More interesting than you realize.

Human beings thrive on the quest for total control, for a day that feels like it’s up to us. That quest is compelling, but it turns out that we’re in danger of building a world where the fruitless search for control is undermining the future we can create.

So many a times you hear a response ” Err, I am kind of busy” or ” Can you call back some other time ?”

The question comes to our mind, are we interesting enough?

An interesting person is interesting to us because he/she combines two things: Truth and surprise.

Everyone is capable of telling the truth. And everyone has been surprising at least once

The truth: Not necessarily a measurable truth in nature, but merely the truth of experience. “I believe this,” or “I see that.”

And surprise. is always local. Surprising to me, others. That’s one reason that it’s said that interesting people are empathetic enough to realize what might be surprising to the people around, and they have the confidence to deliver on that insight.

Which means that being an interesting person is a choice. We can choose to show up, to care enough to contribute our humanity to the next interaction.

It’s a choice, but a difficult one, because being interesting feels risky. People are afraid to be interesting, not unable to be interesting.

We are not born uninteresting. But it’s entirely possible that we were  persuaded to be so frightened of the consequences that you no longer have the passion, the generosity or the guts to be interesting any longer.




Organizations that smooth corners roll down faster

Often, organizations don’t realize that they are falling until extraordinary efforts are required to make a difference. But it’s always easier to fix it today than it will be tomorrow. ( A stich in time!)

Resilient organizations are more focused on what you produce, and why.

Brittle organizations are focused on which end of the egg you open. Are you wearing the jacket the right way, buttoned up or down ,saying the incantations each time, saluting properly…when the boss comes in.

Petty dictators care a lot about words, about appearances, about whether everyone is servile in precisely the same fashion. Do they laugh at the most weird jokes and appreciate an art they don’t know a damn about.

The problem with words is that they easily lose their meaning. Say something often enough and it becomes a mundane expression, not an expression of how you actually feel. Not only that, but words rarely change things. Actions do.

Some tell tale signs

  • Attention stops being paid, compromises are made, quality goes down.
  • Expectations aren’t met.
  • Expectations are lowered.
  • Customers drift away.
  • Budgets are cut, because there are fewer customers.
  • Quality erodes even more, because there’s less to spend, and employees care less.
  • Repeat.
  • The alternative is the quality ratchet:
  • Over-focus on quality.
  • Expectations go up.
  • Sales rise as a result of word of mouth and customer satisfaction.
  • More money is spent on quality.
  • Repeat.

It turns out that it’s a lot easier to become a part of a group  that doesn’t ask you to think, or take responsibility for your actions. But, in the long run, those are the very things that lead to the changes we seek.

“Use your best judgment, care about your impact, do work that matters…” are significantly more powerful instructions than, “Do it this way. Say it this way. Behave the way I told you to.”

And here’s the hard part: You don’t fall down the abyss all at once. You compromise, you cut corners, you don’t bring as much to your work, and nothing bad happens (at first). So the feedback loop is broken.

Working your way back out works the same way: You work harder, you raise your standards, you invest, and nothing good happens (at first).

The challenge is to have the guts to care even when you’re not apparently rewarded for caring.

Teams that make companies

Five decades ago a chemical company established its manufacturing unit on a land that was once a graveyard on the outskirts of a industrial city in western part of India.

Manufacture of chemicals was considered a hazardous profession during those time when the industry leaders had just started talking about safety with no serious intentions.

There were very few Engineering college seats all run by government grants. So the few chemical engineering graduates would make a beeline for placement at one of the three large PSUs established on the outskirts of the city with facility to stay in the company colony.

So the company had few choices from shifting technicians from other group units or hire available talent. A B.Sc. was good enough to become plant supervisor and B.A will do for sales, Rest of the workforce comprised of local villagers  commanded by a trusted Administrator.

By blending family based culture and professionalism the company could create a sense of ownership amongst each of the employee/worker which helped it to not only become a pioneer in manufacture of import substitutes but with safe industrial practices unheard of in those times.

After about two decades of inception the company having established a name for itself , came out with an public issue and offered ESOP to every employee, again a first in Indian Chemical Industry.

For several years the company continued to scale milestones and groomed finest talents, some raw stones fashioned into gems, and it served as a beacon light for several returning professionals.

Now, five decades down. Another company. A leading lifestyle brand opens new business division in the bay area on landfill which used to be the city’s dump yard. The size and nature of business is the first of its kind since the closure of some leading brands who operated on the same business model.

Unlike the Indian company, this U.S. company is (over?)confident of hiring talent in abundance for their grand opening. Reality bites in term of the jobs available in the silicon valley. Not many turn up for the hiring, those who do, some of them don’t join and some leave after.

The analogy we can draw here is that bot the companies had to do with available talent to start their venture and scale it up to a remarkable success level.

Analysis would reveal that the most significant contributing factor in both the cases has been the team that performed. These were an average bunch of guys and gals who had a point to prove – to themselves and to the world.

Why did the outside world didn’t consider them good enough ?                            Good enough to be a manufacturing head or a sales lead? Good enough to seek a position of repute and earning to financially support his family? Or was it not good  enough to impress that goddamn recruiting officer?

A question arises about the ability of recruiters to identify, hire and retain talent . But a HR person who has found employment on professionally, paid, structured resume can be expected to deliver even less. So let’s talk about how an organization can attract and retain talent.

Obviously the company needs to market itself. The best time to do so is when your company is on a success trial, tell everyone about how good you are doing. The more people talk about you the more talent antennas will spring out and they will swarm you hiring events. There is a mutually satisfying need and mostly hiring takes place on “who blinks first” model.

So now what about the guys who made this happen. You see some on deputations, some having glorified positions with un-glorified work. And some might just wean away. The company management has to look at the future , isn’t it?

There is new system which emerges. A bunch of suckers. Some are new but most were there all the while. Their job, to suck up to those in power. These are the non talented crafty individuals cling to the people at the top like a toilet plunger on the bathroom ceiling. The moment there space for them to land they do a summersault and stand upright on the floor making their presence felt to the newcomers.

A mutual desire to survive blends them to together, like a tumbleweed they bunch up to create independent power zones(lobby). It is the ratio of these bunches vs the real, intentional performers that determines the sustainability of the company. Companies having a strong cultural foundation will survive such transitional phase. Before ,during and after transition, company’s business take a parabolic curve . But the shape of the curve is determined by the ability of the company’s management to distinguish the well meaning loyalist and phony,flamboyant SUCKER!



Why people scale up

Recently a Manager retired. There was a farewell party. Mementos and speeches. He served for 30 years as a Manager. Groomed people who advanced in their careers to higher positions. Some went to become entrepreneurs.

Then why did this person retire as a Manager?

If we were to look around us we will find many good “Managers”. They are the best for that work.

The question arises why some people remain good managers?

According to me there are various levels to which a person advances in his career from the trainee/executive/ associate level.

Level 1 -Supervisor or a lead. He / She has some expertise in the field or gains some on job. But cannot advance due to two basic human negative emotions arrogance and ego. Peter Drucker terms something called “learning arrogance” ( person self limits from learning new skill sets).Ego of being better than others in that area of work.(when it comes to xyz, boss always calls me).

Level 2 – Manager . He has a wider field of knowledge and experience, but limits self by not letting it go(can’t delegate). There is also some sort of resentment over company policy or against system.

Level 3- General Manager. Efficient task master, delegates , monitors well, people person. Reliable.

Level 4 – President “EFFECTIVE” knows what is required when. Off the cuff thinker/decision taker

An old joke at the cost of repetition –

Supervisor is advising the worker on punctuality ” Mr. ABC , only if you give up your drinking habit you could one day rise to a highest level in this company. ”

ABC : Sir , how can that happen ?

Supervisor: If you give up drinking and are punctual. Company will acknowledge your regularity and hard work to make you a supervisor within three years.  Once you continue the good work as a Supervisor the company could promote you as a Manager within next five years. Our company also trains its people so we could send for Management Training and you could rise further as a General Manager.

ABC : So it will take me at least 12-15 years to become a GM?

Supervisor : Maybe.

ABC : Sir, why should I wait so much ? 3 pegs in just 15 minutes takes me to a mental level of President’s position !

Analogy of myths and management lessons

In Greek Mythology Icarus, The son of Daedalus who, in escaping from Crete on artificial wings made for him by his father flew so close to the sun that the wax with which his wings were fastened melted and he fell into the Aegean Sea and perished.

In the Indian mythology Vayuputra Hanuman, flew high to eat the sun and fell down but became immortal and is considered an epitome of resolve, devotion, intelligence and wit.

Drawing parallels for some management lessons, the story of Icarus tells us that the risks innovation leaders take are real. The common saying is that if you reach for the stars you might not get one, but you will not come up with a handful of mud either.

The harsh reality is that if you reach for the stars you might crash horribly. So innovation leaders take risks seriously: they acknowledge their fears and attempt to mitigate their risks, spread their risks, or consciously take them. Courage is required, as is the acceptance that failure could be a consequence.

Hanuman had a curse that caused him to forget his powers. When we read the Ramayana there was a short mention of how Hanuman had forgotten his powers and would only remember them if someone reminded him. It allowed Hanuman to control his powers until he could put them to use at the right time.

There are many of us whose thoughts are imprisoned in the labyrinths created in our own minds and we need a mentor or right ally to realize our powers. Sometimes it could be a unrelated person who makes a fleeting comment and it creates a spark for fire to ignite within you. So look for the spark , don’t wait!



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