“Self-awareness” is fast becoming another buzzword that one needs to have in the pocket in the current world of ‘cool’ stuff to possess. Consider if you are a human being and alive, you are already self-aware. You don’t have to learn anything new.
Only humans have the ability to direct their attention and thinking inwards or the ability to look at themselves. You can always increase the degree of self-awareness.
Self-awareness can be defined as one’s ability of being aware of different aspects of the self including situations, traits, behaviours, and feelings. Essentially, it is a psychological state in which one becomes the focus of attention.
You can enhance your self-awareness by practising the following approach. Before you go the approach, participate in this small thought experiment.
Thoughts Experiment: “Think of your favourite car. Only one car but anything. What colour is that car?. Say that aloud. Now observe that as you were doing that experiment, you were also aware of your thought and thought processes. The first step in developing self-awareness is noticing that you are different from your thoughts. You have these thoughts. Once you can identify your thoughts don’t try to control them but start observing them.
The approach to cultivating self-awareness starts with Observation – it is the process of noticing or perceiving (something) and registering it as being significant.
Step 1 Observe: Start with observing things around you like your laptop, phone, people around you etc. Also start observing your own thoughts as well, observe the speed at which the mind processes the information, the judgements and the continuous running commentary in your head.
Step 2 Pause: Once you have practised observing, start the practice of PAUSE. It is a reflective practice that can be done in the midst of the action. Come to the present by falling still and connecting mind with senses. The best way to do it is when you want to pause, hold your breath, connect your mind with your senses and slowly leave your breath.
A combination of Observe and Pause will help in developing your self-awareness. There is a huge volume of literature, numerous courses and workshops on developing self-awareness. You can further enhance your self-awareness by practising meditation and mindfulness techniques.
In the current fast-paced world, if you are feeling overwhelmed with work and multiple priorities you need a break. Don’t be afraid that if you brake too hard and stop suddenly the vehicle behind you will come and crush you. No – it is all happening in your mind. The only way to navigate the high-speed traffic in your mind is to brake hard, take a PAUSE and start again. Slow down if you want to go far.
About Raghavendra (Ragx/Raghav) Mithare is a professional coach and serves as an agility coach with an Integrated Energy company. Views expressed are his own.
He is also a trained yoga teacher, and a student of design, technology and philosophy.
Published in the early 90’s, The Will To Lead – running a business with a network of leaders is an influential book by the founder of McKinsey & Company, Marvin Bower. In this book he shares his own personal journey and motivations. Prior to publications of this book most leadership studies and publications were focused on leadership in politics and government. Now leadership qualities are an essential skill in business and also in everyday life.
Peter Drucker, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, also brought the distinction between “management” and “Leadership”. In his book, Bower mentions when an executive achieves outstanding results through the exercise of authority in a hierarchy of superiors and subordinates, it is not “leadership” but “managing”.
He also agrees with the popular saying “Leadership can’t be taught, but can be learned”. With the popularity of Carol Dweck’s work on mindset, there is general consensus about learning new skills and behaviors. There is also an effort done at Harvard to develop theory and practice around teaching leadership and they have published – Handbook of Leadership to make leadership available to all.
The qualities and attributes of Leading (from The Will To Lead by Marvin Bower)
Leaders operate on the foundation of trust. Trustworthiness is integrity in action. Leaders are truthful and honest be it a small thing or a big thing, they are always truthful.
Leaders do not use their authority carelessly to get the work done. The team members can tolerate “toughness” but not “unfairness. The book quotes “fairness has one or more of the three meanings: equity, reciprocity, and impartiality.”
Bower mentions “arrogance, haughtiness, and egotism are poisonous to leadership”. Rather than trying to hypocritically humble it is easier to be unassuming in behaviour. He also mentions the importance of “Servant Leadership” qualities for executives.
The book quotes ” Of all the skills of leadership, listening is one of the most valuable – and one of the least understood…”. Bower quotes various examples of leaders and the importance of listening. He also cautions about the cultural difference across the world. For example, the nodding head of Britons means “I understand you,” not “I agree with you.”
A Leader is Open-Minded
Bower shares his frustration of working with senior executives with a closed mind. As a consultant when he presented his findings the executives were not receptive. He mentions “What is the use of hiring a consultant if your mind is closed even to considering their findings and recommendations?”.
Sensitivity to people and situations
Leaders can succeed in persuading people than commanding by paying attention. Bower shares ” I had to stop taking them for granted and exercise insights, intuition, perception, empathy – or some combination of these .. “. He also highlights how diversity helps in increasing the sensitivity among the teams.
Initiative, Initiative, Initiative.
The initiative is one of the most important attributes of every leader. It is also easy to learn: Just think a bit, use judgment, and act.
Leaders are torrent of varied views and inclined to condone minor departures from conventional behavior. They also have a sense of humor.
Flexibility and Adaptability
Flexibility and adaptability go hand in hand with open-minded listening. Leaders learn how to spot the need for change faster, initiate change, and adapt to it.
The Capacity to Make Sound and Timely Decisions
For leaders higher in the hierarchy, the speed, as well as the quality of their decisions, will set an example for others.
The capacity to Motivate
Bower highlights the importance of intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivations like cash awards. He mentions ” people in a leadership company derive satisfaction from being involved in work which produces products or services that customers buy with increasing satisfaction. “
A Sense of Urgency
Bower stresses the importance of a sense of urgency “When a sense of urgency has spread throughout a company, it can make a substantial difference in both effectiveness and efficiency…”.
In this book, Bower also highlights four fundamental responsibilities.
1. Treating Constituents with Respect
2. Developing Constituents Self-Confidence and Self Esteem
3. Developing Constituents
4. Making Constituents stakeholders
Overall the book The Will To Lead – Running a business with a Network of Leaders by Marvin Bower is an excellent book for all professionals to read, learn and develop.
1. The Will to Lead: Running a Business With a Network of Leaders by Marvin Bower
In the last few years many companies have adopted the change in terminology “Project” to “Product” rapidly. This article highlights the key difference between a software and non software product. The understanding of the nature of the software is important while deciding the approach to build and deliver.
Developing software is relatively new compared to manufacturing, shipping, aerospace, automobile, oil or electronics industries (Software engineering is about 50 years old whereas other industries have experience of more than 100 years). The Software Industry (nowadays called as a digital, tech etc) is unique compared to other industries primarily because it is used by other industries as an enabler and there are very few but powerful companies that are built primarily on software that have evolved in the last few decades (starting with Microsoft).
Software is very unique in many aspects that brings many opportunities as well new challenges in terms of managing the whole development process. Unfortunately, most of the software development methods are influenced by the manufacturing industry (specifically automotive, Ford production line, Toyota Production System).
Across the industry there is a trend to move from projects to products in that context it is important to understand the uniqueness of the software itself.
There are some differences between Software Product (ex. Navigation System) and a Non-Software Product (ex. Car or Toaster). Most products these days have large amounts of software that makes them “smart” products, like Smart TV, Smart Watch, Smartphone which have a good amount of software embedded in the product (ex. iPhone, Tesla). To understand the complexity, it is important to look at the distinction between the software products and non-software products
Built or engineered and not manufactured
The software product is built or engineered and there is no manufacturing involved; basically it is designed, developed, and released whereas non software products involve design, development, manufacturing, and release. In addition, they will have after sales support and warranty. The absence of manufacturing time enables the software to be released continuously and implement DevOps.
Wear and Tear
Theoretically Software Products will not have any wear and tear, whereas non-software products will have natural wear and tear as well as periodic maintenance and repairs. As the products become older the maintenance and repair cost increase. Ideally throughout the life cycle about 5-10% per annum is spent on maintenance. The maintenance cost increases over a period of time and the product is retired /withdrawn with the release of a newer product.
Due to this difference non software products have a separate after sales and support teams.
Ideally there should not be any maintenance cost but in reality there is significant cost due to field defects (errors that escaped during the development phase. The ability to modify software even after release made it possible to add new features while fixing existing defects. This lead to a continuous development and delivery approach to meet business needs. That is the foundation of DevOps where both development teams and operations (maintenance) teams together handle the product development and delivery cycles.
Economics, scale and society
Software is becoming a central part of many products and it is also creating new challenges in societal behaviours and sustainability. While advanced manufacturing techniques and automation have given rise to an unprecedented scale in developing hardware. They are also creating new issues around electronic waste, consumerism and so on.
Per unit cost of a non software product (just the hardware in a smart product) decreases as the volumes increase, whereas for software no such cost reaction exists. The cost of hardware in some scenarios is almost negligible.
Scaling a software product is a design challenge whereas scaling a hardware component is also a manufacturing challenge. Any mistakes in manufacturing are very costly creating a huge pile of e-waste.
In order to get more profit the companies are making the hardware obsolete (especially with smartphones) faster and adding few enhanced features and releasing the new product in a short cycle. It is fueling the consumerism mindset.
With IoT more and more appliances are getting smart, definitely they add value but at a certain cost to the society.
Overall it is not just enough to change the titles and nomenclature and even mindset to “from project to products” a broader analysis of the overall impact and good understanding of software and it’s characteristics helps organizations to address the challenges holistically.
Project to Product: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Digital Disruption with the Flow Framework Book by Mik Kersten for ideas and inspiration.
Software Engineering: A Practitioner’s Approach (IRWIN COMPUTER SCIENCE) Hardcover – 16 Mar. 2014 by Roger S. Press — My favourite textbook during my graduate school and giving me the solid foundation of Software Engineering
Raghavendra (Raghav/Ragz) Mithare
The views/opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own; they do not represent any of the organizations he is associated with. Author will not take responsibility for any inaccuracies, mistakes in this article. No permission required to share, copy and redistribute. Please share if you have any comments view in the comments below or write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t start with “Why?”. Fans of Simon Sinek may not agree with this statement. His famous video “Start with why?” has more than 8 million views and his book with the same title has sold more than a million copies. My assertion of “Don’t start with why?” is based on my own experience, experiments, and learnings from them.
What I have discovered is – It is not easy to start with the “Why?” – When you watch Simon Sinek’s Ted talk “Start with why” it makes perfect sense to start with the why. The examples of Apple and Dell clearly illustrate this point. But the point is, not about analyzing Apple vs Dell. It is about you and your life. You need to look at the responses to the following questions.
Are you inspired to take action? Are you living every day with joy and happiness? Are you creating the results that impact you and the people around you?. If the response to any of these questions is “No” then you might want to consider an alternate approach.
Before I explain an alternate approach let’s look at the flaw in the “Start with why?” approach. All the examples quoted are from the past and there is a strong hindsight bias around them. It is easy to connect the dots looking at the past and very difficult while staring at an uncertain future.
When you read/hear the why of apple it makes perfect sense but we don’t know if it was created in the beginning or it has evolved over time.
“Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”
First of all the above statement is Simon’s interpretation of Apple’s why? and it is not published. Even if it is their internal unpublished memo, it might have evolved over a period of time. It also becomes easy to articulate the why once you are reasonably successful.
Last year I completed my professional coaching qualifications and I have written a blog on “Becoming – Why I choose to become a coach?”. When you read the blog it makes perfect sense to relate the story of the eagle with my purpose of exploring the potential. But it was not clear to me about the “Why?” until recently, in hindsight, I can connect the dots and share an inspiring story. Most of the time the real why is hidden deep inside us so no point in spending time to find it. It will come naturally over a period of time. You should not wait to take action till you discover your “Why?”.
The alternate approach you can consider consists of two parts. The first part is “Just Do It”. Yes, the famous Nike words. The founder of the Wieden+Kennedy agency, Dan Wieden, credits the inspiration for his “Just Do It” Nike slogan to Gary Gilmore’s last words: “Let’s do it.”
Whatever goals you have in mind, you just start the action. If you want to learn “Guitar” – sign up for a class and start the lessons, if you want to write a book, just start writing. You just get into action. There is no time to think about the “Why?” behind. The one metric you need to measure or observe is the inner intuition of “am I in the right direction?”. As long as you are moving in the right direction it is fine. The second factor is you should enjoy the journey.
The second part of the process is “Non-finito” – the literal meaning is “not finished”. Give yourself permission to abandon your projects unfinished. If the guitar is no more interesting then stop it and join whatever interests you at that point in time. Here it is important to be in action and not to become lazy. You are in charge and you are in action – that is the most important part. It is okay not to finish your projects, though your projects are unfinished, give them some logical end and complete them from your list. The famous sculptor Michelangelo is famous for many non-finito projects. If you are planning to create a masterpiece, be ready to give up a few average projects.
Over a period the real “Why?” emerges then you don’t need any external motivation and you start taking action and creating great results.
This approach has served me well. I’m happy to hear your views and thoughts on this approach.
This year I had two major events professionally. The first one was joining bp and the second was getting my Professional Coaching Certification (PCC) from International Coaching Federation (ICF).
As I was reflecting on the year gone by I also remembered that the reason I chose this path to become a coach.
This year was like a roller coaster ride with many ups and downs but it was much smoother than I had anticipated. Thanks to my wonderful colleagues at bp for their care and support. Last week as part of our Christmas celebration at work I was given an award as a ‘Coaching Ninja’, it is very special because it gave me some sort of validation that I was looking for and it is also special because it was chosen by fellow coaches.
Why did I choose to become a coach?
I’m about to tell you a beautiful story. The first time I came across this story was when I was about 14-15 years old. In a way, this story has helped me to define my purpose in life but it took a long time for me to realize it. This story is from Born To Win by Muriel James, Dorothy Jongeward(2)
The story is as follows …
Once upon a time, while walking through the forest, a certain man found a young eagle. He took it home and put it in his barnyard where it soon learned to eat chicken feed and to behave as chickens behave.
One day a naturalist who was passing by inquired of the owner why it was that an eagle, the king of all birds, should be confirmed to live in the barnyard with the chickens.
“Since I have given it chicken feed and trained to be a chicken, it has never learned to fly,” replied the owner. “ it behaves as chickens behave, so it is no longer an eagle.”
“Still,” insisted naturalist, “it has the heart of an eagle and can surely be taught to fly.”
After talking it over, the two men agreed to find out whether this was possible. Gently the naturalist took eagle in his arms and said, “You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth wings and fly.”
The eagle, however, was confused; he did know who he was, and, seeing the chickens eating their food, he jumped down to be with them again.
Undismayed, the naturalist took the eagle on the following day, upon the roof of the house, and urged him again, saying, “You are an eagle. Stretch forth your wings and fly.” But the eagle was afraid of his unknown self and world and jumped down once more for the chicken food.
On the third day, the naturalist rose early and took the eagle out of the barnyard to a high mountain. There, he held the king of birds high above him and encouraged him again, saying, “You are an eagle. You belong to the sky as well as to the earth. Stretch forth your wings now, and fly.”
The eagle looked around, back towards the barnyard and up to the sky. Still, he did not fly. Then the naturalist lifted him straight towards the sun and it happened that the eagle began to tremble, slowly he stretched his wings. At last, with a triumphant cry, he soared away into the heavens.
It may be that the eagle still remembers the chickens with nostalgia; it may even be that he occasionally revisits the barnyard. But as far as anyone knows, he has never returned to lead the life of a chicken. He was an eagle though he had been kept and tamed as a chicken.
This story has left a lasting impact on me as I was growing up. First, it inspired me to discover my own potential through learning and experimentation, and the second was to support people to discover who they really are. Like the eagle in this story, all of us have enormous natural potential and we should unlock it.
Coaching has helped me to explore my own potential and I want to help others to explore their potential through coaching. One of my missions is to support people in finding their purpose, it is not easy but not impossible if you go for it.
The first time I experienced coaching in action was at Landmark Education, wherewith the help of coaches I could see how I can go beyond the constraints and create impactful results. Then the Course Supervisor Program (CSP) helped me to develop deep listening, self-awareness, and empathy. The ICF courses further enhanced my abilities and gave me a solid foundation on the processes along with various tools and techniques. It also grounded me with the code of conduct and the ethics of professional coaching. Finally, the real learning came from the practice session with fellow coaches as well as conducting the actual coaching sessions.
In the last 7 years of my journey to get the professional coaching certification I have come to realize that it is a real honour and privilgae to be a coach, one never becomes a coach with a certification, every coaching session is unique, as a coach I have to bring my whole person into the conversation, it is a continuous process of becoming.
1. Becoming – The title was inspired Becoming by Michelle Obama a memoir of former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, published in 2018
2. The original author of the story is not known (there are various attribution on the internet )
3. Special thanks to my coaches and teachers at Landmark Education – Forum Leaders with whom I had the privilege of being a course supervisor – Praveen Puri, Balvinder Singh Sodhi, Mahesh Nambiar, Late Sri Ananth, Ferdi D Souza.
4. My Course Supervisor Program (CSP) – Venkat Rao (head coach), Poornima, SK Rao, Suresh, Shylaja, Kumar, Anu, Pranav, Prasad, Srikanth, Srivatsa, Rahul, Seema, Prasad (Hyd), and Sachin.
5. My coaches and teachers during my PCC – Sai Ramesh MCC, Bhaskar Natarajan PCC and fellow coaches Satya Kumar, Arjit, and Rahul. Special thanks to my brother Rajesh Mithare.
6. Inspiring instructors from Being a Leader Course – Michael C. Jensen Harvard University, Steve Zaffron, CEO Vanto Group, Kari L. Granger the United States Air Force Academy, and Finally – the one and only Werner Erhard.
I came across this word “Essence” through an article in Communications of the ACM, while I was on an assignment with Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) working with the electrified powertrain department (PT-66). The division had embarked on an ambitious project to develop an all electric luxury SUV, the iPACE. The team was looking at ways to develop software in an agile way without compromising on the safety standards (IS0 26262/Functional Safety) within the given time. The article I stumbled upon was – The Essence of Software Engineering: The SEMAT Kernel (Jacobson et al.). The initial summary caught my attention and here are the key points mentioned (please note this article was published in Oct 2012)
Some areas of software engineering today suffer from immature practices.
Specific problems include:
The prevalence of fads more typical of the fashion industry than an engineering discipline;
The lack of a sound, widely accepted theoretical basis;
The huge number of methods and method variants, with differences little understood and artificially magnified;
The lack of credible experimental evaluation and validation;
I think the software industry (now fashionably called the Tech industry still lacks the discipline that it needs in order to avoid the disasters caused by the malfunction of MCAS systems (a system fitted on the Boeing’s 737 MAX Aircraft that caused two major accidents – Article the Crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302: Explained through Graphics’ 2021).
In JLR we were experimenting with introducing the concepts of “Agile” without using the word, to bring agility in the processes and in behaviours. I was looking for a mechanism for building a vocabulary and possibly an ontology (wiki -an ontology is a way of showing the properties of a subject area and how they are related, by defining a set of concepts and categories that represent the subject.). Ontology is one of my favorite areas of study and research, which is actually derived from Philosophy. Which also means the study of being (Onto – Being, logy – Study). I found that Essence is like a glue that can bind information science with philosophical constructs of ontology. I’m not an expert in Essence and the SEMAT framework, in fact, I did not study the Essence in detail to avoid any influence on my own thinking.
My thoughts about Essence are as follows when it is used in the context of transformation.
Understand the essence of the organisation, the soul. That will be the core of Essence on which you can build the enterprise transformation framework.
The organizations should do a self-assessment of their true essence. That is mainly encapsulated in its “reason for existence” for that organization. One can find it by asking – What, How, Who and Why for the “reason for existence” of the organization.
In the journey of transformation, it should retain the ‘core’ while the rest all can change. In fact it should be taken care that the “core” is retained.
Example: Many years back I worked with Infosys, in my view one of the core of that organisation was Meritocracy. Similarly, when I was at Wipro, it was around Integrity. In a real transformation journey, you have to do a detailed and much deeper assessment of it.
Organizations should stop looking at canned “Frameworks” and expensive consultants to solve their challenges. They can be used as a “catalyst” but not as solutions. Equally important is to take full responsibility for the outcome and not to put blame on the frameworks and consultants.
Adhering to Simplicity
The larger the organization the simpler the approach should be. Simpler does not mean easy, nor does it mean a short cut or compromised solution. It should be based on a strong foundation, based on values and principles.
Based on a Context
Context is decisive, it plays a vital role in any transformation. The approach to transformation should be contextual. The implementations might differ from one unit to another depending on the business need, geography and culture.
The Basic Structure
Basic constructs of Object Oriented Methods can be used to define a methods library. Most of the management approaches have roots in Taylors “Principles of Scientific Management”, while most of the approaches are not relevant, the core essence of that theory “ a scientific approach is better than the finest type of ordinary management”, is still valid. The biggest gap in the current approaches to adopting various frameworks is not giving sufficient attention to the solid theoretical constructs. .
The missing “piece”
In most of the frameworks, the key missing piece is there is not enough guidance on the person (actor) performing that activity. In the early days of process improvement, the focus was always on maximising efficiency. It was achieved by using advanced tools. In the current era of knowledge work the most important factor that determines the outcome is the person who is doing the work and his/her state being.
In the knowledge work, the outcome is a function of
Individual Outcome = Function of ( competence x state of Being*)
Competence = skill x knowledge x experience
Being (state of) = function current(behaviour x mindset x emotional state x bodily state x thought process)
Sometimes a person may be energetic and can do more things while at other times the person might have some health and wellbeing challenges that might come in his/her performance. It is difficult to explain but easy to experience. For example – on a particular day, everything happens the way you thought it would happen and on top of that you also receive some unexpected gifts – you will feel good right? Then you might say, “ I’m happy now !” – at that time you are in a state of “being happy” in the same way if things have not gone as per your plan and you drop your coffee cup on the floor and break it, you will experience a sense of irritation, anger, and frustration. That can be called “being sad”. Only human beings have the ability to identify and distinguish their “state of being” but you can accurately identify your own state of being. Our assessment of judging the state of being for others will not be accurate.
“Being sad” is not the same as “Being frustrated” or “being helpless” or “ being irritated”
The important point to note is “being” is a dynamic constant that takes various forms, that is the reason in eastern philosophy it dwells into the idea of your natural being or original being – as your essence.
There is absolutely no need to come out with a new set of frameworks, methods every week. In the current world of social media the approaches that make a big noise get people’s attention. Most of the time, the method creators and/or the custodians have commercial interests, that is not wrong but it is not very explicit. The danger is, if we try to apply any of the frameworks without a proper understanding or without the right context it will not yield the desired results and also creates a bad reputation for the industry/profession itself.
It is also understandable that everyone wants to contribute (with good intentions) but we should not forget that we are standing on the shoulders of the giants. Let’s not forget to acknowledge the work done by these giants.
Jacobson, Ivar, Pan-Wei Ng, Paul McMahon, Ian Spence, and Svante Lidman. 2012. ‘The Essence of Software Engineering: The SEMAT Kernel: A Thinking Framework in the Form of an Actionable Kernel’. Queue 10 (10): 40–51.https://doi.org/10.1145/2381996.2389616.
I was getting ready to deliver my talk at a newly opened co-working space in Bengaluru which already had few promising start-ups operating from there with series A funding. I was nervous but I was also excited about the opportunity to speak at the event. It was about 4 months into my entrepreneurial journey and I wanted to make the best use of it. The speaking engagements are a good alternative to expensive digital marketing efforts to build credibility and trust with potential customers, partners.
I had reached the venue well ahead of time to do the setup for my speech. About ten minutes before the session we got the right cables and connectors. The laptop finally started projecting the slides, it was fully charged, the power cable was also kept as a backup, the clicker was ready and was kept next to it. As a plan B a white board and few markers were also arranged with a glass of water and a few tissues on the table. My cue cards were decked neatly adjacent to it. The mic was tested and kept on mute, ready to go. I was ready.
I was satisfied with the preparation and with a smile looked at the audience and to my surprise the hall was almost full. I thought that the topic of the session has made people curious to attend the session. For a moment the fear of failure kicked in but at the same time I remembered the tip from one of the youtube videos I had watched on public speaking, in which the influencer energetically speaks in a high pitch, with a fast pace about effective public speaking like connecting with the audience before the session, starting with a question or a story etc. I decided to go and speak with the guests. Being an introvert this journey of entrepreneurship was not easy for me. It was a constant battle of pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
I had to get into action, first I went to the snacks counter and picked up a cup of hot filter coffee. I gathered my courage and went to the first few rows, started speaking to a few people in the audience. I also observed some curious eyes eager to learn, some tired souls looking for a break, few people sitting without any expectations who looked like they were just following the crowd, and many opinionated faces accessing and judging me and a few calm faces that looked like zen masters.
I was also looking at my watch often to ensure that the session starts on time. When I had about a minute and half for the session, I started walking towards the podium to start my session. At that point one gentleman from the front rows asked me in a loud voice, “Raghav, are you qualified to speak about this topic?”, “ Hmm …” his name tag read “Naren”*. I was taken aback by the tone of his question but I was unfazed as I knew what I’m going to share was my perspective about being an entrepreneur and not the ultimate truth.
The topic of the day was “Being”an entrepreneur. What does it take to start and sustain?
I smiled and said “Yes, I think so. It is almost time and let’s start the session on time, as Indians we are slowly coming out of the bad reputation that we are not on time. Can I start the session and then respond to your question?”, I asked for his permission to start the session and he agreed readily. I could see a sense of satisfaction on his face for asking that question.
I switched on the mic and at 6.30 pm sharp, I started the session. The hall was full. There were one or two people near the snack counter waiting for the coffee flask to be refilled. Otherwise there was a positive space in the venue.
After introducing myself and thanking the host, I told the audience “One thing I can guarantee if you choose to take the path of entrepreneurship – you can always expect the unexpected. Like the question from Naren – am I qualified to give this talk?”. There were few laughs in the audience and few disappointed faces who thought his question was inappropriate and a digression.
I looked at Nareen and asked him – “Naren frankly that question has never occurred to me, this is my 3rd time I have taken on this path of being an entrepreneur. Can you please give me some context?. Your question was “are you qualified to speak about this topic?”What made you say that? or in your opinion what qualifications one should have to speak about this topic? “.
Naren started sharing “I’m Narayan Krishnamurthy Dandapani*, I’m known as Naren, I was in the Bay area for many years and I moved to Bangalore about 5 years ago, many people in the startup circles know me. I’m a very active participant in the startup community. Currently working with a MNC as Senior Architect, I’m from IIT Delhi. Nowadays everyone starts a company … “
“Naren, sorry to interrupt you, I have limited time and I want to share a few ideas as part of my session. We can catch up after the session to discuss in detail. Right now, can you please share your thoughts around the qualifications required to speak about this topic? “.
Naren without taking a breath, “ Yes, I’m coming to it. I have been thinking about starting my company,I have done a course on entrepreneurship at Stanford and I have collected a lot of information, I have even met many VC’s , I have even met Prof. CK Pralhad when I was in the US. To become an entrepreneur you start with an idea, then you start with a seed fund, then you find some angel investors and develop a product, then you will get your Series A, then you grow, get your series B and C, scale your startup then take it to public through a successful IPO. Then you write a book and speak at conferences and events”.
I smiled at him and said “ Yes, thanks for sharing , that is one of the ways. You also mentioned “successful” IPO, I would like to stress on the word “success” – it is very personal, it means different things to different people. I will share my definition and my views later in the presentation. In my view I’m qualified to speak about the topic ‘cos it is based on my journey, it is the third time I have taken this journey. Moreover if you notice my focus is on “being” and it is more about starting and not about exiting, This session is for those who are on the fence. I also should admit that I’m speaking about this topic for the first time. Like an entrepreneur, we test our ideas and listen to our customers, right?”. He looked pleased, felt he realised that before exiting he should start one first.
So we started our session. “Being” an entrepreneur. What does it take to start and sustain?
(The slides from that event are here )
This incident happened about 6years back in Bangalore, when we had just started our ProcessWhirl UK entity. This incident brought a smile to me as I was reflecting about my entrepreneurial journey and noting down my learnings as I’m starting a new journey. I have a lot of notes from my experience in the last 6 years and will share them if it helps others.
After more than 6 years of this amazing journey of being part of ProcessWhirl, I have taken the tough decision to complete it and go back to a corporate job.
Some of my learning and views on entrepreneurship are as follows.
What is entrepreneurship?
Is the process pursuing an idea and implementing it for the benefit of the customers and/or society. Building a business model around that is also an important part of it. At a fundamental level it is all about creating value for society. Most ideas when converted into a value have potential to be exploited commercially.
Who is an entrepreneur?
A person involved in the process of entrepreneurship.
When is the best time to start a venture?
Best time to start? None. If you have not started already, it is today.
Do it now !
With so many start-ups failing is it a good idea to pursue the dream of entrepreneurship?
It is very important to understand one key distinction around failures. Start-ups fail (yes more than 99%) but the entrepreneur never fails.
Yes, the businesses fail to survive due to various reasons. But the spirit of entrepreneurship never lets you down. If you start and take this journey you are guaranteed to walk out with fond memories and a great deal of learning (and few friends).
Personally I think the only failure is, if you have a dream and you are an entrepreneur at heart but you never took that plunge.
Closing your start-up is not a failure but not starting one is.
How to start my startup?
In the UK, you register your company at the company’s house. The website says “It costs £12 and can be paid by debit or credit card or Paypal account. Your company is usually registered within 24 hours.”
I know it is a bad joke, technically, that is it. In most countries it is similar. You just have to start.
What comes in your way before you decide to take that plunge?
The fear of failure.
Paulo Coelho — ‘There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.’
How to overcome the fear of failure?
By failing often and creating your own definition of success. Here it is very important to distinguish between failure of the enterprise (the entity) and failure of the entrepreneur (the person). At a personal level you should develop that mindset of separation. You are separate from the entity you are creating.
Do you have any suggestions for people who have just started or contemplating starting this journey?
No, Just go ahead, trust yourself and the universe. Everyone’s journey is unique. If you can survive then you will succeed. Manage your cash-flow and risks. Enjoy the journey and the experience. Trust me you will never regret it.
I found the philosophy of Sridhar Vembu inspiring.
Please let me know if you have any questions and I will be happy to help.
As I start my new journey, I’m filled with gratitude for all the learnings, experience. I’m immensely grateful for the support I received from my family, friends, partners, customers and so many wonderful people, I can not even list them all.
May all your dreams come true.
*changed the name and few factual information to respect the identity of the individual
Yesterday (25th May 2020) marked one year since George Floyds death which ignited the Black Lives Matters protest. Last year when these protests startarted my initial thought was “Why only Black lives, why not all lives?”, until I saw the video of that brutal killing on twitter. It shocked me and impacted me deeply and I started reading more about the racial abuse and dicremination against blacks. I realised my understanding of racial descrimination and bias was too naive. Any form of racial descrimination, bias and prejudice has no place in modern society and should not be tolerated.
When COVID-19 hit last year, I was one of the persons impacted by it. It was a difficult time and luckily I recovered from it (my experiance). In the early days many of my friends and acquaintances used to call the Covid-19 as “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan Virus”. I felt it is racist and defended strongly against calling it that way. I insisted that they call it “COVID-19”. (correct technical name is SARS-CoV-2) .
Now after more than a year, the virus has mutated multiple times and new strains are becoming more contagious. The new strain of virus is called in the media as “Indian Variant”, it has infected millions of people in India and created enormous stress on the fragile health care system. This new strain of virus is B. 1. 167.2 is known as the “Indian Variant”.This new variant is definitely a cause for concern as it is spreading like a wildfire. But is it right to call it “Indian Varian”?.
I will not say that all the media houses and social media streams are saying it, there are many exceptions. Thanks to the Financial Times and Economist – They have used a better phrase and nomenclature.
Variant” and some sites were quick to correct the naming. (It’s not the ‘British variant.’ It’s B.1.1.7 ). The other variants were also called as Brazilan Variant, African variant based on the origin of the variant. In many cases naming the disease based on the origin is a practice but there is no standard set by WHO. There are various suggestions and discussions going on this topic. (World needs single naming convention)
Though it is easier to name the variant based on its origin somehow it doesn’t feel right.
I’m strongly against calling these variants using racial prefixes. Personally I don’t feel safe to go out and feel the freedom. It is not that when I go to get milk from my local Sainsburys people will call me “Indian Variant” absolutely not, but it is that sense of discomfort and intention that I should not cause people discomfort and make them feel “I’m not safe”. Even if they dont have such concerns I will not be comfortable.
You have to remember there is only one single race for all humans that is “being human”. Humans are sharing the planet with millions of other animals and plants. We should stop using the language that creates division among people.
You should pause and think before calling the virus strain of the COVID-19 as “Indian Variant”.
I may not be able to stop it but I would also like to spread the original “Indian Thought” on unity. Today unfortunately even in India it is forgotten. Across the globe, the obsession with “success” has made us into “self centred”, “independent” individuals. It is high time that the attitude in the society changes from “me” to “we”.
Next time when you read “Indian Variant” also think of this “Indian thought” on universal “universal wellbeing”.
During my school days we used to say this prayer, which captures the essence.
ॐ सह नाववतु। सह नौ भुनक्तु।(Oṁ Saha nāvavatu | saha nau bhunaktu )
Aum, May we all be protected, May we all be nourished
“I want to change” is one of the most common endeavours for people. For most people, the journey of self-improvement starts with the notion “things are changing fast, I need to adapt to survive and thrive” to “I need to change to improve”.
You might have come across many people who resist change, they prefer the status quo. They are in the comfort zone, there might be some underlying fear, that even they may not be aware of it. Unless they see a benefit of change, they may not even try.
Next are people who don’t want to change because they have given up after many unsuccessful attempts to change. Showing them the benefits of change will not work these people. They might benefit from a method or a technique.
This blog is for those people who have given up the hope of changing, to give them some alternate method to try out. This method is simple and others also might find value in this.
People who think “change is not possible”, mostly they have given up “trying to change”. They belong to the family of Parmenides School. The Parmenides, a great Greek Philosopher (515-450 BC) and founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy (universal unity of being) taught that change is not impossible.
If you think “change is possible” then you belong to the family of Heraclitus. Heraclitus, another great Greek Philosopher (535-475 BC) taught that there is an ever-present change in the universe. You also think that change is possible.
For many years I was trying to ‘fix’ myself (after being motivated by the Self-Help books ) and failed miserably. I kept shuttling between Heraclitus and Parmenides schools.
Earlier as soon as I realise that I need to change, I used to jump into action immediately. Suppose If I have to take care of my health.
I used to say “Ok, from tomorrow, I will go for running”, buy some expensive shoes with the justification “Yes, I’m buying for a good cause, it is not a waste of money”. Go for two days then order a Fitbit to track my progress.
Take a break till the Fitbit is delivered but by the time it was delivered there was no motivation. Then I used to get some new insight that used to become my new area to “Change”. After a few failed attempts, I used to get upset and declare “change is not possible”. This continued for many years.
I used to think I’m becoming a zen master -like “accept what is and what is not” but in reality, I used to be frustrated.
Now my new approach to change is like this.
First is the belief that “change is possible”.
The proof is you can observe things changing around you. Look around and start watching. You are also changing but you are not noticing. Change is happening some desired and some undesired change. Next step is to bring the desired change.
This can be broadly put into the following phases.
The first phase is being aware that you want to create change in some aspect of your life. Usually, this comes in the form of a thought, an idea or feedback. Avoid the temptation to get into action. If it is critical, then the only step you should take is to write it down as clearly as possible. Nothing more.
The next phase is to acknowledge the change, it is an act of admitting the existence of that thought or that need. Suppose you realise that “I should lose weight”. You just acknowledge that I have a view or there a need for me to lose weight.
This is a significant phase, you should spend time and analyse before accepting it. You exercise your choice in accepting that thought. You might realise that the need for change has come out of some reaction, in that case, you can choose not to accept it. You need to be mindful of your arrogance/ego coming in your way to look at things objectively. It is better to accept the changes that arise out of your will than those coming from external sources.
This is nothing but getting into action. It ultimately depends on the results you want to have in your life. Results come from taking actions.
This is summarised beautifully by my favourite leader/guru Werner Erhard.
“In life you wind up with one of two things – the results or the reason why you don’t have the results. Results don’t have to be explained. They just are.”
This is the one more important part, as you are taking actions, it is vital to have some award mechanisms to keep you going. Be generous, small rewards, but they do the trick.
Yes. You deserve the reward for your efforts.
Use these steps and evaluate and most likely that you have created the desired result and successfully implemented that change.
Once you take actions consistently, the “change” becomes part of you. Then you are ready to take the game to the next level.
I have found that jumping into actions is not sufficient, giving time for self has helped me tremendously.
Consider you are already doing your best, don’t try to better your best.
Yes, I’m in a hurry. I’m in a hurry to live with the intensity that only maturity can give. I do not intend to waste any of the remaining desserts. I am sure they will be exquisite, much more than those eaten so far. My goal is to reach the end satisfied and at peace with my loved ones and my conscience. We have two lives and the second begins when you realize you only have one. Mário de Andrade
The sun was shining brightly outside and it felt like an invitation for a long walk. I was feeling fresh after my shower. I got ready quickly knowing that in the UK, weather changes faster than the mood swings of cyclothymiac.
I was feeling a slight weakness as I was putting my shoes but the excitement of going out after 38 days to enjoy the fresh air was irresistible. There was no fever from the last 14-15 days, no headache and cough as well. It was my first day out since my recovery from illness with COVID* like symptoms.
Unfortunately after struggling for more than three weeks with all the symptoms, it remained a mystery to me and my family, if I ever had the COVID or not. Here in the UK/London, there is no way to get tested for COVID. For the vast majority of people like me, there is no option to get tested unless it is very severe or you are some important personality. (Prince Charles was tested positive for Covid, UK Prime minister Boris Johnson was hospitalised due to COVID)
I was reading about the COVID from early Feb and started taking precaution before it became widespread. I was observing the exponential rise in the number of cases. I was trying to analyse the data and thinking about the distribution that the data fits into. I was washing my hands frequently, avoiding crowded places. I knew that very soon it is going to reach UK.
On Saturday, March 14th 2020 and I had a fever around 38.2 C (100.76 F). As a precaution I did self-isolation, The fever lasted for about 2-3 days. Then my wife also had fever and I was really worried. She recovered within 2-3 days. We both were relieved that nothing serious happened to us but we were conscious of not going out and put ourselves or others at risk. Luckily we had the essential things at home and there was no need to step out. (The number of cases worldwide at that point was 142,439, In the UK it was 1,140, in India 82 and US 1,678).
The media was full of negative news, the panic buying of toilet rolls was flooding the social media. There was a speculation that in a few days the lockdown will be imposed. My only panic buying was a laptop (I ordered online) and later it proved to be a wise decision. Overall there was a sense of fear all around.
After 4-5 days one afternoon, I was feeling very uncomfortable with an intense headache. I had a sudden rise in temperature and did not realise it. I was also not ready to accept that I’m getting the fever a second time. my wife tried to convince me that I’m worrying unnecessarily. That afternoon, I had a cup of tea and then went to wash my hands and I suddenly felt dizzy and blacked out. I regained my consciousness quickly. As I was trying to comprehend the situation I observed thousands of thoughts bombarding in all directions, few were reassuring me but most of them were alerting some danger. My wife started calling the NHS as we wanted some guidance about what to do? What medications to take etc.
Luckily the previous day we had arranged a room for self-isolation and I quickly moved there with my books and phone. The lines at NHS were extremely busy; the line was on hold for a few hours. I took some paracetamol and waited for the NHS line to connect but it was in vein. I had some food and slept off.
Next day though I had fever, I was feeling much better and to my surprise, I had a call from the NHS, a volunteer spoke to me and advised me to speak with the member of the medical staff. He connected me to the NHS, this time it was fast. I had to be on the line for less than an hour. But the call was worth the wait, the NHS staff was calm and listened to me patiently and asked me to watch out for two things: breathlessness and constant high temperature. Then he also mentioned a few precautions to protect others in the family. The only medication was to continue with the paracetamol and nothing for the cough. After the call I felt relieved but at that time I had no clue that it was going take me a few weeks to recover.
I kept taking paracetamol and monitoring my temperature and also kept myself hydrated. The following graph shows my temperature, headache and cough levels over a period of 4 weeks. (Headache and Cough are approximated to fit the graph).
Few distinct symptoms. The cough was very distinct, I never had that kind of dry cough, I used to have few bouts of cough once in a few hours initially that reduced over a period of time. The cough was very dry and it used last for some time (once it lasted for few hours but normally around 20-30 minutes). The intensity, duration and frequency came down over a period. There was always fear about this cough. I tried to control it through ginger, honey and warm water and I’m not sure if it had any impact on it but at least I used to feel like I was doing something.
The headache was also unique. Normally I feel ache on the front side towards my forehead during the common cold. This time it was on the backside.
Initially, I was expecting the fever to come down after 3-4 days. I was really worried when it continued in week 2. During this time I realised how restless my mind was, I could identify the fear of the unknown and the fear of something bad happening.
The conflict between “What is ..” and “What can be ..” the series of thoughts around “What if …?”. These thoughts were so powerful thatI used to feel helpless.
After about 9-10 days, I got used to the routine but fear of the unknown was creating the stress. It was not clear how long this phase was going to last. I had the question “I’m I missing something?”. I was not sure whether to take it easy or take it seriously. On the internet and social media, I was finding only about the number of cases and the death rates but no details about people who recovered, about their symptoms while recovering and how long it takes to recover etc. (after some time I totally stopped reading any news around Covid or news in general, also avoided social media to a large extent). Started listening to podcasts and audio books.
When I completed two weeks (on the 14th day), I said to myself “it is enough now!!” and decided “let me accept what is happening and surrender completely”. That was the beginning of my experiencing freedom. I really felt liberated. Though I had fever, the freedom from fear was very liberating.
I had a new laptop to explore. I started experimenting with mixing music, coding, reading (and listening) books and tidying up my table.I started enjoying the care, space, and the time.
I have observed as humans we have this duality, sometimes we are confident and say “I’m in control my destiny” and march forward and other times when there are obstacles, we say “I’m helpless” and behave like a mouse in the mousetrap. Most of the time we are on this continuum but there is a third option in a different space and that is “operating from the space of surrender”. It is like the teachings of the Gita – “You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction.”
My intention of writing this blog was to share my experience and to communicate that COVID is not life threatening but it is contagious. With patience and right information it can be managed. If you can control your mind then you can control any situation, by default the mind goes into the negative mode and it up to you to handle it.
If you are worried about COIVID and it’s fatality then have a look at some data. Globally 800,000 people die from suicide every year* compared to total deaths from COVID till now 345,991. (also there were 1.25 million road traffic deaths globally in 2013 as per WHO)
COVID is dangerous because it spreads (contagious) and not because it is fatal (the death ratio is small compared to many diseases). This can be fatal for people with underlying medical conditions. So we need to be careful to protect the vulnerable people around us.
If you are still worried about COVID then talk to someone or drop a note to me. The intention of writing this blog was to help you to observe the world from a different perspective.
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it.
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves.
Easwaran, Eknath. The Dhammapada (Easwaran’s Classics of Indian Spirituality) (p. 107). Nilgiri Press.
I’m grateful for my family, friends and all the people who cared and helped me during this challenging time.
If you have come across any good resources/idea to deal with COVID please mention them in the comments below.