Competencies in politics

This article is published in the December issue of Management Compass. The magazine version is in the pdf file-:obama-dec-2008

Now, walk the talk

Intro: Barak Obama has proven his broad vision, brilliant oratory skills. Now he must prove his execution skills

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“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.”

In one sweeping statement, Barack Obama seems to have emphasised the one issue that should matter most in politics: Despite all the diversity a nation may have, when it comes to electing a leader, they should forget all the parochial biases and elect the most meritorious. Since the US and India are the world’s oldest and largest democracies respectively, one could not help but wonder about the possibility of an Indian Obama and by that I mean not necessarily someone from an underprivileged segment of society but a person who is the most deserving should be able to rise to the highest office in the land.
One comes across articles stating Mayawati to be a potential Indian Obama as she is a Dalit. But that, to my mind, is fundamentally incorrect as she has used caste as her calling card extensively. Obama, on the other hand, never used race/colour or the victim mentality as part of his campaign. He was chosen by 45 per cent white America, majority of every ethnic group and even Jews in a country where 11 per cent of the public is black. In contrast, Mayawati has been known for naked aggression in the past compared to the calm and unflappable Obama who is so popular internationally for his conduct that a German daily, Süddeutsche Zeitung, called him the new Dalai Lama. Oratory apart, Obama, known for swaying audiences with novel ideas, having risen from obscurity, also reminds one of the Mahatma.

Style with speed

Since brilliant oratory is what Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer, is most known for, can that alone make a good politician or statesman? Rajdeep Sardesai mentioned on one of his blogs on Television politicians how he had to make do with Arun Jaitley and Kapil Sibal when the top leaders of their respective parties were not inclined to debate on television. The recent American debate clearly revealed Mccain’s ignorance and discomfiture on matters related to the economy and Sarah Palin’s gaffes on international affairs. Would Indian politicians subject themselves to such rigorous scrutiny before the elections and if some of them prove more knowledgeable than their senior counterparts, will it take them anywhere? There maybe other chuppa rustams within political parties who may have the potential but even if that comes out, what after that? The Lead India campaign threw up an ideal candidate in RK Mishra, who though not a brilliant orator won on the basis of his execution skills. Where is he now? What happened to him after that? Can such people be allowed to be out of sight, out of mind?

Even if people are in favour of a particular person, since political parties are faction-driven and have their own internal politics, will that young person ever have a genuine chance of surging forward or will he have to wait in the wings for his turn even if he is more capable. Obama at 47 had only five years’ experience in national politics but he was still nominated by his party and made it to the top. Recently, Mahendra Singh Dhoni got selected as the captain of the Indian cricket team on merit, bypassing seniors like Virendra Virendra Sehwag and Yuvraj among others. Can that ever happen in politics? In India, when it comes to the Lok sabha elections, only the most senior leaders are projected as prime ministerial candidates. The young brigade in the Congress already speaks of Rahul Gandhi as its leader, which is completely at variance with what Obama stands for. A party with a hundred year history is bereft of talent to rally the masses to a particular cause and therefore has to depends on a single family. In Obama’s case, there has been an element of luck as well, as the recent financial crisis and mismanagement of the past few years probably influenced voting on merit than any other consideration.

Substance

Oratory may not reflect the real picture or be an asset in all situations. Newsweek reported that Mc Cain’s speechwriter had tried to convey sentiments that he symbolised but they sounded stilted coming from his mouth. Talking the walk, therefore, can be as important as walking the talk. That apart, I am reminded of a statement made by former British prime minister Clement Atlee, who said that while eloquence maybe an asset in election speeches and Parliament, it could be a liability in cabinet meetings where brevity is the norm. This brings us to the critical question of execution. Whenever the word execution comes to mind, one is reminded of Rajiv Gandhi’s famous statement in which he stated that 85 per cent of the funds for the poor never reached them and he was a powerful PM with 400 plus MPs in the Lok Sabha. Rajiv Gandhi also showed a lot of fresh promise in the beginning with his speeches at the UN in 1985 and his tirade against the power brokers in the Congress but towards the end of his term, he seemed to have lost his way and began to sound more like a typical politician. In a recent column in Hindustan Times, historian Ramachandra Guha, while praising Gandhi for his encouragement of technological innovation and Panchayti Raj also conveys how his record in office was sullied on issues like Shah bano, Ayodhya and Kashmir. Promise in oration need not imply exemplary implementation.

Since Obama stands for change, it would obviously include implementation in its range.
If an aspiring politician is a brilliant orator, can his execution skills be taken for granted? Some very good insights are available in the book Execution by Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy. The book says, “Intelligent, articulate conceptualizers don’t necessarily like to execute. Many don’t realize what needs to be done to convert a vision into specific tasks because their high-level thinking is too broad. Boards of directors, CEOs are too often seduced by the educational and intellectual qualities of the candidates they interview. Instead of checking how good the person is at getting things done, they check whether the person is articulate, a good change agent and a good communicator. In our experience there is very little correlation between those who talk a good game and those who get things done come hell or high water.” In many cases, the people concerned falter when they are promoted to a higher or different level. Edward de Bono said once that the person with the bright ideas is not always the best person to execute those ideas. Venture capitalists also say that they fund teams and execution, not ideas. Brilliant oratory can prove deceptive and to judge by that alone would be missing the wood for the trees. There maybe the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip.

In that context of walking the talk, one Indian politician that comes to mind is chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. I went to a function in Delhi where he was going to be felicitated for bringing the Nano to Gujarat. This was the first time I heard him speak though I had read elsewhere that he only spoke the language of development. He speaks very well and made a very good presentation on how Gujarat was progressing as a state and the various initiatives his government had been taking on social, economic and other fronts. He clearly sounded very much like a man with a mission on the move and spoke of proactive governance among other things. In India, it is a pleasure to hear a politician who is gloating over his performance instead of trivial regional and parochial issues and he has beaten the anti incumbency syndrome twice. Though absolved by the Nanavati commission for his role in Godhra, he evokes strong reactions in many people. All one can say is that at least from the development and economic progress perspective, he has given a Ram Rajya of sorts which the BJP used to talk about earlier.

Execution talent

Normally a good chief minister is perceived as a potential prime ministerial candidate, the issue is how does one decide who is likely to be good at execution at the national level. Since ability is backed up by visibility, how does one make execution talent palpable to the general public as oratory talent. People who show good organisation and administration skills at the party level or within a company are prime candidates for providing good governance in politics. I worked under a boss once who was so good in conception and execution that he got elevated from sssistant manager to chief executive in just one year. That apart, he had Lord Krishna-like smartness to get around office politics. Such people arre obamas in letter and spirit. To borrow a quote from bill Clinton, I would say, “It is the execution, stupid”. A less charming but better executing politician is preferable to vice versa.

The book mentioned above has an entire chapter devoted to ‘Right man, right job’ and concludes: “Even the best process always does not get the right people in the right jobs, and it can’t make everybody into a good performer.” In another book on competency mapping, it was mentioned how the right person in a particular role can be 20 times better than the wrong one. In politics however, talent seems to be taken for granted. Since Obama did not have any exalted political lineage, this is a fact worth mentioning. In India, one reads about sibling rivalry in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the scions of state politicians either being “groomed” or having taken over the reins in Punkab, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Kashmir and of course the national scene where one can see smart and educated descendents of politicians in the Lok Sabha. Prominent journalists write on the “heir apparent” time and again with an article pitched in once in a while against dynastic rule. Benazir’s niece Fatima Bhutto has expressed strong views against dynastic politics and speaks in favour of platforms, not personalities. This is very true as Obama talks of including republicans in his new team because of their capabilities, which is a great boon in the Presidential system. According to some reports, India’s prime ministers have to do all sorts of balancing acts — region, religion, caste etc. The Indian Obama may not be able to walk the talk in a situation like this, no matter how brilliant an orator he.or she is.

Talking of personalities, what happens if Jyotiraditya Scindia or somebody else in the young brigade turns out to be more talented than Rahul Gandhi as people’s talents can be as different as their appearances? In corporate management, such a person would stand a far better chance. Since everybody is unique and talented to different degrees in different competencies of a role, Individuals have to be distinguished separately in talent management as the penetrative power of different radiations -Apha, beta and Gamma if we have to get a genuine Obama. What we have currently is political legacy passed on by Papa and Mama. In corporate management, hiring, training, performance appraisal, compensation, career and succession planning is done on the basis of extensive competency models. Compared to the suited booted world of professional corporate implementation, execution in politics seems more like a man out on a stroll in a kurta pajama. Then how can one hope for an Obama? This is also due to the fact that in the management world, results are monitored on a quarterly basis.

One thing that deserves to be mentioned in the context of execution is whether a politician should be allowed to do any and everything once he is elected. Before the Iraq war began in 2003, all kinds of people in the US, including Obama expressed their opinion against it but Bush chose to ignore not only that but bypassed the UN and made what turned out to be the biggest mistake of his Presidency. He is expected to bow out with extremely low ratings. This is even more relevant to India as the credibility of politicians is extremely low. New information technologies should be invented to ensure that elected politician honour public opinion.

Since the general public cannot be expected to read fancy talent management books, how does one educate them on spotting and voting for political merit? Since Bollywood and cricket drive India, we could perhaps take their examples. Being born in 1965, I grew up on Sunil Gavaskar and Amitabh Bachchan. While the sons of both the superstars followed them in their respective professions, neither is a chip off the old block where sheer talent is concerned. Rohan Gavaskar could not even play in tests and though Abhishek Bachchan seems to have done better, he has a long way to go before he can be anywhere near his father. If one looks at a majority of father-son cases in cricket and bollywood, the descendents have rarely surpassed their fathers with the possible exception of Hritik Roshan and the Kapoor sisters whose fathers were not successful actors anyway. There may be other exceptions or examples. Even in politics, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi simply do not command the kind of respect Jawaharlal Nehru enjoyed as a national leader. How can talent ever be hereditary? One has to get the point across somehow. However if somebody is genuinely talented, he deserves to go further irrespective of the fact whether he belongs to a political family or not. The issue is how does one determine that — by oratory alone?

For the time being, one has to be vary of the wrong kind of political speech making. Considering that much of India’s population is illiterate, it is not very difficult for a good communicator to be a good rabble rouser in the wrong manner towards the wrong or right ends. The recent example is of Raj Thackeray. Considering that the Jet airways employees sought his help when they were removed from the company, it would be even more easy for relatively uneducated people to play into his hands and such people abound in India. Time magazine reported that after winning, when Obama asked Mc Cain for help on being called by him to be congratulated, Mc Cain replied “Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans.” In India, however, there are all kinds of politicians following divisive politics and trying to invoke false pride in the name region, religion, caste etc instead of performance. Even if we cannot achieve the rule of Rama or get a Mahatma, a Dalai Lama or an Obama, we have to stop this drama. I wish like Obama, one could say with confidence “Yes, we can”.

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BIG BOSS II-Political style v/s substance

This article is published in the October’2008 issue of the magazine, Management Compass.

The Reality game show Bigg Boss was in the news recently for how politicians were desperately trying to get into it to hog the limelight. Manas Chakravarty, the managing editor of Mint, in an article, in the Sunday Hindustan Times of 31 August reported that hundreds of Republican Party of India (RPI) workers ransacked the office of Colors television channel as their leader, Ramdas Athavale was dropped from the reality show Bigg Boss-II. He also stated that Sanjay Nirupam from the Congress and several other politicians pulled all the strings they could to get in and the UPA tried to persuade Shibu Soren to accept a place in Bigg Boss rather than become the chief minister of Jharkhand. You’re in front of a camera every single minute of the day for three months, it’s every politician’s dream, the analyst pointed out. “They would do anything to get on the show.” Some desperation.

Earlier, an article by Shailaja Bajpai in the Indian express on August 20 revealed that Sanjay Nirupam had stated in his blog that that he had agreed to participate in the show to enhance the image of the politicians through his behaviour in front of 32 cameras. One wonders whether Rahul Mahajan also had similar ideas. If he did, he was not doing a good job of it as by the end of the first week, he seemed hyperactive and desperate to make a good impression. It was best summed up by actress Ketaki Dave on the show on September 1, “Rahul is trying to be gregarious with everyone but is that the real Rahul?” God knows.

Ironically, the same edition of Hindustan Times that featured Chakravarty’s article revealed a reality of a different kind. Actor turned MP Vinod Khanna was praised very highly for the initiatives he had taken to build several bridges throughout his constituency, Gurdaspur. The article stated that embittered by corruption in Indian politics, medical practitioner Narinder Kumar Kohli had stopped casting his vote 20 years ago. He changed his mind recently. In his own words, “I will exercise my right to franchise during the coming Lok Sabha elections only to support him. His contribution in this area in the past one decade has been immense. Vinod Khanna is a real-life hero for me,” said the 58-year-old doctor. He said the BJP MP was doing a good job, even if he was inaccessible. It seemed strange that while politicians were pulling out all stops to come to the limelight frivolously, a former actor and celebrity was avoiding it despite performing so well in politics; style without substance and substance without style.

It seems that some politicians are of the view that just as Big Brother did a lot more for Shilpa Shetty than her acting career, they would perhaps fare likewise just by appearing in front of the camera.

Is it so easy to impress just by being in front of the camera? It is worth looking at perhaps one of the best performing politicians in front of the TV, former American President Ronald Reagan. When he died in the year 2004, Time magazine devoted an entire obituary issue to him. It has some interesting insights about his television performance. The magazine reported that when his career as a Hollywood actor was going nowhere he was hired by General Electric. For $125,000 a year, he would act as host and occasional star of a weekly television drama series for General Electric; for 10 weeks each year he would also act as a kind of goodwill ambassador to GE plants around the nation. As one of the first prominent Hollywood actors to defect to the much-scorned new medium of TV, Reagan revived his acting career. The General Electric Theatre, with Reagan as host from 1954 to 1962, dominated the Sunday-night ratings. But what changed Reagan was his tours of the GE plants. Later, Reagan’s opponents often underestimated him, dismissing him as “just an actor,” an amateur lacking political experience. What they failed to see was that although Reagan had not spent much time in conventional politics, he had gained both skill and experience in what was to become the politics of the TV age, the politics of electronic images and symbols. Reagan once figured that in his eight years at GE, he had visited every one of the company’s 139 plants, met more than 250,000 employees, spent 4,000 hours talking to them and “enjoyed every whizzing minute of it.” He polished his delivery, the intimate confiding tone, the air of sincerity, the wry chuckle, the well-timed burst of fervour. The very fact that he had to make so much conscious effort despite being an actor shows how difficult it is to pull off an outstanding performance on Television.

That apart, one needs to be smart and witty like Shah Rukh Khan, who seems to be in his element in front of the camera not only as an actor but whenever he gives interviews or speaks extempore. Coming back to Reagen in this context, he once turned the tables on his electoral rivals by one witty remark. Reagen was getting on in age and this had become an issue during the 1984 presidential debate with Walter Mondale. His humorous reply “I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience..” bowled over a wide American audience and impressed his opponents as well. That one statement made a pivotal role in his victory.. So political performance apart, even TV by itself requires a flair of a different kind. I doubt if even the actor politicians of India can get anywhere near Reagen.

Our politicians are lucky that our audiences are not so discerning. American politicians in general and Presidents in particular have to do well in terms of both style and substance on TV as well as politics.

Since politicians are so desperate to get into the limelight, conducting behavioural interviews on what all they had achieved could make interesting viewing as anecdotes can be very entertaining. They could be pitted against one another or other features could be introduced to make things more interesting. The Times of India with its lead India campaign, has already shown the way on how to detect political talent but that was from among unknown people. This would be more of a performance appraisal of established politicians. The politicians would have their place in the sun and be made accountable on TV with behavioural interviews. It could be a win-win situation for everyone.

An inadequate performance culture is one of the reasons why politicians try to hog attention the wrong way in real and reel life. India Today summed it up wonderfully in one of its recent issues — “The world Bank says that four out of 10 Indians live below the poverty line. You could quarrel with the methodology but there is no disrupting the cause — pathetic governance” Its latest issue, while giving the constituency wise performance and stating that even the constituencies of long-elected ministers and former prime ministers were far below from the top performing ones, has this to say in conclusion: “The landscape is littered with issues of poor governance- from teacherless schools to waterless pipes to a crumbling delivery system for foodgrains. At the assembly level, anti-incumbency is as high as 65 per cent, while it is between 45 and 55 per cent at the parliamentary level. Nothing reveals the sloth in the system that renders even the most voluble politician ineffective better than this study”. On the positive side, the article praises Sharad Pawar alone for bringing about a complete transformation in his constituency.

The public has to act as the big boss and using transparency provided by Television, choose to stay with or remove them, the way people are ejected from the reality game show. The India Today article above thankfully mentions that though MPs are elected to legislate at the centre, they are now expected to monitor everything from bad sanitation in the neighbourhood to public transport in their constituency. The media, in turn, should follow up the MPs using behavioural interviews or whatever feasible manner, instead of just moving on to the next news story. The crisis of Kosi has shown how lack of competence can make things messy. Politicians can face problems of a far greater magnitude than companies and lack of relevant competencies can prove disastrous in preventing such crises or coping with it; Kosi left 2.5mn homeless, 1000 dead and 866 villages destroyed. Looking at it from another context from the scale of problems that politicians may have to face, they are the big bosses and not being able to elect the right ones can cause substantial, unmitigated losses.

Talent in Management and sports

This article is published in the September’2008 issue of the magazine The Management Compass

The fear factor

What is stopping Indian sportsmen from emulating the chinese and US success story?

China had been going all out to put in an impressive performance at the Beijing Olympics. China’s leaders have had a long tradition of using sports to boost national pride. For china, a significant victory at Beijing would enhance its potential superpower status. Its vast multibillion sports machine has only one goal in mind — grooming Olympic champions. At the time of writing this piece, they seem to be succeeding in their mission; currently, China is at the top with 35 Golds, 13 silver and 13 bronze (on August 18).

The heartening thing about the Beijing Olympics is that India too finally managed to produce an Individual Olympic champion, 108 years after the Olympics restarted, Abhinav Bindra received the first individual gold medal in shooting in the 10ms Air rifle category from a strong field of 122 shooters from nearly 100 countries. His impressive performance got him the kind of adulation that is normally reserved for cricket and Bollywood stars in India. Apart from being feted for his achievements both by the President and the Prime Minister, the manner in which the newspapers and news channels covered him made him a national hero and an eligible bachelor overnight. However, considering that it was the first individual gold medal for a nation of a billion plus population in such a long time, everything said in his praise would seem like an understatement.

Bindra mentioned in one of his interviews that our country’s sports administration needs to be brushed up in a way that winning such medals should be more a rule than the exception. How does one achieve that? The Mittal Steel Trust (MCT), with a corpus of $10 million set up by steel baron Laxmi Mittal to support talented Olympic aspirants, is a handsome initiative. Bindra was one of the beneficiaries of Mittal’s largesse. The Olympic gold quest by India’s sporting legends Geet sethi and Prakash Padukone backed by business funds is another such initiative. Apollo Tyres Mission hopes to create a Grand Slam champion in India in Tennis by 2018 and NIIT Mind Champion Academy has taken chess to 4,000 schools across India. While all these attempts are laudable and one hopes that other business houses follow their footsteps, will that be enough?

The China model

One needs to have look at the way China develops its champions. After 1959, when Rong Guotuan made history as China’s first world Table Tennis champion, to maintain ping pong supremacy, coaches fanned out across the countryside looking for kindergartners with quick reflexes and superior hand-eye co-ordination. In their table tennis school, kids train for four hours everyday in the morning and three times a week in the evening with academic classes in between. Many kids see their parents for only a couple of weeks each year. That maybe a little far fetched but a proactive talent spotting process has to be there in place to ensure that talent is spotted at a very young age and groomed on a continuous basis.

Retirement blues

That is one aspect of talent management in sports. There are deeper issues involved. Who shall take care of the sportsmen after they retire, is a prime worry that prevents many a talented sportsman from opting for a sports career or devote full time to it with a single minded focus.

The China Sports Daily estimates that 80 per cent of the world’s retired athletes are plagued by poverty, unemployment or chronic health problems, resulting from overtraining. India’s record is hardly impressive. Norman Gilbert Pritchard, who got silver medals for India for 200m sprint and hurdles in 1900 and was the first man to score a hat-trick in Indian football, died a physical and mental wreck in New York in 1929. Freestyle wrestler KD Jadhav won a bronze for India in the 57kg bantamweight category but got nothing on his return, apart from felicitation. He was killed in a road accident in 1988, for which his widow received a paltry for Rs 25,000. He was posthumously awarded the Arjuna Award in 2001. This is peanuts for people who win medals for the country. Hockey Wizard Dhyan Chand’s son Ashok Kumar had himself been in the Indian hockey team but he mentioned once that since Dhyan Chand did not get anything out of hockey, he did not want any of his sons to play after his playing days got over. Though Flying Sikh Milkha Singh’s son Jeev is now an established golfer, the father did not exactly approve of the son’s choice of career in sports because of his own experience of disappointment with the returns on his achievement.

Sportsmen from other disciplines may face problems of a different kind. Tennis ace Vijay Amritraj revealed in his autobiography that his worst nightmare after retirement would be to be forced in a business not of his liking just to support his family. India’s former coach John Wright had to actually live through that nightmare. In his book Indian Summers ,Wright explains his experience in the corporate world after retiring as a test cricketer, before he became coach for Kent and then, India. In his own words, “Working at Fletchers gave me a crash course on everyday reality, which for many people boils down to earning a living doing something they wouldn’t necessarily choose to do. I had gone from doing something I had a passion for to doing something completely different, which, with the best will in the world, I wasn’t passionate about.” Kapil Dev’s autobiography reveals how a senior cricketer like Chandu Borde was humiliated routinely by the board as he was dependent on them for a job.

Right choices

Fortunately, Bindra seems to have earned a fair amount of prize money from various sources. He is a rich man’s son but otherwise, would it suffice to sustain him for a lifetime? Who will take care of the responsibilities on retirement. Maybe other corporate houses would come forward to absorb them just the way some of them absorb cricketers. Bindra’s spectacular achievement is a good opportunity to look at talent management from a different perspective on how excellence can be achieved both in sports and other spheres. The book Welcome to the Talent Wars by Bruce Tulgan and Now, discover your strengths by Marcus Buckinhgam offer insights into talent management, which one can apply from sports to corporate management and vice- versa.

Both Tuglan and Buckingham have emphasised the importance of knowing your one’s specific niche and planning accordingly. Buckingham has given the example of super golfer Tiger Woods and English soccer star David Beckham. Tiger woods knew that his bunker play was poor. Once he made sure that it reached acceptable levels, he focused totally on his dominant strength, his swing. Explaining how English soccer star David Beckham hit a 35 yard shot to beat Equador 1-0, Buckingham says that he had become so overwhelmingly good at bending long range free kicks into the net that this one strength virtually defined his entire role. He calls this rarefied specialisation and advises emulating it in the management world. Buckingham has written extensively on how silly it is to correct a weakness at the cost of building a strength. Whether before or after retirement, or in sports or other disciplines, nothing can be truer and if one discovers one’s niche at a young age, chances of success improve considerably.

Buckingham has also said that it is better to aim for well-rounded organisations with people complimenting each other’s weaknesses. The percentage of great all rounders to total number of cricketers is extremely low and even if one were to possess that kind of versatility, one can only focus at one area at a time. The core of talent management is to know your niche and build on it.

Phelps phenomenon

There will of course be honorable exceptions. Swimming superstar Michael Phelps is one. By winning eight gold medals, he conquered Mark Spitz’ record of seven gold medals and with the highest number of individual gold medals, became the greatest Olympian of all times. He is not great just because he got eight — he has achieved single handedly what India could achieve in 108 years. Phelps’ total tally — 16 golds and 2 bronzes — towers over India’s total tally in 108 years. Phelps has 14 golds against India’s nine. Without his contribution, the US gold tally would be halved.
Phelps was diagnosed with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in school but as his talent was spotted early, he focused only on that. I had read in one write- up how some ADHD children have a very high IQ but only in one or a few areas. Such people cannot afford to be in the wrong profession. If not handled properly, they can make a nuisance of themselves and even take to crime. Phelps has shown what is possible when they are in their prime, which is possible only with the right kind of talent management.
When people are in their right roles, they represent the strength, health and wealth of a nation. A person who could have been a zero is a superhero and what is a nation without its heroes?

If some superstars like the players mentioned above cannot afford not to know their sub niche within their main professions, can anyone afford to be in wrong profession at all?

Former seven times world Billiards champion Geet Sethi answers that both for sports and management. In his book Success v/s Joy, he states that after exposure to the game for only a few months, he got addicted to billiards at the age of 13. Though Sethi focused on billiards, his friend Sunil Aggarwal did the opposite. Though he shared his passion for billiards, he focused on his IIM and IIT and achieved the exalted social status as the managing director of a company. He declared that a feeling of inadequacy and failure dogged him continuously, which was primarily because of lack of achievement in what he considered to be his true passion — the billiards table. Considering that such well-qualified man can talk like this, can sportsmen or anybody for that matter afford to be in the wrong occupation?

Talent and passion

Former football superstar Pele, considered by many to be the greatest ever football player ever answers that when he says, “I felt a strange calmness… a kind of euphoria. I felt I could run all day without tiring, that I could dribble through any of their team or all of them, that I could almost pass through them physically.” Pele also said,
“Enthusiasm is everything. It must be taut and vibrating like a guitar string.” Which reminds one of former management leader Charles Schwab’s assertion, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm”. Talent management in this perspective is nothing but locating and redirecting talent in the right areas, whether is management or in sports. Both our World cup winning captains, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Kapil Dev are prime examples. Both were ardent footballers but switched to cricket because both discovered by chance that they could hit the ball very hard while trying another activity (batting) in another sport (Cricket).

Doesn’t that imply that training matters more than education in spotting and grooming talent? This is because talent is actually activity centric unless one is involved in research. According to Buckingham, “Whatever our job happens to be, it comprises several activities. Some invigorate us, some leave us neutral, some deplete us, bore us or drain us. There cannot a perfect job we love but the jobs can be sculpted around activities which strengthen us.” Buckingham has asserted in his book that 8 out of 10 people not using their strengths actually shows tremendous scope for talent management. In sports career switching is relatively easier as it is more activity centric.

A word of caution here. According to Buckingham, interest without adequate ability can also be dicey. Giving the example of Basketball superstar Michael Jordan, he says that even if he had not spent countless hours in the Gym, he would have still been a better player than most of us.. But without those hours in the Gym, he would not have become the star he was”. Talent management implies a healthy balance of both talent and passion. Buckingham has also explained what a waste of time and money it is to send people for training for talents that they do not possess. According to him, while skills and knowledge can be learnt, Talents are inborn and cannot.

Management lessons

Tuglan offers some valuable insights while comparing education with training. He says “General Electric alone — with its stunning college campus at New York — spends $500 a year on training and education, 10 times more than the total annual tuition paid by Harvard’s MBA student body in a typical year. Nobody can be stubborn and insist that the only way to train people is for the long haul, mimicking the obsolete pedagogy of yesteryear. Corporate training and distance learning will eventually wipe out many, if not most of the graduate business programmes in existence today.”

One of the chapters in Tuglan’s book is Turn Managers into Coaches. According to him, personal coaching is much more effective in getting the best out of people. Tuglan says “If it takes your organization months on end of years to get people up to speed into meaningful roles, you have a serious problem in today’s short term environment. Neither individuals or organizations that employ them have any more time for long term knowledge acquisition. It is no longer sufficient for anybody to receive their education up front through formal schooling and expect that education to last them very long. You have to identify quickly what a person is capable of, choose the right role for that person, teach that person exactly what he needs to know to play that role and then require that he gives it all. Depending upon his, there should ba a multiplicity of opportunity for you.” He gives the examples of US Marines on how in 11 weeks, they can get a person ready. Explaining a training programme for a new trainee, an example of one company was given with a training programme from week to week, where the individual is assessed at the end of every month. According to the company “Every day is meant to be like an MBA crash course because we have hired you to run our business”

Such emphasis on training rather than formal education may allay some of the fears that sportsmen have about what to do after retirement. I had once come across the businessman father of a promising Tennis player who was wary of going all the way because of the risks that it entailed. When one reads of the difficulties of career switching at sites like http://www.careerswitchers.org or books like Working Identity even in the western world, one can hardly blame him. That apart, career switching can sometimes bring out very promising talent — Amitabh Bachchan is also a case of lateral career transition who came up more because of hands-on coaching rather than formal education in acting.
The word education comes from the latin word educere which implies to bring out what is already in, which perhaps can be done better in some cases by hands-on coaching.

Following the philosophy of “The best are worth accommodating”, Tuglan states that in the current scenario, companies have to bend backwards to accommodate aspirations of the best talent. The book mainly talks of how the most talented people in management are now thinking like free agents (like professional athletes and actors) and how it is not possible to achieve excellence without catering to their specific needs, whether it is a three way workweek or sticking to one location instead of shifting them around etc. It talks of fluid and flexible staffing: “Learn to employ people wherever, whenever and however they are willing… Where and when people work matters much less in the new economy than what people actually do and how they do it… In the new economy, career customization will be the norm, not the exception”.

If these are the new standards of talent management, we can hardly afford to mistreat our sports or other superstars before or after retirement. The people who make the country proud can hardly be treated as the rest of the crowd.

True to his name

The word Abhinav means brand and uniquely new and one must say that with his achievement, he has lived up to his name. Though old is gold in a certain context, we should ensure that his gold never becomes old and continuously inspires us to better performance. The name of the first citizen of the country, the President of India, is Pratibha or talent, which should symbolise our conduct. Bindra has set a healthy precedent. Following letter and spirit, President and precedent, it is better if we pull up our socks in talent management to live up to the new Olympic spirit everywhere. Otherwise the saying Chak de India may end up meaning more like chuck (leave Olympic aspirations) de India.. And instead of our players being on song, “Hum honge Kamyaab” will remain what it is — just a song.
———————–End of Published Article——————————–
Though perhaps not evident in the way the article has been edited, much of Bindra’s success has come from some of the factors mentioned in the article- discovering his passion(talent) at a young age, having the flexibility to devote to it with a single minded focus, having no worries of life after the sport etc. Competency based systems which have a people orientation rather than a task orientation are more likely to detect talent at a young age.

That apart the chapters of Tuglan’s books is clearly indicative of a sports model for training which can be applied in management:-

Talent is the show,
Staff the work, not the jobs,
Pay for performance and nothing else
Turn Managers into coaches

Significance of lateral thinking

This article was published in the June’2007 issue of the magazine Educare

Lateral thinking is an unpredictable and unconventional approach to solve problems in a non-evident manner against the normal logical step-by -step linear or sequential thinking. Lateral thinking is a step-by-step method of creative thinking with prescribed techniques that can be used consciously. The objective here is not to get into technicalities of lateral thinking (well covered in Wikipedia) but explain lateral thinking in a way the students can understand through practical examples.

One simple example is that of my brother, a businessman who, several years ago, wanted to buy a personal computer when the production reached 10,000 units from the current 4000 units because only at that volume the computer was justified because of the administrative work involved. I pointed out to him that he could buy the computer first, then from whatever time that was saved by the computer could be used to manufacture those 10,000 units. He liked the idea and on implementing the same he was able to achieve a production figure far in excess of 15,000 units.

The best example of unconventional thinking the world over is that of Henri Ford who is considered to be one of the pioneers of the motor car. He saw profits in mass production and to make his car affordable to workers, he adopted a totally different approach. He shocked the world with what probably stands as his greatest contribution ever: the $5-a-day-minimum-wage scheme. The average wage in the auto industry then was $2.34 for a 9-hr shift. Ford not only doubled that, he also shaved an hour off the workday. In those years it was unthinkable that a guy could be paid that much for doing something that didn’t involve an awful lot of training or education. The Wall Street Journal called the plan “an economic crime, adopting biblical teachings where they do not apply” and critics everywhere heaped ‘Fordism’ with equal scorn. But as the wage increased later to a daily $10, it proved a critical component of Ford’s quest to make the automobile accessible to all. The critics were too ignorant to comprehend that because Ford had lowered his costs per car, the higher wages didn’t matter —except for making it feasible for more people to buy cars. He increased his market share from 10 per cent to 40 per cent while the share commanded by General Motors slipped from 23 per cent to 8 per cent. After cutting the prices 30 per cent during the 1920 economic crises, Ford commanded a 60 per cent share in the market that had grown by a factor of 12 in a decade. Within a decade and a little later his net worth increased from the original $ 28,000 to $ 715 million.

This upside down thinking or supply creates its own demand has been followed in India no better than Dhirubhai Ambani and his sons. This is what a Reliance manager has to say about Dhirubhai’s initial moves in the textile industry:

“Against conventional wisdom, he started manufacturing synthetics on a mega scale realising that the poor would pay more for a reasonably good quality because they got an image boost. He did not look down upon consumers or take them for granted. The polyester pasha had stumbled upon a polyester market which the older mills has missed completely. When Reliance entered the domestic market, it met with a lot of resistance from traditional cloth merchants whose loyalty was towards the older mills. Following a totally unusual approach, he bypassed the traditional wholesale trade, opened his own showrooms, tapped new markets and appointed agents from non textile backgrounds. While he may not have pioneered the concept of company stores, he pursued this policy on a grand scale. In a drive to achieve high volumes, Ambani spotted an entirely new market- the non metro urban segment and opened it up. Other mill owners watched enviously as Ambani scooped rich profits from fabric marketing in smaller towns as the first to both recognise and exploit their potential. Setting up capacities far in excess of what the market has required is the trigger that sets off unconventional thinking in Reliance; on product applications, new grades and interesting methods by which growth can be accelerated. It gets Reliance to think. If Reliance had set up capacities in line with the then-existing consumption standards, it would never have emerged as a pioneer because there would have been no trigger within the company.”

Reliance Petroleum’s systems manager once stated, “Being unconventional is the biggest convention in Reliance.” This is what their president, basic services, had to say about bidding “We bid successfully for the Gujarat basic services circle on the conviction that the more phone lines we give out, the greater will be the demand. Not a linear expansion, but a geometric extrapolation. Typical Reliance thinking? This is very true. This is what one of their assistant vice-presi-dents had to say in this connection

“Reliance has been built on the premise that supply will create demand. This is something that one must remember when the capacities installed by the company look crazily in excess of what the country may need at that moment in time. The installed capacity for polypropylene in the country when Reliance conceived of the project was two lac tonnes per annum (tpa) against an existing domestic supply of 1.5 lac tpa. Reliance commissioned its plant with 3.5 lac tpa capacity. Crazy? That one move more than paid off in the late nineties. The market expanded significantly and prove the above measure to be correct.

According to the Reliance website, executives are constantly encouraged to think out-of-the-box, not traditionally or sequentially and the brothers themselves have this tremendous ability to think laterally and look at business as a series of processes. As Mukesh says, “We work in concentric circles, rather than in straight ranks, but there’s always a centre of accountability. To meet Dhirubhai’s deadlines in one of their major projects, Mukesh’s young project team discarded several established business practices in favor of unconventional methods which have now become part of Reliance’s corporate culture

Reliance followed lateral thinking very successfully in all departments. Though it is not a recipe for success which also depends upon the market profile of the particular industry at any given point in time, considering the kind of success Reliance has achieved, maybe it could have been a part of formal school curriculum the way Edward de Bono suggested.

From here, I am going to discuss lateral thinking in the education context but those desirous of knowing more about Reliance’s application of lateral thinking can read the gallery portion of their website or read the Dhirubhai Ambani section of the book Business Maharajas.

Edward de Bono, the world famous proponent of lateral thinking had said once that children and people should be encouraged to think of a different answer and not the right answer which genuine educationists also advocate. Edward de Bono had also said that lateral thinking is so important that it should be taught in schools along with other forms of thinking.

I once had a discussion on this issue with the best boss I had come across in my life, AK, who got several double promotions and went on to establish businesses of his own. Though in the context of lateral thinking, one has to probe different answers especially in education, the reality is poles apart. He narrated his experience at one of the most prestigious management institutes in India from which he did his MBA. On my request, he wrote down the experience.

They were given a case study for which they were asked to think and offer their solutions. In his words:

The problem/case

A 14 storied building had only two lifts. The municipal laws did not allow more than two lifts, so adding more lifts was out of question.

The building housed offices of various companies, all, obviously, in different floors – and more than one office in each floor. Due to the limited capacity of each lift, there was a long queue every morning at 9 am when offices opened. All the occupant office managements complained about this to the management of the building, and asked them to sort out the problem.

Solution given by my study group:

We came up with the following solutions, to be used in conjunction with each other:

1. Since the number of lifts cannot be increased, we should assign one lift for odd numbered floors, and one lift for even numbered floors.
2. Secondly, the lift should not stop at the first floor, as the offices based on this floor can easily use the stairs.
3. Request half the occupant offices to change their opening time to 9:30 am, so that the traffic is halved between 9:00 am and 9:30 am. Solution as per the professor (or as per the published guideline available with the professor):
1. Fix two full length mirrors along the lift area walls. This way people will look at themselves and others, and not feel the delay.
2. Fix magazine stands with magazines in them — those waiting for the lift would then not get bored waiting for the lifts. Our argument against the published solution:
1. If I am a staff in one of the offices, and I have to reach the office on time, or if I have a meeting at 9:15 am, how would looking at others and reading magazines help?
2. The published solution may be applicable in one way, but the concept of the published solution and our solution was different
a) The published solution looked at creating an environment so that people would not feel the problem of delay, or would not mind such delay;
b) Our solution aimed at removing the delay.

We argued, that management is firstly not about fixed solutions (this we said because the professor was insisting that his solution is the only solution). Moreover, management is about removing problems, not making it easier to face them. To explain my point to the professor, I told him, that if he (the professor) went to a doctor with a stomach pain, which resulted from inflammation of the appendix, the doctor could do as follows:

a) If he followed the concept of the professor’s solution, ie, making it easy to face the problem, the doctor would administer pain killers and play classical music, so that the professor would not feel the pain and would be distracted from the pain. But the problem would remain, and the pain would continue.
b) If the doctor were to follow our concept, he would operate on the appendix, so that the problem itself would be removed. Which solution should the doctor take?

Needless, to say, the professor got his way by asking me to leave class!

Einstein may have said “Imagination is more important than knowledge” and the Ambanis may have been phenomenally successful because ofunconventional thinking but there are some theoretical academicians who are hell bent on making the students toe their line and preserving status quo.

Sometimes I feel that lateral thinking should be applied to change education as well. This is what a couple of Reliance’s senior management people said about training, “We have tied up with a leading business management institution to train young. recruits.” We said : “Teach them in six months what the IIM fellows learn in two years. That is the foundation of our thrust into learning and training. The traditional concept of trainees for mechanical skills doesn’t work in Reliance. No one gets put out for six months to attend some fancy course after which he can be expected to come back and experiment with his ideas. Our concept of training is one day off to study and returning the following day to apply that to the running of the plant.”

This is the training or coaching approach of learning as opposed to teaching which would probably suit the learning style of many if not most students as a lot of people are inclined towards kinesthetic while doing a kind of learning which has been elaborately covered in my previous articles. Here also supply may create its own demand just the way T20 cricket has proved to be hugely successful in the last one year but one cannot know unless one tries but then, who educates the educationists?

Emotional intelligence explained practically

This article was published in the July’2008 issue of the magazine Management Compass. The magazine version is in this pdf file eintel-practical-july-2008

In my previous article on Emotional intelligence, I had tried to throw light upon emotional intelligence and life purpose or self actualisation. One wonders how emotional intelligence applies to more mundane issues. I was surprised to read in one article on board exam suicides as how to emotional intelligence should be taught in schools. In his book Working with Emotional intelligence’, Daniel Goleman has said, “Our entire system of education is geared to cognitive skills. But when it comes to emotional competencies, our system is sorely lacking.”

Though emotional intelligence primarily depends on empathy and social skills, the practical skills are based on five elements — self-awareness, motivation, self-regulation, empathy and adeptness in relationships. All this is irrelevant to students because they involve group dynamics of working in a team. Emotional intelligence issues are so complex that many a time, they require one-to-one session with the counsellor. Among the various guidelines for emotional competence training that Goleman has given, providing role models can be applicable to the young as a kind of example. As it is, it is said that “Attitudes are caught, not taught” and role models that one may come across, maybe within the organisation or the ones that one may come across in day-to-day life from people’s conduct even if they need not always fulfil common goals.

The thing worth noting that Goleman has said in his book Working with emotional intelligence is that emotional intelligence is not about being nice. He says, “At strategic moments it may demand not being ‘nice’ but bluntly confronting someone with an uncomfortable and consequential truth they have been avoiding. It means managing feelings that they are expressed appropriately and effectively.” I was reminded of this when, in one of the test matches of the recently concluded Australian tour, in response to sledging and all kinds of other tactics employed by the Australian cricketers to win the test, our test captain Anil Kumble, who has a reputation for being a nice guy, summed it up in one sentence: “Only one team was playing in the spirit of the game.” That was not a very nice thing to say for the hosts but it was said in a very tactful and dignified manner to befit the stature of the elder statesman of cricket which Kumble has become. Even the Australian media and Australians in general did not mind this. If there was one good example of communication as a tool of emotional intelligence, this was it,

Even at the end of the 2007 World Cup when India did not do well, former Australian cricket captain Ian Chapell commented on how Sachin was playing only for records and should contemplate retirement. Kumble, who, had always maintained a low profile and never spoken controversially, stood up for Sachin, saying “Mr Chappell is entitled to his personal opinion but since he is not so knowledgeable about Indian cricket, they should be ignored. “Since Sachin and Kumble had their cricketing debuts in 1989 and 1990 respectively, they probably played together more than anybody else and when the situation called for it, Mr Nice Guy Kumble stood up for him in a dignified, inoffensive manner.

Just as it is said in management that one has to move southwards to move northwards, one can also learn from negative examples how to control oneself. One also gets to read that the need for emotional intelligence is more as one moves higher up the ladder. One reason for this perhaps is that one also has to set an example for the people lower down. The obvious cricketing example is the slapping controversy where the captain of the Mumbai IPL Team, Harbhajan slapped Sreesanth of the Mohali team on not being able to control himself after Mumbai lost to Mohali. Goleman has given the example of Mike Tyson, “When Mike Tyson became enraged and bit of a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear during their 1997 heavyweight title match, it cost him $ 3 million and a year’s suspension from boxing”. Though Harbhajan did not get that physical, the one thing common is that according to newspaper reports, he lost Rs 3 crores because of the slap. Perhaps Harbhajan Singh needs training in emotional intelligence — identifying his trigger situations and dealing with them. One may add here that some time ago in Australia, the whole nation stood behind the very same Harbhajann Singh when he was provoked by the Australian players. In my view, if one has to solve the problem at the root or nip it in the bud, the person causing the problem should also be dealt with to eliminate the problem in the long run.

Another sports star that Goleman mentions in his book is Michael Jordan. He says that the game comes so naturally to him that he may not be as good a coach as he was a player. Peter Drucker had also said “Those who excel at something are rarely able to explain it”. The issue is not only of communication alone. The main thing involved in coaching is being able to have good relations among and with players while commanding their respect.

One person who comes to memory in recent past is former cricket coach of the Indian cricket team, Greg Chappell. He had been a great player himself and from the kind of presentations he made, he impressed everyone with his cricketing knowledge. Lacking self-awareness and self-regulation as a coach, he was too high – handed and hardly adept at handling relationships as he antagonised both senior and junior players in the team. Despite having far better credentials than his predecessor, John Wright, this situation was typical of what Goleman says, “People with high IQ performed poorly at work while those of moderate IQ did extremely well.” Whether as captain or coach, leadership positions automatically entail a certain finesse in relationships and in this context, having very good cricketing knowledge or experience did not suffice.

Other recent examples of nastiness was when some of the leading stars of the Hindi film Industry chose to write nonsensical things about one another on their blogs and later apologised. Internet as a medium facilitates self regulation in the sense that internet discussions tend to be the way they should be — detached, objective and rational, without the element of strong emotions. On the net, one can read the other person’s point of view without interruption, which also aids empathy and avoids friction. However if the people concerned themselves choose to say provocative things, no medium can help. Aamir Khan saying that he had a dog named Shahrukh does not befit a man of his stature and reputation- a cerebral actor with so many unique films.

In sports, coaches often have to face the kind of situation that was faced by Shahrukh in the movie Chak De when he had to exhort the two major players to put their egos aside and work for the common goal. Talking of Mr Khan, he is himself not a bad example of emotional intelligence in real life. I am reminded of one of his episodes in Kaun Banega Crorepati where in response to his traditional parting gesture one lady who was a teacher remarked, “I don’t need your hug.” Without being ruffled, Mr Khan responded, “With your kind permission, can I hug your mother and give the award money to her.” It is said that your natural self is tested only in spontaneous crisis moments and the way he handled it was as good an example as any. This was functional emotional intelligence at its best.

This kind of response apart, if one is witty and good at repartee without causing offense, that can he a vary handy tool of emotional intelligence. There is a saying ‘Humour is a rubber sword. It allows you to make a point without drawing blood.’
———————————————————————————-
I had given an example on empathy which could not be included above because of lack of space. I feel it deserves a mention:-

One cannot conceive of emotional intelligence without empathy. Some years ago, in some TV programme on Children, Shahrukh Khan gave a very good speech on what society and the world was headed towards and wondered what kind of world would we leave for our children. He had seen in the TV news how a father was trying to shield his child desperately from gunfire is some area in the middle east. He stated that being a father himself, he could empathize how that man must have felt and what the world was coming to was a really sad state of affairs. Considering Shahrukh’s witty and smart image, I was pleasently surprised to learn that he could speak seriously so well. His speech reminded me of what J.krishnamurthy always used to say “Man has progressed technologically but regressed psychologically”

Emotional Inteliigence and Life purpose

This article was published in the June’2008 issue of the magazine Management Compass. The magazine version pdf file is eintelligence-and-life-purpose-june-08

When work’s delight

It’s better to do what we love doing, even if rewards are greater elsewhere

In addition to my previous article on concentration that appeared in the May issue which made it to the Times Wellness Book , another article titled Emotional intelligence and life purpose I had written for the Times of India also made it to the Times Wellness Book. This is the elaborate version of that article:

“There was once a salesman, who because of his predisposition to be authoritative hated his job, as he had to be continually subservient to customers, which revolted against his primary nature. After he opted for a career switch and became a policeman, all his complaints vanished because in the new occupation, he was calling the shots.

“Research has revealed that our emotions, more than anything else, make us tired and cause serious health problems. Daniel Goleman, in his book Working with Emotional Intelligence, says ‘Great work starts with great feeling.’

“Psychologists use the word “temperament” to describe the emotional aspect, which can be a reflection of the person’s personality. Type A personalities by their very nature strive for achievement and personal recognition, and are aggressive, hasty, impatient, explosive and loud in speech. They should be careful because they are prone to stress and heart disease.”

Since the title and thrust of the article is emotional intelligence and life purpose, it is preferable to focus on this part. In my personal opinion, if the person concerned is struggling hard with himself like the example of the salesman above, any further analysis or expecting emotional intelligence out of that person is useless unless one gets to the root of the problem and solves that first, which in this example was to a drastic change in profession. Emotional intelligence and life’s purpose inevitably form a virtuous circle in the sense that if you are engaged in your life purpose for a majority of waking hours, you are in a better position to be emotionally intelligent, which in turn can rebound and result in high quality work or fulfillment of your life purpose.

Daniel Goleman’s book is virtually considered a Bible on emotional intelligence. His views on the same are worth reflecting:-

“Except for the financially desperate, people do not work for money alone.. What also fuels their passion for work is a larger sense of purpose or passion. Given the opportunity, people gravitate to what gives them meaning, to what engages to their fullest commitment, talent, energy and skill. That can mean changing jobs to get a better fit with what matters to us”

I once came across a site called careerspice.com, where they had actually listed the options in the order of passion, strengths and skills. Though earlier, a list of passions, skills and strengths were listed on the website in that order, they have made the passion module more specific while maintaining the overall order, which only goes to show the wisdom of Mr Goleman’s words. In the previous decades, strengths and skills used to matter more. Another site worth mentioning in this context is passioncatalyst.comwhich again makes passion the main focus.

Though flow is a term introduced by psychologist and social scientist Mihaly Czikszentimihalyi who described it as being totally absorbed in whatever one is doing at the moment, Goleman’s comments on it in the context of management are worth noting:-

“Flow blossoms when our skills are fully engaged… by work that stretches us in new and challenging ways. The challenge absorbs us so much that we lose ourselves in our work, becoming so totally concentrated that we may feel out of time. In this state, we seem to handle everything effortlessly, nimbly adapting to shifting demands. Flow itself is a pleasure. Flow is the ultimate motivator. Activities we love draw us in because we get into flow as we pursue them. When we work in flow, the motivation is built in — work is a delight in itself. Though there are rewards in terms of salaries, bonuses and stock options , the most powerful motivators are internal, not external. It feels better to do what we have passion for, even if the rewards are greater elsewhere.”

Though the above contents of the book Working with Emotional Intelligence were first published in 1998, even now, 10 years later, one keeps bumping into new sites which reveal the wisdom of those words. One recent site that I came across is careershifters.org, a UK-centric site, where more than 15 career coaches have come together to inspire and facilitate lateral career shifts. The very fact that so many people have come together on one platform indicates that it is a serious problem in that country.

There is one more thing that Daniel Goleman has said which deserves a mention:

“By midlife, there are many many corporate executives and lawyers pulling down seven-figure salaries who wish instead that they were doing social work or running a restaurant. People who feel that their skills are not used well on the job or who feel that their work is repetitive and boring run a higher risk of heart disease than those who feel that their best skills are expressed in their work.”

Goleman’s above extract brings to mind an American consultant, Craig Nathanson of the vocationalcoach.com/ who specialises in helping the kind of people that Goleman has mentioned in his article, who maybe facing a midlife crisis in their early Forties. The irony in all this is that despite it being such a problem in the western world, despite their comprehensive recruitment systems, one wonders how bad the situation in India is. When one talks to HR consultants on lateral career transition or mid- life crisis, one gets an indifference response.. It is almost as if the problem does not exist.

The book The Art of Happiness at Work, which Howard Cutler has co-written along with the Dalai Lama, mentions several other psychologists who have done research on the subject, which again reflects the magnitude of the problem. As for the work being repetitive and boring, even if one is in the profession of one’s liking, some of it is inevitable. Professor Debashis Chatterjee quotes Mother Teresa in his book Break Free, “When you do small work with great love, your work will automatically become great.” Chatterjee advises ‘watch as you work’ and says that to be fully alive is to be fully functional in mind, body and spirit. The real motivation is to be fully alive and to be fully absorbed in the work. This is a kind of voluntary forced flow and even if the work does not become great, one can at least feel great if one is able to do this successfully. One has to face a reality that a lot of work is repetitive and either one tries to do them with full attention or makes games out of them as some management books suggest.

The Dalai Lama also suggests that if one thinks one’s work is boring and repetitive, one should see things in a wider perspective and see how one’s work benefits a lot of other people. This shall enable one to pursue one’s work as a calling if it is not so. If it is, all this can be managed but if one feels completely out of place in the major activity itself, this can be an additional burden. It is like that expression in Hindi- aate me namak ya namak me aata. It is the matter of a sense of proportion. The Dalai Lama says that certain kinds of fruits have a bit of sourness in them and the sweetness cannot be separated from the sourness as they are bound to be mixed. Therefore, one has to brace oneself for repetitive tasks.

As for the state of flow, the Dalai Lama indicated that while it may be possible to achieve flow by meditation and engaging in the work of one’s liking, one should remember that it is not possible to remain in that state throughout the day. One can improve upon one’s emotional intelligence in this context if one tries to apply what all is written above.

India seems to be on the threshold of an economic expansion but if countries, which have achieved material prosperity, are talking about non-materialistic fulfilment to such a degree, one wonders what is in store for us, especially considering the articles that keep appearing from time to time on how executives face stress and burnout. The Dalai Lama pointed out that a career orientation with primary focus on promotions, job titles and designations can be an acute source of misery. In his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman while asserting that personal satisfaction is rapidly gaining on financial rewards as a determining factor for choice of work, says, “Our economy is rapidly changing from a money economy to a satisfaction economy” which is actually a paradigm shift in emotional intelligence.

With achievement of 9 per cent growth rate achieved in the past few years and bright prospects envisaged for the future, the Indian economy is becoming a money economy all right but whether it becomes a satisfaction or happiness economy is the moot point.
Since prevention is better than cure, we have a lot to learn from the developed western world. When Japan prospered economically, it also faced a lot of social problems. The Japanese term Karoshi, implying death from overwork, and Pokuri Byo, meaning sudden death, are a reflection of that time. They actually indicate a deeper malaise — a distorted emotional intelligence; Goleman has indicated above how people not fully engaged in work are more prone to heart disease and it is a well-known fact that the impact of negative emotions are manifested in the body in one form or another.

With our size and population, we cannot afford to miss the wood for the trees. One wonders what is in store in the long run. Will the collective emotional intelligence of a country known for its spiritual legacy go hand in hand with economic progress? Will Individuals flow and India glow, or a truly prosperous economic boom turn out to be some kind of doom ?

Concentrate on concentrating

This article was published in the May’2008 issue of the magazine Management compass

Vagaries of mind

It’s concentration that helps you achieve your goal

I had written seven articles in The Times of India in the year 2006, out of which two made it to the Times Wellness Book. Out of the two, one is on concentration:-
“Indian children are exposed to how Arjuna was asked to focus on the eye as a target for his arrow, as an exercise in concentration. Ralph Waldo Emerson has said ‘Concentration is the secret of success in politics, in war, in all management of human affairs.’
One way of determining what your purpose in life is to try and engage in an activity in which you completely lose awareness of time and space because you are fully concentrated on it. That would be the activity in which you are in your element. Though it can be described as an intense concentration, Osho has elevated it to the level of meditation. He even goes to say that when you are happy doing whatever you are doing, you are automatically meditative. Meditation is a function of happiness and not the other way around. In the children’s context, if their concentration is monitored proactively, it could give an indication of their life’s purpose…

Emerson’s statement has a different connotation as well. It is a well- known fact in Yoga that the power of concentration is the power of the human mind. People are able to perform miraculous feats with the power of concentration. In this context, if you are caught in the wrong profession, a good power of concentration can go a long way in mitigating the misery. One can pass by with a reasonable degree of efficiency if the general level of concentration is high…

So either one is in the right profession (spontaneous concentration) or the general level of concentration is high. At least one of the two should be strong for you to be adept at what you are doing. Therefore we realise the need and importance of developing concentration not only for children, but for our ownselves too.”

The above article was based on a passage that I had come across in an article on meditation: “Many people cannot concentrate on their work because their minds keep straying. Others keep worrying about their pet obsessions. These are the vagaries of the mind which prevent you from doing a good job at any given time. At the other end of the spectrum, you find people daydreaming a chain of colourful thoughts. So deeply engrossed are they that they lose awareness of what is going around them.” I had this problem and I was looking at it from only one perspective of what I could not do. Later, when the “colourful thoughts” made me a writer and a poet, I realised that my mind was concentrated on them which is why I could not concentrate on the jobs. That is perhaps the reason why creative people do not like nine to five jobs; they are simply not cut out for them.

The most well-known enlightened man in the history of mankind, Buddha had this to say in this context “Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.” Some of the great artists of this world have described absorption in their work as a kind of orgasmic pleasure. Pablo Picasso said, “It is your work in life that is the ultimate seduction”. Whatever be the form of creativity, nothing can replace the artistic satisfaction that one experiences on being able to complete a creative task when one gets completely absorbed in it and achieves a state of total concentration by transcending thought. Some years ago, in an interview, filmstar Shah Rukh Khan had said, “When I stand in front of the camera, I feel as if I am making love to my audience.”

Creative people are known for being emotional, sensitive and mood swings. Einstein had once said, “All great discoveries come from people whose feelings run ahead of their thinking”. From a writer’s/ poets perspective, some of the best creative ideas come when the mind is given a free run. The mind can be explained in terms of centrifugal (stronger at periphery than centre) and centripetal ( logical and centred — stronger at centre) forces and the mind with a centrifugal predisposition has creative
tendencies.

Ayurveda talks of Vata, Pitta and Kapha people. A Vata (air) predominating person will have emotional tendencies towards fear and anxiety. They are very creative and imaginative, make good artists, poets, inventors and writers or have divergent attention concentrated in ideas. They are indecisive, changeable, excitable, moody and solitary people. Kapha minds are the exact opposite — grounded and centred and have convergent attention focused in implementation.

One definition of creativity is to reveal a new synergy between two seemingly disparate ideas or a rearrangement of the old. One is supposed to drench oneself and the subconscious with all the facts one can muster with full concentration and when the mind is calm and relaxed, ideas incubate from the subconscious to correlate, combine, associate and categorise in different kinds of synthesis. No wonder some of the most important discoveries from science have come in a relaxed state of mind when the concerned individuals have been bathing, walking or even shaving.

Apart from getting creative ideas in a relaxed, concentration is facilitated when the mind is in a creative state and vice-versa. The Bhagvad Gita says, “For he who has no tranquility there is no concentration.” The other extreme is also equally true. Psychiatrists use occupational therapy as one of the means to treat people who have been through severe trauma by making them do interesting activities in which their mind becomes so engrossed that they completely forget their painful experiences. In this way concentration can be used to induce tranquility which can further enhance concentration in a virtuous circle.

In one of his discourses, Osho said that people with a thinking disposition and philosophers often complain that mundane things bore them. He divided people into two broad categories — the ‘buffaloes’ and the ‘Buddhas’. He said that the buffaloes were the hedonistic types — they had no grand purpose in life but were content with their daily existence and never thought too much about the monotony of daily existence. The Buddhas on the other hand were the intellectual types, trying to seek a deeper purpose and meaning in life and their existence and would easily tire of routine. Osho said, “Either be a buffalo or a Buddha”. He meant that either ignore the routine activities completely or observe routine so minutely that the novelty of life becomes apparent in this micro-observation. This is the way to transform the mundane into the sacred. This requires tremendous alertness and concentration, which in this context can actually be called awareness, presence, consciousness, mindfulness etc. Incidentally Buddha also said, “The stages of the Noble Path are: Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Behaviour, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.” Right concentration is mentioned last but is certainly not the least — trains in Japan and Germany move at 500 miles an hour because of the concentrated force of superconductivity or electrons moving in one direction without any resistance.

Another statement of Buddha sums it up: “Wakefulness is the way of life.” J krishnamuthy talked of constantly witnessing all thoughts, feelings and actions as they arise. Osho says that being totally aware and in the present is the key to transcend negative emotions and overcome all kinds of suffering. He says, “If you are present when anger is happening, anger cannot happen… In fact, there is only one sin and that is unawareness. When you become aware, your body becomes more relaxed, your body becomes more attuned, a deep peace starts prevailing even in your body; a subtle music pulsates in your body”

From the above, it seems that constant watchfulness has the kind of effect on your body and mind that sports do. Talking of sportspeople, the best cricket Team in the world, Australia indulges in sledging primarily to disturb the opponent’s concentration. Sachin Tendulkar actually said once, “If concentration wavers, the brain does not pass signals at the pace that the ball comes.” When asked on a tour to Bangladesh on how easy it must be for someone like him to face Bangladeshi bowlers, Sachin replied, “I only think of the ball and its merit and not the bowler.” This is to induce what sportsmen call a state of “flow” in which they forget all else and are totally focused on their sport as a means to excel. Pete Sampras, who won the maximum number of grand slams, attributes his success to being able to achieve flow as one of the main reasons. Martina Navratilova puts it even more precisely and concisely: “I try to concentrate on concentrating.” Can you afford to do otherwise?