Wednesday, December 30, 2009

i-TFTD #238: @ 43

Note: This self-indulgent year-end post contains a lot of links that may lead you to interesting sites.

My niece Viyoma inspires me in many ways. The first child in the family, she was always the quiet one and soon acquired the label of "shy". Her creative presentations during her MBA, and her early foray into blogging made her popular amongst her friends. She forms and expresses her independent views in a politely assertive style and her offbeat career choice has opened up excellent opportunities for her. I love some of her interesting blog posts. Like the one on vendors in Mumbai local trains, her poem on the monsoon, her short description from Mangalore, her dialogue with her ideas, and her reaction to the tragic 26/11 event in Mumbai in a poetic rendition of what The Taj Hotel had to say.

On her 24th birthday she listed 24 things she did in the previous year that she is proud of. In a blatant plagiarization of title and format, along with the clear and present risk of bragging, I decided to attempt a similar list for myself. With apologies in advance to gentle readers of i-TFTD, here are 43 of the new or good things I did in 2009:

▪       Spoke at a seminarmy first where I addressed an HR audienceat Somaiya Institute of Management, Mumbai around Jan-09
▪       Won second prize in the first Inter-corporate team Scrabble tournament held at Bangalore in Jan-09
▪       Led a day-long Strengths Approach to Career Development workshop for HR Infotech Association Mumbai chapter in Feb-09
▪       Opened Goodreads account around Feb-09 where I list the books I read, categorize and rate them, and occasionally write a review.
▪       Was Tournament Director for a Scrabble tournament at our Mumbai offices for employees in Mar-09
▪       Co-led a half-day training programme on Branding Self for NASSCOM's Women in Leadership in IT (WIL-IT) forum members in Mar-09
▪       Delivered 90-minute capsule sessions for senior managers titled Mindmapping and Beyond (covering mind maps and concept maps! ) around Apr-09
▪       Flew (parasailing) 50 feet above ground, tethered to a vehicle at Arnala beach near Virar, Mumbai in May-09
▪       Experienced handling different kinds of sail boats at Aquasail India's Murud facility, courtesy a one-day outdoor event arranged by National HRD Network in May-09
▪       Eased into HR operations role in May-09 by figuring out that it is more or less like managing software application production support
▪       Conducted 1-day Strengths Workshop for over 200 HR and Training professionals at Hyderabad International Convention Centre under the aegis of Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and More Than HR Global in Jun-09
▪       Facilitated one of the break-out sessions at Global Diversity Symposium at Bangalore in Jun-09
▪       Finally got on to Facebook around Jul-09 though still an infrequent updater
▪       Rolled out an internal coach development programme involving HR teams other than my own around Aug-09
▪       Began tweeting in Sep-09 at - 95 posted in 105 days
▪       Floated (tandem paragliding) 3,000 feet above sea level at Panchgani-Mahabaleshwar in Oct-09
▪       Thrilled to be the oldest member (with my daughter as one of the youngest) in a trek to Naneghat (3,500 ft above MSL) near Kalyan arranged by our office club in Oct-09
▪       Participated as a provocateur in a panel discussion at a B-school for women in Pune in Nov-09
▪       Started posting haiku poems (17 syllables in three lines of 5-7-5) at in Nov-09 - 52 posted in 50 days
▪       Sang on stage for the first time in my life at a friend's wedding in Dec-09. Mangaloreans are friendly and courteous
▪       Met school mates in Dec-09 after over 28 years, basked in the warm nostalgia, spoke to "girls" who never interacted in SIWS High School in the 1970s   
▪      Designed and delivered a 90-minute capsule session titled From Creativity to Innovation in Dec-09
▪       Posted comments at Harvard blog (here for example) and Ribbonfarm (here and here, for example) blogs that received pointed responses from the blog authors
▪       Wrote over 50 instant rhymes of 4 to 48 lines (unsure if purists would call them poems) to wish someone on their birthday or to describe a get-together event
▪       Always spoke to and played with kids with eye contact at the same level
▪       Refrained from pointing out spelling, grammar and alignment mistakes 864 times (shall work on reducing the remaining 9,136 times in the coming decade)
▪       Opted to be boring and nice in conversations instead of clever, cute or cutting, succeeded 13 times, lowered target for next year
▪       Made spontaneous gifts of books without occasion at least 7 times, target tripled for 2010
▪       Continued to collect accusations of being incorrigibly overenthusiastic all the time about almost everything
▪       Introduced the treasure trove of TED videos to many colleagues and friends
▪       Completed (within 16 months), almost 50 Strength Workshop sessions to 1,000 participants and 6 day-long creativity workshops to over 150 attendees
▪       Promoted budding writers amongst colleagues on this i-TFTD blog
▪       Let myself be persuaded to accept the post of chairman at my apartment cooperative society
▪       Read every day of this year, started the habit of simultaneously reading multiple books
▪       Though never a video game fan, bought a Nintendo Wii and play regularly on weekends: bowling, tennis and golf
▪       Stopped making perpetually unattained resolutions, fine-tuning along the way with small wins
▪       Broadcast a long overdue message of gratitude to i-TFTD subscribers, naming some special ones, on the occasion of i-TFTD's 4th anniversary
▪       Sent over 100 ILU SMSs to my wife (expectation fallen short by 265 says she, I agree and plan to remedy)
▪       Asked more questions than gave answers or argued against (results satisfactory, should I do more of this?)
▪       Connected with more alumni of my organization, really happy that many who started their careers here are doing extremely well all over the world
▪       Resumed the old habit of writing colorful To Do lists in tiny-sized pads while also using mobile phone and Outlook reminder features
▪       Played vigorous if unskilled TT (ping pong) whenever I saw a table, ditto with carrom
▪       Learnt to shun starting idea discussions with "But…", trained myself to avoid the "either/or" trap and evangelized the Strengths Approach and creativity to almost everyone I know      

Wish you and your near ones a Happy, Healthy and Cheerful New Year 2010,


Monday, December 28, 2009

i-TFTD #237: On Acting Ably

i-TFTD #237: On Acting Ably

#237-1. The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems.
-Mahatma Gandhi

2. Intelligence is quickness to apprehend as distinct from ability, which is capacity to act wisely on the thing apprehended.
-A. N. Whitehead

3. There is something that is much more scarce, something finer far, something rarer than ability. It is the ability to recognize ability.
-Elbert Hubbard

Unrealized potential is a basic fact of life. Sometimes we are more comfortable with our imagined hidden talents than to risk trying to act on it.

Acting wisely is less common than knowing and understanding something. Action for the sake of action is quite common.

Recognizing talent in others is an obvious requirement for managers but it helps all of us in knowing who to choose as role models, as friends to hang out with, as partners to seek help from.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

i-TFTD #236: Three Ways to Keep Your Ego in Check

i-TFTD #236: Three Ways to Keep Your Ego in Check

By John Baldoni (highlights mine)
December 10, 2009

"It's okay if other people think you're God, but you're in trouble if you start believing it."

David Cornwell, a sports attorney, recalled that quote as one uttered by his father, a surgeon. While Cornwell was speaking on Larry King Live about Tiger Woods' foibles, the quote has relevance to anyone in a leadership position, not just doctors and big name athletes.

Sure, leaders have to believe in themselves — otherwise no one else will. Their conviction in their own abilities has to be strong as well as resilient, but such self-assurance cannot be allowed to become arrogance. So often when we see business leaders making poor decisions it seems as if their ego is speaking louder than their voice of reason.

And yet we need to remember that, while it's easy to throw stones at people and power, and lampoon their outsized egos when they stumble, so often that outsize ego is the result of the relentless fawning of others. You do not rise to power without followers, but if that followership is more sycophantic than supportive, the leader can lose his bearings.

Keeping your ego in check is an exercise in humility, with the emphasis on the word exercise, so here are a few tips:

Accept praise, but never believe it totally. Ancient Romans had a tradition of welcoming home victorious military commanders with a state-sponsored procession that included the commander riding in his chariot. Legend has it that a slave standing next to him would hold a golden laurel above his head and whisper into his ear, "Remember you are mortal." True or not, it is a good lesson for anyone who achieves success to remind himself that success is earned, not bestowed. You need to keep earning it.

Listen to your best friend. While the word "friendship" may have become diluted in this era of social media mouse-clicking, the relationship between people who know and respect each other remains essential. Such friends (be they spouses or colleagues) are not afraid to give each other the straight dope. Senior leaders need the friendship of one or two close associates whom they trust above others to tell them the truth. Treasure those friendships.

Reflect on your shortcomings. Taking time out to gain perspective on what you are doing is valuable. In the Catholic tradition, penitents are taught to go through an examination of conscience, reflecting on their transgressions. A frank look at what you have done wrong, as it applies to decisions made, behaviors exerted, and treatment of others is vital to a leader keeping his head on straight. Too much dwelling on the negative is not good, but a frank assessment of shortcomings is advised.

Ego affirms a leader's ability to take charge. But checking the ego demonstrates a leader's ability to take charge of himself. That is critical to developing strong organizations which can achieve sustainable results.

(Thanks to PJR Sudhir for sharing this.)

I notice that many achievers with well-developed communication skills tend to use phrases like, “Clearly we have to…”, “It’s obvious that…” and “Having considered everything, I have no choice but to…”. While such clarity and confidence is useful, there are many situations where the possibility of new ideas and additional perspectives need to be given space and time. Real life and people’s brains have a way of enlarging the scope of what seems so clear to us. Better choices may exist outside the boundary of our “everything”.

Another important point was made by a senior manager friend in this manner: When people greet me in a friendly and respectful manner, I pause to think whether it is aimed at me or at my chair. One should not confuse one’s own standing as a person and a professional with any temporary value accruing from one’s position.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

i-TFTD #235: On Persistence

i-TFTD #235: On Persistence

#235-1. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.
-W C Fields

2. If at first you do succeed -- try to hide your astonishment.
-Harry Banks

3. In some schools they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.
-Bill Gates

It is an interesting creative exercise to make variations of well-known proverbs. The first two are practical observations on knowing when to "cut your losses" and move on, and how we sometimes expect to fail at a first attempt.

Competition is a fact in most aspects of life and who better to point it out than one of the most hyper-competitive icons of our time? We like it and accept it when we are positioned to win, we despise it when we lose. If the energy spent in complaining and criticizing is instead channelized into understanding the factors that lead to success...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

i-TFTD #234: Ultimate Advice

i-TFTD #234: Ultimate Advice

#234-1. All the stress that we feel is caused by arguing with what is.
-Byron Katie, American speaker and self-help author (1942-)

234-2. You have to take life as it happens, but you should try to make it happen the way you want to take it.
-German saying

234-3. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
-J. R. R. Tolkien, English fantasy writer, poet, philologist, author of The Lord of the Rings (1892-1973)

teachers often advise acceptance. Paradoxically, it enables deep change. On the level of daily affairs, this could remind us to distinguish between facts outside our immediate control and aspects that can be influenced by us. A married person encounters examples of this when dealing with the personality traits of the spouse, which are less changeable than outward behavior.

Acceptance should not be confused with passivity or apathy
. Living involves taking action, which includes forming opinions, deciding and influencing the outer world.

One can endlessly debate the above or avoid spending think time on such matters in the abstract but
either way one is making a choice.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

i-TFTD #233: On Hope

i-TFTD #233: On Hope

#233-1. Never let go of hope. One day you will see that it all has finally come together. What you have always wished for has finally come to be. You will look back and laugh at what has passed and you will ask yourself, "How did I get through all of that?"

233-2. Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.
-Dale Carnegie, pioneering self-help author of How to Win Friends and Influence People and other books (1888–1955)

233-3. The only guide to man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his  actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield, because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations; but with this shield, however the fates may play,  we march always in the ranks of honor.
-Winston Churchill, British orator, author and Prime Minister (1874-1965)

Hope, like faith, involves holding a belief in the mind that is not fully indicated or substantiated by facts. Hope for the best, anticipate the worst, one of the many age! -old aphorisms drilled into me from a young age, has been a useful guide for prudent planning balanced with a general optimism.

But hopes do not always come true. What we do when they don
t has to be guided by conscience.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

i-TFTD #232: Plan But Don't Always Stick to It

i-TFTD #232: Plan But Don't Always Stick to It

#232-1. Plans are nothing; planning is everything.
-Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. general and 34th president (1890-1969)

232-2. We cannot truly plan, because we do not understand the futurebut this is not necessarily a bad news. We could plan ! while bearing in mind such limitations. It just takes guts.
-Nassim Nicholas Taleb in The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

232-3. Enlightened trial and error outperforms the planning of flawless intellects.
-David Kelley, founder & CEO of Ideo Product Development

A powerful quote that is a favorite of mine. Making a plan is necessary for most activities in life. It induces us to gather data, think about the objectives, constraints and sequence of steps. But once we have a plan and start execution, it is vital to keep our antenna tuned for new information, changed circumstances and unexpected events that may suggest changing our plan. Rigidly adhering to what we decided based on assumptions that no longer hold true is sometimes worse than having no plan.

In the software development process, the so-called agile practices are posited on planning for changes. This appears to go against the emphasis on scope freeze that is the essence of quality processes but customer reality always overrides the idealistic models. Adaptability can be planned and nurtured.!

Taleb has expounded on this aspect from the perspective of financial markets and the (mis)use of statistical models in his books, Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan.

Innovation gurus
remind us that the nature of the creative process is messy and cannot be planned and measured in simplistic ways.

Friday, November 27, 2009

i-TFTD #231: On Conversation

i-TFTD #231: On Conversation

#231-1. The real art of conversation is not saying the right thing at the right time, but leaving the wrong thing unsaid at the most tempting moment.

(Thanks to D. Karthikeyan for sharing this.)

231-2. "Diplomacy is nothing but a lot of hot air," said a companion to French statesman Georges Clemenceau as they rode to a peace conference. "All etiquette is hot air," said Clemenceau. "But that is what is in our automobile tires; notice how it eases the bumps."

(Thanks to Amlesh Kanetkar for sharing this.)

231-3. What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.
-Salman Rushdie, writer (b. 1947)

Not saying wrong things sounds simple but the problem is our judgement of what is wrong. There are clues that could help: (i) if the temptation to say what has occurred to me is felt as a compulsive need to impress (ii) if I intuitively sense that my point could be misconstrued and thereby rendering my communication i! neffective (iii) if I have received feedback to tone down or polish my speech. The simple act of pausing and examining whether something should be said and if there are better ways to put it across would itself help.

It is fashionable in todays business world to deride diplomacy and praise straight talk but in reality bluntness seems to get most people into trouble. Etiquette is just a commonly agreed form of symbolic interaction that occasionally degenerates into meaningless ritual when used without u! nderstan ding its spirit. Every organization culture, every subgroup and every layer of management has its own coded language that one is expected to learn gradually through observation and imitation. Some rare books or articles elucidate this but they tend to sound too cynical.

On the other hand, too many people take what they think to be a safe option of keeping
their dissenting views unstated. This does have serious consequences but that is not visible. Healthy debate is the hallmark of a progressing society.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

i-TFTD #230: Paul Hawken to Youth

i-TFTD #230: Paul Hawken to Youth

This is from (highlights mine) and has been quoted or linked in many blogs recently. Takeaways for me from this speech:

-Good style with a mix of humorous one-liners and hard-hitting reality
-Inspiring without sounding too touchy-feely
-Makes any reader ask some fundamental questions

Healing or Stealing?
Commencement Address at University of Portland
May 3, 2009
By Paul Hawken

hen I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was "direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful." No pressure there.

Let's begin with the startling part. Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation... but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

This planet came with a set of instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don't poison the water, soil, or air, don't let the earth get overcrowded, and don't touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food—but all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn't bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring. The earth couldn't afford to send recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here's the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don't be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.!

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you haven't got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Ad! rienne Rich wrote, "So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world." There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.

You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors! without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way.

There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity's willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider. "One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice," is Mary Oliver's description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the li! ving world.

Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots. Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown — Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood — and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the aboliti! onist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit. And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, non-governmental organizations, and companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history.

The living world is not "out there" somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without ! homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. We are the only species on the planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time rather than renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can't print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for th! e future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.

The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. And dreams come true. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. ! Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe, which is exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a "little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven."

So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. You can feel it. It is called life. This is who you are. Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. Our innate nature is to create the conditions that are conducive to life. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn't stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fa! ct that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn't ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hope only makes sense when it doesn't make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.