Friday, August 31, 2007

i-TFTD #51: The Essence of Trust

i-TFTD #51: The Essence of Trust

A little girl and her father were crossing a bridge. The father was kind of scared so he asked his little daughter, "Sweetheart, please hold my hand so that you don't fall into the river." The little girl said, "No, Dad. You hold my hand."

"What's the difference?"  asked the puzzled father.

"There's a big difference," replied the little girl. "If I hold your hand and something happens to me, chances are that I may let your hand go. But if you hold my hand, I know for sure that no matter what happens, you will never let my hand go."

In any relationship, the essence of trust is not in its bind, but in its bond.

While the story itself is good, its concept may be applicable to other areas. Some managers say, "I have clearly told my team that I am available for any help. If they need help they will ask. If they don't ask, it's their fault." Another manager might periodically sit with members of the team, actively identifying areas where help could be provided and thus show the willingness as well as the ability to help. When they see this a few times, it makes all members of the team feel safe to seek help.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

i-TFTD #50

i-TFTD #50

#50-1. Often, fear is a payment made on a bill that never came due.

#50-2. My dad always used to say, "If you are falling off a cliff, you may as well try to fly. You have nothing to lose."

-Captain John Sheridan

#50-3. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.
-Helen Keller

I think each of us is bold and courageous in some things and hesitant when it comes to some other things. The trick is to know which things should belong in which category.

Anticipating potential problems and taking steps to prevent them is useful, persistent anxiety about the future is not.
Risk assessment is useful, risk avoidance is not.
Weighing of facts, data and available options is useful, "analysis paralysis" out of vague fear is not.
Dwelling on actions one can take is useful, brooding on things beyond one's control is not.

Monday, August 20, 2007

i-TFTD #49: Ben Franklin's 12 Rules of Management

i-TFTD #49: Ben Franklin's 12 Rules of Management

Ben Franklin's 12 Rules of Management

Benjamin Franklin in his early years was a manager. This information may surprise those who have come to associate the bespectacled statesman solely with the patriots who founded the United States of America.

According to some, the roots of America's current business success lie in the principles embodied more than 200 years ago in the life of Franklin, the founding father of American business. His life exemplifies the innovation, technology and ingenuity that have propelled the American economy to unprecedented heights in recent years. Andrew Carnegie, Lee Iacocca, Stephen Covey and Warren Buffet have all acknowledged a debt to Franklin.

What follows is a summary of his 12 rules of management, an ideal for lifelong learning that is as pertinent to managers today as it was in the 18th century. It is excerpted from the book, "Ben Franklin's 12 Rules of Management" (highlights are mine).

1. Finish better than your beginnings.

2. All education is self-education.

3. Seek first to manage yourself, then to manage others.

4. Influence is more important than victory.

5. Work hard and watch your costs.

6. Everybody wants to appear reasonable.

7. Create your own set of values to guide your actions.

8. Incentive is everything.

9. Create solutions for seemingly impossible problems.

10. Become a revolutionary for experimentation and change.

11. Sometimes it's better to do 1,001 small things right than only one large thing right.

12. Deliberately cultivate your reputation and legacy.

These remind us once more that great thoughts and useful tips have been available for us for a long, long time. Application will give results, not just reading or remembering.

For instance, once you truly accept that everyone wants to appear reasonable, you are less likely to feel anger or irritation at someone's behaviour. "Finish better than your beginnings" can be applied at a project level (what have you learned, what have you contributed, what relationships have you built) or even at a life level (most of us begin at a different starting point than, say, the Ambani brothers, but more important is what we make of our lives and where we go in relation to our starting point).

Thursday, August 16, 2007

i-TFTD #48

i-TFTD #48

#48-1. The only thing I like about the stones that come in my way is once I pass over them, they automatically become my milestones.


#48-2. The barriers are not erected which can say to aspiring talents and industry, "Thus far and no farther."
-Ludwig van Beethoven

#48-3. I knew from feelings that I had to do something. And I did it. And I did it well. I did what made me feel better tomorrow even though it was very, very painful at the time. The result was beneficial. Do those things today that feel good tomorrow.

-Thomas D. Willhite

I have noticed that most people seem happy when talking of adverse situations from the past, rarely when they talk of comfortable, happy situations. Tough problems, once we solve them, seem to become permanent sources of energy for us. Shouldn't we eagerly seek out more such situations?

If a barrier between us and a desired goal seems too strong and frustrating, maybe our aspiration is not strong enough? Maybe we are not ready to reach that destination yet and should find an intermediate goal.

The third is profound. Feel good (at a higher level of self awareness) in knowing that you will feel good tomorrow though it is not feeling good (at a literal level) doing something now. If only we could practice this daily…

Monday, August 13, 2007

i-TFTD #47

#47-1. Not to do what you feel like doing is Freedom.
-Swami Chinmayananda

#47-2. We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.
-Herman Melville

#47-3. Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself.
-Og Mandino

I normally avoid clubbing quotes on the same subject but the above three just happened to be related. What I like about them is they provoke thoughts in a logical sequence. My initial reaction to the first statement was, "How can that be?" The second quote hints at the answer by talking of interdependence. The third one pithily points out the benefit of a serving attitude. When I then re-read the first quote, it seemed to make more sense.

A couple of follow-up thoughts on i-TFTD #41: Two Lives and Resistance. My experience is that it is very liberating once we take some action on a long-pending desired action. And it becomes easy after the first few steps. So start on one of them. At the same time, it is better to revisit and evaluate such longings to see if we need to let go of them based on current reality. After all, if I have not worked on something for years, maybe it is not really important or aligning with my true priorities. Removing such vague clutter from the list of long-term To Dos frees up my mind to focus more energy on the remaining ones.

Friday, August 10, 2007

i-TFTD #46: Three Inspirational Stories from Steve Jobs

I had seen a number of references to this speech and some fuddy-duddies commented that Steve Jobs can very well say dropout of college but this is not a good prescription for a young person blah-blah so I did not seek out the original.

Having read it, I definitely think it is inspirational and beneath the romantic stories one can detect the super resilience of the man. Highlights are mine.


You've got to find what you love

This is the text of the Commencement address by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and
I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical,
artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation - the Macintosh - a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and
I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me - I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I retuned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle.
As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life.
Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Thank you all very much.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

i-TFTD #45

1. We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

2. If you don't learn from your mistakes, there's no sense making them.

3. Comfort -- comes as guest, lingers to become host and stays to enslave us.
-Swami Chinmayananda

The first one is especially evident during performance appraisal.

Sometimes people say, "I am human, I make mistakes." The problem is if one uses it as an acceptable response and fails to derive some lesson from the experience.

Most of the time we are striving to earn and enjoy comfort but progress and growth always lie beyond the comfort zone. Maybe we should be like the train, speeding across plains and over bridges, resting and recuperating periodically at stations. A train should not permanently be at the station.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

i-TFTD #44: Responding vs. Reacting

Responding vs. Reacting
From the Winning Without Intimidation newsletter by Bob Burg at

People ask, "Isn't Responding and Reacting the same thing?" Actually, though the words are similar, the difference is significant. I love what Zig Ziglar asks when speaking about this concept: "Did you respond well to the medication your doctor prescribed, or did you have a bad reaction?"

Here's a winner's look at the difference between those two concepts. Recently I was pulling into a parking space. Being too hurried, and not paying attention as I should have, I didn't notice that the car parked in the next space had a man coming out of it. I braked in plenty of time, but it gave the man a start. He looked at me with that look that said, "You (insert nasty name here)!"

He reacted. Who could blame him? Now I had a choice; would I react to his reaction?... or would I respond, thereby diffusing an otherwise uncomfortable (and potentially nasty) situation, and hopefully turning a potential enemy into a friend? I chose to respond. I immediately raised my hand with a sincere smile and mouthed, "Sorry, my fault."

He then responded with a smile and a wave of his own. Funny thing is, when I got out of my car, his words to me were actually, "Sorry, I should have looked before getting out of my car." Can you believe that?! I see two results to that situation; One is that a potential (and too typical) argument turned into a friendly exchange.

Secondly, next time he is in a similar situation, there's a good chance he will respond instead of react, turn a potential enemy into a friend, and begin his own chain reaction of kindness and friendship.

Though I find the example a bit simplistic, the concept of responding as an active and conscious behaviour as opposed to reacting as a passive and unthinking behaviour, is useful. Sometimes people talk to us about their problems, expecting us to just listen. Responding in this case would be to be a good listener as opposed to reacting with solutions or advice. When someone sends a nasty mail on a genuine issue, one could either react to the tone or respond by acknowledging the issue. The latter moves the issue forward towards resolution while the former creates a new issue.

Friday, August 3, 2007

i-TFTD #43

1. All problems become smaller if you don't dodge them, but confront them. Touch a thistle timidly, and it pricks you; grasp it boldly, and its spines crumble.

-William F. Halsey

2. People will only change when the combination of the desire for change, the vision of the change, and the knowledge of the change process is greater than the value of leaving things as they are. This can alternatively be expressed as:

Dissatisfaction + Vision + Change Process = Cost of Change.
-Beckhard and Harris, Managing Complex Change

3. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you're looking down, you can't see something that's above you.

-C. S. Lewis

The first has been a recurring theme here in i-TFTD. My favourite take on it is: most industries today call themselves providers of solutions. Solutions are needed only when problems exist. So all of us "solution providers" must be eagerly seeking out problems. Instead we avoid, deny, hide and spend energy finding who to blame. Funny. Most of the highly effective and successful people I have observed, have a curiousity to move towards newer problems to tackle.

The second quote is a bit abstract, from an academic source. It applies not only in an organizational context but also in personal life. We say we wish to change something but do not actually do things to change it. To avoid the prolonged dissatisfaction it is better to be aware that there are costs that we are not willing to pay for achieving the changed situation. Maybe it is a prudent decision. Maybe not.

The third reminds us to set a higher vision for ourselves rather than basking for too long in any past achievement.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

i-TFTD #42: Avoid the 99 Club

Once upon a time, there lived a King who, despite his luxurious lifestyle, was neither happy nor content. One day, the King came upon a servant who was singing happily while he worked.

This fascinated the King; why was he, the Supreme Ruler of the Land, unhappy and gloomy, while a lowly servant had so much. The King asked the servant, "Why are you so happy?"

The man replied, "Your Majesty, I am nothing but a servant, but my family and I don't need too much -- just a roof over our heads and warm food to fill our tummies."

The king was not satisfied with that reply. Later in the day, he sought the advice of his most trusted advisor. After hearing the King's woes and the servant's story, the advisor said, "Your Majesty, I believe that the servant has not been made part of The 99 Club."

"The 99 Club? And what exactly is that?" the King inquired. The advisor replied, "Your Majesty, to truly know what The 99 Club is, place 99 Gold coins in a bag and leave it at this servant's doorstep." When the servant saw the bag, he took it into his house. When he opened the bag, he let out a great shout of joy... so many gold coins!

He began to count them. After several counts, he was at last convinced that there were 99 coins. He wondered, "What could've happened to that last gold coin? Surely, no one would leave 99 coins!" He looked everywhere he could, but that final coin was elusive. Finally, exhausted, he decided that he was going to have to work harder than ever to earn that gold coin and complete his collection.

From that day, the servant's life was changed. He was overworked, horribly grumpy, and castigated his family for not helping him make that 100th gold coin. He stopped singing while he worked. Witnessing this drastic transformation, the King was puzzled. When he sought his advisor's help, the advisor said, "Your Majesty, the servant has now officially joined The 99 Club."

He continued, "The 99 Club is a name given to those people who have enough to be happy but are never contented, because they're always yearning and striving for that extra 1 telling to themselves: "Let me get that one final thing and then I will be happy for life." We can be happy, even with very little in our lives, but the minute we're given something bigger and better, we want even more! We lose our sleep, our happiness, we hurt the people around us; all these as a price for our growing needs and desires."

That's what joining "The 99 Club" is all about!

The idea is not to stop aspiring or working to achieve something but the way we proceed towards it. I decide to go on a long drive to Lonavla, a hill station near Mumbai accessible through a comfortable expressway, but throughout the way if I complain about the traffic, worry about the rising prices and generally feel miserable, the original higher objective -- enjoying time out in scenic surroundings -- is lost.