Why I shut up, swallowed my pride and decided to let the outsider talk.

January 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

I sat there listening quietly, and a little impatiently to start with. He was talking.

In my mind I was telling him that I have already been down this road. Why can’t he just trust me to know this already.
Yep, already thought about that. That can’t work because….
Gosh, that is a bad idea. I already know that because….
We are wasting valuable time here, and we can’t do that because…
He had no context, I know more than he does about this project, what makes him think he knows better? I have been among this and looking at this for so much longer…
And then I paused. I have been looking at this for longer. And then it struck me, maybe I have been looking at this for too long and invariably my view has narrowed. I have already made assumptions and potentially overlooked avenues I could have explored based on that.
Let’s put aside for a minute that this person is actually more experienced than me, and I do have a lot of respect for his knowledge and views. (And I think that helped too).
But really, did he think he knew better, or was that my ego? He did not think he knew better, he was just thinking different. He was not influenced by ideas I had already dismissed in my prior discussions and thought process. He was looking at this fresh, brought different perspectives and renewed enthusiasm. This is a great opportunity. Down the throat went my pride and up the spine went the shiver of sensing a great opportunity.
I sat up and listened. I listened to what he was actually saying. He wasn’t saying I was wrong and he was right. He was trying to explore new ideas with me. And explore we did. Challenged some of our fundamental assumptions, and reaffirmed some important parameters.
Outsiders often have little or no real stake in the outcomes of your project. This allows them to be more innovative and creative in their thinking. They are also not inhibited by the context of your journey so far, the roadblocks you may have hit, or the decisions that brought you here. Wherever here is.  This also gives them a strong will to try and find solutions or challenge assumptions and re-evaluate parameters. And sometimes that is just what the project needs.
One word of caution though. While outsiders may have little or no real stake in the outcome, this can be equally counter productive. While their disruptive ideas and enthusiasm can open new doors, they can equally destroy focus and derail a meeting or worse, the whole project. While showing the willingness to listen, you need to quickly evaluate whether it is adding value. One way to do this is to see if the conversation is producing any new ideas or presenting a different dimension to the problem or a solution. if it is not, then it maybe wise to quickly bring the discussion back to its main focus.
Next time an outsider presents an opinion, sit up and listen. Once you swallow you pride and put the ego to bed, it will be some of the most riveting discussions you can have.
The result? We revisited our objectives, made some fundamental adjustments we all agreed were necessary. We reaffirmed some of our key thoughts, and are on the road to achieve more than what we originally thought we would manage. Great days work starts from one good discussion, stemmed from one outsiders point of view!

Rework – Inspired to act!

December 15, 2012 § Leave a comment


This world needs all kinds. This book may not be for everyone. Some may come out with their pitchforks and torches to try and counter the many things Jason Fried and David Heinmeier challenge in their book.

But, I loved it! I loved it because it is everything I look for in a book. A few new ideas, easy to read, topical and loads of inspiration. The conclusion of the book could have as well been the introduction too. In fact, you could start with the conclusion and finish with the conclusion, and still be reading every word as intently.

In this book Jason and David address great many issues that we talk about everyday, after a couple of beers with friends, or over dinner with our partners or close colleagues between or after work. But despite the number of times we speak of these things, we never actually manage to act on them. Long to-do lists, long meetings, constantly interrupted work day, unable to find the right skills? How many times have you explained to someone, how you love working that one day a week from home because you get loads done?! Yet, more often than not we try to find a solution without challenging the system we work within.

I love the 37 signals products. The simplicity of their function, elegance of design and their entire approach which has enabled the to build such a successful business. In this book the authors have tried and successfully condensend the spirit of their business, into an inspiration for the reader.

If you are a new business starter, this book is a great refresher of many things you may want to keep your eyes and ears open for. I just loved how every page, every word in this book was action oriented and addressing simple things that one can change. One of the chapters in this book talks about making tiny decisions, and collectively these small steps have massive effects like drops make an ocean.

Doesn’t mean this is not for someone working in large organisations. There are still lots of take aways at a personal level and things you can suggest and practice within your teams.

Normally, I would have put off writing this post for at least a few days. Planning when I am going to write it, on the train to work or at lunch or some lazy evening. Collecting my thoughts, and thinking them over. Instead, I chose to sieze the inspiration, act now and get these words down 10 mins before our guests for this evening arrived!

It is not enough to just read the book and ‘feel good’. Take the ideas and put them into action, and then it really feels good!

Enough with the ‘startups’ and ‘entrepreneurs’!

December 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Recently I found myself getting a bit annoyed when people use the terms “start up” and “entrepreneur” to describe their work and themselves. Probably more so how people use these terms. Like anyone else I am fascinated by the world of new initiatives, and the opportunities. In the recent months I have been mixing a lot in the circles of upcoming ‘entrepreneurs’.

Before I say anything, I must highlight, I have the utmost respect for anyone who is brave enough to try and setup their own show. I know, because I have tried and gave up even before I got started. The sheer amount of risk was enough to stop me – let alone the uncertainty and everything else.

Somehow with many people, ‘start up’ seems synonymous with ‘doomed to fail‘, and the so called ‘entrepreneurs’ seem to wear a badge that says ‘I want to fail‘. More often than not, I find people celebrating failures, instead of the lessons they learnt. The focus just seems to be  on the wrong things.

Some months go, I attended ‘the business startup show’ in London. Some incubators were hosting ‘dragon’s den‘ type sessions. One such person pitching introduced herself as an entrepreneur who has had 2 failures that she wears ‘proudly around her neck’. Really? Since when did the emphasis shift from learning to failing?

Seth godin once wrote an inspiring post on “The difference between a failure and a mistake“. The whole point he makes is to focus on learning.

Many are quick to quote lean startup’s famous ‘Fail fast, cheap and early’. It is easy to see why the focus is on failing instead of learning! Learning should not be the consequence of failure, failure may be the consequence of learning! Identify your assumptions, focus on what you need to learn, quickly. And in the process if you should fail, that is ok! Get it?

I feel the ‘start up’ and ‘entrepreneur’ badges contribute to some of this shift. I recently started reading ‘Rework(non-affiliate link) by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. They challenge people calling their new businesses a ‘start up’, which almost seems to give them the license to fail. Instead thinking of it as a new business, focuses your mind on success and what you need to do to make it happen!

Mark Zuckerberg, is an entrepreneur. He has successfully setup one of the biggest businesses in the world. He earned that badge from success, not failures. If you are just starting out, then are you really an entrepreneur yet? The authors of ‘Rework’ coin the term ‘Starter‘, and I agree. Again, as a starter you focus on how to succeed, not how to fail. You focus on what you need to learn!

Failures don’t pave the way to success, what you learn do.

Insanely Simple: No compromises

August 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Insanely Simple

Non-affiliate link

Only recently, I finished reading Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson. Having read such an inspiring account of Steve Jobs the man, as a marketer one cannot but be curious about the success Steve Jobs achieved with Apple’s Marketing. From brand, to product launches, Apple’s marketing is the yardstick to measure success these days. That led me to pick up Insanely Simple  by Ken Segall.

Ken served as creative director for Steve Jobs at Chiat, after Jobs’ return to Apple in 1997. He had been directly involved in many of Apple’s successful product launches in the post-pc era. But his journey with Steve Jobs started long before, when Steve hired the agency Ken was working at during his NeXt days.

The book is a insightful account of how Steve Jobs approached marketing and business. How Jobs inspired simplicity, and relentlessly fought complexity. I feel human beings are fundamentally wired to accept complexity these days, and ever ready to compromise. When we face a problem, we stop at the first solution we can find for it, and often fail to explore further and immediately jump into action to implement.

Much true to the topic of the book, Simplicity, Ken makes some incredible simple but effective suggestions on how we can systematically fight complexity in business. He makes some powerful observations about how Steve Jobs has ingrained the pursuit for simplicity in Apple’s DNA. As Jobs himself said to Walter Isaacson, his greatest achievement is building Apple as an enduring company.

When reading the book, it can be easy to think, Ken is stating the obvious. It can also be easy to think, only Steve Jobs can pull this off, or only Apple can do this with their deep pockets. If you do that, you will miss the point, you will compromise! If you want to benefit from the lessons of Steve Jobs, and emulate some of the success he achieved, you must go into this with an open mind. Be brave, and prepared to fail, but more importantly be brutal and relentless, something Ken talks about extensively in his book.

The book is an absolute must read for any marketer and business person. If you are looking for some of the real lessons of Apple’s success, this book will shine light into the heart of some of the basics that underpinned their success.

Have you read this book already? Do you feel the same way? Please share your thoughts with me in the comments below:

The emotional life of your brain: opens your eyes to look within

August 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Emotional life of your brain

Google book preview [non-affiliate link]

I decided to pick up “The emotional life of your brain” (non-affiliate link) by Sharon Begley and Richard Davidson, after I read an article on the Harvard Business review(HBR), July Edition. I have always been fascinated by how the brain works, and especially how our emotions and responses are controlled. Most of the literature I have come across in the past were either too technical, or boring. I normally gave up before I was through the first page or few paragraphs.

The book is written in

fantastically plain english. Dr Davidson distills nearly 4 decades worth of research into brain functions into something a average person can easily understand. The book is filled with really interesting anecdotes and examples, and stories from his own life that make the reading really interesting and more meaningful. Rather than getting too caught up with the scientific details, the author puts everything nicely in context of life and what it means to an individual. Finally, a book at helps make sense of the science of brain for a common man!

In this book, Dr Davidson begins by providing insights into all the ground breaking research into the human brain in the last few decades. Several of them, he has conducted and concluded himself. He then goes on to define and layout a framework for understanding yourself, he calls our “Emotional Style”. He defines our emotional style as a combination of six fundamental scales of behaviours, which he has been able to track back to specific signatures of brain activity. Most of the book is about helping the reader understand what all this means and how they can use this information to understand oneself.

In the final chapter of the book, Dr Davidson provides some simple exercises that could help us train or tune aspects of our emotional style. I am not one for self-help books etc. But the reason I dont like such books is because most authors seem to ignore one important thing, everyone is different. Dr Davidson acknowledges this very truth in the very first chapter, and also explains how this singular fact underpinned his life’s ambition. Everyone is different, and the world needs all kinds. What I really liked about the final chapter is that the author does not focus on moving to any one end of the scale. He explains how we can move towards either ends of the scales of each aspect of our emotional styles. Having the understanding of the brains working and what he author defines as the “Emotional Style”, helps every individual reflect and decide where they want to be. More importantly, if at all one wants to change anything!

This book is an absolute must read for everyone, IMHO! It gives you a basis to not only understand your own actions and reactions, it really changes your outlook of others. Simply understanding the concepts and why people may behave the way they do, changed how I see the world in subtle but important ways. It has also helped me understand how I act and react to things and how that can trigger a chain of events within and outside! I am not sure if the book can make us “better”, the author certainly does not claim he is trying to fix anything. But what it certainly does is give us a better understanding of ourselves and how our brain works.

Have you read this book yet? What are your thoughts?

Do students need a ‘real relationship’ or a more effective relationship with tutors?

July 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Students are demanding a ‘real relationship’ with their tutors at UK universities, according to the article that appeared on The Guardian Higher Education. I couldn’t help but wonder, what do they mean by ‘a real relationship’?

By the time I finished reading the article, I still wasn’t quite sure. The NUS and the various other stakeholders seem to equate ‘face-time’ to building relationships. Somehow, it appears to be the belief, smaller tutorial groups and more face to face meetings with a tutor is supposed to help build that relationship. In this modern era of technology enhanced communications, does that really hold true? Is that the most efficient use of time, and more importantly is that preparing the students for the real world?

When these students graduate and start their jobs, they are going to be working in an ever globalising and distributed work force. The chances are, many of their team and in many cases even your bosses/mentors are not going to be in the same country, let alone office or city! Can they be demanding then, that they need more face to face time to build a relationship?

When students enter the real work environment, you have goals and a time frame to achieve them in. No one is going to hand them a week by week breakdown of how much work is involved. How do they prepare for this? I remember from when I completed my first degree, planning my work for the degree was a big preparation for my graduate life in the real world.

Somehow, it seems, just because universities are charging higher fee everyone must be working harder and putting in more hours. What happened to work smarter not harder?! Universities are far from perfect. The student experience, especially the learning experience needs a lot of attention and improvement.

Students should be able to support each other more effectively. Just the same way as a problem is referred to the team before being escalated to a manager in the business world. So many questions and issues are trivial and can be solved among the students through discussions.

Academics should be able to monitor such discussions and intervene effectively and in context to provide expert guidance. Is that not where a tutor adds most value? In several discussions I have had with academics, majority of questions they get asked by students are about assignment deadlines and assessment criteria. Most of the information that can already be found in course handbooks.

Students need better access to resources. There are many facets to this issue. In the era of information overload, helping students navigate, assess and pick the right resources is vital. Gone are the era where a handful of books and a couple of respected journals covered an entire field of study. Videos, audio, online articles, blog posts, e-journals, e-books and many other digital resources are now available to choose from. Students operate in an interesting intersection between the physical and digital world.

How do we help students manage this? How do we prepare them to face the business world? Is providing more face-to-face time solving or addressing the real issues, or is it diminishing the value Universities can add? Should we not be focusing on channels of collaboration where tutors can add real value to the students’ learning experience? What are your thoughts?

Steve Jobs: The exclusive biography – the man inside the legend

July 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography

non-affiliate link

Steve Jobs is a legend. Anyone disputing that, has probably had their head buried somewhere unpleasant for the last few decades. We have all known him as a superstar, a showman, sheer genius, a fighter, the comeback kid and the list goes on. Every once in a while, we also heard stories of how he terrorises people, is extremely demanding, relentless in pursuit of what he wants, and will stop at no cost!

Whatever we have heard, seen or read in the past, one thing we have all witnessed is how at the turn of every decade he revolutionised various industries. From personal computers, to music, from phone to portable computers. And some of the less easily recognised areas, Jobs also transformed marketing, and business. In his biography, during one of his interviews with Isaacson, he admits that he believes his greatest achievement is building Apple as an enduring company.

Walter Isaacson, in his book Steve Jobs: The Exclusieve Biography, for the first time takes us into the life, and close to the man inside the legend. The Steve Jobs behind the scenes, beyond the tabloid press and business press. An incredible account of the journey, that was the life of Steve Jobs. Knowing how Steve Jobs likes to control everything that revolves around him, this book is one project that had a special right of passage denying Jobs any control.

Isaacson has conducted extensive interviews with numerous people in Jobs’ personal and business life. This book makes Steve human, and takes us close to the person that he was, and helps us get up close and see what made him tick. Many things about Steve Jobs is still a mystery. Even Walter Isaacson, with all the access and being shielded from Jobs’ desire to control, could not find all the answers. So there is plenty there for us to make up our own minds about.

If you are looking for business lessons, or how Steve Jobs made Apple such a great company, you my not find everything here. There are certainly many real nuggets and great take aways, but this book is about the Steve Jobs the man, the human being, the person.

The accounts of how Jobs dealt with the set backs in his life, and how he bounced back are truly inspiring. There are several lessons to take away from Steve Jobs life. Not all of them are good. Isaacson makes it a good point to note many of the mistakes Steve Jobs made along his journey, and points out some of his shortcomings as a young father and an older family man. What he lacked in empathy, made up for in his ability to inspire people. It is a well balanced account of his life.

Reading this book has left me inspired to go find out and learn more about Apple, and how Jobs built such successful company, and more importantly a business that can endure even without him at the helm. The man, is a legend.

Has this book inspired you in the same way? Do you plan to read it? Please do share your thoughts below.

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