In GE, during the time of Jack Welch, there used to be what were called, ‘The 4 – Es’ of GE Leadership: Energy, Energizer, Edge, Execute. We taught this in Crotonville and focused on them in every GE Leadership Course that we taught anywhere in the world.
The values statement of GE read:
All of us…always with unyielding integrity… Are passionately focused on driving customer success. Live Six Sigma Quality…ensure that the customer is always its first beneficiary…and use it to accelerate growth. Insist on excellence and are intolerant of bureaucracy. Act in a boundaryless fashion…always search for and apply the best ideas regardless of their source. Prize global intellectual capital and the people that provide it…build diverse teams to maximize it. See change for the growth opportunities it brings…e.g., “e-Business”. Create a clear, simple, customer-centered vision…and continually renew and refresh its execution. Create an environment of “stretch,” excitement, informality and trust…reward improvements…and celebrate results. Demonstrate…always with infectious enthusiasm for the customer…the “4-E’s” of GE leadership: the personal Energy to welcome and deal with the speed of change…the ability to create an atmosphere that Energizes others…the Edge to make difficult decisions…and the ability to consistently Execute
I have highlighted the statement in line 4: because I am a beneficiary of that value as it is lived in GE. This is just to underline one simple fact: GE’s success doesn’t depend on what the values say (there are plenty of people in the world who talk about the same things); it depends on the fact that in GE, people live these values.
In GE, the values are not something framed to be hung on the wall of the Chairman’s office. They are daily topics of conversation, they are commonly used nomenclature, they are things that people practice, hold themselves up to, feel empowered and ennobled by and actively demonstrate.
Take the line that I highlighted. How is this lived? Let me describe my first interaction when I went to GE Corporate University at Crotonville for the first time in 1997. I landed in New York and took my suitcase off the belt only to discover that it had been vandalized. My experience with Delta is another story which I won’t go into here – but what do I see as soon as I go outside – a chauffeur with a limousine asking me to hand over my suitcase so that he can carry it to the car. I ask myself, ‘Hello! Did you get off at the right stop? This is New York? People don’t carry anyone’s baggage in New York. So what’s this?’
Anyway, I get into the car – Continental – and off we go. As we near Crotonville – a good while later (JFK to White Plains is not exactly next door), the chauffeur calls Crotonville reception on the car phone (no mobile phones in those days) and gives them our location. As the car drives up, I am received by a young lady at the foot of the flight of stairs leading to the reception. I simply sign on the check-in card and 10 seconds later the lady escorts me to my room – a huge luxurious place with a fabulous bathroom – everything in America is king-size to an Indian – shows me around the room and says, ‘Mr. Baig, the telephone is a direct line with complementary international access. You are welcome to use it to call anyone in the world.’ The fact that I made only one call is another story.
Next day when I go to class, the Course Coordinator, my good friend, Carla Fisher is with me. Takes me to the class. Is there to meet me at the interval to take me to the Crotonville dining hall (refurbished at a cost of $ 2 million in 1996) and then back to the class. I said to her, ‘Carla you need not do this. I know my way around and am perfectly happy going to eat and so on, on my own. You need not take the time out to escort me.’ She says to me, ‘Yawar, it is a pleasure to be with you. But even if it wasn’t, I have no choice. This is how we treat people with knowledge. It is a part of our values.’
That sums it up for me: the issue of living by the values that one espouses. Credibility falls through the gap between what is espoused and what is practiced. Until one is prepared to live by one’s espoused values, one will never be respected for them. There are far too many people who claim to have many lofty values but you don’t see any sign of them in their lives. Values are therefore only as good as practiced. Nothing more. Nothing less.
So why the title of this essay about ‘Edge’. It is because of the definition of ‘Edge’ – the willingness to take hard decisions. To live by one’s values is very often a hard decision. It is much easier to succumb, to compromise. But only when one decides to take the difficult path, does one feel the pleasant cool breeze on one’s face. To enjoy the coolness of the breeze, it is necessary first to sweat.
I believe that this is the key to success. Be it in business or society or personal life. It is the willingness to take hard decisions that spells the difference between success and doom. Hard decisions about yourself, your career, your family members, your team, your choices about any issue and your focus and strategy. Organizations or people don’t go down because of one bad decision. They go down because of insistence on that bad decision which leads to multiple bad decisions – only, that those are now taken by people who have deliberately decided to blind themselves to the consequences of their bad decision making. Ignoring reality only ensures that you perish – because reality doesn’t change for those who choose to ignore it.
In my consulting practice in Family Businesses, I have seen the sad results of lack of Edge, over and over, when families fail to take hard decisions when it comes to the entry, exit or behavior of family members – because they are family members. It is amazing how they don’t see that if one doesn’t stop the one making a hole in the side of the ship, the whole ship will sink. But they don’t and it does.
All great enterprises succeed for three reasons: I have added one of my own.
1. Unyielding integrity in living the values
2. The Edge to take hard decisions
3. Demonstrated willingness to invest time, money, energy and resources in the pursuit of a vision that spans generations.
Let me elaborate my understanding of these from the many histories of great enterprise that I have studied and also personally experienced.
1. Unyielding integrity in living the values
The key word here is ‘unyielding’. The ones who succeed are the ones who refuse to yield to any amount of pressure, logical reasoning, emotional blackmail, any kind of persuasion, personal considerations, changed circumstances and so on. They are those who have espoused the values after deep deliberation, serious consideration and soul searching to find complete acceptance. Only then do they consciously espouse the values. They are not those who sign on after listening to a fiery speech or emotional appeal. They are not those who claim to espouse those values, ‘Because they are the values of GE or Sony or The Constitution or anything else.’ They are those who espouse and commit to those values because they are their own. These are people who give thought to what they are espousing before they espouse them – because they are keenly aware of what espousing means, what they will need to commit to, what it will cost and how it will benefit them. They consciously espouse those values because in their estimation, the benefit far outclasses the cost and is worth all that it will take to live by it.
For some it is money. For others the goal may be social, political or spiritual. The rule is the same: you need to commit to the values and live by them with unyielding integrity. They are your values, you chose to be defined by them, you stand for them, you will be remembered by them and so you are willing to do whatever it takes to demonstrate them to a level of excellence. Interestingly the actual values don’t matter to success. It is their practice which decides whether you succeed or not. Those who win are not those with the best values. They are those who best practice their espoused values.
Let me assure you that there will be many who will argue against this. They will call you rigid – unyielding means rigid, see? They will call you unreasonable – all progress depends on being unreasonable, because the reasonable adapt to the situation, while the unreasonable try to change the situation. They will call you crazy – but it is only those who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, who do.
So let them bleat – all sheep do. Leadership means to like your own company. The tiger walks alone. Sheep have plenty of company. So make your choice. Consider it carefully. Then commit.
2. The Edge to take hard decisions
GE’s success story under Jack Welch was rooted in Edge. The Edge to take the decision to be # 1 or # 2 in any business that they were in or sell and get out. Just ask yourself, for most of the world, being # 3 globally in a business is not only okay, it is brilliant, fantastic, something you write home about, something you put on your website and brochure – ‘We are # 3 globally in this business.’ But not to GE under Welch. For GE under Welch, being # 3 was the death knell – it meant that you were going to be sold. And you were sold. Even if you were his aunt’s son in law. That was not because he loved you less but because he loved GE more. Edge in GE meant the famous GE Workout. The decision making tool that Welch taught us all: where the CEO was put on the spot and could only say one of three things:
2. No – giving reasons.
3. Get me more information.
No waiting, no procrastinating, no delaying – no next week, next month, next lifetime. If you wanted to remain the CEO, you had to take a decision. There are a huge number of transformational success stories about the effect of GE Workout and those of us who taught it, did so with full belief in it and commitment to it based on visible results. As I mentioned earlier, I have seen the result of Edge or the lack of it in my consulting practice in the many years since my first Crotonville visit in 1997, across boundaries of nationality, culture and geography. The principle holds true completely.
Edge is to be able to do two things:
1. Get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus (Collin & Porras’s term)
2. Keep driving
Right and wrong people
Who are the ‘right’ people and who are the ‘wrong’ people? The right people are those who believe in the values and practice them with unyielding integrity. They practice them and this is visible in their lives, not because someone is watching. But because the values define them. They do it not because it is good to do but because their values are who they are. The wrong people are those who got onto the bus because they liked the shape or color of the bus. They had no idea where it was going. They just got on because it looked good. So what must you do with them? Stop the bus and ask them to get off. That is Edge.
Great enterprises happen because of players. Not because of passengers. Passengers are deadweight. They are shackles on your ankles, millstones around your neck. They will drag you to the bottom, sap your energy, dampen your enthusiasm and assure you a fate that in the evening of your life, you will gaze back at the road you travelled, with pathetic and futile tears running down your cheeks – at what could have been if only you’d had Edge. You will know then that the reason it didn’t happen was not fate or the stars or anything else. The reason was you, yourself. You had no Edge. Not for nothing do I say, ‘If only’ is the saddest phrase in any language, because only those who have lost it all, are forced to say it. It means that your life is over, even if you remain alive.
Remember that it is kindness to stop the bus and get the wrong people off. It is not kindness to keep them on, leading them to a destination they never wanted to go to in the first place. There is nothing to be hesitant about doing this. No great enterprise happens because of one man or woman. It happens because of those who followed the leader. So it is essential for the leader to ensure that he or she has the right followers. Great leadership is a followership issue.
Once you have the right people on the bus, keep driving. It is an inevitable rule that the right road leads to the right destination. And right people ensure that you remain on the right road. That is the reason to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off. With the right people there is no confusion. There is no noise in the system to distract you and take the pleasure out of the tune. With the right people you know that no matter who takes the wheel he or she will keep the bus on the right road and will not swerve off into some nice looking deviation. With the right people you know that you don’t have to worry about who will get off to change the wheel or fill gas or anything else that the bus needs to keep going. With the right people you know that you don’t have to ask anyone to do anything. Right people know what to do and do it unasked.
So ask yourself, ‘Do you have the right people on your bus?’ And even more importantly, ‘Are you the ‘Right Person’ for the bus you are on? If not, do yourself a favor – get off. Get off right now.
Keep driving because worthwhile destinations have a way of being far away. Satisfaction is directly proportional to difficulty. But with the right people you will enjoy the drive. It is very necessary to enjoy the drive, to take pleasure in the journey and not wait until you arrive at the destination. The pleasure in the journey is a factor of the company you are traveling in. So once you have the right people on the bus enjoy the drive and keep driving. To arrive at the destination is inevitable. Right people ensure that you go to the right destination. Winning is a habit. So is losing. So choose right or choose to lose.
3. Demonstrated willingness to invest time, money, energy and all resources in the pursuit of a vision that spans generations.
The key word is ‘demonstrated’. You can talk till the cows come home – but until you show it, it doesn’t count. All great enterprises succeed or fail for one reason only; lack of sufficient investment.
That is the reason to have an unyielding commitment to live the values and to have the right people on your bus. Only then will you be assured of the investment that you need in order to succeed. It is essential that those directly involved in the enterprise – those who are on the bus – invest personally, demonstrably and visibly. That is the proof that they are the right people. If they don’t, they should get off the bus. Investment is where the rubber meets the road. Investment is to walk the talk. Investment is what brings other right people on board because people listen with their eyes and are drawn to others who they resonate with; share values with; feel good in the company of.
Investment as I mentioned, is in terms of time, energy, money and in every way that is necessary for the enterprise to succeed. To invest means to put the enterprise and its demands over and above everything else. I mean ‘everything’ in a very literal sense. There is no ‘work-life balance’ with those who eventually succeed in great enterprises. For them, their goal is life. For them and all those who are with them – including and most importantly – their families. There is no great enterprise that I know of which was done in anyone’s spare time or on weekends. All great enterprises demand full time, 24×7 commitment to the exclusion of everything else. You need to walk, talk, think, sleep and dream the goal. You need to do this and find meaning, rest, entertainment, enjoyment and fulfillment in it. It must be something you do when you are paid for it, something you will gladly do free and something that you will pay to do. It must be your legacy. It must be your contribution to life. It must be the reason you live, the reason you die and the reason you are remembered.
All great enterprises also demand that those involved in their founding personally invest significantly in them. Significantly not in terms of the absolute monetary value but the relative value in terms of the individual’s own wealth. So the investment may look small in terms of itself but may represent the individual’s total wealth in the world. That is what makes it significant. It represents the investment which the person is making in terms of how important that person considers the investment – that he puts all he has into it. He doesn’t need encouragement. He is convinced. So he invests. People engaged in great enterprises don’t know the word ‘sacrifice’. They know the word ‘investment’. They are so convinced of the value of the return that they consider it a great opportunity for reward. Others may think that what they are doing is sacrifice. But they do it because for them there is nothing better to do than that.
Investment, as I mentioned, is not only in terms of money, though that is a very significant part of it. Investment is also in terms of time, energy and thought-share all of which are essential for the enterprise to succeed. Investment is also in inspiring and energizing others. Investment is in transferring your dream into their hearts. In making them dream your dream. People engaged in great enterprise are able to do this not because of amazing oratorical skills but because passion is infectious and sincerity is transparent. Hearts speak to hearts and words are immaterial. Without sincerity and passion, no dream can be transferred into the hearts of others.
Investment is in building teams. In spending the time to train others, to support them, to have patience with them and also when required, to part company with those who simply are not going to succeed. All this investment becomes possible for one reason only – and that is – the goal is worth every minute, moment and measure of it. Only when the achievement of the goal is seen as worthy of the effort that it will take to achieve it, does the effort become possible. It is that shining vision in the distance that enables all the difficulties of the path, to pale into insignificance. It is the glow of the vision that lights the dark lonely road in the depth of the night when hope is at a low ebb and fears raise their heads in the darkness. It is the taste of the sweetness of the vision in the mouth that wipes out the bitterness of hard labor and defeat after defeat. It is the pull of the vision that lifts me up every time I fall – again and again.
It is written in the laws of nature, that they will not be changed for anyone. As long as one fulfills their conditions, they produce the same return time after time without change. The difference between free flight and free fall is in the landing. Not in the speed with which the flyer moves through the air. It is the law of gravity which spells the ending – the same one every time. Success, like gravity, is a law of nature. Those who know how it works, achieve it every time. Like the smooth landing of the one who knows how to fly.
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.
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
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
“If you always do what you always did you’ll always get what you always got.
If you want to get what you never had, you have to do what you never did.”
Many times we find ourselves stuck in a negative cycle, especially with respect to certain people; parents, spouses, parents in law, friends; where with great regularity we find ourselves miserable, angry or otherwise in pain. Every time this happens we tell ourselves, ‘Never again. I will never let that happen again.’ But lo and behold we find that the next time around, in the same entirely predictable way we are enacting the same script all over again.
I don’t know how many of you have seen the play, ‘The Mousetrap’; the longest running play in London. It has been running for several decades. Naturally many of the original actors have retired. Some have died. Many new actors have come into the roles. But you know something; very strangely, the ending is always the same. Now isn’t that so strange??
‘Ha!! Ha!!’ you laugh. ‘How can you call it strange?’ you ask. ‘After all the script is the same. So how can the ending be different?’
‘Ha!! Ha!! Indeed’, I say to you. ‘Apply the same logic to your life Sir. Remind yourself that if you want a different ending, changing actors is no use. You have to change the script. See?’
Cut to your real life’s negative cycles – many people change actors. They get divorces, marry again, change jobs, change friends, cut off relations with parents (they can’t change those can they?) and so on. And a couple of years into the new relationship they find that the same problems have resurfaced. And they are surprised. I always tell them to go and watch ‘The Mousetrap’. Not perhaps for the usual reason but to drive home the point that the problem is not with the actors but with the script.
So what can you do?
Well here’s my solution.
I call it my 3 – step solution:
1. Stop dead in your tracks
2. Take back the control into your own hands
3. Then do the opposite of what you normally do
1. Stop dead in your tracks
• Remember that until you are in the cycle, it will move in the same direction it always did. So get off. Stop in your tracks. Break the cycle. How? Tape your mouth. Say nothing. Leave the room. Pretend you are having a heart attack. Go to the toilet. Knock over the water – do anything but don’t say that thing which is on the tip of your tongue. DO NOT REACT.
2. Take back the control into your own hands
• DO NOT REACT: Remember that when you are reacting you are merely demonstrating that you are a puppet on a string. You are moving in whichever direction the puppet master pulls the string. So break the string. Let him pull it whichever way he wants to. Since it is not connected to you, it will not affect you. Remind yourself that NOBODY CAN MAKE YOU FEEL ANYTHING. People do whatever they want to. YOU DECIDE HOW TO REACT. So stop reacting. Instead RESPOND. What is the difference?
• Responding is what you consciously choose to do. Reacting is what someone else makes you do. So instead of reacting, respond. What does that entail? Well, for one thing, it requires that you stop (refer to step 1 above) and think about what is happening. Then it requires that you think of what is the best way to deal with it. Not what is the ‘natural way’ or the ‘instinctive way’ but ‘the best way’
• Remember that what is instinctive or natural is not always what is best. Emotional maturity is to act deliberately and consciously. To do what may not be natural but is wise, useful and productive. To do that you have to ask yourself another question, ‘What is the result that I want from this interaction?’ Then do that which will get you that result. Not what you are dying to do to score some cheap point. So stopping in your tracks is essential. Remember, anger is natural. Controlling it is not.
3. Then do the opposite of what you normally do
• There is a famous story of President Harry Truman (I think it is about him. Forgive me please if I’ve got the wrong president) who was locked in an argument with someone. It got to a point that when he was about to say something, the other man said, ‘Don’t even bother. I know exactly what you will do.’ Harry Truman stood up, did a summersault on the carpet of the Oval Office and said, ‘I bet you didn’t think I’d do that?’ That broke the cycle.
• So do the opposite. Suddenly hug your mother in law and kiss her. Maybe she will have a heart attack and your problem will be solved. Or even better she will see the error of her ways. Do the opposite of what you normally do. A good way is to be especially nice to those who are nasty to us. Be good to them. Serve them. Be especially thoughtful. And do it sincerely. That is important. Insincerity always shows up and causes more problems. Acting can’t be sustained. Be sincere. And be consistent. Don’t be nice only once. Be nice always.
The Prophet Muhammad (SAS) said, ‘I guarantee a palace in the middle of Paradise to the person who has the right but gives up his right for his brother.’ He said that because that is tough to do. So do the opposite. What is the best ‘opposite’ for you to do? Well, it is your life, see? So think about it for yourself. One rule though – it has to be the best that you can do. Not simply something to score points against the other person.
Because remember the fundamental rule? When life presents a problem for us to solve, if we solve it, we go ahead. If we don’t, the same problem will comes back to us again and again until we solve it. Complaining changes nothing. The problem has to be solved to show that we learnt our lesson. After all there is a reason for the problem to come in the first place, see? Nothing is without purpose. So we need to graduate from one class to the next. Until we are in the same class, no matter how many schools we change, it is still the same class, same exams, same books, same lessons; until we pass the exam. Only then will we be permitted to move to a higher class. So the sooner we demonstrate that we learnt our lesson, the sooner will be our graduation.
In conclusion, remember it is not about changing actors but about changing the script. You are the director. It is your play. But you are not the audience. So you have to act.