April 27, 2015

Lessons for a father - Want to solve a problem?

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Problems seem to be ubiquitous. They are also equal opportunity. Everyone, irrespective of rank or race, has them - problems.

So, what do we do with what we seem to have plenty of?

We solve them, one by one.

The question, then, really is - how?

We would all like that one talisman that would solve all our issues for us. Fortunately, we we have all been blessed with it. Unfortunately however,  and almost always in the hardest of times, we keep forgetting about it.

The power we are after is the power of BELIEF. Every solution, no matter how big or small, has to start with an unwavering belief that a solution is possible. 

Without belief in what we are doing, and in the ultimate success of our hard work, we might not get far. Once we have that, what we need next are truthful intentions.

We must want to, above anything else, solve the issue.

With belief, correct intentions, hard work and a dash of circumstance, we can be unstoppable in our pursuit of success.

April 20, 2015

Lessons for a father - The Perfect Salad

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A good salad is a piece of art. All the ingredients need to come together to bring out that perfect taste.  It is the diversity of the ingredients - the colors, the tastes, the halves and the fulls that turn the salad into an experience and that is where the art lives.

The perfectly made salad can be analogous to the functioning of our teams. Both at home and at work, different thought processes and personality types, working towards a common goal, can lead to the creation of a sense of harmony that is nothing short of a piece of art. 

Similarly to food, however, the final state should be kept in mind. As a team, we must have a very clear understanding of our goals. The goals might change over a period of time, but different components cannot be pursuing different goals while being a part of a bigger whole.

As with food, we must respect and acknowledge that, for example, tomatoes and spinach will taste different. Diversity can be our biggest asset. When it works, if allowed to work with the right ingredients and quantity, it is powerful. When it does not work, it might end up leaving a very bad taste.

Our salad, or leadership, therefore is an attempt to bring the ingredients of experience, knowledge, common sense, good judgement, purity of deed and heart, our faith and a dash of good old circumstance or opportunity into our bowls of professional and familial lives.

Let us all make incredible salads then. Let us make full use of all the ingredients that we have been presented with. Let us all make sure that we do not lose sight of a dash of fun on the side!

What are the ingredients of your perfect salad (team and people wise)?

April 12, 2015

Lessons for a father - Thank you all!

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I wanted to commemorate a huge personal milestone with something special. This week marks the 2nd anniversary of this blog. Whether it is for my son at home or my team at work, I do hope I can make a tiny, but positive, difference in their lives. Thank you for being a part of the journey till now. Normal services resume next week.

This week however, I was introduced to this quote by Carl Sagan. Thoughts like these help us realize what is important and real. I hope you benefit from it the same way as I did.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

—Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1997 reprint, pp. xv–xvi

April 6, 2015

Lessons for a father - What is Equal Opportunity?

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The question is not whether we should be providing equal opportunities to people. The question really is whether equal opportunity exists in the true sense of the word.

The inclination and trust, almost always, is towards people that have a higher probability of being successful. 

How many times do we really take the risk and enable the "not so great" people to take up tough challenges? How equipped do we make ourselves, as leaders, to accept that the new person might take more time than the usual, that the new person might not understand what we expect them to do, that they might have a huge learning curve or, worse yet, that they might fail? It makes it harder because we all know of someone on our teams that can do it faster and better.

Equal opportunity must influence us, as leaders, to help people grow. Sometimes, a lot of times, success might not come outright and might require a lot of patience from us.

On the other hand, opportunities come to those who step up to the proverbial plate. Risk is taken with people that want to succeed, grow and want to give and be more. 

We cannot, no matter how great we become at leadership, impose success on others. The hunger to succeed must come from within.

I support an equal opportunity environment. We all must. Mine, however, makes me dependent on people that want to learn, grow, help, keep promises and make every new day better than the previous one.

March 30, 2015

Lessons for a father - In the Flow of things (Part 5 - Gamification)

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When do you work at your best? I know I provide my best performance when I can focus on what I am doing. 

Some of us know that focus as "being in the zone". No matter what our vocation is and no matter what we do to get there, once we are in the zone, we usually create awesomeness.

A renowned scientist by the name of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this the state of "Flow". It is his theory that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow. It is a state of concentration with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.

I truly hope that we all witness that state at least once in our life. It is a case of true intrinsic motivation; a time when things like ego, money, time or even food stop existing and making sense. In the zone, the work we are doing engulfs us and gives us nutrition in the form of bliss.

The key, according to Csikszentmihaly's research is for the task to neither be simple nor too hard. In other words, it should be one that can hold our interest (we all suffer from boredom) and challenge us.

Clear goals, immediate feedback and a good balance between the challenge and the person's skill set (their ability to perform the task) are the three important factors that help people get in the flow. 

A lot of research has been published that helps both an individual or a group utilize this theory. At the core of it though is the creation of an environment that allows us to focus and connect with what we are doing. The theory, in various avatars, is utilized in education, religion and spirituality, gamification, music and sports.

As leaders, it falls onto us to provide our teams with an environment that allows them to get into the flow. Only in the zone will greatness happen!

March 23, 2015

Lessons for a father - Forming or leaving a habit (Part 4 - Gamification)

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To be great or a disaster is based on the same rule. Our effort to gain knowledge or continue in ignorance has the same basis. To carry forward an addiction or to leave one behind can be attributed to the same starting point.

Know what that is?

Our desire to do so.

Motivation from our leaders (familial or professional) and reward are external factors. The first step towards achievement can only come from ourselves. We should want to gain knowledge, for example. We should want to be good or to add value to whatever entity we belong to. Only then, like picking up a habit or leaving one behind, would all the external factors make any difference.

Our son's attempt to write the perfect "A" is no different from someone going to college. They want to do something. The teachers in the case of the student, or his parents in our son's case, provide assistance and help only after they take the first step.

That is no different, once again, from an alcoholic trying to acquire their drink of choice. No different than someone trying to gain fitness in a gym. They do and get what they want simply because they want to. Help from groups, friends, family, doctors or trainers all come later.

Desire to be good then, to lead, to motivate and to achieve. Become a better version of yourself.  Add value in whatever it is that you do. Whatever you want to do, do take the first step.

March 15, 2015

Lessons for a father - Changing Behavior (Part 3 - Gamification)

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How do I get fitter? How do I learn a new language? How do I save more money to secure my family's future? How do I contribute more to my team? How do I become a better leader? 

We all have things we want to do and goals we want to accomplish. These can range from personal to professional in nature. Why is it, then, that we lose out on accomplishing all the goals that we set for ourselves? What if we changed our behavior to accomplish those goals?

According to Dr. B. J. Fogg of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, three elements have to come together at the same time for a behavior to occur:
  • Motivation: The person is HIGHLY motivated to accomplish the goal or exude a behavior.
  • Ability: The person can very EASILY carry out the behavior or accomplish the goal.
  • Trigger: The person is triggered/ cued/ asked to accomplish the goal
As leaders and parents, we have input in all three elements. 

Motivation to accomplish a goal can be internal but, as leaders, it is imperative that we provide the motivation wherever necessary. That external motivation can be anything from a monetary reward to giving a platform or an opportunity where the very human need for social cohesiveness, self confidence, self esteem or achievement can be met. 

The factor of ability can be influenced by providing training with the intent to help a person get better continuously. Ability, however, once again, can be increased without any external agent by following a path of learning. It can also be influenced by doing and accomplishing easy things. Running a marathon on the first day of getting fit might very well lead to failure, but what if the goal was to walk for a minute? That would be easy.

A trigger, unlike the other two, might mostly be an external entity. Friends and family members that I rely on for good advice, for example, might have to tell me that I need to get fit. My relocation, in another example, to a foreign country might trigger the need to learn a new language. Something, or someone, must remind me at the right time of my ability to accomplish a goal and where motivation already existed.

An entire industry of games and gaming exists around this behavior model. It is no different, however, than leading change in our team or our family. The same model of keeping the motivation up, doing simple things but learning continuously and responding to a trigger (a call to change or to accomplish) can be followed in any setting.

Happy accomplishing!