Archive for the ‘Insight’ Category

Talent is hard work alright, but train to deflect judgmental disdain

March 21, 2011

Jonah Lehrer talks about Talent

Woody Allen nails it as he says “80% of success is showing up”… It clearly sums up why Talent is not genetic… One certainly can’t bet on a Test Cricket gene or a Twenty-Twenty gene…It’s all about skill developed by intense, deliberate practice. Going by pure statistics, I guess one can safely say Talent = Hard Work. Period.

The basic trait that is required for hard work is often presumed as grit. But I would take a step back and think what leads you to be gritty. You look at a faculty and feel the excitement. You sense blood surging up your veins and your heart beating faster and beads of sweat bubble up on your leather. You want to do it now, not a second later. You make a few frantic phone calls and are not put off by the conditions they put forth. You say Yes, almost without a thought. You dive right in.

In the process, you’re sub-consciously ready to assume the risks that go with it. It could mean ejecting out of your own zones of comfort developed over the years of regular exposure. It may as well expose you to a new set of circumstances and people about whom you have no clue. They may be talking stuff that sounds near Greek to you. You don’t cower, you persist.

Then comes the big question… How long before you hit the right road to success…? It could take months or even years to be on the same page as those others you revered. The interlude could be cruel, your near and dear ones look down upon you as if asking “what made this guy go so very nuts..?”

That is one harrowing question you may find difficult to deal with because it is never asked. It is implied in their deignful stares and demeaning walk aways or even not so subtle whispers. Suddenly lights around you get turned off and you realize you are dithering in darkness of ignobility and contempt. You are looked at like a loser and it hits you hard even before you know you failed. Surviving this ignominy is so hard unless you have a balanced mind. The ethos to accept failure as well as success on an even keel may have been your asset, but you may not be so ready to accept early judgmental admonitions from all around, express or implied. This is one sphere where practice has to focus on, not just the attribute that you go after to master.

Why I never felt like the Ferrari…!

November 19, 2010

When people ask me “Have you ever longed to have a better life, a better past and a better present…?” my instant answer is “No”. And they don’t believe it.
They think I am either lying or am giving a very guarded response and concealing frustration. I tried telling them it is my nature never to regret anything in life and accept life as it unfolds, but they would have none of it. And they are not alone in feeling so.
I go back and search my soul a bit. Why did I give such an answer…? Did I lie…? Should I be longing for what was never mine…? Should I load up my mind with “if I had that then, I could’ve been this now” kind of fallacies…?
I am convinced I was honest. I had always been mentored by experience, never by another human or a guru. The reason being I had always trusted my instinct, my capacity to observe and learn and always felt a self-taught internal lesson lingers longer and works far better than an admonished external one. I use this pet metaphor often. What if a Ferrari that could race at a speed of 350 mph, had been driven at just 100 mph? How would it feel if it had an experiential mind of its own…? Either the driver was not enthusiastic or he was just way too risk averse. Perhaps the roads were not up. Perhaps he didn’t trust the machine. But the machine was sure it could do a 350 mph but it could do nothing to spur the driver to step on the gas. So what will it do except to despair over its helplessness…?
If I were the machine, I would have felt helpless. But I am not. I am a human endowed with heuristics. I can think of ways and means to be the driver and the machine. This realization had gotten lodged in mind way back early in my life and had taught me never to despair, but to take a different route to hit the goal. And in 90% of the cases, I had succeeded sooner than later, and in much larger proportions than I had ever imagined. And as regards the 10% reminder, I had recognized that life never is about what you want, but what you need. Perhaps I never needed the 10% at all. The 1:9 sacrifice ratio has just been fair and nothing to be grieved over. What have I got to regret…?

That said, if I had a choice then and had not exercised it, I have room to regret. Or if I had multiple choices and had exercised the wrong one, I could feel remorse. But most occasions throw up just one choice and that having been acted upon led us to a later misery, we should learn to cope than brood over it. Again the wisdom dawns only in hindsight and not at the moment we choose to do or not do something. So never live to regret anything in life over which you had little or no control over.

I was convinced I’d given the honest answer. Worrying would have gotten me nothing. Regrets lead to disappointments and later frustration. I must thank my super set of genes that made me look inside more for answers than to look outside and seek them out from externalities that I knew I could never have controlled anyway.
So I never felt (desperate) like the Ferrari.

The pursuit of dreams

February 23, 2010

David Schwartz, the author of Magic of Thinking Big asserts “Successful people are not supermen. Success does not require a super-intellect. Nor is there anything mystical about success. And success isn’t based on luck … Believe Big.”

I can use a twist to that surmise.

Going after one’s belief ain’t easy. Have no illusions about it. The secret of actualizing belief is endurance. In Economics, they say “markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent”. In essence it means there is a high likelihood of you going broke before your bets begin to pay off. The real deal is acquiring the capability to sustain yourselves while being “in the trenches”. That phase – figuring out how long before you get there – is crucial, when belief-morphing-into-reality is still a grindingly slow work-in-progress. Lasting it out without being crushed will be the real determinant.

Fire yourself. Then see if you are eligible to be re-hired.

January 5, 2010

The bane of some enterprises – startups included – has been their inability to challenge the incumbent management / founding team’s method of working – or sometimes its vision altogether. They had toyed with a great idea and did go quite a distance with it. Somewhere along the way, they had realized they were going down the wrong road. They stop and look around for sign posts. They saw none, no passer-by to enquire. So what do they do?

A normal traveler would just retrace his steps until he locates a sign post or finds some local guy to guide him. But in enterprise adventures, there’s this big difference – of sunk costs. Covering each mile comes with substantial cash burn and losing your way can be costly too. It gets complicated if the team had some early skeptics whose words went unheeded.

That’s exactly when the team needs fresh, unbiased perspective. If the mistake needs to be owned up, it had better be. Have it reviewed by an outsider and get his opinion. Naturally, it’s easier to take a fresh perspective when you really are new and when the assumptions you are questioning are not your own. We’re all more comfortable challenging someone else’s thinking than stepping back and critically assessing our own ideas and behaviors. That’s what Ed Whitacre did when he needed to shake up GM’s management team post crisis — because the incumbents couldn’t get enough distance to challenge the way things had previously been done.

But why wait for your company to get in trouble and for the board of directors to shake up the management team? The turning of the calendar year is a good time for every manager to take stock and think about what you would do if you were starting fresh. So here’s a thought-exercise you can do: First, take a deep breath and fire yourself. That’s right — take yourself out of your job so that you’ll get some distance from it.

And who knows? Maybe you’ll end up re-hiring you.

How (Why) to unseat the incumbent vendor

July 31, 2009

A clear message for the last ten years is that selling is all about relationship. Relationships built and strengthened over time, makes it easier to pursue new business with existing customers. You know how to hit their “hot buttons” than that of a net new customer (especially if their gatekeepers are doing a damn good job). This often accounts for the bulk of new business. Cold-call prospects are likely to be entrenched already, and you have to unseat the incumbent — your competition. In addition, enterprise is hiring more and more gatekeepers to keep up with the recessionary trend. It is increasingly difficult to reach out to the executive level and make inroads.

Then why does broad marketing attempts try to replicate the relationship approach to the prospects where you have no relationship, instead of approaching them in other ways?

Here is a compelling need to unseat the incumbent vendor that’s often not easy.

But there are always customers that don’t have a regular incumbent. So make the channel partners focus on the long tail. Not just the top visible ten percent that are on top of every competitor’s mind. The ones that advertise loudly on every media and so targeted by all. It’s better to lose that ten percent because they will likely get the most competitive of offers that will shrink the enterprise margin wafer thin. Start from the back, Begin with the marginal customer that slinks under the vendor radar. You will likely hit the hot button faster.

Get them to dive deeper with the customer and know their needs. Ensure flow back of customer intelligence from the savviest of channel sales force. Share the findings with the rest of the force and poke their ego by crediting the partner that came up with the nuance. A sense of deficiency (in letting the peer channel partner get up close with the corner office) and underperformance should invigorate the rest into brisk activity.

Shall we call it the immersive approach..? Is that transformational enough…? What do you think…?

Inside the bore zone

July 22, 2009

For quite some time now, I haven’t had much to post on. There was nothing worth its while to contemplate, to have deep thoughts on. It was just the mundane stuff coming back up, week after week. It’s not the first time I’d hit this morose zone, a hiatus, pretty much a forced pause. There had been times in the past when deals dry up and my creativity sagged. Not a thing that I could do to get over it than to quietly let it pass.

May be it’s got to do with the global gloomy sentiment. The weather isn’t helping much either. We’ve had some showers in Mumbai and it’s all wet all around. The laziness is, like a gift of the monsoon – at least for me. I walk and sleep a lot more and read and write a lot less. Stock Markets – that has lately been my mainstay in the absence of meaningful resource raising deal flow that is otherwise my true calling, have been quite range-bound after a brisk run over the last three months.

I knew I had to do something to get rid of this boredom. Boredom is a serious enough problem, since at least half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it. The fun was that I wasn’t even feeling insecure. So, is this listlessness a symptom of security? I had to deal with this internal commotion. The war between being and nothingness is the underlying illness of the post-crisis times. Coming to reckon that, boredom slays more of existence than war. Some take to mad shopping, others gamble and most others drink. But I knew I had to stimulate myself somehow and I’d rather do something else. And that’s going to be the only way to get out of this unsavory morass.

But I’ve noticed something. I am regular to pick up my daughter from her coaching classes now more than ever. Guess punctuality is the virtue of the bored! And there is one other reason. I like to drive down early and get a great parking spot, then sit in my car and count how many people ask me if I’m leaving.

To them, I’d rather ask – Could they teach me how to sit still in one room ?

Funeral’s better than life support

February 23, 2009

I’ve often wondered why don’t they funnel stimulus funds to Greenfield projects than resuscitating the dying gorillas.  My argument – it’s lot more productive because it saves time (no wounds to heal) and money (no clean-up cost, no claims from the past). It saves jobs as well because trained workers can be re-hired at lower wages because of their huge supply.

But I needed an ally before I could air my views. Today I found one in Tom Friedman.  Excerpts –

“Bailing out the losers is not how we got rich as a country, and it is not how we’ll get out of this crisis…When it comes to helping companies, precious public money should focus on start-ups, not bailouts…If we are going to be spending billions of taxpayer dollars, it can’t only be on office-decorating bankers, over-leveraged home speculators and auto executives who year after year spent more energy resisting changes and lobbying Washington than leading change and beating Toyota…Our motto should be, “Start-ups, not bailouts: nurture the next Google, don’t nurse the old G.M.’s.

Our country is still bursting with innovators looking for capital. So, let’s make sure all the losers clamoring for help don’t drown out the potential winners who could lift us out of this. Some of our best companies, such as Intel, were started in recessions, when necessity makes innovators even more inventive and risk-takers even more daring.…they will drive innovation in all these areas — and move wind and solar technology down the cost-volume learning curve so they can compete against fossil fuels and become export industries at the “ChinIndia price,” that is the price at which they can scale in China and India.

That is how taxpayer money should be used to stimulate: limited financing, for a limited time, targeted on an industry bristling with new technology start-ups that, with a little push from Uncle Sam, won’t just survive this crisis but help us thrive when it is over. We need, and the world needs, an America that is thriving not just surviving.

Thank you Mr.Friedman. You nailed it – well, almost !


What makes us buy stuff – rationality or emotions?

January 14, 2009


Dan Hill, author and President of Sensory Logic on the relevance of emotions in consumer buy calls.


“Over-complex campaigns that rely on digital technology forget the simple truth; that even the most jaded heart still seeks to believe that it has found a reliable ally. You’ll know you’ve reached the point where there’s an emotional bond when the stories consumers tell about your brand spontaneously involve the use of first-person pronouns, and are told with a burst of spontaneous feeling.

Above all else, remember that it is easiest to sell loyalty when the brand resonates with the consumer’s sense of self. When you address who people are, what they associate with, and what they do and value, you create an emotional connection so deep that consumers no longer think about what to buy.

Great brand worth becomes internalised and accepted as a reflection – and extension – of the consumer’s own beliefs. Fail to make an emotional connection, and you lose out, because value is determined emotionally. Brand attributes are like the claims related to a product. They are merely assertions unless the consumer’s emotional brain finds them valid and worth embracing.


….Value is determined emotionally because our brain’s decision-making process returns to the emotional segment to ‘sign the cheque’ . Only the sensory and the emotional parts of the brain connect to muscle activity. To translate branding efforts into sales, you should bear in mind that the rational brain is more like a lobbyist than a legislator: its role is simply to influence how the emotional brain will ‘vote’ on a potential purchase….”


Terrific insight.  I have experienced it myself at several supermarkets.  The product that I end up buying may not exactly be the product that often is larger in size or better in economics. It’s sometimes the one which appeals to me at that moment because my daughter used to like it while she was younger – an emotional connect as Dan says.


It’s the creative break that matters

December 31, 2008


Workaholism — joining the frenetic rat race in which we chase our own tails in the mistaken concept that we are making progress — is the curse of the thinking classes. This is the open secret known to all great artists, scientists and spiritualists. Meditation — the fount of spiritualism — is the purest form of creative leisure.


In his essay ‘In Praise of Idleness’, Bertrand Russell tells the story of a rich man who offered a gold coin to the laziest of 12 lounging beggars. Eleven of them jumped up to claim the prize — which went to the 12th who’d been too lazy to get up. Russell’s point? Idleness pays. Russell’s critique of the work ethic propagated by industrial civilization is that it is exploitative of labour and increases, rather than reduces, economic disparities.


By constantly working harder (i.e. producing more) we have created a vicious spiral of ever-increasing and inequitable consumption, which is rapidly depleting our planet of non-renewable resources, resulting in degradation of the environment and of life itself. Apart from its adverse physical consequences, busy-ness for the sake of busy-ness (running hard to stay in the same place, or even go backwards) has larger, philosophical implications. All the great inventions and breakthroughs in thought have been a result of leisure. With your nose stuck to the grindstone of mindless everyday drudgery, you can’t see the horizon, leave alone aspire to go beyond it.
The story of civilization — be its narrative set in ancient India or Attic Greece — has been the story of creative leisure. Leisurely contemplation unfettered from routine preoccupations has always been the fulcrum that moved the world. Archimedes figured out his theory of water displacement while soaking in a bathtub. James Watt conceptualized steam locomotion while daydreaming and watching a kettle boil. Kekule was asleep when he literally dreamt up the composition of the carbon molecule.


I get amused when I get to puncture idioms and conventional wisdom. So here I go. Not every idle mind need be a devil’s workshop. It’s alright if it’s a creative break; because you could be getting up close with your Eureka moment. Would the Buddha have attained enlightenment, sitting in perfect repose under the Bodhi tree, had there been clocks to punch in Nirvana?



November 21, 2008

 You can’t run away from trouble.  There ain’t no place that far.  This is something that I keep reminding myself as I pass over each day, more so now.  Would life be exciting without that dynamic?  The most ecstatic moment is when you leave a pain behind and are just scarred.  There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature.  A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with.  Happiness is beneficial for the body but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind. 


Misery loves company and so I look around. There is a DVD library in our neighborhood that’s logging huge custom. “It’s all about how can I cut back,” said a new sign up. “What else can I possibly do to provide entertainment for my family?”

I look up the newspapers and there was John Chambers, CEO, Cisco Systems squealing – “IT’S the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life,”  he admits, after announcing big job cuts last month. “We went from over 65 miles an hour down to flat or negative growth in what, two months? I don’t know many companies in the world that could do that.”  I wonder what citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit would say. Lehman brothers CEO Dick Fuld is spared of the trouble.  It just caved in. Who will take the lectern next? Rick Wagoner, Allan Mullaly, Bob Nardelli….Gee, I am losing count.

Miracle, suddenly means this earthly life. It no longer means flying in the air or walking on water. Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them.  The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.   One might do well to remember the darkest hour has only sixty minutes.  Oh, really?  It’s almost eleven months since lights went off the deal street.  What the fuck….  Go do what it takes to survive!