Culture – Do you have one?

culture

You hear a lot about culture in these spheres of life

  • Organization
  • Societal
  • Family

The Cambridge dictionary defines it as ” the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time.

You would have heard many clichés about culture in your day to day life.

My favorite ones are “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” “We are a very tolerant society” (depending on which camp you are), “In our family, we do it differently” and much more.

Your roles would have been adapting or adjust to the culture which was prevailing in each of the contexts you came in. If you were extremely curious or if you were are a rebel, you might have shaped or stood against some culture as well.

For me, culture is unwritten rule book in the context I operate. I cannot possibly give an explanation on the ‘Why, What and How’ but it has been like that, and it will be like that. If someone asks me an explanation, I will not be able to provide it.

However, I have always viewed culture as something I do subconsciously to the context I interact and the contexts like Organization, Society, Family which essentially are outside of me.

Hence, I was intrigued when a newsletter article came from Steven Pressfield, the author of War of Art, asking me about my “Personal Culture.”

I was surprised as I have never reflected about “Personal Culture” in my moments of armchair philosophy. I have viewed culture as something outside of me and not something inside me.

As I grew up to be an engineer by profession, I need objectivity in everything I do.

I will re-phrase that statement. I need objectivity in everything others do. I am liberal on myself.

I went to the drawing board and arrived at this formula.

habits_values_culture

The dwindling arrows indicate a feedback cycle to highlight that culture is not static.

Habits are easier to change than values.

I applied this formula to myself.

I could easily list down habits that were formed recently, habits that have stayed with me for decades.

However,  when it came to values, I struggled and am still struggling.

It does seem to me that I thrive on a half-baked culture which mostly looks like I am a creature of habits rather than a blend of habits and values.

I could have left the question from the newsletter without bothering about it. But nowadays I am attracted to things that challenge my assumptions about myself and the notion of a “Personal Culture” is an interesting experiment that I will continue to ponder.

I thought it might be of interest to you as well.

What is your “Personal Culture”?

Do you have one?

Do you think it matters?

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder

Two words towards Liberation

2words

I have permission to write this from my spouse.

She has granted this permission after due deliberation. We just completed seventeen years of married life. It takes ten years for a marriage to work. She thinks after that it does not matter.

Every morning in my house is like unfolding the last page of a mystery novel.

The suspense that gets broken is, will my kids make it to the school bus in time?

On a different note, it is how emotions get built between mother and children. My wife enacts a cinematic scene, rushing out with her morning dish in one hand, running and feeding both the kids at the same time.

You would have heard about women being better at multitasking. I agree.

I, on the other hand, cannot stand this drama. This daily drama has been going on for twelve person-years, and the Coalition of my wife and kids overrule my request of stopping this daily drama.

When one of those rare days I have to pack the kids for school, there is no drama, and they are ten minutes early for the bus.

My son argues that it is a waste of time going early. My daughter wants me to stay with her till the bus comes and keep listening to her non-stop banter. I have to pay the price for making things ready ten minutes in advance.

When I pride myself on how I could do this, my wife gives me a harsh rebuke.

She says I am too mechanical and predictable. She also adds that I am a machine and there is no element of thrill. Kids support her vehemently. They are smart enough to be on the good side of economics and especially with my wife being the breadwinner; they know where power lies.

I have given up my fight on this.

A couple of days back,  I was getting ready for my morning walk, and witnessed this cinematic scene enacted, and my neighbor was sympathetic enough of my wife doing this daily drama and uttered something to comfort to my wife.

My wife being the perfect Aries, quipped back with “The pressure cooker took the time to let the steam out” and she said that was the reason for the last minute hurry to the neighbor. On a side note, I love Arians. Many people I respect and learn from are Arians. They have this unique quality. You will have zero chance of making them accept they are wrong.

“The pressure cooker took the time to let the steam out.”

I lost it there.

However, zero black hair in my head has taught me discretion is the better part of valor. I had the option of ‘fixing’ the cooker which I knew was an innocent victim in this or I can tread carefully and take this up with my wife.

A morning walk clarifies many things, and I was determined to settle this before she goes to work.

I can be gracious at times and this time I came back and asked her about the statement she made.  I appealed to her in a very different way.

After the usual line of defense from her, she sensed exasperation in me and let out the magic two words

“My Fault.” I should have kept the cooker earlier!.

Mea Culpa.

They are the magic two words and two most powerful words to see through anything in your life.

I am not urging you to be the sacrificial lamb or even remotely anything related to that.

When you start with the premise of “Mea Culpa,” life changes for better, as one thing you will start doing is start taking ownership.

Try this experiment in any sphere of your life.

Just change the frame of reference from ‘You are wrong’ to ‘I could be wrong.’

I have not mastered this, and I have many pitfalls in practicing this, but having this position has given me a framework for taking responsibility and setting a bias for action.

Do you agree?

If yes, then start this small experiment. Do not use the time-honored excuse of traffic for going late to meetings!

If no, then it is Mea Culpa.

Before I wind up, I have to admit that I am signing off with a sense of fear, as I know the second quality of Arians. They will get ‘Even’!

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder

The End of Absence

end_of_absence

Why did I pick this book?

I belong to the lucky generation which saw life before Internet and after Internet. When a book addresses that kind of audience, it is hard to ignore.

What do I like about the book?

The author presents a balanced view of generations that saw the absence of Internet and generations that were born with Internet. He effectively addresses how an effective bridge can be built that can help bring best of both the words to future generations.

What is one interesting idea that I learned?

Google helps us to find answers. But who will tell our children to ask the “Right Questions”

The merits of ‘Engineering Absence” and the benign effects of ‘Solitude’

How long would it take?

2 – 3 hours.

Paras or Quotes that I liked

“There’s this idea that keeps getting whispered through history. It was Thoreau who first suggested it to me, the idea that we aren’t lonely because we are alone; we are lonely because we have failed in our solitude”

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived”

“What’s important is that we become responsible for the media diets of our children in a way that past generations never were. Since our children are privy to a superabundance of media, we now need to proactively engineer moments of absence for them. We cannot afford to count on accidental absence any more than we can count on accidental veggiest at dinner.”

 

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder

 

Clear and Present Danger

danger

Some recent headlines.

Cognizant layoffs: Gloom continues, jobs in tech and IT companies dry up

A techie and above 35? You are most likely to be fired

So, are we heading towards an Orwellian state on our careers?

Lynda Gratton, in her book, The Shift, released in 2011, identified the following five forces that are changing the future of work.

  • Technological Developments
  • Globalisation
  • Demographic Changes
  • Societal Trends
  • Low -Carbon Developments

I think we are seeing the impact of it in our day to day lives. The pace of technological developments alone is eating away careers.

So, should you be surprised, if some day, you are going to be told, “Please look out.”

You cannot believe it. You have been a consistent star performer, and you refuse to believe it.

You have possibly burnt a decade of your midnight oil for the organization you work for, and you are dumbfounded.

The organization has always had your best interests, and you should not view this personally. They have always had the best interests at their heart.  But given a choice between making the organization survive, and you survive, the choice is a no-brainer.

Remember the adage. “Nobody is indispensable.”

Somewhere in your day to day relentless run, you got into an interesting blend of mixing commitment with convenience, comfort, and complacency.

You balanced your commitment with a sense of convenience, comfort, and complacency.

Your hidden biases would have made you think that the balance was shifted towards your “commitment” more while in practice the balance is tilted heavily towards the three “C”‘s.

What is the point I am making?

Two points.

  • I was kidding about the Orwellian state.
  • I am damned serious about us mixing up commitment and the other “C”‘s.

So, how do you insulate from any forces including Black Swan events?

I would like to introduce the other “C.”

Do you know what the other “C” is?

Contribute.

  • Contribute more towards your stakeholders.
  • Contribute more towards your peers
  • Contribute more towards your team
  • Contribute more towards your family
  • Contribute more towards your society

Start moving from a consumer to a producer. Just start somewhere.

What you have accumulated over the years is valuable. Do not underestimate the nights spent burning the midnight oil.

They built you. Make it count.

When you start in that mode, you naturally equip yourself to start put yourself in a state of continuous learning. Even if is for fifteen minutes daily, ponder on what little magic you can bring to the world.  You might start discovering something inside you, that you possibly have never found so far.

Do not underestimate the power of marginal gains.

I shall summarize in one sentence.

“Increase your contribution margin in your sphere of influence.”

If your question is “What does it guarantee ?”

Nothing.

However, it starts giving you a sense of freedom and purpose and above all a state of measured confidence.

You might have heard the eagle story of how it reinvents itself. You can watch it here.

I do not think we have forty years like the eagle. I see it as a need to refresh ourselves every five years.

If you do not agree, I request you to take stock.

Go ahead and get an objective evaluation of your market value.

You would be pleasantly surprised or rudely shocked. It does take you out of your comfort zones.

Enjoy Maadi

Zunder

Disciplined Disobedience – An Approach

disobedience

Recently the co-founder of Linkedin announced a $250000 prize for Disobedience.

This was also one of the key themes in the book whiplash. When discussing the motivations behind this,  Joi Lito, Director of Media Lab says,

“Society and institutions in general tend to lean toward order and away from chaos. In the process, this stifles disobedience. It can also stifle creativity, flexibility, and productive change, and in the long run, society’s health and sustainability. This is true across the board, from academia, to corporations, to governments , to our communities”

Why do you think there is a need to pronounce disobedience?

I think it is owing to inertia.

Once you get there, it is very hard to get out of it.

However, I have one technique that I have always used, and you could use that in your teams.

It is called UTC R & D.

UTC stand for “Under the Carpet.” That can always keep some sections of the team engaged. If you are responsible for some sizeable section of people or lead certain teams, you can always devise ways to do UTC R & D. Even at a personal level; you can have UTC activities that keep you enthused.

So, what are the characteristics of a UTC R & D?

  • Extremely Disciplined and focused
  • Very small team size
  • Run on a tight leash, having specific outcomes
  • Having highest accountability. This may seem counter-intuitive to disobedience, but disobedience is towards breaking the inertia and does not tantamount to complete lack of accountability. The opposite is true. They have the highest accountability.

So, what could be the pitfalls?

  • Failures have to be pronounced. You cannot keep failure Under The Carpet.
  • You could be fired. But this is very unlikely. This would be a rarity if your efforts had the organization’s interest in mind
  • At times, accountability could be dwindling, since no one is watching and this is completely under the radar
  • Needs individuals with a high degree of discipline

I was fortunate enough to practice this in organizations that employed me. I was lucky enough to work with teams and individuals who had a penchant for doing this. I almost made this practice, that when my bosses started asking me, what is the UTC activity going on, I thought I had to switch strategy.

It is not my intention, to blow my own trumpet, as it might look, but disobedience with indiscipline can be a great way for breaking status quo, and I think irrespective of the position you are in if you take some baby steps, you will have a lot of fun.

After all, we are enjoying the fruits of a great man, The Mahatma, who made civil disobedience as a successful, scalable and repeatable strategy.

I do not think you need greater inspiration than that to practice a little disobedience!

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder

 

Shackleton’s Way

shackleton

Why did I pick this book?

Well, no specific reason. I am a book hoarder and specifically books about leadership. Shackleton was referred to in many other leadership books .

The book starts as follows

“The Endurance expedition to the Antarctic (1914-1916) ultimately fell far short of its goal, but it would become a legendary success for the leader, Ernest Shackleton, who got every one of his men safely home after their ship sank in a remote, frozen sea”

With an introduction like that, it is hard not to pick up the book.

What do I like about the book?

The portrayal of a man who saw opportunity in every adversity.

What is one interesting idea that I learned?

It reinforces strongly a belief that I generally hold. Leadership is about people.

How long would it take?

2 -3 hours

Paras or Quotes that I liked

  • Shackleton was bold in his plans, but cautious in their execution, paying close attention to them.
  • Shackleton learnt from past mistakes. Experiences taught him the kind of leader he didn’t want to be.
  • Shackleton led by example. He never asked anyone to do work he wouldn’t do himself.
  • Always keep the door open to your staff members, and be generous with information that affects them. Well informed employees are more eager and better prepared to participate.
  • Strive for work relationships that have human as well a professional element. No matter how large your company, get to know as many employees as possible. Memorize their interests so you can chat about something other than their work.
  • Shackleton’s thoughts of his men helped to spur him beyond his limits.

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder

 

It is lonely at the top.

lonely_at_the_top

For the past couple of months, there has been an increasing assault on the leadership of established companies as well as start-ups that have become reasonable sized brands.

Flipkart, Snapdeal, Ola, have been receiving one kind of assault.

Shopclues, TVF, Stayzilla have been on the receiving end for different reasons apart from sustainability.

A week back, Uber was repeatedly squashed and possibly it was the ‘most trending’ on the news couple of weeks back.

Friendly and not so friendly opinion mongers have been on the rampage all over the social media about these companies.

I also have been one of these freewheeling opinion mongers in the past.

Whenever some company has fired some people, which somehow seems to be the norm nowadays, I have been fairly critical of the leadership in my mind. I have always viewed letting go people as a failure of leadership.

However, nowadays I am slightly less critical, and the reason is pretty simple.

I have become wiser by getting knocked out in the first round of my startup journey.

It illustrates a very simple point to me.

Preaching is different. Practice is different.

Looking back, I have been in environments of owner driven leadership and professional leadership. Fortunately for me, the people at these environments, taught me the nuances of ‘Where does the buck stop?’. When the going got tough, they stepped in, put themselves at the forefront and wriggled us out of the tough situation, and they did it repeatedly.

I have seen them going to the inner core of their selves, stay immune to the noise and chaos around them, keep their heads still and up, put in the necessary effort and bring the best in them and everyone around them.

They listen to their voice.

Right or wrong, they did what was needed and accepted the responsibility of their outcomes.

So before jumping on the bandwagon to give my insight about  “Ten things X should do,” I am reminded of the famous ‘The Man in the Arena’ speech by President Theodore Roosevelt

“It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; Who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”,  and I hold myself back.

I have come to realize that anyone at the top in any profession (Startup, Enterprises, Team Sport, Individual Sport) go through some emotions that they share with none.

If you have not been in a situation, where there was no one to look up, it is impossible to understand the vagaries of being at the very top. It is easy to comment critically, but I can assure you that the story would be different when the baton is in your hand.

It is a price leadership demands, and good leaders willingly pay that price with poise.

Each of the names that are being reviewed incessantly managed to bring in something where none existed, and I think irrespective of their future success, I will always remember them for their bold attempts.

I have begun to realize that if I cannot help, I should stay quiet and with hold my judgement.

Everyone makes mistakes and I think they need the time and space to recover.

I trust them to bounce back and emerge stronger from this necessary trials. For the men and women in the arena, I think they have an understanding of ‘This too shall pass’.

Even otherwise, I think I respect them for attempting to change the status quo.

I do not know if you agree that it is lonely at the top, but having seen through the pain behind the smiles of the leaders that I have worked with, I have no doubt in my mind, that it is damned lonely at the top!

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder