makes you a bad gardener!

All good things must come to an end, yet it is human nature to cling on to what works and stretch it till it breaks.

It’s okay if it ends because every end marks a new beginning.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

In 100 Words: Riding a Bike

Yesterday, I taught my daughter how to ride a bike. It was as good as teaching her how to lead her own life. In the process, I learned:

That you need to keep pedaling to move forward; that we build confidence as we go; that learning may not always be smooth, failing and getting up again are a part of the game; that you have to acknowledge the fear but not be immobilized by it; that you cannot move forward by looking back; that our balance depends on how we adjust; that each experience of freedom and adventure shapes us.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Posts

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Photo Courtesy: Dr. Setu Vora

12 Lessons on Life and Leadership From Photography

When you take up a new passion, it is so amazing to see how things unfold. Since last few years, I have turned into a photography enthusiast, an avid learner of the art. No, I am not taking any formal photography classes but am learning it by doing in my spare time. You can view my photographic adventures at Flickr.

In Hindi, the word “Drishti” means vision. In Sanskrit, it means a focused and concentrated gaze. Photography requires both. Here are some life and leadership lessons that pursuit of photography has enriched me with:

1. Photography has shown me that life is more beautiful that we think it is; all you need is to see it through a right set of lens (attitude).

2. If you are intentional, you can notice extra-ordinary elements even in most ordinary things and people.

3. It has taught me the importance of seeing, noticing the details and appreciating the elements may not be visible but can still be felt.

4. Someone said, “To photograph a bird, you need to be a part of the silence.” Photography teaches me to remain silent and immerse myself in the current moment. Only then, the magnificent reveals itself.

5. To get your shots right, you need a lot of patience. If you don’t get the right shot, take another. The key is to keep clicking, trying and looking.

6. Sometimes, even most mundane things can extend some profound perspectives. That noticing and enjoying small things is important.

7. What is within invariably manifests itself through our work. We express ourselves with our work and this is true for photography, writing, leadership and everything else we do.

8. Preparation is the key. You have to keep your batteries charged.

9. Create memories even when moments right now may not seem very significant. But with passage of time, those moments get very precious. Life is in the moments.

10. Photography keeps me hooked to possibility thinking. Everything can be seen in multiple perspectives. There are angles and dimensions to everything, only if we are open enough to explore them and pick the right ones.

11. Getting good shots is as much serendipity as preparation. Plan for things, prepare well but never forget that most good shots have an element of serendipity into it. We need to remain open to unexpected encounters and happy accidents, for they shape a great deal of us.

12. Finally, tools and equipments only enhance the vision and are almost never a substitute of a powerful vision. That intrinsic is more powerful than extrinsic.

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Join in the Conversation: Do you engage in alternative pursuits beyond your core area of work? What do you learn from them?

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Also Recommended: Engaging in Alternative ‘Creative Pursuit’ to Be More Effective

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A Few Parallels Between Sports, Life and Leadership

Last few months, I have been playing Table Tennis regularly. From a complete novice to a reasonably comfortable player has been a wonderful road so far. With each game, I am getting more confident because I learn some new tricks, understand the nuances and find better ways to handle different situations.

For example, when I was a novice, I would not attempt to even respond when the opponent smashed the ball. The ball comes at a great speed and how can you possibly respond to that? I recently conquered that fear, and just attempted to get the blade in line of the ball to respond. And it worked to amaze everyone around. The lesson? In our game/profession/life there will be difficult situations. You can either put your guns down and be a victim, or you can at least try to handle them. Things only work out when we do something about it.

Another example. In Tennis, we have no control over the opponent. What they will come back with, which direction they will hit the ball, how will they spin the ball is all unknown. But when the opponent does something drastic, we quickly align ourselves, stretch a bit, run a bit and get to the ball. The lesson? When we have no control over the external situations (economy, markets, unforeseen circumstances etc), readiness to adapt is the single most valued skill that we can develop as human beings.

Okay, the last one. I almost never scored points when I played safe shots. Because in the game, when I play a safe (or modest) shot, the opponent invariably hits it hard and scores a point. The whole idea of the game is that you have to play that one short more than your opponent. That gave me a very important lesson – we have to take calculated risks often to be able to win. Playing safe is still okay if you are playing to pass your time. But to win, you have to approach the game differently and be persistent.

We can draw a lot of parallels between sports, life and leadership – because ultimately, all of these are a way to express ourselves better. We have to bring ourselves to the game and how we play it matters more than how we finish.

That’s what every sport teaches us! Have a GREAT start into the week.

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What have you learned in 2008?

Year 2008 is coming to an end. Each year in our lives is like a chapter in a book that teaches us something. We evolve with each year and 2008 was no different. I would remember 2008 as a year that taught me a great deal about life and people. I met a lot of new people, travelled new places, tried different things and tried to make the most of my time with family – in the process I grew as a person. So what have I learned in 2008?

I have learned that…

work and life are not two different things – if you follow your passion, boundaries between work and life fade away. Work is love made visible! Retirement means loving what you do.

… leadership is about being adaptable and taking up new initiatives. To grow as a leader, one has to adapt and move with evolution in the organization.

hard work matters. Planning is important but results can only be generated by execution and hard work. As Tom Peters says – “You only get oil if you drill wells” – rephrasing this means that “You only get results if you execute”.

persistence is the key in sticking to the initiative and see it through. As Seth Godin says, “Persistence is having the same goal over and over.”

… if you wait to be happy, you will never be happy. If you are happy now, you will be happy forever. Joy is an outcome of pursuing your passions. Joy is instant. We chase happiness and fail to be joyful.

doing more on less is certainly more productive than doing more with less. More focus on less priorities delivers outstanding results.

getting into a comfort zone is dangerous (for business as well as for careers). Managers/Leaders need to constantly introspect, ask difficult questions to self and be on the edge.

… naysayers are important people who will push you to do better. Sometimes, cost of lost opportunity is more than cost of failure. Pursue your convictions and ignore the naysayers.

… if you want initiatives, give independence. 3M is a great example of how innovation happens with independence. Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative.

perfection at anything has to be an ongoing process. Initiatives, decisions or progress on project cannot wait just because you are trying to attain perfection at first go. Do something and then perfect it should be the mantra.

… if leaders/managers embrace some core properties of motherhood (care, nurture, help, support and be compassionate) – workplaces can be much different.

learning to say no is a very important career skill – more so in case of project management.

effort and execution is even more important in troubled times. We have no control on external economic situation. But we do have control on what we do and how we do it. Excellence in execution is very crucial to survive and thrive in troubled times.

… one has to break the mental chain that keeps us from taking certain decisions. When we don’t do this, our decisions heavily depend on old facts and outmoded conventions. This is referred to as “elephantine decision making”. Decision making is largely about mental programming.

people need to be treated well when they make mistakes. This just reinforces their trust and confidence.

Each year, I learn that life is a gift – I learn to cherish this gift. I learn be thankful.


End game of life – An important lesson

Recently in a Management Development Program, we were asked “How would you like people to remember you after you die?” We were given 15 minutes to think about it and write it on a piece of paper. Amazingly, one common thought that figured on all 45 participants’ list was – “I want to be remembered as a good human being”. That means, the end game of our lives is “to be good” and not only “to be super rich” or “be super successful” – and that was a great realization.

It is great to have goals for career success and attain things that matter to us. But in this journey of attainment, we must never forget to be good to others.  That is what I learnt from this experience.

On the same lines, I loved this paragraph from Peggy Noonan’s “A Life’s Lesson” on Wall Street Journal where she writes –

In a way, the world is a great liar. It shows you it worships and admires money, but at the end of the day it doesn’t. It says it adores fame and celebrity, but it doesn’t, not really. The world admires, and wants to hold on to, and not lose, goodness. It admires virtue. At the end it gives its greatest tributes to generosity, honesty, courage, mercy, talents well used, talents that, brought into the world, make it better. That’s what it really admires. That’s what we talk about in eulogies, because that’s what’s important. We don’t say, “The thing about Joe was he was rich.” We say, if we can, “The thing about Joe was he took care of people.”

How wonderful! The article ends with an even more thought provoking question  –

“Question: When you die, are people in your profession going to feel your loss? Why not? What can you do better? When you leave, are your customers—in Tim’s case it was five million every Sunday morning, in your case it may be the people who come into the shop, or into your office—going to react like this? Why not?”

Time to ruminate and seek answers! More on this in the posts to come.