Mentors – A tribe to be respected and celebrated.

mentor_yoda

I like this scene in ‘Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back’ where Yoda Says ‘Do or Do not, There is no try‘.

Yoda, in my view, is an example of a great mentor in action.

Couple of months back, after ten months of my entrepreneurship journey, I went back to my mentor and asked ‘Why didn’t you warn me about the perils of Entrepreneurship ?’.

With a quirky smile, he replied, “You would not have listened”.

I have been fortunate enough to be associated with a great set of mentors throughout my career.

I also have a “go to” mentor who continues to nurture me even after two decades.

I think I have gained a lot from these mentors and I thought I will share what possibly are their unique characteristics

Personal Stake

Mentors take a personal stake in you.  They invest their time, energy and have a continuous interest in nurturing you. If you have noticed they never take the position of ‘What is in it for me ?’. It is possibly one of those relationships, where you are not asked, ‘What is your exit strategy?’. None exists. They are that breed who knows only to “Give”.

Mirror

Mentors are very active listeners and they clearly present a ‘Mirror’ to your own selves. They will bring out your erroneous zones and darkest fears with seamless ease. In any conversation with a mentor you will come out discovering more about your own selves.

A Bias for action

Mentors put you on a path , where you can take concrete actionable steps. They bring in a healthy dose of philosophy , followed by clear actionable steps, despite the rat hole you are in. They constantly push you from a state of haziness to state of clarity with relative ease. At times, they have this innate ability to push you to the extremes without you even realizing it. You could wonder “why”, but this is just a way for them to sense your level of commitment.

Bitter Sweet Pill

They are the best in delivering bad news to you  and outstanding in ensuring that you handle your setback well. They take care to deliver the bad news in a way that is palatable to you. The reverse is true as well. If, for some reason, you are brimming with arrogance, they will quietly restore your sense of equanimity.

Step in and Let go

They also have this unique sense of when to step in and when to let go. They will never set you up for failure nor they will lead the path to your success.  Like Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, got tired of explaining all the flavours of Yoga to Arjuna and had to reveal his Vishwaroopa to make Arjuna act,  mentors know when to step in and do what is necessary to get you out of your impasse. However, like Krishna, they will never fight your battle. They will let you fight as they are aware, irrespective of the result, you shall emerge stronger.

So, why do they do this ? That is one question that I have struggled to find an answer.

Why do they take an interest in your success,  possibly more than their own success ?

I am reminded of the quote from John Wooden

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

In my view, mentors are concerned more about their character.

Irrespective of the answer, let us celebrate this tribe.

It is a good question to ponder.

Who are your mentors  and how have they affected you ?

If you are wondering what makes good mentees, I will write about that shortly as well.

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder

My Romantic Quotient ?

romance

I think my affinity towards quotient and reminders is increasing  because I am having an extremely hard time understanding and teaching fractions to my children.

I happen to chance to begin one day of this week with the remix of this classic ilayaraja tune and coincidentally ended that night with this Rajkapoor classic and that prompted me to write this.

I consider casablanca as the subtlest demonstration of romance in the movies.

This should give you enough proof that I understand romance to an extent.

In my mental role play, I imagine the protagonist in the above, and I know it sucks. Obviously , if I imagine myself to be the protagonist, I dare not imagine anyone else except my wife to the female protagonist. (That was for the record!)

I convince myself by remembering what Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated man is to entertain a thought without accepting it”

Also five out of seven days in a week, the star sign column in the daily news paper says, Romance is strong on the cards and it has been that way for the past thirty years or so. I have been attempting to figure out what on earth does that mean and am still to encounter one day like that. Law of averages fail miserably here.

My wife most times mentions that I approach Romance as I approach a  project and she apart from other normal zillion complaints that goes into my deaf ear, complains about me being absolutely unromantic. I cannot help it, as I view everything as something to be done and done with.  I can schedule in my calendar ‘Be Romantic’ from 7 to 7:30 daily ! and get to doing that as well possibly. Who knows, that may be a good beginning.

In my view about Romance there are two types of romantic’s possibly attributed to the individual personality types of extrovert and introverts. The extrovert’s romance is more pronounced and demonstrative, where as the introvert’s romance is subtler and restrained.

Unfortunately like in many other situations, introverts are mostly mis-understood.

Assuming a setting like monsoon in coorg (which the film Mungaru Male so wonderfully captured), the extrovert pairs will rush out to throw themselves into the rain, where as the introvert pairs might want to sit under a safe place, just listening to the music made by the clash of the rain with the ground and a pair that is a combination of extrovert and introvert , will possibly work out a fifty-fifty combination.

What will I do in such a setting ? The right answer would be the following

I would like to retire to my sofa, switch up on the TV, watch a cricket match, with an infinite supply of Hot Potato chips. Nothing gives me more bliss than that.  In this context I am neither an extrovert nor an introvert nor an ambivert!.

I am just plainly indifferent.

As I am writing this Sanjeev Kumar through the voice of kishore is yapping out ‘Tere bina’

Talk about not so curious coincidences !

Sorry folks, I cannot define Romantic Quotient.  I mis-led you with a wrong title!

I can accept, understand and appreciate Romance, but I cannot find that within me .  I feel my wife would be ok, as she has lived with zillion complaints and zero responses. Zillion Plus One should not make a difference to her nor to me.

As in many other things, I have not given up yet and I shall keep searching that elusive thing called Romance. May be one day, my wife will see the Romantic in me!

Oscar Wilde said it best  “The very essence of romance is uncertainty”   and irrespective of whatever breed of Romantic you are , you will agree to that.

I will live with a ‘Divide by Zero’ error.

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder

Leadership and Self-Deception

leadership_self_deception

This book by Arbinger Institute is one of the small , actionable and concise book about leadership.

I conducted a leadership program in my earlier avatar and I gave this book to everyone of the participants.

This book has a powerful narrative in the form of individual storytelling and I could easily identify with many aspects of the story telling.

Though this book talks about organizational context, I think it gives a deep insight into your own short comings as a leader and especially how we trap ourselves into the box of self-deception in our roles as leaders in both professional and personal context.

The institute provides a clear framework for getting out of the box

The institute also has this video which serves as a useful pre-cursor to the book.

A useful framework summarized from the book for getting out of the box of self-deception is illustrated below

Do Don’t
Try to be better

 

Try to be perfect

 

Look within

 

Look for other’s boxes

 

Stay out of the box

 

Accuse others of being in the box

 

Keep trying

 

Give up on yourself

 

Apologize and Move on

 

Deny

 

Focus on what you can do right to help

 

Focus on what others are doing wrong
Worry whether you are helping others

 

Worry others are helping you

 

 

Irrespective of your leadership experience, this book serves as a useful guide to check periodically if you are exhibiting ‘in the box’ behaviour or ‘out of the box’ behaviour.

Keep this as a reference book and go back to it, irrespective of your current leadership strengths.

Enjoy Maadi. (Have Fun)

Zunder

PS : This book revealed to me a very important deceptive behaviour in my personal life and someday I shall write about that in detail.

Startup Journey – The End

the_end

I am not sure on how to summarize. I do not want to get into lengthy essays, which no one has time to read nor give one-liners. I am compiling a resource kit of best practices, tool kits and I shall share that with you in a month’s time. You can call it as the ‘The Ready Reckoner’ kit.

So here is my summary of my 11 months of Entrepreneurship.

It is a personal choice. Most time, it is over glorified. If you are good at something and enjoying it, continue to get better at it. The beginning, middle and end (there might never be one) are really lonely journeys. Be prepared to be in it for the long haul.

The fundamentals of business do not change. Customers, Revenue and Profit and the metrics that matter. Rest everything will fall in place.  Build it and they shall come is a dangerous way to start something. Remember, the sale is complete only when the money is in the bank.

Execution wins over deliberation and strategy. Rapid experimentation, validation and adaptation are extremely important. Prefer to chose progressive elaboration over perpetual deliberation. Having a bias for action is of great help.

Treat everyone’s money as yours. Extreme frugality helps you to overcome tough times. Cash at bank is the only parameter that shall keep you afloat. In the early stages it is preferable to bootstrap , focus on getting traction and go to investors for growth. Investors have a great respect for people, who have put their skin in the game.

Make a dent in the universe without getting fractured. Most success stories are about how someone risked everything to become great. While we should celebrate and endorse such stories, you need not setup yourself for that. It pays to be prudent when weighing risks and rewards. It is easy to be carried away, but strategic retreat , is a choice to consider,  It would be devastating to your ego in the short run, but in the longer run , helps you to recoup yourself for the next bout.

Enlist people who will run the marathon with you. On your own , you can only do so much. Though capacity is a state of mind, there is a physical limit to what you can achieve and get done. Shared purpose is what will endure the relationships in tough time. Take time to get this right. This could make or break you. This seemingly simple thing is the most toughest aspect.

You are responsible for every damned thing, especially when things go wrong.  Sounds simple, but extremely hard to digest and follow. But if you get this into your system, life really becomes simple and helps you recover fast.

THE END

There are no beginnings nor ends. The beginning is just the end of something and the end is just the beginning of something ! (My quote ok !)

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder

Fear – A Good Intrinsic Motivator ?

fear_of_failure

I recently participated in the Bangalore Ultra Marathon . I participated owing to two reasons. A good friend prompted me to join and I had a lingering feeling of incompleteness, as I could not the finish the Bangalore Full Marathon in 2013.

Typically, preparing for marathon of this nature requires months , but I do not think I have prepared for anything for that duration. So it boiled down to preparations of two weeks and the maximum I did was 17.5 KM’s in 2 hours 45 minutes. I figured out if I can finish the first 25 KM’s in the first four hours, I can finish the rest before the allotted ten hours by the authorities to be eligible for a finisher medal and finisher certificate.

Unfortunately, my friend who had to pull out in the last minute owing to a knee injury, knowing my penchant for food  cautioned me on not to miss the lunch. I saw the time table and saw the race starts at 6 AM and the lunch ends at 3 PM. So instead of 10 hours I had 9 hours. So I had to finish in 9 hours. There is no way I am going to miss that lunch. I am one of those outliers who live to eat and not vice versa.

Also, no one could not beat me in the first four hours, as I was the last!

Cutting a long story short, I did manage to finish the race and here are the details for the statistically and analytically inclined.

race_timings

Nothing impressive about the above.

There was ten minutes grace time for lunch to complete and I completed within the grace time.

I can bore you with many further things about this run, but I just wanted to share just one thing. I wondered what made me to finish and surprisingly the answer is

‘Fear’

‘Fear of Failure’

But

Failing Whom ? I do not think anyone knew or cared till I came back and boasted about it in whatsapp groups (I possibly would have remained silent, if I had not made it ). My home was just putting up with my known eccentricities and withheld their irritation, when I had to leave at 4 AM in the morning to reach the venue of run.

I wonder,  why the ‘Fear of Failure’ pushed me to complete. At one point when I had completed the third lap (37.5 KM’s) , I just wanted to give up. But something inside me ‘Hey Zunder, do not do this yet again.  Aren’t you ashamed of the excuses you give yourself? Just keep walking’.

As I pulled myself up and limped the last lap, I could not but notice that the fear of not finishing engulfing me.

So it makes me wonder if ‘Fear is a good motivator’ despite being typically portrayed as a negative emotion. I am not sure what science says on this subject, but I did feel that I would have liked myself a little less if I had not completed and the primary motivator apart from the lunch was ‘Fear’

Surprising, but true.

So, has ‘Fear helped you achieve your goals/milestones/plans’ ?

What do you think ?

Is Fear a good intrinsic motivator ?

When I was casually searching for an answer, I read this quote in the book that featured in the weekly book review column

“Fear is an unbelievable motivator, but it also makes people freeze in their tracks. Once you understand it, fear becomes something you can tap into.”

I am not sure if I understood fear, but I understood I had fear!

There is only one other thought I want to leave you with.  By definition of BMI (Body Mass Index) I am morbidly obese and if I can complete 50KMs, anyone can complete. Hopefully you will get there in the next Bangalore Ultra.

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder

 

The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle

war_of_art

Have you ever been postponing that daily walk ?

Have you ever been postponing that piece of art that you wanted to do be it trying your hand at painting , drawing, singing or anything else that you wanted to do, but never could bring yourself to do it ?

What do you think is holding it back ?

or

Rather,

Who do you think it holding it back ?

It is you. You want proof. Grab this book.

However, make no mistakes. This is hard hitting book, delivered in a plain and simple language.

You will be surprised at its no direct approach in attacking our excuses

The author defines ‘Resistance’ as below and  highlights it  as the significant obstacle and questions you vehemently to overcome the Resistance.

“Resistance obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher. It kicks in when we seek to pursue a calling in the arts, launch an innovative enterprise, or evolve to a higher station morally, ethically, or spiritually.”

What is the source of Resistance ?

It is the nagging voice of self-doubt that wants to win over us.

How do we defeat it ?

Just by starting and enjoying the process day in and day out.

“Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.”

This is a small, extremely well written and well cited book by most professionals who have overcome their resistance.

I can guarantee you that it will provoke and persuade you to lower down your Resistance.

And finally I want to leave you with this quote from the book

“Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.”

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder

Startup Journey – Leadership Self Assessment

personal_scorecard

In general, leadership has many hard and soft skills. I am a student of perpetual leadership theory and practice and I learn continuously. However this piece about is my Startup Journey as a leader, what I consider are important and how I fared .

I consider the following factors important

  • Belief
  • Product Building
  • A Bias for action
  • Enlisting People
  • Finding Customers
  • Raising Money
  • Getting out of comfort zone
  • Making tough calls

I shall rate myself on a scale of 1 – 5. The scale definition is as below

1 – Miserable Failure

2 –  Ill equipped Struggle

3 – Half Hearted Attempt

4 – Could have delivered more

5 – Did well

Here is my score

Factor Score
Belief 5
Product Building 4
A Bias for action 3
Enlisting People 1
Finding Customers 2
Raising Money 3
Getting out of comfort zone 2
Making tough calls 1

 

Belief – I still believe in the product and one day I shall get back to give it a different shape. Currently I am in a recovery mode. I was able to spread the belief as well.

Product Building – I did a pretty decent job, considering the timeframe and the constraints I had. The only regret I had here is that I should have been possibly more hands on. I am fixing it now.

A Bias for action – Dates should have been sacrosanct. I was very accommodative of the continuous slip in dates for everything we had planned.

Enlisting People – Quite frankly, this was a surprise to me. This was the most important lesson to me in the last eleven months. I could not enlist people to trust me to deliver on the overall business.  I had prided myself as a capable leader, but the last eleven months have been trial by fire and I would have to say I have been humbled. I am deep diving into this and figuring out my erroneous zones. I am finding there are many , but I am confident that I will fix them.

Finding Customers – Here the lesson is I need to get out more and be in touch with customers directly. If you are starting a company, this is your number one job. Period. Period.

Raising Money – I was bootstrapping mostly and did meet investors for friendly chats. Never did a serious pitch.  My preferred model is still boot strapping in any venture till we get sustained traction. Investors are really a blessing in case you have access to them and are willing to extend a slightly long rope to you initially. Entrepreneurship without access to capital is setting yourself for failure and anyone who is willing to believe in you should be worshipped. However, I would be cautious here, as if I do not feel confident about the money returning more than what the market would return, I  do not feel good about asking for it. I am not sure if its right or wrong, but this is just my view.

Getting out of comfort zone – I stayed within my comfort zones during the initial months and only did what I was good at. I did not bother about every aspect of the business, thinking those things will fall in place. However it did not. By the time I ventured to step out of comfort zones, it was too little, too late.

Making tough calls – In the early stages, I stood by some personal values (I am not sure if it was right or wrong) and did not make calls that would have spearheaded this particular idea. It was a choice between leapfrogging this idea and ability to sleep better in the night . I chose the latter and I will be never sure which would have been the right thing to do. Some things will die with me.

As you see, I did not fare well and most of them are not entirely unexpected. My close friend summarized it well for me. He told  me,  Zunder, You never showed the ‘sense of urgency’ that a Startup requires. All I can say in my I never revealed the sense of urgency. The fire was always there, but I did not make it look obvious, but maybe I just do not want to accept what he is saying.

So, where does it leave me now ?

Should I write myself off ?

Should I continue this journey ?

Frankly, I do not know.

I have gotten back to what I am reasonably good at, which is ‘Building Products’ and delving into the roots of my erroneous zones that let me down during the first iteration. Right now I am not in a position to say if I will emerge victorious.

Judgement reserved.

If all the sounds like baloney and you just need one piece of input, I would say this. If you are starting up, there is only one damned job that you need to 24/7.

Find a paying customer for your idea. Repeat.

Everything else will fall in place.

If you digest and memorize the above simple fact, my rant of seventeen weeks would have served its purpose.

We are almost near the end of this series. This is the penultimate article  and  I promise next week I shall end this. Seriously!

I shall provide a brief summary of the complete journey and associated resources that you could use to spearhead your journeys be it within the organization our outside the organization or use it as reference any point in time.

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder