An Entrepreneur’s Diary – Interview

1 — Founding story: why this venture, why that particular time, what motivated to make the leap? What were the entrepreneur’s greatest fears and desires?

Need for excitement, challenge, freedom — all these were reasons. I had planned to start something on my own in 1984 when I first attended a self-development workshop which gave me a taste for training and I realized that I have a natural talent for teaching and loved doing it. But it took almost 10 years of planning and preparation before I actually launched my company. The final trigger was when I reached a plateau in my career, the downside of fast growth, and had to make a choice between changing my job or changing my career. I chose the latter and never regretted it. Strangely my greatest fear should have been starving to death but I never did experience it. My logic was that I planned to succeed, so I was not going to think about what to do if I failed. That has always been my logic and it works. Not having contingency plans seems like gambling, but in my experience, contingency plans take the edge off entrepreneurship. Your fears then drive you and you start seeking safety more and more and that is suicidal for the entrepreneurial activity. It is better not to think of the possibility of failure at all. Plan well. Work like hell. Be highly adaptable. Keep eyes and ears open. Listen to feedback and take risks. The greatest complement I ever received in my eyes was when Pradeep Singh, Promoter and MD of Aditi/Talisma said to me, ‘You are a master at brinkmanship.’ I think it is the ability to walk on the edge and not fall off, which is critical to success.

My greatest desire then and now (26 years later — counting from 1984) is to help people. I know what I can do. I see the results and it gives me a big thrill when someone comes up to me at an airport or somewhere in some country and says, ‘Mr. Baig, you changed my life. I remember listening to you in such-and-such course in such-and-such country and I did what you recommended and it worked.’ This has happened to me many times and nothing can beat the thrill of that. I enjoy my work. I am passionate about developing leadership. I enjoy seeing people empowered. I get the greatest satisfaction from knowing that I had something to do with that. I believe that it is absolutely essential to love your work. To be passionate about it. Even if all you do is to make widgets, you must be the most passionate widget maker in the world who lives, walks, talks and dreams about widgets. That is the secret.

2 — What were the most surprising things and most important lessons learned about founding and running a company? What were the greatest difficulties?

Building credibility was the biggest challenge. I was from a hard-core operations background, attempting to enter the area of professors, HR experts and the like. My logic was simple — I do the stuff they talk about. And guess what? I know how it feels to actually make it work, I know the difficulties that you Mr. Practitioner will face and I know how to fix it if it breaks. I didn’t just design strategies to deal with unions; I faced unions on the shop floor. I didn’t just design appraisal systems, I appraised and was appraised. I didn’t talk about team building principles; I built highly diverse teams which created benchmarks in productivity, motivation and working across boundaries. I didn’t teach risk management, I put my money where my dreams were and then stayed up in the night living with the empty feeling in the pit of my belly, waiting to see if my risk was going to pan out or not. And today I am still here and doing well. Risk to me is not a theoretical matter that I talk to others about while taking my own salary home. Risk is something that I live with, enjoy taking, have lost money on and have highly successful rules to deal with which I have invented, tested and practiced with great results. That approach worked and still works because I am from their world — the world of the practitioner who has to take the knowledge from the book and the lecture and actually use it in the field.

My big learning was not to do what is not my expert area. So, I have an operation where everything that does not need my personal intervention is outsourced. Takes a huge load off my back and balance sheet. I don’t have to supervise staff, don’t have overheads and simply pay bills, once a year and everything is in order. Another big learning was about the importance of having an abundance mentality and freely sharing resources, learning from and helping people; even people who others would see as competition. It is a matter of great satisfaction for me that several of my competitors have recommended me to their clients.

Can’t say that I had to face any great difficulties even though in the initial year there were months where until the last couple of days we didn’t know if we would have money to pay the rent for our home. But then I tended (and still do) to seek challenges. A difficulty doesn’t look the same if you went looking for it and found it. Then it is exciting, keeps you awake in the night inventing ways to solve it and gives you a big thrill when you do solve it; which makes you ready for the next one.

3 — What were the key reasons why the venture succeeded or failed?

Four key reasons why this venture succeeded:

1. Human relations: I believe in building relationships and always ensure that I follow the advice that my first boss Nick Adams gave me — Be good to people when you don’t need them. So, I have clients today who are more friends than clients and are my best ambassadors. In 20 years I have not had to make a single cold call. All my new clients are client referrals. That is worth money in the bank, believe me. I am consciously good to everyone I meet from the driver of the car which picks me up from the airport, to the man who deals with the audio-visual stuff in one of my programs, to the go-for young people, to the VPs who come to inaugurate my session. I have always maintained that anyone in the room is my client and their designations have nothing to do with how I treat them. They are all equally important to me.

2. Quality: I have always held myself to the principle that we will always deliver quality whether they want it or not. Because quality is our signature. Not theirs. So, we will always deliver quality and always deliver more than they expect. And we will remember that quality is reflected in the shine on your shoes, the crease of your clothes, the way you open the door for someone, whether you stand up to greet someone who enters the room, whether you ask if the driver or helper has eaten and if he hasn’t whether you invite him to eat at your table. All these are quality indicators with great impact. Far more than you would imagine and interestingly you won’t find them in any book or on any B-school menu of ‘Secrets of Success.’

3. Enjoy: I believe I succeeded because I enjoy my work. I know I have said this before but it is the key to success. You can never do well, something that you don’t enjoy. So, do only what you enjoy. And you will naturally do it better than anyone else. And what’s more you don’t get tired, stressed or bored. You love every minute of it, it energizes you and everyone else around you. And when it comes to doing more than what clients expect, it is easy to do because it only means to do more of what you enjoy.

4. Investing in myself: Every year I spend considerable sums of money and time, training myself. I do my own performance appraisal focused on my learning and contribution — not on my earning. In 2013, I had my 360-degree Appraisal done by Potentia, a company that specializes in this. I am most thankful for the result. I write at least one book per year. I write an article a week and in the last week alone, I had 11, 500 visitors to my website which has free articles and lectures for anyone who is interested. Enthusiasm is not a substitute for competence. Knowledge changes from time to time and unless you are focused on learning, redundancy is your biggest threat.

Investment in yourself is the cutting edge. It is what takes you to the top and keeps you there. The biggest secret of expertise is to continuously improve yourself and to do your work 24×7. I believe seriously that entertainment is for the mentally weak who are involved in daily activity which they don’t enjoy and so it creates stress. They need to get away from their ‘lives’ to live a fantasy for a few hours or a few days before they inevitably have to return to the drag. For people who live a life of purpose and passion, their work is the best entertainment. I thoroughly enjoy teaching and training and I would rather not be playing golf or fishing.

4 — What were the most important personal lessons that an entrepreneur needs to learn?

1. Learn to live with erratic cash flows. That is the downside of not having a salary. Good financial planning is the key; combined with financial discipline.

2. Learn to live with disappointment. You are not the most important thing in your client’s life so they will cancel assignments without notice. Smile and bear it because to cry and bear it is worse.

3. Learn to use spare time effectively — which means, make discipline a way of life.

4. Learn to enjoy uncertainty — you will have a lot of it.

5. Money has no meaning. Money is not the reason to work. Money is a natural consequence of excellent service. Honor, compassion, contribution, concern for quality and an abundance mentality are all more important than money. And guess what? If you do all this, money will come on its own. Only, you don’t do it because of the money.

5 — What would be your advice to someone starting their own business?

1. The world is round — what goes around, comes around.

2. Friends may come and go, but enemies stay with you — so be careful not to make enemies.

3. Build bridges because you will need them when you least expect.

4. Take advantage of opportunities — and remember they don’t come with a label round their necks.

5. Take risk — to wake up every morning is a risk. Without risk there is no growth and that is an absolute law.

6. Don’t look to see what you can do. Do what you can do best. Do what you are most passionate about. Because you will be doing it for a long time and there is nothing intelligent about doing something that you don’t enjoy even if you make money in the process.

7. If something is not working for you, examine your own values, ethics, morals and beliefs. All of what I said above is less about acting and more about being. Acting can’t be sustained. You don’t ask about someone’s welfare or share with someone or do more for a client because you have your eye on some future profit. You do it because that is who you are. Your values drive you and so look at your values and if necessary change them.

8. And last but by no means the least — be grateful. And show it. It is true that we owe our success to our efforts, but it is good to remember that many of those were made standing on someone else’s shoulders. If people had not helped us at critical moments, we would not have achieved what we did. Remember them and what they did because even if you forget they won’t.

I remember all those who helped me no matter how long ago that was. I ensure that I keep in touch with them and let them know that I have not forgotten them. I never will.


Advertising is not about selling. It is about influencing; about kindling desire; about fueling passion. Advertising is about converting ‘want’ to ‘need.’ It is about mind steering. Advertising is powerful so it must be used responsibly.

Think of your favorite Ad. What does it seek to do?
Then ask yourself, ‘Is it true?’

Is it true that my value as a human being will increase because I wear a certain brand? Is it true that my possessions are a reflection of my worth?
Or are they a reflection of my character which drives my choices?

Choices that reflect my wisdom with respect to wealth, concern for others, compassion and morals.

What do you call someone who uses expensive products because he thinks they add value to him as a person?

I call him a person who doesn’t understand the basic principle in life – that possessions add cost; not value.

Advertising must be responsible. The foundation of responsibility is truth. Advertisements that seek to promote products which harm life, objectify women, promote drugs and addiction, are irresponsible, false and criminal. Alcohol destroys lives, cigarettes are addictive and cause cancer and you don’t need a naked woman on a couch to sell ice cream or chocolates or biscuits.

We must condemn such advertising which is neither original, nor artistic, nor attractive. It is harmful, corrupt and promotes evil.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls – I call upon you to support responsible, moral advertising and to fight against the irresponsible and the unethical.

Because in the end, it is not about them. It is about us.

Values define results

My morning began with three emails: One a quote from my great benefactor and teacher, Ml. Sayyid Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (May Allah be pleased with him), the other the column of my friend David Bullard about Twitter and Facebook and the third the news (how predictable) that Narendra Modi has been able to sign up a record number of MOU’s for an astronomical sum of promised investment into Gujarat with everyone who is anyone in Indian industry, cheering him as they signed on his dotted line. I have pasted the two emails below. Modi is all over the papers and my computer doesn’t like his face so I will leave you to look at it in your own time.

Why these three things together?

Because the message is the same – it is money which makes the world go around.
And so what kind of world is it that is going around where the only consideration is ‘dollar value, net worth and bottom line’? Where human values, morals, ethics, compassion, consideration and kindness are all signs of weakness.

Modi is one face of it – a man who engineered the slaughter of 2000 innocent men, women and children and in case you didn’t get the message, announced it from the rooftops and as a result, got elected with thumping majorities in three subsequent elections. A man who the people of his state, Gujarat and most of India look up to as their ‘savior’ because he can attract the high and mighty (from our epitomes of honesty and integrity, who talk values and travel economy class on planes to our wheelers and dealers who do it openly and without apology, who institutionalized corruption in this country and forged the Corporate – Politician – Civil Servant nexus and everyone else in between) to sign on his dotted line and promises of billions in investment. Nobody more materialistic than the normal, garden variety Indian and so you promise money and you can have my body and my soul in the same shrink wrapped package.

Another face of it is the news today that when they tried to unclog a blocked sewage drain in the women’s hostel of the English & Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad, they discovered what was blocking it – a few days old fetus (read: baby).
Another face of it is the scene I saw when I was having my annual lunch with my friend Anil Sood at the Westin hotel in Hyderabad two days ago – two young men and two young women attired in a green colored uniform pulling a steel roller on the lawn. Why do you need four people (gender equality to boot) to drag a roller when a John Deer or Massey Ferguson mini-roller would do it better, faster and cheaper? Because it is actually cheaper to use four people in India and who cares about faster and better anyway? So what are we seeing in the ‘Shining India’ that is being touted to us?

5% or less of a population of 1.2 billion working in the service industry (ITES, IT, Call Centers) creating a bubble of apparent prosperity – propped up by easy credit and complete freedom from any sort of value, chasing a fantasy created and peddled by Bollywood – easy money, easier women, all for a song.

What does that mean in plain language?

The vast number of ‘jobs’ being created for those who are not computer mechanics and keyboard jockeys are symbolically like the one I mentioned above – people dragging the dead-weight of their lives behind them – jobs in gardening and cleaning in 5-star hotels, security for shiny steel and glass offices, labor to build those offices and the elevated highways connecting them to shiny airports and the like. Where did such people work before we started ‘Shining’? For one thing they didn’t exist – the effect of the population explosion. For another they used to work in the fields on farms. Some of them sold farm produce in cities – small retail. Still others worked in manufacturing companies – which actually make things – not just answer phone calls in bad English with worse manners.

Today manufacturing is what China does. Small retail is what the likes of Reliance and ITC and others grabbed and created humongous retail chains on the model of Wal-Mart, in the process wiping out the livelihood of millions of poor people who had no other means of earning a living and no other skill. Farms are where our politicians go to gather votes on the basis of unsustainable promises, where micro finance companies go to offer loans at astronomical interest rates and where the desperate farmers eventually commit suicide. What about the labor who construct those beautiful offices (if you call something of steel and glass beautiful, that is) and elevated highways and shiny airports that less than 1% of the population will ever use? Well, after the office is up and well before inauguration, lo and behold, they don’t exist. They are made to disappear. They vanish without trace as if they never existed in the first place. Maybe the building is a current version of the Indian rope trick – it arose out of the earth when someone played the flute.
In closing let me narrate a story – that the engineer in charge told me at a major hydroelectric generation plant in Tamilnadu in the beautiful Anamallai Hills more than 20 years ago. This project was designed to pump water from a lower reservoir during off peak times into a reservoir on the hilltop and then during peak times this water is sent down steep penstock tunnels onto turbines to generate electricity. The project engineer was taking me around and we were walking in the main tunnel off which the penstock tunnels fell away at an angle of 30° or less – onto the turbines.

The man cautioned me and said, ‘Sir please don’t go too close to the edge. If you slip, we will not even be able to get your body up.’ (laugh). I noticed of course the complete absence of guard rails or holding nets or any form of safety when there were hundreds of workers working on this site. Their gear? Rubber slippers, beedi in the mouth and an attitude of fatalism. So I asked him, ‘Don’t you have accidents? What happens if one of these workers slips and falls?’ He said, (laugh again – this time albeit a little embarrassed), ‘We take attendance in the evening.’

That O! People, is the nature of the world that money makes go around. They take attendance in the evening. Your call.

The lifestyles of the Ulama have to be distinguished from the awaam (general masses)
Hadhrat Moulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (rahmatullahi alaih) once mentioned:

“Our lives have to be distinguished from the awaam. Onlookers should be able to fully understand that these people are not seekers of the world, and wealth and riches are not their goal in life. Our work should be only for the sake of Allah Ta`ala as was the way of our aslaaf (pious predecessors). As long as a marked difference does not appear in the Akhlaaq (manners,attitude) of our Ulama fraternity and they do not instill within themselves the quality of serving others, they will not be able to influence others nor will they be respected. They will not be able to implant within the minds of others the respect and honour for Deen. Respect for Ulama will never be created by reporting the size of the madrasahs they run and the large number of students studying under them. Rather, the honor for Ulama is created by the way they portray themselves. When the awaam notice that these Ulama consider it taboo to lay their hands on that which they (awaam) will sacrifice their lives for (i.e. material possessions etc.), nor do they show any concern for them, they will eventually say to themselves, “We thought that riches were the ultimate in life but, in the eyes of the Ulama riches hold no weight.” (Tuhfat-ul-A’immah, p. 77)

Your customers build your brand – Not you

Much has been written about building a winning brand and about the importance of brand and branding in general. In my view successful branding is the culmination of a 2 – step process which is as follows:

1. Ask: What do we want to be remembered for?
2. Act always and consistently to create those memories in people’s minds.

So that every time they think of what you provide, they have only one name that they can recall and that is yours. Like all truly powerful ideas, it is very simple. The key is in execution; passionately, seamlessly and consistently.

In my view, if you are competing against anyone, i.e. if your customers or potential customers are even considering your competitors as potential fulfillers of their need, then you have failed. In the words of Sun Tzu, ‘The best general is the one who wins without fighting.’ And that is the hallmark of successful branding – that you leverage yourself out of the competition.

So how can you do that?

1. Asking: What do we want to be remembered for?

It is essential to ask this question and the answer lies in another question: What am I most passionate about? We can only be remembered for what we do best and we can only do best what we are most passionate about. So ask, ‘What am I most passionate about? What do I truly want from life? What am I willing to do anything to achieve? What do I get the most satisfaction from?’ Make up your own questions and answer them and you will arrive at that which you are most passionate about. If you always do what you are passionate about you will become known for it and people will remember you for it. So identify that passion.

2. Act always and consistently to create those memories in people’s minds.

If there’s one word which is critical in this statement it is the word ‘consistently’. It is regularity that creates dependability. People must become used to expecting the same standard of excellence when they come to you for whatever it is that you provide. Consistent Excellence. Flashes in the pan are good to create awareness but if the pan doesn’t flash every time, then credibility gets damaged very quickly.

When you do this – produce excellence and do it consistently and regularly then dependability ensues and brand is created. Brand is not built by you but by your clients who tell others and become your ambassadors to the world. One referral by a satisfied client is worth a million bucks of advertising. I am not against advertising and PR but want to emphasize that one must keep it in perspective and not imagine that it is some kind of magic wand that once waved will wipe out all the bad taste of indifferent product and service quality. It won’t. On the other hand the PR will come across as an exercise in deception and destroy credibility even more.

Many branding ‘experts’ talk almost exclusively about ‘customer perception’ and the ‘mind of the customer’ as if they can read minds. They talk about how to ‘influence the customer’ to think this way or that as if the customer is a puppet in your control who can be influenced independently of your actions and what you provide. Their ‘campaigns’ are almost exclusively about logo design, ad copy, tag lines and color combinations. They don’t talk about product quality, delivery efficiency, service excellence or follow up. The result is that ‘branding exercises’ are all about advertising and PR and not about creating sustainable quality. This is a very big mistake because the damage to the brand which results from the eventual and inevitable disappointment that the customer feels when the PR mask is off, is something that can’t be measured and seldom corrected.

So what must one do?

Focus on ‘Moments of Truth’ and ensure that these are defined, designed to create the impression you want the customer to take away and monitored to ensure that every single time, the customer has the exact same experience.

What is a ‘Moment of Truth’?

In the words of Jan Carlson, the CEO of Scandinavian Airlines, who first used the term in this context, ‘A Moment of Truth is that moment when a customer or a potential customer, comes into contact with any aspect of your business and has an opportunity to form an opinion.’

I have underlined the key phrases in this definition to highlight their importance. Who is a ‘customer or a potential customer’? In my opinion it is anyone in the world. Anyone who meets you, speaks to you on the phone, logs onto your website, reads your brochure, billboard or any of your literature or contacts you in any way at all must go away with the most positive impression possible about who you are and what you do. This must happen even if the person decides that you are not the person he/she needs to fulfill their need at that time. They must still feel that you are the best thing that happened to them.

Moments of Truth are defining moments but are for the most part handled either mechanically (websites, answering machines and so on) or by the least paid, least trained employees (telephone operators, security guards, receptionists) with predictable results. I am not suggesting that the CEO must man the phone or stand at the gate (though having said it, is not a bad idea at all to do once in a while) but must know what anyone who calls his company or comes to meet anyone experiences. Most CEOs and managers when I get them to call their company anonymously are unpleasantly surprised at what happens. Most Moments of Truth in most organizations go unnoticed and uncommented upon except by customers, which is a very dangerous situation to be in.

The key to brand building is to ask, ‘What do we want our customers to feel when they think of us?’ Then talk to them and ask what they do feel and bridge the gap. This VOC (Voice of Customer) is the most valuable tool for brand building that you can imagine. It is a thermometer to gauge the warmth the customer feels towards your organization – the warmth of love and good feeling or the warmth of irritation and anger. Organizations that listen to customers regularly (by this I mean actually speak face-to-face not run anonymous surveys) have their finger on their pulse and are able to leverage that knowledge. They build relationships that result in customer loyalty and give them an insight into what their customers want. Apple’s iPod and iPad were the result of listening to customers and the resultant sale success is an indication of how well they know their market. Singapore Airlines advertising is supported by in-flight service that even other airlines talk about. BMW’s advertising is supported by unmatched engineering to produce a benchmark, not merely a car. Brand building therefore in my view is to listen to the customer, build a close relationship with him/her and deliver a quality of service that leaves them spellbound. Advertising and PR then is merely to inform them about new products and services.

What makes a winner?

Before I begin on the three fundamental principles that make winners, let me state one thing: In life, only winners are rewarded. So the first requirement of winning is to be passionate about winning. To realize that a real win is one that is gained fairly, with integrity and without harming anyone. Only that is a win.

There are three fundamental drivers of all winners:

1. Drive for excellence
2. Compassion
3. Desire to leave a legacy

Drive for excellence emerges from the winner’s self-concept. A winner defines himself by his output. Her contribution is her signature. Winners are contribution oriented, not entitlement oriented. They constantly seek to give and to give more and better each time. Naturally this gives them profit, fame, honor and popularity but that is not why they do it. They do it because of who they are. Not because of what others say about them. I recall a carpenter who was making a table and asked me for 7 grades of sandpaper. When I complained about the time it would take, he said to me, ‘It is your choice. This is how I work. I want whoever sees your table to ask you, ‘Wow! Who made this?’ Not, ‘Who the hell made this?’ He was working for his own satisfaction. That this would result in a satisfied customer was incidental. He would have worked that way even if he had no customer to sell to. The table he made for me was of teak wood, polished to a mirror finish. A delight to see.

Compassion comes from a sense of connectedness that winners have. They realize that they are not alone in the world and that they became what they became because of what others did for them, without thinking of a return. Compassion is not merely to be concerned about the difficulties of others but to be concerned enough to put our money and effort where our mouth is. Compassion is what defines us as human beings. Animals don’t have compassion. A wildebeest herd stands and watches one of its members being eaten by lions and do nothing to help the one that was taken. It is peculiarly and essentially human to be concerned for the welfare of others. Winners are concerned and they act. Today our major problems that threaten the world are because of a lack of concern, a lack of compassion for others. We are singularly focused on growth at any cost. Growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell. Predatory growth results in environmental destruction, impoverishment of people for the enrichment of a few and increase in unrest and insecurity.

Legacy: Finally winners who have lived all their lives trying to create an impact on their environment don’t want to disappear beneath the waves without a trace. They like to leave a legacy of goodness that continues after they are gone. So they build organizations, systems and processes so that their work will continue. They spend time, energy and resources to train others, to teach them what they know, to share their life’s hard earned experience so that others don’t have to go through the same hardships to learn. Winners leave their mark on the hearts and in the lives of all those they touch. They don’t do this to be remembered but they are remembered because of what they did. For the world remembers us not for what we had but for what we did and how that helped them. The legacy of the winner is in the smiles of those who they helped.

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’: