Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sachin's lesson - Excellence is achievable!

I am sure that if you are an Indian, you jumped with joy on Sachin's ultimate feat in the Gwalior ODI!

For a country that is so deeply mired in mediocrity, so hopelessly tied up in bureaucratic red-tape that slows it down and stunts its potential, Sachin is such a breath of fresh air!

In fact, he is a blast that cleans all cobwebs of tentativeness. A certain gust of cheer that tells us what we are truly capable of. A sure sign that India and Indians have underperformed for so long now that we take it almost a given. It comes as a shock to us when someone amongst us (or some sector in our economy) does really well, and shines as an example of sure genius. The I.T. companies attracted everyone's admiration for their undeniable feat of turning out highly billable manhours from fresh-off-the-campus engineering manpower that was raw, to say the least. Bollywood came of age and taught us lessons in excellence against all adversities. But to be sure, no one and nothing draws our admiration as the genius that is Sachin Tendulkar.

I have always loved Sachin Tendulkar's style. Being almost the same age, his achievements have always fascinated me. And watching him from Day-1 of his professional career, till today when he rewrote ODI history, has been a tremendous experience. From an entrepreneur-teacher's perspective, there are several important lessons I can draw from this living legend. Here they are!

Lessons in Excellence from Sachin Tendulkar

  1. Consistency It takes several years for continued excellence to develop. It never happens as an accident, but is the result of a conscious belief that one has to do it, for it to happen. And it actually goes beyond that. Consistency - i.e. the spirit to go on and on and on - is the fundamental basis for all progress that mankind has made. If you don't have consistency, your talent cannot express itself to the fullest extent. What would Amitabh Bachchan be without decades of consistency that we have become so habituated to expect now! Benjamin Franklin, Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Bose - they were all totally consistent in their pursuits all their lives. And the world remembers them for it. If you are a young person just starting off in your career, do not get too excited about being successful too early. Be patient! It takes time. Use your sense of anxiety to turn yourself into a dynamo of purposeful activity. All I.T. companies that are doing so well have perfected their winning formulae over several years, painstakingly. It did not happen overnight.
  2. Discipline and Mind-control Derived from the point above, a sense of discipline and control over one's mind provides the basic template for performance that is timeless and ageless - both Sachin's attributes. Without discipline, you tend to take liberties that eat into your most precious resource - the time available per day. Discipline brings certainty into our lives. It brings predictability that helps us plan things properly. Though seemingly it cripples our freedom (and some would say individuality), it adds an element of firepower that's undeniably the bedrock of success. Mind-control springs from this sense of discipline. And needless to say, the biggest influence anyone can have on us is our parents. If one is blessed with parents who understand the importance of discipline in early years of our life, one has it rather easy later on. Habits made early on stay for a long time. Chhatrapati Shivaji became what he was due to the lasting influence and teachings of his mother, the iron-willed Jijabai.
  3. Timelessness of performance Sachin never bothers what the world says about his performance, his moods, his family life, his ups and downs, or his personal likes and dislikes. He is one of the most quiet and sensible sports-person around. His belief in the fact that "work will speak louder than words" has stood the test of time. And all of us have witnessed the magic of these words! He just performs. Anyone who wants his/her success to continue for a long time must remember that while ups and downs are normal part of any professional's career, they do not determine who you are. Your mindset determines that. I would rate the Belgian cartoonist George Remi (Herge) who created the legendary series called 'Tintin' at par with Sachin, as both are timeless. Steve Jobs, the boss at Apple, is another example of a genius who adjusts to the demands of the age and produces miracle after miracle!
  4. Bouncing back from adversity Even a gentle genius like Sachin faced the wrath of media that seemed to engulf all the good deeds he had done. When he did not fare well as the captain of the Indian team, everyone was bitter about his performance. I hardly ever came across a balanced criticism of his. It was almost as if his career had ended (and that was several years ago!). But true to his style and name, Sachin proved everyone wrong. This clearly indicates he has in ample measure what a star performer needs in ample quantity - bouncing back using self-belief. Critics will always exist - God made them to instill in us a sense of being grounded into reality. But a true performer looks beyond and questions himself - am I putting in my 100%? If yes, he plods on, without fear.
  5. Self-belief From an honest conviction towards one's goals is born a sense of self-belief. It was this that made Dhirubhai Ambani lock horns with the existing giants in Bombay, while he was just an upstart. It was this that made Sunil Gavaskar prove his genius during his maiden tour to the ferocious West Indies (in 1970s). Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle are blessed with a pristine sense of self-belief as their sheer consistency and riyaaz over decades has turned them into performers beyond all human comparison! If you feel defeated time and again, it does not mean you truly are defeated. All it means is that either the goal you have chosen is wrong, or the efforts you are putting in are misdirected or incomplete.
  6. Sense of belonging We all have seen some egomaniacs who were part of the Indian cricket team, and destroyed their own careers, and many of the careers around them due to their idiosyncracies. Sachin has always put India and India's reputation above everything else. You can see it in his eyes, and his entire body language. Ask yourself - how many times did you feel Sachin was playing selfishly merely to score runs and add to his personal tally? It is a fact that true performers do not just think of themselves. They also focus on what matters to their nation. And when you do that, everyone responds in a big way!
  7. Humility - thy name is Sachin! It takes a true human being to not let success hit his upper floor hard. What I mean is simple - the moment people become successful (by any standards - money, fame, status), they face the inevitable choice. Either let success remain a by-product and reward of solid work, to be relished in its repetition, or to let success manifest itself in one's changed attitude and behaviour. Very few people remain unaffected (at least outwardly) when they achieve great success. Sachin is one of the finest examples of how innocent and child-like one can choose to be (probably it's natural!) despite earth-shaking achievements. Indeed, the family values with which one is brought up in the early years does have a deep and lasting impact. That's why you are lucky if your parents have repeatedly told you "to stay grounded, not to take flight at every sight, and zameen sey jud kar rehna bachche". I have seen shocking examples of people, who on achieving relatively modest levels of success simply can't handle it! They take flight! And get grounded very frequently, and at times, permanently. Let Sachin's example be the shining lighthouse for one and all.
All these virtues mentioned above can be used across sectors, across professions, and across geographies. For all practitioners and students of management - if you ever needed a role-model to emulate, he is right there for you. The legendary Sachin Tendulkar. Timeless, ageless.

He is telling all of us - "Don't give up so easily my dear Indians.. Excellence is achievable".

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dangers of Online Social Networking (OSN)

While Online Social Networking (OSN) has gained substantial traction in recent months in India (and of course, worldwide), large aspects of it remain virtually unexplored and less-understood. In their hurry to join the bandwagon, lots of people are hopping onto the OSN train, but they are blissfully ignorant of many pitfalls and dangers of this fantastic media.This blogpost will deal with the several dangers of doing OSN. Before I start listing and explaining the same, let me make one thing clear - I am a die-hard fan and votary of the pluses of OSN, and will use it personally forever (at least, as of now)!This is a really brief and first compilation of points I wish to make. In coming weeks, I will keep elaborating more on this topic. I am also in the process of writing books on this topic, and developing full-fledged academic training programs on the same, which will be run through my institutions. Partnerships are invited from individuals (Professors / Experts / Practitioners / Institutions) interested in this big opportunity.

Before starting, here are the 3 cardinal rules always to be remebered while doing OSN

  • Rule 1 - The internet is a public domain and everything you do is visible to others, always.
  • Rule 2 - An image once created online is difficult to change. Multiple images are a bad idea.
  • Rule 3 - Just like the civilised world has its dark underworld, the clean OSN sites have their own imposters and marauders, continuously indulging in faking, duping and socialising!

Dangers of doing OSN (Online Social Networking)
  1. Improper understanding of controls Many users join OSN sites out of enthusiasm, peer-pressure or to kill boredom. But no one ever tells them that while creating their "profile" on these sites, they must carefully check and understand the various controls that the sites provide for "privacy issues". Topmost of these controls is the "share with whom" angle. As a user, you must be very clear that your data (scraps, text, photos, videos etc.) are all in public domain once you are online. Hence, if you wish other users to have limited access to these, then you have to set controls on Privacy Dashboard accordingly. Sadly, nobody seems to take this seriously. And then, later on, when they discover their personal things from absolutely unrelated sources, they are shocked! They forget that once you are online, it is all there, forever. Not only can your "friends" see it, "friends of friends" (which means practically everyone except the Martians and Amoeba) can see it too. Learning : Develop control of your postings. Think carefully as to who all should have access to what you want the world to see. Take time to learn proper controls on these OSN sites. It may feel boring, but it is crucial for your own safety.
  2. Poor visualisation of potential impact  Your social sites are visible to everyone - your friends and "friends of friends". Please remember that all that is needed is to click on the friend's name, and their entire pages will open up right in front of you. This means that your Boss, your potential future Boss, your competitor, and anyone else in the Police or Administration can easily scan through your updates and draw conclusion about your character and your intent. Most users of OSN sites do not understand that you are globally visible and your entire personality profile is visible to your BOSS ALSO. Imagine, you are due for appraisal, and your latest profile on LinkedIn carries critical remarks of your existing employer, and a desire to jump ships. All your boss needs to do is google your name, and chances are the first link that pops up on that wonderful page is your LinkedIn profile. You will not even come to know what hit you, and you will be down several notches. Learning : Take OSN sites as carefully as you take your own career. If you think your career is a joke, and you are a joker, behave like one. Else, your choice should be clear. If you are a salaried employee, and have a clean image, you better maintain it well.
  3. Fooled by "He likes my status" frequency One of the best ways to fool innocent people in OSN is to continuously keep "liking" their status, "liking" their photos, "liking" their links and "liking" their dog's tail and excrement. Conversely, if you are being fooled by someone, the best test for that is to check how many times has that person "liked" your status and pics etc. If that frequency is more than 30 - 40%, the red flag should be on. That person is playing some dirty, sick game, and desperately needs your support. Then you should go back to that person's page (or "Wall") and check his entire activity details. You should not be surprised to see that he has been liking everything everybody has been doing. Why? He is desperate. Why is he desperate? Something must be seriously wrong with his personal life, or his Career. Then, the natural question is : should you be friends with him anymore? It will be a matter of time before he starts chasing you everywhere, maybe even in the real world. Scary, isn't it? Recently, one of my friends who is the Boss in a company got an anonymous email with a picture attached, showing two of his employees swaying with liquor and cigarettes in hand(s). The email was nastily worded, and this Boss realised that some fairly sick personal party photos have been carelessly posted online (or carefully?!) and naturally, someone paid a big price for it later. Learning : People can get really dirty in OSN, and you should know that just by clicking a mouse and "liking you", someone does not become your well-wisher. In fact, your personal photos can be intelligently posted online by your so-called friends, to malign you, or harm your chances. Both the employees in the unfortunate incident above were males, and the dangers for female users are higher. Your husband may discover some picture that was inane when posted several years ago but is a bad idea today. So..
In the OSN world, the difference between a smart user and a dumb user is fairly huge. And it is very easy for smart people to totally take others for a ride. So be cautious. Use the following simple tips and stay safe.

Simple safety tips for OSN enthusiasts
  • Do not hesitate in "removing" people from your Friends List if you find they are violating your privacy
  • Be very careful in designing your profile, especially on sites like LinkedIn, as smart employers see it regularly (and will DEFINITELY see when you are up for an interview) - so if your profile carries typos/spelling errors/grammatical mistakes, may the Lord be with you
  • Do not allow anyone to post your personal photos and videos, without explicit approval. Girls and Ladies - pay special attention
  • Do not publicly display your images or videos that show you in a careless state (drinking, smoking, obscenities, driving rash, etc.)
  • Run away, as fast as you can, from "friends" who always "like" each of your status, photos, videos and your dog's tail and excrement. They are the online equivalents of the offline world bootlickers who sicken you so easily
  • Beware of individuals who suddenly have developed an affection for you - For ex. your colleague(s) from an ex-employer's place where you too worked earlier. Most likely, there's some big selfish motive at work :-(
  • It is very easy for your competitor to sneak into your friends list. So remain awake to the possibility of your stuff getting instantly shared with everyone else, always. And that's why I say that OSN is all about public stuff, not private (at least not what you do not wish the world to know)
  • Anything you do not want a citizen of Slovakia to know, do not post on any of the OSN sites. NOT ONE OF THEM
  • Unemployed, under-employed and carelessly-employed people leave a classic trail on OSN sites - high frequency positive usage with inane postings, and ultra-happy photos
  • So, what seems to be, may not be. People can forge their profiles and postings to convey a sense of amazing success and well-being, whereas they may be bankrupt, jobless or plain-simple unsuccessful. Be careful in committing your name and credibility to anyone you suspect of anything stupid
  • A single nasty comment during chatting, or a single obscene post on your wall - and press the REMOVE button. Don't think twice
  • Do not hesitate in deleting stuff you think was a mistake to post. And pray to God no one has already copied it onto their disks
  • Maintain one common image across various OSN sites. Multiple identities (totally unrelated) are a clear signal that you cannot be trusted
I don't intend to sound paranoid. This is the unfortunate reality. Remember, just like our real world has real forgers and scamsters who happily pass as respectable samaritans, so does the online world have its own fair share of such geniuses!

Enjoy the OSN experience, with all precautions. All the best!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Valentine juggernaut

In recent years, so much noise has surrounded the popular Valentine's Day celebrations in India, that it becomes difficult at times to see the large trend underneath. In this article, I will share my understanding of what all this truly means. And I must admit I love Valentine's Day because without fail, every year, it gives me a chance to study the social & cultural evolution of Indian youth at such depth!

The universalisation of a foreign "festival" amongst Indian urban youth in a short span of just one decade is stark. While Indian festivals have existed for millennia (literally!), Valentine's Day celebration has just appeared over the horizon. Yet, it has been accepted by a significant number of young Indian boys and girls, and a not-insignificant number of men and women too.

The trends underlying this phenomenon are

  1. At least let me experiment! Young Indians are willing to experiment with their cultural outlook. They are no longer happy with just being told what is right culturally, and wish to try out their own versions of a new cultural reality. So, while their parents (in many cases) may be ultra-conservative, many young Indians want to at least 'have a taste' of what this new expression really stands for. In a society that has never had an armed revolution on a large scale through mainstream society (Naxalites are not mainstream), this is possibly the biggest outpouring of a non-violent yet assertive revolution of young Indians. "We want to try this new thing out, and you don't interfere" seems to be the message. Learning : Each generation will have its version of a revolution, and Valentine's Day celebration surely qualifies for this period.
  2. Two worlds together Reading the above point may make an outsider feel that young Indians have revolted against their entire cultural upbringing and heritage. Far from it. In all my interactions with young students (from elite urban middle class backgrounds) I have realised that many of them know much more than what I do about Indian festivals and cultural norms. While celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali and Janmashtami with these young folks, I wonder who taught them all the technicalities of cultural practices needed for these festivals! And then I realise that the sheer depth and ubiquity of Indian culture is so profound, it is almost a given that most young Indians will grow up with these in their bones and blood, although for many, it may be subconscious for a long time, and suddenly manifest itself at the right moment. Learning : Young Indians are living two lives simultaneously. On one hand, they are traditional and deep-rooted in the cultural sense of the word, and on the other hand, they can be ultra modern.
  3. The power of social media Any political or social group that thinks it can successfully force young people to stop socialising on the Valentine's Day, is making a fool of itself. In this age of online social media (OSM), it is clearly an impossible task. While mobiles have always been a great help for votaries of the Valentine's Day, today with a few clicks of the computer mouse, one can easily set up communities online that share similar passions. For ex. in less than 2 minutes, I can set up a community right now on or on that is titled "I love Valentine's Day, Don't you?" and invite thousands of people to join me. Who can stop me? Realistically speaking, my parents cannot. And practically speaking, not even Mark Zuckerberg!  Learning : OSM has irreversibly changed the dynamics of the game. Trying to control socialisation is futile in today's world.
  4. The great Indian decency What surprises me each February is not that so many young Indians want to celebrate this special day, but the amazing decency with which the entire day passes by. Given the scope and size of the festival, we hardly witness a substantial number of incidents that will truly qualify as indecent. I am totally certain that on any other regular day in India, there will be far more indecency (some forced, some voluntary) on the streets. So the issue is not specific, it is generic. Learning : Never underestimate the inherent goodness of people, especially young ones. They are far more likely to be decently behaved if given the freedom to enjoy the day. Yes, risks are always there, but if you can trust them with electing the government of this country, then where is the problem! And if you have a particular problem with your own kids, do not generalise it for the rest.
  5. The power of market forces Market forces are pretty smart. They smell out opportunities, and encash them quickly. Greeting card makers, Restaurants, Clubs, Farmhouses, Pool-parlours, Video-gaming parlours, Malls .. they all realise that this is one day they can significantly enhance their revenues on. In a society that is hugely driven by a desire to do materially very well (why else do so many people do MBA courses for!), this market alignment is a natural extension. Learning : Market forces around the world have their unique ways of encashing social trends. Personally, I am against most of these. But I have to say - they are pretty smart people and know how to push their wares.
  6. The myth of invincibility A lasting fear in the minds of culture-vultures and moral police is that the new cultural norms (imported from West) may become more powerful and more deep-rooted than the original Indian festivals, traditions and cultural beliefs. Far from it! The reverse may happen. We are yet to witness the maturing of many of these "imported" traditions. It is highly possible that the Indian youth may simply ditch the entire concept of Valentine's Day celebrations in favour of something fancier, one fine day. It is a grand myth to assume that these "imported" festivals are permanent. They are not. They seem to be so, however, in the short run, only because they are strongly providing an avenue to a lot of youngsters to express their latent desires. Learning : Wait and watch! You may be in for a surprise.
  7. Indianisation is inevitable While the above myth indicates the vulnerability of such festivals, one thing is totally certain - every foreign thing - foren thingy - that gets accepted by India will be rapidly Indianised. It has happened with music, and we see it with food (I am sure we all have tried Indianised versions of western foods!). The same thing is happening with Valentine's Day as well. Indian mothers are wishing their kids "happy Valentine's Day Beta", and kids are reciprocating with all happiness and glee! This is so beautiful to see. It is a perfect rendition of the age-old belief that culture evolves naturally, and is the most spontaneous expression of people who live it, rather than those who enforce it. Learning : The day may not be far off when the Indian version of Valentine's Day may attack the West with full force!
The fantastic beauty of Indian democracy is that both camps are equally vociferous. Those who support it, are enjoying it, and those who oppose it, are equally in rapture (from the news coverage they get!).

As for me, for this Valentine's Day my wife tersely informed me that she alongwith her friends (9 more ladies from a club) are out on a picnic the whole day. I am to take care of both the kids, at home. So much for Valentine's Day celebrations, more than a decade after marriage.

Maybe now I understand why some people hate this day. Ha ha  - Valentine's Day hai hai