Open Thoughts

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 and a few sundry thoughts get aggregated at .

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

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.

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.


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.


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!

The Green Room Experience

Many moons ago, I was a stage actor in a theatre group.  Grease paint. Dialogues. Arc lights. And all that! From the plays of Anton Chekov to ‘The Zoo Story’ (my toughest) by Edward Albee) .   The Zoo Story, I recall in particular, was miles and miles of dialogue. A never ending ascent of a tall ask, for it was a two character, one act play, for a duration of what could be called ‘eternity’.

As much as I remember the performances, memories from the Green Room stay fresh! A time of bonding, intense conversation, reassuring glances and a scintillating access to performers and performances.

The Green Room, Wikipedia says,   “is the space in a theatrestudio or similar venue which accommodates performers not yet required on stage. The green room functions as a waiting room and lounge for performers before and after a performance, and during the show when they are not engaged onstage.”

My experiences in the Green Room guides me to think that the definition is perhaps an honest clinical descriptor. Like saying ‘Twitter is a social networking tool’. Or that cars have four wheels and help in getting from place A to place B. Technically right, but far less than what they do.

For the Green Room is a ‘hot and happening place’. In every sense of the word.  My recollections lead me to memories of fervent pace and the anxious eyes of fellow performers before the performance. The director’s calm demeanour that magically soothed frayed nerves. Plus it was an incredibly awesome angle to relish some class acts from! A place where you are closest to the real act. Performers and performances in close quarters before their grand performance on stage. You see mistakes. You see spectacular transformations.

The Green Room is a stepping stone to a real performance. In a literal way too! All of those memories and experiences came rushing back. In just a bit.

For now, switching topics and talking about CAWW! 🙂

For a while now, Change Agents Worldwide has held my attention. In a very unique sort of a way. It started with random exchanges on twitter that stayed long after the exchanges themselves. Leading gradually to more sustained conversations that were not only ‘useful’ but served to whet the appetite for learning and exploration in the ‘change’ domain in a way that can be described as unique, contemporary and also at the bleeding edge of thought!

The people that I had these conversations with, lead me CAWW.  Take a moment. Do go over the website. One particular line from their website that struck a deep chord enough to explore their work “We designed Change Agents Worldwide to function as a cooperative, where value is realized by every node in the network” Every word there, appealed.

So, when I did discover that CAWW had a ‘Green Room’ where I could go and dip my toes in what it is like to be part of the real conversations behind the curtain, I didn’t waste much time asking Susan Scrupski for an opportunity.

What looked like a relatively calm week in June (that later got swamped by a busy calendar) was when I got to get into the Green Room at CAWW! A authentic and thought provoking digital experience.

After sharing my contexts in the ‘stream’, we got down to outlining priorities, problems and challenges.  A superlative change agent is one that asks a heap of questions. Some of them out of a seeking for answers.  At other times, as part of a nudging thought train in a different direction.

The people at CAWW are masters at it. Deep searching questions. Calm quips. Simple yet profound ideas and a curiosity for more. The beauty of the interaction also got multiplied by the geographical spread of where the ideas and interactions came from. S

Simon Terry based out of Australia and me would exchange a few ideas before Europe woke up and the conversations would continue through the evening with friends from the West! If the maxim of ‘ideas rule the world’ were to be proven true again, in a very literal sense, I didn’t have to look any further.

Engaging and hearing from a variety of people.  Richard Martin. Luiz Suarez. Jon Husband. Joachim Stroh. Catherine Shinners Carrie Basham Young. Stuart McIntyre. Thierry de Baillon.  Kevin Jones. Guy Alvarez . Marcia Conners. Patti Ankalam Presenting a dazzling array or presence, opportunity and thoughts.

A clutch of ideas, an array of links to resources and surveys and more importantly thoughts to pursue, stay with me. Long after the one week in the Green Room of CAWW has gone by! A wholesome refreshing time.

Notwithstanding the fact, that this Green Room triggered a flurry of memories of another Green Room from a different era.  More of that story for another time.

For now, people, if you haven’t explored CAWW, you must!

Beware the busy life!

We were in the middle of a discussion about possibilities for the future. The future painted itself as an alluring picture. One member of the team that was discussing the problem, was clearly worried. That worry stemmed from the load that the present day and its travails threw in already. There were processes to build. Projects to complete. People to meet. His calendar remained filled to the brim. He wondered where he would pull time out from for this ‘future’ discussion?

It was soon apparent that we weren’t headed anywhere. Nobody competes against a full calendar. Unless you are insanely brave or completely naive! We were stuck. It became clear that if we wanted to get anywhere productive, we needed to step off the ‘busyness’ treadmill. That was tough. Considering how critical the present day challenges were.

We are all genuinely busy. Aren’t we? With overflowing calendars and a constant hum in our minds about how busy we are and how much we miss leisure.

The busy life occupies us and our imagination. In this lovely piece in the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert reviewing ‘Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time’ by Brigid Schulte, writes that being busy has acquired ‘social status’.  ( Here is another review of the same book. This time, by the NYT )

“Keeping up with the Joneses now means trying to out-schedule them”, she writes. Some of us are afflicted with what I call the ‘Full Calendar Syndrome’. The condition that causes palpitation upon seeing a few slots on the calendar ‘open’. Busyness reassures many of us with a sense of worth and progress. But what a travesty, that. More on that later.

Amongst the things that ‘busyness’ robs us of, is the possibility of looking around and seeing beyond our problems. Often times, the very aspect of looking in another direction gives us great clarity on the problems we work on. Full calendars and occupied minds, prevent us from creative thinking and missing obvious solutions that could be staring us in the eye otherwise.

John Maynard Keynes wrote “Economic Possibilities for our grandchildren” in 1930.  Kolbert’s piece pointed to this paper and obviously I downloaded it in some spare time, in the midst of being busy.

Its ten pages long and a fascinating piece to read, and to think of how his mind traveled a hundred years from the heights of the Economic Depression of the 1930s to peer into the future is some thought in itself.

Simply and simplistically put, Keynes felt that a hundred years from 1930 there would be so much wealth in the world that would automatically lead to an abundance of leisure!

His thoughts on the scale of our economic growth are well in tune with where the world has reached. But his posits on the scale of economic growth leading us to having substantial leisure hasn’t seen the light of the day. In fact, we have gone the other way. Wealth has only increased our ‘buysness’ and leisure has almost acquired the status of a bad word.

Bertrand Russell, another of those men, who rode those times with thoughts and words that caused people to pause and think, wrote “In praise of idleness” in 1935. (He makes a persuasive case for a four day work week which obviously, didn’t go a great distance but it’s a great read nevertheless). “The general thesis which binds the essays together is that the world is suffering from intolerance and bigotry, and from the belief that vigorous action is admirable even when misguided; whereas what is needed in our very complex modern society is calm consideration, with readiness to call dogmas in question and freedom of mind to do justice to the most diverse points of view.”

I would call to special attention “..vigorous action is admirable even when misguided..”

While ‘Busyness’ is certainly something to contend with, the other aspect that bears down on us heavily is the hysteria that surrounds our ‘busyness’, in our own minds. How many of us think our days are so packed that we don’t have a minute to breathe? Of course, most of us! On the one hand, we pack our days with much work (and if we don’t, there is worry that seeps in) and on the other our constant refrain in our minds revolves around ‘how busy we are’ and how much that interferes with what we would rather be doing!

The question that begs our attention, large chunks of it, is this : “What am I busy with?” It is but obvious that this question hardly gets asked and the possibility of it getting answered with care and thought, is even more remote.

Too busy to improve

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life” – Socrates

Socrates said it like none else.

There are strikingly simple things that can be done to jump off this treadmill. Simple stuff. For one, a simple scan of our workday will lead us to some levels of insight. Are we really busy with stuff that counts or is it a meaningless routine that we hazily go through the motions.

Conscious Choice
Leading a life of purpose and commitment, as cliched as it may sound, against a life of ‘routine busy’ is a result of conscious choice. It has to be consciously lived by design before it becomes a default mode of living. In the absence of conscious choice and action, there is enough and more of an activity swirl that happens around us that keep us going and suddenly we wonder where the last several years went!

Elizabeth Kolbert further writes, “Our frantic days are really just a hedge against emptiness. Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day”.

She goes on to write, “…so it’s hard to see this pretense of indispensability as anything other than a form of institutional self-delusion”

The antidote to this of course is to pause, find some time and think about life! To figure out what you are driven by? How do we want to get there? These need to be thought through and worked out. It is but obvious that several times, our choices are unconscious. From a set of options that popped in front of us because of the circumstances that we are in. Not a set of options that we created in line with what we wanted to do in life! To use the much abused and cliched word : ‘Purpose’!

Our life choices need thinking. Its our life. Even if our lives have many elements of routine, there are always avenues to make them rich and full.

If there was one purpose to this note it is this : to cause you to get to a “pause and ponder” mode about your ‘busyness’.  If you have come this far in this post, well, you might as well consider doing that. 🙂

Writing goals down and concertedly working on it, is a great place to begin. It works. All the time. Far better then when you dont write it down. If you have the time that is. Writing them down is perhaps the wheel that can set your success cart rolling in the right direction! Its a great first step. Of course, most of us know this. The question really is, ‘how many of us practice this’!

Do you?

On reflection

When was the last time your calendar had an entry that earmarked time for ‘Reflection’. Of course, “Reflection” could take any label and many names, but with the intent of ‘reflecting’, or ‘intensely synthesizing” an experience or a result. My questions on this to a variety of people over the last couple of weeks, have saw a handful of ‘’overwhelming ‘yes’s” and a heap of hemming and hawing!

Nobodys fault. We just live in an age where ‘action’ has assimilated all the space that it had and shared with ‘reflection’ and ‘thought’ as the route to success. Having structured experiences has a huge focus on the experience, while as much focus must go into reflecting on these experiences. These hardly happen, except perhaps when this happens to be participants in an ‘outbound’ programme.

First things first. Reflection helps in learning and assimilation. Research has consistently pointed in this direction. The works of Dewey, Donald Schon, Kolbs and several others, consistently alluded to this. A new working paper by Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano and Bradley Staats lends further credence to that with greater aplomb. ( Get the full paper here  )

This piece that Duke Today illustrator Jonathan Lee put together, is awesome on many counts. Amidst all the wonderful illustrations, this illustration below stood tall besides being very pertinent to this post.

Reflection Magnifies Learning

Don’t we reflect? Of course we do. Thinking about various thoughts, conversations and ideas whilst doing something of routine is more often the case. Nothing wrong with that. While reflecting on the go, may quite well be a natural occurrence to many of us, intentional, focused synthesis of events and experiences lead learning to a different sphere. That is uncommon. Or rather, these are not practices in the mainstream. Reflection itself can be a natural consequence of several aspects.

‘Reflection’ facilitates the process of transforming tacit information and accrued experience into a codified knowledge base, adding several degrees of confidence. Just the possession at the end of the day, of such codified learning boosts self efficacy. This of course, requires cognitive investment.

Some of the best leaders who I have worked with over the years have always been those that have been able to hold conversations that helped me intensely reflect on several experiences on the job. In a connected, fast paced world, the ability to be able to hold the space for reflective conversations is at an implicit premium.

Journaling, having to ‘present’ the understanding etc help a big deal. Personally, teaching and further sharing of the results of reflection (including Working Out Loud) have helped me greatly. Surprisingly the paper mentioned above didn’t find evidence of increase in learning resulting from further sharing of it.

If you are a leader who is keen on facilitating a group into reflection this piece can get a good start. At the heart of it all, are three things in my opinion
a. Complete listening
b. Questioning
c. Allowing people to be

Being able to ask the right questions that facilitate reflection solves three quarters of the problems. That is a skill that can be acquired with constant practice. After asking the questions, to listen intently without interjecting with a point or two is also crucial. Some of my best conversations have been ones that left me thinking about it long after the conversation was over.

Gautam and me had this conversation on twitter.

Gautam’s point is well taken. It is my view that if it is made important enough, time will get created for it. It cannot remain in the fringes and remain and optional extra but must permeate as an essential means of completing work. It is every manager and leaders interest to give it the space it deserves.  Of course, it needs to get into the calendar!

Reflection has continued to remain one of those things that we either take for granted or consistently undervalue its necessity. In my view, it has to be woven into work. Developing and exercising the muscle around facilitating reflection takes a person a great distance. Besides, it perhaps offers the simplest and most potent tool in developing people on the job!

Follow effective action with quiet (1)

Notes to Myself. #PowerPoint

After having been subjected to (and subjecting several others to) many hours of meetings, all invariably dotted with PowerPoint sides, here are some notes that am sharing. Notes that I originally made for myself!

The corporate world is rife with several things. But one aspect that is ubiquitous across the corporate world is PowerPoint slides. Well, no offence meant to Excel sheets, or Word Docs. But tell me, which other product is so mortifyingly despised to the point of it getting branded as ‘murder’, yet so very mainstream and widely used! So much so, that Guy Kawasaki thought it fit to include learning to use Powerpoint as one of the skills to be learnt in school!  Well, Dilbert sometimes nails it like nobody else.

Imaginary Productivity

This is the season for PowerPoint! So much so, somebody walking into a meeting without a SlideDeck is often considered underprepared! Plans, budgets and several other ‘opportunities’ to revel in the dark revolving whorls of bullet points and transitions. Whatever your reason, when you make your latest slides (have you ever wondered why they call it ‘slide’), may you do so with some love, respect and consideration for others. Especially the ones who will have to ‘sit through’ your presentation.

You can well argue that three quarters of them aren’t anyway interested and are fiddling with their phones and texting their favourite groups on Whatsapp. You may after all have a point there. But then, lets assume for a moment, that all people in front of you in the room aren’t like that and would love to focus on your presentation and what you have on your slide. Ok!?

Be kind to them. Be kind to their eyes. Overcrowding a PowerPoint slide with a font size that can get an optometrist roaring all the way to the bank may be your way of getting back at the Whatsapp folks. But then, relax. There are more elegant ways of ‘revenge’!

The other thing, changing your slide design, making the points fly all over the place, appear immediately after they disappear and vice-versa are all good in a Bollywood potboiler. You are making a presentation on next year’s budget for God’s sake! Remember that.

And most importantly, watch any logo that you may be using. Especially so, if its your company’s logo. You may have your opinions on labouring hard to stretch a simple act of trivia to the level of a proficient accomplishment on your job, but let it not show on the corporate logo. Keep the logo intact. Distorting the logo is disrespect.

Don’t have more than ten slides. Yes, after that, it really slides. No, not ten. Make that five slides. “Introduction” and “Thank you” slides included.


Abhijit Bhaduri on twitter had an excellent tweet and a flurry of tweets from several other friends on this topic.

Read the thread here once again.  And before shooting off a powerpoint file as an attachment keep in mind the tenets from David Ogilvy’s fantastic book on communication.

The real power in Powerpoint is about the ‘point’.  Powerpoint is just a tool to pass information or at best a prop to make a point. A prop morphing into the main point is such a travesty. Keeping the prop at the right place helps in moving the conversation forward.

Finally, if you are not in a meeting and have to make a point and still have to convey a message, pick up the phone, walk over to someone and talk! That may get something moving! If you need to send it as an attachment to a mail, keep the tenets of “Writing that Works” by David Ogilvy in mind.

Dont let it slide. 🙂