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Monday, October 14, 2013

Develop your basket of abilities

Cross roads image copyrighted by Martin Lieberman.See the source (C) by 
In career intelligence, it is important to know your basket of abilities. Here is a brief summary of how to develop this basket

1. Make a plan to develop your primary ability

See the list of 8 abilities here. While graduating, an engineer, doctor and commerce graduate are nurturing one key ability - logical reasoning ability - in learning their subjects. It is an ability to think logically, solve problems, find new solutions, and think both inductively and deductively. Your development path must chart out the ways by which you will grow this ability.

One of the simplest way to sharpen this ability is by solving real-world problems ( this is like selecting a domain to use your abilities), not book problems. For instance, a medical student works in a hospital to solve his patient's problems. For a medical student, this is part of his course. For a commerce student, this is not automatic. He must develop a plan to sharpen his reasoning ability by, say, understanding the functioning of stock market, or the functioning of tax system. An engineer may have to work in a small factory or work on a project of say, making a gear system.

A graduate can also nurture her verbal-linguistic ability. Many students have natural ability to express their thoughts. They should utilise the opportunities offered by the college, such as by participating in debates and seminars. If the college is not offering an opportunity, they should attend a course on dramatics to use the finer distinctions of communication. Please use some of these ideas that have been mentioned here.

2. Make a plan to develop your 3 basic character traits 

Your character trait of self-regulation is the key trait that will help you in excelling in your future life. If you have limited 'abilities', this trait enables you to fully utilise those abilities. And if you have above-average abilities, self regulation will enable you to maximise its benefits. It requires understanding of the dual processes of mind, the games the mind plays by using beliefs and mindsets, and therefore helps you identify the bottlenecks in achieving your personal goals.

Although this knowledge of the working of mind is important, one cannot learn this trait directly. One has to learn it indirectly, say by engaging with some activity, like a project. Even if you are engaged in playing a sport, actively playing that sport helps you develop self-regulation. See one example of developing this trait by learning a musical instrument, Tabla. 

Emotional stability, the second important character trait, is also the right trait to develop during this age ( 16-22). In this age, every graduate is growing through the moody swings of adolescence caused by hormones. If you do not use emotions, emotions will use you.

Third important trait, creativity, can be fully developed in creative situations like setting a drama, or working on a project. Another indirect way to develop these character traits is to work for a NGO.

3. Make a plan to develop Conative traits 

Conative traits sustain your motivation and help you generate initiatives and positive attitude towards life. When a student comes from a poor family, that itself is a motivation enough to study and work hard. But this same student, when his money problems are resolved in his later life ( say at the age of 35), cannot find any motivation because he has not developed his conative traits. One cannot start developing this trait at a later age of 35. It is like learning to swim at the later age. Technically it is possible to learn, but the time and willpower required is so high, that very few learn this trait at a later age. Professionals have to take drastic decisions to develop this trait, such as taking a one-year sabbatical from their work life and going to Himalayas.

At this age, it is therefore necessary to indulge in simple mechanisms that help you explore your conative traits: the field of drama making, the reading of literature, the discussion of novels and so on.  For some of the ideas read this.

When a student comes from a well-to-do family, he/she finds it difficult to get motivated even in college. For such a student, development of conative traits is urgent.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why graduates find it tough to produce results in the first job

Some graduate students take short time ( 1-2 years) to convert their academic and non-academic abilities into work-related skills after they start working.

This transition is smoother either because they get the right jobs to work, or because the companies support them in this transition through training, or because they find the right boss who guides them through this transition.

However, about 70% of the unlucky students ( these are my guess estimates based on my experience of coaching) find this transition very tough. Either they go through a long period of adjustment lasting as long as 3 to 5 years. Why do these graduate/Post graduate students take such a long time for converting their academic abilities into work-skills after they start working? 

This graduate faces the challenge because he is not fully in control of his task output. Instead, he has to influence others in helping him. How can he do this?

For example, let us understand what a graduate has to do to produce results in a Sales job ( because sales is a very result-oriented job) in a company selling industrial products. This involves three stages.

Stage 1 is of understanding the tasks components of producing results in one's function, understand the inter-connections between the upstream and downstream functions that tie the work-process to produce the whole output. The second stage is of Doing the given task.Third stage is of diagnosing and re-directing the efforts to deliver the results.

Stage 1: Understanding the work involved 

a. Understand the task components of producing results in sales function 

Selling primarily is the task of converting a 'suspect' client into an end customer. To understand more about selling, see this blog. To do this task, the graduate has to take four steps.
  • First step is desk oriented. The graduate has to use reasoning ability to understand the technical nature of his product using his learnt knowledge during graduation. He also has to understand buyer's use of the product and what benefits he gets from using the product. He also has to understand the competitor's products and how they fare in comparison to his product. This step requires cognitive skills. 
  • Second step is call-preparation. He has to find the possible companies who will buy his product, find the right person in that company, and call them to take prior appointment. This stage is sometimes prolonged. 
  • Third step is interacting with the customer to convince him about the product's benefits. This requires interpersonal ability. This step may further require getting background information so that the talk is more pointed. This task is 'on-line'. 
  • Fourth step is closing the call and taking the order from the customer. 
b. Describe the entire value-chain and understand the rules of value chain  

A value chain starts from the understanding what the outside customer requires and ends with fulfilling that customer requirements. For instance, Entire value chain includes Marketing, Sales, Production and delivery, Commercial transaction, and After sales services.

Understand the rules of value chain.

Rule 1: Upstream function impacts the efficiency and effectiveness of the downstream function.  For instance, if the tele-marketer in Marketing is better in shortlisting the customers, in Sales you will get more 'ready' customer which will increase your efficiency. 

Rule 2: Allocation of resources within the functions also impacts the output of your work. If more money is being spent on 'marketing', you may get better 'customers' to call in Sales. But re-distribution of resources is a strategic decision. You must understand your company's allocation of resources. If your company decides to spend more money on 'selling', and less on marketing, it will increase your effort. 

Rule 3: Power structure of the different functions within the company impact your work. If 'sales' function is the 'blue-eyed' function in the company, you will get all the benefits of being in the function. On the other hand, if after-sales service is the key function, you will have to struggle to get your ideas heard. 

Stage II: Do the 'given' task to produce the results in sales function 

This stage is in your control. 

Once you start doing the four tasks of selling every day, you will start producing the 'sales' results. Your efficiency of doing these tasks is determined by your effort: by the way you plan your day, by the way you call the customers, by the way you prepare for the call,  and so on.

As you keep on improving your 'planning of time', you will be able to meet more customers and close more customer orders. Your results will keep on improving with better planning, better calling and better coordination. 

But sooner or later, you will meet a dead end of improvement. Because one cannot improve one's function without 'impacting' other functions. 

Stage III: Re-direct the efforts when the desired results are not produced 

Results are not produced automatically.

When, for instance, you fail to meet your sales targets one month, you will diagnose. You may find that the tele-marketing staff in "Marketing function' has changed. And that resulted in your calling 'unprepared customers'. Your call efficiency dropped because you have been calling unprepared customers. But what can you do next month? How can you influence telemarketing function with no power? If you want to influence that function's work, what options you have?

Or you may get many complaints from the after-sales function team. You will discover that the problem has happened because you took orders with 'different specifications'. You also knew that you took that order because your 'boss' pressed you to take it to meet 'total monthly target of sales'. But you are left alone in fending the complaint. What will you do? What can you do? 


When a graduate starts working in a company, he is rarely trained in using all the three stages of work: Understanding, Doing the work and Re-direction of efforts based on results. He is only told about Stage II and urged to do his own task better, faster and easier. No help is provided to him to perform Stage III of Diagnosis to improve his output or to influence other functions. He is left on his own.

Graduate is clueless because he does not know he is working in a socio-technical system. Work in an organisation is done through end-to-end processes which include compartmentalized functions that are highly inter-dependent. Each function has its own agenda for which the function is responsible. That function's agenda may sometimes hamper the output of 'whole'. Further, the functional work is done by people who are rational and emotional, calculative and unpredictable, the blame is easily passed to the least 'powerful'. So it is not just about 'technical work'.

Some graduates learn to negotiate this system from their bosses. Some graduates have an option of lots of time because they are protected by good teams. Some learn it because of long induction training. Some learn it from their senior colleagues.

But many graduates feel helpless and clueless because they do not know what can they do. They feel like victims in the 'corporate jungle' ready to be devoured by any predator. Unable to understand the 'systemic' jungle, they cannot negotiate it.

But until they learn to negotiate the systems, they cannot use their cognitive skills learnt during graduation to produce the desired result in a job. Graduates require three skills ( primary cognitive skills, secondary cognitive skills, and ancillary skills) to produce these results. And until they produce the desired results in their work, they cannot get the benefits of higher salary, promotion, recognition and achievement.  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Five lessons from observing the development path of prodigies

Michael Kearney started talking at age four months and reading at eight months. He soaked up the elementary curriculum by the age of four, entered college at the age of six, and graduated at 10. His father, Kevin Kearney, observed that it was as though his son had a "rage to learn". 

Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887–1920) was an Indian mathematician who, with almost no formal training in pure mathematics, learned college-level mathematics by age 11, and generated his own theorems in number theory and Bernoulli numbers by age 13 .

Prodigies dazzle us with their virtuoso musical performances, quick and efficient chess moves, imaginative paintings, or brilliant mathematics. We presume that these prodigies have to just develop their one single skill, be it mathematics, piano, or chess. We also wrongly presume that they can develop these skills without any support from the outside environment. 

If we therefore understand the output paths of these prodigies, it will help us learn about how we can develop our own skills and excel in them. Let us learn five key lessons that are useful for all of us. 

Lesson 1: Only Innate talents do not determine the performance of prodigies, their practice is important

We tend to assume that prodigies are born with their 'full blown talent' because of their genetics and God-given gift. But this is not true. 

These early bloomers become attracted to a domain - an output like chess or maths - early due to their 'genetic inclinations', but they also need to engage in the domain to accelerate their learning. When engaged in their domain of interest, prodigies tend to focus like a laser beam, entering a state of "flow", in which the task is effortless and enjoyable, and time recedes in the background. This deep engagement makes them excel, not just their innate talent. Dr Anders Ericsson calls it a 10,000 hour rule of practice. 

Lesson 2: Prodigies use their genetic inclinations to make a difficult choice of domain

In the case of prodigies, they are lucky. They automatically chose their output, be it mathematics, music or chess due to their genetic inclinations. 

For many of the talented students, they face a difficult task of choosing from too many outputs or domains. It is the problem of prosperity. For instance, i met a student last month who had an excellent logical ability. But, he was faced with a difficult choice of deepening his logical ability either in accounts, engineering or medicine.  
This highlights the importance of conative traits for excelling. Conative traits are traits that enable us to identify the purpose of life, or the passion that we bring to the work, or the significance that we attach to our job or people. Conative traits, if available, help us make this choice easily. But when they are absent, they make our life very difficult. As we have seen earlier, one has to consciously attempt to find meaning in life. Without this meaning, i have observed that many executives, despite their monetary success, falter in life. 

Lesson 3. Prodigy's talent is not just developing one 'skill'. 

Although a violinist can achieve brilliance on the violin by practicing for hours every day, they also need other personal traits like emotions, for instance, to make their violin meaningful. As the violinist Yehudi Menuhin once said, “Maturity, in music and in life, has to be earned by living".  Without the development of these traits, talent cannot be sustained. See this longer list of prodigies. How many of you knew them for their excellent sustained work? .

This is important to remember. None of the talent today is just one skill. As we have seen in earlier blog, our talent gift consists of character traits that have to be nurtured and developed. Traits of concentration, internal motivation, creativity, extraversion version intraversion are as important in excelling in life than the skill. Without these traits, you cannot sustain the excellence of your narrow skill , be it selling, teaching, programming, cooking, playing or even managing. 

Lesson 4: Prodigies require both active and passive support from the external system

A musical prodigy, for instance, requires both active and passive support from his parents. Without active support, the child will never gain access to an instrument, or the technical training is required to develop the talent. But inactive support from parents is equally necessary. They also require emotional nurturance that enables a musician to achieve mature expression.

For instance, we think that talents like computing can grow only if the students has access a computer. But this is partly true. He also must have strong links to a community of developers who can give him problems, who can share their difficulties with him, who can offer the window of other technologies. Without this community of developers, which can now be done without any physical proximity, this support is required for another skill. That is why a good college is very important to develop your skill. 

Lesson 5: Prodigies develop their talent due to many lucky factors acting together in synch

Based on detailed interviews with a number of prodigies and their family members, David Henry Feldman and Lynn Goldsmith concluded that the prodigy phenomenon is the result of a lucky coincidence of many factors. 

This includes many factors such as :  availability of the domain in the prodigy's geographical location ( if Bill Gates was not born in US, his programming skill would not been known to us), healthy social/emotional development of the child in the family, the gender and birth order ( is the person the first child or second child) that help the prodigy to develop his interest, availability of education in the place of location, cultural support and public recognition for developing the talent ( imagine a musical child born to a family in Africa where physical survival is the first battle), material support from family members, at least one parent completely committed to the prodigy's development, family traditions that favour the prodigy's development (imagine the development of mathematical talent in the family of lawyers) and historical forces, events, and trends in the society during the development phase of the child. 


All the factors of their talent development work in synch for a prodigy. In a normal individual, they are rarely in synch.

Some factors work late ( you find a good teacher in drawing only when you are in 10th class), some factors are absent ( you lay hands on computer only when you reach college), or some factors do not seem to be available as and when required ( like you go into a college where you find a group who works with you all the time!).

Or conative trait like passion develops late in a life, or development of a significant trait like extraversion develops late ( for instance, you become outspoken only when you go in college), or an important personal trait like "We cannot impact outcomes in life" requires a failure to emerge ( for instance, failing to get into army or some important incident of failure). 

In other words, the difference between a prodigy's development and our development is very little. The difference is in the timing - the timing of having the right trait at the right time. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

What can we learn from Dhoni's cricketing sense?

On Thursday 11 July 2013, Dhoni almost single-handedly won the final match in the Tri Nation series against Sri Lanka. Critics and Commentators have been heaping praise and adulation on his amazing 'ice-cool' ability under stress. Some call him lucky. Some call it 'instinctual' ability to take quick decisions. And like Dhoni said in his interview after the final that he is blessed with 'cricketing sense'.

How can these kind of traits develop? They cannot be developed by gaining more knowledge, getting some degrees, or by attending any training programs. These are mindsets that get formed due to our mixture of Beliefs, Assumptions and Conclusions ( also called as BAC effect) that we hold unconsciously. So too it is in the case of Dhoni. Why is BAC effect powerful? Because, we constantly make 'sense' of a situation based on BAC, and unconsciously use them to take small or large decisions. These small decisions either take us on a irreversible path forcing us to justify the path we took ( like the action a player takes to unknowingly help a match fixer), or it also helps us take big decisions that significantly impacts result ( like in Sports)

Let us try to 'uncover' Dhoni's BAC and how it enables him to make sense to take his 'actions and decisions'.

How can we  uncover Dhoni's BAC without asking him? We unconsciously do this with our friends by inferring their actions, comments and statements. For instance, Dhoni keeps on giving his comments in his interviews. Some of his assumptions can be inferred from his actions on the field. And some of his 'derived conclusions' can be guessed from the way he selects team, takes quick calls and his reaction or non reaction in the heat of the situation.

Why are we doing this? Because it will help us understand the mystery of his 'ice-cool' ability and how did he develop his 'cricketing sense'. If we do not understand this, we credit it to 'God', unable to learn anything. But if we understand this, we also can identify our 'invisible' BAC, and understand how it is preventing us from achieving desired goals.

Core Belief 1: Your efforts can produce only output, not outcome

I have written earlier how efforts cannot produce outcome in a tennis match. Even when both player manages to win the same points ( same output), it can still result in different outcomes ( one wins and other loses). This rule is visible all the times, but we just refuse to see it. It happens in studies. We know one subject well but we score less in it than the subject we like less.

Infact this is an old belief in Hindu Philosophy ( Bhagawad Gita), depicted in the battle of Mahabharata, where Krishna advises Arjuna that कर्मणयेवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन। मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि. “You have a right to perform your prescribed action, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your action..”

Dhoni has accepted this belief very well. He has not just understood it, he has assimilated this belief in his psyche. He knows that he can only put his best efforts, victory or defeat is not in his hands. Assimilation of this belief enables Dhoni to have an ice-cool ability. More importantly, this belief enables Dhoni in focusing on his field efforts without thinking of ifs and buts, without having other doubts. This is a huge plus in a game situation !

But the interesting question is why Dhoni could assimilate this belief better than most of us? You will observe that many sportsman absorb this belief. If you hear any top players interviews - Roger Federer, Djokovic and now Murray - you will hear their acceptance of this belief. So what makes sportsman accept this belief so easily? The answer is 'quick feedback'. In sport tasks, actions and outputs are closely related with each other in 'time'. Therefore it is easy to view and appreciate that 'one's effort may not result into desired outcome'.  In knowledge tasks, there is huge time lag between 'effort and output'. Because of this simple difference, professionals in knowledge tasks ( engineers, doctors, consultants, accountants and researchers) find it very difficult to accept this core belief of life. This paradoxically makes it difficult for us to achieve anything 'big' in our life !

Core Assumption in cricket : Initiator determines the course of point in the game, not the responder

In sports, initiator determines the course of the 'action'. Please read this assumption carefully. Like in Chess, the player with white piece determines the course of the entire game. In tennis, the server is the initiator. In cricket, the bowler is the initiator. In these games, the initiator controls the point, not the game.

If the ball is good, the batsman can just 'play' it defensively. If he still tries to score, he has to hit 'low percentage' shots. Low percentage shots may get the batsman out ! Batsman like Virendra Sehwag are considered as match winners, because they can play high percentage shots even on a 'good ball'. But , as we know, with age, even Sehwag has lost this ability !

Dhoni once again understands this assumption of cricketing game very well and uses this actively while batting as a finisher. ( If i can interview him, I would love to ask him how he discovered this assumption !) He therefore keeps on playing high percentage shots until the bowler falters. If this strategy gets him closer to the goal, he does not take the risk. But if it does not get him closer to the goal, he waits till the last moment (like he waited till the last over in the final match) and plays low percentage shots only at the last moment. Even while doing this, he increases his chances of succeeding, by adopting other safe techniques like using high weight bat, or playing his shots in the V angle from mid off to mid on, and so on. More often, he wins, because he uses the 'right strategy', not because he is lucky.

Dhoni also uses this assumption while making bowling changes According to this assumption, an untested good bowler is more likely to 'surprise' the batsman and make him play low percentage shot, than an established well known bowler. Or a spinner may turn out to be a better bowler on a pitch than a fast bowler ( which he assumed in the last final match due to which he relied on part time spinner !)

Dhoni's sensemaking apparatus in action 

With this belief and assumption, he always takes the right calls on the field, because he is always 'on the field' with less or no 'biases' from the past. Now see his different actions and try to relate them to his beliefs and assumptions.

He finds 'Joginder' to bowl the last over in 20-20 final in 2007, because he knows 'surprise' is a big winner in a game. ( Effect of Assumption 1)  He never asks the opinions of other team members while making the 'difficult choices', like the choice of bowling part time spinners - Raina - in the last game. Because, he knows, that opinions of others will 'confuse' his sense-making instead of helping him. ( Sensemaking is based on beliefs, and individuals always have different beliefs !) That has indirectly helped him to establish his leadership position and has made his 'leadership aura' grow.

Also observe his actions when he is losing. When he lost in a big way to England in England, he did not give any reasons. Neither did he give any reasons of losing when he lost the series of England in India. Neither did he look worried that he may lose his captaincy. Only commentators and critics were arguing about 'what went wrong'. He knows post mortems only hurt the team members in producing their best in the next match. He prefers to remain quiet. For the same reason, he does not discuss his differences with senior players like Gambhir, Laxman or Sehwag, in open, which seem to be far from the best !

More importantly, once a team member comes in the team, he gives him adequate chances. Even though he seems to rely on some favourites, he gives equal opportunities to his players. For instance, he never flinches from including a new bowler or new batsman in a crucial match, if someone is injured. His grooming of Bhuvaneshwar and Umesh Yadav is a classic example. His preference to Dinesh Kartik over other established batsman is also surprising, because Dinesh Kartik can replace him as a wicket-keeper batsman !

If you closely watch his onfield and offfield behaviour and actions, you will realise that his behaviour and actions are tied to his Core belief and Assumption. When he was asked, if he ever dreamt to become a most successful captain of India, he replied ' I have come from a small town. For me, playing for Indian team itself was a big dream'. His foot is planted on the ground, because he really believes that  his actions alone were never enough to produce any big outcomes ! ( Principle of Bhagwad Gita)

Now are you surprised with Dhoni's cricketing sense? 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Will Abhay fail by doing MBA?

I had met Abhay two years back when he was in third year IIT, Mumbai. He was confused because, despite his valiant efforts in getting into IIT, he had realised that 'engineering' is not meant for him. I introduced him to the fundamental principal of achievement : that thinking competency (unlike physical competency) unfolds in unpredictable ways. He therefore asked me if he should do 'MBA' after graduation. I told him about the 'disadvantages of doing MBA immediately after graduation'.

Last week, Abhay's friend called me and told me that Abhay has got an admission in IIM, Ahmedabad and would be joining the course from this June. His friend jokingly asked him " Will Abhay now fail by doing MBA?" . This is an interesting question. If we engage in a thought experiment, and imagine different possibilities, we can answer this question logically. Let us divert and understand one of the basic principle of Work achievement: Find least resistant path of learning

Find least resistant path of learning of cognitive abilities 

Some work-paths unfold better, because they help the professional to sustain his learning in cognitive abilities far more easily, while some make learning very difficult. For instance, MBA, because it is about managing the work of other people, demands understanding of 'doing' work before one can understand the complexities of managing other's work.  I therefore suggest professionals to do MBA only after certain years of experience, because that enables them to understand the doing work before learning the management of 'doing' work. In other words, Engineering graduation> work experience > MBA is a less riskier path of learning because it generates fewer blocks to learning, it promotes layer-by-layer building of knowledge base.

On the other hand, some paths make it difficult to learn at the outset. For example the path of engineering> MBA > Work is such a path. In this path, the individual does not have a work experience before doing MBA. When one does MBA without having done the doing work, he is going through the motions of getting a MBA degree. Learning of MBA is wasted because it is patched up. Instead of building a person, it just creates illogical aspirations and goals !  Due to these difficulties, students consequently lose themselves in the jungle and find it difficult to find work-paths that will enable them to use their learnt foundation.

When learning is right, our cognitive abilities help us build a strong enough knowledge base to tackle real life problems. Key of work-achievement therefore is finding the right work-path that enables this learning.

Possibilities in Abhay's growth of cognitive abilities 

For instance, let us forsee the possibilities in 'Engineering' to 'MBA' path of Abhay and imagine the learning possibilities that are likely to occur in his path:

Possibility 1: For instance, Abhay, like most of the Engineers, may take over finance 'work-path' in MBA. This path looks attractive as Abhay will earn above-average remunerations on this finance path. But very soon ( I have observed this even after a year or so), Abhay's mind will start questioning about  'what has he done with his IIT degree'. Because Abhay has not 'utilised' his knowledge of technology, he will constantly feel that his cognitive abilities are 'underutilised'. His aspirations will play havoc with his mind. This 'feeling' will make Abhay change jobs frequently, further diverting him from his path of achievement. This happens because Abhay will be exposed to too many options before his mind is ready to choose these options wisely.

Possibility 2: Imagine another optimistic possibility. Abhay may find his the domain of Finance excellent for using his cognitive abilities . This happens with many individuals too. In this path, he will enjoy the money and also have the 'satisfaction' of using best of his cognitive abilities. With no background of accounts, what are the chances of his finding finance as his path of developing his cognitive abilities ?  It is anybody's guess.

Possibility 3: Imagine another optimistic possibility Abhay starts working in Finance and in his later work-life finds some 'purpose of life' and uses his money to channelise his work-life in a new direction. You will find many such professionals in real life. For instance, Abhay can find his path of achievement luckily like Rajiv or find meaning in his life like Narayanan when he went to Madurai. For instance, i have observed many professionals enter in the field of 'education' to fufill their purpose. Some professionals get into the 'VC' industry to help entrepreneurs. Some professionals mix their technical and finance background and find entrepreneurs who are innovating in a special segment which they are most suitable to understand. Some find their own childhood passion, say in cooking, and start a chain of hotels.But this is luck.

What can Abhay do now? 

In other words, Abhay has to depend a lot on luck to 'grow his cognitive abilities plus his emerging traits' in his work-life, because most professionals like Abhay have no understanding of how one develops one's abilities. Without knowing this, they are not thinking beyond tomorrow. For them only factors like jobs and salary only impact their work-path selection

But the science of achievement postulates that Mind affects achievement through three hidden factors: how we deal with uncertainty of producing results, how we manage aspirations and how we balance the type 1 and type 2 mind. Mind management is perhaps the least understood, and most under-rated factor of achievement that is not only ignored, but also avoided. Mind training is required not just to balance the work-life, but to achieve in the work-life.

Most professionals like Abhay ignore these important factors and jeopardise the long term usage of their cognitive abilities. As they are unprepared to face these consequences, they get busy in dousing fires. Instead of preventing fires and building their future, they are engaged in correcting their past actions all the time. They are busy in reacting, not responding. How can they 'build or create' their future when they are just occupied in catching up with yesterday?

Using the framework of achievement, what can Abhay do if he has already chosen to do MBA after his graduation? He can find out multiple ways of reducing the resistance of learning. For instance, Abhay can  think of all the possibilities ( beyond the top 3) in his life, and with the help of mentor, zero on the top three that may happen in his life. After identifying these, he can identify the blocks of learning on these paths, and be ready to deal with the situation, instead of reacting to the situation.

For instance Abhay can increase his probability of finding 'finance' as his path of excellence, by actively working on accounts from Year I of MBA. Or he may actively study the difficulties of professionals like him and actively equip his 'Mind'. Or develop his own parameters of job satisfaction, by actively working on them. There are multiple ways of reducing the resistance of learning!

We fail not because we chose a wrong path, but because we do not prepare adequately for facing the consequences of the chosen path. Abhay will not fail because he is doing MBA after graduation, but because he is not equipping himself to face the difficulties of growing his cognitive abilities in his chosen path. If Abhay therefore uses the framework of achievement, he may still find a way to succeed. But if he waits for the fires to emerge so that he can douse them, he is more than likely to 'fail'.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Choosing the best college for the course is the surest way of excelling

Often, in deciding what to do after 12th, we take lot of effort to determine the course - say, Engineering - we are taking. However, the same rigor is not shown in deciding the college we take to undertake the course. For instance, we are not even aware that the best Civil Engineering Course in India is available at IIT Mumbai.

Best colleges for a course offer 3 advantages for excelling that are unbeatable. They help you develop the necessary confidence in your core abilities by using these three mechanisms. Core abilities are the abilities for which you are doing the course: For instance, in Engineering core ability is technical logical, For commerce graduate it is technical commercial( or accounting), for graphic design graduate the core ability is 'designing page'.

First mechanism is the student community. Better colleges attract better students. Better students force you to 'equal' them and therefore create a 'natural pull' of motivation. This factor is one of the biggest reason why IIT's today offer the best place to do a course. 

Second mechanism is the academic professors and the 'eco-system' of the college ( such as visiting lecturers, connection with other institutes, alumni connection) create 'learning crucibles' that are hot and vibrant. These learning crucibles promote fast and varied learning. This formation of academic community is the one big reason for doing post graduation in US universities. 

Third mechanism is the industry linkage. Industry linkage of the college allows you to get better jobs, do better assignments, attract the right visiting professors and offer you more options to deepen the advanced learning in the same course. This is why, colleges in bigger cities are better colleges.

For instance, there is a world of difference between doing MBA course in one of the best colleges and doing it one of the colleges. For instance, MBA done from a Tier 3 college today is not useful, because they fail to offer the three above mentioned benefits.

This also means that if you are compelled to do MBA from Tier 3 institute, you must make extra efforts to design your strategy to get the first job after finishing MBA course. Sometimes, the amount of extra efforts required are so huge, that it is better not to do MBA course from such a college !

How to find the best colleges for a course that will help you develop the core ability?

Best way to find the best college for a course is to ask an experienced professional in that course. If, for instance, you are planning to do fashion designing, find an experienced fashion designer and ask him the list of best colleges.

Another way is to find independent surveys done by third party institutes like India today or Business World. They provide an 'objective list' of colleges, for courses say in Law, Hotel catering, fashion designing and others.

Another way to find best colleges for a subject is by visiting websites of Institutes such as QS. They regularly do these surveys and list the best universities and colleges for a subject, say Electrical Engineering, History and Languages. For instance, even among IIT's, IIT Delhi is a better college for Electrical Engineering, or JNU is a better college for English and other subjects and so on.

Infact, given today's huge number of colleges, one must take extra care to find the best available college for the chosen course. Choosing the best college is a sure shot way of finding the right nurturing soil and the background to deepen one's abilities. They provide such a rich environment of learning that even an average student manages to become an expert. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

What should Tier 2/3 Engineering graduates do to find jobs in IT firms?

Recently i read a report of research and consulting firm on the status of Engineering jobs.Every year, about 3.5 lakhs Engineering and technology graduates pass out. Four states - AP, Karnataka, TN and Maharashtra - contribute 70% of these graduates. Computer science and IT accounts for 32%, Electronics stream accounts for 22% and Mechanical stream for 18%.

The report also highlighted the concerns of the poor quality of these graduates, which is considered to be abysmally low in Tier 2/3 institutes. The report states that about 4.5% of the engineers passing from Tier 1 engineering colleges such as IIT's are fit to work in IT firm. But the competition in these Tier 1 institutes to recruit graduates is so high that companies recruit them in the seventh semester, making it difficult for colleges to keep these students motivated in eighth semester. In some Tier 1 institutes, it is reported that hiring process commences in 5/6th semesters !!!! This is counting the chickens before the eggs are hatched.

But what do Tier2/3 engineering graduates lack? According to the report, these graduates lack advanced IT skills such as cloud computing. But, given the rapid advances in technology, one can understand and appreciate the lack of latest technical skills.

But the absence of three soft skills is surprising in these graduates ( actually it is not surprising, because even the Nasscom report of 2005 had highlighted this), because they can be easily built around (not inside) the curriculum. Three crucial skills that these students lack are Interfacing skills ( ability to interface with customers and colleagues), Lack of knowledge of any domain ( such as telecom, finance or others) and above all, the understanding of business context that is required to function in an organisation. Please also see the relevant blog for MBA students in Tier 2/3 Institutes.

What can students in Tier 2 and Tier 3 Institutes do to get a job in IT firms?

1> Building interfacing skills : These are interpersonal skills. These skills can be build by working in team projects - academic as well as non-academic projects. Many colleges encourage lot of groups to conduct non-academic activities that require students to work together. Morever, students can always learn inter-personal skill and practice it under the guidance of mentor. Understanding of domains, social  issues, country governance methods also helps in promoting inter personal skills, because knowledge of 'how world works' helps one relate with others.

2. Domain Knowledge building : Every domain - be it software, telecom or Retail - is unique. One cannot understand all domains in one's lifetime. What one needs therefore is to learn a method of understanding domains, the meta-domain skill ( the skill of understanding and analysing any domain) . I utilise value-chain analysis as a better meta-domain method of teaching these domain knowledge building to students.

3. Understanding of business context: Working in an organisation requires understanding how the 'organisational animal' functions. Like working with animals demands understanding of the 'behaviour of animals', so too one needs to understand the 'organisational behaviour' ( not the behaviour of individuals in an organisation) to work in organisations. It requires understanding of organisational functions; structures of responsibility in an organisation; Patterns of power between senior, middle and bottom layers; Use of perception and the 'market driven' behaviour of organisations.This is like doing Mini-MBA. Any good MBA coach can help you understand how an 'organisation functions' in 3 months.

As you would observe, these three skills are required for any graduate ( not just IT) who wants to work in a company job. In other words, these are generic skills required by any graduate who wants to enter the work-life. 

If you do this, even partially, you have edge over other 'Tier 1' college students because Tier 1 college students are generally considered as very difficult students because they are unable to control their aspirations.

Are you ready to acquire these three skills? As they say, if the student is ready, the teacher finds him.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

Learn to respond ( not react)

"The time to build a network is always before you need one. It took me an extra six months to find a job because i had to build a network from scratch before i could really ramp up my search for a  job"

This is what Douglas Conant said, when he lost his job. And remember, he lost his job, after 10-15 year of experience. This is what i always hear when i meet coachees. They always 'wake up' when the problem has arrived. The right time to wake up, as Douglas Conant, says is 'before you need to wake up'. The bigger question is 'how'?.

When you are taking action after the event, you are reacting. When you are taking action, much before the event falls on your lap, you are responding. As you will realise, responding is a main key to succeed in life. Reacting is always catching up with the past, Responding is being ahead with the future by doing something in the present. Reacting is spending efforts on fire-fighting, Responding is spending efforts on preventing the fire.

Here are some ideas to learn to respond:
  • Learn to find 'answer' to questions before they appear in the horizon: As we discussed in this blog, we tend to avoid questions that are irritating, difficult to deal with. We tend to avoid questions such as "What is the next challenge of  getting the job after doing graduation?" Or "what is the challenge in succeeding in the first job" etc.
  • Learn to find people who can help you answer these questions or even help you identify the questions: Generally these are your professors, or an Uncle who is willing to talk about his experience, or a friend of a father who has written a book, or a friend's relative who is a HR Manager of a company which hires graduates. 
  • Learn to frame questions with specific context : Without framing a right question, you will not get the right answer. Do not ask 'What are challenges of getting a job". Instead, make it as specific as " I am passing out from a XXX MBA institute, which is not the premium institute. What difficulties will i face?'". Or  add " I am an Engineer" before asking this question. 
  • Learn to frame questions differently with different individuals: If you are asking a question to a Coach who hardly knows you, ask a general question of " I am passing from xxx Institute as Engineer. What are the challenges for such graduates?" People who have wide experience and background, tend to give answers which are too 'generic'. You have to apply them to your situation. On the other hand, if you are asking this same question to HR manager, ask him " I am a graduate MBA. What jobs can i get in Nashik?"
Framing a question appropriately, depending on the background of a person, is an important key in getting appropriate answer to a difficult question. More than often, i find graduates lack this key skill. They therefore fail to get the right answer because they make these two mistakes : they either ask a wrong question to the right person, or ask the right question to a wrong person. And when they fail to get the desired response from the person, they lose motivation. They stop asking questions because they are embarassed at their repeated failures. And soon they start reacting. 

Have you learnt to frame the questions to elicit the desired response? If you have not , you are at the mercy of life. If you have, you have one more tool to deal actively with life.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Can graduates excel after missing the bus?

We have seen that if students miss the bus of excellence at a school stage, they at least have second chance of correcting their path during graduation. But what happens when a graduate misses the bus of excellence even after graduation?

I have observed three scenarios where students still manage to excel:

Scenario 1: Domain shifters

Sunil Khandabahale finished his graduation in Instrumentation. But after few years of working in Instrumentation, he shifted his domain to software. He launched a web-dictionary for different languages who are challenged in English. Today his web dictionary caters to more than 10 languages. Read his success story here

You will find many such examples of domain shifers who use the same logical ability that they developed while graduating, but shifted their domain, because that domain matched some of the conditions they were seeking. This is quite common. We use the same logical ability, but shift the domains to use that logical ability. Sometimes, this domain shifting is quite radical. For instance, chartered accountancy to engineering, or medical to engineering.

Domains can also be shifted late in life, if they are close to each other. For instance, you will find many advertising professionals getting into movie-making, because the work in both domains is similar to each other for some jobs like directors. Infact, Domain shifting is a most common variation of excelling for knowledge workers. Software domain has become a domain of choice today.

Although Sunil Khandbahale found his domain by chance, it was also driven by his personal challenge of mastering English. But one can reduce the 'chance' element of excelling, by actively exploring Domains. Domain exploration includes three elements: 1> Understanding how abilities can be used in different domains and 3> Passive Exploration of domains by using net and biographies. 3> Active exploration of domains by meeting people, talking to mentors.

Scenario 2: Ability combiners

Sometimes, an educated graduate combines a completely different ability with his logical ability. For instance, you will find many Engineering students shifting to teaching, or chartered accountants shifting to writing a book or on web. This is a combination of logical and linguistic ability. Sometimes the combinations can be quite radical. For instant, Ram Gopal Verma, the Bollywood director of many hit movies, combined his logical ability with his 'story telling ability" ( which is a right brain ability) to direct movies. 

You will find many such examples of combining abilities, because this is a unique way of expressing yourself fully into a job. If you have a work, where you can express all your abilities, the job is ideal for excelling. Sometimes the combination of abilities are very unique. For instance, if you have a musical ability, you can excel in a job if your logical and musical ability can be combined? I had met an Engineer working in Sony, who had combined these two abilities.

Scenario 3. Late bloomers

Intra-personal and inter-personal abilities develop late in life for individuals who have very strong in logical skills. Good logical ability combined with these two abilities therefore enable these late bloomers to excel as entrepreneurs. They become the individuals who have strong grounding in a chosen field, and tend to develop and spread their vision by starting their own organisation.

Narayan Murthy, the founder of Infosys, is one well known example who combined his logical ability and his intra-personal ability ( the ability which enable him to express his values in his organisation). You will find some more examples here.

Success without excellence is difficult to digest

Why is it important to excel? One can succeed in life without excelling, but success without excellence creates lot of unintended consequences. When individuals succeed without excelling, you will find these commonly observed symptoms in them:

1. Individuals succeeding without excelling constantly worry about sustaining success. They either over-work, or are constantly stressed about succeeding in their work. This only results in hyper tension and chronic ailments.

2.Without excellence, there is no job satisfaction. Jobs for these individuals are meant only to earn money. Until money is important, that motivation works. But sooner or later the money loses its power to motivate after it is earned beyond threshold level. After that level is reached, job does not provide any satisfaction. These individuals then keep on shifting from one job to another, but happiness still eludes them.

3. Without excellence there is no life of significance. I meet many 50 +  successful individuals ( who have high monetary success !) who constantly seek attention and power like an adolescent. They are unable to connect their work with their life, because they have never expressed their 'abilities' fully ever in life. For them, life remains an un-fulfilled potential.  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

You may face people interaction problem, if you do not have the right slack

When you are interacting with people - friends, shopkeeper, or colleague in the class -you have to follow certain coordination protocols to interact with each other seamlessly. Those protocols may be 'agreed'  explicitly or implicitly between you and the other person. If the other person is behaving differently than the protocol, you get confused like Manasi.

Manasi has been staying in mumbai for almost 15 years. She shifted to a big town near Mumbai, Nashik. She called up plumber to fit her Acqua guard at 4 pm. Despite promising, he did not turn up till 4 pm. Neither did he call to tell that he was getting delayed. She waited till 4.30 pm. The phone was 'out of reach'. She called at 5.30 pm. Same response. She called at 6.00 pm. Plumber replied " I am sorry. I got stuck up somewhere". Manasi ranted and raved. Ultimately she asked him if he can come the next day. He said he will come by 10 am. Same drama repeated next day.

Manasi is facing the problem of getting adjusted to the new coordination protocols of the town where she has not grown. For her friends in Nashik, this is not a problem at all. It is just a matter of 'adjusting'.

Manasi, for instance, could not adjust with the coordination protocols of the new town even afer a year.  Instead, she kept on getting 'proofs' of their unprofessionalism, the characteristics she said she wanted in people, in every interaction. For instance, according to her, people in Nashik never came at predetermined time, or when they did not come on time, they did not inform in advance. Or when she went shoppping for grocery, shopkeepers gave her oil  bags that were 'time expired'. Or  when she asked for something and it was not available, they never said so. Or when she moved with her scooter, she complained that they took left turn without showing the left indicator. They parked at wrong places, or they jumped signals. Or when she went to drama, the drama never started on 'time'. And so on and on. The evidence on 'unprofessionalism' kept on mounting with every encounter in her mind.

We seek consistency in our beliefs

What do you think is happening with Manasi? We all have beliefs about 'how people should behave'. Some of these beliefs become 'solid' as we meet people holding the same beliefs. However, we forget that they are still beliefs. They are not facts or truths. Until we find contrary evidence, we forget that they are only 'beliefs'.  Manasi forgot that it is her belief that 'people are professional only when they come in time' and this belief may not be true everywhere. Manasi forgot that beliefs depend on the country, caste, religion and status we are brought up.

Why is it difficult to change these beliefs? As psychologists tell us, to function well, we make our beliefs consistent with each other. Changing one belief forces us to change other 'related beliefs' and form 'new ones'. For instance, to change her belief of professionalism, Manasi has to rethink her definition of professionalism and define it 'newly'. She will also have to change her related belief on 'whom to trust', because she thinks that she can trust 'people who are professional'. And more she sticks to her beliefs, more strongly she 'associates' with her beliefs. When Manasi forgot this, she refused to change her beliefs, even though it hurt her for more than a year. Let us call this challenge of Consistency - we seek consistency in our beliefs and hold on to them too strongly - instead of letting them go.

Our desire to have consistent beliefs stops us from coordinating with others 

Strongly held beliefs also create unintended consequences, because they taint our eyes and attitude. As strong beliefs control our 'sight', we view everything with 'tainted eyes'. That is why, Manasi kept on finding evidence of unprofessionalism in everything she saw. Her 'eyes' were only seeing the behaviour that matched with her belief. As Manasi held on to her "consistent set of beliefs', she found more and more difficult to adjust to the coordination protocols of interacting with people. It started a vicious cycle. As her beliefs became more and more stronger,  she found it difficult to adjust with the coordination protocols of the new town. This is called Coordination versus Consistency mismatch. 

On the one hand, in order to interact easily with people, we need to be flexible in following the coordination protocols with different people. But, on the other hand, we also want to be consistent with our beliefs. We face these conflict all the time. For instance, should we interact with our neighbour with irrelevant banter or should we avoid communication with neighbour because we dislike making irrelevant talk? Or should we go to the birthdays of friends and give return gifts, or avoid birthdays because we do not believe in giving such calculated gifts? Or should we only engage with useful friends at the cost of being called opportunistic, or engage with all type of friends at the cost of wasting too much of time? Should we interact only with friends who agree with us, or should we interact with others who have strong views contrary to us? Or should we tell car mechanic the true extent of problem or should we tell 'part of the problem' to avoid being charged highly? And so on.

In other words, we face this trade off between consistency and coordination all the time. In order to remain friendly with others, we must hold our beliefs loosely so that we can change them quickly. When you hold your beliefs 'too loosely', you become a socialite whom others don't trust, because you may become a chamelon who changes its colours at the drop of hat, who sways to the wind's direction, and who will never have any conviction of your own. On the other hand, if you hold your consistent beliefs 'too strongly', you become like Manasi: difficult to relate with friends, always taking stands visavis others, and brings every issue to 'right or wrong'.  Both extremes make a person dysfunctional in having good people-interaction. Getting this balance of coordination versus consistency right is very important for every individual. Having too loose a belief set is equally detrimental in interacting with people as is too tight a belief set. Having the right slack in the belief set is important.

For individuals who automatically get this slack right , they never understand what right actions they took. But for those, who have the wrong mismatch of consistency and coordination, they have huge difficulty in interacting with people. You will either find them like Manasi: who views every situation as black and white, has very rigid views of what is right and wrong, and remain as loners even though it hurts them at a personal level. Even good communication ability does not help them. For instance, Manasi has acted in a drama and is a good communicator. But even that does not help. Or you will find some others like a socialite. No one trusts them. They have many 'relations' but of no depth. They are seen as opportunistic. Even when they want to be genuine, people do not believe their motive.


In other words, intra-personal problem ( lack of appropriate slack in belief set) causes inter-personal difficulty ( in interacting with people). Having a good communication ability is not enough to possess interpersonal ability; it requires having the appropriate slack in the belief-set. With the right amount of slack in the 'belief-set', even poor communication ability does not hinder you in interacting with people. But with too much slack in belief-set, even good communication ability is not enough. When someone adjusts to coordination protocols easily, it means he is having the right slack in his belief set.

In my coaching experience, i have found that more than 70% of the people interaction problems arise due to this inappropriate slack in belief set and not due to any 'communication-related difficulty'. Communication is just the tip of iceberg, the real cause lies somewhere. And once the problem is identified there are solutions. There are ways to 'loosen' the belief set as well as 'tighten' the belief set. But i have observed that it is more difficult to 'loosen' the belief set than tightening it. And it is more easier to 'alter' the belief set at a young age than altering it at later age.

Is your belief set slack enough to interact with people easily and gracefully? Or do you want to learn to develop the slack?