Meet real people – not labels

Meet real people – not labels

Someone sent me the Amazon Prime Ad about the meeting between the priest and Imam which is here..


A dear friend asked me, ‘How did we become like this?’ …meaning, ‘How did we become so mechanical, bigoted, hatred driven?’

I answered, ‘That is because we have given up the world for others to run for us. We don’t meet neighbors any more. We watch TV instead.’ That may sound simplistic but the reality is that we don’t know people as ‘people’ any more. Our relationships are purely transactional. We don’t share our thoughts, fears, hopes, aspirations with others. We don’t laugh together. We laugh at each other. We don’t share in each other’s joy and sadness.


How then can we understand and appreciate one another. We need to change the way we live. In most cases, go back to how we used to live. In other cases, invent a new way to live where we relate to people as people. Not as labels.

We need to remember that we are human first. Everything else afterwards.

A simple question: In homes which have grandparents ask how many grand children spend time listening to them? Terrible waste of life experience and loneliness for the elderly.

We’ve lost the art of conversation and need to get it back urgently. We have no space in our lives for real people and meeting and talking to them without any material need. Just to meet and greet and talk. Our gadgets meant to make communication easy and free and social media which is meant to connect us to the rest of the world has actually enclosed us in sound proof capsules, isolated, lonely, desperate for contact; getting stressed if a reply doesn’t come in two seconds; forgetting that all we have to do is to go out and meet another person face to face to get full multimedia, instant response. 

 That’s why there’s stereotyping, prejudice and hatred. All breed like lice in the darkness of ignorance. We are a generation which has lots of information but very little if any, wisdom. We need to cure this sickness.

So now that you have reached this place – stop reading and go out and meet someone.  Don’t call, don’t WhatsApp, don’t email, don’t do any of that. Go out and meet. Meet your family. Meet your friends. Meet even strangers. Greet. Smile and speak to them.

Will you do it?

Differentiate

Differentiate


There’s no such thing as too much when it comes to setting life goals.
Nobody knows the best that he can do. Limits are only in the mind.

Differentiate on the basis of the only thing which counts — Quality. Be the best in the world at what you do. Forget everything else — just focus on being the best at whatever it is that you do and the rest will follow. And remember, being the best in the world is easy; it is a matter only of one degree. 

What do I mean?

In 2012, in the Men’s 100 meter race, the difference between the Olympic Gold medal and no medal was 0.25 seconds. (Usain Bolt: Jamaica: 9.63 sec. Ryan Bailey: USA: 9.88 sec.)

In the Indy 500, 2015 the difference between the 1st and 2nd was 0.10 seconds. The difference in prize money was $ 1,656,500 (One million six hundred thousand++).

Only one degree because until 99 they are cents — one more and it is not cents any more — it is a dollar. We never talk about cent value. We talk about dollar value.

Wisdom is the ability to discern difference. The difference between good and evil, benefit and harm between people, circumstances etc.

Life’s assignments are from Allahﷻ. We don’t decide. We discover. When we are in the right assignment, we have no rivals. A fish out of water, can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t breathe, is clumsy and flops on the earth. But put it in the water and it darts away like a flash, the epitome of speed and grace. Right place, right time. If you are in the right assignment, you have no rivals. So instead of trying to overcome weaknesses, stop and ask if you are in the right assignment. In the right assignment, your ‘weaknesses’ will instantly turn into what they really are, your strengths.

Weakness is less about what you have, but more about where you are.

Plant seeds for whatever you want to harvest. So ask yourselves what you want to harvest. Then plant those seeds. Remember that the seed that leaves my hand does not leave my life. It goes into my future and multiplies. And unless it leaves my hand it can do nothing. So anything that leaves my hand and gets planted in my life is my seed. That will come back to me as my harvest. But anything that I retain in my hand is what I hoarded and didn’t plant. The reality is that even the worst harvest is more than the seed. Give up what you have to get what you have been promised. Nothing leaves the heavens until something leaves the earth. When you give what you see, you get what you can’t see.

Only ‘Overcomers’ are rewarded in life. So every time you ask for a blessing you get an enemy. Enemies don’t come to harm you. They come to open the doors of blessings for you. If there was no Goliath, David would have remained a shepherd boy.

Never confuse effort with results.
The two are different and the latter qualifies the former.

Always seek to add value. Do more than what any normal person will do. The soldier gets a medal only for doing something above and beyond the call of duty. So also in life. You don’t get an award to do your job and meet all your goals. You get a salary. Awards are only for those who hit the ball out of the park. And that also not always. So concentrate on doing more than what you are paid for and someone will notice.

I went to South Africa in 2005 for a holiday. During that trip, I met a lot of people, businessmen, theologians, politicians, students, teachers, and parents. When I returned, I wrote an essay (15 pages) called ‘State of the Nation’ in which I noted my observations, spoke about their possible implications, and suggested solutions. I sent it to some of the people that I met. That resulted in many deep friendships, business clients, speaking opportunities at national seminars and many other things.

If I’d also had a normal holiday and returned home, all would have been forgotten and nothing gained apart from some memories, which rapidly dim with time. Do what others don’t normally do and you will differentiate and stand out. Ensure that you always give more than you take knowing that in the giving itself is the return.

Often the one who wins the race is not the one who had the greatest skill or speed, but the one who had the greatest endurance.

The only way to differentiate is to show how you can be of service to others. People don’t care what you have until they see how they can benefit from it. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. So show them. 

We always introduce ourselves in terms of what we have, who we are and where we came from (country, tribe, school, university or organization). While the other person is interested in one thing only, ‘What can s/he do for me?’ They don’t care about any of the stuff you told them. Until they hear something that touches their life.

Let me illustrate. Let’s say, my laptop showed me the dreaded ‘Blue Screen.’ I am horrified because like most people I didn’t back up my data and I am now looking at disappearing from the face of the planet because all my data is probably gone down the drain. Then I meet a guy on the train and we get chatting. He tells me that he is an ‘IT Professional’ (that’s how all Indians introduce themselves) from Bengaluru (they imagine that others also like what was done to a perfectly innocent, easy to pronounce name to suit some political urge).

He also tells me (and remember his accent it not the easiest for me to understand while my Californian drawl goes clean over his head) that he is in America to study and he was sponsored by his brother in law’s sister. While he is plying me with all this (to him) very interesting detail, I am telling myself, ‘NEVER START A CONVERSATION WITH AN INDIAN EVER AGAIN. I SWEAR I WILL NEVER DO IT. HOW DO I GET OUT OF THIS NOW WITHOUT BEING RUDE?’

Then suddenly I hear in the incessant one-sided chatter that he considers his introduction, ‘I specialize in data recovery after computers crash. You know when you see a blue screen? That means your computer crashed and if you didn’t back up your data, you are finished. That’s my expertise. I can recover all that data and you are back on track.’

Suddenly I forget that he is Indian. I forget what I just swore. I forget that I made the biggest mistake in my life starting a conversation with an Indian. Instead the same guy is manna from heaven (don’t take that literally. Indians are not good to eat), gift of god, the best thing that happened to me. I don’t care about his accent or that he smells of curry or comes from Bengaluru. I love him. I can kiss him (won’t of course). I thank god, my good fortune, the train, the conductor, the seating sequence, you-name-it, that I met this guy.

So what changed? He is a still a lousy Indian geek who doesn’t know how to introduce himself. 

What changed is that I suddenly realized how he can help me. 

So who am I seeing in this conversation? Him or me? After my computer regains consciousness I will probably forget this guy. But if I am a hiring manager then this guy just talked himself (even if accidentally) into a job. He delivered an ‘Elevator Speech’ par excellence though obviously he’s never heard the term. That is the meaning of differentiating on the basis of speaking to people’s hearts. They don’t care what you say, until they see how it can help them. So differentiating is about doing this deliberately, not waiting for lucky accidents.

Differentiation creates Brand. Brand creates loyalty. Loyalty gives you influence. Without differentiating you are one grain of rice in a sack. You are still rice, but one grain in a sack.
Do what you can

Do what you can


I will not allow, what is not in my control,
to prevent me from doing what is, in my control.
This is my motto in life by which I have lived all my life. I always try to focus on what I can do no matter whatever else I can’t do. I do that because of one reality that is common and uniform for everyone. And that is, that no matter how powerful or powerless you may be, there will always be things that you can do and things that you can’t. If you focus on the things you can’t do, they will drag you down and prevent you from even trying to do what you can. This is incidentally a copout justification strategy that many people use. 

They globalize an issue which then allows them to legitimize their own inaction. They ignore the fact that every issue starts with the individual. But localize the issue and you immediately see a way in which you can make a difference. Coping out may seem cool or even be the first thing you do, but it disempowers you, makes you frustrated and stressed. Localizing your view shows you what you can do. It empowers because it shows you that you are still in control, you still have power. It is however not good for those who want to copout because it takes away their excuses for sitting silently by instead of taking positive action. It is uncomfortable, energizing and powerful and so it brings about change.
Let me give you an example. If I ask you what you are doing to solve global issues of poverty, illiteracy and environmental destruction, you will probably look at me with the quizzical look that people give to those they consider to be borderline insane. “What a strange question? Is he crazy? What am I doing about global poverty, illiteracy, blah, blah? Why not also ask what I am doing about disarmament, stopping wars, global warming, Crazy man!” Maybe this is what you are thinking. 

But if I rephrase my question, or if you do it in your mind to say, “What can you (and I, before you) do to help one poor person, teach one child (or adult), stop using plastics or switch off an unneeded light?” Then it immediately makes sense. Multiply that and you have a global phenomenon.
A tidal wave is a ripple, magnified.
Yesterday has gone with whatever it contained. Tomorrow is not here yet. All I have is today so let me see what I can do with it. The past has a very important role; to teach us lessons about what to do and what to avoid and to give us encouragement for the future. Beyond that to live in the past is detrimental to the future.

Resting on laurels makes them go flat. Brooding on sadness pulls down the heart. We need to be grounded in the present with our eyes on the future. Our past does not determine if we will succeed or fail. It merely indicates where we need to start. 

Money, money, money

Money problems are not money problems, even when they are money problems.
 
Dire Straits’ famous song has some very politically incorrect lyrics but the refrain, ‘Money for nothing and the chicks for free’ sums up the situation of black marketeers and owners before the demonetization and the name of the songsters – Dire Straits – sums up their situation in India today. 
 
But what are the implications of demonetization? We have seen many theories; conspiracy and otherwise. One of the best articles that I have read is by former Finance and Economic Affairs Secretary, Arvind Mayaram, which is here:
 
 
Let’s see what the real, on-the-street effects of demonetization are and what their implications can be.
 
We are a cash economy and that is not because we have a huge number of people with black money but because we have a huge number of poor people who don’t have bank accounts and don’t deal with anything other than cash. For anyone who has lived or travelled in rural India this needs no explaining. So, I will not waste your time trying to describe what we have seen and experienced all our lives in our country without any problem or complaint. Those who need convincing can try to buy vegetables, fish, eggs, meat or chicken and pay for them with a credit card or cheque. Both buyers and sellers are not evil hoarders and black marketeers but ordinary, garden variety men and women trying to live their lives. This money that is earned by the sellers in never enough to be deposited in a bank. It is used to buy food and necessities for their families, goods to sell the next day and a little bit to set aside for a rainy day. This may accumulate over the years to some thousands. Do these people have documentary evidence about where they got this money from? Can they show that they paid tax on it? Can they show accounts of what they earn daily? Does the vegetable seller, the meat, fish or egg seller have a P&L account and a Balance Sheet? Does she have a PAN card? Does that therefore make them criminals? 

Another situation is that of the middle-class housewife. Her husband gives her money to run the home, every month. She may only have completed primary school (in many cases she may not even be literate) but is a master economist. She manages to run a very good home, cook great meals, ensure that everyone has what they need and still she is able to save some money which she keeps hidden in the house. She doesn’t have a bank account. She doesn’t even want a bank account because it involves documentation that she can’t manage on her own and if she asks anyone in the family to help, her secret will be revealed. She doesn’t tell her husband or anyone about this but some day when one of her family needs something urgently she digs into her stock and surprises everyone by saving their skins. Is she a criminal because she does all this secretly? She is not an evil schemer. She is my and your mother.
 
I can give you many more examples but will let this suffice for the present.
 
Now comes demonetization and whatever it did to the illegal funds of political parties and black-market wizards, it also wiped out the savings of these people. That is what I am trying to interpret and find the bright side of.
 
The demonetization did wipe out the value of cash sitting in warehouses and suitcases of political parties and businessmen. And it did and will bring in cash into the vaults of banks who seem to have emptied those vaults lending to the same (or similar) businessmen who reneged on those loans. Those loans are still outstanding, post demonetization. The one who didn’t repay the loan continues to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. But the middle class and poor of the country paid the bank on his behalf. That is a very neat arrangement, if you ask me.  
 
How and why does black money get generated? The main driver is the fact that political parties are not compelled to show their sources of funds. This is the strangest of phenomena where every individual is compelled to show where he earned his money from and must pay tax on it. Even charities in this country must apply for and get tax exemption failing which they have to pay tax on donations which they collect and disburse in charity. But a political party which gets a million times more, need not show how it got that money or from whom. I am sure I don’t need to explain the implications of that on the black-market economy, corruption and hoarding. That situation remains as it is. So though the funds of those political parties and politicians who were not in the know reverted to their original value or less (Rs. 1000 = Rs. 5; in this case Rs. 0) the doors to accumulate such funds once again, no questions asked, remain open. As for those in the know; the originators of this idea, their associates, families and friends, mint employees and managers, drivers, secretaries, servants and others of power brokers and of course the usual suspects (friends in need); all had ample time to save their hoards.
 
As for all the talk about reducing fiscal expense and so on, Arvind Mayaram has spoken about that in the article above, so I won’t repeat it. It must be obvious to anyone who knows what the word ‘fiscal’ means. What I want to repeat however is what Arvind Mayaram said which goes to the core of the issue in terms of the future and that is the issue of faith. Not faith in god but faith in paper.
 
People save money and keep those savings in paper currency because they believe that the value of their savings will not be nullified. They have faith in the currency though they know that the actual paper has no intrinsic value. Even though inflation erodes the value of their savings people don’t convert their savings to gold or immovable property because liquidity is more important for them than whatever loss of value that may take place over time. This is what ensures that money remains in circulation and is not taken out of the market and parked in gold. Paper money exists because people have faith.
 
That is the reason also why in Islam, Zakat (@2.5%) is liable every year on gold and silver even if you have to sell some of the gold and silver to pay what you are liable to pay in that year. Obviously, this reduces your stock of gold and hypothetically speaking it can reduce over time to a level where you are no longer liable to pay Zakat. Despite that Islam decreed that you must sell a part of the gold and give that money in charity because Islam recognized the importance of keeping money in circulation.
 
It doesn’t take great imagination to see what will happen if people lose faith in the currency. That is the reason, as Mayaram says and we all know, the US dollar has never been demonetized though it is the most counterfeited currency and the most trusted currency in all black-market deals. Faith in the currency must be balanced against whatever negative effects that may happen because of unaccounted currency. Those negative effects must be neutralized in other ways; for example by making political parties account for their cash inflows, state funding for elections and eliminating Income Tax.
 
Demonetizing currency destroys faith in the currency, discourages people from keeping their savings in paper money, encourages them to take their savings out of circulation because it pits importance of liquidity against saving the capital amount. It places huge hardship on the weakest and least influential people in society. It further disempowers those who are already the weakest; women (housewives, mothers), illiterate daily wage earners (headload workers, porters, construction workers, beggars), small business owners (you must understand this in the Indian context to know what I mean by ‘small’), small service providers (rickshaw pullers, thela walas etc.).
 
It is easy for the powers that be to talk about accepting the inconvenience because they don’t have to face it themselves and can easily turn a blind eye to the fact that a daily wage earner standing in a queue at a bank to exchange his life savings for the snazzy new currency is also losing his wage for that day. For many that is a very significant loss. For some it may mean that when they return the next day to their job, they find that the job has gone because someone else has been employed in their place. I won’t list the kinds of suffering that housewives, the old and sick and so on are undergoing standing for hours in serpentine queues. Those who are interested can go and talk to people standing in those queues. Or even better, go and stand in such a queue yourself to see how it feels to stand for six hours without food or water or shade or anywhere to rest your tired legs. People are doing more than that.
 
It is clear that the move to demonetize currency was taken without sufficient thought about all its intended and unintended consequences and without adequate preparation for its seamless and painless implementation. If that had been done, there would have been no reason for the tearful histrionics and theatrics that we are witnessing which are probably good for TRP ratings but not for anything else.
 
Whatever the effects of demonetization may prove to be on black money, what is clear is that faith in paper currency has taken a very big hit. I am not sure if this loss of faith can ever be restored. The thought that is uppermost in the minds of people is that if the government can do this once, it can do it again. And if one government can do it, then so can another government. Try to think of what conclusion the average man and woman standing in long queues to exchange old notes for new; who may even lose a part of his savings in this process, will come to.
 
Sadly, our media won’t show us the truth as it is not viable for them. But ignoring the truth won’t change it. Reality, unrecognized has a nasty way of biting very hard when you are not looking. That is perhaps something that those who demonetized currency didn’t think of. That is also something that may show its effect in the elections; the only place where politicians and political parties are held to account. Jai Hind.
Building a Winning Team

Building a Winning Team

Extract from ‘An Entrepreneur’s Diary’
Finally a word about people skills; the ability to build and run high performance teams. This is what spells the difference between commercial success and failure. No matter how skilled and talented an entrepreneur may be, no matter whether he has the funding or not, in the end what decides his fate and that of his organization is his ability to take people along with him. Who is inspired by you? Who wants to work for you? Who is ready to take a bullet for you? The members of the US Secret Service, the elite force that guards the President of the United States are trained to put themselves in the line of fire to save the life of the President, if need be.
In 1993 a movie called ‘Dave’ starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver was released. The storyline of the movie was about the affable owner of an employment agency who had an uncanny resemblance to the U.S. President. He found himself forced to replace the real President in an attempt by the White House staff to avoid a potentially explosive scandal. In the movie there was one scene where Dave, the President’s ‘double’ has the following conversation with Duane the secret service agent.
Dave: You know, I’ve always wondered about you guys. You know, about how you’re trained to take a bullet for the president?
Duane: What about it?
Dave: Is that really true? I mean, would you really let yourself get killed to save his life?
Duane: Certainly.
Dave: So now that means you’d get killed for me too?
Duane did not answer this question immediately, but it was so obvious that he felt its heaviness. Later on towards the end of the movie when Duane discovers the real character of Dave he finally answers the question: “I would have taken a bullet for you.”
It is this ability to inspire followership that is critical.
I am very fortunate that there have been people in my life for whom I would have taken the bullet and those who I know would have done the same for me. That to me is the essence of leadership that an entrepreneur must be able to provide. Ask yourself, ‘Who will take a bullet for me?
One of the finest teams I ever built was the one I had when I was the Manager of New Ambadi Estates in Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India. I have written in detail about that in my book, ‘Hills of the Elephants’, but would like to share an extract here about that team.
Reflecting on what went into building that team I can identify 6 factors:
1.     Mutual Respect               

We treated each other with respect. That may sound like a small or an obvious thing, but respect is not merely seen in how you address each other, but in whether you trust one another to do what is promised and if you deliver on that promise when it is your turn. We never laughed at one another, we did not talk behind each other’s backs and we delivered on promises. A respectful atmosphere makes for comfort and people like to work together with those who respect them. This does not mean we did not have fun. We did. Lots of it. It just means that we took our work seriously. It means that we did not need to watch our backs because we knew that one of the others was doing that for us. So we were free to concentrate on our own task.

2.    Build a common history     
I love trekking and so did my assistants in Ambadi. So we used to go on treks together. On two occasions we did the big one; Arun, Roshan and I, climbed up from the plains of Kanyakumari to the top of the ridge of the Western Ghats to Manjolai Estate (4000 feet), much to the surprise of our friends who lived there. One day we walked into the Club and discovered that (Ricky) M. C. Muthanna who was the General Manager and a personal friend was visiting. They were all at a lunch party in their club and were amazed when we walked in. When Ricky heard that we had climbed the Ghat all the way from the plains he was very impressed and happy, as he was a very outdoors person himself and everyone there got a lecture on the importance of doing such things.  We got a lovely lunch in the bargain.
There are many benefits of these shared experiences which are different from merely having a party. On a trek, you get to see the behavior of each other; who leads, how they lead, do they help, do they simply forge ahead and leave the others behind in order to show their own fitness or strength, do they show concern for others, do they volunteer for responsibility or try to dodge it, do they build and live up to trust, how it feels to be cared for by others and how it feels to take care of others and so on. There is nothing like travel together to test the mettle of a companion and to build bonds. Climbing also underlines the whole message of great effort and the resultant gains, better than anything else that I know. This climb in particular did that with great power.
Kanyakumari is a hot place. So even if you start out very early, which we did, it soon gets very hot and sultry. During the initial stages you are in some shade as you climb through the forested foothills, but very soon you come out onto the mountainside and then it is bare all the way to the top. As you walk there are nettles and grass with sharp leaf edges and thorny bushes that you have to cut through or find a way around. The going is slow and it is up at a sharp angle all the way.
So you are constantly climbing and the sun is looking down on your insane activity with great glee. The result is that very soon you are bathed in sweat and your leg muscles start to ache. But you keep climbing as you have a deadline to meet. You don’t take breaks because the more breaks you take, the tougher it becomes. You don’t drink water because it gives you a stomach ache. You keep climbing. All talk stops after a while. It just takes too much energy and nothing is that important or urgent that it must be said. You keep climbing.
Then a small breeze blows. The sweat becomes a blessing as it cools you down. The feel of the breeze on your face and the back of your neck is heavenly. As you continue to climb, your arms and legs are scratched (like all good planters we wore shorts) and the sweat dripping in the small cuts and abrasions, stings. Your legs ache. Your back more than your legs. You are seriously questioning your sanity in undertaking the task and then you reach the halfway point. There you stop for a breather, drink some water and look back at the climb that you have done – and what do you see?
The mountain rising out of the forest, far below you with the green blanket of vegetation around its shoulders. The patchwork quilt of rice paddies in multiple shades of green spread at the feet of the mountain like a carpet that it’s standing on. Patches of blue water; tanks and lakes that dot the landscape of Kanyakumari. And in the distance, the Indian Ocean. You look up and the mountain still towers over you but it no longer looks so intimidating. You breathe in the cool breeze. The sun is much kinder at this elevation and so it is much cooler than it was when you began. You take a deep breath and start climbing once again with new energy.
3.    Celebrate Success          
Very often it is the failures which get the most attention. Nothing wrong with that. One needs to learn from failure. But one needs to and can learn from success as well. We celebrated successes not simply by partying but by also asking some clear questions: What did we do right? How did we take those decisions; were they active choices or lucky accidents? What could we have done differently? What is the best thing about this win? How can we leverage that? We gathered data and insisted that all our conclusions must be backed by clear data. We ensured that we were not simply telling stories to please ourselves and that what we thought of as the reasons we succeeded were actually measurable facts. While we partied we also talked about these things. One part of celebration was also that I ensured that whoever on my team had done something critical to success got the limelight. This built credibility and inspired further effort.
4.    Be completely candid                 
This is a very critical principle of team building; as much openness, transparency and candid communication as possible. Say it like it is. No beating about the bush. No mincing words. No false pretences at politeness. If something is great, say it. If someone is fooling around, say it equally frankly and clearly, not behind his back but to his face.
I used the same policy of candid communication with the unions in Ambadi, which initially they found disconcerting but later accepted and appreciated. One of them said to me, “We don’t always agree with you but we always know where we stand.” I have had many people say this to me in different situations and I feel good about that. Teams also like leaders who they don’t have to second guess. So tell it like it is. The key thing of course is to be willing to listen to others telling it like it is to you. Now that is more easily said than done, but if you don’t shut up and listen and instead start justifying your stance or actions and becoming defensive then you will destroy your own credibility and damage all the good work you did building transparency.
5.    Allow, even encourage genuine mistakes
I managed to convince my team of the ‘importance of making mistakes’. I remember the looks of puzzled surprise at this term when I first mentioned it. Their experience until then was that mistakes were things you tried to avoid. If ever you did make one you tried to hide it or to blame it on someone else. And eventually if all else failed you resigned yourself to bearing whatever punishment that mistake attracted. But here was Mr. Baig, saying that it was actually important to make mistakes. Obviously this was a trap. So do what all sensible people do: silently wait and watch. For my part, once I had announced the importance of making mistakes I watched for the first person who made a mistake. Naturally everyone being human, it happened sooner or later.
Then I called the person and told him to give me a written statement of what happened, why he believed it happened and what must be done to prevent that particular thing from ever happening again. This statement was then discussed in the next weekly staff meeting and others added their ideas to it. It was treated as a regular case study. Not as something bad that one of them had done. Then once the lessons were clear to all, the matter was closed. Nothing more to be done on the issue, except that I would silently monitor it and the individual for a while to ensure compliance with whatever had been agreed.
No punishment. Not even a verbal reprimand. Actually if the analysis was particularly well done and the solution was a good one, the maker of the mistake would be applauded. Sometimes I would pull his leg and ask him what he had done with all this intelligence at the time of making the mistake. Or I would say something like, “Thanks very much for teaching us this lesson.” The person would look a little sheepish but that was all. The lesson would have been learnt and not only by the one who did the action but by everyone. So the learning was actually very cheap as the same mistake need not be done multiple times for others to learn. The only caveat was that you could not repeat a mistake. If that happened then there would be a reprimand, because it meant that you had not learnt from the previous mistake. And that was not acceptable.
As time passed people started seeing for themselves that making a mistake was not necessarily bad, as long as it was a genuine mistake and not a deliberate misdemeanor, and as long as you could demonstrate your learning and create a system where it would not be repeated, there was no pain associated with the learning. People then rapidly became risk takers. I encouraged other good practices like writing down a plan of action before you actually take action so that if something goes wrong you know exactly what happened and are not trying to recall what you had done or intended to do. Prior planning as well as documentation encourages deeper thought and reflection which can only be beneficial. To ensure that we did not get bogged down by too many planners, I made a rule that you had to put a deadline to everything.
So any time anyone submitted a plan we asked for a deadline. We also made the weekly meeting, the place to initiate all these actions. The idea being that before you went and launched off something you brought it before an assembly of peers who helped you to evaluate your plan. This also ensured more rigor in the whole exercise because people knew that if they submitted something that was half-baked it would be pulled apart in the meeting.
My role in all these meetings was mostly to listen and watch and sometimes to ask questions. Once people grew comfortable with speaking before others and asking and answering questions there was no holding them back. Sometimes I had difficulty getting my own point across; there would be so much participation. I was very happy to see all this enthusiasm. When your subordinates start to override your ideas and challenge your conclusions and give you measured responses, you can be sure that leadership is developing.
It is when you get too much agreement that you need to worry. Too much agreement and too little conflict are often signs that people are coasting along and there is a shortfall of commitment. One of the most reliable signs of commitment is conflict. Unfortunately many leaders fear conflict and go to great lengths to suppress it instead of encouraging it and channeling it so that really positive results can ensue. That is why it is important to understand that conflict resolution and conflict management are not the same thing. Conflicts, if managed properly resolve themselves and in the process yield very valuable learnings.
Another process that started happening was that individuals who intended to present something at the staff meeting would do a little pre-show to some of their colleagues who had some specialized knowledge. For example they would run some of the numbers by the accountant to make sure they had done their sums right. I encouraged all this informal communication and collaboration because it is a wonderful team building process. The whole essence of team building is to help people see how they need one another in order to succeed. And so when this started happening I knew we were on the right track.
Having said all of the above let me also say that the most difficult part for a high energy, action oriented person like me, was to sit in silence and see a mistake happen. All because you want to turn it into a learning situation. But there is no alternative to this patience. Naturally one does not need to self-destruct in the process and it is possible to contain the magnitude of the mistakes so that the learning takes place but not at a huge cost. However the crux of the matter is that you need to allow the subordinate to make the mistake and then guide the learning. This anxiety is compensated by the pleasure of seeing fewer and fewer mistakes happen over time as people get more and more proficient in their roles.
The practice of sharing learnings and Best Practices ensures that the learning gets maximum leverage. Also people are not ashamed or afraid of making mistakes as they know that there is no punishment provided they use their heads and can share their learning. Further because of this people generally exercise more care and the number of mistakes decreases.
The biggest benefit is the exposure and appreciation that people get when they share their learnings and best practices and have a platform to talk about their gains. They also get some ribbing and leg pulling which serves to make the point about being more careful in the future and the humor in it softens the pain of learning and builds relationships among team members. Finally this encourages them to share information and creates organizational learning as distinct from individual learning. In my view this one benefit, is worth more than anything else.
6.    Continuously develop people
As mentioned earlier entrepreneurs are usually so engrossed in the here & now that they ignore the future until it is either too late or until it becomes a problem. For most, succession is a mystery which is ‘solved’ by doing nothing and letting biology take its course. Their children enter the business at the level of Directors without having had the benefit of learning the business from the ground up with predictable results. Many treat the business like a candy store whose responsibility is to keep them supplied with candy; their focus on consumption instead of contribution.
They look only at what they can get out of the business instead of what they need to do to grow the business. Predictably this results in the business being broken up to everyone’s detriment. All because the founder did nothing to develop his successors. What amazes me is how many times this story is repeated all over the world. We don’t seem to learn from experience at all, neither our own nor anyone else’s.
Today (2008/9) we are in a situation where it is entrepreneurship especially the establishment and flourishing of small and medium businesses which will signal our recovery from global financial collapse. It is all the more reason to think seriously about these matters.