The Opinions and Views mentioned in this Blog are my personal opinions and views and does not reflect the views of the organization that I am working for.

05 July 2015

RVO:Creativity Mental Block #3: Follow the rules

This post is a continuation of THIS POST. Please read it before you read this post 

"Every act of creation is first an act of destruction." ----- Picasso

Pattern thinking is the first example of our rule based thinking. Patterns help us to understand the new information based on our past experiences. Patterns can be sequences (buds turn to flowers), cycles (monsoon appear every year from June to September), shapes, similarities and probabilities. The problem with pattern thinking is that they affect the way in which we think.

People follow three strategies to solve problems.
  • Backtracking: Start with one plan of action. If it fails, come back and start again with a new plan.
  • Working Backwards: First identify the end objective and plan backwards.
  • Break the rules: There are many examples of this in history. Alexander cutting the Gordon Knot, Einstein equating mass and energy, Catholic priests inserting spaces between written words thus changing 'reading by the ear' to 'reading with the eye'. The list is endless
While following the rules have their benefits, it can become a mental block if it means 'Think about things only as they are'.

There are two reasons why rules should be challenged. One is that they make us get locked on to one approach or strategy. The other is that the basic reason for having that rule in the first place would have undergone changes.

Von Oech recommends the following two approaches. one, 'do not fall in love with your ideas' and two, go after 'your sacred cows'. Sacred cows are those rules and ideas and beliefs that everyone take for granted.

In conclusion, the author talks about the 'Thuban phenomenon'. It woks as follows.
  • You have a guiding star. It could be an idea, a belief or philosophy that guides your thoughts and actions
  • You change. you develop new interests, meet new people. You find new guiding stars
  • Things continue to change in a cyclical way. The former 'Guiding Star' takes a dominant position in our mind and thinking.
The implications for creating thinking is that sometimes one has to look at past ideas, rules, solutions and inspiration to resolve current problems

04 July 2015

RVO:Creativity Mental Block #2: Searching for logical answer

This post is a continuation of THIS POST. Please read it before you read this post 

Von Oech starts off this chapter by discussing the two types of thinking. The soft thinking is metaphorical, approximate, humorous, playful and capable of dealing with contradiction. Hard thinking tends to be logical, precise, exact, specific and consistent.

Hard thinking is like a spotlight. It is bright, clear and intense, but with a narrow focus. Soft thinking is like flood light, it is diffuse, but covers a larger area.

How are these modes of thinking related to creative thinking?

The creative thinking has two phases. In the imaginative phase, one has to think differently, meaning one has to use soft thinking. In the practical phase, one has to get things done and here hard thinking comes useful.

The key issue with 'That is not logical' thinking is that it bypasses the power of intuition. Intuitive hunches are the answers that our mind provides to our current problems by assimilating our past experiences.

The last part of this chapter deals with the use of metaphors, which Von Oech says are the tools that you can use to bring logic to the current problem at hand. Metaphor links the familiar to the unfamiliar thereby bringing clarity to the unfamiliar. Von Oech recommends the use of 'Action Metaphors'. Some examples of action metaphors include 'Running for office', 'Fishing in troubled waters', 'Prospecting for gold' etc. The problem with metaphors is that they have the power to limit our thinking if we habitually used.

Book Review: The Greatness Guide: Author: Robin Sarma

Just finished reading 'The Greatness Guide' by Robin Sarma. OK kinda book.
You don't know what to expect from a Robin Sarma book. While he blazed in with his ' The Monk who sold his Ferrari ', which was new and refreshing with a new author and all that stuff, his latter books have not lived up to the billing, in my opinion. 
This book is preachy. There is a lot of 'you should do this', 'you should be that', 'you should be healthy', 'you should be good'....
Preachy....
This is a small volume of book with 101, what in Spanish language can be called 'Chapteritas', small chapters with an average length of two pages. Each cover one concept. In each chapter, Robin Sarma examines one idea, lightly skims over the same, and move on to the next idea in the next chapter, much like a butterfly in a rose garden.
At the outset, Mr.Sarma says that he is not Guru in the conventional sense of the term. But he is a 'Guru' as in 'Remover of Darkness'. His concern at being tagged a 'Guru' is that due to that tagging reader might consider Sarma to be different from him and decide that his (Sarma's) wisdom is not for ordinary mortals like him.
There is a lot or repetition of ideas in this book. Same ideas are discussed through different words in different sections of the book. For example, the idea that 'One should take care of one's health' is covered ad nauseum, so is the idea that 'you need to be good for your business to be good'. 
I will give three stars for this book, out of five. Much like a decent movie, you can spent some time enjoying the read, but don't expect too much of a takeaway. If you are looking for ideas that will impact you at your core, like 'Seven Habits' did or 'Goals' by Brian Tracy did, you are in for a disappointment.
This is my opinion. If you are a RS fan, you might disagree.
I am giving below some of the lessons and wisdom from various chapters in the book. They are not in any particular order.
So here goes....
'As you live your day, so you craft your life. There is no such thing as an unimportant day'
'Read books. A hand hat put down a good book is never the same.'
'A mind stretched by an idea cannot return to its original dimension.'
'If you want to lead, you need to read.'
'Knowing how to read and not reading is the same as not knowing to read.'
'Get some skin in the game. Participate, do not judge or criticize.'
'Fail sooner, succeed faster.'
'The real risk is in risk-less living.'
'You can't win a game you don't play.'
'Make sure to benchmark yourself against the best.'
'Build relationships. Nothing happens until you are out there.'
'If you want to be happy, do more of the things that make you happy.'
'Until you schedule something it is only a concept.'
'The harder I work, the luckier I get. Noting spectacular was achieved without spectacular effort.'
'Focus plus daily improvement plus time equals genius. Discover your talents and work like crazy to polish them.'
'Listen. Never talk when you can nod.'
'Difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action and reason leads to conclusions.'
'Know what you need to get done over the next days, weeks and months and focus on that. Say no to everything else.'
'Every time you say 'yes' to something unimportant, you are saying 'no' to something important.'
'Burn your boats. Do not take failure as an option.'
'Size of your life becomes the size of your thinking. Stop the 'impossibility thinking' in its tracks.'
'Push the envelope. Do not accept mediocrity.'
'Ask profound question of yourself. Examples are 'Did I dream richly?', 'Did I live fully?', 'Did I learn to let go?', 'Did I live well?', 'Did I take wise decisions?', 'Did I follow them up with bold action?' etc'
'Find your cause.'
'Lead a structured life.'
'Five ways to build your culture. Rituals, Celebration, Conversation, Training, Storytelling.'
'What you are doing speaks so loudly that I can't hear what you are saying. Synchronize your daily schedule with your deepest values.'
'Be a great parent. Lead by example. Inspire and develop your kids.'
'Success and joy and inner peace doesn't just show up. You need to create them.'
'Smallest of action is better than noblest of intentions.'
'Walk the earth ever so lightly.'
'First responsibility of a leader is to define reality. Next is to say Thank You.'
'Connect with your mortality each morning.'
'Go out and play.'
'There are no problems. There are only opportunities for improvement.'
'A mistake is a mistake only if it is done twice.'
'Shadows exposed to light begin to disappear.'
'The day you stop learning is the day you start ageing.'
'Keep challenging to do better, think better and be better.'
'Happiness comes from within.'
'God dwells in details.'
'Build success structure to deliver great quality and consistency.'
'Get serious about building system and you will show you are serious about success.'
'Make success happen.'
'Don't stare up the steps. Step up the stairs (of success).'
'Know what you want. Clarity breeds success.'
'Experience more. Collapse the timeline.'
'Be grateful for what we have.'
'I cursed the fact that I did not have a shoe till I saw a person who had no feet' -- Persian Proverb
'Our outer work reflect our inner work. Reflect regularly.'
'Personal change is a process that is hardest at the beginning. A NASA rocket consumes more fuel at the initial phase of launch than during the rest of the flight. Get up early and spend a 'Holy Hour'.'
'Get great at life. Pay attention to it. Reflect. Engage in it. Connect to it. Have lots of fun.'
'Ask great questions about your life. What needs to improve in my life? How can I be happy? What makes me happy? What is missing from my 'coolness'?'
'Four leadership lessons from a tailor. Improve, Observe, Connect, Adapt.'
'Seven elements of wealth: Inner wealth, physical wealth, family and social wealth, career wealth, economic wealth, adventure wealth, impact wealth.'
'You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your words.'
'Make a dent in the universe'... Steve Jobs
'Will it matter a year from now?'
'Plan your time well. Anxiety is caused by lack of control, organization, preparation and action.'
'Do not scatter your brilliance. Focus.'
'A man who chases two rabbits catches none.' --- Chinese Proverb
'Reflect on what you want to stand for. Identify your cause.'
'Lay claim to greatness. It is never too late to become the person that you dreamed of becoming.'

03 July 2015

RVO:Creativity Mental Block #1: Searching for the one right answer

This post is a continuation of THIS POST. Please read it before you read this post

"Nothing is more dangerous than an idea if that is the only one we have".....Emile Chartier

Our education system teaches us to look for one right answer. However, in reality, depending on different perspectives and contexts, you could get multiple answers for the same problem. Most of the time, the alternative solutions may be far superior.

Von Oech asks us to look for 'Second best answer' to all the problems. He suggests the following steps to identify the alternative solution.
  1. Ask 'What if' questions
  2. Reverse the problem
  3. Modify the question. For example, instead of asking 'What is the solution', ask 'What are the solutions'
  4. Ask questions that whack people's thinking
  5. Rephrase the question
One of the quotes by Heraclitus says 'When there is no sun, we can see evening stars'. One has to identify the 'Sun', the dominant feature of the problem. and defocus on it to get creative ideas.

Von Oech says that in problem solving, forgetting what you know is as important as knowing. He mentions the story of a pot filled with water. No more water can flow into it. For it to be filled with new, fresh water, it is necessary to throw out the old water.

02 July 2015

Maxwell: Utilize Strategic Thinking

This article is a continuation from THIS POST. It is advisable to read it before you read this article.

Once we have identified the mission or purpose of our lives, we should prepare a personal vision statement. Strategic thinking will allow us to:
  1. Identify the short, medium and long term objectives that will help me achieve my vision
  2. Help us develop detailed strategies and plan of action
Why  should we utilize the power of strategic thinking?
  1. Strategic thinking simplifies the difficult.
    • It takes complex issues and long term objectives and breaks them into manageable sizes.
  2. Strategic thinking prompts you to ask the right questions. Some of the questions that it forces us to ask are:
    • Direction: What should I do next? Why?
    • Organization: Who is responsible for what? Who is responsible for whom? Do I have the right support?
    • Cash: What is the projected income, expense, net? Can I afford it? How?
    • Tracking: Am I on target/
    • Overall evaluation: Am I achieving the quality that I expect and demand of myself?
    • Refinement: How can I be more effective and efficient?
    • Any other questions that I may have of myself
  3. Strategic thinking prompts customization
    • Make plans to fit circumstances
    • It forces you to go beyond vague ideas and engage in specific ways to tackle a task / problem.
  4. Strategic thinking prepares us today for an uncertain tomorrow.
  5. Strategic thinking reduces the margin of error
    • It lines up action with the objective
  6. It gives you an influence over others.
How to release the power of strategic thinking
  1. Breakdown the issue to smaller, meaningful parts
  2. Ask why before how
  3. Identify the real issues and objectives.
    • A problem must be clearly defined before it can be resolved
    • Challenge any assumptions
    • Collect as much information as required
    • Remove any personal agenda
  4. Review our resources
  5. Develop plan
    • Start with the obvious. They build momentum and initiate creativity and intensity
  6. Put right people in right place
    • Wrong person: Problem instead of potential
    • Wrong place: Frustration instead of fulfillment
    • Wrong plan: Grief instead of growth
  7. Keep repeating the process
    • The will to win is worthless if I do not have the will to prepare
    • A good strategic thinker is a continuous strategic thinker
Thinking questions:
  1. What is my long term objective?
  2. What is my strategy to achieve the same?
  3. Am I following the correct strategic plan today to achieve my long term potential?

01 July 2015

Maxwell: Harness Creative Thinking.

This article is a continuation from THIS POST. It is advisable to read it before you read this article.

The most valuable resources that we bring to our work and to our firm is creativity. It is the ideas that matter more than anything.

Creative thinking can be divided into two groups.
  1. Inventions: This is the creation of something entirely new using new ideas.
  2. Innovation: This is the process of improving something existing, either by using new ideas or by utilizing and combining existing ideas
Creative thinking embodies the art of asking the right, correct and relevant questions and using the responses either to invent (create new) or innovate (improve existing).

Characteristics of creative thinkers
  1. Value ideas. They have lots of them
  2. Explore options
  3. Embrace ambiguity
    • Creative thinkers identify ways to remove uncertainty
  4. Connect the dots
    • They are able to link seemingly unrelated ideas
    • They connect and associate ideas in different ways to create new unrelated ideas.
    • Creative thinking works as follows. Think --> Collect --> Create --> Correct --> Connect
      • When we think we start collecting ideas. The question to be asked is 'What material relates to this thought?
      • Next step is to create a better idea. 'What ideas can make the thought better?'
      • Refine the new idea. 'What changes can make the new idea better?'
      • Finally connect the ideas by positioning them in the right context. This makes the idea complete and powerful.
  5. Do not fear failure
Benefits of creative thinking
  1. It adds value to everything
    • Creativity increases our potential
  2. It compounds
    • It builds on itself and increases the creativity of the thinker
  3. Help us learn more
  4. Challenges the status quo
How to be creative?
  1. Remove creativity killers. These are thoughts that stifle creativity. They may consist of
    • Doing statements: Examples are 'Follow the rules', 'Don't be different', 'It will be difficult to do' etc
    • Feeling statements: Examples are 'Don't be stupid', 'I am not a creative person', 'It can't be done', 'We can't afford to make mistakes' etc.
    • Thinking statements: 'It is not practical', 'This is the only way', 'It has never been done' etc
  2. Ask the right questions. Wrong questions can shut down creative thinking. Some examples of right questions are:
    • What is the root cause?
    • Why is it done this way?
    • Why is it not done this way?
    • What are the underlying issues?
    • What does it remind me of?
    • Why is it important?
    • Who has different perspective on it?
  3. Develop a creative environment
    • Encourage creativity
    • Focus on innovation
    • Value trust
    • Appreciate the power of dreams
  4. Spend time with other creative people.
  5. Think out of the box

30 June 2015

Book Review: The Opposable Mind: Author: Roger Martin

The complete name of the book is 'The Opposable Mind: Winning through integrative thinking': Author: Roger Martin.

Much of the progress achieved by human beings is attributed to the 'opposable thumb', the fact that human beings are the only animals whose thumbs works opposite to the other four fingers, helping us to sew, hold and grip things.

Roger Martin, in his book 'Opposable Mind', proposes that the highly successful leaders are able to keep two opposing ideas in their minds, without any emotional stress, and are able to integrate these ideas to form an integrated idea, which is far more superior to either of the opposing ideas.

In this book, we meet many successful leaders, P&G CEO A G Lafley, Bob Young of Red Hat, Tim Brown of IDEO, Isadore Sharp of Four Seasons Hotel, Pierce Handling of Toranto Film Festival and Moses Znaimer of City TV.

Many of the iconic Indian CEOs are referenced here. These include FC Kohli and Rama Dorai of TCS, Nandan Nilekeni of Infosys, KV Kamath and ironically (in hindsight), Ramalinga Raju of Satyam.

With this introduction let us dive down into the book. 

In Chapter 1, Roger Martin eases the reader to the concept of opposable mind through a series of real life examples. Here the concept is explained, where some leaders are able to hold two opposing view points in their minds without the associated emotional stress. The key message is that thinking is equally, if not more, important that the execution - a point made by Steven Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Chapter 2 dwells on the structure of integrative thinking. Martin breaks the integrative thinking process into its four constituent parts vis Salience, Causality, Architecture and Resolution.

In chapter 3, author explains, through various examples, that integrative thinkers have the ability to distinguish models from reality. This ability is critical for driving through the constituent parts to a creative resolution.

Next chapter, chapter 4, explains that the twin forces of simplification and specialization discourage integrative thinking and goes on to suggest how these forces can be countered.

The reader will find the next four chapters to be interesting and useful. From chapter 5 through 8, the author discusses the ways in which one can cultivate the habit of integrative thinking.

Chapter 5 introduces the framework for developing integrative thinking capability. This framework has three components, Stance (How you see the world and your place in it), tools that you acquire based on your stance above and finally experiences that you undergo based on your tools and stance. The main point to note is the 360 degree interaction between Stance, Tools and Experiences.The interaction between these components makes a fascinating read.

Chapters 6, 7 and 8 discus each of these components in detail. Chapter 6 discusses the Stance of an integrative thinker, how they view world around them and their perception of their ability to influence that world. Author delineates 6 aspects that they consider when deciding on their world view. Three are related to the external world and three are related to how the integrative thinkers view themselves as a player in this world.

Chapter 7 discusses the tools that an integrative thinker uses when evaluating information. There are three tools that they use. They are Generative Reasoning, Causal Reality and Assertive Inquiry. These tools are used to determine the linkage between material connection and teleological connections. Material connection relate to the 'as is' relation between two objects and teleological connection relate to how that relation 'should be'.

Chapter 8 talks about the role of experiences for an integrative thinker. Two aspects are discussed. One is mastery, a detailed knowledge of something specific and the other is Originality, creative understanding of new subject. Integrative thinker gives equal importance to both of them and uses a virtuous circle to move from originality to mastery which expose him to new areas and originality.

In summary, the personal knowledge system of an Integrative Thinker is depicted in the diagram below.
PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE SYSTEM OF AN INTEGRATIVE THINKER

This is a very insightful book and explains the thinking process through simple scientific explanations The concepts are very easy to put in practice. The most important takeaway in the book is the 360 degree interrelationship between Stance, Tools and Experience. By working on any one of these one can change all the three components and thereby future.

29 June 2015

Maxwell: Engage in Focused Thinking

This article is a continuation from THIS POST. It is advisable to read it before you read this article.


Focused thinking is synonymous with developing concentration. Focused thinking removes distraction and helps us concentrate on an idea and think with clarity.Some of the benefits of focused thinking are:

  • It harnesses energy towards a desired goal
    • The greater the complexity of a problem, the more focused thinking time is required to solve it
  • It gives ideas time to develop.
    • A good idea can become a great idea if you give focused thinking time
  • It gives clarity to the target
    • It helps one know the goal, and focus on achieving the goal
  • It  will take you to the next level
    • Thee immature mind hops from one thing to another. The mature mind seeks to follow through.
    • The only way to get to the next level is focus
Where to focus one's thinking?

Identify the area in our lives that needs focused thinking. The following steps will help us identify the area that we should focus on.
  • Identify our priorities
    • What are my priorities regarding myself, my family, my team, my life?
    • What are my strengths, what is it that I do exceptionally well?
    • What brings the highest return on my time?
  • Discover our gifts
    • What are my skills, gifts and talents? Talk to people, take personality tests and use reflective thinking.
    • If I am going to focus on my thinking in the areas of my strengths, I need to know what they are
  • Develop our dream
    • What is my dream?
    • If my thinking has returned to a particular area very frequently, I may be able to identfy my dream in that area.
    • As I get older my need to focus becomes critical.
How can we stay focused?
  • Remove disorders. Have a 'Thinking Schedule'
    • Focus on first things first. Prioritize
    • Insulate ourselves from distraction. Balance my need to be with people and to be alone.
  • Make time for focused thinking
  • Keep items of focus in front of us.
    • Have a regular reminder of our priority
  • Set goals.
    • Goals should be
      • Clear enough to be in focus
      • Close enough to be achieved
      • Helpful enough to change lives
      • Incrementally moves us to the achievement of our life's mission and purpose.
    • Write down the goals
  • Question my progress
    • Measure my progress regularly
    • Am I progressing towards achieving my dreams?
What am I giving up to achieve my dreams? What is my opportunity costs? Is it worth it?

Thinking questions
  • What are my dreams?
  • What is the purpose of my life?
  • What is my single line mission statement?

Book Review: A whack on the side of the Head: Author: Roger Von Oech

The full title of the book is 'A whack on the side of the head - How you can be more creative'. Author: Roger Von Oech.

The first sentence in the book is 'The sun is new every day', spoken by the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus of Ephisus. (the author borrows extensively from the Greek Philosopher). In a world that  is continually changing, the ability to think creatively can mean the difference between success and failure. The first sentence in the book says that even when the same problem looks similar today as it did yesterday, the problem is not the same. One need to look at it with a different perspective.

The book starts off with an introductory chapter titled 'A whack on the side of the head' and concludes with chapter titled 'A whack on the other side of the head'. The book identifies and focuses on 10 mental blocks that can impact creativity. Each of the 10 chapters between the first and the concluding ones discuss one mental block.

The author identifies the following mental blocks to creative thinking.
  1. Looking for the right answer
  2. Looking for the logical answer
  3. Follow the rules
  4. Be practical
  5. Play is frivolous - be serious
  6. That is not my area
  7. Don't be foolish
  8. Avoid ambiguity
  9. To err is wrong
  10. I am not creative.
Basic prerequisite to creative thinking is knowledge. To be a creative person, one need advanced level of knowledge. In other words, the more you know, the more you can be creative. Whether or not you 'will be' creative will depend on what we do with our knowledge.

Any idea, concept or thing takes it meaning from the context in which we put it. For example, when you transform the concept of 'Just in Time' production from 'Toyota Production Line' context to 'Burger Production' context, you get the MacDonald's 'Burger Line Operations'. This means that changing context is a way to discover the possibilities of your resource.

There are four stages of creative thinking. At each stage, the individual plays a different role. The four roles are Explorer, Artist, Judge and Warrior

Explorer: In this role we look for materials we will use to build the idea. The materials include facts, concepts, experiences, knowledge, feelings and whatever we can find. In this role we are searching. We will poke around in unknown areas, pay attention to unusual patterns, use different senses, seek out a variety of different types of information

Artist: In this role, we play around with the information, experiment with different approaches, ask 'what if' question and look for hidden analogies. The artist, in the end, comes up with a new idea.

Judge: This is the analytical role. In the role we evaluate the idea based on a few parameters. Is the idea good? Will it give us the expected RoI?  Do we have enough resources to make it happen? We run risk analyses, question our assumptions and ultimately make a decision. 

Warrior: This is the role played in the execution phase. We compete with other ideas, fight it out in the trenches, overcome idea killers, temporary setbacks etc. In this role we plan the work and work the plan.

There are two reasons for low creative performance.
  • Weak roles
  • Bad timing
If any of the four roles in our team is weak, our ideas will not get off the ground.
Equally using a role at the wrong time is counter productive. Some people tend to get stuck in a single role.

The prescription for high performance is to develop the creative roles and use them appropriately.

Finally, follow these tips to become a good warrior.
  1. Take a whack at it: Make the idea happen. Identify the three things that can help us reach our goal.
  2. Put a lion in our heart: To fight a bull when you are scared in something. What give us courage to act on our ideas? Have we got a well thought out plan? Do we have faith in our idea?
  3. Get support by creating a support system
  4. Identify and get rid of excuses:
  5. Flex our risk muscle: Take risks. make it a point to take at least one risk per week.
  6. Have something at stake: It can be money, reputation, self esteem, survival - It should be anything that is important for us.
  7. Be dissatisfied
  8. Use our shield: Be prepared for a negative reaction and do not let it prevent us from acting on our idea
  9. Sell, sell, sell: What benefits does your idea provide? Why should other be interested in your idea? What does it promise? How can we make our idea attractive to others?
  10. Set a deadline
  11. Be persistent
After we implement our idea, we must give ourselves a pat on the back. After that go out and earn another one.

28 June 2015

Maxwell: Rely on bottomline thinking

This article is a continuation from THIS POST. It is advisable to read it before you read this article.

What is bottom line thinking?
  1. It is all about our mission in life. It deals with the enduring legacy that we want to create. It asks questions like 'What is the objective of my life?', 'What is the key reason for my doing what I am doing?' etc
  2. Bottom line thinking is doing a root cause analysis of our lives.
Why should we rely on bottom line thinking?
  1. It provides greater clarity. It can be used as a guide to ensure that our activities are aligned to a larger goal.
  2. It helps as a benchmark to assess every situation we find ourselves in.
  3. It helps us make the best decisions.
  4. It generates high morale. By pointing out the big picture of our work, bottom line thinking generates high morale.
  5. Think bottom line today for future success
    • Identify our bottom line
    • Identify resources, plan of action and plan of execution
How to rely on bottom line thinking?
  1. Identify the bottom line: Be as specific as possible. Go to the essence of what we are trying to achieve.
  2. Make the bottom line our key decision point in ANY decision that we take.
  3. Create a strategic plan to achieve our bottom line
    • Once the bottom line is identified, a strategy should be devised to achieve it.
    • When the bottom line of each activity is achieved, the BOTTOM LINE is achieved
    • We should have ONLY ONE bottom line
  4. Align team members with the bottom line
  5. Stick with one system and monitor results
Thinking questions:
  1. What is my bottom line?
  2. Am I always focused on it?

27 June 2015

Maxwell: Learn from Reflective Thinking.

This article is a continuation from THIS POST. It is advisable to read it before you read this article.

Reflective thinking
  • Gives one perspective within a context
  • Allows one to continuously connect with the journey
  • Provides a direction to the future
Benefits of Reflective thinking
  • Gives you perspective. You gain new appreciation relating to things that went unnoticed
  • Gives an emotional integrity to your thought life. By separating emotion from experiences, it can help one get over a lot of negative images carried over from past.
  • Increases the confidence in decision making. Learning from reflective thinking can help one make better decisions.
  • Clarifies the big picture. By putting things in context, reflective thinking clarifies the big picture. 
  • Converts a good experience to a valuable experience. It converts experiences into insights.
How to embrace the lessons of reflective thinking?
  • Set aside time for reflection. 'The unexamined life is not worth living'. Schedule specific time for reflective thinking.
  • Remove yourself from distraction
  • Regularly review the calendar / journal. They tell you what you had done with your time and whether what you are doing now fits in with what you have been doing in the past and whether you are spending your time with a clear future objective.
  • Ask the right questions. The value you get from reflective thinking will depend on the quality of the question that you ask. The question you ask should reflect your priorities in terms of: 
    • Personal growth: What have I learned today? How can I apply it?
    • Adding value: To whom did I add value to day? How can I add compounded value? How can I add value to the society?
    • Leadership: Did I lead by example today? What did I do and how did I do it?
    • Personal Faith: did I represent god well today? What good did I do today that will make me happy?
    • Marriage and family:Did I communicate love to my family today? How did I show love? Did they feel it? How did they return it?
    • Inner circle: Have I spent enough time today with my key players? How can I help them to be more successful? In what areas can I mentor them?
    • New experiences: Did I have any new experiences today which has a potential to add value to me?
  • Cement your learning thorough action
    • Note down your thought
    • Make them actionable
    • Put them into action

26 June 2015

Book Review: How Successful People Think: Author: John C Maxwell

John Maxwell is a leading author of series of books on leadership. He has written the books including 'The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership', 'Developing the leader within you' and '21 indispensable qualities of a leader'.

In the book 'How successful people think', Mr.Maxwell points out a set of specific though patterns that successful people follow. Author argues that their success is an outcome of these thought patterns. The important patterns identified by Mr.Maxwell are.
In the introduction to the book, Maxwell provide three reasons why we should change the way we think.
  1. Changed thinking is not automatic. One has to put sufficient and consistent effort to ensure that one gets into the habit of thinking like a successful person
  2. Changing the thinking is difficult. One has to put specific and focused effort at thinking effectively
  3. Changed chinking is worth the effort. While other sources of wealth dry out, the ability to successful thinking is like an 'Akshayapatra' that never dry out.
Regarding the practical aspects of success thinking, Maxwell provide the following practical guidelines.
  1. Expose oneself to good inputs. Reading good books & book reviews and talking to good thinkers are sources of good inputs. It is important to keep a good idea in focus. One way to do this is to keep the idea in writing and keep it somewhere where it can continuously stimulate the thinking.
  2. Expose oneself to good thinkers. Try to find people who can challenge and stimulate our thinking process. Sharp people sharpen one another.
  3. Choose to think good thoughts. To cultivate good thinking one should have the right place to think, shape, stretch and land our thoughts. It may be a good idea to have a 'Thinking Schedule', a specific time during the week when one leaves everything and focus on good thinking. 
  4. Act on our good thoughts. Ideas have a short life span (especially good ideas). So it is very important to get into the 'Action Habit' and act on the good ideas that can make one successful.
  5. Act our way to good thoughts. Do not wait for feelings / emotion to initiate good thoughts. Start by specifically starting the thinking process. Once we start the process, it will generate feelings and emotions that will create further additional thoughts and ideas.
  6. Repeat the process. The thinking process have to be continuously repeated for it to be successful.
To become a good thinker, one has to do the following.
  1. Find a place to think our thoughts: 
    • Identify a good solitary place where we can go and generate good ideas. Keep notepad and pen ready so that one can capture the thoughts.
  2. Find a place to shape our thoughts
    • Good ideas need to be polished before they become actionable
    • The thoughts have to stand the test of clarity and questioning
    • Put our thoughts in writing. 'Learning to write is learning to think'. We don't know anything clearly unless we can state it in writing.
    • The shaping time embodies humour, humility, excitement, creativity, fulfillment, honesty, passion and change.
    • In the place that we shape the ideas, we must be able to:
      • Write things down
      • Focus without interruption
      • Ask question of our ideas.
  3. Find a place to stretch our thoughts
    • Discuss the ideas with friends to cover the missing points.
  4. Find a place to land our thoughts.
    • The ideas has to have an application.
    • Lead our ideas first with:
      • Oneself: Believe in the idea. If we don't believe it, no one will.
      • Key players: Identify the influencers who can take an idea to implementation. 
      • Those most affected: Those closest to changes that occur as a result of our idea can give us a 'Reality Read'.
  5. Find a place to fly our ideas
    • A person should 'Think like a man of action and act like a person of thought'
    • Once we have created, shaped, stretched and landed our thoughts flying can be easy.
The remaining chapters of the book focus on each of the thinking patterns that were discussed previously. Each chapter is divided essentially into three parts, one a brief about the specific thinking pattern, two, the benefits of following the pattern and three, how one can follow the pattern, the what, why and how of each pattern.

18 June 2015

Whats in a name?

Please note: This is a humourous post. If you do not laugh or smile reading this post, it is your problem. You just lack the required humour quotient, that is all.

You know why I don't write a novel?
It is not that I don't have any ideas. I have plenty of them. I can write about a guy who spent his childhood days in Kerala, about another guy who spent his engineering college days during the late 80s, about another person who has been a  part of both the old economy and the new economy and has seen the best of both 'economies', about an ERP Consultant who loves his job, about a person who has a lot of interests but fritters away his time and talent moving from one passion to the next.....
I can write about many topics.
They why am I not writing a novel? or a story?
The reason is simple, I don't know how to name my protagonist.
Every time I think of writing a story, only two names come to my mind, one is Rahul and another is Rohit. Nothing else.
Unfortunately for me, my protagonist is from the state of Kerala. Rahul and Rohit are not the kinda names that parents in Kerala give to their progeny. Names like Baby, Saji, Jiji, Ebby, Biby, Liji, Siji, Siby, Seby, Sabu, Prince etc are more like the norm in that part of the world.
So are Karunakaran Nambiar, Sahadevan Kurupu, Subramaniam Iyer, Vasudevan Namboothiri, Bhaskaran Nair, Krishna Kumar Menon, Viswanathan, Bharathan, Vinayan etc. You throw a stone in the south of Kerala, and it will fall on someone with any one of those names.
Not Rohit, not Rahul either.
And these are the only two names that I can give to my protagonist as I think about writing a novel.
English writers do not have this problem. Any western name sound apt for any part. The protagonist names and their roles are mutually interchangeable. For example, you could have a Stuwert Rumpnell or a Frederick Kettering (This was the name of the hero in one of my childhood novels, that I tore into pieces of course, but the name still rankles), Ebenezer Magellan or Ewoke (Pronounced ee-woo-Ke) Holding....
All of them will make fine protagonists. You need the name of a detective? What about detective Ewoke Holding? Need a good name for a Banker? No problem, you can use Ebenezer Magellan (He started the 'Magellan Banking Trust'). Need a janitor who also doubles up as a neighborhood arsonist? Go for Frederick Kettering.
Or you could flip the script. A writer of English Novels could make Kettering as a banker, Holding as a janitor and Magellan as a detective without batting an eyelid.
You see my drift. For a western novel or story, any name is Ok. It has to sound westernish, that is all.
Ok, coming back to the problem at hand, if you think that I am being a harsh on Kerala, you are factually incorrect. (I mean 'you are wrong').
The problem is the same if you take a protagonist from any part of South India. I could take a Palaniappan or a Pichaiappan or a Kattabomman from Tamil Nadu, a Manjunath or Devi Shetty from Bangalore, a Sooriya Krishna Reddy from Andhra or a Bhaktheswar Gokhale from Maharashtra. The fact remains the same. These names are not sexy. It is difficult to imagine Sooriya Krishna Reddy as a Banker navigating in the upper echelons of the Banking Industry in Wall Street. At most he could be imagined as a local money lender.
Or for that matter, you can't write the story of a world renowned cardiologist with the name Devi Shetty from Bangalore. Just does not fit.
That is where I appreciate Sathyajit Ray. To create a detective with a name like 'Byomkesh Bakshi', and unleash him among unsuspecting public needed some guts.
I often wonder about the name 'Byomkesh Bakshi'. Even in a place like Bengal, where convoluted names are more of a norm rather than the exception, where names like Debabrata, Tathagatha and Oindrella float around like pollen, it is difficult to imagine a couple naming their child as 'Byomkesh'. As such it is difficult to pronounce. With a rasagolla in the mouth, it is impossible (to pronounce. Do I have to explain everything?).
May be that is why Ray gave that name to his detective. There is an advantage that the writer of  mystery novels enjoy that writers of other genre of writing do not. He need not use the name of the protagonist a lot in a detective novel. The usage of the name is optional. As an author, he just has to stealthily sneak in, early in the story, that the name of the detective is 'Byomkesh Bakshi'. Just create that association early in the reader's mind. That is all. He need not mention it again. He can manage the entire story with phrases like 'Detective took out his flashlight...', 'Detective smelled something fishy (apt for a Bengali Detective, methinks)', 'the piercing eyes of the Detective looked intently into her eyes' till ending the story with 'as usual, when the detective explained the process, he made it look so easy'...
After reading the story, the reader is relieved that the Old Lady died due to natural causes and the stab wound on her chest was just an accident (she accidentally fell on a sharp object) and that the suspect, sweet, young, adorable Amitaba is innocent. She doesn't care for the name of the detective. 
See, no need for the author to reiterate that the name of the detective was Byomkesh Bakshi. Mentioning once is enough.
(Same is the case if you are writing the story about a Doctor. You can write an entire novel saying 'Doctor did this', 'Doctor did that' etc without even once mentioning the name of the doctor. Do not believe me, watch all 10 seasons of 'Doctor Who' and tell me the name of the main character. But it is not easy if you have two or more doctors in your story and you have to tell the story of their professional rivalry or their love. Imagine how convoluted 'Grays Anatomy' would be if one character says 'Doctor, I am going to kiss you now' and the other responds, 'Doctor, I am waiting with bated breath'.
Damned confusing. You don't know which doc is going to kiss and which doc is having breathing troubles..)
While a complex name is ok in a mystery novel, that is not how it works in the story about an ERP Consultant. The name has to be repeated ad nauseum. Of course, one could write about a protagonist named (Let us say) Karunakaran Nambiar, top notch ERP consultant from Kerala. Typing that name itself is an effort. Also it is difficult to imagine 'Karunakaran Nambiar' as an ERP Consultant, implementing ERP Solutions in Latin America. 
If it is difficult for an author to write the story with a protagonist whose name is Karunakaran Nambiar, imagine the plight of a reader who has to sit and read the novel. Every time he reads about ERP Consultant Karunakaran Nambiar, his head spins. He gets a headache as he tries to pronounce the name. His tongue twists. Literally.
Of course, the reader might have some options. He could blackout the name 'Karunakaran Nambiar' with Astrix like they do to swear words on Indian Television. For example, he could read like  'the requirement gathering meeting that ************ ('ERP Consultant Karunakaran Nambiar') arranged with the customer was very stormy'. Or he could read it as blank spaces like 'It was a happy day for ' <                       >' (ERP Consultant Karunakaran Nambiar).
You get the gist.
The reader could avoid the confusion by following this methodology
But it is not fun. As a reader you do need to read the name of the protagonist. You need to identify with him. You need to feel his agony and share his ecstasy.
You can do that with Kettering or Rumpnell or even with Ewoke (see you are already on first name terms with him....)
But not with 'Karunakaran Nambiar'. By the time you read 'ERP Consultant Karunakaran Nambiar', you have lost the thread of the story. You get frustrated.
You don't bang your head. You just tear and throw the book in fire (what the arsonist Stewart Rumpnell would do, given a chance,  a crime which detective Kettering would eventually solve, of course) and run.
I don't want you to do that.
And that, my dear readers, is the reason that I don't write a novel.
I have only two names for my protagonist.
Rohit and Rahul.
And both do not fit the milieu, if you see what I mean.

My story of 'Alternate Goal Setting'



As I looked out of the window on that lazy Sunday afternoon, I kept thinking about the problem at hand.

How do I achieve my goal?

You see, as a part of New Year resolution, I had set a goal for reducing my weight. And that morning, I checked my weight and found that.... forget it.

Of course, it stood to reason. I had not completed any of the tasks that I had planned to achieve my goals. I hadn’t got up at 6.00 AM and did 30 minutes of treadmill. Evening after evening I had come home and had decided to ‘Relax’, thereby avoiding my objective of doing a round of cycling in the evening.

And to top it all, I had not controlled quantity or quality of my intake.

Something had gone wrong somewhere. Was my goal very ambitious? Reducing 5 Kg of weight by 30 April (4 months) was definitely not ambitious. Some will say it was not even ambitious enough.  It was definitely not tough getting up at 6.00 AM in the morning. I regularly get up at that time. Once a while I also do (and like doing) 30 minutes on the treadmill. And I enjoy cycling.

So I had chosen an achievable goal and a practical set of steps to meet that goal. Conventional wisdom would have told me that achieving my goal was a cakewalk.

Still here I was, 5 months down the line, not having achieved my goal (and nowhere near to achieving it) and feeling frustrated.

What should I do?

An article that I read that morning had caught my attention. The article talked about ‘Alternate Goal’ approach to goal achievement. The gist of the article was that to achieve your primary goal, identify and focus on an alternate goal and strive to achieve that alternate goal. The article also mentioned that you should word your goal in positive terms.

I thought of creating an alternate goal with a positive message. After spending some time I came out with this alternate goal.

“Burn 10000 measurable calories on treadmill in 30 days”. It sounded positive (?). I was no longer focusing on my weight. The focus had shifted to Measurable Calories as seen on the treadmill.

I did a quick calculation. 10000 calories in 30 days means burning about 335 Calories per day. Of course I will do other activities to burn calories. But for the purpose of achieving this goal, I will consider only the calories that I burned on the treadmill.

I started off on 12th June with this new goal.  I got up at about 6 and went to the gym. I was all excited. No pressure to reduce food intake, to lift weight, to cut down on fatty food… I just have to burn about 335 Calories per day for 30 days.

I felt like a free man.

I found that if I set the elevation on the treadmill to 7 and the speed to about 6.2 KMPH, I can burn about 350 Calories in 35 minutes.

For the first few days I managed to clock about 350 calories per day. This is when I committed my first mistake of ‘Goal Shifting’. I moved my daily goal target to 350 Calories (anyway, I was achieving it, wasn’t I?) from 335 that was originally planned.

Now started the second mistake. I started changing goals. From my original plan of focusing on Calories, I started focusing on other parameters like the distance I walked per day, the time that I spent on the treadmill per day etc.

This did not help matters. For example, after setting my target to 4 KM / day, I found that I was waking up in the morning with trepidation.  Every morning was like “god, I have to walk 4 KM today on that stupid treadmill…”.  I started losing focus on my alternate goal of 350 Calories / Day.

I quickly reverted to focusing on my Calorie goal.

Then one day, I did 400 Calories. Now my goal shifted from 350 Calories per day to 400 Calories per day.

Mind you, it is not easy to burn 400 calories per day by walking for about 40 minutes. After about 25 minutes, your body starts complaining like crazy.

First 100 Calories is easy. In your initial enthusiasm, you will cover it. But at 100 Calories, you are getting tired (well not tired, but slightly breathless), and you realize that you have covered only 1/4th of your target. Believe me, the next 200 Calories is the most difficult part of the process. Once you reach 300, it becomes easy since you are counting down. It is all in your mind.

Then came my ultimate challenge.

On the 27th of June, I found that I had to travel to Mexico on the 6th of July. Now I had two options. One, was to continue doing 350 calories per day as originally planned. Or, two, I could have achieved my original target of 10000 Calories by the next 7 days.

I did my math. I found that, I had already clocked 6100 Calories. That left me with having to burn 3900 Calories in about 7 days. This meant burning about 570 Calories per day for the next 7 days.

It was impossible to do 500 Calories in one shot. So I took the approach of ‘Leading Indicators’ and decided to stretch myself for about 2 days, after which I will come back to my original schedule.

For the next two days (29th and 30th) I did 800 Calories per day.

Today is the 1st of July. Starting from today, if I do 400 Calories per day, I will achieve my target of burning 10000 Calories.

That is not difficult.

The one thing that I did well was to have a clear focus on Calories as my target. I never wavered from that (except for a few days when I shifted the goal. But I soon returned to my original goal).

In addition, I have also walked about 86 KM in the last 20 days; I have walked about 1000 minutes. By 5th I would have walked 100 KM and 1200 minutes.

That is like walking to Mysore at 6.2 KMPH with an incline of about 30 degrees.

Wow!!!

Wow!!! Again….

Putting it like that, it sounds incredible….

And for tracking my daily progress, I had learned MS access.

A reasonable return on investment, I would say.

What went right for me? Let us analyze.

One, I had a clear goal expressed in specific target numbers and with a clear end date: My goal was to burn 10000 Calories in 30 days.

Two, my goal was easily measurable. There is nothing more clearly measurable than calorie numbers displayed on the treadmill.

Three, perseverance or ‘Stick-to-itiveness’. There were mornings in which I did not feel like getting up from the bed. Even god takes rest on the 7th day, I told myself as a justification. But I forced myself to get up and go to the gym. I am not sure if I would have done this on a daily basis. As a 30 day project, it was ok.

Four, I was focused on Calories as a goal and stopped as soon as I reached my daily target. Initially, I would do more than target since I had the energy. This was like deciding to extend the football match after the 90 minutes because the players still had energy. Extending the goal can work negatively also. For example, what if you feel tired after doing 200 Calories (believe me, you will). Will you stop before you achieve the daily target?

However, in real life it is not easy to have such clear cut targets. For example, what will be the target in a project management? Is it time? Scope ? Customer Satisfaction?

Even with my single target, I saw my goals change from Calories to distance to time. So when you have more goals to focus, the confusion can be more intense.

The way out? First identify your goals, and then focus on it like a laser beam. Take corrective steps much in advance. Be prepared for some stretch targets on the way.

What was my weight before I started and what is it now? Any benefits?

Well, that is a little secret that I will keep with myself. OK?