Tag Archives: leadership

What Superwoman Lilly Singh taught me about Life, and Management

28 May

Lilly Singh

5,747,586 – that’s how many subscribers Lily Singh a.k.a Superwoman has! I was at her last show in India a couple days ago, and my ear drums are still ringing with the constant screaming of some 800 kids – mainly girls, who showed me what stereotypical celebrity concert hysteria is!

I had a very interesting and illuminating time actually – there was a pre concert “meet and greet”, where I saw teenagers crying and hyperventilating at the thought of meeting their idol, and then there were folks who came upto my kids and said – hey, we are making a vlog – come join. The kids then sang some snippets of things that seemed to afford them great entertainment. (For those interested, that vlog is called chicken tikka brothers) On the ride back, I asked the kids in the car – what was the difference between a vlog and a youtube channel; and they ALL – including my 9 year old, told me – the blog is just about her life, following her, what she does everyday etc; while the youtube channel is the funny videos she makes that made her famous. In the YT channel, she stages it – puts lights, has a table, has a good camera etc. So I asked them why then wd she have both? Why not only one? And the young one told me – Ma, not all subscribers are fans . So, NOT everyone is interested in following her life! Early lessons to learn on social media, huh!

Then also followed this very interesting discussion on “who’s the youtuber you follow most?” Names like PewDiePie (who has some — hold your breath — THIRTY SEVEN MILLION subscribers!!! What does he do? put up videos of himself gaming, apparently!), Tyler Oakley, 6.9 mil, who started the channel primarily on LGBT issues, but has since broadened – and was even on the Ellen Show, Zoella, 8.2 mil, who makes videos on beauty tips, Miranda Sings, 4 mil, who is the SAME apparently, only an off-kilter avatar, as Colleen Ballinger running PsychoSoprano – 2.4 mil subscribers! Then there are travel guys like JacksGap, 4 mil, music guys like KurtHugo Schneider, 4 mil, and Collins Key, 400K, on magic.

Then the little one had her own favourites to contribute – Bethany Mota, 8.7 mil, who basically puts DIY tips type stuff, Rosanna Pansino, 3.9 mil, who makes cooking videos, Merrelltwins, 292K who write on I don’t know what, Jacy and Kacy, 231k, who run craft and cooking tips, and “challenges” – “challenges” are the BIG thing – bad food challenge, rainbow loom challenge, make up challenge etc. etc.

But, for me, the whole experience brought forth some very interesting lessons/ parallels:

a) Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown:
It’s a pity, but popularity comes with its own onus of responsibility! I googled Lilly Singh post the show, and she pops up FIRST as motivational speaker! And truly, part of the show was about happiness (her “happy place” is Unicorn island, which is the name of her tour), and how kids should believe in themselves; and how she picked herself up post severe depression, and how life is hard, but you most probably will get to see your dreams fulfilled if you work really really hard – but that being said, the hardest piece of work she ever did was to pick her up from depression and learn to be happy.

superwoman

I was like – woooaaaah – THIS is the funny Lilly Singh? But, then my daughter told me – “ma, she gets millions of letters fromm people who were very depressed and they tell her that watching her videos made them get out of depression, and cancer patients who tell her listening to her make them feel so much better etc…“.

But I was like – omg, poor kid! Here she was, just trying to have a good time, and then she is saddled with this whole 6 mil people, and she cannot say trashy stuff, and she cannot let them down…blah blah blah.

Folks in any kind of leadership position in any role will empathise – the minute you have fans/ followers/ subordinates/ children – you jolly well watch each and every thing you do/ say/ eat etc…as a senior leader in the org that took over my startup once told me, I really want you and your co founders to join me leadership – it’s really lonely at the top!

On this note, I just read this article on Kangana Ranaut declining an ad endorsement deal for INR 2 crores coz she didnt want to propogate the idea of fair skin! Way to go, and that’s a true example of responsibility beding executed well

b) Brand Reputation – and its sphere of influence:
So, as opposed to the screaming hyperventilating, sometimes crying teenagers, I was viewing the show on its own merit – I watch a lot of shows, and don’t watch a lot of youtube. So, to me, each of her famous lines were NOT famous, and her clever references, just words! What that meant was that i wasn’t in it for the celebrity/ fan-dom thingie at all, but just to watch a stand up comic-ish person.
Now, don’ get me wrong, I like her videos – I think she is funny, has a knack for hitting the right spot, and is very good at mimicry. But, as a stand alone performance her SHOW was , I wd say, just average! Then what price the screaming hysterical kids? Even post show, every child I spoke to, luuurrrved her/ thought she was rilly rilly funny etc..
I figured it was because she has built up a super image and fan base – so she cd get by, by just “referring to” her popular stuff on her videos – whether it is her collaborator Humble the poet and their songs, e.g., IVIVI, her parent characters, Paramjeet Singh (who says don’t wear Mini skirts and don’t talk to boys, and eat “jogurt”; and Manjeet Singh (who gives tips for spicyness and “seskiness”) , her superwoman gestures….whatever. After all, when the audience is in a mood to be overwhelmed, they WILL be.

It’s like the parallel with brands – they spend megabucks on advertising to build a brand – so that, sometimes when the actual product is not so great, the brand carries it through (for a while Google Glass maybe could be placed in this category. Oh btw, did you know that Google Glass may be coming back?). Or, in services examples, say Accenture builds up this formidable rep, and post that wins many deals on rep alone (nyaaahhh, doesn’t happen – but deal making does becaome easier)

The catch here is ofcourse that real brand value has to be delivered sooner rather than later. In this case, I’m sure it will be. But, does make you think about brand building, reputation and extensions (talking about “joghurt”, remember cosmopolitan yogurt?)
cosmopolitan-yogurt

c) RFC:
You’ve got to hand it to these youtubers – they really know the mantra for global appeal – and now even I’ve figured it out! You have to be either funny, (Superwoman is very very funny on her videos), “cool” – now this is a relatively more difficult to describe word, or well, not to decsribe coz we all know what cool is to us; but to enact/ BE! But I am guessing cool becomes cool more by outcome than by the input/ action – so it’s how your peers and idols behave when faced with this aspiring cool thing that determines if a thing is cool. But I also see, that most often, success comes with REAL stuff – stuff that’s straight from the heart, stuff that resonates with the audience and is not faked. To give kids their due, today’s kids are very very quick at detecting “fake” – and they react therefore positively to stuff that’s NOT. Lilly spoke about true life experiences, and touched upon stuff that ALL in the audience, whether 9 yr old like my young one, 14 like my older one, or close to 50 like their mom – could nod at!
(An interesting side piece of analysis seems to be that most of the youtubers I mentioned above are 26 – is that the sweet spot age for success?)
This I think is a great lesson for management folks, and also advertisers – actually, why stop there – parents, teachers, husbands, wives, you name it! It’s best to be atleast 2 out of the RFC trio to create success – but obviously, the R is the most important – it lets you reach people, and, as I have said before, it really is about the people!

dashavatar-lord-vishnu-indian-mythology

d) The Art of the Split Personality
In our time, what you saw was what you got – maybe we had a school face and a home face, but that was it! Now, one has (and maybe should have), a school group 1 face, a teacher face, a school group 2 face, a home face, a facebook face, a snapchat face, a whatsap one, a linkedin face, a vine, a youtube, a …a….a! (Btw, as you may remember from my earlier post, each face SHOULD behave differently atleast in the social media channels!
Lilly Singh, has what the kids called, her “parent” personalities – each of them is her obviously, each of them now has independent twitter, and what she called “instantgram” handles. Each of them (or, well, she dressed up as each of them), promoted and asked for subscription to, each of these handles. Each of them exists in a parallel universe!
Now, dont get me wrong, split or even multiple personalities are as old as time. From Vishnu’s dash-avatar or 10 incarnations; to Jekyll and Hyde; to Batman/ Bruce Wayne or Superman/ Clark Kent or Spiderman/ Peter Parker, we are familiar with all of them. But never have all personalities existed simultaneously – which brings me to the question – how do these kids deal with these? Is it a generational cohort thing? or just a byproduct of technology? And more worrying to me as a parent, what then is constant? (And, to refer to an earlier thread, how do they which is REAL?)
This btw, spins traditional marketing completely on its head, doesn’t it? STP – who do you target if the target is multiple? do you disambiguate this multiple personalities, or address each separately? If former, or even if latter, which ones?

e) New styles of Marketing:
i) Marketing is getting more aggressive – witness multiple avatar handles marketed at same time; promo tours; the whole digital landscape
ii) Its more crowd sourced – The entity being marketed doesn’t necessarily have to do it themselves – there are apps/ twitter handles/ vlogs ….AND people taking selfies/ pictures all the time to post
iii) Younger and younger kids now understand it

So the question seems to be – are kids getting stuff too early? is success/ gratification/ the trappings of the material world coming too early? Isn’t it better if kids remained kids?

Also, in the whole hurry to take pictures and post them, aren’t the kids missing out on the beauty of what the naked eye sees and remembers? Out of the 800 show attendees, atleast 90% had the video/ photo stuff on ALL the time (intact, Lilly even said – guys, you watch my videos on the net all the time- now that I’m here, watch me LIVE)

All in all, it was a super evening – the kids met an idol and were part of a hysterical mob and I learnt many things about kids and kids in mobs and youtubing and vlogs.
I think, all else notwithstanding, Superwoman is quite amazing, and, as I told her during the meet and greet – the world needs more like her!

Lilly Singh Superwoman

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Limiting Factors, Outliers, Managing Perception; and… Parenting!

18 Aug

Outliers Autographed

Outliers Definition

Parenting is, arguably, world’s toughest job!

The next probably is working out/ losing weight

And ofcourse, after that is managing a large work force 🙂

The correlation is not apparent – but, will be soon enough.

This thought actually got sparked off this morning as I was in my Aerobics class. I realised that over the one year I’ve been attending these classes, my trainer (and good friend) has considerably upped the level of the exercise regimen. This is actually sensible, since the bulk of her class is regulars – and obviously with continuous exercise, general fitness levels have increased – hence higher challenge levels required..In fact most students are now actively into running.

But, what I also realised is that N aims her class at the “stars” in the class – those as-fit-as-her, and as-Nazi-ish-about-fitness-as-she-is, people. Again, understandable, since those stars are a) able to follow the regimen best, b) show the effects best, but most importantly, c) challenge her to work harder at the training.

However, a corollary of N “speaking” to the best is that I get the feeling (probably unwarranted) that she doesn’t then focus so much on the “lesser beings” – people like me. I also ofcourse always rationalise it by telling myself that anyway I am “cheating” – i.e., doing many of the routines at less than 100% compliance – and, at least, looking at the stars keeps the benchmark always within sight. Having said that, I still sometimes feel that when I DO manage to get to the 100% level, it would be great if I would get those treasured words of praise fm the trainer – “well done”. But, my image of being the lesser being probably colors then the trainer’s view of me, and then she doesn’t look at me as often as she does at the stars, and so misses the occasional stellar performances I do manage and so I don’t do as well maybe next time…and so…and so…

(When she DOES utter the “good job, S!” magic words, I am tempted to work harder/ cheat lesser/ push myself more)

Interestingly, this is a direct contrast to what I do when I teach English to a 4th/5th grade class at a Kannada medium government school. Generally, most of my attention goes towards the “row 1” students – those that find it difficult to grasp most lessons, knowing that if they “get” most of the lesson, the rest certainly will!

Now, how does this fit in with parenting?

As with most parents, I have 2 kids who are diametrically apart in temperament, behavior, likes, dislikes, strengths and improvement areas. One is a dreamer, the other is a doer. One is a morning person, the other has to be dragged out of bed after loooong nights reading. One likes chinese food, the other doesn’t touch noodles — and so on.

But strangely enough, one lesson I found myself repeating for both in recent times is that of – self image, and perception management related to it.

Started with younger child – she is a fiend if you ever had one. Loud, brash, the world-is-my-friend, don’t-care-about-anything, finds-humour-in-everything kind of fiend. Bright actually, but “does” terribly at school – I have been called to school at least 6 times in the past 2 years for would-be-grave one-on-one lectures by her teachers (“would be” because I refuse to be cowed down by these strictures on the child). Each teacher tells me – “knows everything, if only she would be neater in her work, submit her work on time, not get distracted and want to go for frequent toilet breaks etc etc…) Now, by the way, P WORKS at this image – she thinks its cool to be brash/ funny/ don’t care-ish.

However, this post is not about what to do with children like this (though that is a real problem for sure), but the problem that occurs as a result – ofcourse, a few teachers “get” the underlying personality of the child, I am thankful to say – however, many of them believe the image is reality – and treat her accordingly! So, if there is a disruption in the class, most fingers point at P. More importantly, once branded with the image of “casual worker”, when she does turn it better work, its sometimes not noticed – and on the few occasions that she is serious about some stuff in school, there is a chance she gets overlooked.

P and I have had frequent serious chats about “how to manage” your image or perception (in so many words!). These serious chats are peppered with examples of her two “best friends” – one of whom is truly a “good child” and is widely recognised for that, and the other is more like P, but has managed to retain an image of a “good child” (in their lexicon ofcourse, to be branded “good” is probably almost abuse! 🙂 )

Older child faced this too – she used to be keen on Indian classical dance when younger. As she entered her teens, interests changed – and she is now passionate about dramatics. But, her lingering image of “dancer” leads school to pick her for dance related events and not theatre. Being older, and after some counseling, she did manage to assert her interests – and is now a happy camper. But the point is, this “change of image” took some doing!

Now think about organisations – doesn’t this happen there too? How often have you had complaints at appraisal time from folks saying – “my manager doesn’t think I am good enough – and so has not given me x or y job”. It’s probably true, because in the natural order of things, the manager WILL pre select those he or she thinks are the best bets for any given job – thats what managers do – they “optimize” or “manage” resources. The question, however is, how much of that “image” is reality and how much just perception not directly related to reality?

A related point here is then – as the trainer/ teacher/ manager/ leader, do you address the “stars” or the “dogs”, or do you stay somewhat in the middle – my favourite – the golden mean!

Nature certainly selects the “fittest” – if Darwin is to be believed! (the fittest evolve into next generations while the others gradually die down) So, my trainer and P’s teachers seem to have precedent! Incidentally, I find this Theory of evolution video immensely funny! :

But, actually, on the other hand, nature ALSO looks at the lowest common multiple – think about Limiting factors in Photosynthesis ( the rate of photosynthesis is limited by the least amount of necessary resource available – see video for a slightly long winded reminder):

And ofcourse, in most organisations we work neither at the highest nor the lowest but at the average. This is what the bell curve does for you – it force-fits everyone in the organisation into a mean +/- standard deviation curve – and treats exceptionally the outliers. The problem with that? Think about the statistician who drowned while crossing a river that was on average 6 inches deep! (A nice explanation of averages – and what outliers do to them can be found if you click on the link)

In a diametrically opposite view, Malcolm Gladwell made famous his theory of outliers – where he correlated success to the amount of time spent working at that skill, and some factors not quite under control of the protagonists.

The question arising from of all of this dilatory musing is really this:

If you are a leader/ parent/ trainer: Do you focus on the outliers, or the average in terms of managerial/ parental/ teacher attention. And, if the former, should it be the “LCM” (those who need extra input); or the “HCF” (in other words, the stars).

If you are the led/ managed/ taught: How do I get a sense of whether I am LCM, average of HCF – BEFORE painful yearly evaluation sessions/ how do I manage the perception of my being LCM if I am not/ how do I match my self perception to that of the outside world?

Any answers? Suggestions?

Meanwhile,

The problem of Least Common Multiple came forth funnily in the movie Father of the Bride. Enjoy!

Come on, Own Up, it IS your Monkey after all!

20 Feb

Monkeys

Classic situation at home: regular domestic help off sick, temp one hired. Big clash with housekeeper – about who should be doing what. I ask housekeeper/ nanny – why a certain thing didn’t happen – she said “Lakshmi didn’t do it”. Lakshmi ofcourse said – “I thought Tulasi amma would do it”

This one atleast I get, it is maybe my fault for not delineating responsibility squarely and clearly; and definitely Tulasi’s for not doing the same (she’s been with me long enough to know what her role is – individual as well as supervisory)

What I don’t get, and I see very often now, is this:
When we were growing up, school was where we “learnt” everything – The 3 Rs ofcourse (and later STEM), but also running, basketball, cricket, singing, dance, theatre, art, debating, etc etc. School tenure was shorter (8 to 1 pm I think), we came back by 2 pm, ate a hearty lunch, slept, played till the street lights came on, did H.W., ate again and slept. Nostalgia inducing though this itinerary probably is, the point is not about the simplicity of that era; it is about what school was responsible for. I did NO tuitions, NO extra dance class, NO drama class, NO tennis/ badminton class etc. Everyone did/ tried all activities, some showed natural inclination towards one rather than the other – and then were in general trained harder on those activities than the others were.

Cut to now. There is higher exposure to the kids in terms of avenues of “co curricular” activities (by the way, in our times, it was called “extra curricular” – the shift in terminology is symbolic, but only in talk, not walk!) and attendant competitive events where they get to test themselves, benchmark against others and (presumably) get egged on to perform better…But, the discovery of talent, as well as training/ honing – is ALL done at home! So, most kids start some form of classes after school from when they turn 3-4: craft/ art/ tennis/ keyboard/ guitar/ tennis/ basketball/ swimming/ theatre/ dance/ rock climbing/ fencing/ skating. And most also rotate all these around – so, a) kids do a different activity everyday, their calendar post school therefore being chock full; and b) they get “bored” of these activities sooner or later, and so hop skip and jump to another..then another…then another and so on.

Implied here is the obsessive nature of parents today, and maybe inability/ unwillingness to give their kids free time and/ or keep them entertained (me being a big culprit too) but again, that is NOT the point being made here.

The point is, if the kids are “learning”/ “honing” everything at home, what role does the school play? Admittedly, “education” nowadays has changed form – while in our time, it was “what you know”; it now is “can you find out/ solve” (thanks to the internet, and, google 🙂 ). Having said that, should schools not be the place where they are TAUGHT tennis, swimming, singing, dancing, drawing etc etc — rather than just the place to “aggregate” existing talents and then display them in competitive events – thereby earning laurels for the school?

So, with reference to an old/ classic HBR article, whose monkey is it? The school’s, right? Then why oh why is it being transferred to the parents?

Ofcourse we see this in the corporate scenario – I wrote an article a long time ago, on this, describing scenarios where the monkey keeps leaping onto diverse peoples’ backs.

Links to leadership styles in a way – Are you a “doer leader”, a “delegator leader”, a “shirker leader” (then actually you’re not a leader 🙂 ), the “team work leader”, the “wannabe leader” or the “pretend leader” :)..sounds familiar?

I do this all the time to my husband – my taxes get paid by him, the garage door when stuck gets opened by him, exotic chicken and lamb dishes when guests are coming for dinner get cooked by him. (Wait, that’s division of labour, not monkey passing!)

We are seeing a great example in Indian Politics currently – blame game, responsibility shirking, mud slinging, disruptiveness. And, in the context of monkeys, and politics, a cartoon I love – enjoy!

baboons

Leadership Change – Dealing With It

8 Feb

Satya-Nadella

So Microsoft finally decided who their CEO should be, and all of the world has an opinion on it. Ofcourse, so does all of India – most are proud, some contemplative.

I haven’t come across a lot on what the employees of Microsoft (and the erstwhile Nokia) think, but it’s a good time to ruminate how leadership change affects us, and how we should ideally deal with it.

Let me start with an example from home – our kids keep having these discussion frequently on “who’s the boss of the house” – and, atleast for them, its a clearly established hierarchy with role definitions crystal clear. So, Riddhi is the boss of Achchu, Mamma is the boss of all kids’ activities and behavior, Babba has veto power – and so on. One of the things that changed this year was that Manoj became the boss of Riddhi’s studies (I was part-time doing this job earlier for whatever it was worth).
At nearly the end of the year – her grades have slipped drastically, and she is now an avowed and vocal hater of all things “studies”.

Now, Manoj, who typically is the first one to read all my blogs, will argue that it is the onset of teenage/ maybe friends dynamics/ too much interest in extra-curricular stuff/ a mean mother .. etc, that is responsible.

I agree, there probably will not be any correlation – probably just a series of unfortunate events. But, there IS a before-after situation here, if not a cause-effect one. Time for introspection for all of us.

I saw/ see this when my company EmPower got bought over by a large company. The biggest thing that worried us founders was how our 400 strong people would take this small-to-big change. The advantages were obvious – bigger brand name/ better training etc institutionalised resources available/ better growth prospects since wider pool……

Over 2 years post the acquisition – I still meet many folks who say – “Those were the days – sigh!”. Now, bit of nostalgia is expected, but I think this is more than a “desire-to-please”/ “glorify older times” phenomenon.

After all, between a very flexible/ agile and woman-at-the-top family style leadership culture, and a large process oriented delegatory style, there is a world of difference, some good and some bad. Also, I think what happens with a startup is that the senior leadership joins BECAUSE they like the startup culture – they’ve largely been there and done that in larger orgs. And, for the younger/ fresh inductees, it’s their first job, so their first experience with any form of organisational leadership culture, and so they kind of grow up knowing no other. Both cases make for lower adaptability to the opposite end of the spectrum. Net net, while a lot of our people are still at the company, I see many instances of those sighing for the older ways – and then there are those ofcourse that have quit (and still talk about their time at EmPower 🙂 ).

Not an unusual situation – I have seen, and am a part of many alum networks of companies that meet quite often (Gillette alum, EmPower alum, XGB to name a few)- so there IS a common affinity that exists.

By the way, to refer again to the companies I started this post with, some snips of my friends’ walls at the Nokia-Microsoft deal last year exemplify this as well :

nokia msft

“The shuttle moves on from helsinki to seattle. The only difference is not the ride but the crew would change and its interesting to see whats in store. …. Nokia the brand and culture still remains close to my heart.”

“So, this is what it feels like to witness the end of an era!”

“Had once told someone that its gonna end up as a case study either way. Never thought it’d be this soon”

And this article from leading Indian Financial Outlet was posted again and again..

To take a closer look at some common issues to consider regarding a leadership change:

When leadership change is a natural/ organic process – retirement/ voluntary switching CEO: While one is expected, and the other maybe not so, both probably have probably a scenario where the company is doing OK from a performance/ morale etc perspective. The question here is – continue with an insider/ try and preserve what is already happening; or opt for completely new blood/ change things around a bit.

While there is merit in the status-quo perspective, in most cases, influx of a new personality almost naturally implies new thinking – in many cases, because the new leader would NOT feel like (maybe even be,) a true leader if he did not leave his own imprint on the organization. I think it makes sense actually – I remember discussing succession at our company post integration with the larger organisation, and at the suggestion of one name with the defense that he would be able to maintain status quo, someone saying – no, status quo actually means regression as the world will move ahead!

Witness the number of changes that happen – even to hardcore strategic moves, when leadership changes! I was discussing unification of data (in the context of Master Data Management) with an ex Bankam employee, and he said that when he was there, Bankam tried to unify all their diverse legacy systems (a problem that faces most organisations – only, it existed in a higher degree in BankAm as BankAm is basically a conglomerate of many bought out companies). He said he quit BankAm after 2 years on this project; it’s been 7 years, and the project is still not done. One of the large reasons is – that there have been many leadership changes, and each leader has then accorded a different priority to the project!

Ofcourse, if the company has not been doing all that well, it is even more imperative to shake things around. In fact, this is one of the apprehensions regarding Nadella’s appointment – that the company required more newness – while Nadella signifies a bit of a “status quo” approach.

Incidentally, the other fear that public opinion has regarding Nadella is the fact that he has asked for Bill Gates to be brought back – this, while maybe is good for the company, may just prove not so good for N himself due to the Powerful founder overshadows CEO doubt.

Having said the above, imminent leadership change is very much the flavour of the moment in the Indian political scene. Two oldtime rivals are fielding “new” faces – one, the scion of the old almost royal political family, the other an extreme right wing conservative yet modern-in-his-approach emerging regional leader. And both these parties have now been challenged by a virtual upstart, a “common man”. It’s the battle of Namo vs. Raga vs. AAP – and we have to see who wins. Exciting times ahead for all!

ceo change
(credit)

And oh btw, as I was publishing this, I came upon this amusing post on what would happen if Arvind Kejriwal was CEO of Microsoft. Enjoy 🙂

It really is about the PEOPLE

18 Nov

oscar the grouch
(credit)

There’s a great google search ad doing the rounds – its about reunion post partition between India and pakistan. I think by now most folks have watched it, but if you havn’t, click here. (It even got written up in mashable).

For me, it drove home something I’ve been thinking about on and off for a few days – that, we sometimes tend to get so wrapped up in whatever we are doing/ seeing/ making – whether it is technology and all its accoutrements, parenting as a job, management strategies, that we forget a very essential point of any exercise – the people it affects/ for whom we are doing it.

Think about it –

Big Data – Cloud – Hadoop – Analytics – e commerce – social collaboration – smart meters — all big buzzwords of today. Many big names chase this – IBM/ Cisco/ Microsoft/ Google/ Facebook – everyone. But it feels sometimes like the chase overwhelms the purpose – the process/ the technology – whatever is almost taking over the final reason FOR the tech. (It parallels the age old “features vs. benefit” marketing debate – you know, better agitator vs. whiter clothes/ purer chocolate vs. smoother texture). To some extent, some advertising is changing – IBM’s smarter planet / (erstwhile) Nokia’s connecting people – were all attempts at getting to the raison d’etre. Thats why I like the google ad – its not about better/ more precise/ faster/ more relevant search, but the reason behind the search. Lovely!

I like that a lot of healthcare is moving towards this now – Sanofi just released an app that gamifies blood testing (you get more points the oftener you test your blood sugar) thus making adherence for diabetes easier for patients!

Most organisations are now moving from “product centricity” to “customer centricity” – run a google search on CC and you get some half a million hits…a few years ago, it was one tenth of this number!

customercentricity cartoon
(credit)

Look at other aspects of this “people” thing – as I said in an earlier blog, enterprises are not run by processes – but by PEOPLE – if you can figure out how to motivate/ empower/ manage the people; you've got it made! I'm sure EVERY organization can cite examples of leaders who are maybe not so technically competent, but get better results than others because they are good with people – their people management skills are better! It’s heart breaking at times for those who do have the nuts and bolts, but not the guts and holds ..(over people that is 🙂 (ok, ok, very contrived I know – just felt like incorporating some rhyming stuff).This is what also makes for organisational culture (that intangible thing that defines many org metrics – retention/ values/ client service…see my earlier blog on org culture) Its one of the things an org “loses” when it scales to a behemoth – and one of the things that folks in start up cultures value – the fact of knowing everyone around – their happiness/ their sadness/ their strengths and weaknesses what makes them tick/ what hot buttons to press. It’s also one of the hallmarks of different leadership styles (read another blog on theory x vs. y of leadership – and which one works better)

Think about home – our kids have become “projects” almost – we are forever exhorting them to – get up in the morning/ eat breakfast properly/ go to school on time/ change, bathe, whatever once they are back/ go to whatever class they are enrolled for in a bid to get upskilled/ finish homework/ study for tests/ attend the birthday party…blah blah blah – in our timely and efficient execution of all these projects – we forget that the “subjects” are KIDS – and they WILL NOT be as good/ as efficient/ as task oriented as maybe we are trained and constrained to be. Takes the joy out of childhood somewhat eh?

child with mask

School kids can figure this out easily – my older daughter and her clan don’t like one of their teachers – and, the reason is not that she doesnt know her stuff, or is strict, or the usual anti teacher reasons, but that “she hates us”. After all, if a teacher doesn’t LIKE kids, its self defeating almost. I see live examples of effectiveness in the community schools I go teach in as a volunteer. One of the schools is making a huge success of the volunteer program our folks are helping them with – mainly because the principle is involved, interested, and she LIKES the kids, and likes US! Another school, is the exact reverse because the principle is a grouch!

Ofcourse, nothing brings this whole people thing home as well as just meeting old friends – despite everyone being in the ratrace – and attempting to “achieve” more and more everyday – one afternoon spent with friends – old or new (as i did yesterday), reminds you over and over again – it really is all about the people!

Communication, the Hallmark of Success

28 Aug

communication 7 year old

Most working moms and dads recognize these little notes – i used to get about 5 a day, mostly shoved under my nose, and, most importantly, on top of the computer screen – thus MANDATING that i finally pay attention to my child! (I remember visiting a client at a leading FMCG in lovely Vevey once, and his bulletin board chock full of post-its with messages from his 6 year old saying – daad – u missed the ski-ing competition yet again! and such stuff..)

The point is, that kids figure out really early HOW to catch an (unreceptive) audience’s attention to get their point across.

As an organisation that worked in multiple geographies, and so each one having remote team mates/ clients to communicate with often, this was a really big deal. It started with us four partners (who by the way, hadn’t even all met each other when we started! – so ours was a bit more unusual situation than most!) getting on daily calls – in those days, we discussed fairly mundane issues (in retrospect) but we talked every single day, and ofcourse had the email on pretty much 24X7. We still got many “cultural” things wrong! Like:

– One early employee apparently spied a rat in our first office, and wrote an “annonymous” letter to a co founder who was based in the U.S. saying – “is this what you want your employees to be facing?” Ofcourse that co – founder, having never been to India, got very hot and bothered. It took the two of us who were managing the Indian ops to tell him to chillax since almost every house had rats – infact, we should count ourselves lucky that was the only vermin we got!!

– We were a “secondary research” organization, which meant we trawled publicly available data sources for our analysis. Our analysts would call the “raw research” material – a data dump, and often abbreviate it to “dump”. Imagine their horror when Kyung told them that dump in America meant poop!

(See some references to how communication across different cultures has led to interesting gaffes in my earlier post)

But this daily call/ email sure forged a bond – something really really important in a startup! I remember my co founder Debjani being interviewed for a journal, and saying – our big emphasis – commmunicate communicate communicate! Its true, and Debjani specially was paranoid about communication to the point of getting up at 2 am her time to repeat/ emphasise a point to the teams that needed to work on her clients’ requests!

But the outsourced world apart, communication is almost the most important “tool” that you need in business. In fact, at senior levels, that’s all you do – whether it is talking to the street to get their expectations right in a publicly listed company; pitching your co./ products/ services/ people to the next prospective buyer; getting ‘alignment” with your boss or the other department’s key folks on the right way to do things; motivating your team members to work the extra 2 hours when all they want to do is go watch the latest release in theatres and have a glass of beer after! Actually, now that I think about it, the “communication” is almost interchangeable with ‘sales” (see my earlier post on why we all are/ should be sales people . Interestingly, that features my 7 yr old too 🙂 )

It is why there is a whole industry on “soft skills” training, and many dollars being made in teaching the “art of presentation”.

Indian Govt. Public School Kids

Having made a living almost all my life out of maybe this skill to “communicate” well, I now have a very different perspective – that of how important even basic facility in a language (well, actually not A language, but the English Language) is, to really get ahead in life. This gets set for me personally in perspective now when I teach a class in a government (read public) school in my community. I teach the English language to 3rd graders. These are kids who come from the locality, and have parents from the lower income strata. Some of the kids are really really bright – all of them have that bright spark in their eyes – but, they cannot speak English (the vernacular language they know is Kannada, one of India’s many languages). And it almost breaks my heart to think that these kids in general, (barring the success of our volunteer teaching program) will never have an equal shot at many careers because they cannot communicate in the English language!

Coming back to Achchu, and her figuring out multi modal communication to get my attention, she once sent me an e-mail from the other room saying – Ma! I have to write an essay on a movie for H.W., and I can’t think of a title! (She figured that while I was behind closed doors at my home office, the ONLY way to get me responding to an “urgent” need was email! She was right – I told her to write on Sound of Music!) She even gets the subtleties of – “I know mom is on a con-call, so let me ask her if I can eat forbidden candy. And, I know she will say “no” once, then twice, but the third time she WILL say yes!” Talk about “in your face” communication!

non verbal communication 7 year old

Focus Or Multi-tasking? Arjuna/ Voldemort Or Jack?

26 Feb

voldemort-kill-the-spare

“Kill the Spare” – were Voldemort’s words just prior to poor Hufflepuff’s sole star, the good looking Cedric Diggory’s death. However, the reason why the innocent bystander was killed, was, so that “He Who Must Not be Named” and his allies could focus on the big task at hand – first resurrecting Voldemort, and then killing the “Boy Who Lived”.

What this talks to therefore is the need to focus on the important things in life so you can optimize your never ending “to do list” and check off those big ones that absolutely need to be done! It is no coincidence, after all, that “focusing” sun rays on one spot can light a fire! How’s that for incendiary?

concave_focus hanks

Strangely and coincidentally, my friend Nirupama just now put this up as her status update on facebook – “Focus on the eye of the fish said the famous guru to the even more famous disciple. Focus is the mantra. As long as it doesnt lead to extreme self absorption and an inability to appreciate collalteral damage to others in your wake:)”

I don’t know what her context was, but she refers to Arjuna, one of the Pandavas in the Hindu epic the Mahabharat, and his unparalleled ability to focus on the job at hand. This was displayed by 2 separate incidents – a), when their guru Dronacharya is testing all kids on archery – the target is the eye of a bird, when asked by the guru – what do you see, everyone answered different things – from the tree/ the bird/ the sky. But Arjuna said – the “eye of the bird” thus ensuring that he was the teacher’s pet forever (my kids would say – sucker up! and probably REALLY give him a hard time ☺ )

Arjuna

and b) when at the Swayamvara (marriage ceremony where the bride gets to choose her husband from a wide assortment – ancient India was far more liberal, you see!) held for Princess Draupadi, the competition is to shoot a revolving fish stuck on a moving pole, while staring into its reflection in a platter of oil – Arjuna again won his fair bride by nailing the fish in the eye.

220px-The_Swayamvara_of_Panchala's_princess,_Draupadi

The point is, that many leaders will tell you the secret to their success is concentration, and focus on doing what needs to be done most, first!

It is interesting, and a bit paradoxical, that in a world which prides itself on multitasking, it is as important to juggle many balls up in the air at the same time, as it is to ensure that the main ones – well, all actually but the main one most of all, is the one with the most time and attention invested upon it – in other words, focus!

Of course many of you may have come across this fairly famous New York Times article on multitasking (Actually, I was googling to find the url to insert here – and found many related articles within New York Times itself! A more recent one, with a slightly different stance, was this one )which essentially said that multitasking is actually detrimental to speed and efficiency, and even overall health! Interestingly, NYTimes argues for the power of concentration too, and draws an interesting analogy to Sherlock Holmes, who it calls the quintessential unitasker ☺ – read here

For the longest time, I despaired of my Woman Friday – Tulasi (referred to in my older blog) EVER learning parallel processing vs. her painful waterfall method of working – she was an invaluable resource, but try as I might, I NEVER managed to teach her the merit of frying the onions while cutting the tomatoes, and then frying the tomatoes with the onions while cutting the paneer! All this, while the water in the geyser was heating so the kids could take a bath. She FIRST cut ALL vegtables, THEN put the wok on the fire, and when the vegetable was all made – went upstairs to switch on the hot water! No wonder she got little time to herself! I realized that this ability to multitask/ parallel process – was not a gender function (much to my regret – trashing my hotly debated theory against my husband that women made better multitaskers), not an age related one (despite the NYT article – my mom multitasks with the best of them, and she is nearly 70) not even so much a socio economic class function (atleast not directly), but one related to education – if there is one thing that the process of higher education – specially engineering/ business management functions teaches us – it is how to do more in less time. So, one can’t really blame Tulasi – except maybe for having flunked the 5th grade!

Coming back to focus/ concentration (two different concepts by the way), a lot of search engines after Google, have attempted to deliver precisely this “precision” – the “focused” results thus enabling better relevance. It is also what current “Information Firehoses” are doing – structuring the info you consume such that it is relevant/ focused on what you NEED to know FIRST. Not to say that they won’t give you the others – it’s just scheduled in order of priority.

learn-drive-2

You know, a similar paradox is when you are learning to sing and play music, or to drive for that matter. When first beginning to drive, you have to focus on each of the separate aspects – pressing the clutch, then the gear change (for the non auto drivers 🙂 ), then the accelerator – whatever. But after sometime, your body lets you multitask all these easily – it’s basically the power of repitition – of having created enough muscle memory to make the task effortless. Similarly, when you first begin to learn to play an instrument say the guitar, and you have always been a vocalist – you tend to not be able to distinguish the chords separate from the lyrics/ melody. But after some training, you are able to focus on the chords such that your ear hears the notes, the chords, as well as the beats of the percussion instrument.

This is also how you resolve the apparent conflict between proponents of focus vs those of multitasking – let’s face it, in today’s world, multi tasking is an unavoidable necessity – I think ALL of us have worked multiple projects together; heated up food to feed the kids with a phone stuck to one ear participating in telecons, OR practiced our vocal music while driving. But, the “focus” helps you decide how much time to spend on which activity – the one that wins is obviously the one you NEED to do MOST – ie, that which someone else cannot do; that which has maximum impact on profitability or client satisfaction; that which just requires the maximum time to do…etc…the effective manager actually therefore manages to combine the best of both worlds – multitask, and yet focus.

Incidentally, a related concept is that of the generalist vs. the specialist – and there is a reason why at entry levels in an organisation, you start by orientation in all fields/ functions, then in mid management you specialize in one field, then again broadening skill sets when you start moving towards senior management.

Which basically means that Arjun was right – so was Voldemort in a way (killing notwithstanding) – but so also the Jack who is jack of all trades and master of none! He is probably the most relevant in today’s corporate world.

jack

As Brian Tracy said, “…you cannot eat every tadpole and frog in the pond, but you can eat the biggest and ugliest one, and that will be enough, at least for the time being.”