Saturday, December 14, 2013

WICMA Editorial Board

I have recently been inducted as a Editorial Board member of the magazine Industry Insight. The magazine is part of WICMA.

Maintaining Strong Unwavering Focus – Conquering Vikshepa

The man who chases two rabbits catches neither. ~ Confucius

We can acquire a lot of wisdom simply by listening to other people’s experiences. During one chance interaction, I came across the case of a company X which was painstakingly setup by the owner from scratch. He literally built the company brick by brick and it was not easy going in the beginning. With passage of time, the fundamentals started looking good, business was sound, cash was being generated and a small bunch of people were gathered as a team.

However, in due course of time competitors came up and started eating away into the revenue pie. And soon they began to dominate the scene. Company X continues to be in business but has not managed to reach those hallowed levels of success which it was destined to achieve. What went wrong with the company? It is definitely not the product or the market or even the economy since others are doing well in the same space. This is a typical case of small businesses where the owner gets distracted from the business vision and goals thus losing vital edge.

In Patanjali’s Yogasutras there is a term Vikshepa. Iit stands for distraction or wandering of the mind. It starts with one losing focus on the task at hand like watching the milk boil in a tumbler while wasting time doing unnecessary things. Eventually one’s performance starts faltering, efficiency and productivity take a hit. Then the person starts hitting a spiral by blaming the surroundings, circumstances and situations beyond ones control and slowly believing the excuses to be true. People resort to wasting time and invoking divine powers to intervene and resolve the situation but seldom do they introspect. Honestly, it is very easy to lose focus. It is identifying the problem and addressing it which is the real challenge.

Zig Ziglar rightfully said - “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.”

Wandering Mind

Wandering mind is not a major problem per se. Our minds are full of thoughts, vivid imagination and situations which cause us to think and ponder. But when the mind wanders while we have an important task at hand then it becomes a problem. It is like time taken for setting up a machine and starting production, then facing a disruption due to say power cut (focus lost) leading to quality problems, waste, loss of brand image in larger acute cases and chipping away of the precious bottom-line.

We often get distracted but it is our discipline and purpose in life which should bring us back to concentrate on what we are doing or supposed to be doing; on the goals and objectives that we have set for ourselves. It is easy to lose control. Everyone does at some point in time. Success embraces those who are able to keep the focus intact through all odds.

A Vikshepa never manifests in its “full glory” from the beginning. It usually starts with minor distractions and then leads to becoming a major impediment. In its exalted form it can easily cause severe lasting damage.

Let us say a small business owner slowly relegates day to day activities to another person. This is the first level of losing control. Quite often people start enjoying the delegation of duties to others and slowly become dependent. However, if he continues to keep an eye on the numbers and operations data, the chances of allowing the system to slip out of his hand is remote.

In business, one cannot afford the luxury of losing focus. The owners have to chalk out the long term strategy, the goals and doggedly go about achieving them every single day. Concentrate on the greater purpose and never lose sight of the daily essentials. One cannot do multiple things at the same time. Multi-tasking is a grossly overrated term which is a common cause of failure.

How do we ensure that our focus is unwavering? Understand the Vikshepas that entrap us.

The most common Vikshepa is illness and listlessness which are usually linked, and not entirely avoidable but remedial measures can be taken fast.

Doubt, cravings or greed are more psychological and complex to identify and address. People often live in denial thus complicating the issue.

Carelessness/ negligence and lethargy or laziness is often intertwined. The good part is one can take action to remove these Vikshepa. In some cases lethargy is due to illness where root cause should be addressed.

Failure is acceptable because not all outcomes are in our control but inability to make progress and instability in maintaining the momentum are again damaging for anybody.

A very dear friend had gifted me a copy of The Road Less Travelled. I had read the book thoroughly but the main takeaway for me was Dr. Scott Peck’s advice against Procrastination. The reason for lack of progress is most certainly procrastination by the owner.

People who are delusional are in the direst need for an intervention. In my opinion, it is one of the most damaging Vikshepa and probably the bane of any business or person’s existence. If someone’s mind starts believing a certain aspect to be the fact to the level of being delusional then it is surely a downward spiral from that point onwards.

In the case of Company X, the owner had slowly started believing that he was just a figurehead and the business was basically being run by others after he delegated his daily duties. He felt that others They were the cause of all success. He also shifted focus from the details of business performance; the reason why emergence of other stronger competitors did not pique his thoughts.

What Happens due to any (or all) Vikshepa
There are four common resultant of Vikshepa – Pain, Sadness, Anger and Breathlessness.

It all starts with pain and the feeling of sadness as things start getting out of control. One is unable to come to terms with the problems caused by the Vikshepa and the feel that the there is nothing much that can be done and all is lost. It soon turns into anger; first channelized outside and then the profundity of one’s action (or inaction) hits home and the anger is directed inwards. Breathlessness is a state when one is consumed with the feeling of knowing it is only the self who is to blame and the damage that has occurred could have been avoided. It is a feeling of being trapped.
Luckily for Company X’s owner, there was some help on hand. Few people identified the issues and rolled up their sleeves to rectify the situation and turnaround the company. It is work in progress but the initial highlights are encouraging.

Conquering Vikshepa विक्षेप

We have to accept that we are humans and Vikshepa will affect us from time to time. What we need is a continuous Action Plan to circumvent them and aim to prevent them.

Here are few workable pointers.

Human beings are prone to live in denial which is the root cause of all troubles and crisis. We have the famous Kübler Ross Model of Five Stages of Grief. There is Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and hopefully Acceptance in the good cases. Some linger in the intermediate stages for too long and need intervention. We need to get over the “this can’t be happening to me” feeling. The first step is identification and then acceptance that there is a problem. Half of the battle is won.

What Vikshepa provokes is the need to change. One can replicate The Stages of Change Model originally developed by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente at the University of Rhode Island. They were studying how smokers were able to give up their habits or addiction. The only warning is to ensure there is no relapse.

The process of change is quite simple. Align thoughts in one line preferably write down and prioritize the list. Understand the cause and effect relationship between the list items to ensure the root cause is targeted in the beginning. Choose well among options and follow it up with dedication and faith. You can either expand your business vertically or horizontally at any point in time. Trying to do both can be a sure-shot recipe of a royal debacle. Do the first things first. Focus on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is an overused non-productive term. It is simply a waste of energy. Identify on what is important, what is of more value, what is more fundamental.

There will always be distractions, noise and crowd. You have to tune it out and remain focused like Mahabharata’s Arjun towards your goals in life.

"You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength." ~ Marcus Aurelius

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Indian Management Dec 2013 Issue

It was nice to see that our article on Time for MBA Renaissance has been published again in Indian Management Dec 2013 issue as part Best of 2013 articles. 
This was written jointly by Dr. Renuka Garg, HOD Management Deptt. VNSGU and my research guide and me for the Feb 2013 issue of Indian Management.  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

TEAM DEVELOPMENT - An Inspiring Talk by Brahmakumari Disciple Shri. Girish bhai at TSSIA Hall

During a recent visit to TSSIA, Executive Secretary Shri. Sonawane ji told me that we are organizing a good talk on Team Development on the evening of 28th Nov. I was keen to attend the talk and expressed my interest. I was not aware of the speaker’s profile or what exactly can we look forward to.

On the day of the talk, I was stuck in office and at one point thought of skipping the event altogether. However, I was destined for the out of this world experience and the speaker was arriving little late. When I made it to the hall, I was close to twenty minutes late and found a handful of people listening to a speaker from Brahmakumari.

From the point I took my seat, I was hypnotized by the persona, the content of the talk and the sharpness of delivery. With my limited view of the world, I assumed this to be a routine presentation based talk by some Management specialist. I was so wrong and so gloriously wrong.

Girishbhai (whose name I figured at the end of the talk) spoke about the SELF, and the 2 Vital Teams in our lives – the personal one – Our Family and the professional one – Our Team in Office. I never considered my family as a team till date! I always took them for granted. He talked about the relationship between family members, between parents and children, why there are perceived strain in this fine bond and why there is so much anguish amongst all of us. We are too tied up with our lofty expectations and are continuously criticizing and pressurizing both the teams. He suggests that we reflect on our behavior and focus on Appreciating even small efforts rather than mercilessly dissecting each and every mistake. 
He suggested that we start developing Faith in ourselves and then seek out the same in others. Faith, Respect, Recognition and Appreciation will automatically manifest into Love for the self and the team. No amount of money or other material rewards will drive people to perform as undying love for the leader.

A very pointed correlation that Girishbhai drew with life and business is Immune System. He spoke about the need for a strong Immune system in our physical lives and similar resilience in business to withstand any external pressure. How will that happen? Through practice of moderation, control and forbearance.

The highlight of the talk was controlling the Mind through Meditation. He said that as we clean our house and our body by taking bath everyday; our Mind also needs to be cleaned thoroughly and frequently. This will help us to gain control of the wandering mind and focus on what is actually important in life. It is to primarily be in control of our senses, mental faculties, our indriya. 

Our greatest problems and issues fundamentally lie in our inability to maintain a calm attitude while being subjected to uncertainty of life. If we can calm our mind, we will be able to become victorious in anything that we attempt to achieve.

In a nutshell, the talk transformed me forever, as a mother, as a team player in our family business. I hope that TSSIA organizes more such events in future. But it is difficult to encapsulate Shri. Girishbhai’s inspiring talk in words, it is a live phenomenon that can be only heard and experienced. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Saturday, November 9, 2013

“Education sans Frontiers” Rise of MOOC?

Skills shortage or inadequacy of workforce is a global phenomenon. Today, we people need specialized skills for particular job profiles; one that requires generalized ability as well as pointedly specific skills to execute the current job function. A sizeable portion of our middle and top management comprise of people who were predominantly educated during the 70s and 80s. A lot has changed in the world since then. It is a serious feeling that for a diverse set of reasons the growing work force will need to be rapidly re-skilled. This will increase employability and help organizations hire productive human resource. There will be a demand for around 300 million skilled people by 2022 in India itself.
However, what were lacking till recently are reliable and effective sources for continuing education to smoothen the rough edges. In today’s world, there is critical need for specialized selective learning at all levels – entry, middle and senior. Based on the job profile of the moment, people need additional education/ learning packets to cope with the demands of day – to – day world.

For example: A person is working as an executive up with some global giant. He/ She needs to know the nuances of globalization, about local markets, emerging economies etc, cost difference, transfer pricing etc. These topics maybe taught to a certain extent in management programs but this person needs very specific and realistic understanding of the subject to discharge day-to-day responsibilities and not just have a conceptual understanding.  
Similarly, a person having responsibility of costing cannot limit oneself with knowledge of finance. He/ she will need in-depth understanding of the manufacturing process, cost drivers, process flow, significance of each step, technology etc.
What we are stressing upon in this article is not just higher graduate level education but some serious concentrated topics for gaining exclusive and precise competence with the changing environment.

Spirit of MOOC

Education, learning and knowledge are required in equal portions to become skillful. In the last 3 decades we have seen lot of improvement in higher education not only in terms of content but accessibility and ease of learning and application. There were quite a few distance learning programs and then came the Internet. We started getting access to presentations and teaching notes of professors from universities around the world. YouTube happened and video lectures and “how-tos” came into the scenario. SlideShare presentations provide a wide range of learning topics. At every step there has been marked improvement. And everyday access to quality and flexible specialized courses started becoming convenient and cost-effective. However, just a couple of years back hopes to do even a short course from the prestigious Harvard or Stanford University were elusive for many. Exposure to such world-class education standards was restricted to a select few each year. Today we can imagine doing the same from the calm confines of our home or office or even sitting in a park.

The leaps and bounds of growth in Information Technology have now given mankind –Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). These are platforms for providing world class courses which are interactive, participative and most importantly OPEN TO ALL accessible through the web. It is posed to create a revolution of sorts.

One such course on Introduction to Artificial Intelligence is reported by Udacity to have received close to 160,000 enrollments from 190 countries. It is like all the countries on this planet. This is unimaginable in a normal classroom setting.
These courses are available openly online with usually two options – free to learn and paid for certification. The courses have online forums for all students to discuss. Real-life cases are shared between students from America, Africa, Latina America, Australia, Europe and Asia simultaneously enriching the entire learning process. There is peer to peer review of assignments and tests to evaluate level of learning. And a huge knowledge bank is getting created in the process. There are few front line providers of MOOC but regional sites are also coming up rapidly from across the world which is teaching in native language.
These platforms are ideal for continuing education, learning in parts based on time and need, and building competency. Most importantly this is like Spreading Education across Borders treating the student pool as One World.

The spirit of MOOC can be encapsulated best by Udacity’s belief – “Education is no longer a one-time event but a lifelong experience.”

MOOC Resources

The largest MOOC providers are: edX, Udacity and Coursera

edX promotes itself as consortium of many schools.

Coursera’s website claims to have 300 + courses and content from 62 universities across 16 countries and still counting.

Emerging Concerns

A MOOC when accessed by us seems so fluid and enriching but it takes lot of effort to create the course material and videos. There are hours of recording involved on part of the faculty and their assistants. Due to the interactive nature of the course, the teaching staff has to engage with the students and steer the discussions in the right direction or make valuable inputs to keep the conversation lucid and valuable.  
The student teacher ratio is very high; there is a pressure for more feedback that is preferably instantaneous. The structured course material like reading material also needs to be developed simultaneously.
With all things bright and shining in favor of MOOC, there are doubts and concern. Well that is the case with anything new or outrageous or courageous. When you bring out such huge chunks of knowledge and learning from the hallowed halls to the nook and crannies of the world, causing disruptive innovation, the purists can get jittery. There are voices suggesting that it is a passing hype and will die down soon. Questions are also on the effectiveness of the course and about completion percentage.
Many people seek out these courses like gardening and take away only bits and pieces. There is lack of seriousness. Keeping oneself motivated in a self – learning environment is quite a challenge. I have taken up a Globalization course myself (INFX523-01-Globalization’s Winners and Losers: Challenges for Developed and Developing Countries) and I am seriously lagging behind. Honestly, I signed up to get a first hand feel of a MOOC.

MOOC will Change the Future

MOOC is still at its initial stages and as technology evolves so will MOOCs especially the delivery part and it will invigorate lateral development. Few years back we never thought of needing a social media expert did we? MOOCs will also spawn a new set of opportunities for small companies to provide facilities to develop courses (including studio facility), create supporting material, design and develop ebooks and slides as the rage takes over the world and many universities come forward to embrace it. Even if these local universities lack global appeal, they will still be able to find a sizeable audience among people in their own country.

It will surely become a great leveler. When gifted but resource – challenged people get access to this kind and quality of education, my mind simply quivers with joy to think how many new Googles and Facebooks will dot this world. Entrepreneurship for one will get a huge thrust.   

It is too early to say how MOOCs will change the education dynamics world over. Whether MOOC is overhyped or the norm for the future, only time will tell. My view is that MOOC will surely transform many a “Mook” (Hindi term for Mute, Unspoken, Voiceless, Wordless) into competent, productive and confident souls.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Avoid Errors during Crisis with Checklists

Book Review 

Atul Gawande. 

The CHECKLIST Manifesto How to get things right
Penguin Books India. New Delhi, 2010. pp. 209, Rs. 149 (Flipkart)

At the outset, the title of this book seems pretty uninspiring. Who does not know about checklists? We all resort to it at some point or the other. Why read an entire book on it?
What piqued my interest towards the book is its accomplished author Atul Gawande. I have read his earlier books – Better and Complications both of which are extremely insightful and delves into the depth of medicine and healthcare; facets that are usually shielded from common man and the books come across as honest and determined. I was convinced that this book will definitely have some key takeaway for people in general.
Dr. Gawande is a general surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a staff writer for The New Yorker. He has often written eloquently on public health policy issues.
As I read through the book, I realized its applicability in all walks of life. The basic point driven across in this book is about the errors caused by human beings which are clearly avoidable. One is out of ignorance which is still acceptable but the other severe cause is human ineptitude. It means the inability to apply our existing and adequate knowledge during crunch time either entirely or in the right sequence.
He writes at length about human ineptitude in case of medical emergencies, pilots flying aeroplanes and people involved in erecting skyscrapers. He also goes on to prove (with statistical data) how the use of well-drafted checklists have reduced human errors, saved lives and created a positive difference.
With automation and development in all spheres of life, there are too many variables at play at any given point of time. It is practically unimaginable to remember each and every point while trying to save a cardiac arrest patient or landing a plane which is malfunctioning. That is where a checklist becomes useful. It helps the person in charge to confidently go about the job with a greater degree of assured outcome. However, what is important here is to follow the checklists meticulously and not resort to improvisation.
There can be lot of debate on pertinence of checklists in all kinds of situations or Gawande’s dogged faith in the same as professed in the book. It gives a feeling of being narrow and insular. The choice is left to the reader to be either critical and nitpick or adopt checklists in their lives to improve outcomes. The vital part is that the effectiveness of checklists in all walks of life is indisputable. How we use them to the best of our needs depends on us.
The book consists of nine chapters each having twenty to thirty pages which makes the reading experience quite enjoyable and undemanding. The language is extremely uncomplicated such that the contents revolving around medical jargon and science can be easily comprehended by school students to business owners.
The beauty of the book is its relevance from mundane activities like going shopping for routine stuff like grocery to building a rocket and how everyone can create their own list based on specific requirements. A checklist is truly a recipe for success if executed with diligence. The book provokes readers to seriously think about making checklists in their domain of activities.
I recommend this book for small business owners especially for two reasons; one – they have shortage of skilled manpower and two – the margin of error is very narrow for this level of business. By creating simple yet in-depth checklist to monitor finances, machine performance and maintenance, production output, inventory management and order processing etc., owners can improve their business productivity and performance to a huge extent.
There is no other book in these lines which has such a powerful pitch for such an insipid theme like a Checklist.