Entrepreneur’s Tools for Success

I have formulated 6 rules which I call David’s rules. These are for anyone facing the big one – the big apparently insurmountable challenge which the whole world tells you to run away from. But you are among those who are uniquely deaf to the advice of those who are too frightened to think straight. You are among those to whom personal safety is not Goal # 1 in life. You are among those who recognize that everything has a price and that if you want to achieve great things, you have to be prepared to pay the price they demand. It’s not that you don’t recognize the danger. To recognize danger is a sign of intelligence and you are no fool. It is that you are willing to take the risk for the reward. So you ignore the advice and step forward.

David’s Rules

Rule # 1 – Take the first step forward

 Unless you take the first step forward, nothing will happen.
 Once you take the first step, the universe conspires to make you succeed.
 It is safer to stay in the ranks and do nothing but it is only the General who gets to call the shots. And Generals don’t stand in the ranks.
 The choice is yours and every choice has a price. You pay, you get.

Rule # 2 – Confound Goliath

• Goliath does not make the rules so that you can win.
• If you play by Goliath’s rules, Goliath will win every time.
• Understand the rules – then break them.
• Make your own rules & play by them.

Rule # 3 – Only effort produces results

 Talent is what you are given; what you are born with.
 Effort is what you make. Effort supports talent. The best talent is nothing without effort.
 In the end it is the effort that brings the results, not the talent if there is no effort.
 So don’t ask, “What talent do I have?” Ask, “What effort am I making?
 David made effort using his unique talent. The rest is history.

Rule # 4 – Strength always overcomes weakness

 Play to your strength because you can do that best.
 David was a shepherd so he used a slingshot.
 Don’t be overawed by competition, because the winning post is only at the end of the race.
 In the end, it is not the weapon but whether it scored, that counts.

Rule # 5 – Never compromise your legacy

 Stay focused no matter what the distractions.
 Remember, winning is all that counts…..and how you win is a part of that.
 Winning without honor is to lose in the worst way.
 Nobility is a factor of ‘How’ not of ‘What’. Glory is only for the noble.

Rule # 6 – Thank People

 Be thankful to all those who helped you.
 It is true that you owe your success to your own effort but some of it was made standing on the shoulders of others. And even if you forgot that, they won’t.
 Thanks builds bridges; for you never know when you will need one to cross.
 Thank people because every ending is a new beginning.

I believe very passionately and firmly in the fact that in the end, it is quality that scores over everything else. I know that every entrepreneur worth the name shares this belief with me. I have met many along the way who cut corners, pretended to be what they were not and compromised quality for short term gain. Most of them no longer exist. Those who do, live with a reputation that constantly sabotages their effort.

I believe that all that we do or choose not to do defines our brand and reflects our character. Therefore all initiatives and effort must be measured against this standard to see if it stands up to the mark. Compromising standards and values for gains is a very expensive bargain and adds no value at all. Indeed the most profitable way to run a business is to work to the highest standards and become the standard bearer in the industry against which others measure themselves.

Then you can claim a premium where your competitors are busy competing on price.

‘Buy from me because I am cheap’, is a slogan I never liked.

Entrepreneur’s Tools for Survival and Sustenance

1. Prayer

I discovered the power of prayer. Of asking the One who has the power for His help. Prayer gave me (and continues to do so) a chance to have a private conversation and to ask Allah for what I needed. He knew what that was better than I did, but being able to ask and knowing that He listens and helps gave me the strength that I needed. There is an enormous sense of peace in standing in the night in prayer after having done all that is in one’s power, asking for those decisions to be sent down without which all one’s effort will bear no fruit. I am aware of the same sense of communion that the farmer feels when he has tilled the land, made the furrows, spread the fertilizer, sowed the seeds and then looks towards the heavens and raises his hands asking for rain, without which all his effort will be in vain. Yet when he raises his hands, there is no fear in his heart, only hope. And there is a smile on his face. For he is looking for the clouds to come once again, bearing rain as they have done again and again in his life. So also as I stood, I remembered all the times that I had been guided, gently away from what I wanted, to what was good for me though I had not realized it at that time. I was aware that Allah knows, He cares and He has the power to do what it takes. I was content in the fact that I had done my part and made all the effort that I could. Now I stood to ask for His help, confident that He would do what was good for me, even if it meant that in a given situation I would not get what I wanted. My life’s experience told me that every time that happened I was given something better. Prayer gave me strength in the dark silence of the night which otherwise is the home of fear and confusion.

2. Discipline and Routine

Anxiety creates disorder and disorder enhances fear. A vicious circle that debilitates energy and invites despair. So the first thing to ensure is that you have a routine and to stick to it with dogged discipline. I had (and continue to have) fixed times to wake up, sleep, eat and for all major activities including reading, writing and the gym. A timetable creates order and predictability in a life that is suddenly devoid of the usual office routine. Working from home can create lack of discipline that masquerades as freedom. This is very dangerous. I used to dress for work, even though I was going into the next room to do it. Structure is the most powerful aid to fight anxiety.

3. Physical Fitness

Adrenalin is the best natural energizer. And you get a lot of it on the treadmill provided you sweat enough. The gym became an absolutely fixed part of my day. I would go to the gym at mid-day because I was relatively free then. But on the days when I was teaching, I would go to the gym after work, which sometimes meant at 10 in the night. One thing for sure; I would not go to bed unless I had gone to the gym for my daily adrenaline fix. Exercise is both a physical and psychological booster and I benefited hugely. Another thing, at least in my case, I think better when I am walking. So when I have some complex problem to work on, I go for a walk. By the time I have walked a few miles, I would have worked it out and it becomes clear. Whatever be the physiological reasons for this, I know it works for me. Try it out.

4. Financial Discipline

The best thing about being poor is that you learn to prioritize. Prioritizing is not always painless. Sometimes it is very painful when you have to choose against something you really would have loved to have. But you learn to choose based on what is important and what gives a return. You also learn to be very careful with what you have and to see how you can make your rupee/dollar do the most it can in more than one way. Waste becomes a synonym for death and re-cycling the norm. You learn to depend on other things than the brand of shirt or watch you wear as indicators of your status or worth. You learn to make all your resources count – sometimes several times before they are used up. You learn the importance of planning and information because it helps you to save. The mountain men of the American frontier were crack shots with the long rifle because they were very poor and had to learn how to make every bullet count. They simply could not afford a wasted shot. For us in Bangalore, there were some months in the first year when I did not know if we would have enough money to pay the rent. But the Grace of God ensured that we never defaulted. Tight financial control, prioritizing and planning are all learnings; the benefits of hard times.

5. Self Development

This is a very tough one but in my view it is the single most powerful differentiator – what do you invest in your own professional development? Talking of investing in learning without any guarantee that it will ever yield a return, when there isn’t enough money to put food on the table, sounds ridiculous. That is the reason many people subscribe to this thought in principle but do nothing about it in practice. That is a very expensive bargain. I would identify a training course that I wanted to take and then save up for it month by month. Then I would take the time off (which for the entrepreneur has a cost value) to take the course. I set myself a target that I would do at least one course every year, preferably a certification course. After some years, I ran out of certifications that I wanted to take but the annual course routine continues. The benefit of all this was that this strategy gave me a clear edge over my competitors which I never lost. My clients got used to seeing my resume change every year with additional certifications, papers, articles, books. Not that they necessarily gave me business in the new areas but the thought that they were hiring someone who was focused on his own development was a big differentiator in my favor when they were comparing consultants.

Another thing which I did in this line of self development was to write and publish. Every year on an average I write more than 15 papers, 40-50 articles and every two years I publish a book. Writing is the single most powerful tool to develop thinking ability, which in my line is the soul of business. The ability to think clearly and strategically is always helpful no matter what business you are in, yet it is something that most people only do accidentally. Writing helps to structure thought, it forces you to express it in the clearest way and it helps you to put yourself in your reader’s mind. Writing also gives you credibility like nothing else. We have a respect for the written word and those who write and if you can write well (anyone can write well if they try) then you will find that you add value to yourself as well as to your image while clarifying issues in your own mind.

Writing also gives you exposure in the best possible way and your name becomes known widely. Writing gives you both visibility and credibility; a big advantage. These are my tools. I hope they will help you as they helped me. If they do, pass them on.

One final word: I want to underline the importance of conceptualization. The reality of life is that raw experience teaches us nothing. What we do with it, is what matters. What we don’t conceptualize we don’t learn. Just being alive is not a condition for the acquisition of wisdom. It is how we live, what we do with what life presents to us, how we change ourselves and how we teach; these are what make us wise. But to do anything at all with raw experience we have to take time out and go off into a quiet place physically and in our minds and reflect on what happened.
We need to do that reflection objectively even mercilessly and ask the question, ‘So what did I learn? Sometimes the learning may be painful but it is the only way to avoid further pain. It is the only way to make amends and control any damage that our action or the lack of it may have done. Sometimes in the process of conceptualizing one needs outside help; an objective listener who can give feedback and help to draw the lessons that we need to learn. It is only such learning which is useful and which can be related onwards to others. But for all this we need to allocate time and as I said, develop the ability to go off into the quiet place in our mind. I have always been very conscious of the need for this and build this ‘time-out’ into my annual routine. I consider it an investment in myself and benefit from it hugely so I take it very seriously and don’t grudge the cost that is often involved.
Now hold on a minute; reflection time does not always have to mean climbing mountains or secluding yourself in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere. It can be done very adequately and at no cost on your daily commute, provided of course that you are not enslaved to the car radio or your iPod or whatever. Whatever else you do, you need to eliminate noise and invite silence if you want to achieve anything in this line.

I am one of the most ‘connected’ people in the world and have always been keenly aware of the edge that connectivity gives you. Yet when I am away on these retreats, I shut down totally except for emergencies. I’ve worked very hard to be in touch with myself and to listen to my inner voice; to be at peace with myself without the need for some noise or the other constantly intruding into my mind. This ‘stillness’ is not to be confused with lethargy or boredom.

This is the stillness of the hunting leopard which is crouched in the grass just before the final assault. She appears to be carved in stone. Not a muscle twitches; you can’t even see the rise and fall of her chest as she breathes. Her every sinew is taut to its maximum torque, waiting to be released in the explosion of speed that will catapult her onto her prey before it can properly register what’s happening. She is totally still, totally focused, totally aware of everything around her and everything inside her. This is the moment of highest awareness that one can get, the moment before the leap. That is stillness.

One of the reasons why many people today can’t get past first base when it comes to conceptualizing is because they are unable to focus onto something long enough. It is supposed to be a characteristic of the present generation which in the US is called ‘The Millennials’. I say, ‘Most welcome’, because it will be so easy to compete against people who can only give partial attention to anything. But for the world that is dangerous as it is distracting. Imagine being led into the new world by people who are only partially tuned in. I think people today are afraid to think and reflect and therefore seek refuge in endless activity. Without depth or breath of knowledge how can anything of value emerge, I wonder. Strangely even the protests that we see today have no depth, no ideological underpinnings. They are like adolescents throwing tantrums because someone did not give them their toy. That is why they are easily satisfied with the immediate, even when it is abundantly clear that it is coming at the expense of their own future. Most young people read nothing or very little, other than their course syllabus.

Almost nobody reads the classics. Almost nobody reads or quotes poetry. Conversation is a badly linked chain of monosyllabic grunts, words which say something but are supposed to mean the opposite (very bad means very good, believe it or not) and an endless repetition of non-words to describe every conceivable situation and experience. Words reflect thought and depth of intellect. But for this generation a vocabulary of 50 words seems to do very well, thank you very much. It is as if all the enormous effort of human thought and civilization has been suspended in limbo perhaps to be read by those who come to pick up the pieces and then wonder how people who knew so much could have done this to themselves. Nothing that I know which is worth achieving can be achieved with partial attention. Excellence demands total attention and focus. It is focus that gives ordinary light the cutting power of the laser. Without dedication and focus nothing worthwhile can be achieved especially in a world that constantly raises the bar of success all the time.

It is impossible to think seriously and consider things in a structured framework seeking beneficial conclusions, if you have some noisemaking instrument plugged into your ear all the time. This is the downside of technology today which is the trap that some of us fall into and are unable to control. So our minds are taken over by the disc jockey, talk show host, news reader, propaganda artist or advertiser to be molded at will and steered into channels of their choice, to think the thoughts they want us to think and come to the conclusions they want us to come to, irrespective of whether or not such conclusions benefit or harm us.

I think best in the open, in the middle of nature and when I am engaged in some physical activity, so I go trekking or to a wildlife sanctuary or mountain climbing where I spend part of the day in the activity and the rest in reflecting on my life, sitting beside a free standing, self-powered, self-propagating, shade giving, oxygen generator which we so easily chop down to make still more toilet paper. If you still did not recognize the description, try the word, ‘Tree’. In the nights I read books that I take with me after careful consideration. I have always read two or three books simultaneously and enjoy holding their various themes in my head simultaneously. The mind, like the body, improves with exercise and considering different concepts, sometimes divergent ones is an excellent way to challenge yourself. Reading has always been and continues to be a significant and hugely beneficial activity in my life on which I spend substantial time, energy and money.

This reflection is not a random activity leading to sleep. It is a structured pre-planned activity that I do as follows. Before I go off on these retreats, I ask myself some questions:

1. In the last period (since the last retreat) what were my best & worst experiences?
2. What are the lessons that I am hoping to learn from them?
3. What are the most difficult potential blocks to this learning that I can foresee?

Then when I have finished my climb to the top of the hill, I pour myself a hot cup of tea and reflect on each incident/situation and jot down my thoughts as they occur. Once the thoughts have dried up I then read what I wrote and analyze to see what I can learn. All this needs discipline and practice but can be easily learnt and is a huge benefit. Especially to top it all is the fact that sitting on a hilltop watching the sun setting on the horizon, with a forest and all its sounds at your feet is just about the most enjoyable way that I know of spending an afternoon.

Extract from ‘An Entrepreneur’s Diary’: https://www.createspace.com/3412381

Customer Service – What it can be and the difference it can make

Whenever I speak of customer service I am reminded of how some people from north India, from the Hindi speaking belt of UP and MP pronounce it. They say, ‘Kasht-mar service’. Now ‘Kasht’ in Hindi means ‘difficulty’. And ‘Mar’ means to die. So the literal translation of ‘Kasht-Mar’ would be (Kasht-say-mar) meaning ‘die slowly with difficulty’. Not a very nice thing to say but that is what some people in the business of providing service seem to be saying to their customers (Kashtmars).

Customer service is about customers, not about the content, technology or industry in which those customers operate. This is a very important thing to understand and accept if one is not to fall into the trap of feeling that somehow our own industry is so unique that the lessons learnt in the airline, hotel, BPO, IT or hospital businesses are not applicable to us. If we deal with people, lessons learnt in any industry that have to do with people, apply to us and we would be very foolish to ignore them. Customers and people and people think holistically. When we experience bad service on board a plane we compare it quite happily (albeit sometimes unconsciously) to the overall service standard that we are used to in our own environment and feel proportionately bad about it. If we come from a country like Singapore where the quality of service is generally very superior we will tend to feel highly dissatisfied with bad service. But someone who comes from another country where service standards are generally pretty low, they may find the same service to be acceptable because their expectations are so low to begin with. When experiencing onboard in-flight service we don’t compare it only to our experience on other airlines. Even people who are flying for the first time feel dissatisfied with poor service. So lessons are transferable.

In my view great customer service is a combination of two things: a genuine desire to serve and some key things to do (tools). Let us look at each of them.

Attitude: Whenever I think of an attitude of great customer service I remember when I first went to Singapore in 1994. I was there to teach a course in teaming skills at GE Asia. I reached my hotel by about midday and having had lunch and rested, decided to go out in the evening to see the city. I came out of the hotel and stood at the curbside waiting for a cab. One came along in less than 2 minutes and then it happened. The driver pulled up, got out of the car, trotted (he didn’t walk, he trotted) around the back to where I was, opened the passenger door at the back and ushered me into the cab with a flourish. I realized that I was in the presence of something special and silently got in. The interior was spotlessly clean and smelled of some pleasant mild perfume. I sat waiting for the next act of the play. And there it was. He said to me as I was sitting in the cab, ‘That is today’s newspaper for you Sir and some water if you’re thirsty. I hope you are comfortable.’ I said that I was and thanked him. He shut the door respectfully, trotted (once again he didn’t walk) back to his seat and said, looking at me in the rearview mirror, ‘Where can I take you Sir?’ I replied, ‘I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to just sit here so that I can enjoy the experience of being in your car.’

I still remember this incident 16 years later as if it happened yesterday. The point is that he was an ordinary taxi driver who had never gone to a single training class in customer service. He was in a business where customers commonly have the least expectation of service and are only interested in not being deceived to pay more than their due. His customer is with him for probably the shortest time of any service; just the few minutes it takes to drive to the customer’s destination. And typically he would probably never see that customer again. Yet here was a man going out of his way to be nice to his customers and to give them an experience to remember. Why?
The only answer I have is, because for him service was about who he was. Not about who the customer was. Neither I nor anyone I know would expect, much less demand a taxi driver to get out and open the door for them, or keep clean drinking water (sealed bottle) and the day’s papers in the car or to keep the car in an absolutely pristine state. After all we are used to shabby taxis and as long as it is not horribly dirty we don’t give it a second thought. He did what he did because he saw his service as defining him, not because he thought the customer cared about it or wanted it or demanded it. It was his own pride in his work and his desire to serve.
Let me give you another example. In 1997, I lived in Bangalore and wanted to buy a Maruti 800 car. I called a number which I thought was the number of the agency which financed Maruti purchases. A lady answered and the conversation went like this:

‘Good morning, this is Citibank Car Finance. How can I help you?’
‘Good morning. I am looking to buy a Maruti 800 car and want to know if you finance it.’
‘I am sorry Sir, we finance only Opel Astra (four times the price), but if you hang on a minute I will get you the number of the company which does Marutis.’
Once again I knew I was in the presence of someone with that key attitude – the desire to win customers. So I waited. She came back on line in less than one minute.
‘Here’s the number Sir. And if you change your mind and decide to buy an Opel Astra, please do give us a call.’
She knew perfectly well that I was not an Opel Astra customer but she still said that so that I would not feel bad about not being able to afford an expensive car.

Once again the power of attitude.

So the first thing I would ask anyone who has to deal with any customer in any kind of business at all is, ‘Do you really want to do this job? And if you want to do it, how much do you want to do it?’
1. Is it an, ‘Ah! Here comes another one’, kind of thing?
2. Or is it a, ‘Well, since I am here I may as well get it over with.’
3. Or is it, ‘Another fantastic day for me to give some customers service they have never seen before. I love the look on their faces as if they can’t believe their own eyes and ears.’

Which one applies to you?

It’s really as simple as this.

Now how about if you are not the # 3 kind of person?

Well, you have two choices; change your job or change yourself.
Changing your job may neither be feasible nor is it easy to find a job where you don’t have to deal with people. There are such jobs, like feeding crocodiles in a zoo, but not so many fall vacant unless the feeder slips into the pool. So like it or not you are going to have to deal with people. So what should you do?

Here is what you should do:

1. Stand before a mirror and tell yourself, this is the BEST job that I could possibly be doing because I have an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. Now what is more worthwhile than that? I was in the airport in Hyderabad and wanted to use the washroom. I entered the room and found that the toilets were being cleaned. The man doing the job saw me and said to me, ‘Please give me a minute Sir.’ Then he not only cleaned the toilet but he sprayed air freshener and then took some tissue and dried the toilet seat. Did that make a difference in my life? You can bet it did and I ensured that I gave him the biggest tip he would have received in a while. Though going by his attitude and quality of service it would take a shamelessly stingy person to pass him by without emptying their pockets into his hands. Once again I don’t think that man ever saw the inside of a Customer Service Training class. So stand before your mirror and tell yourself, ‘I want to make a difference in someone’s life today.’

2. LEAD: Listen, Empathize, Accept Responsibility, Do Something

a. Listen: Listen to the customer. Listen to what they are saying and to how they are saying it. Sometimes it is not the words of the customer but his tone of voice or his body language which gives the one who listens well, the real message.

b. Empathize: Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. How would you feel if someone did to you what you or someone in your company did to your customer? The reason it was done is immaterial. That he had to suffer is what the customer is conscious of. Let me give you an example. I was in San Francisco at the Marriot, having arrived there by a late night flight at midnight. I had asked for a non-smoking room as I am allergic to cigarette smoke. When I went up to the room almost at 1.00 am I found it reeking of cigarette smoke. I complained but the person at the front desk told me that they did not have any other room. I was furious but there was nothing I could do so I slept as best I could. Next morning I had to leave early for work. When I returned, I was met at the lobby by the hotel manager who took me up to another room, this one smelling sweet and asked if I liked it. I said that I did. She then asked if she could have my luggage moved there. I agreed. Then (only then) did she say to me, ‘Sir, I apologize for the problem you had last night. We had booked a non-smoking room for you but unfortunately it seems that the guest had someone else in the room who smoked and so the room smelled of cigarettes. We did not realize this until too late and there was no other non-smoking room available last night. I blocked the first room that fell vacant this morning and here it is. My apologies once again.’ The beauty of this response was that she first solved my problem and then (only then) gave me the explanation for what happened. It was clear that they were empathetic about my problem. They did not try to brush it aside or pretend that it was not really a problem nor did they try to justify or explain it. They addressed it and solved it and then explained why it had happened, once the problem had been solved.

c. Accept responsibility: Accept the fact that the problem of the customer is really your problem. This is something that we don’t see too quickly and act as if the problem has nothing to do with us. It is our problem because it is causing our customer to be dissatisfied. And a dissatisfied customer is very much our problem. So own your responsibility and don’t send the customer to someone else. This is one of the biggest aggravations that customers face; being shunted from person to person and having to repeat their story over and over.

d. Do something: Take action. You take action. Don’t tell the customer what to do. You go do it. And then let him know what you are doing and how it is going to solve his problem. Reporting periodically is essential for customer satisfaction. People don’t like to be left in the dark. So tell them.

3. Pre-empt problems: It is a known fact that in most cases it is the same things that tend to go wrong again and again. So identify the three or four major things that tend to go wrong most often and have preset responses for them. In order to do this it is essential to document what happens in your customer interactions so that you can correctly identify what goes wrong most often. Preset responses take away the stress from the interactions and ensure the fastest recovery from failure. Research shows that customers who had a problem that was solved well are more satisfied than those who did not have a problem at all.

4. Moments of Truth: Identify and monitor your moments of truth. A ‘Moment of Truth’ is defined by Jan Carlson, ex-CEO of Scandinavian Airlines, who first used this phrase in the context of customer service as that moment when a customer or a potential customer comes into contact with any aspect of your operation and has an opportunity to form an opinion. If you know what that point of contact is and can control the interaction such that the customer’s experience is positive then you have a winning operation. If you either don’t know what your moments of truth are or where they occur or have no control over them, then you have a losing operation. It is as simple as that. However knowing moments of truth and controlling them is a matter of rigorous measurement and documentation which most organizations are unwilling or unable to do and so they blunder along and create dissatisfied customers and lose business and in some cases go under.

Conclusion

Great customer service is about concern; being genuinely concerned for the customer. It is about pride in your own operation and your own identity; wanting to be the best. It is about wanting to add value to people’s lives; about seeing value in serving. It is about being a shrewd business person; recognizing who pays you and ensuring that he/she is not just happy to do so but simply delighted that you are there to serve them. Great customer service is the only guarantee for survival and growth and the only insurance and hedge against bad times. Customers don’t remember what you did. They remember how they felt. That is the key.

Football – What did I learn?

I have a habit of asking, ‘So what did I learn?’ with everything that I do or experience. Can’t say that I actually ‘followed’ the World Cup in South Africa, much to the disgust of most of my friends who are keen on football but I still thought I’d share some thoughts on what I learnt, nevertheless. I have used ‘he’ for convenience alone. Please read it as he or she.

I learnt four lessons:

1. Focus on the goal

I remember once while I was in school in grade 6, kicking the ball into our own goal and everyone else remembered that ever since. Redundant though this statement may seem (Focus on the goal? So what else is new eh!) it is surprising how many of us work without any clarity about what the end result should be or what we would like it to be. Just ask how many people have a written down life goal. They may well the desire to achieve something but rare it is that a person actually sits down to visualize what that means and writes it down as a goal. That is why though everyone wants to succeed, not everyone manages to do so. Success has a price and one must be clear about what investment his own goal requires. Without that when we come to the checkout and have to pay for the purchase we realize that we don’t have the money and we have to put the article back on the shelf. I give this analogy because it illustrates what happens in life, all too often only because we are not clear about what exactly we want to achieve and what it will take to do it.

It is essential before we begin any task to be clear about the end result that we want to achieve; what the consequences of our actions are likely to be including the unintended ones and what options we may have other than the course of action that we may have chosen to adopt. The last one is important also because it is natural to like one’s own ideas above others (sometimes to the exclusion of everything else) but this liking can sometimes lead to trouble especially if one ignores contradictory information. Many people are very reluctant to listen to the dissenting opinion and ignore negative data to their own peril. Remember, it is better to listen than to fail.

Focus on the goal is important because it is only scoring the goal that counts. A team can hardly go to the referee and ask to be declared the winners because they tried so hard or because they intended to win or for any other reason. It is the number of goals scored which is the only criterion to decide the winner. All our effort in the end must be judged on the basis of whether or not it helped us to score the goal. If it did, then it was good effort. If not, it failed. Naturally all these efforts have to be within the framework of the Rules of the Game and so our focus on the goal must take into account the rules. I don’t mention the importance of following rules because breaking the rules automatically disqualifies you and throws you out of the game. To follow rules is one of those self evident truths which need no elaboration.

Means are important because without the right means scoring the goal has no value. A win by dishonest means is a loss far more harmful and shameful than merely losing a match. A medal can be bought in a shop but has no value unless it is won in the field as a result of great and honorable effort. So it is not merely the end but the means by which that end is achieved which are both equally important.

2. Develop the skills to win

The second lesson I learnt is the importance of skill; the right skills to play the game so that we can win. Winning is a matter of skill. The achievement of the vision; the scoring of the goal depends not only on trying hard but on having the necessary skills to win. On working smart more than merely working hard. On having a strategy that is superior to that of the opposing team and on talents honed and sharpened with tools to implement that strategy at a level of excellence which will leave the other team standing.

Developing skills is a matter of hard work and discipline because to acquire skills at an expert level is never easy. Developing skills means the hard work to get up every morning to run the laps of the track no matter how tired one may be. It means the discipline of sleeping early so that one is not tired in the morning. It means developing some key attitudes. Curiosity that leads to reading and research to acquire knowledge. Humility that enables us to listen and accept feedback even if that is sometimes painful. Observation so that we can watch what others do and learn from their experience. Structured thinking so that we can extract concepts from all the information that we have collected. Conceptual ability is absolutely critical to learning. What we can’t conceptualize we don’t learn even though we may have lived through the pain of the experience. Raw experience is the material from which learning must be extracted. That process is called conceptualization without which there is no learning. That is why wisdom is not a factor of lifespan but of thought. A person does not have to be old to be wise nor are all old people automatically wise. Reflection, introspection and deductive reasoning are all essential to conceptualization so that learning happens. It is only when a person learns that the experience acquires value. That’s why they say, ‘Experience is not what happens to you but what you do with what happens to you.’ That’s the differentiator.

3. Learn to cooperate with others

Nobody can score alone. At least not consistently and consistence is the secret of winning. The lesson I learnt from winning teams is that they played as teams; not as groups of skilled individuals each playing his own game. They were a team playing one game, all together. We have abundant evidence from all sorts of games and teams about what happens when there is a team that has not ‘gelled’; has not really become a team except in name. On the other hand a team which does not have so many ‘stars’ but which cooperates and passes the ball to the one positioned the best to score, wins. I am not promoting mediocrity or playing down the importance of great players but merely underlining the fact that without cooperating and playing as one, in the end the team is almost certain to lose the game.

Cooperation is easier said than done, as many of us realize. Cooperation is more a matter of attitude first; in being clear about what each team member can contribute and acknowledging the importance of that contribution and doing everything possible to enable that person to play to his strength. To give a rugby analogy the only result of placing a player who is slim and very fast on his feet, as a center forward is to bring him to a messy ending. A player must be placed and helped to play to his strength so that he can give his best. That sometimes means passing the ball and allowing the other team member to score the goal fully aware of the fact that in the final tally it will be his name and not yours as the one who scored the goal, even though both of you know that he would not have been able to score if you had not passed the ball. What is also true in this scenario is that if you had not passed the ball and tried to score the goal yourself, the team would have lost because you were not in a position to score and would have been stopped by those tracking you. You pass the ball because it is not your win or his, it is the teams’ win.

Cooperation means therefore being more concerned about the team’s win than about your own personal glory. Therefore my definition of a team is, ‘A group of people committed to a common goal who understand how each one is essential for the team to win and where each does all he can to enable the other to play to his strength.’ At the risk of repetition, understanding how each is important and allowing him to play to his strength – this is the meaning of cooperation.

4. Play hard

When all is said and done it is total commitment to the game in the field, giving it your best shot without holding back anything which decides success. The last lesson I learnt is that in the end it is a passionate commitment to do anything it takes that makes the difference. Because passion rarely fails.

The leopard stalks her prey with great cunning and stealth, trying to get as close to the antelope as she can. She is fully conscious of the fact that an antelope is faster than she is and desperate fear for life will add wings to its feet. That is why when she finally launches her charge she puts her complete heart into it. Every muscle explodes with energy, adrenaline flows into her blood, her heart pumps like an engine and in two or three bounds she is on top of the antelope almost before it can even register that its life is about to be extinguished. The leopard in that final rush sees nothing but the antelope. Her whole being is concentrated on the antelope. She is conscious of nothing else. That is what I mean by passion. A complete and exclusive consciousness of the goal combined with demonstrated commitment to do the best that one can possibly do. And that as I mentioned, rarely fails.

Finally the last learning underlying all of the above – don’t forget to have fun. Winning can be consistent only if one is having fun doing it. So enjoy playing, look forward to it, think about it, dream it and play for the joy of it. Happy winning.

Freedom of WHO?? Freedom of WHAT??

http://link.email.washingtonpost.com/r/HXJVEI/8CCVF/EE6VYF/5I4KK7/LL6GK/T3/t

Very seldom do we get the decidedly delightful opportunity of rubbing the collective noses of self-righteous pompous asses in it so I am going to take full advantage of it. Justice is seldom so swift or so clear.

Not too long ago in the matter of the cartoons of the Prophet of Islam, we heard big sermons about this most valuable of our freedoms, this symbol of modern democracy, the sign that we were alive, intelligent, honorable, virile, beautiful, free and sane; the famous Freedom of Expression. Our right to have any opinion we liked about anyone we liked and to be able to express it whenever, wherever and however we liked irrespective of how anyone else liked it or agreed with it. Those who disagreed with this definition of Freedom of Expression were accused of everything from bigotry to extremism to outright terrorism. So far, so good.

So now what happened to this Freedom of Expression and where are all the knights in shining armor who were so ready to ride to its defense when an 89 year old woman, a venerable journalist whose service to her nation spans a period longer than the lives of most people; exercised her right to Freedom of Expression? How come nobody comes to her defense to say, ‘Well, she has a right to her opinion and the right to express it anywhere and in any way she likes because she is only exercising her Freedom of Expression?’ How is it now that everyone is at her throat? She has been sacked and maligned and attacked and her career ruined, all because of one remark that she made about that Holy of Holies which shall remain nameless? Why?

So my question is; is it Freedom of Expression that we want to safeguard or Freedom of Hypocrisy? I think I will let you decide.

Does right and wrong depend on who does it?

The headlines say, ‘Muslim organizations are marching in protest before the Israeli Embassy in Delhi.’ ‘Muslims protest Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla.’ ‘BJP protests the attack on the pilgrims to Amarnath.’ ‘The Bishop addresses a gathering to protest the attacks on churches in Orissa.’ ‘Sikhs present a petition to highlight the denial of justice to the victims of the Sikh riots after the assassination of Indira Gandhi.’

As I read all these headlines I can’t help but ask the question, ‘Why is it that only people of the community or group that is effected protest the outrage?’ Is not injustice against one, injustice against all. Is it not about injustice itself first and not about who it is done to or who did it?

What is amazing and perhaps unique in a way about the Freedom Flotilla is the widespread attention that both the initiative itself as well as the results of the attack on it have received. People of all faiths, nationalities and political affiliations have joined hands in protesting the oppression of the Palestinians in general and of the siege of Gaza in particular. People have started to look at facts and have started to ignore propaganda. They have started asking questions to those who have become used to doing whatever they want without being questioned.

1. For example, if you invade and occupy someone’s land and they fight back, is it right or wrong?
2. Denying those people access to food, medicines, education, electricity, clean water only because they happen to be in the wrong place, is it right or wrong?
3. If you create a concentration camp inside someone else’s home and convert them into prisoners in their own backyard and they fight back, is it right or wrong?
4. If you then murder them out of hand, demolish their homes and livelihood, imprison and torture them and kill their children, and they protest and fight back, who is right? And who is wrong?
5. If you have a right to ‘defend’ your land, do others also have this right?
6. If you commit piracy on the high seas in international waters and the occupants of the boats you board fight back, is it right or wrong?

Ah! So at last the debate seems to be looking at facts. That is all that we have ever asked. Look at the facts. Then decide who is right and who is wrong. History is a fact course. It is not imagination and fantasy. It is the study of what actually happened, why it happened with the intention to look for ways to ensure that the future is better than the past.

I believe that we were not sent into this world to dominate it or conquer it or to impose our will on it. We were sent to live in it, in consonance with it, in harmony with it, as its caretakers and trustees. We were given special skills and knowledge not so that we could use them to oppress others and destroy all those who opposed us, but to better be able to ensure that peace prevails in the land and justice is done and the earth and its inhabitants are happy that we live on it. We need to remember that free fall and free flight both feel the same at one point, but it is the ending which spells life or death. In this case, not only our own but that of this beleaguered planet, whose enemies all live on it and draw sustenance from it.

We are never compelled to make one choice or another. But the doors that open, the vista that unfolds before our eyes and the road that beckons ahead all depend on the choice that we make. Behind each door is a different destiny. We get to choose which one we want to open and walk through into the world that it opens for us.
The fundamental laws that govern this world are beyond our control and operate without our permission. But they come into play when we want to do something that they govern. For example, the Law of Aerodynamics has existed from the beginning of time, but it became important to consider only when we decided to fly. Any flying machine that does not conform to the Law of Aerodynamics is doomed to fail. And until mankind learned that law and started to build machines which conformed to it, this is precisely what happened. The same is true of the laws of human relations, environmental health, human security and safety and justice and peace. If we want these things, we have to learn the fundamental laws that govern them and abide by them. Only then will we be able to create a society that is equitable, just, peaceful and healthy. Until then, no matter what language we use to fool ourselves into believing that the fundamental laws don’t apply to us, we will not be successful in creating such a society. And like someone in a machine that does not conform to the Law of Aerodynamics but jumps off a very tall cliff, may say to himself while he is falling rapidly towards the earth, “Well, I am flying and I am safe and uninjured!” – He is actually not flying but is falling and is only seconds away from a very messy ending. The law does not change nor does the ending just because we don’t want to follow it.

We must realize that we live in a world of cause and effect. If we want a particular effect then we have to address the cause that leads to that effect. Peace is an effect. Justice is its cause. If we want peace, we have to ensure that justice is done. Without justice peace will always remain an illusion. Enhancing oppressive rules, regulations, procedures and measures in the name of ensuring security will never succeed until we address the reasons for deteriorating human security. Like all fundamental laws this one is also very simple and easy to state and understand, provided we learn to accept the fact that fundamental laws are not in our control. After all when Newton stated, ‘Action and reaction are equal and opposite’, it did sound simple didn’t it? Well the complexity is to remind ourselves that this applies not only to physics, but also to human life in all its aspects.

It is for us to accept this reality and rejoice at the fact that our future is in our own hands – address the causes and we can go back to the days when we didn’t lock or doors or cars. Or say, ‘Ha! This guys is nuts. He’s too idealistic. All this is rubbish. We just need more guns, more scanners, more embedded chips and geo-locaters and we’ll be just fine.’

As they say, we are free to choose. But the choice is not free.

Dear Mr. President

Mr. Barack Obama

President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

http://www.twf.org/News/Y2010/0531-Attack.html

http://joti2gaza.org/2010/05/31/george-galloway-speaks-out-against-israeli-piracy-and murder/

Dear Mr. President,

I am sure you know more about the situation with Israel’s attack on the Freedom Flotilla than I do. The question that I and the rest of the world is asking is, ‘What are you going to do?’

We are told that in 1997, a man used to stand outside the White House, your home today, holding a lighted candle in his hand, a silent protestor against the US sanctions against Iraq. He would turn up there every evening and would stand there for a few hours well into the night. One evening, it was wet, windy and very cold. As usual the man came, wearing a coat with the collar turned up against the bitter cold, and an umbrella to shelter the tiny flame of his candle from the blustery wind. As he stood there, the guard at the gate, who used to see him every day and occasionally waved to him in friendly camaraderie, came out to him and said, “Man! I know you are committed to this cause. But look at this night! It is so cold and horrible; you are one man, standing here alone, do you think you will change them?”
The man looked at the guard and smiled. “I don’t do this to change them,” he said, “I do this so that they will not change me.”

I was debating whether to write anything at all today, because like many of my fellow human beings I feel helpless and paralyzed when I see what Israel does, again and again, with impunity granted by your protection. I ask myself, ‘Why? Why is it that a nation which we all respected and looked up to as the role model of justice, today stands alone as the upholder of oppression?’ I don’t know why. So I thought I would also simply remain silent and watch. Then I remembered the story of this man and thought to myself that when I go, I want to know that I never allowed what is not in my control to prevent me from doing what is in my control.

It is not in my control Mr. President, to stop Israeli atrocities. That is in your control. But it is in my control to remind you to do what is in your control. Mr. President, we all rejoiced when you were elected President. I wrote an article at that time about the greatness of America that brought a ‘black man into the White House’. Those were not my words. Those were the words of a white Caucasian American friend of mine who I asked about your chances of getting elected. He scoffed and said, ‘A black man in the White House? Never.’ Well, he had to eat his words and I was delighted. The thought in my mind today, echoed in the minds of millions of other people around the globe, is – the color of the skin is of no consequence. It is the color of the dreams, the values, the ethics and morals, the color of courage or cowardice to do what is right and stand up for those who have nobody on their side but God. Those are the colors that matter. Yellow, Mr. President is not a color. It is an attitude. Don’t you agree?

So have the real colors changed? Or should we believe the old African saying, ‘A leopard does not change his spots’?

Much has happened since 1997 and the history of lies and shame has been written in the blood of innocents. None of that was your responsibility as you were then still living in your own house. Today however you are living in Government accommodation and with it come powers and responsibility. I am sure you know all about this because we heard your speeches. Now’s the time to make good on those promises of justice, compassion and human rights. The world, Mr. President, is your baby now. Feels good to you, I’m sure. But what does the baby feel?

Mr. President, to return to my story of the man with the candle, there is one man somewhere in America, who still believes in justice and mercy and that truth will eventually prevail over falsehood. That is his legacy. The legacy of a man whose name we don’t know. But his story inspires others. We need such people more than we need those who have the power but use it only to oppress. Remember Mr. President that no person or nation lives forever. But their thoughts, their goals, their ideals and what they stood for endure long after they have become dust.

My question to you Mr. President is, ‘How do you want to be remembered by your daughters? As a man who stood for what is right even though it cost him his job? Or…….’

I say, ‘remembered by your daughters’, because believe me, they will be the only ones who will still remember you after you retire. They and I, a man alone, far from where you are, but who believed in you and what you said you stood for……….now is the time to put your power where your mouth is, Mr. President.