Open Thoughts

SHRM India Annual Conference 2016 ( Part 2) #SHRMI16

This post is a summary of DAY Two of SHRM India’s Annual Conference 2016 ( #SHRM16 ). Day One is here.

If Day One set the bar high, Day two surpassed it with ease . Day Two was an expansive play of ideas, debates and some olympian stretches of the imagination. Overall set the agenda for a longer conversation thereafter.

If Amitabh Kant held the audience together with statistics from the Indian growth story, the big debate and product pitches provided fuel to the story. That the future is indeed filled with possibilities. And with the launch of Abhijit Bhadhuri‘s Digital Tsunami, there is a narrative to read about it all too.

Catch a glimpse of Day II of #SHRMI16 below

 

SHRM India- Annual Conference & Expo (Part 1) #SHRMI16

It was two days of intense conversation, content and of course a whole lot of fun. SHRM India‘s Annual Conference and Exposition ( #SHRM16 ) was filled with it all.

While going to the conference I had written about what I sought to get from a conference. I did get far more than that.

To storify the tweets from the conference has meant going over thousands of tweets and curate what I experienced struck my eye and triggered a memory or arrested a thought. So, what you would find here are just a sliver of the overall experience. Do look up the hashtag, and explore even further. Am sure there is much more than what I put across here in two parts.

Day One was an arresting diversity. From Pramod Bhasin to Vicky Roy to the awards ceremony and a scintillating performance.

You will find Day Two as a separate post here

Day Two was an expansive play of ideas, debates and some olympian stretches of the imagination. Overall set the agenda for a longer conversation thereafter.

Making the most of conferences. #SHRMI16

The printed out boarding passes to Delhi flutter from the corner of the table. What is the point, they seem to ask. They seem to tease me to think. You see, I will be at SHRM India‘s Annual Conference ( #SHRMI16) on 29th and 30th September in Delhi.  While I will be tweeting, talking and crossing other T’s, the boarding passes seem to ask a deeper question :  “Another conference?”

Having attended innumerable conferences, I look at the Boarding Passes with a smile.

Of course, there will be good old friends and stories to catch up.  Of course, there will be interesting topics, the hashtag will trend and the content will be awesome.  If you aren’t going to be there in person, the mosaic above is the list of folks that will be curating stuff for you.  The hashtag is #SHRMI16, if you are into following the conversation online.

Even as I write this, I am reminded of a good read that classified conference participants in four different buckets. ( I wish I had known the authors to give them credit ).

Here they are.

1. The Vacationers : These are the folks that utilise the conference for a well-deserved break. They are lost in their thoughts and are least interested in whats happening in the conference. Except of course, the good food, the grand ambience. ‘A paid vacation’, as someone once told me.

2. The Prisoners : You know these people. They are the least interested in the conference. They are there because they haven’t had a choice. They are, to put in another way, ‘sentenced to attend the conference by the organisation’.  Sure they are there, taking notes and talking. But given a choice, they would much rather be someplace else.

3. The Experts : You cannot miss these folks. They pontificate on every topic. They have been there, done that & that too. ‘Even if you don’t have a problem, well, this is my solution for it’. They will drop names, spew jargon and sneak in an attempt to steal credit for the Sun showing up in the East. You get the drift, don’t you?

4.  The Explorers : These are the folks who are keen to figure things out. ‘ I know a few aspects about whats getting discussed here. There is a whole heap that I don’t know. From the whole lot that is getting said here, let me make sense of what will work for me and what I will let go of consciously‘. Thats the kind of disposition an ‘explorer’ brings to an event.

I have been a sundry vacationer, a dull prisoner, a bombastic expert and a curious explorer in different conferences. These perhaps are frequencies  that we tune into, depending on the content of the conference and what our context and disposition is at that point in time.

The truth remains that the opportunity to be a true explorer is ever present to each one of us, at every conference.  The choices are ours to make.

The SHRM India conference seems to pack a punch with an array of eclectic topics and speakers.  With an exploratory mindset, we ( you and me) can take our takeaways to a new height altogether.That brings me to another question. So what is exploration all about? How does one do that in a conference? Exploration is as personal as it can get. Here are a few things that I try and keep in mind. Stuff that I have learnt from many humble leaders and learners.

 

Explorers and pathways

Exploration is as personal as it can get. Here are a few things that I try and keep in mind. Stuff that I have learnt from many humble leaders and learners from conferences around the world. 

a. Listen. Listen. Listen : Listen to what comes from the stage and the responses it triggers. What is twitter abuzz with? What are the reactions to the content during the coffee break. For me, the responses that the content from the stage triggers, offers a far more compelling picture than the content by itself. ( Twitter, Facebook and other social streams will help you listen in). They give you a far more holistic picture that has rich context. So, dive into both conversations. They are precious. 

b. Explore the extremes : To suspend judgement, disbelief and staying alert to seek something of value, is important. Extreme views bring awareness of what lies at the far end. To seek these extremes and entertaining them without necessarily accepting them, lends power to exploration.

c. Ask your questions:  Share your thoughts : Finding a way to share your thoughts and asking your questions gives you clarity. Sometimes we may not be comfortable asking the question in public.  Find your nooks. Your friends groups. Your online community. Or even those WhatsApp groups. Whatever works for you. ( I would recommend twitter with the hashtag : #SHRMI2016, of course! ).

By doing that you are not only helping a larger understanding of the topic permeate, you are helping the community get stronger. That is a responsibility we carry.

What about success measure? How would you precisely know if attending a conference was worth your while? What goes on between our ears, for all the advancements in science doesn’t lend itself well for precision. Or so I think. So, precision is out.

I remember Lakshmi Pratury giving a formula in an INK Conference that has stayed with me ever since. She said something to the effect of “If you walk out of the conference with ‘one moment, one memory, one friend‘ the conference is a success”. Going by all the people that are going to be there and the interest that the conference is already generating, I am sure I will be many times more successful over the next couple of days. 

One more thing. For a true blue explorer, a conference does not end when it ends. In fact, it is when the event ends, that the explorer’s journey begins. 

New realities for the future

Some spring cleaning lead to this post. Yes. Out stumbled an old Nokia E 61i. It was a prized possession a few years ago. It was in colour and had a fantastic QWERTY keyboard. Those were the pre-iPhone days. There were no apps nor was there Whatsapp. Life was good! Frankly, the dead device rekindled memories of a rather lively time!

This prompted a wonder about our commentary in the future of the times that we live in now. How will the future look like? I didn’t have to go far for pointers.

For Robert Scoble & Shel Isreal are at it again.  A book is in the works. Their earlier books had held my attention and I was rather taken by their commentary. Naked Conversations especially was of great interest. Remember, this was 2006!

In a series of blogposts, Shel Israel has been publishing excerpts from the book that is in the works. The book is called ‘Beyond Mobile : Life after smartphones’

It is a startling picture of the future. Of what it will be without smartphones. They write “It will become less important to life and business and we will start using it less and less. We see a future for it similar to the landline phone of yore. Someday a decade more into the future, you will wonder why you need the device and be locked into a carrier contract for something you don’t really much use anymore”

This is tough to imagine. Sitting where we are, where the growth and dominance of mobile phones and how they have become an extended arm of sorts to our lives is daily lore. But given the early signs, this clearly is possible.

“In fact, it is moving more and more faster : more and more is happening and fewer and fewer things will not be affected”. They speak of four engines that will drive this.

a. Mixed Reality : ‘What is now VR and AR will converge into one technology, MR…By 2025 MR glasses will replace todays smartphone”

b. Digital Genies :  A new term coined by these folks to describe devices and software that use AI.

c. Autonomous Cars

d. Robots

These are in their early stages now, used by gamers and the like. There is a line in the post that caught my attention like none else. “The products that start revolutions aren’t the ones that finish them”

The earliest versions of each of these technologies are well in place. Used by gamers and other niche players. Mainstream product based application and use is a good distance away, from what the authors imagine. Yet, possibilities of what can get built ON TOP OF these baby steps is astounding. To say the least!

They proceed to talk of how the young will lead a cultural chasm of sorts. The millennials and their coming of age is but a predictable road. I sincerely hope they will go beyond this popular commentary. The idea that a classificiation based on ‘age’ alone has validity that goes the full distance is beyond real. ’Millenials’ to me is not as much age, as much as it is a ‘state of mind’. By the way, the authors have coined a new demographic called ‘minecrafters’ who follow the ‘millenials’.  I have a few of those folks in the family too!

A world where the collective imagination of every generation that walks and survives is important for our future. Not just the young by age!

I hope the authors will explore other areas. Like how the leapfrogging of technology platforms in developing economies will cause even wider chasms in society. Or for that matter, how the ever widening gulf between between aspirations and opportunities can wreck our collective future. Perhaps, how the circular economy will be of greater relevance given the finite supply of rare earth. All of these affect mobile phones and will have a bearing on the post mobile scenario as well.

Even as we await the book, these are times for us to pause and ponder on the dynamics of our lives and their interplay with technology. A future without the ubiquitous mobile phone seems round the corner. While it provides for great progress it also sets amidst us a degree of imbalance. How much more will we have to bend at the altar of invasive technology driven lives, what all components of our lives will it touch, time will tell.

All this translates to new ways of doing business as well. That it will change is sure. To what degree, however, remains a question reserved for the rookie swimmer at the deep end of the pool. Gasping for fresh air every time he comes to the surface.

Perhaps the deepest of our troubles lie in being able to navigate some of the legacy systems and mental models that we have inherited AND fly the plane in new directions.  Often times, a mere imagination of the scale of required change causes organisations and leaders to freeze where they are.

Experiments may fail, can cause much derision and not take off as envisaged. Yet, it is important to place bets, take calls and move on.  Bets that seem rather outlandish in the current context may well be what pays off in the long run.

There are several organisations that are placing big bets and making smart moves. One such that I saw and experienced first hand is TATA Tiscon. TATA Tiscon is in the business of making steel rebars. A few months ago, I was exposed to some new thinking thats on at TATA Tiscon’s marketing team.  What caught my eye was the  investment that company was making, in helping customers make informed choices about buying rebars. Retail stores fully equipped with Virtual Reality based technologies to help consumers imagine the quality of construction and choose between the various rebars was a pleasant surprise.

VR TATA Tiscon Exp

I am not privy to  its impact on sales /  purchase decision / brand mindshare owing to this technology.  What warmed the cockles was the fact that the organisation is bold enough to experiment. Especially so, given the category and the general assumption that  immediate customers may not be the ones articulating the need for such a technology.

There are several organisations that that are making this move. Most of it is a bit of a struggle and wonder.  Making these moves is a bit of walking in the dark.  But it is important to keep moving and leverage its effects over time. The value of such experiments is more in the lessons they teach than in the immediate numbers they bring.  This is hustling. The opposite of this hustling is to stay still. That stasis is death.

People like Shel Isreal and Robert Scoble can get on the roof top and holler about things that they see. It requires gumption and an energy to start thinking and acting on these as individuals and communities. We all need to do so. We have never been limited by technologies but only by our imagination.

There is a different effect of not imagining with courage and hustling. You know what that is. The Nokia device reminds me of that.

Disclaimer : The TATA Tiscon experience was part of a blogger program put together by Blogadda.com. A different blogpost had resulted then  

Growing New Wings

I write this sitting in an airport. Its been a busy time. For the mind, the body and the calendar. My flight is ‘delayed due to operational reasons’ I am told with an honour laden tone and a straight face.

So, I sit here in the airport trying to pluck words off the keyboard. This post has been in the making for a while. In my mind that is! I try to zone out of the ear popping frenzy of an international airport to attempt encapsulating the emotion of the past few weeks, months perhaps, into a coherent set of words.

I am still trying as I type this.

You see, its been a couple of weeks since I demitted office at Asian Paints and have been on the road ever since. After close to nine years with a distributed work remit over the years that included Talent Management, Organisation Development,  Learning, Performance Support, Social Collaboration, Diversity & Inclusion. The years sped away and I am left with a ton of learning, a clutch of memories and a heap of great colleagues and friends!

My decision has been on the works for a while now. It took a large quantum of effort and consumed much of my thought over the past several months.  I thought I had thought through everything.  Informing the organisation well ahead of time, working out a transition and closing my account, so to speak.  Looking back, I am struck by how much I underestimated the emotional ‘sense of loss’ of saying goodbye to an organisation that was is a dear part of me. That emotion devoured well laid out plans! 

I struggle here, sitting in the airport lounge, rummaging around for words.  The farewell blogpost I wrote on the Asian Paints’ internal social collaboration platform, on my last working day, is a classic study in contrast.  Words just flew off the keyboard then.

Wait a minute. I have an idea.   

Heres the farewell blogpost. In full. 

Yes, it is that time for me to sit down, say thank you and write a note of goodbye. I begin with Kahlil Gibran to get myself to switch gears and writing.

How shall I go in peace and without sorrow? Nay, not without a wound in the spirit shall I leave this city.

      Long were the days of pain I have spent within its walls, and long were the nights of aloneness; and who can depart from his pain and his aloneness without regret?

      Too many fragments of the spirit have I scattered in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills, and I cannot withdraw from them without a burden and an ache.

      It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin that I tear with my own hands. Nor is it a thought I leave behind me, but a heart made sweet with hunger and with thirst. “

And so, I am moving on. I haven’t had the opportunity of meeting and talking to as many good friends & colleagues, as I would have liked to. To let people know that I am moving on hasn’t been easy on the emotions!  Asian Paints has been a dear part of life over the last several years. A place which prodded me to change some strong beliefs that I came with, gave me fresh ones to harbour and opportunities to constantly grow. The freedom and space to ‘own’ work has always been stellar and that will always stay fresh with me.

There is something unique about Asian Paints that makes it more than a mere ‘company’. Perhaps it is the company! The company of people. A company of people that has fostered conversations, competence, relationships and a way of community. A collective heft, if you will, in the overcoming of stiff challenges and stern goals over the past 75 years! A sense of community that is unique and one that has made a difference to so many lives. A company that I will forever cherish. A big thank you for that!

As I move on, I draw on all our conversations, the debates & the arguments as much as I draw on all the warmth & love. I am moving on to nurture an entrepreneurial dream. I aim to be beset with the lightness of a beginner and try to spin my arm on a new track, even while proudly sporting the tag of having worked in Asian Paints. In your midst. Your good wishes have always meant much and will do so even more now, as I venture into uncharted territory.

Keeping in touch in the modern day world is ever so easy and I look forward to staying connected with you. ( The online space is something that I have been dabbling with and would also be a line of business for me now!).   My mail id remains Kavis.mail@gmail.com and a few sundry thoughts get aggregated at www.kaviarasu.com .

I reserve no less than the very best of wishes to you and to all members of your family and to this fantastic organisation.

I close with Gibran again. (He is just magical. Isnt he?)

Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you.
      It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
      You have sung to me in my aloneness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky.
      But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer dawn.
      The noontide is upon us and our half waking has turned to fuller day, and we must part.
      If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song.
      And if our hands should meet in another dream, we shall build another tower in the sky.

Heres to great times ahead!  “

That was my blogpost. Written in one emotion filled flow, on my last working day.

If you are reading till here, well, you would know that I am moving to unchartered territory. At least unchartered for me, as I eject from corporate employment and seek to find my feet in the big wide world. In short, growing new wings. 

One step at at a time

So, what now? A clutch of ideas, beliefs and notions power me.  Stuff, that crept in me on over the last several years. Brought to me by virtue of work,  discussions, reading, public conferences, private conversations over strong coffee. Yes, good strong coffee that I have woken up to and smelt.  

Here are some of my beliefs and hypotheses.  There are several. One way to shake up my inertia to promise myself that I will keep it to a pruned list of five points. Top Five, if you will. So here goes. A bit long maybe. But am going to let myself flow.

1. Work and the Future of Work :

All of us see small chunks and hear disconnected voices in our daily way of living and work that points to shifts in work. Not sure? Heres a quick dipstick. How many times have you heard at least two or three of the following?

a. “Our company is not what it used to be. We used to talk to each other a lot more. Where have the conversations gone?”

b. ” The idea of forcing a tag on my performance based on a statistical tool called the ‘Bell Curve’ is beyond ridiculous”

c. “I have to dumb down my digital social life to retain this job. I don’t know how for how long”

d. ” ‘These young people’  do not have any commitment to their jobs. How can you be committed if you are checking your facebook updates every 30 minutes?”

e. “Our engagement survey numbers are a bit of a joke.  What can you expect when they think they can engage me by buying new furniture?”

f. “My boss thinks I ought to respect him and listen to all that he says because he is my boss. Well, sorry.”

g. “Oh you know what, I got nominated to that same silly training programme. Thank God its aleast a better venue”

This is a sample of random conversations across several organisations that come back to my mind. Heard from business leaders, HR folks and other colleagues who I have had opportunities to interact with on various platforms and fora. There are several more that will unfold gradually as themes of my work. Over time. 

A ton of reflection, reading and exchanges of ideas with diverse people across the spectrum has left me convinced that tectonic shifts are taking place in the ground beneath us. These are but early rumbles.

The times we live in are like never before. Enterprises have people born five or even six decades apart working together. Beset with work values and approaches that not only appear different but have created new fault lines that appear as trenches.  Digital tools for their part have accentuated this divide, having changed how different generations approach work, relationships and daily lives.

Work is beginning to look, smell, feel different and is appropriating new meaning. The appeal of the employment ‘contract’ is getting jaded at a fast clip. The seeking for ‘real work’ and ‘agency’ is making its presence felt.

Organisational responses across the board has been to do more of what we are familiar with from Fredrick Taylor’s times.  Fresh minting of behaviour defining dictionaries asking for ( and rewarding ) conformance is common, supported by benchmarking studies that point to ‘everybody is doing this’.

All is not lost, though. New conversations on Whole System Thinking, Emergence, Collaboration is indeed emerging from the shadows, amplified by digital tools and their reach. The right balance between esoteric in-the-air suggestions to changes on the ground needs to be found. Not easy. To move from firewalls & functions to networks and platforms need deep conversations and deeper work. 

2. Learning & leadership in the new world: If society’s ideas on work have shifted, goes without saying that those about learning, leadership & performance need some soul searching with a good dose of imagination.

Certainty centred ‘education’ of the past has given way to the need for learning to handle rapid change. Throwing fancy content, well designed ‘training programs’ and shiny new technology at every problem that organisations face have only riddled us with more trouble than before. Stories of efforts to solve challenges leaving organisations with a heap of new challenges are of everyday lore. 

In a world where the ‘authentic’ continues to gain currency, far more is possible by facilitating people to bring and apply their full selves to work. To look at work as the learning and learning as the work, puts far more in the hand of every single stakeholder. It gives ‘agency’ and a scope to function with choice.

As they lead the charge in the new age, leaders with the best intent, buoyed by thinking and successes from an earlier era can run aground the best-built ships. Thinking whole system, community, designing rich jobs, and choice enabled development platforms  will be needed in tons. Keeping things simple and natural will bring development & change that matters. Keeping things simple is tough. (I realise, even as I type this) 

3. Community. Networks. Collaboration: We come together to converse, to learn and create shared meaning in ways that were unimaginable a few years ago. Going beyond notional boundaries of organisations, nations, domains and what not, these conversations can be spawned sans title or position in a hierarchy.  Organisations can get themselves new wings, reimagining themselves as a community. Needless to say, communities can get far more firepower and create far greater impact when they leverage the full power of the eco-system in holistic ways. 

It is by no means easy work. It is a different kind of work.  We need more imagination at play than certifications. More story telling than policies. More conversations than reviews.  More belief in the full person than making rules to extract work from 9.00 am to 6.00 PM. More inclusive work than diktats. 

This change needs the intelligence and interest of networks and hundreds of conversations. With careful nurturing, curation and holding the space for these to flourish, much change can arise.

Networks, collaboration and spawning more of them becomes an important wagon in the change train. The network has always been more powerful than the node (irrespective of what the nodes thought). Even more so now with technology shrinking the world.

4. Spirit of Enterprise: The spirit of enterprise and choice will be the key to help change sustain. Challenges that we are faced with look different when viewed through the eyes of employees with agency.  As hierarchies struggle to come to terms with the scale of change that scalds , the entrepreneurial mindset will both be the balm for change and the recipe for ringing in the change.

Sustaining energies of a restive population for lasting change requires energies from within. The entrepreneurial mindset can power change like nothing else can. For the headwinds won’t be any simple!

5. Other matters: Heres the fifth point. Five points, as I had promised. More for another time perhaps. Now for some ‘other matters’! Important other matters.

I hope to able to drop my daughter and pick her up more often than before and indulge in intimate discovery lead learning. For her. For me.

To write more, read more, travel to places on the map ( and places that aren’t ) and share them with the world is high on the agenda.

New Media is an area of great interest and more dabbling with many of its present and emerging forms will be fulfilling.

To shed some weight and staying light is another priority. In the body as well.

And of course, sitting down with people across the world and chatting up about the weather over our heads and over the organisations we frequent. That will hold sustained interest. The coffee will stay strong.

These are my beliefs and hypotheses. Notions, if you will. ‘Ambitious hopes’ as a colleague called it the other day. I need to question my assumptions and needle my beliefs. It requires, deep work.

My plan is to work in the spaces at the intersection of People, Culture and Technology. My palette has varied hues : Org Change & development, Leadership Facilitation, Executive coaching and the like. Am confident that my experience and understanding of people development, change processes and organisational structures combined with the passion for digital /social tools and social business will find green space.

While the contours of what I will be doing sits pretty in my mind, its translation to specifics requires a good degree of spit and polish.  Conversations, work and diverse experiences will be the secret sauce work this through over time.  I look forward to partner with people / teams / networks around the world who are hungry for making a difference in the spaces they operate in.

The support from the various communities that I have drawn from has always been awesome. I am ever so grateful for that. I will continue to draw on these, even as I attempt to forge new equations and chemistries.  As I start out to question my assumptions and needle my beliefs, a bit of a falter, some hop skip and jump are to be expected. Picking myself up all over again will be possible with the help of the communities and conversations.  Those will be dear as I weave a new warp and weft into my skin.

So in more ways than one, I begin all over again. Wish me luck & watch this space.

That’s it for now people. The honour laden tone that had announced that my flight was delayed due ‘to operational reasons’ just announced that it will soon be boarding.    

SingularityU’s India Summit

Lee Sedol is a name that I wont forget in a hurry. For he carried the weight of humanity and couldn’t carry it for long. For mankind’s creation was outsmarting him. Google’s DeepMind was beating him at his game. AI trumped human intelligence, and how!

I first heard about Lee Sedol in February of this year. At the Singularity University, India Conference. I wrote earlier that the most enticing part of ‘Sigularity University’ is the idea of it all. I have been thinking about it and I can’t help agree more that statement. The ‘idea’ that it has come alive in this format is something to relish and imbibe.

For starters, what is Singularity U?

Wikipedia calls it a ‘Silicon Valley think tank that offers educational programs and a business incubator’.  It was founded by Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil in the NASA research park, near San Jose, California, but its idea is global. In fact, it extends far into the sky.

I read a review of Ray Kurzweil’s book “The Singularity is Near”, and it read this way. “If it does have a weakness it has to be the fact that it is so conceptually and theoretically advanced, so breathtakingly far-sighted and so exhaustively precise in its most minute cutting-edge scientific detail that readers may find it at times hard to follow.” You could say the same for Singularity U as well. Well, almost.

Names like Kurzweil and Diamandis with ‘founder’ tags on any enterprise, will make anyone in the know of them, sit up and take notice of the enterprise. And if you were going to go over the curriculum that is designed by them, why would it ‘just’ excite you? ‘Our mission’, the website proclaims, “is to educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges”

The key words there are ‘Exponential’ and ‘Grand’. It isn’t about chipping away at just another of many of the world’s problems. How about ‘global poverty’. Or ‘drought’. Stuff of that nature requires a fundamental approach that is different from the ones that we have taken before.

The grand challenges that are attempted to be scaled are in the areas of Learning, Energy, Environment, Food, Health, Prosperity, Security, Water, Space, Disaster Resilience and Governance.

The exponential technologies that are deployed are

1. AI & Robotics

2. Digital Biology and Medicine

3. Digital Fabrication and Nano Technology

4. Networkes and Computing Stystems

using the following tools and methods of

1. Policy, law and ethics

2. Entrepreneurship

3. Design Thinking

4. Corporate Innovation

5. Data Science

6. Future Forecasting

This information is available on the website and one that I read in greater detail after attending the Singularity U conference. Relieved, as I am, to read the first point under tools and methods : ‘Policy, law and ethics’. More on that later.

For sitting through the conference I heard speaker after speaker charm the audience with their intellectual prowess and technological detail.  The picture of the future that got presented as one that is built with technology at its nerve centre. Attempting to scale the big challenges that we are faced with today requires not just technology, in my opinion. It needs more than just technology but the presence of technology changes the nature of scaling the problem.  Starting with Peter Diamandis who quoted Steven Kotler’s 6 D framework for exponential entrepreneurship ( Digitalisation, Deception, Disruption, Demonetisation, Dematerialisation, Democratisation), ever presentation in the conference was stellar and thought provoking.

In the conference in itself there were BEAMS moving around. You could actively speak to people from around the world, as though they are physically standing next to you. Cool stuff, you would think. But it clearly seemed to pale in comparison to what was said on the stage.

Sample these : Would you say driverless cars as a technology was a big idea? Sure. But how about that changing how our cities are constructed? It seemed a rather tenuous link until it was argued well by Brad Templeton in a swashbuckling speech.  Rob Nail played with robots as though they were humans and showed what’s coming. Frankly, one part of me was so enthused and another was plain scared. I have been speaking about robots changing the nature of work at several places and here I was seeing it happen even more closely.  Brock Pierce‘s passionate presentation on how Blockchain technologies could alter how ‘money’ and transactions happen across the world altered my goalposts for the future. Altered them and how.  Neil Jacobstein‘s presentation on AI was nothing short of spectacular.  The list seems endless. Topics ranging from data, data security, organisation learning and the works!

In the two days that I was there, the future looked distinctly different from what I had imagined. And when I came back and read more about SingularityU, it looked even more so. The name ‘Singularity University’ seems, well, different. “Singularity” is a term that co-founder Kurzweil made popular. I would describe it as that point, to put it simply, when the machines become more intelligent than men. Keeping technology at the centre makes clear the idea and purpose of Singularity University.

Coming back to the point around why I am relieved to see that one line ‘Policy, law and ethics’. Every solution, in my opinion, cannot be a technological one. Sure, it can be lead by technology and technology has altered our lives in ways that are beyond simple. But our futures are about people and the interfaces it has with our laws and outlook that we have for our lives. There needs to be a conversation around the pronounced and silent impact of technology in our lives. On all sides. The positive and the negative. I am only glad that that space exists even if it didnt get spoken in the conference in itself.

That said, the work that Singularity University is doing in reaching the reset arc of technology to many people, sounds super exciting. SU as its called, has got several aspects going for it. It’s got the best of names on its roster. It’s got a great set of organisations supporting it. It has a stellar student list. And of course, pursuing a great goal ( Positively impacting a billion people in ten years). I Its stellar and superb work but not so commonly available. Some level of democratising access to its unmistakably ‘Silicon Valley thinking’ on these will help. I hope it will come as SingularityU works on disrupting itself and what it seeks to achieve over a period of a time.

Larry Page is said to have remarked: “If I was a student, this is where I’d want to be”.   You don’t arch an eyebrow when you hear of the clamour for admission to the 10 week “Global Solutions Program“.  The program is designed to “empowers participants with the tools, knowledge and skills for positively impacting billions of people”. While that may sound like a chic marketing line, it is in that arc that SU works on. There of course are executive programs, conferences around the world all to perpetuate the idea of ‘SingularityU’.

As I sat reading more about DeepMinds and how much of a profound moment it is to be around when a machine that man has designed has enough in it to beat human intelligence, the idea of SingularityU is unmistakable. We are playing a different game now and we need SingularityU (and more players like SingularityU) to spread the word, build a conversation, generate greater awareness and help us be mindful of our choices.

The SingularityU India summit happened in partnership with INK Talks. I got to attend it thanks to Blogadda.com.

Deep work & distractions

To be a champion is easy. The best of champions make it appear easy, that is. That perhaps is part of the problem.

Becoming a champion takes hard work. That is common knowledge. Cognitivitely well understood and digested. To become one, is a different ask. Check with people who have been enticed enough, have started out well only to realise soon that it isnt something for them. There are quite a few of us who have been down that road. Taken by the glamour of the winning moment and the happiness of the winning moment.

Champion stuff that one sees in the public is prepped by boring stuff that goes in preparation. The internet chronicles the practice regimen of champions. Kobe Bryant, Djokovic and several others share a stellar reputation.

Deliberate practice has been much written about. Read my piece here 

There are several things that can come in the way of becoming a champion. One of course, is not having enough inside. Be it talent, perseverance and the ability to scale challenges. But the other and perhaps a more vexing problem is that of distractions.

Modern day living has a few ubiquitous challenges. For one, interests and distractions are aplenty. Have you noticed how intrusions that had work hard to have our attention are having it easy? The tiny flicker of the LED light on your mobile phone. A beep announcing the arrival of a new whatsapp message. A new mail. Whatever! Our lives have been permanently etched with notifications. That sad story for another time.

On another plane, have you checked out the latest hobby possibilities? From collector or old documentaries to wood carving to Electronics to gaming. The list is long! The trouble is, something or the other seems even more enticing than the one at hand. Each nudges you to try it out. And as interest paves way for trial the scaling of one more hobby hill is attempted. All this is good, except that these can be distractions.

Distractions that can keep perfections and depth in a few fields at bay.  It is a challenge of the modern age. The finite element that is available to us is that of time. Discipline in deploying that time with wisdom and care makes much of a difference.

Omar Bradely, the famous Five Star Joint Chief of Staff of the USA has several prescient comments to his credit. The best in my opinion, is this.

It is time that we steered by the stars, not by the lights of each passing ship.1 (1)

 

It is in our ability to say ‘No’ to the interesting and stay focused on the essentials that we can achieve greater depth & perfection. It isn’t easy. The ‘interesting’ often holds allure far beyond the dull drudgery of immediate work. At least, it seems so. Champion stuff is also about sacrifice. Personal sacrifice. Sacrifice of the interesting and the immediate to honour the important and the long-term.

To stay away from the cake that’s on the plate, so that the marathon that is coming six months later, could probably be run better, is a tall ask. And that is exactly the stuff champions are made of.  They have it in them to stay blind to the lights of the passing ships and stay trained on the North Star.

There is a book out there by the name of Deep Work. Go read.

Notes for 2016

Imperatives are best made after the euphoria of the moment dies down. Well, 2016 is upon us and of course, the celebrations are past their prime. It is left to the arrival of the odd greeting card, to remind us that the year is new.
Stones

Resolutions have always been a bit more than distant for me. I opt to frame general directions and vectors for the year, the tonality for the year, if you will, in January. And as the year progresses, these help me catch my breath and adjust my sails.

2016 is no different. Here are my broad directions for the year. Some of it reiterations of what is. Yet others are thoughts on how the year can be. And of course, its in draft mode. As always.

1. Read and Write more. Reading is such a glorious pleasure. The modern times offer another challenge: a ton of material gets created every minute. To sift, curate and read the (b)right stuff will be key. Newer skills to aid curation, dive into topics and engage in reflective conversations, will be critical.

Reflecting on what I read and write more, is what sets the reading in context. The many benefits of reflective writing can never be stated enough. This year, there is another angle. Newer formats of content creation in the digital arena emerge with great speed. Experimenting with these in reflection, will be good fun.

2. Bring people together. I have had the good fortune of being acquainted with a diverse set of interesting people from around the world. The magic of diversity in conversation emerges when people come together. Finding excuses to meet and bring people together has always been enriching. More of it will be more so.

A ‘sense of community’ brings an awesome level of fulfillment to ordinary interactions. To foster such communities wherever possible and contribute to all that is meaningful from around the world, is an imperative that will always be dear.

3. Work Out Loud. Working out Loud more often, especially sharing dilemmas and seeking ideas will aid. To find platforms and people to work out loud, will be critical. Sharing dilemmas and being less sure of myself, in a public sort of a way, will aid the learning. Practice with a purpose and diving deep would be obvious requirements. A collective heft would emerge.

4. “Disruption” is a word that looks sexy on slides. The real test is in weaving it into life. It is in disruption that life, renewal and learning will emerge with immense depth. This year, to weave disruption as a skillful warp into work will be a centrepiece of sorts. Challenging status quo in the mind is going to be a stiff ask. But what is life without such asks?

5. Working my play. Over the years, I have always been filled with gratitude when showered with praise and recognition. I would like to think my getting featured in ‘lists’, public recognition and opportunities to speak, are the consequence of ‘play’ and joyful exchange of ideas. To deepen my practice and play will continue to be my North Star. True recognition will happen when true value is created, wherever that ‘value’ is experienced. To continue to remain equanimous all through, and play with imagination will make a significant difference.

6. True journeys are not about covering new ground on the ground, but having new eyes. I hope to travel a long distance on the ground and with my eyes as well. My ears tuned into as many voices and stories as possible. And share as many. To go the distance will require humility, curiosity, energy and verve in abundance. I pray for these!

7. And of course, there is the India Chapter of the International Association of Facilitators. I have just taken over as the Chapter Lead for India. I look forward to contributing to the chapter along with accomplished and multi-faceted colleagues and build the community.

The areas of interest continue to remain broad. Social Business. The Future of Work. Executive Coaching & Mentoring. Design Thinking. Transitions & transformations. Storytelling. Leadership development. Workplace Collaboration & learning. Learning design

These, I realise, are both ends and means. I intend converging on a few and dig deep with a sense of play.

Well, those are my seven vectors for 2016. What are yours? I hope to bump into you during this journey and have the opportunity of hearing your story over a coffee.

After that?

Who can tell what happens after a coffee and a conversation? 🙂

Working with young minds – Some Reflections

The last fifteen days presented me with two opportunities of interacting with young minds. Two different groups.

The second was at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). This is placement season at various campuses. The idea of sharing some macro contexts, relating it to what we do on a daily basis was to enable students pursuing their MBA make informed career choices for the present and also keep emerging trends in mind as they navigate their days in different corporate portals. Atleast, that was the hope!

The first opportunity was at the Forum of Free Enterprise‘s. The Forum itself has been around for ages now and has a checkered history with people that were associated with it who modestly could be described as ‘illustrious’.  The forum organises leadership camps for college students from around India in the age group of 18-21, on a regular basis.  To get invited to lead a half a day workshop on ‘Social Presence’ was good enough for me to spend the Sunday on the road. I got more acquainted with the work the forum does during the course of this work and it definitely seems like stellar stuff. Do look the forum up.

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I was impressed with the students and their lines of thought. The pictures above are from the entire five days that they spent with professionals from different walks of life. Brilliant stuff, I think.

Both interactions taught me a heap, while I do hope it did leave the young people with a few aspects and ideas to mull over too.

I group my reflections in three points here.

For one, the all pervasiveness of Social Tools in young lives leading them to be such immersive users of these tools is pretty evident.  The ‘fun’, ‘cool’ element of these tools have caused these to be adopted into the mainstream easily. So easily and comprehensively that ‘what else can we do with these’ / ‘what are the underlying triggers to these’ etc are areas of virgin pastures for exploration

The opportunity of triggering thoughts around ‘what these tools really are’ and more importantly ‘what they can do’ when used imaginatively, is massive!

The second aspect of course, is the gap between what gets taught as part of formal education, and the hard reality of the real world seems to be more than yawning. Technology seems to be widening the gap every minute. Or maybe, thats not how I should be saying that. Technology is creating a completely new paradigm, while theories, pedagogy and curricula still belong to an erstwhile era.

Every age does this to the age that follows. The artifacts of the previous age lingering on for longer than they are relevant. Artifacts (and approaches) from the manufacturing era continuing to dominate current day formal education is a gargantuan travesty. The only difference though, this time, is that the reality of the real world (Technology has changed it completely) is far too pervasive and too widely adopted. The tumult of change is fast reaching the gates of our educational institutions. Or maybe, they already are sitting inside classrooms.

The third aspect is the aspect that I often talk about here and other fora : ‘Social’ is not a set of tools. It is a mindset. Limiting our articulation about them to an assorted bundle of tools is, well, limiting! Sure they do seem ‘fresh’ and help in incremental wins, and have commercial value too. But it is the exploration of a different mindset that triggers taking charge of these tools better.

Oftentimes it is not about these tools at all. For instance, I had a great time exploring the concept of ‘hierarchy’, ‘leadership’, ‘narrative’ from multiple angles with young minds. (In hindsight, I think I should have done more). Their perspectives were incredible. The examples that they came up with were powerful. More importantly their examination of ‘what could have been’ was scintillating. The future will be exciting when these folks are in charge.

Of course, the tools come into play sometime. But its not really about the tools. Our contexts and our weaving of these tools imaginatively to resolve dilemmas, tide over challenges and converse with the rest of the world, are pursuits that count more.

Time will tell.

Leadership and Working Out loud

The Working Out Loud Week has seen a wide array of generous sharing. The reads have been insightful and have added momentum.   I found this image in this tweet from Helen Sanderson crediting Jon Ralphs. I thought it to be brilliant and that it captures the essence of the idea, rather well.

WOL

But first, some thoughts on leadership in the connected world.

That the connected age we live in, is spurring change and that ‘leadership’ needs a new bag of skills, is a story that has been told so often that it begins to sound cliched and trite. Successful leaders who grew into their current roles on the back of work practices that they learnt and practiced in an erstwhile command-control era, dominated by hierarchy and position, will take a while to change. Organisations that they lead, will perhaps take longer.

Over many cups of coffee and several rounds of conversations with business leaders across industry, I have broached the topic of ‘working out loud’. The good part is this : In general, leaders see the need and appreciate the idea. It is not dismissed as a figment of theory. Of course, there is inherent discomfort with working out loud, themselves. It seems too much, too quick and too difficult for several leaders.

The leader being the ‘perfect’ person, who says ‘profound’ stuff (and nothing else) seems to be a pronouncedly unstated refrain! Thats the mental model that dominates. A leader comfortable with wearing the vulnerable side of himself/herself in public, with a transparent mindset to generously share and grow with (and grow the) the wisdom of the enterprise, is a tough proposition for many. In my opinion, that change in the leadership narrative is yet to translate into ground level changes.

To grow through the various life stages means having pimples, warts, dead skin and such else. It is raw and no amount of ‘treatment’ and ‘glossing over’ is going to eradicate the awkwardness that it can bring under the arc light. But in its raw element, lies reinforcement that growth indeed is occurring. As long as we live. Proof that life is perpetually in ‘beta’ mode.

To accept it and to lead with grace and impact, in the new age, demands a proficiency in a way of working that is markedly different. A way of working that is inclusive. Transparent. Authentic. One that has its foundations on generous sharing and deeply moored to faith in communities. Which is exactly where “Working Out Loud” fits in.

Last week I wrote about Process Facilitation as a key work skill in the times ahead. Working Out Loud is another arrow in the leadership quiver of the future. Something that young and aspiring leaders definitely need to add to their repertoire. It expands horizons and leads to fortuitous opportunities.

Now, for some background.  Context and people whose work influence me.

Harold Jarche through his evocative Seek-Sense-Share framework got me acquainted with the importance of “Narration” years ago. The more I thought about it, not only did it make more sense, it felt like it was the need of the hour. His work, ideas and thoughts have created shifts in thoughts and action! If you havent taken his PKM course yet, you sure must consider it.

Sometime in 2013 I happened to meet John Stepper in a conference in Berlin and post that, I got more familiar with term and the set of basics of #WOL. More conversations over the next few months lead me to the works of Austin Kleon and Jane Bozarth .

The basics of Working Out Loud as enumerated by John Stepper are captured here. My own post on the same is here

A couple of months ago, embodying the true spirit of Working Out Loud, John shared a draft of the book that he has been working on with me for comments and feedback. The book is filled with insightful approaches, easy first steps and a step by step guided practice that can aid the beginner and the veteran in the game of Working Out Loud. Don’t miss it!

Look up #WOLYO on twitter for the week that was. John Stepper started it out with a simple pragmatic post. These and several other ideas have helped shape new thoughts and refine existing ones. The thought that this will be an important work skill to possess to excel and stay on the cutting edge of ones chosen craft seems unnecessary to mention

There have been several others who lead the charge on Working Out Loud. Both in refining the concept with thought, active practice and generous sharing around the world. Simon Terry and Luis Suarez are two names that immediately jump to the mind If you are not actively following their work, well do so now. Their work makes a difference!