Monday, December 31, 2012

The Wisdom of Ants - Book Review

Few can write of economic history as Shankar Jaganathan does. Recommended by Rahul Dravid, Mohandas Pai, and reviewed by champions in education, sustainability and the behavioral sciences, this is no standard output. 

This is the second book that Shankar has brought to our world. While the first was examining corporate history through voluntary disclosures made by companies in legal frameworks in the public domain, the essence of unraveling significant points of departure and phase transitions in the evolution of financial reporting stands out in this volume too. It is near probable that the second book, like the proverbial Russian doll, was born in the making of the first. By that token, a reading of the Wisdom of Ants, will give hint to the next volumes waiting to be written. 

However, this book is far more important than the author's efforts. It is the reader that will benefit more, as seldom, have we got answers to questions of economics as have been distilled from events and trends in thinking of economics. The reader is usually concerned with how it affects contemporary pursuits like profession or vocation. So even if the section on Ideological strands gives clues to thinking on economics from across the world, it is the way it shapes our thinking and the challenges of breaking its shackles that will weigh on our minds. The recent crises of the global financial meltdown and continental uncertainties of economic union are triggers that capture popular attention. Yes, the author may lead you to his personal recommendation to deal with the inequities produced by the recent ravages of structured doctrines in the administration of economics. Yet, like stars against the sun, it leaves no scar on your own choices. Written with a profundity of rare genre, it gets to fundamentals without frills or needless fancy. At once, the reader will find the simplicity and profundity hugging the bare essentials of economic history. 

Academics will begin to seriously ask questions of the epistemology of economics, for its classification as a science may seem even more suspect when this longitudinal view is read. Philosophically speaking, the functional form of economics may seem like the linear extension of argumentation in the pure sciences, but for the impurities that human behaviors and predispositions provide. 

Eventually, when we look back at our lives, we begin to pose ourselves deeper questions of Purpose. That money, economics, and social regulation was couched in assumptions of order and stability, or let us say predictability, stands exposed as a bruised and perplexed stance that beguiled our confidence in social systems. Hence, even from a very personal perspective, this book can transport us into facile comprehension of activity as in the enterprise of ants, grasshoppers and our very own illusions of societal and personal wisdom. It is quite likely then that the lens of finance, economics and commerce will not seem foggy anymore.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Recognising Value in a Services Economy

Services are a many splendored thing. The more you standardize, the less it can dazzle you. The more you make common, the more you find it predictable and in your control as producer. Mac Donald’s is one example of standard mascots, colours, the logo et al. So also is Café Coffee day today.

The reason I write this today is this – Some brands differentiate to market a service for a premium that the client cannot justify. In fact, several brands tend to latch on like in a lobby to fetch that premium with no semblance of reliability or accuracy with the supposed standard of service.

There have been waves of assessment for example, that were sold as certification in the differentiation effort. The PCMM or People Capability Maturity Model from Carnegie Mellon was one such. Assessors for the Software Engineering Institute know for the most part that they assess to a scheme of practices and goals, seeking consistency between documents of intent – policies and procedures and documents of practice – of reviews and measurements.   There is not even an attempt to check for the validity of terms on these documents. E.g. the word competency could mean a technical skill in one organisation and a behavioural outcome in another and the Assessor will give no guarantee for the internal consistency of the term for the assessment he or she is given responsibility for! They would give sublime rationalisations to the effect that they rather focus on the spirit of the assessment than the content of the effort of the assessee.

Of late, several such apparent ‘standards’ pass commercial decision points with poor criteria for discernment. A floor effect is reached, when there are a plethora of firms that brand their commercially paid ‘certifications’. ISO for Quality is one such. Legally mandated compliances are of course in service of a different master.

Service is valued when it is authentic, spontaneously delivered and available when demanded.

Would you care for a bank office whose internal walls contain hoardings of minimum service time for various service requests are violated ad nauseam? At times, you can see through the inconvenient compromise that management and unions arrive at to take away from their own inventiveness and service capability, even as you stand in line for tasting their stated predictability.

Would you like to pay premia for culturally irrelevant norms, that you feel are imposed, merely because they sold the feature, even before the service is consumed?

How about an ICA or ICF credentialed coach, when there is no legal requirement in your own country to license coaches for your development? Even without a GATT regime for such services, several who need coaching will be deprived of service merely because the service is not affordable. It is like medical bills that get inflated to amortize costs of equipment that have only a remote influence on the patient’s survival.

And then there is the case for OD certification, when even in the lands of their origin, there is no eligibility criterion for professional qualifications to practice OD. In my experience, many Indian firms may fail to appoint Personnel Officers in line with the factories Act, 1948, despite the hundreds of courses recognised by the government for this purpose.

In order to standardise delivery, I have seen ‘trainers’ of sales, service and leadership behaviors, recite the same joke, at the precise calendar time of the day, as if there were no differences between their circadian rhythms or neural structures.  You can imagine how they relate to their customers, assuming that every customer was Henry Ford’s prototype of the Model T purchaser. Service providers continue to have their cognitive flaws when taking lessons from analogies, metaphors, and unrelated service sectors.

My concern here is as you may have guessed by now. How can we enable buyers to take decisions in their context without feeling cheated before or after they pay for their services?  Such points of mention may actually provide for derivative lessons which can make for enjoyment of benefits that were not even thought of before you decided to buy a service. E.g. Specifying the value for validity in Assessment Centers may be one thing in research, but another in experiencing it. Linking Assessment Centers with relevant talent management processes over relevant time periods goes with the purchasing decision. If you did not buy it for predictive validity, why pay so much? Here are some guidelines you may like for decisions.

1.       Conserve Resources : In a world that needs to make more from the little we have, we have only our brains to separate value from non-value. Beware of opportunists who take more from you than you need to pay. Conserve your financial resources, and pay for what is essential. E.g. There is no need to pander to ‘business class’ travel or ‘chopper-transfers’ merely to manage your service provider’s comfort. Also, when paying for time, factor overall time of solutioning for which you make investment and not merely by rate of consulting fees per day, for example. There is no point in negotiating fees for an employee survey per employee response, for example, if the outcomes from analysis are weeks and months away from the last response!
2.       Ecologically Sound : While at first this may be seen as a mention in aid of sustainable eco-systems, I refer here the effect of intention. When you buy, screen for the seller’s intention. If it harms people, even in a non-tactile, non-contractual way, assert your value for a non-threatening service. This ecological soundness is about well being of people with whom the buyer interacts most with. It is about avoiding willful or designed damage as collateral for the service being consumed. For example, if you have a personality test coupled with a job analytic procedure, and you do not have a plan to redeploy conventional talent in the recrutiment process into newer roles, you've not been ecologically sound, although you've gained on accuracy and timeliness of your new service provider. 
3.       Listen Deeply for Value: Many quality providers out there do not have financial muscle to numb you in a media blitzkrieg. When you engage potential service providers before deciding your purchase, have long conversations at first and then long conversation pauses. Clarify your logic for buying even more to arrive at what value you are actually paying for. At times, you will be able to justify the premium you pay. Most often, you will know how much you can save. Assumptions for your purchase are often clearer and the commitment to solution much sounder after such a process. This will reduce wasteful consumption of irrelevant purchases, and in fact make your organisation more 'lean' than those who operate Zero-base annual budgets with transitory 'efficiencies'. 
4.       Discern Customisation : When your service provider gets finicky about what comes with the package,  it is a foreteller of the mind-set you will have to put up with. In software terms, it is evident in length of field-names, and in revenue terms, it is about payment schedules for heavy investments. The more the service is tailored to your context, the more the service has been designed with intent to serve the above guidelines – conserve overall resources, systemic or organic connect with your context, and proximity to your economic value chain.

Often, when the above is factored in service, need for legislative or risk cover in insurance goes down. You get an experience of credibility, higher than the vacuous exposition of competence. What you realise in the process is a confidence in your own needs, and a clarity on value for purposes you engage in.

Buzzwords like globalisation, ‘international’ standards, and MNCs have their sway in times of change. That, like someone mentioned, should not take away from the wealth in your own home. We can do with less clutter on the inside and more collaboration on the outside for sure. In our eagerness to co-operate with models from distant contexts, we may in fact have lost our capacity to collaborate. If this post were not of value to you, do let me know. How can we be more reconciled to such choices in the service economy if we are not willing to explore how much more we have within ourselves? 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaza, CT, and the world after GFC (post- 2008)

The misery of civilization today is the demise of inquiry in everyday life.
The Reasons of those who choose the win-win approaches and the reasons of those who adopt the "I win-You got to Lose" approaches are not Wisdom to either side.
Processed e-learning packages and pre-packaged videos or rich data formats make entitlement of pre-configured information the privilege of societal ladders
So, rather than a maturation and mastery over how and why human judgment evolves, we have de-capacitated people consuming more than this place we inhabit can afford. Work and Life will reach a new phase transition. It is a question of when , not how.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Context, Crucible, Crucial Experiences of Values

Recently, I’ve tried to reflect on the apparent fickle-mindedness or the hyper-flexibility of people who act in organisational setups. It is not infrequent now to witness some of the following behaviors in client organisations.

a)     Profess a point of view, and even commit to it in writing. Then do a turnaround, as though they can do it as an act of privilege. E.g. Dishonouring a legal contract ad nauseam; so much so that the contract may now be seen as an instrument of deception itself.
b)    Enthusiastically embrace a point of view, as if to commit to a line of action. Then act, as if they’re acting out a will that is not the one that owned the point of view.
c)     Avail of services, and keep up an image that the organisation is a storehouse of virtue, until your own bills contain threads of damning evidence to the contrary.

Many consultants I know experience these issues. In India, an unreasonable charity in business is not without context. The sheer burden on time and money in following a litigious route can deter one from asserting one’s legal rights. It makes business sense to move on in life, at least when you can. Keeping that ‘suspense’ account for acts not attributable to sheer honor of contracts may often be a wise idea.

However, a charity of perspective is paradoxically still affordable. It would for example be a broad-brush sweep that paints similar incidents with the paint of Integrity. Assuming for a moment it is about absolutism, and not about particularism as may be the case made out of our collectivist, context-rich, meaning-laden interactions of tacit interweaving, why would Integrity remain stunted?
It is largely because:
1.   When we reflect on our experiences, we do not have clear notions of boundaries and limitations. As John Scherer reminds me of what TS Eliott said “Everyone gets the experience, only some get the lesson”.
2.     We ignore creeping transgressions except to track financial misdemeanours
3.     Task obsessed people use weak-ties in their social networks to inform and influence, often missing opportunities to hone core values in wholesome relationships

My inner voice these days tells me “To develop your moral intelligence, re-calibrate your beliefs”. Contexts frame the intrinsic judgment of the individual, and that too in interactive dynamism. That is a crucible for transformation indeed. More on such another time.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Leadership Turning Points - A process for Growth

Discovery of one’s turning points is an event in life. Like threads that stitch the fabric of meaning, your experiences sit well with wholesome integration.  We succeed with strengths that help us in a certain situation. Overused strengths can become limitations.                                                                     
The treasure of potential is in the paradoxical constraints we place on ourselves. Identify them to your benefit and develop with assurance into the future.   In Leadership Turning Points, the process is about you, and not some distant ideal.

Who would benefit?
Middle and Senior Level Leaders with at least 10 years of work experience who wish to make reliable insights into their leadership enablers and derailers
Prepare your leadership self for a rapidly changing world
What do you get?
1.       Experiential reflection of your leadership journey in a thorough process
2.       150 Plus Traits Details and Preferences highlighting Life Themes and Strengths
3.       Leadership Paradox Report based on Paradox Technology™ (Harrisons)
4.       Personal attention on your Leadership Development Plan
What do you invest?
Rs. 12,530/-  inclusive of taxes, (for 2 days workshop  and process, Trait Report, Paradox report, lunch and refreshments  & upto 6 post-workshop coaching sessions).
Where do you pay?
Write Cheque / DD towards “Workplace Catalysts LLP” payable at par HDFC Bank, Branch: HRBR Layout, Kalyan Nagar, Bangalore – 560043.  OR
Online payment  mode (preferred) at RTGS / NEFT IFSC : HDFC0000353 Account Number: 03532560001966 Account Type : Current.
Please quote online transaction reference number after you make payment to help us link your nomination with payment.
Pay by deadline of Jan 10, 2013 to reserve your seat (No more than 20 participants for this workshop. Avoid cancellation charge of 50% of course fee). Write to for pre-workshop preparations. Feel free to seek any clarification to help your participation.
Venue : SAIACS CEO Centre – (Kindly register directly with the Center in case you wish overnight accommodation at very reasonable rates under Rs. 2500/- per person, per night)
SAIACS, BOX 7747,Gubbi Cross Road, Kothanur Post Bangalore 560077, Phone:91-80-23681725-1727
Click here for Location Map. Email :

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Sociopath Problem Type in Business Organisations - Some context

In designing a learning experience, that addressed the problem solving mind-set, I conceived of at least four types of problems for the context. 1. Person-situation 2. Inter-Personal 3. Polarities or Paradoxes (as problems that need managing than solving per se) and 4. Intra-personal (dealing with cognitive biases). With sufficient practice in classifying and framing such problem-issues, the mind-set for critical thinking around problems is likely to improve. The client is however a business organisation. The mind-set that arises from requisite socialisation is likely to be virtuous as in rationalist exemplars of superior thinking, relatively freer from cognitive biases, and embodied in a context that people anchor by values for productive action and meaningful presence.

Several business organisations suffer from both the convenient and unconscious numbness distributed amongst employees due to autocratic power. Vice laden success in capitalist economic models are assailed with alarm in the short-term. These are forgotten without much effort in the long-term. Despite the radical transparency of our interconnected times, we often lack the interpersonal gravitas to engage in complex systems thinking to effect virtuous change.  

There are residual problems, however, that would take a great deal of practice. Integrating substance in solutions with the form of the problem itself takes time to master. For example, I am still struggling with introducing intra-psychic problems as a genre that can be addressed in group mode!

Psychologists would earmark such problems using differential diagnoses based on theory. The lesson is not lost on the business outcomes of the organisation. Lesson : “manipulating a profit is not the same as earning one”. If you find willing accountants and crooked business leaders in concert, what craft can lead you to pin down their veneers of effort and impact? Sociopaths are difficult to detect in normal conversation. Why, even work related psychometry may not surface the neurotic factors of personality enough for such figures to be detected during selection or placement to roles that accentuate such anomie. 

However, the effects of sociopaths are revealed by courageous victims who endure their leader's shameless deceptions. An employee of a large organisation who wished some developmental insights, recently shared, that her leader would label anyone on the line of sight command as ‘anti-team’, if a different opinion contrary to the fancy ideas packaged for personal glory of the leader is voiced. Existential conflicts in employees of today’s corporations and enterprises are a silent epidemic precipitated by the sleight of septic sociopaths, it would appear.

This dimension surely relates to our conscious Model of Human being. Is man a rational being, a sentient being, a transcendental being or an animal evolving in a chance universe? We underrate values education in school or value clarification exercises at work as necessary to human excellence. We do know that it took close to 100 years since the advent of psychology to embrace the study of consciousness. Or to accept that the unconscious is positive in its intent! We even play truant with the theme as adults, often pitting a model of universality over another, merely to feel apparently saner or temporally safer in an exclusive in-group.

These need systemic intervention. Across the level of the individual, the group and the organisation, effectiveness is premised from personal and inter-personal competence. It is a state of denial in which we assume that synthetic integration of technology and social systems will enable total system effectiveness.  The denial is about human ignorance in a sea of irresponsibility. Critical thinking is labelled as negative at worst, and any view resembling critique dismissed as arrogant irreverence. It takes inner knowing to accept a moment in eternity, howsoever paradoxically it may emerge. 

Even the larger governance in India is critiqued for us to reflect on. Ever thought why centralization and decentralization are bandied about in federal Indian polity? Are they touted more so as to be sophisticated crutches upon which ineffectiveness is justified? Emergent truths, that when systemically perceived, reveals a lack of acceptance of what we as a nation have become. We are indeed mind-blind to facts that electoral outcomes engender. Mind-sightedness on the other hand requires us to take care of our own effectiveness as social beings.

Empathy is a short-coming for those we term as sociopaths. It is said of a crude translation from Hindi that the distance between naivete and stupidity is narrow. The distance between fully a effective being and culpability in promoting sociopaths is its parallel. Would you have a similar feeling? What is your insight?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What can a dialogue mean?

A group of working professionals, line managers and training and development specialists
converged atop a hill-station in 2008 to look within themselves and gain insight about the nature of
dialogue in everyday work situations. Here are some nuggets from that set of deliberations, attended by
yours’ truly. Luminaries quoted here are merely associated with the thoughts expressed, and the
mention of them - not at all declarative of their presence at the meet. Conversations have a way of bringing them to the occasion! Let us look at two kinds of conversation - the discussion and the dialogue.

1. A dialogue is useful. So also is a discussion of use. If we know the difference between them, we
can use them in appropriate context. “If you begin to understand what you are trying to change,
then what you are undergoes a transformation.” – J. Krishnamurthi

2. A discussion in itself may not raise the level of a conversation, whereas a well facilitated
dialogue could. “Leaders elevate the level of a conversation, because they see wisdom in the
statement that a critic is your best friend”. – Prof. Ramnath Narayanswamy, IIM(B)

3. Usually people meet to accomplish a task or to be entertained. Dialogue is not discussion in a
gathering of people because, a discussion hammers out a goal or agreement, solves problems,
and determines well in advance the particular direction of the conversation. A dialogue may
solve problems, may help unblock emotional discord, but it emerges from a different root.
Dialogue is like being in ‘impersonal fellowship’ to an idea to develop common meaning.

4. Even if we have clarified our own position statement within ourselves, we may be in danger of
not being aware of the thought processes of others in the gathering. Discussions may stem the
flow of thought, whereas dialogues could free space for learning and evolution of new thought.

Ever wondered, if the words dialogue and discussion were related? Or otherwise? Worth referring the
dictionary, if you have not seen their meanings sufficiently contrasted. And what does your experience
tell you? The last time a team member was asked to attend a discussion he was told that a decision was
taken. Obviously, the ‘discussion’ was to help explain the decision. Rings true? So whatever happened
to the dictionary meanings of these terms? When did you last have a dialogue? And did it really mean to
discuss areas of disagreement frankly in order to resolve them?

Let me then share with you some essential elements of creating a dialogue-conducive culture.

1. Use of Self: - Start with yourself – demonstrate the principles mentioned below in role modeling
a dialogue based culture. Drop, by drop, the ocean rises, they say.

2. Suspension of Judgment: It is not about negating or removing judgment, but about being aware
of judgment that comes in the way of one’s listening. Judgment is an either/or process. In fact
even agreeing with others’ positions may limit listening. It is like being victim of the amygdalla,
the reptilian brain in us that is reflexive, and not reflective. When practicing suspension of
judgment, you will await more information with genuine curiosity.

3. Identification and Suspension of Assumptions: Rationale, rationale, rationale. Or that is what
we think. Thoughts that emerge from unconscious beliefs need deep listening and reflection to
identify with. Proficiency in identifying and suspending assumptions that make our world-view is
like hosting deep fears in our home without being hostage to them. How do you treat a guest

4. Listening: If one has been listened to, there is a clear sense of feeling valued and recognized for
just being. Listening therefore also rings true in the words “I have been spoken for”. Words
cannot overstate the significance of listening. Collaborative partnerships feed on listening. In
dialogue all individuals present add depth to the collective image of the group. Authentic
conversations emerge only when one’s presence is marked by a spontaneity, that is nonjudgmental,
and born of a rapport that synchronizes both the verbal and the non-verbal.

5. Inquiry and Reflection: Reflection is about taking the time to refer to multiple events and
wonder about the connections between them, and thereafter to generate questions that sink
beneath the surface of unquestioned assumptions to the most relevant depth. On the other
hand it is also useful to pay attention to the questions that we do not ask in a group.

6. Non-verbal Communication in Dialogue: Different people relate to different expressions. The
mastery of dialogue is incomplete without sharp access to the use of non-verbals. Whether in a
break-out group that demands sketch pen to flip-chart paper, role-play or still postures of
prayerfulness / meditation, the more profound signals in communication emerge from non-verbals.

Layers of listening cross gender, community, life-histories and such a multitude of sensibilities. Establishing rapport would be a great way to be in dialogue.

Evidently, this is a quick read into a deep domain of human communications. Hope you like it as a
conversation starter. Highlight the contrast between a discussion and a dialogue. A discussion too has its
value. It helps examine an argument, but may not widen its scope.

A dialogue means to ‘cut’ through the center of what may be the object – to get through the entirety, than to ‘shatter’ the parts like an athlete’s thumping discus. Dialogue is a community exploration of how unspoken, almost hidden values and intent can control our behaviors, and therefore potentially unleash an increased sense of harmony, fellowship and creativity.

It can reveal stalemates, inasmuch as it can liberate perspective.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Random thoughts – real observations

I post some points at random for a change. Yet they are from recent experience. Do post comments if you take the time to read this.

1.       Performance witch-hunts: I recently co-facilitated a World Café for SHRM India’s Knowledge Advisory group. When I heard the unadulterated vehemence with which seasoned Chief Learning Officers opined the destructive potential of Performance Management systems, I knew that short-termism had a thrill component for the few, for whom many pay the price today.

Capitalists are out for their pound of dough – their professional managements had invented the performance appraisal process to track down pliable culprits. Thousands and may be millions of employees get neither golden handshakes, nor any word of comfort to satisfy their bosses’ bell-curves whose depiction in board-rooms begs for more of such whistles. According to the latest Glassdoor ratings, only 20% of employees of such companies in India approve of their chief executives. Performance itself has no credibility, never mind the wizards and witches who summon its effects.
2.       Whole-person engagement:  When the word ‘human’ is mentioned, its embodiment is often a mystery. To be human is to err. To be human is to suffer. To be human is to be humble. The word ‘resource’ on the other hand signifies means to an end. Resources produce value. They defy simple arithmetic and leap to geometric progression. Resources are expendable, as they are limited. Human resources are therefore to my mind a wonderful contradiction. Getting the best of both words is like getting to know the depths of each connotation. The ‘whole’ person needs to immerse in the experience of knowing the other. Apparently idealistic, several who walk this planet cannot even hope to conceive of the feat that Felix Baumgartner did with his taming of claustrophobia to personally whizz past the speed of sound.

3.       Inconsistencies in leadership thinking :  Leadership is often construed as a way in which some unequal force will sway over or influence many others to do what they would not consider doing by themselves. What follows is that there is a certainty of followership. I am seriously beginning to wonder if what followership is – is a consequence of leadership itself. Confused? Well, put in another way, a construct such as leadership may be so conceived that other attributes of close association may in fact be so overlooked that we develop a myth in favor of a select few who subsume power that we need never have given them. What then, if this was not leadership, but the charity of the followers' perspectives? And if it were not charity, what if it were a spontaneous trust in the idea than the person(s) who communicate(s) it?

4.       Purpose Rising above Polarities : If the American presidential debate season in 2012 was something to go by, I saw a President tired from office, than tired of it. In his ascendancy in 2008, Barack Obama had a higher purpose coalesced from the fusion of Reagonomics AND Social Justice. Today, he finds it difficult to raise the level of the debate.

Office has ruined clarity in his perceptions. It has locked his perceptual field. A more ‘perfect' Union may still be underway, but the script belied the process in 2012. He may have done better by taking time to engage with the 4  Independents in the fray to keep the electorate hopeful for a fresh bout of his term. Having had to appear the ‘confrontationist’, the debate lay low and perhaps made the electorate less mindful of issues that needed intimate engagement.  

Well, what do you think? 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Neglected aspects in design for development of people

There is a deluge of ‘canned’ programs in learning and development today. Online tools and techniques will hang out for the ‘convenience’ of the keyboard buffs and corporate clients. Civilisation today is less of heart and more of intellect, they say. In my experience, there are a few aspects I would look at to enable ‘contact’ with reality, or at least those aspects of reality that our senses get numbed to over time. Usually these touch ‘mind-set’ issues. A requisite range of experiences normally helps.
1.       Structure ‘uncertainty’ confrontation through the requirement of ‘choice-making’. i.e. The learner chooses what he or she would do away from the online screen. At least one personal change that the learner would like to make. At more complex designs that require concentration bereft of cognitive biases, one change the learner would like to make in the norms of the group he or she belongs to is a challenge. The consequence of choice is owned by the learner. That is a choice in design of learning too.  

2.       Get to root or core issues.  Although it presents itself as a behavioural issue, seeped in emotionality, it actually may surface from ‘thinking’ skills or the cognitive domain. Do learners ‘frame’ their issues right? Do they argue without fallacies in reasoning? Do they curiously frame questions that get them the information they need? Are they smug in the certainty of the organisational hierarchy? Likewise, do cognitive pursuits get curtailed for lack of emotive expression?
3.       Get to ‘expression’ of self in our times. The outcome is a grounding in an alternate awareness that gives introspective nudge “In what frame of reference am I speaking for myself?” If the learner is a specialist in accounting, can he or she speak on custodianship of ethics from the standpoint of a salesperson? If the speaker is a CEO, can he or she speak as a ‘mentor’ of new talent? If the learner is a high-potential leader, can he or she speak of what it means to belong or identify with a national culture other than his or her own?
4.       Get people to ‘thought’ leadership with sufficient preparation. Avoid the ‘ppt’ or ‘deck’ as aid to present remote ‘information’. Instead, the audience gets a position paper of specified lengths based on primary and secondary research which are cited for others to learn from. Get the learner to immerse in the domain of thought he or she will present. Intimate engagement gets the learner to develop ‘justified beliefs’ – the cornerstone of knowledge.

5.       Involve stakeholders of sustainability, not merely ‘shareholders’ of profit. Agility, self-awareness, interpersonal competence and organisational citizenship based on discretionary behaviors, is born of choice. Only if, learning is done from meeting or exceeding legitimate expectations of the local government and community where the firm is engaged, as also those of customers’ customers and supplier’s employees.  Most significantly, your fellow learner is also a stakeholder, evolving continually into the future.

Action learning is one rich methodology that will aid in this respect. Obviously, this experience goes not only away from the classroom, but a considerable time is devoted away from the online devices that take away from sensing the reality in which competence is required to be built. Am referring here a compelling video from MIT, where Ed Schein also mentions the potency of feedback – it is culturally offensive!
What do you feel? What do you think?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Musing on Risk as action

The accomplished 
Dr. Verghese Kurien passed away yesterday. Some say he orphaned the little girl who appears in Amul advertisements. Social innovation was a huge risk in Dr. Kurien's times. He influenced millions of farmers to cooperate in milk distribution so that animal husbandry became a well supported activity. On my first visit to Gujarat in the 1990s, I desired to meet him, but am glad that I at least got the opportunity to visit the city of Anand to know from up close what the impact has been.Was shown around by my mother's cousin a resident doctor in the area then. He was traveling when I visited in the context of a conference organised by EDI - the Entrepreneurship Development Institute. That was my first brush with entrepreneurship theory and a first-hand exploration too. That was my first paper presentation outside of my alma mater (TISS).

In the same week as of this legend passing away, Kochuouseph Chittilapally of V-Gurad and Veegaland or Wonder-La fame was being honoured by the National Institute of Personnel Management in Kochi on the occasion of its National Conference. 

Mr. Sreedharan of the Konkan railways and Delhi Metro fame was being consulted for his prowess in the same space of time. The contrasts between the 3 profiles, an illustration of risk and innovation ingredients in accomplishments. It is also fascinating that cousins Ravi J Mathai and Verghese Kurien traveled to Gujarat to make their mark on the nation. That some who take risk also innovate may also be true. 

Last week, we went on a social visit to my dad's cousin. Innovative he still is. But risk is not a feature he would take to the marketplace. He has designed and crafted his own furniture, laid marble on the floor himself, developed a functional coconut scraper with his own hands on the welding machine; but he won't sell his ideas nor take it to an entrepreneur. That robs the joy out of doing it he says.
His late elder brother on the other hand was a maintenance engineer in paper factories. He learnt economic aspects of the production process and in his retired life had husk of grain and related material to make for water proof paper, which in bundles, he exported to other countries, from his own backyard.
Perhaps, he cultivated a business orientation during his career, that inspired the output side of his endeavours. 
The younger brother lacked the desire to engage the people in the commercial world. Am not saying the elder one was more adept at risk, but am sure, the brothers defined meanings in opportunities differently.

A friend recently wrote thus : “It has been my experience when moving deeply out of my comfort zone and watching others that it depends what part of a life is being put at risk and how important that part is in those moments.  There is the magic of the pull of the  moment--the taste of the challenge--the internal terror-the adrenalin"...My few bits of learning on this for now as below.
1.     Risk can easily be confused with impulsivity.

2.     Risk is a personally invested experience in the unknowns.

3.     Anxiety can impel risk, it can also grip in ways that control others. 

4.     Intuition and risk being related can make for innovation at times. Reducing risk to a logical procedure of finite steps is mocking at its essence.

5.     Mindfulness may help the self to engage in acts considered risky. Rationality may have little explanation for such choices, as presence in authentic form could augur higher outcomes than one plans for. 

What actions will make for your PRESENCE in our world? Will it be 'risky' to act so?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Conception of viable boundaries for Learning and Development (L&D)

SHRM India had published an article in March 2011 that I wrote on WHAT’S NEXT IN LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT: REFLECTIONS OF A PRACTITIONERI reflect on one of the points made last year. It is to do with ‘boundaries’. Here’s an extract from a point I made.

The boundaries of the organization are getting redrawn due to varying physical stations of the learner – home, project and base location for example. This blurring may imply that ‘developmental’ processes – whether for career, for training or organizational development, will mean newer kinds of recognition of learning needs and corresponding interventions. It requires greater investment in understanding what works in the context of the evolving learner – from the nouveau-urbanite, and the telecommuter to the aspiring shop-floor apprentice and the assertive front-office sales agent. These dynamics of L&D scenarios need observation, especially because information is impoverished if the learner has no means of applying it in his or her particular context. 

I surprised myself on the extent to which this dimension holds good. The recent context has induced a risk-aversion, and yes, a definition of boundaries in organisational life. I write this to arouse the perceptual threshold that leaders miss due to dysfunctional adaptation.
1.      Budgets are a symptom, not the cause of capability building: CEOs and Finance leaders will find it easier to cut spending in downturns. Some CEOs discover their L&D orientations in such crises. Others concentrate on structural aspects of capital before feeling comfortable about ‘discretionary’ spends. Visionary CEOs I engaged with did not see L&D budgets as a risk. Yet, their boundaries of thinking are interestingly poised. The mediator is their need for control. They like to control the nature of L&D as if their prowess in budgetary allocation will naturally spring expertise over learning content and process in ‘organisation’. This is a boundary that L&D specialists may find tricky to negotiate.
2.     Inter-cultural boundary management is precipitated by global commerce, and not reduced by it : There is a lag effect in the field I observed. MNCs in India have been around for a while. They staffed India with headquarter personnel on ‘international’ assignments of fixed periods. While that extended tenure of their organisations in India, the local workforce of Indian origin has had more than virtual teams to contend with. Early adaptation meant a reconciliation to task based management, with a ‘transactional’ relationship exterior in business operations. Employees segmented their roles so much that their readiness for the future will hinge on redrawing their boundaries of the ‘self’ itself. Leadership responsibility of global impact is a huge expectation of late. While the challenge is an opportunity, maturation is often contrasted with global counterparts who have longer work experience.  This lag is an inter-cultural one, not just of ‘best practice’ imitation.
3.     ‘Focus’ as language of boundary and confusion with intent : While economic crises help clarify choices of business imperatives, ‘focus’ on a product-market, is different from ‘focus’ in L&D decisions. Focus on expense control can cut out more than is necessary for development to be experienced. Without immersing in a meaningful learning experience, the learner may be more distanced from the organisation, than dip-stick polls and ill-framed problem statements can suggest. It is building redundancy of learning processes that matters. More learning must happen than is applied. That is when a learner is willing to commit action, and even conceive of development. A free for all learning climate is no option either.
What’s your focus on learning and development? Where do you draw the boundary line when under stress? Is India readying in relevant ways for the global economy because of learning?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

CEOs state a problem too many

Often coachees meet their coach with reference to a ‘problem’ they have. When coachees are CEOs, the ‘problems’ tend to have a trend alright, only to be differentiated by their experiences, personalities and visions of who they think they are. The coach on the other hand looks for the invitation from the coachee, not in terms of the beliefs and values; but in terms of their clients’ inner discovery of themselves. Now, this invitation commences with a trigger akin to friendship. 

The seasoned coach however will qualify such an invitation, for her process is not about ‘friendship’ but about respect for her capability to engage in deep developmental experiences.

In coaching, the bottomline is not personal, but about the levels of thinking that the relationship between coach and coachee can unfold in positive ways. Coaching is about systems, the personal, the group and the organisation, where the transforming person links it all in integrative ways.

In my recent months, CEOs I’ve engaged with have come in various hues.  The coachee immaturely seals opportunities by misconceiving choices. The common challenge they represent for themselves is the distillation of self in the present from the self of past successes. They find it difficult to clarify the emergence they will need to embrace from the set learning patterns they are comfortable with. It is a slow unlearning for leaders who do not go within themselves.

What can stop them from doing so? Here are some reasons I can think of even as I am aware that some of these could grip the most unsuspecting amongst us, including yours' truly. 

1.       Purpose Clarity : A lack of enthusiasm in inspiring themselves and others to the future with endearing focus
2.       Hesitant Initiative : A fear of staying the distance to implement aspects of stated focus
3.       Social Savvy : Not dealing with different people with forthright diplomacy 
4.       Touchiness : Paradoxically, the CEO-self embattles images of personal glory with fragility.

Each of the above could command levels of specific detail. Expecting me to be more candid here will  border on casualness. Here, suffice it to say that CEOs demand compliance more often than they unleash contribution. Habitual acts lock the emotional brain so tight as to produce unproductive routines. The coach uses powerful questions that inspire novel thinking patterns. New productive habits then get anchored in the personal system of the coachee.

Leadership is a choice, as is personal development. So is survival. If growth is not an option, the choices are in terms of how to proceed.

Imagine framing lack of operational efficiency in terms of non-compliant team-members for instance.   That could be a different problem than the one the CEO is stuck with.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Indian Roads – lessons on the Chariot and Of the Charioteer

There are a few advantages of the perpetual reconstruction on Indian roads. Especially in big cities, it arrests your mind, if you are willing to be led there – by your unconscious. So it was, that despite reserving an extra hour for travel to the airport last week, obstacles unseen by the traveller’s eye slowed traffic down. I got into a conversation to distract the driver from the time-bounded targets he normally meters. So the insights about the hands on the wheel came in early.

Sitting on the rear seat, I was wondering which community in Bangalore would keep the tail-lump on the male’s head. The driver was speaking chaste Kannada with his employer, and I was curious to know which unknown part of rural Karnataka did he migrate from. “I’m from Gonda in UP”, he said in chaste Hindi, that did not quite resemble the taxi driver experiences I would have in Mumbai. Now, now, since when was he in Bangalore? “1994!” What brought him to this city then? “My uncle was helping me get to the army, but his son got through, and I was rejected. I had suspected money changed hands then, but,  I stayed on with the image I had of Bangalore. In school text-books, we were taught that Bangalore has the same weather all year round – and it was pleasant, unlike our home in Bihar…” (What an eternal curse, I thought to myself). 

That stumped me further. “My family belongs to Bihar, but my father settled in UP. We farm there...”   “So whom do you have here for family?” as I heard him talk to someone like he were to pick up on return from the airport. “Oh, that was my cousin, who needed employment. So he drives this car by day”. And then came another call “I told you I will be home this morning. Keep hot water, and some break-fast..” Well, the ride was long enough for me to know that the driver was a couple of years into marriage, and that his wife was just back from his home-town, as she could not take well to the death of their girl infant six months ago. She had congenital brain and heart defects. The struggle of life on the roads put aside all manner of infrastructure hurdles aside. Perhaps, the Indian employee works largely to service his or her social role, and not for the sake of career per se. 

The same day, after deplaning, I looked for the placard bearing my name. None was there. So peering through my hand-held I retrieved the hotel’s phone number. “Sir, the driver is not there? He is at the exit, sir…just a minute…”. I had already waited 10 minutes. The hotel called back “Sir, he is five minutes way – got stuck in traffic”. The driver came, and rather low on energy, he picked up my baggage, and I eased him into the next trip. “Do you need to wash your face or drink some water before we start?” “Sir, we are ready”,   looking relieved by the question itself. So, I was keen to hear of the traffic at mid-day. “No, sir, this car was stopped by the traffic police. Our hotel owns this car. I am an employee of the hotel. I do not know about the taxi-registration”. He was trying to explain his delay. “I have told the manager”. It was a sight to see the chain of spots on the road, where instead of marshalling traffic, policemen were piled in motor-worthy corners of the road on the 15 kilometre stretch to the hotel. 

So I asked him to be certain of his awareness of his context “Does this happen in Modi’s Gujarat?” Unflappable, the calm driver on the wheels was making sure that a ruder motorist went ahead of him, than to kick up another highway fracas.  “Sir, everything happens here, including sale of liquor. Cash flows without question.”

This Jaipuri driver in Ahmedabad and the morning Bihari descendant were migrants eking out their lives. I marvelled at their bounded rationality, evenas I gulped at the consequence of my education. While both my chauffeurs of the day reciprocated their truths it was their trust in me that left me wondering, “They trust us their secrets as a release from their stresses, on an implicit assumption – they will not want their stories told on their account, not at least with their identities revealed. They culture us in sympathy into their own context, and deflect us from our fleeting comforts only to deceive both conversationalists from the reality they need to confront”. 

Today my perpetual calendar with quotes says this from the Upanishads “Know the Self to be sitting in the chariot, the intellect the charioteer, and the mind the reins”. Where do you think your hands of action are?