Open Thoughts

The habits of champions

Michael Phelps helps me arrive at three monikers to treasure

All that separate him and me is about 50 meters.  The 23 Golds, 3 silvers and 2 Bronze medals and achievements that befit the tag of the greatest Olympian ever’, are beside the point.  His achievements give a new meaning to what ‘Olympian heights’ or ‘champion’ could mean. Reading about or listening to habits of champions always leave me with ideas and energy. This one is no different.

When an Olympian with the stature of Michael Phelps is in front of you talking about his past, present and future, you shut up and listen. He speaks on his hydrophobia as a kid. He speaks of his coach. His mom. His team. How he trained, how he ate and much more.  Disbelief and gasps escape my lips as I soak in his story. Even as I do so, I become clearer of what it takes to scale the heights he has. Like a swimmer whose head bobs out for a brief moment before the body slices through the water with grace,  things crystalise in the mind.

These ideas stay on. Long after the event, put together to celebrate 20 years of the founding of True North, is done. Michael Phelps is perhaps back home minding the Instagram account of his son Boomer(With 726K followers that must be one tough job! ūüôā )

It’s a Sunday.  My mind keeps darting back to his statements. Elements of his life and his story that refuse to fade.  To unearth what’s within me, as has been a practice, I grab a pen and paper and write. It seems easy as they tumble out. I write them with care. Some of them are here (Please click on any of the tiles below to scroll through the quote gallery).


An hour passes by like a starter’s gun in a big race.  All his statements and ideas. A quick blast and its all over! Ideas that seemed to have competed for a share of the mind are all out there to see. They lend themselves to a ‘sit and ponder’ after the words are well digested.  How would I remember this, I ask myself? How would I share it with others? And wonder if I can put it into three themes? Monikers if you will.

Just three.

With a tentativeness of a sore muscle after a big race, I begin. I know what I am saying will not be new to many.  At least it isn’t to me. I realise that the gap between knowing and doing kills at many levels. The mind lulls us to think we have cracked it because we ‘know it’.  Sometimes, refusing to let us dig further. That has been my battle. I wonder if it is yours too. Anyway, here are my three monikers that hold a bunch of ideas in them.

1. Hard work beyond talent. 

It’s been stated several times before: Talent is an entry criterion.  Talent is far more common than success. Success comes from hard work. Putting in the hard yards makes a difference at every level. Every single qualifier, forget a medal winner, at the Olympics, has the talent and the hard work. There is no argument that at all.

But success at Phelps’s scale requires a maniacal devotion to the task at hand. And that makes all the difference! There isn’t much more!

The maniacal devotion requires hard work, when the arc lights, the podium and fame arent in the frame.  Labouring in obscurity and enduring relentless pain. Several years ago, I came across a piece titled “The Common Denominators of Success” by A.N.Gray. It tugged at me differently.  

 “..the secret of success of every man who has ever been successful — lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do”

“…The things that failures don’t like to do are the very things that you and I and other human beings, including successful men, naturally don’t like to do. In other words, we’ve got to realize right from the start that success is something which is achieved by the minority of men, and is therefore unnatural and not to be achieved by following our natural likes and dislikes nor by being guided by our natural preferences and prejudices. ” 

A.N.Gray spoke in the context of insurance sales. But those passages leapt in, even while Phelps was speaking. All of us love champions and aspire to imbibe their thinking into our lives. But we forget to remember that Phelps (and champions like him) dont like several parts of their routines, yet do them with great discipline. It is not about likes and dislikes.  Doing every inch of what it takes is what will bring success is key.  Deserving success is as important as getting success. 

Michaealangelo famously said, “If you knew how much hard work went into it, you wont call it genius”. Thats that. 

2. Focus beyond boredom.

The world that we live in is ripe with distractions. Every sensory organ is invitingly propositioned with a promise for gratification. ‘Deep work’ is much needed.  But Deep work is demanding. And many times plain boring. Imagine showing up in the pool every day for six years straight.  Ever single day of six years in the peak of youth. That sets up an exploration of another level of boredom and drive. 

There is another aspect to the boredom. The relentless toil in complete complete obscurity, away from the arclights, the podiums and people. Chipping away at yourself one second here and another there. Adding strength to a calf muscle or a forearm! Stuff that will go completely unacknowledged but will all contribute to the goal! To do this for days on end, will need relentless motivation. For it can get plain boring. 

Champions bring a level of focus that lies beyond the first shore of boredom. It means, they show up even when they don’t feel like showing up and produce champion stuff. “Embrace boredom” says Cal Newport.  The high perches of success comes after many hours of languishing company of boredom. 

That would apply to everyone of us. People out to excel in the corporate world. Aspiring writer. A fashion designer. Lawyers. Coaches. Every one of us! If we want success at the scale of Phelps, there is no escaping the regimen that brought it. 

So, how about embracing some boredom,  and sticking to what you promised yourself? 

3. Team beyond Individual.

The narrative of the individual champion who changed the way of the world, is lovely story. From Michael Phelps to a Steve Jobs. From Sachin Tendulkar to Elon Musk. But that story of the individual is an incomplete story. 

For every individual champion that we see and celebrate there is a team behind the scene, that has given a hand. Well, more than a mere hand.  That is obvious.  Michael Phelps had his coach an entire troupe. A troupe that included his mom, sister, wife and now, his kids. He spoke of his special relationship with his coach Bob Beamon who deserves a part of every single of the 28 Olympic medals and more! 

Sudeep Banerjee said it very well on twitter.

An Olympic athlete can afford such a team and must do so too. On more personal terms, we have our own Olympic equivalents every day. And the responsibility of building our own support team rests with each one of us too. Of course, whilst speaking of teams I am not speaking of the teams that we end up with at our workplaces.

For instance, have you considered co-opting mentors onto your journey? Whatever the journey. Or maybe a coach? Perhaps members of the family? A classmate? A colleague from another team? Someone who will be able to look at things dispassionately and tell you as they see it. Someone who is interested in you and brings a strength that makes a difference to you. Infact, the part about hard work is rather incomplete without a smart agenda to work hard on. That is something a rich coalition of a co-opted team can bring.   

That sums it up for me.  With talent, hard work and discipline a good distance gets covered. But success at the height at which champions like Phelps have succeeded can’t happen without a team.   Speaking of teams,  here is a take on the same event by my good friend and colleague at Founding Fuel, Charles Assisi.  His take is very inspiring.

In a world that reveres champions and celebrates their success, not enough is said about what it took for them to get there. That applies to each one of us in our respective fields. Unless we are prepared to give it what it takes, our aspirations stay as well intentioned wishes. Before we realise someday that each day chipped away at what we might have become! 

The opportunity is omnipresent. The choices are ours to make. 

Blockchain District

Will Telangana, the youngest of Indian states,¬†lead the way for the Blockchain adoption and innovation in India? If the¬†MOU signed by the State of Telangana ‚Äúto create the first Blockchain District in the¬†country‚ÄĚ, is any sign,¬†it is¬†off to a head start. The¬†50 MOU‚Äôs signed at the recently concluded International Blockchain Congress held¬†in Hyderabad and Goa stand as testimony to the progress the domain is making.

Blockchain District

The Blockchain district will aim to be a centre of excellence for Blockchain.¬†¬†It will serve as an¬†incubator¬†for developing the processes and technology associated with Blockchain. The creation of¬†a¬†seamless ecosystem is to enable¬†stakeholders to learn and support each¬†other. Plus, the government plans to have a ringside view of the workings of the industry thus helping¬†it envisage the big picture needed to frame appropriate regulatory and policies.¬†¬†A¬†framework that will enable and promote Blockchain growth both in India and the world. At least that’s how it reads on paper.¬†¬†Even whilst it remains to be seen as to how it will pan out in the real world, this progress is a harbinger of good times for the Blockchain ecosystem.

The Core Idea

Tech Mahindra has signed up as the Technology Partner for the Blockchain district. The firm will provide platform and technology support to all the incubators.  The idea is to make it easier for the Blockchain start-ups to focus on Blockchain solutions. Exploration of solutions in the field of healthcare, land records, hospitality and scholarships all point to interesting times ahead.

Other Snippets

Snippets which caught the eye included examples and ideas that are gaining traction. Allocation of scholarships, for instance, attempted through the Blockchain framework is exciting. The credentials of the prospective scholars are verified through smart contracts on Blockchain. A scholarship awarded to those meeting the criteria.  Making the process easier and foolproof.

Solving real problems

We have never been limited by tools but only by our imagination to use them well. That Blockchain is getting deployed to solve real problems in the not so privileged parts of the world offers a peek into its prowess. Congnito Technologies has signed an MOU with the Telangana state to help deliver low-cost credit to the self-help groups using Blockchain.  Micro-finance going further than what it does today holds the potential for firing up several other parts of the ecosystem.

More and more of similar stories will emerge as the technology gains mainstay. The entire meet seems to have been abuzz with possibilities. From workshops for students to imagine and learn about the world of Blockchain, to start-ups who presented their solutions to the 3000+ participants, the conference seems to have panned the spectrum. 80+ speakers ranging from CEO’s of various firms, including Niti Aayog, the IT ministers from Telangana and Goa who shared perspectives and keynotes, all seem to be have hit the right notes.

The International Blockchain Congress,  the first of its kind in India and lauded as the largest in Asia, hosted by the states of Telangana and Goa, trended for two full days on Twitter. Providing much fodder for this post, not to mention all the animated conversation over the possibilities the technology holds for the future.

These still are early days for Blockchain. Time will tell where we choose to take it to and how we use our imagination well.

The attempt to further understanding

Fledgling attempts to build an understanding through conversation and contribution are listed below.

  1. Blockchain Basics
  2. Possibilities
  3. Cryptography
  4. Transparency & Privacy

Leveraging the power of blockchain – Transparency & Privacy

The essential dilemma about the internet the way it is this: We have had to give up privacy in order to get productivity. The volume of conversations that stem from privacy concerns and the lack of credible alternatives to remain private yet to be able to connect seems increasing. So much so, that the whole surge towards Blockchain based technology is often touted to hinge on its ability to solve that challenge. That for another day.

In this post, at the center of it all is this question. Is it possible for a technology to promise both transparency and privacy? What is the optimal amount of transparency that‚Äôs required that is ‚Äėjust required‚Äô for a transaction, without compromising privacy?

Transparency and Privacy in tandem, increase likely solutions to many of the challenges we face today. Especially in the food industry.

Have you looked at the label ‚Äėorganic‚Äô on food items and ever wondered if it indeed was organic? Worse even, is it safe? The WHO estimates that 1 in 10 people become ill every year from eating contaminated food. With 4.2 lacs dying each year, as a result.

Case in point: A nationwide outbreak of E coli in the USA (2006) was caused by bagged spinach. It took regulators two weeks to conduct the traceback and determine the exact source of the outbreak, as spinach. During those two weeks, many people got sick and one person died. Another Result: Tons of good spinach was wasted because we couldn‚Äôt tell the good from the bad.¬† Fast forward to 2018 and nothing much has changed, except it’s gotten worse.

Contamination from food has caused more people to get sick and heaps of good food to be wasted, in the effort to ensure more don’t get affected by the contamination.¬† Product recalls are not very effective- they take time. And a ton of the good food along with the bad gets wasted because we are unable to tell the difference between the good and the bad.

Leveraging the power of blockchain:

Walmart, Unilever, Nestle, etc are collaborating through the IBM Blockchain Food Trust Network. A TRANSPARENT system with supply chain visibility across these members and their ecosystems.  The intent is zeroing down and localising a food contamination.

The network is already showing results. Reducing the impact of food recalls. Limiting the number of people who get sick or die from foodborne illnesses.

Walmart wanted to isolate a batch of mangoes. Trace them from their retail outlet to the farm. Leveraging blockchain it took them 2.2 seconds to do so. Without blockchain, this would take them 6 days, 18 hours and 26 minutes to identify the farm.

Competitors coming together on a common platform to collaborate has always had hesitancy written all over it.¬† ? After all competing with each other in the marketplace. Dilemmas range from sharing information and practices to exposing their key people to ‚Äėoutsiders‚Äô.

Blockchain has a snug fit of providing the best of both worlds. Of exposing just enough and not anymore. That means, no compromising of trade secrets of companies while making information transparent.¬† Blockchain ensures the ‚Äėprivacy‚Äô of knowledge / know how/ process.¬† Competitive advantages of organisations remain well within organisations and are not revealed on the network. This makes collaboration a lot less risky and more inviting.

How can such a transparent system, open and accessible to all, ever be private? The clue lies in an interesting concept called Cryptography. Cryptography gives Blockchain the ability to share relevant inputs without revealing all.

This works across industries and assets. Think of high-value assets, art or diamonds. Owners will go to any lengths to conceal their identity. Yet insurance companies struggle with Insurance fraud of such high-value items. These high-value assets are at times, fraudulently registered as stolen. The insurance companies pay out. The asset resurfaces at a different place. Registered with a new insurer and the same process of fraud repeated.

Tired and at a loss, the Insurance companies have turned to Blockchain! They are leveraging the Privacy feature to conceal the identity of the asset owner. Sharing details of the payout with members of the Blockchain network makes it easy to detect fraud. Each asset is laser-inscribed with a digital ID making it easy to detect. Firms like Everledger have been working on this.

 

The benefits of Blockchain for end users and companies specifically through the twin lenses of Transparency and Privacy are as follows. 

For end users: It gives control of all our information and transactions to us. Who can access our details/what did they access/etc. There is one version of the truth. Which is visible and consistent with all the users.

For companies: Apart from the benefits listed above, it allows them to include the end user in their entire sourcing and manufacturing process. This inclusion builds trust and an unparalleled brand value. Firms which already have a culture of transparency and trust and see the customer as an extension of their internal teams, Blockchain will be a lot natural. If not, there may be a distance to go.

Cryptography in Blockchain

There is much in the airwaves about the loss of privacy in the internet-enabled world? Have you wondered about it yourself? Of course, there is much truth in it all.

It is a fact that modern-day digital technology, with facial recognition and the likes of it, poses a grave question on privacy. Organisations (& hackers) have been able to link pool all data about an individual and use it chilling effects. Many business models today rely on the collection, organization, and resale of ‚Äėyour and my‚Äô personal data.

And as the world wrestles with this, there are people who are working on reclaiming the potential of the ‘original’ internet. Their answer: Blockchain! For all the noise surrounding it, Satoshi Nakamoto brought Blockchain alive in 2008. But since then, it has made rapid strides.

Blockchain technology holds the promise of offering the best of both worlds. That it would offer personal information just as much as its needed and yet protect privacy. Blockchain has proven that Transparency and Privacy can co-exist in a peer to peer decentralized network through ‚ÄėCryptography‚Äô. The blocks in the blockchain are linked using Cryptography. In more ways than one, ‘cryptography’ is at the very core of Blockchain and developing an understanding of this is fundamental.

Cryptography is not new or unique to Blockchain. Whatsapp announces it proudly letting you know that no one else can see those messages but for the sender and the receiver. So do several other apps. In fact, people around the world, over time have worked with their own ‘encrypted’ messages through the ages! From the Pharos of Egypt to Julius Caesar! Modern-day cryptography, by extension, has different forms.

Cryptography or encryption on the Blockchain is the means to ensure that ‚Äėonly‚Äô the intended recipients have access to the contents of the message. Blockchain uses a combination of ‘public key’ and ‘private key’. Let’s try and keep it simple.¬† Think of your safe where anyone can ‘deposit’ documents but only you have the key to open it, retrieve it and access it.

Let’s assume that you need certain important documents from your colleague. You give him the ID and location of your safe for him to deposit the documents. Once he does so, only you can open the door now, with the key you have. This is how Blockchain combines both public and private in cryptography to make it doubly secure.

While a lock and key in our physical world take the form of metal. In the world of Blockchain, the public and a private keys take the form of an alphanumeric string.

 

Lock and Key in the physical world Public and Private Key in the Blockchain world.  Now assume you maintain a notepad. A notepad where you make a note of all the documents and valuables that have been given to you. You also initial your name after it along with the date, to prevent confusion later on. Won’t you be better off?

Blockchain does exactly that to keep a record too. The combination of the transaction (colleague giving you documents on a particular date) and your signature/initials (private key) create a unique entry in the notepad called Digital signature which looks like the one below.

 

Well, physical theft is a possibility in our worlds, why can’t the same happen in a Blockchain? In the physical world, someone will need to use brute force to break open the lock/door and get access to the documents or valuables in the safe/room. The ease of breaking open depends on the strength of the door, the sturdiness of the lock. In a Blockchain world, someone will need to guess the string of numbers and alphabets or Digital signature correctly.

To have a 1% chance of guessing a digital signature the entire Bitcoin network would have to work together for 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years. Thats a tall order, I would think!

Through The Looking Glass

He drove by with a wave, rolled down the window and asked,”Kavi?” In an inchoate two minutes, I was seated settled in the comfortable car with his words “I’ll get you to the airport. Nice and safe” to soothe me.

#SHRM18 had just wound down to a close and I was tearing myself away from the comfortable confines of McCormick Place in Chicago.  Salim (name changed ) was my Uber driver.

Uber drivers who indulge my need for conversations¬†are special.¬†¬†Speak to a few of them in a city, and you can map whats on the¬†city’s mind. The chat reduces the distance and as a bonus, I¬†get to know another human being. What is a platform transaction morphs into a human interaction. A connection established by stories and sharing.¬†¬†The interaction with¬†Salim¬†was one such.

We chatted about the economy, immigration, life in the USA and India. And this elusive thing called ‘home’. And much else.

He told me about his home in Palestine and of his long trek to Jordan where his parents stay.  And the longer trek to the US more than two decades ago.  His voice swinging from excitement to despair with seamless ease. Like shifting lanes on an empty road.

The man had studied law in Jordan, ran a restaurant for fifteen years in the US before taking to¬†be an¬†Uber driver. He loved law. But couldn’t practice law in the US. To be able to do so would require his¬†going back to law school. Which¬†would set him back by several thousand dollars. ¬†He had made his peace and he saw his future in driving trucks. He had applied for a license and he was due to get it shortly.

For a while, he spoke of the opportunity in truck driving. The lucrative nature of it all and the lifestyle he would be able to afford his kids. Plus the effort and investment required to get there. He sounded like a monarch who awaited coronation the next day.

After a while, in a manner of conversation, I asked him if he had heard of unmanned trucks. His face donned a dismissive hat.   As I explained to him all that I knew of the experiments with self-driving trucks, the dismissive smile morphed to have a ring of disbelief and distress.

An uncomfortable silence filled the air and as a red light stopped the car in front of us, he turned around, faced me and asked,¬†“What will happen to all the jobs?”¬†His hurting tone and halting words were making me guilty. I realised. Before I could say¬†anything else, the man held the steering with one hand, looked ahead and spoke into the windscreen.

“Technology is good. But it can hurt and the people who make the technology must also be aware that it can hurt.¬†Even as we make¬†technology to take us¬†forward we must build¬†boundaries for it. We have to be aware of the not so obvious consequences also. We have to make wise choices”

“Someone must speak and think for the countless who don’t have a choice or an option. The rich and the privileged¬†cannot be¬†the sole inheritors of the future. Every generation must have an opportunity to compete and create a new¬†future.”

I wished I could have recorded all that he said, even as I scribbled notes on a random piece of paper.  I wished the ride was longer as my glass window showed the busy environs of O Hare beyond it.

He parked got out of the car, opened the trunk, took the suitcases out and said, “thank you for listening”. For a brief moment, our eyes met, as I nodded and wished him well. His Uber app announced a new passenger and took with it a few things he had to say. I will never know what his closing comments were! The ‘here and now’ urgency of the platform economy will keep him going for a while, I thought, as I¬†saw the car disappear amidst other arrivals and departures.

A while later, I sat¬†at the boarding gate mulling over our conversation. Just that morning Sheryl Sandberg had given a tip about asking “What are you not working on”. It was a powerful idea,¬†which leads me to think the awareness we have about¬†what we don’t discuss enough about.

Disruption and innovation, lead only from a ‘profit’ / ‘valuation’ centric mindset are half-baked. Unless growth is inclusive all disruptions will eventually be disrupted.

As I awaited boarding, I realised, these conversations are not fool’s errands. We need to ply our minds better. Again and again. And again.

 

Blockchain Possibilities

A permanent secure digital distributed ledger was the simplest definition of Blockchain that emerged in the previous post from this series. A long conversation on the possibilities with blockchain resulted. As the ideas were wrestled with, the contours for further conversation needed to be sealed. And this post is just that. The contours for further conversation.

Truth be told, none of these above terms are missing in the world of technology today. We have secure databases, digital databases, distributed ledgers even. Why then, is Blockchain considered as the messiah of the internet? Why is it said that the ‚Äėworld wide web‚Äô is about the exchange of information and Blockchain will be about an exchange of value?

The industry is expecting Blockchain to be able to resolve world hunger, serious! Proponents claim Blockchain will make it easier to trace ‚Äėblood diamonds‚Äô, something that has plagued us for decades. Be able to reduce and even eliminate accounting fraud. Think Enron! Voting in the elections. Moscow and NASDAQ are in the process of deploying Blockchain for electoral and shareholder voting to prevent fraud.

Now take a giant leap across and Blockchain supporters believe that it will make it possible for you and me to borrow from peers and not just depend on a bank. A completely new fundraising mechanism. The currency exchange guys believe that Blockchain will reduce their transfer transaction times from days to seconds. Tough to imagine that level of improvement in productivity and efficiency. Days to seconds! Wow. Artists are singing praises because they believe Blockchain will deliver them from the clutches of record labels who corner more profits than the artists for their work.

Look around you, intermediaries in every industry sector and transaction garner far more value than the buyers and sellers. Think of the farmer getting a pittance for his produce while you pay escalating prices for greens.  With intermediaries a.k.a traders/middlemen earning a significant chunk.

A world without intermediaries. Really?

Summarising the possibilities gets this list below to emerge. A broad cull from all the herd of hype about Blockchain.

‚ÄĘ Transparency and Privacy (yup together!)
‚ÄĘ Improved Traceability
‚ÄĘ Immutability
‚ÄĘ Enhanced Security
‚ÄĘ Decentralized
‚ÄĘ Faster Transactions with reduced costs
‚ÄĘ Trust or rather Trustless

The above possibilities emerge in the way many of these existing technologies of Digital databases, distributed ledgers have been intertwined with newer concepts such as Consensus Protocol, Smart contracts, Proof of Work, cryptography to create the Blockchain framework. Thereby unleashing immense possibilities and benefits.

Each of these sits well for deeper conversation and exploration. And will soon come here too.

There are much jargon and ‘big’ words in the post. Thereby straying a distance from a key objective of keeping it simple. That is part of the challenge that is being wrestled with.¬† With time, practice and deeper conversation and real work, this space will read better.

Jump in. Let’s keep the conversation going. In our own small pockets and larger forums. We’ll get somewhere.

 

Blockchain Basics

Well if you are like me, you have heard this word ‚ÄėBlockchain‚Äô bandied about. You have read and heard so much about it in the news yet you wonder if you really do understand it. It can seem that everyone is talking about blockchain and ledger technologies, but the truth is most of us are not yet up to speed, just like me! What Blockchain is and ‚Äėcould be‚Äô is fuelling industries the world over. Everyone seems to be seeking possibilities. So, what are some ‘Blockchain Basics’?¬†

In this space, I along with a colleague, will try and explore an understanding of the technology and possibility called Blockchain. We invite you to join us. We will attempt to understand Blockchain and it’s many terms in as simple a manner as possible, through this series. 

‚ÄėWhat is Blockchain‚Äô, is a good place to start.

In a nutshell, Blockchain is; A permanent secure digital distributed ledger.

Am sure that meant nothing! It didn’t when we read it the first time and was trying to understand what Blockchain was about.

Let’s see if an example makes it any better. Something we can relate to, an excel sheet?

Think of Blockchain as an excel sheet which is open on all computers in the network. Any changes being made to the excel will be visible to all in the network as it is being made. It hence always is transparent and in a state of consensus. To be clear, it is not one excel in a central location shared by hundreds of computers. It is hundreds of copies of the same excel stored on hundreds of different computers across the world.

It also makes the data secure. Think of a hacker who has to erase the data from hundreds of systems to alter anything; earlier all he had to do was change it on ‚Äėone‚Äô master system.

Let’s try another example exploring why the world is falling over itself imagining the immense possibilities Blockchain holds.

Blockchain Basics with an example

Let‚Äôs assume that ‚Äėyou‚Äô have a file of financial transactions on your computer. Three accountants have the same file stored on their computers. As you make another transaction buying something, your computer sends an email to each of them informing them of the transaction.

All three accountants rush to be the first one who will verify if the transaction is correct and you can afford the ‚Äėbuy‚Äô. The first one who verifies the transaction shares the logic with all the other accountants and gets paid a salary. If the other accountants agree that the transaction is correct and you can afford it, then everyone updates their excel sheet automatically.

This whole concept is nothing but Blockchain Technology.

If you wanted to indulge in tech-geek speak, here is your way to do it. 

And voila you got geeky! Next time let‚Äôs explore some of these terms Proof of Work, Distributed ledger, Consensus Protocol, Smart contracts and see what we see…

 

Until then here are some links for you to explore what Blockchain is, one is a video featured on OWL (Our Work is Learning) Newsletter which explains Blockchain to a toddler and professional.

Another one I found useful which explained Blockchain in simple English is here

What do you think? Your comments would be great to help evolve an understanding. Thanks much. 

 

 

Four awesome habits of connectors

Connecting the dots brings new meaning and great value. Value that far supersedes what the dots by themselves bring. When applied to people, there are lessons to learn about these ‘connectors’. These are people who have the knack for building relationships and connections that go beyond natural boundaries. They¬†are so much in demand.¬†¬†Be it the employee who has relationships (or just plain knows a lot of people) across organisations or the friend who will connect you with someone to solve a problem.

Mark Granovetter‘s¬†most referenced paper in Social Sciences, “The Strength of Weak Ties” holds vital clues. ¬†Several years ago when I first landed the paper, I became present to the need for weak ties. The realisation that ‘weak ties’ were¬†not really ‘weak’ but a great value-add for progress and change, was powerful. ¬†Therein started an active cultivation of an existing interest in others, the humanness in them and their contexts. It has lead to few deep¬†friendships and innumerable conversations, discoveries and a way of life that is powerful.

Yet at times when I come across people for whom¬†this comes naturally, I am awestruck by their way of life. This is not a ‘put on’. This¬†is a way of living and working.¬†Last week, after spending time with a few such, here are a few things¬†that I jotted down reflecting on what these folks do.

Heres some additional context.¬†I am making my preparations to attend SHRM 18 that will have over 20000 participants. It sure promises to be a great place to find such connectors. Writing out¬†my own learnings from the ‘naturals’, I reckon, will both help me find more connectors and reenergise the connector within me!

So, who are these connectors? How do you identify them?

1. Connectors offer to help as a default.

The first thing that you notice is the willingness to¬†help. In fact, ‘how can I help’ is¬†a question that comes up many a time. They offer their perspectives. Bring people together.¬†They put in a word. Point in a direction. In the modern day world, these are precious.

This offer is genuine and often goes into areas that are obvious.  Truthful and well within means.

 

2. Connectors are interested more than merely interesting.

Not that they aren’t any¬†interesting. With all their stories and connections, they are extremely interesting!¬†¬†Just that they don’t¬†have any¬†compelling¬†need to talk about themselves and their achievements. The¬†keenness to offer their ear and soak up your story trumps any sharing of their own story, unless you ask for it. They ask questions, more to get more details. The best ones, don’t offer any advice until specifically asked for. That to me is a marker for an awesome ‘connector’.

 

3. Connectors are a carrier of stories.

Connectors are natural carriers of stories. Natural because they are privy to so many of them. And when they share the story forward, it is the ease at which they mask the details of the person whilst sharing the essence of the event or the intended lesson. It is such mastery that elicits further sharing that is a great foundation for a trust laden conversation.

Connectors are sought out for the stories they carry.  These stories can alter thought and help make new connections and possibilities in the mind.

4. Connectors don’t look at immediate RoI.

Connectors are not the quintessential¬†‘networkers’ you see at parties. People whose intent seems to be in having your business card and ensuring that you have theirs. ¬†After few pleasantries and the business card exchange, off they go to the next conversation. Connectors are interested in conversation. They are invested in people who are willing to invest the time and energy in a conversation for the joy of conversation. I have had amazing conversations with no agenda in mind. Just sitting down and getting to know and talking. Sometimes, it has had tangible immediate benefits. Many times none at all. But that’s beside the point. The point of sitting down and talking is the sitting down and talking. The benefits that come impact in ways that are beyond the obvious.

And those are my top four. We are a product of our experiences and each of our experiences shapes our thought. The list is a product of my experiences and I look forward to hearing from you to hear your experiences as well.

If you are coming to SHRM 2018, please do give me a shout. Would be lovely to exchange notes and make a new connection. If not, the big wide networked world offers us limitless possibilities. We are limited only by the intensity of our intent!

Margins To The Middle #SHRMTech18

It was around 6.30 AM at Hyderabad’s HITECH City. Tall buildings with glass facades dot the scant skyline. Just across the road, even as young people streamed in and out with nonchalance, she sat. She sold to the young people short eats, cigarettes, hot tea and the like. Each of her categories on sale was stacked in a sack. Each sack sitting on the road, just as she was. Sitting pretty in one of the stacks was a credit card Point of Sale, swipe machine. Another held a QR code for cashless transactions. That I was spotting this after hearing a day full of praise for technology at SHRMTech’18 ( SHRM India’s annual Tech conference) was not lost on me. The knocks on traditional boundaries accentuated by education and access were loud. This was technology moving from the margins to the middle!

More about that later.

For now, SHRM Tech 18. The conference has grown from where it started four years ago. This time too, it ticked all the right boxes. It had HR leaders and tech folks hold court, talk neat and walk tall. It had a dazzling array of exhibitors. From a Tata Car to plain old (or was it new) tea, to tech solutions to every conceivable HR Challenge. It had its share of arc lights, awards, survey results, music, debate and the like. Perhaps to accentuate the accent on tech, it even had a robot, inviting a speaker on stage. All in all, it was pretty neat.

If you missed it this time, please do look up #SHRMTech18 on twitter and you will get most of what happened on the stage. You are pretty much sorted if you seek to pick up that kind of action.
I go to such conferences for another reason. And that is to catch the moments in-between the stage shows and indulge in conversation. To listen in and hear more. To absorb the questions that are being asked and the live experiences that are shared. Away from the arc lights naked truth often makes a shy appearance. Often in the form of a sigh or a silence. Sometimes in a steady argument and expert deflection of an uncomfortable question. At other times, providing facts, data, stories, and interpretation of how things are working.

All of these are fascinating for several reasons. They reveal what’s on the horizon. What’s dying. What’s real and what is being dealt with. What opportunities are surfacing in the future and the dilemmas that are alive. They also bring alive, what’s being missed. Whilst a lot of what I have taken home stays with my notes and requires conversation and processing there were moments that held my attention. Here are my top three from a longer list.

Vineet Nayar kicked off the conference talking about the need to put the human being at the centre of the employee experience. That made a heap of sense. Even as technology is ‘Moving from the margins to the Middle’, replacing the human experience with technology needs to guarded against. Technology for technology’s sake is going to lead us up a garden path with no garden in tow. In a world replete with tech solutions, discovering our ‘human’ element is getting to be a taller ask. Not because of limitations with technology! To me, that message had the potency of setting a kitten amongst several pigeons.

Jayesh Ranjan, Secretary, Information Technology (IT); Government of Telangana, made a strong and persuasive pitch for Telangana. He courted the right audience with necessary facts and presented them in easy consumable chunks. Stories of state governments getting competitive and seeking investments are the new norm. That norm was taken a few notches higher by the articulate IAS officer.

On a different panel on Women in Tech. Dr.Ritu Anand from TCS spoke from personal experience about what it takes to lead (& that had nothing to do with gender) and that was lovely. Lost amongst the discussion was the fact that much of what was discussed alluded to programmes aimed at (& done ‘to’ ) women employees. It is both a familiar and a line of thought that falls woefully inadequate. The debate needs to continue.

Of course, there was Sunita Bhuyan and her music in full flow. Her piece titled ‘Conversations’ was more than mere music to the ear. On the sidelines, the catch up with a number of friends and colleagues was well worth the effort to get there. Some of them are doing some stellar stuff and am so looking forward to seeing it all come alive.

The new middle:

Back to the lady who sold me two full plastic cups of tea for Rs.15. Sitting on the pavement with the Credit Card machine carelessly tossed on a stack of goodies. She to me exemplifies someone who has kept her ear close to the ground. The changing tone of currency in her customer’s wallet has necessitated her adopting new ways of seeking a share. An innate understanding of ground realities of business helps choose, design and work with technology.

Technology is an enabler. Technology is not the reason for us to get to work. Whilst discussing technology we have to bear in mind that work needs reshaping. Slapping layers of cutting edge technology on fossilised ways of thinking is not going to get anyone anywhere. Unless you are talking about taking a few steps back!

Of these, we need to have more conversations on. The changing societal contexts. The need for finding meaning in work. Changing work in itself. What needs rewiring and rewriting are not the wires that connect our computers or the codes that run in them, as much as our own minds. It was Sherry Turkle who said something about our tools.

Even as we continue to ride on our high horses of tech progress with pounding hoofs and half breaths, we must pause to examine what it’s doing to the fabric of our workplaces. Change is multi-dimensional. HR leaders must pause, converse, examine, reflect on all the nodes each tech change is touching off.
One more thing. Change is tough. Change in the tech space is not linear but occurs in seismic shifts.

That necessitates change being held together with care. It is those that experiment with these changes that will get somewhere. Experiments, by definition, don’t have assured successes. We need to keep working with our head as close to the ground as possible. And that is not easy. But it is possible. And change happens in the moment with bold leaps and application of mind. We have never been limited by technology as much as we have been by our imagination.

Moving from the margin to the middle is often facilitated by leaps of faith and experiments. Experiments that seek both courage and investments. The lady who sold me two cups of tea and three different ways of concluding the deal taught me a thing or two about courage. The courage to move beyond algorithmic responses and robotic monotony in decision making is much needed. We could all learn a thing or two from her.

Disclosure: SHRM facilitated my participation in the conference as a member of the ‘blog squad’

Awareness of Privilege

It was a straight long road to run on. It was Sunday, the day of my ‘long run’. I had to go down the stretch turn at a particular point and come back where I started. Cruising along until the time that I had to turn. I quite didn’t realise that the return stretch was quite a lesson on ‘awareness of privilege’!

For it was when I turned, I realised that I had the wind backing me all the while I was cruising. I wasn’t seeing any of it, leave alone acknowledging that it was making a difference to my ease of cruise. But after making the turn, I was expending the same amount of effort and having far little to show compared to my run in the other direction. I cursed the wind.

As my body stabilised and as my muscles started working harder, I realised there was no point in cursing the wind. The support that the tailwind had offered me I had appropriated to myself and my capabilities. The wind had remained the same all through!

Headwind and tailwinds are invisible. The headwinds are felt more because we are up against it. As I finished the run I realised that this applies to life as well. We are hardly aware of several of the privileges that we are bestowed with, let alone crediting it with playing a part in success.

Earlier this week, a video on youtube held my attention. Take a minute to go over it. It is a simple yet powerful demonstration of what ‘privilege’ can mean and the material difference it can make.

To be aware of this privilege can be a great start.  I was shooting the breeze with someone who requests anonymity. After three hours and two brimfuls of coffee, we agreed on few foundations.

Some foundations emerged as the coffee coursed our veins. Being born into privilege didn’t mean we didn’t earn our spurs. Or that we were bad people. We were clear that we couldn’t undo our childhoods or born the way we were born. Not that we intended to. Nor did we want to dismiss our achievements or the hard work that contributed¬†to getting us where we are now.¬† We were proud of what we had accomplished and were energised by what we wanted to do in the future. We still wanted to shoot for the moon and perhaps change the world too.

Accepting that privilege that the system bestowed on us, also contributed to where we are was a good start, we concluded. A modest start. But an important one at that.¬† What does an ” ‘accusation’ of being privileged do to you?”, was a question we asked each other and examined for a long time. ¬†We had to examine the discomfort with examining the question too.

What more could we do? It was a long conversation and these were our top three conclusions. A call to action for ourselves, so to speak.

a. Examine the day

Between the two of us, we decided to examine our days and weeks. Deciding to sift through random events and uncover each other’s mental models was a natural consequence.¬†¬†¬†We sought to examine the context of the content of what others spoke or acted and how it impacted us.¬†¬†¬† ¬†Between the two of us, we decided that we would poke each other with questions that are curiosity laden. ¬†We must get somewhere with that.

b. Examine the voices within

Like the wind behind my back that I perhaps would have known better if I had been present to it. There I was coasting in the success that was coming my way. An examination of the ‘why’ is useful. ¬†Reflection and journaling can be a super place to start. “Once in a while is ok”, I proposed. And the gingerly proposal was met with a violent head nod in agreement.

c. A change of context

Privilege and the lack of it become apparent in different contexts. To change contexts, to travel, to work with people of different classes, to sit down and shoot the breeze with someone we usually will not, and several other things of the same ilk were going to be useful. That is one more area we will choose to examine.

We need to understand each other better for us to live rich meaning-laden lives. How better than understanding our contexts and our views of the world to get started. How better than counting our blessings and crediting that wind behind our backs as well.

One more thing we decided on: Share our resolve. Talk about it. Blog about it. Whatever. And this is the first step towards building awareness of my privilege!