Tuesday 27 November 2018

5Ps Model @ New Job

A new job, one of those rare occasions when we feel a combination of few (or all) emotions - excitement to anxiety, pre-joining confidence to post-joining imposter-syndrome, know-it-all to there-is-so-much-to-learn, confidence to dread, satisfaction to frustration and "this was a good decision" to "this is a huge mistake". This happens to all, even the best of us.
Why does it happen, and how to manage this?
I started a new job last month, which happened to be my "first" new job in 12 years. Everything changed for me - industry, function, location (well, city not country) and seniority - reason enough for all of the above emotions to run through me. During first couple of weeks, despite a warm welcome from everyone (actually, almost everyone) and comforting words from my seniors, I couldn't shake-off the nagging feeling that something was amiss - only to realise later that fear-of-failure and anxiety (due to enormity of challenges ahead of me) wouldn't allow me to settle-in.
This experience made me think deep and break down the problem, resulting in the following 5Ps Model that explains what externals we need to focus on and the internal aspects to use initially at a new job.

The first three - People, Process and Product are the externals that we need to manage.
1P: People - this could be our immediate supervisor / manager, our team, the team that we are a part of, employees in other divisions / departments, suppliers and clients / customers. For many different reasons, which reside inside of us and outside, people-management is the biggest challenge faced by most in their new jobs. It is not a matter of extrovert vs. introverts - not that extroverts will have it easier just because they are considered to have gift of the gab - it is about understanding people and responding to them as needed. This does require a level of maturity and high emotional intelligence.
2P: Process - lack of knowledge and understanding of processes followed at the new organisation often becomes frustrating. From small things such as how do I get coffee to more serious issues such as organisational culture - is Friday a casual dress-day or formal / is humour acceptable during meetings / should I speak my mind freely etc. Process is what gives us the framework for our behaviour, our actions and how we do our work - thus focussing on this in initial few weeks is going to be extremely helpful in the long-run. Here, under Process, I am not referring to work-processes, such as how reports have to be completed and submitted or how orders are fulfilled. Speaking with colleagues, not getting stuck to our chair (moving around the office just to say hello), asking for help when stuck - these are some actions we can take to get clarity on processes of the new organisation. Keeping to ourselves and the work given to us - well, that is not going to help for this.
3P: Product - what are we selling (we = new organisation), whether it is a product or a service, and how? It can also be looked as: what am I supposed to deliver? My deliverable is the product / service that I am selling. This is what I call as Product in my model. In case we change industry - as I have done in all my 5 jobs (having sold newspaper, auto-loans, broadband, home-accessories, and now bathroom solutions) - lack of product understanding is the single largest roadblock to our performance. Unless we understand what we need to sell / deliver, we won't know how to and finally, we won't find a successful way of completing our tasks efficiently.
4P: Positivity - with not many things going our way, or in a manner that we think they should, we could lose confidence in ourselves and / or interest in work or even feel lonely and lost. We need to dig-deep inside and reach for our positivity reserves. We need to remind ourselves of our past accomplishments, of the fact that we were chosen to be there, of our reasons to join...we need to constantly remind ourselves to remain positive.
5P: Patience - Following positivity closely, is patience. We need to remain patient in our new job - well, until such time at-least that we stop calling it a "new" job. It is important to realise that it is ok not to hit every ball out of the park, it is ok to not know everything about the job, it is ok to miss a few opportunities...it is okay, be patient! In time, things will fall in place and we will be where we want to be (at least be on our way to be where we want to be).
As per my experience, almost all challenges that we face in any new job will fall under one of the three heads - People, Process and Product. It is critical to focus on these three, all the while remaining positive and patient - to give ourselves time to settle-in and find our footing.
For those who are interested in more - we can extend this 5Ps model to 7Ps, by adding Persistence and Power-dynamics.

Yes, we need to be persistent...we need to be at it, learn and overcome our shortcomings and work towards always-improving. Power-dynamics is not for all to dabble in, but still a key feature in most cases (beyond a certain level of seniority). With a good handle on new-organisation's power-dynamics, we are likely to overcome some other battles with little to no effort towards those battles. However, I do believe that persistence is a subset of positivity (if you are not positive, you cannot persist), and by understanding People and Process - you are likely to get some understanding of Power-dynamics. That's why I have kept my model as 5Ps @ New Job.

This model is helpful in keeping the most important things in our focus, helping us aligning our actions and priorities and ensuring we don't lose confidence or hope. It is absolutely essential to break down problems we face, in some sort of understandable buckets / groups - this will not only help us identify a common-factor to our problems but also provide us with clarity about why those problems occurred and how to approach them going-forward.
Another way to look at this model is to associate the "Ps" with "Ws and H": people are the who, processes are the how, product is the what, positivity is reminding us our why, and patience is giving us confidence to play the long game - the when.

Thursday 19 July 2018

Purpose of Life?

Why am I living? Why am I living the life that I am living? Is this all there is? Where am I headed? What is the purpose of my life?

I have often asked one, or all, of the above questions, and will take a guess that most people ask the same / similar questions. From time to time, either in short-bursts or over an extended period, I lose my focus and feel lost. Especially immediately after, either completing a major task or achieving a long-held goal. The feeling of, “what next” hits me, along with the feeling - "is this all there is to do, to work for, to achieve, to look forward to - is there more to life?".

Whether correctly, or incorrectly, we feel the need to define our purpose, and then work towards fulfilling the defined purpose. Well - we do live in a goal-oriented society, everyone around us seems to be chasing goals and many manage to achieve set goals. To live in this society and live in a manner where an individual lives a goalless life attracts negativity towards this individual from people around. This individual is labelled as lost (at best) or careless (usually), with a few other terms in between this spectrum of lost and careless (lazy, for example). 

This post is for all those who want to find the purpose of their life but have not been able to identify it yet. Most likely, such a person would be doing something in life - whether studying or working. Most likely, such a person is either dissatisfied with where she / he is or unsure about where her / his life is headed (or both). For those who seem to have identified and defined their purpose of life - continue on the path, but do think what will happen if you were to fulfil that purpose and you are still alive?

Fact is - we don't know our purpose...even the ones who claim to have figured it out. We don't know why we were born, why in the family that we were born in, why in the circumstances that we were born in, what our inherent talents are (I believe everyone is born with some inherent talents - and then some other talents can be developed over the course of life), and when are we going to die. When we don't know the why of our start and then when of our end, what tells us that we should know or define what are we supposed to achieve during this journey called life?

So - what is the purpose of life? Here is the answer to the question, in its simplest and most honest form: "to live" is the purpose of life!

Give it a moment, allow the above to sink in.

My view is philosophical on this entire question of purpose of life. It started with worrying about what am I supposed to do in this life - mostly worrying about my professional life, and not getting any answers for the same. Constant worrying and not getting answers only led me to believe that I was missing something from my life. It appeared as if I was wasting away my time, by not doing what I was supposed to be doing. The only problem, I didn't know what I was "supposed" to be doing, what was supposed to be my purpose.

In my search for my purpose, I read many books, consulted many people - including astrologers, and thought long & hard about this - only to realise the simple fact that my purpose of life was to live - period! Interestingly, the more I thought about it, the more I realised this fact is not only true for my life, but also for everyone else.

What does it mean to say that purpose of life is to live?

For this we need to broaden our perspective – probably a lot. Think of the yourself as an individual, then as part of a family, society, culture, country, world…and finally this entire cosmos. Does it strike you that you are a small (infinitesimally small) part of this cosmos, yet a significant part. Everything, and I mean every single thing, in this cosmos is there for a reason, in the manner that it is supposed to be and when & where it is supposed to be. This means – so are we. We are where we are supposed to be, doing what we are supposed to be doing, and that means – we are serving a purpose.

Just because either others can’t see the value we bring, or claim that we offer only a limited value, doesn’t mean that is the only value we have. By delivering value, we seem to convince ourselves that this must be our purpose. In this sense – what is the purpose for Sun to exist? If Sun is required for life on Earth, is that all there is to Sun’s purpose. Probably – probably not. We don’t know. It wouldn’t be a surprise for me if Sun doesn’t know its purpose as well. But that doesn’t stop Sun from doing what it does – tirelessly, endlessly. Sun is there because it has been put there. Sun neither limits its value by thinking it is life on Earth that is its purpose, nor worries about how this is not enough of a purpose for something of its size and stature.

With this example, I postulate that much like Sun continues to live, neither knowing its exact purpose nor worrying about its exact purpose, yet fulfilling the duty entrusted to its best, we humans have to do the same. And this would mean – live without worry and without doubt.

Is this it, then? Is there nothing more to life?

Yes, this is an acceptable question to follow the understanding that purpose of life is to live. And this is where I bring in the concept that we build and define our own purpose. Thus, we feel fulfilled or unfulfilled basis what we set as a purpose for ourselves.

Consider this: you are walking down the road when a stranger stops you to ask for time or directions, and you are able to help out that stranger. Unless something extraordinary happens during this interaction, you are highly likely to forget about it and move on. However, this is where I ask you to take a moment and stop to think – why were you stopped and asked for help, and realise in that very moment, during this seemingly small and insignificant interaction you were fulfilling your purpose. Every smile you cause, every little help that you offer to others – on its own might as well be insignificant and forgettable, but when summed up – the total of it is definitely significant.

It is in our control to define our world, our meaning, our purpose – all of which need not be validated or even agreed upon by anybody else. For as long as we continue to judge ourselves from other people’s eyes – we will live a false life, whether others see us as a success or a failure. Simply put, if we are alive and living as per the values that we believe in, then we are succeeding in life. Thus, purpose of life is to live.

If you cannot find purpose in your life, for yourself, try finding your purpose by what you do for others. You don’t know when, where and who might need you to help them with directions, to help them reach their destination, to make their life slightly easier and less worrisome, to add value by bringing a smile to their otherwise mundane moment. Live like the Sun – living its life without worry and doubt.

As my favourite author Richard Bach (as per me, a great philosopher) says in his book, Illusions: 

“This is a test to see if your mission in this life is complete, if you are alive, it isn't.”

Sunday 10 June 2018

Purpose Of Business: Solve Problems

There have been many thought leaders, economists and management gurus who have shed light on the question, "what is the purpose of business?". Adam Smith, an 18th century philosopher, and Milton Friedman, a 20th century economist, suggested on the lines of profit maximisation. According to Peter Drucker, arguably the most revered management thinkers of 20th century, purpose of business is to create customers. More recently, Michael Porter (no introduction required) built a case that business should create shared value by connecting business' success to social progress.

Reading the various views on purpose of business (more than the ones mentioned above), as an employee and then as an entrepreneur, I have often wondered how such profound statements impact my business, and more importantly impact what I do. I had to simplify the answer to the question - "what is the purpose of business?" (and as an extension, what is the purpose of me working in any business?).

At the start of my career, I was responsible for selling newspapers through independent vendors and a field-sales team. It didn't take long for me to realise my job was smoothest when I could solve problems faced by these independent vendors and my sales team. The more unsolved problems between these two groups, the more difficult it was for me to perform my task (which was limited to increasing sales of my organisation's products).

As an entrepreneur, I had a similar realisation - and I would say in a more wholistic sense. Dealing with designers, photographers, web developers, manufacturers, agents and finally the customers - there were variety of problems to deal with. The more unsolved problems among this group, the less successful I was at solving my problem of growing and improving my business.

After years of professional experience and continuous reflection on my actions (and outcomes of my actions) - I have come to believe that purpose of business is simply to solve problems. And as an extension, role of any business executive is to solve problems.

Interestingly, this rather simplistic view towards purpose of business seems to fit with some of the views stated in first paragraph. If I as a business owner decide that the problem I want to solve is my own income, then I will work towards business' profit maximisation. I may quickly realise that more customers I have, the higher my profit - thus I may decide to solve the problem of getting (creating) more customers. However, if at a later stage of my business I realise social set-up has changed and that there is a new problem on the horizon - longevity of my business (continued support of customers, through changing values and needs), I may solve this new problem by creating shared value.

In their HBR article - Reinventing Your Business Model, authors Mark W. Johnson, Clayton M. Christensen, and Henning Kagermann introduced the concept of "job to be done" under Customer Value Proposition (CVP). Essentially, asking business executives to define the customer problem that their product / service is trying to solve.

I think the aspect of problem solving should be extended beyond CVP, to the whole business spectrum.

Irrespective of line of business, each business is trying to solve problems. A school solves illiteracy issues, a hospital solves medical issues, a restaurant solves hunger issues (hunger for food / experience), a builder solves roof over the head issue, an author solves ignorance amongst readers, and a management consultant solves problems that other businesses find difficult to solve for themselves.

Keeping this in mind, it is important for new businesses to know exactly which problems are they going to try and solve. If there is no problem to solve to begin with - well, don't launch the business. If the current solution isn't solving the problem, change / innovate. Problem solving ability is a good measure to know relevance of a suggested business, especially for first time entrepreneurs.

Problem solving is a call to action - giving sense of value to each member of the organisation, irrespective of role, function, hierarchy. When problem to be solved is defined, performance measurement will be against the defined (and stated problems)...not against a subjective measure that may have been in use out of legacy. Problem solving attitude can help give appropriate direction to effort of action and effort of thought separately.

Needless to say - by focussing on problem solving, business executives will need to sharpen their skill of defining the problem. When the problems are correctly defined, solutions will not only lead to desired business results, but also possible innovations (in both, products & processes). However, when the problems are incorrectly defined then results will be far from desired and this scenario may become fatal for the business.

Monday 28 May 2018

My 5Cs Model of Marketing

It is common in business, and in Marketing function, to have models, frameworks, abbreviations, jargon etc to work on a problem, describe a situation or simply keep the knowledge limited to practitioners (by making it difficult for others to comprehend jargon and / or abbreviations). It is also common to work with a digit and an alphabet - 4Ps & 7Ps of Marketing Mix, 5Cs of Marketing and then there is also the famous McKinsey 7S model.

Recently, I was asked what excites me about Marketing (& communications) industry. This question made me realise there wasn't just one thing that I could single out, or say specifically, that stood out - however, I also did realise that there were a few that I could list down. In order to speak the Marketing language, I answered the question with my own 5Cs model (of what excites me about Marketing):

1C: Consumer-centric - neither constant nor static, consumers are at the centre of everything that this industry manages. It is exciting, for me, to understand, work with and manage ever-changing consumers (in terms of needs / wants / behaviour / demographics).

2C: Critical - plays a critical role in business that of being a sensory function – as it sees, hears, feels what consumers need / want, communicates what a product / brand offers, and at times innovates a new solution to an existing consumer problem. Not only that, Marketing is critical as through this, businesses manage to keep their fingers on pulse of competition and changing environment.

3C: Creative - not only in the form of art / design or smart copy, but also in thought process and approach towards problem solving – this industry demands creativity. Level of creativity (art / copy) and frequency of creative solutions provides a distinct competitive advantage to businesses.

4C: Collaborative - this is a team-sport, where different members of the team bring different (yet equally desired) abilities. As a people-person, collaboration is where my strength lies. In business, as in life, collaboration can solve most issues, but is most difficult to achieve.

5C: Challenging - all the above Cs ensure there is never a dull moment, and managers need to be proactive, in-sync with changing environment (consumers / competition). Every moment, every day could potentially bring me face to face with a new challenge – and that excites me the most.

Monday 9 April 2018

Work Hard...and smart!

There is an increasing popularity for "work smarter, not harder" mantra. In last week itself, I have seen few people discussing this on LinkedIn (which is what prompted this post) - with a common thread of discussion: not only smart work can replace hard work, but also that this is the need of the hour.
There could have been a time (or a generation) when the common belief was to work hard - that's it! However, that belief has changed, drastically at that. Hard work on its own might not be enough - there is a strong need for smart work as well. My objection is with the promotion of idea that smart work can replace hard work (as the cartoon's message suggests).
Without hard work, without relentless practice, can any sportsperson become a pro - let alone become a champion? Another mantra comes to mind: practice makes perfect. I will concede that hard work alone may not lead to success, but it is still not replaceable by smart work.
In business terms, a fresher needs to put in the hard work to learn the ropes. Hard work ensures the fresher experiences and understands many aspects of the task, which then can lead her to plan out a smarter way of completing the task. If she is taught the "smart way" of doing things from the beginning, essentially she is not learning the process (the why of it), rather learning short-cuts. The short-cuts that are due to someone else's hard work, leading to short-term efficiency.
For an experienced executive, she becomes a fresher every time she takes on a new role - a promotion, change of company, change of location, change of industry (or a combination of these). The smart work that helped her in her previous role may / may not be enough to deliver desired results in her new role...she needs to fall back on hard work, even if for a little while.
In my experience, life is rarely either black (hard work) or white (smart work). Life is usually a shade of grey. At times more of black is required, and at some other times more of white is required - but as a rule no one should believe one is superior to the other. Each has its own importance, need and appropriate time to use.
My mantra: work hard...and smart!

Saturday 17 February 2018

Small Achievements Are Important

When was the last time you took time to congratulate yourself? When was the last time you actually felt as an achiever? When was the last time you celebrated an achievement?

If you are anything like me, then it must have been sometime since your last celebration of any of your achievements...new question then: why is it so?

For long I have worked keeping a goal in mind. A goal that is achievable, but neither an easy one to achieve nor a quick one to achieve. For all the time that I am working towards my goal, when I am in the process, I am focussed on what I am supposed to do and unforgiving on self for digressing (which I do quite often).

Usually the process of completing a task is tough - whether successfully or unsuccessfully. Because I don't enjoy the process much, there is hardly a great sense of achievement on successful completion of the task because worry of the next task engulfs me. I am trying to work on changing this attitude towards how I approach life (work tasks / personal tasks).

My new mantra is two-fold: I need to break the overall task in smaller targets, and value other aspects of life at the same time. 

The former has a further two fold benefit: 1) the pressure of climbing a mountain gets broken down in layers of effort, giving me a moment to catch my breadth and check / recalculate the way forward, and 2) since each smaller target is a task in itself, I can start enjoying its completion and self-congratulate for the same. This method allows me to enjoy the process a little more - and keeps me motivated.

The latter is more important for me to follow. Problem is that I forget everything else that is important in my life, while I am working towards a huge task. Not only do I ignore the people I love, but also forget to take care of my mental / physical health. By accepting that there are always going to be more than one important aspect in my life, I can start valuing each aspect as it deserves. Also, this allows me to spread my sense of achievement and overall happiness across a wider base. Even if I don't meet desired success on one aspect, I can find happiness via success in another.

For example: I am taking sometime out today to announce to everyone - that I have completed 10 years of blogging. In this time, I have written 200 posts (this is my 201st post). When I started my blog, I had no idea how will it go - whether I will have anything to write, whether I will continue to enjoy writing...but here I am, ten years later - still writing, still enjoying writing. This is definitely a WIN in my books. I will pat myself on the back - take a personal moment to reflect on this achievement - and most importantly, allow myself to enjoy this personal success!

Tuesday 13 February 2018

Agricultural Revolution: History's Biggest Fraud?

“Fraud (noun): a person or thing that is not what it claims or pretends to be" - Cambridge Online Dictionary.

As per Yuval Noah Harari (YNH), yes Agricultural Revolution (AR) is history's biggest fraud (from his book, Sapiens - A Brief History of Humankind). I am not quite in agreement with his views. In following few paragraphs I will quote some of his views (taken directly from his book, Sapiens), and either I will put forth my reasons of disagreement, or I will raise questions that I feel have been left unanswered, rendering author's views to be incomplete / inaccurate.

Pg87: "History's Biggest Fraud"

For me - this start in itself was off-putting. Who has given YNH the authority to suggest (although he does more than simply suggest, he claims it) AR was a fraud? For fraud to happen, there should be 2 parties involved - I can either be the fraudster, or the victim of a fraud - but I cannot defraud myself. As per YNH, Homo sapiens (HS) are one specie (singular unit, which has become victim of AR fraud) - then who came to Earth to introduce agriculture to HS and sold a fraudulent concept to HS? If HS were themselves responsible for agriculture, then why is it a fraud?

If YNH wants to claim that this is a generational fraud - that the generation that started AR was the fraudulent one and all following generations are victims - then does he truly believe his personal life (if still possible) would have been better had it not been for AR?

Pg89: "Scholars once proclaimed that the AR was a great leap forward for humanity. They told a tale of progress fuelled by human brain power. >> That tale is a fantasy. There is no evidence that people became more intelligent with time. Foragers knew the secrets of nature long before the AR, since their survival depended on intimate knowledge of the animals and plants they gathered."

So many problems with these few lines...such deep-rooted narcissism from YNH: all previous scholars knew horse-shit, and I know it all!

Also - YNH claims foragers' "intimate knowledge", on which their "survival depended", to be intelligent enough for any addition to that intelligence not only to be unnecessary, but also not worthy enough to be labelled intelligence at all.

Pg90: "AR left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers". 

Pg91: "How did wheat convince HS to exchange a rather good life for a more miserable existence?"

Really? He knows this how? How many farmers of that era and foragers did he interview to understand what caused their lives to be difficult and what satisfied them? What is his source to the claim that foragers themselves didn't want to move away from hunting and gathering all their life, and that they didn't want to settle down at one place?

Pg94: “Why would any sane person lower his or her standard of living just to multiply the number of copies of the HS genome? Nobody agreed to this deal: the AR was a trap.”

The once considered “intelligent” lot, the foragers (Pg89), are now considered insane on Pg94. The intelligent foragers were insane enough to accept a concept that led to lowering of their standard of living. But, who decides the standard of living? Who decides what was good / bad / satisfactory – for something that happened 10,000 years ago????

Pg97: “Why did people make such a fateful miscalculation? >> People were unable to fathom the full consequences of their decisions."

Pg112: “Foragers discounted the future because they lived from hand to mouth and could only preserve food or accumulate possessions with difficulty. Of course they clearly engaged in some advance planning. >> The AR made the future far more important that it had ever been before."

Is it not possible that foragers were actually the most intelligent ones that humans ever have been…and knew exactly what they were doing with AR, i.e. ensuring survival of HS for thousands of years to come. Probably foragers understood that as long as they continue to be just one of the animals on Earth, their survival was always going to be questioned by any already existing specie or a new one (as their coming on scene meant extinction of few other species).

Pg90: “The AR was history's biggest fraud. Who was responsible? Neither kings, nor priests, nor merchants. The culprits were a handful of plant species, including wheat, rice and potatoes. These plants domesticated Homo sapiens, rather than vice versa."

I still cannot understand why is AR considered to be "History's Biggest Fraud". Unless YNH believes Devil defrauded the "intelligent" foragers into becoming slaves of their own activities by introducing agriculture via handful of plants. 

Is it YNH's stance that nature fucked HS - then why is he crying about it? Nature fucked so many species by introducing HS. At least with AR, HS specie has managed to survive and become more "intelligent" by learning to use the brain gifted to us.

It is the use of this brain that led to the very tools YNH used to research his chosen subject, and write a book on his research. Is it YNH's stance that all this intelligence not count to more than the intelligence that he attributes to survival instincts of foragers? Or is it his stance that all this that we have today (2018 A.D.) would still have been possible without AR?

It is easy and utterly useless to put value judgment about past decisions and actions, without understanding what were the circumstances during which these decisions and actions were taken. YNH has neither shed any light on what were the circumstances faced by foragers, nor shown evidence of multiple options that may / may not have been available to foragers for securing long terms survival. It is possible that AR was the best of bad scenarios waiting to happen for foragers – which only means, foragers accepted their fate as becoming domesticated. In this case - no, AR is not a fraud, leave alone history's biggest.

If a layperson, like me, can have so many questions on YNH's views - I do believe those who are more familiar with this subject will find more loopholes with this story. For me anyone claiming such things, when there are unanswered questions and obvious limitation on understanding why things happened back then (as they did), for personal gain is not doing anyone any favours.

Anyone who has believed YNH's words that AR was indeed history's biggest fraud, has been misled and taken for a ride. Does that make YNH a fraud? Hmm...now that is another unanswered question!