Open Thoughts

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!

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? 🙂