Move And The Way Appears

I am a big fan of taking small, daily steps in the direction where your energy takes you. I started this blog 11 years back with very insignificant posts that no one read. My first sketch note a couple of years back was far from being good. My first steps towards a health and wellness were slow and tentative. But how does that matter?

Because, those first few insignificant posts did not deter me from moving forward. I wrote, and wrote more. And as I did that, I learned how it works. I did more of what worked and here we are – a blog with tens of thousands of readers each month, sharing their encouragement to me via comments, likes and shares on several social channels. This blog has a life of its own.

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things bought together.” – Vincent Van Gogh

I remember I was hesitant in sharing my first sketch note. But less than 2 years after I shared the first one, the sketch notes have gone viral – from social media to global conferences to office walls to being included in books. When I started, did I have a purpose to make them viral? I just knew that I enjoyed making them, learning along the way and improving all the time. I was pursuing joy and suddenly, the way started appearing. 

“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid of only standing still.” – Chinese Proverb

I lost significant weight (nearly 12% of my total body weight) in past 4 months.  My big plan was to move one small step at a time – read a bit about what it takes, take small steps towards cleaner eating, do small changes in lifestyle, get more active and suddenly, it all started revealing. Lessons came to the fore as a result of moving forward slowly, daily and steadily.

My biggest lesson in learning is:

It doesn’t matter what you wish to do. It never happens in one big bang. Instead, it happens in a series of small steps taken with an open mind, learning along each step and putting that learning back into the next step. And then it grows, purpose reveals and you are on a journey before you realize. Forward motion, however small, feeds our esteem and inspires us.

Purpose may not always be the starting point of your journey. Sometimes, you start the journey and the purpose reveals itself.

And who knows, small steps you take in the direction of your heart may open up new paths for you and inspire others? Small is never insignificant, but a powerful step towards a higher purpose.

Move, and the way appears! 


A Round-up of Related Posts at QAspire to add to the conversation:

In 100 Words: Face The Light

 

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

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

I instinctively told myself,

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

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

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

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


Also Read at QAspire:

Two Ways to Respond to Anxiety

The anxiety we feel when we are worried about an uncertain outcome (or guessing our failure before it happens) can be very disabling. We fight it out to an extent that the only thing we really do is defend our ground. When we are focused on defending, minimizing our exposure to anxiety, complying and cruising along the path of minimum resistance, we can hardly create anything meaningful.

Then there is another kind of anxiety that results from your eagerness to do something – to make something happen. Sure, there is a strong element of apprehension here as well which is why it is a kind of anxiety. But the focus here is to beat anxiety by raising the bar, changing the frame of reference and explore newer boundaries. 

If you are set out to do anything meaningful, anxiety is a part of the game. Embrace it and you will make it. Let it embrace you and you stall.

Fear of failure in advance is very human. It is our response that makes it a limiting force or a creative force. In fact, history tells us that no meaningful creation has ever happened without anxiety.

As Henry Ward Beecher very aptly said,

“Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with handle of anxiety or the handle of faith.”

So, what does this mean for leaders?

If you are a leader at any level, choosing your response to anxiety (your own or your team’s apprehensions) is so critical. Your team can only do better when they are encouraged to acknowledge the fear and look beyond it for possibilities.

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!

What Creating Sketchnotes Taught Me About #Learning

There are people who stick to their primary pursuits for long and then there are those whose energy keeps changing direction. Between these two extremes, there are people who stick to their primary pursuit but still manage to go wherever their energy takes them. I have figured out that I belong to that middle path.

My alternative pursuits like writing, blogging, photography, social media etc. are my source of creative energy that helps me become more effective at work. The goal of these learning experiments is simple: to experience deeply, learn immersively and share generously.

The latest addition to these learning experiments is sketch noting. If you are reading this blog regularly, you would have noticed that every post has a sketch note – a visual representation of ideas in one page.

Inspired by a post from Abhijit Bhaduri and work of Mike Rohde, I started sketch noting ideas two months back and sharing them here. Each week, I created two sketch notes on ideas that really resonated with me out of so many things that I read/saw daily. I enhanced my visual library by studying other sketch notes for illustrations and fonts. I created about 25+ sketch notes in two months and most of these were widely acknowledged via shares, likes, re-tweets and comments.

Learning becomes even more purposeful when you know others are using your creations meaningfully. Folks at NHS, UK converted my sketch note on 6 Rules of Change into a poster. Some authors requested their ideas in form of sketch notes so they can use it for promotional purposes. People shared these sketch notes in their classes, meetings and even during conferences. Australian HR Institute’s HRMOnline featured my sketch note in their weekly round up video.

And along the way, I found interesting new applications of this newfound skill. I created handmade “thank you” cards to appreciate people in my team. I experimented with creating sketch quotes – a sketch that adds a different dimension to a quote by someone else. I eventually used sketch note as a presentation for my talk recently. All of this in about 2 months as a side project!

But then, all this started as a learning experiment. So what did I learn about learning while learning how to create sketch notes? Here we go.

  • Everything you do (or have done) connects: I cleared a state level architecture entrance exam back in 1995 (right after my schooling) for which I worked on my sketching/drawing skills. I could not secure admission and I thought it was all a waste of my time. But when I started creating sketch notes, that practice came in handy. I just had to hone it. Here is my big take away: Not everything we do yields instant rewards and not all rewards are visible. And yet, everything we do (or have done) helps us somewhere in some unique way. Knowing this is the key to synthesize our skills and lessons to create or address a unique context. 
  • Intersections are powerful: Explicit learning deals with absolutes and absolutes are crowded with a lot of commoditized knowledge. Real learning (tacit) happens at the intersection of two or more things. That is where ideas overlap and innovation happens. People create sketch notes about everything – travel, to do lists, notes and so on. I decided to create sketch notes on business topics I care about. That way, I can bring in my own ideas, experiences and interpretations to the illustrations. This is where my ability to represent visually intersects with my interest in the topic and my unique experiences.
  • Learn, Do, Share, Adapt: The first sketch note I created was quite naive (and unfinished) but I still gathered courage to share it on Twitter. Almost instantly, people responded affirmatively. This led to more creation, sharing, feedback and hence improvement. I gained confidence at each stage of this cycle. When we learn from open networks, it is our obligation to give it back in whatever form we can. The feedback, encouragement and support we receive from these networks is just a huge bonus. We need to “learn out loud.” Or as Harold Jarche puts it, co-create knowledge by adding value to existing knowledge through our unique perspectives.
  • Going where your energy takes you is NOT a waste of time: We often think of “return on investment” when learning. But our best learning happens when we learn out of joy. Everything that I have learned so far (personally as well as professionally), I have learned because I was drawn towards it. All I had to do was go with the flow rather than resisting it. And the great thing is – when you learn out of joy, you will never feel like you did a lot of “hard work” to learn. Learning then becomes a way of life.
  • Visual is powerful: Writing about things is a great way to learn but words alone are not sufficient to make the connection between ideas visible. And it is not about drawing skills at all. It is about making the connections between ideas visible, even if it is on your whiteboard. For me, representing ideas in sketch note form allows them to penetrate deeper into my sub-conscious. Research says that doodling improves learning and I’ve experienced it first hand!
  • Excitement is contagious: Learning things builds your mental muscles and generate a different positive energy within you which is contagious. One day, my 9 years old daughter walked up to me with a request to teach her how to create a sketch note. She saw me doodling and instantly wanted to do it. A few people in my teams attempted to represent their project related ideas in form of basic sketch notes. I instantly knew that if I am inspired by learning journeys of others, my own journey may be inspiring others. It is both a privilege and a responsibility.

We learn by seeing (visual), hearing (auditory), reading/writing and doing (kinesthetic). What is fascinating about sketch noting is that it brings all these modes of learning in the game as soon as you start scribbling your ideas onto that blank piece of paper.

I am so looking forward to lessons this journey unfolds from here.

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Additional Resources for sketchnote enthusiasts:

  1. Read a sample chapter from Mike Rohde’s book “The Sketchnote Handbook
  2. The sketchnote podcast by Mike Rohde is a great way to learn the fundamentals.
  3. See the work of beginners featured at Sketchnotearmy.com

Skills For Future Success in a Disruptive World of Work

My dad retired as a Library Science professional soon after which the profession of Library management was transformed by digital forces. With the rise of digital content, we now needed different kind of librarians who could help us walk through this maze of information and find what we need, not just deal with only physical books. The way libraries are structured and run has completely changed (and it continues to evolve).

In past 15 years, we have seen number of businesses being disrupted or transformed completely by digital forces. This may accelerate in future with the continuous rise in automation.

Experts predict that we are heading towards a “jobless future” and that it is both an opportunity and a threat. Even if we don’t think too much about what happens over a long frame of time, we can still agree that what bought us here (technical skills, expertise etc) may not be sufficient to take us towards success in a volatile future. What skills do we need more of as we head into future?

I read an interesting (and long) post by Janna Q. Anderson titled “The Robot Takeover is Already Here where she says –

“Skills young people should be learning to be prepared for a career in 2020 include:

  • The ability to concentrate, to focus deeply.
  • The ability to distinguish between the “noise” and the message in the ever-growing sea of information.
  • The ability to do public problem solving through cooperative work.
  • The ability to search effectively for information and to be able to discern the quality and veracity of the information one finds and then communicate these findings well.
  • Synthesizing skills (being able to bring together details from many sources).
  • The capability to be futures-minded through formal education in the practices of horizon-scanning, trends analysis and strategic foresight.”

Here are a few skills that I would like to add along for succeeding now and in future.

  • The ability to learn constantly in a self-directed mode
  • Social Intelligence and ability to connect with people beyond geographical barriers virtually in a deep/meaningful way and collaborate.
  • Adaptive mindset to evolve the thinking and learning to keep pace with the pace of changes around us.
  • Interdisciplinary thinking (more here)
  • Critical thinking (more here)

“The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not in fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

The future that comes to us (and generations to come) will always be uncertain and outside of our control. The key to navigate through uncertainty is to focus inwards on developing agility in skills, learning and mindset – all of which are completely in our control.

Update 29.07.2016 – And here is a sketch note version of Fast Company’s article “These Will Be The Top Jobs In 2025 (And The Skills You’ll Need To Get Them)

Hidden Strengths – Unleashing The Leadership Skills You Already Have

Most people ascend to leadership positions based on their areas of natural strengths. Tools like SWOT analysis also focus excessively on two things: strengths and weaknesses. So, our natural response as leaders is to leverage our strengths and improve on areas of our weakness. Yes?

But there is a large space between our strengths and weaknesses that which is hidden. Authors Thuy Sindell and Milo Sindell calls this space as “Hidden Strengths” in their new book by the same name. About 70% of our skills fall in this hidden space where we are neither excelling nor failing. And according to authors, our focusing on our hidden strengths provide a very fertile ground for our leadership and professional growth.

The book points to research which states that,

“Effective leaders evolve and grow throughout their careers, whereas failed leaders get stuck in a pattern of overusing their strength to the point of staleness.”

After a while, overusing our strengths may just turn out to be one of our weaknesses. And therefore, it is vital to first know the hidden strengths and then work to develop in those areas.

Our natural strengths are an intersection between our talents, knowledge and skills. However, the possibility of having natural strengths is only to an extent of 20%, i.e. your top 20% of skills. For rest of the skills there are missing pieces.

This book can be your effective guide in identifying those missing pieces. To do that, this book provides an overview of 28 skill areas that are divided into four categories:

  • Leading Self: How aware are you of your skills and limitations? How strong is your ability to self-regulate?
  • Leading Others: How do you interact with others in the organization?
  • Leading the Organization: To what extent do you think about the direction of the organization and how you function within it?
  • Leading Implementation: How are you ensuring that things get done?

Knowing that constant learning is our biggest competitive advantage in a rapidly changing world, we all try hard to develop our skills in areas we think we need to improve. But having a handy guide like this book can provide a definite direction to your self-development efforts.

This is a compact 80 page book that is not preachy in its tone, doesn’t offer any quick fix models but just outlines the premise, key skills and why they are important. Free online profiling of hidden strengths that comes with this book  also complements for brevity in content.

Whether you are a leader looking for improving your skills further or an aspiring leader, this book will offer useful insights into some of the key skills that contribute to great leadership.

Specialization is a Journey, Not a Destination

I recently read this amazing quote from Robert A Heinlein which nicely captures the essence of my own belief about learning and specialization.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, fight efficiently, die gallantly.

Specialization is for insects.”

Let me share a story of my friend who was laid off in the 2002 dot com bust. He worked on a technology that was on its way to obscurity. After he was asked to leave, my friend walks up to his boss and talks about what organization needed then. Boss talked about a customer who wanted people who could work on a shiny new programming language. My friend took up the challenge to retool himself on this new technology in one month with a condition that if he failed at client interview, he will walk out voluntarily.

He worked very hard to learn the new language. Before he completed one month of his notice period, he not only cleared the interview with a customer but also landed on foreign shores for an onsite opportunity.

From a layoff situation to an exciting new possibility in a very tough economic environment is a truly inspiring story of our ability to reinvent ourselves.

We live in times when change is not only constant but unnervingly rapid and our ability to learn constantly is the single biggest differentiator. My friend demonstrated learning agility as a response to a tough situation. But we, in this hyper-connected world, don’t need to wait for any rude shocks. We have glorious opportunity because knowledge is democratized and ubiquitous. Connecting meaningfully with others has never been so easy, provided we are intentional about it.

Specialization is not a destination but a journey. Of constant learning. Of applying our lessons in unique business contexts. Of evolving our comprehension and connecting the dots. Of sharing our lessons generously. Of doing something about what we know. Of picking up new skills. Of adopting and adapting.  Of staying hungry and foolish forever.

I have seen so many specialists who cannot let go of what they know already. When fixed knowledge is the only hammer you have, every problem you encounter will start looking like a nail.

The key is to NOT let that happen!

Information is not Knowledge, Knowledge is not Wisdom

“Information is not knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

This is even more true in a hyper-connected world where access to information is abundant. Having more information can, at the best, make you look smart at the tea party but it does not move a needle, unless you do something about what you already know.

We need to move up in the DIKW hierarchy which attempts to define relationship between Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom.

Data is discrete collection of signs, symbols and letters. When described properly in a certain frame of reference, data becomes information.

The truth is – knowledge happens when information meets experience, values, contextual understanding about the specific situations, application, intuition and beliefs. Real knowledge is the synthesis of all these. The act of constant learning is the act of constantly synthesizing information with experiences. The act of constantly bridging the gap between what we know and what we do.

Knowledge provides a roadmap to address situations and contextual challenges. But are you solving the right problems for the right reasons?  That is wisdom – the “why” of things we do. Information is “what” and knowledge is” “how”.

Sandra Carey puts it beautifully –

“Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living. The other helps you make a life.”

Knowledge looks at procedures, methods and application. Wisdom looks at objectives – it clarifies the purpose. And, methods are only useful when purpose is clear.

That is what we need more of – in life and in organizations. Without purpose and clarity, all the techniques, processes and knowledge that we have in our kitty will only add to complexity. What we need is exactly the opposite.

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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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: Humility, Life and Leadership

Humility

In that leadership workshop, the trainer and the participants were discussing about the importance of humility in life and leadership. Some people defined humility as ‘modesty’ while others said it was about ‘seeing the self as a means to an end and not an end in itself.’

After listening carefully, the trainer said, “Humility is like the banks of a river that gives direction to the flowing water without possessing it.

“In life and leadership, we are only great to an extent we empower others without having any pride in possessing them. It’s about standing with people, not above them.”

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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A Note of Gratitude: to our friend Kurt Harden (at Cultural Offering) for including QAspire Blog in his annual list “25 Blogs Guaranteed to Make Your Smarter

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

6 Lessons On Creating a Lasting Influence

Influence

Mahatma Gandhi, as we know, was a simple man who had no position, no wealth, no power and no authority. Yet, he altered the course of history by leading India to Independence through power of people. How could a man with no formal authority take on an empire and influence the hearts and minds of so many people across the country?

Gandhi’s impact is a testimony to the fact that you don’t need positional power to influence others. No matter who you are or where you are in the order, you can make a difference.

Every time I think of influence, I think of Gandhi. He worked with others and through others to achieve his objectives. In the process, he never compromised on his own principles.

In an organizational context, ability to influence is at the heart of a leader’s success in driving changes, building great teams, delivering results and implementing the strategic vision. At an individual level, your ability to influence others is at the core of building relationships, creating a network and achieving your goals.

How does one generate influence? What are the building blocks to be considered? Here is what I have learned about generating influence:

  1. Having substance is a pre-requisite for generating influence. An empty vessel only makes more noise. Having real accomplishments, experience, subject matter expertise, passion for the subject and credibility are the foundations on which influence can happen.
  2. Trust, as in leadership, is the currency of influence. People get influenced and change only when they trust you. People trust you when you deliver what you promise, speak from your heart and be integral and ethical.
  3. Thought leadership accelerates trust and hence influence. When you challenge conventional beliefs, advance the ideas and provide new points of view, people get engaged and start trusting. Gandhi’s idea of non-violence serves as a great example of thought leadership.
  4. Influence spreads on pollens of generous actions. The process of influencing others start with a genuine intention to share and contribute first. It is not about what you want to say, but what helps others.
  5. Only intention is not enough, commitment is the key. Influence is rarely generated overnight. It requires commitment, patience and being persistent over a long time.
  6. Real influence provokes change. Influence is only valuable when it provokes change in how people operate and think; when it inspires them to take required action. It is a myth that just having an audience and followers means influence.

Join in the conversation: Who are you influenced by? What are specific qualities that you are influenced by? Share your lessons!

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In case you have missed:

How to Prepare Well: 3 Lessons

A man giving finishing touch to a stone, Vijaynagar, Gujarat.

A few years back, I was coordinating the interview process of my team members with the client before they start working on the client projects. My team members were not fully confident because they had never faced a client interview before. To build their confidence, we planned three mock interview sessions where I would play the role of a client. We did these interviews in-person and over-the-call. With each call, the confidence increased and communication was tuned for clarity. In the real interview, they did well and client was happy with how candidates represented their skills.

Candidates did well because they were prepared. They practiced, rehearsed and improved before the final show.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

Preparation is so important yet so ignored in corporate environment where we see people representing things without preparing. They do meetings, discussions, calls and even address large groups of people without preparing. They think they would “go with the flow” and “take things as they come.” But they don’t realize that being unprepared, in lean terms, is a huge cost and sometimes, it costs a reputation!

The work “prepare” comes from Latin praeparare which means ‘to make ready beforehand’. Preparation (or lack of it) has been a major determinant in my successes and failures so far. Preparation sharpens your saw, equips you to deliver better and with greater confidence.

Based on my experiences so far, here are some of my lessons on how to prepare well:

  1. Purpose drives preparation. It helps to get clear about “why” you are doing what you are doing. If the purpose and end result is not clearly visible, your preparation may lack enthusiasm and direction. If you are a leader, your #1 job is to first clarify purpose before you start helping your team with preparation.
  2. It is not just about content, but also about context. The art of preparation is not just about the content of your outcome but also the context in which the outcome is delivered. E.g. you have mastered your pitch (content) for that client presentation but you also need to know client’s business, their expectations, key stakeholders and the bigger picture. Context is a part of your preparation.
  3. Preparation should allow you to be more flexible, not rigid. I have seen people who prepare well on content but if things don’t go as planned, they just freeze because they failed to consider the alternatives, variables and how they would respond to it. It is very much a part of your preparation. No matter how well you prepare, uncertainty is almost inevitable and hence preparation should help you remain agile and adaptable to changing situations.

Over to you: If there is one lesson you have to share about the art of preparing well, what would that be?

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Also check out my newest post on Pearson TalentLens Blog: 10 Most Important Traits of a Leader Who Thinks Critically

How To Get Better? Focus on ‘Touch Time’

In manufacturing, “touch-time” is when the raw material actually touches the machinery and moves one level up in the production cycle. In a factory, more capacity to produce does not yield results if “touch-time” is low. In lean methodology, it is also referred to as “processing time”.

As a professional, you have required skills and knowledge that increases your capacity to deliver. But that is of no use if your “professional touch-time” is less i.e. time when your unique abilities and talents are at work to produce meaningful results. In a typical work day, how often do we get sucked into activities that adds no or little value but just ends up filling the time?

If you are a programmer, what percentage of your time is spent in actually writing/improving code and building awesomeness into your software? If you are a sales professional, how much of productive time do you spend on reporting/MIS versus actually talking to a prospect and making a sale? If you are a CEO, how much of your time goes into driving strategy versus implementing tactics? If you are a writer, how many hours per day goes into actual writing?

When you are in “touch” with your work, you become better. You concentrate. You start spotting opportunities to improve. You optimize it. Nuances of your work start showing up. You build a serious expertise and get creative. You start adding “real value” to the customers.

The only way to improve quality of our work is to do the real work – not just preparing for it, but doing it.

Critical questions then are: When did you last measure how you spend your productive time in the day? What is your professional touch-time?

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In 100 Words: At the Right Place?

 

A baby camel once asked the mother, “Why do we have a hump?” Mother camel replied, “We are desert animals and we need hump to store water.”

Curious, the baby asked further, “Why do we have long rounded legs and long eyelashes?” The mother proudly replied, “Long legs help us walk in desert and eyelashes protect us from desert sand and wind.”

The baby said, “Oh! We have everything we need to survive in a desert. Then what the hell are we doing in a zoo?”

Skills, knowledge and abilities are only useful if you are at the right place.

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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: There is No Bad Weather

A retired weatherman was once questioned by a friend, “What kind of weather is it going to be tomorrow?”

“The kind of weather I am going to love,” was the instant response with a gentle smile on his wrinkled face. “How do you know that it will be the weather you will love?” the friend was curious.

The weatherman went on to explain, “35 years in weather department has taught me just one thing: there is no bad weather, only different kinds of good weather. To make the most of everything that doesn’t go as planned is an attitude thing!”

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables