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 Even if it is their internal unpublished memo, it might have evolved over a period of time.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.
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.
This time of the year when the maximum number of people give up on their new year resolutions. I know many of my friends have made a resolution that they will not make any resolution. I’m glad that some of them are at least keeping that resolution. I have gone through my cycle of failures, denial and many years of “no resolution” and I have finally cracked the code of the new year resolutions. The answer is in using the framework called the Goal Question Context (GQC).
I find the framework useful to set, revise and reset goals annually and track them on a weekly basis. Some years like 2020 are special where you can make goals for the next 20, 10 or 5 years.
To have these new year resolutions and goals is a personal choice. If you have a goal then you will at least try some actions towards achieving it. The chance of achieving your goal is higher if you have one.
What is the Goal Question Context (GQC) ?
The Goal Question Context (GQC) is inspired by Victor Basili’s work on Software Metrics called GQM (Goal Question Metric).
The GQC consists of three parts.
Goal – It is the desired state. This should be unambiguous, verifiable or measurable.
Question – Mechanism to clarify the goal and refine it and derive the context
Context – Your personal context within which you want to accomplish this goal.
Broadly we can say Goal is the end toward which effort is directed: aim. One clear distinction of a goal is at any point in time you can assess whether you have achieved your goal or not. If you have not yet achieved your goal you should be able to determine are your efforts are towards achieving the goal or not.
Characteristics of a Good Goal
Goal should be measurable and timeboxed.
Example 1: I should lose 5kgs in 3 months.
If this is the goal, you should make a note of your current weight (78kgs), start and end dates (01-Jan-2020 to 31-Jan-2020).
Then the goal can be written as: By 31st March 2020, I will bring my weight under 73 kgs
The goal should be personal.
Unfortunately many goals most people chase are derived out of comparing with others or trying to maintain a certain level of acceptance in the society. If the goal comes out of your intrinsic desire and not due to some external source then the commitment towards the goal will be very high.
“Dont let fears of what others might think of you stand in your way” –
Ray Dalio – “Principles”
The goal should be important.
Though it sounds obvious, many times you have goals that are more like fashion accessories than something you need to achieve. Do not confuse your goals with your desires. In fact, desires are things that you want that will come in your way of accomplishing your goals. In life, though anyone can almost achieve anything in life, you should remember that you can not achieve everything in life. It is important that you choose wisely.
The questions and context
These two help in refining and aligning to your goals.
Let’s explore the above example
Goal: By 31st March 2020, I will bring my weight under 73 kgs Then the question to ask is
Why do you want to bring your weight under 73kgs?
I have realised that I’m feeling a bit lethargic these days, I’m also thinking of participating in a marathon, that was always my dream. I was inspired by my friend Martin, who completed a half marathon last year. I can also do it if I prepare myself.
How are you planning to achieve this goal?
I’m planning to use a two-pronged strategy. Watch out on my food intake: control my sugar intake, the quantity of food, snacking etc. and a bit of exercise. I will also start running at least twice a week.
What will or might come in your way? And what are you going to do about it?
First one is my laziness. I’m going beyond this. I really enjoy going out and in the fresh air. My travel and work schedules are big constraints. I can use them as an opportunity. Use the hotel Gym facilities, use public transport and walking.
Also, focus on eating healthy. I will also take support from Martin as my accountability buddy.
Based on these questions and answers a context can be created.
The context for my goal is to feel energetic and be a person full of energy. My mantra is “Just Do It !”
The biggest benefit of doing this activity is that you slowly start knowing and understanding about yourself, your body and your mind. You will start noticing the effect of environment, space and people on you and also how you are impacts others around you.
One important final note about Goals, actions and consequence is that the goals can be achieved only through actions. When you take action you will have a first-order consequence, second-order consequence and so on.
If you decide to go for a morning jog. The first-order consequences are, getting up from the bed and sacrificing the sleep time, initial days you might also experience body/muscle pain and lack sleep.
Second-order consequence – you will feel better, health improves, you look fit. It might take a couple of days.
Another example, you might decide to take it easy and focus on enjoying life now!
First-order consequence: You experience happiness and joy, you are having a good time now. Second-order consequence: In a few years you might end up spending all your savings, may or may not have the motivation to work hard and earn.
Normally most first-order consequences which give you instant pleasure, happiness will have a negative consequence in the long run. Those which are difficult, not interesting will give long-lasting happiness later (for example learning a musical instrument).
For many years I also explored by not having goals but just enjoying the journey (the process towards achieving the goal rather than the goal itself), I did not bother about the results. The only drawback of that approach was, your full potential is not understood and most importantly there is no learning. With the Goal Question Context approach, it ensures that you enjoy the journey and also achieve the goals. Through this approach, the chances of achieving the goals are enhanced. In the worst case this framework will provide data points to analyse (through questions and context) and learn. Sometimes the learning from these experiments is as important or more important than the original goal itself.
So all ready to set new goals? What are some goals in life that you want to achieve?
“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
Paolo Coelho, The Alchemist.
If you need any support with setting your long term goals do not hesitate to contact me.
This is a fascinating story of a servant leader’s journey in creating a company on a foundation of strong values and principles. Personally, for me, it is a completion of a “gestalt” about leadership and my search for a leader and a role model.
Finding inspiration is difficult these days, some authentic real-life stories like these bring back the sense of direction and purpose.
It has been a journey of 20 years of exploring various dimensions of Leadership. It was also a search for a role model, whom I can admire, relate to and learn from.
My interest in leadership was ignited during my first job at Wipro when my friend Manju, mentioned about Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. That book was fascinating and mentions about leaders, leadership and various dimensions around it. Since then I have explored various sources on leadership and their styles from Gandhi to Hitler, Dalai Lama to Steve Jobs, Read many books in the Warren Bennis series on Leadership, studied various views from Ayan Rand to some Indian mythology, attended many courses and workshops as well.
My search came to an end when I came across the fascinating story of this Leader.
The leader is Sridhar Vembufounder and CEO of Zoho. He started Zoho with other co-founders about 20 years back in Chennai, now it is one of the most successful software product/SAS company from India with 40 plus applications used by more than 13 million users globally. It also competes with global giants like Salesforce.
In fact, Forbes described in an article Sridhar as the “Smartest Unknown Indian Entrepreneur”.
This finding was for me like the Santiago Shepherd boy, the protagonist of The Alchemist finding his treasure.
About Sridhar Vembu
The journey of Sridhar is not a story of a bold vision and then driving it relentlessly till it is realized nor a story of breakthrough innovation and creating a billion-dollar company, or about rags to riches. But this is a story of failures and learning from those failures, it is about entrepreneurship, starting small and focusing on serving customers, this is a story of self-realization, principles, values and trust, it is about finding the reason for existence, this is about redefining the meaning of business itself.
The best part of this discovery is most people in India can relate to it. Personally, I could relate to most of his experiences and principles.
Sridhar did his degree in electrical engineering from IIT Madras and PhD from Princeton, it sounds like typical success formula right? But after all these qualifications he realised the real value of “education”. He concluded that the context-free education has very less value. That realisation helped Zoho in creating the Zoho University (ZU), which takes underprivileged students from the local schools and provides them the relevant training. Once the students finish their training, they are given a job in the company.
There many interesting stories around Sridhar and Zoho, like not focusing on profit but focusing on delivering value, not focusing on formal qualifications while hiring etc.
Sridhar values freedom over money, this is one of the reasons it is not externally funded. His suggestion for entrepreneurs is also inspiring, The first, one is around bootstrapping and not taking external funding. He gives the example of the neighbourhood vegetable vendor and how they manage their business.
Next suggestion is starting with year -5 years, yes it takes about 5 years to learn about the business.
The final point I noted down was around success and survival. If you have a clear set of values and principles then if you can survive then you will succeed.
What I liked the most about Sridhar is, he is not perfect, his presentation style is not great, his appearance is also not stylish and he is perfectly fine with it. You can not miss the authenticity in his eyes and voice. This is what makes him special.
After completing his PhD, he went through a phase of deep reflection, confusion and transformation. That is the genesis of his journey. It started with a small group of people trying to start a company. In the last 20 years, the company has grown from a small company into a major corporation with more than 40 products and more than 13 million users and more than 9000 employees across the globe.
Sridhar has interesting views on Leadership, culture entrepreneurship, building a company, innovation, role of education. I can write a series of blogs (maybe I will do that) but let me complete this blog with the message he had shared with students of Sastra University on their 31st convocation.
“… you have 24 hours in a day. As you grow older you realize how valuable the time is, I sometimes feel my life is over and have I done enough with it? Time is the only thing you have actually. Money can buy lots of things but it can not buy time. The quality of thinking is the only thing that separates from successful from not successful. Quality of thinking means that. What type of thoughts going on in your head? You can spend 3 hours getting angry at another person. You can spend an entire day being disappointed by something…. Those are also thoughts in our head. But those thoughts are useless thoughts….. Some good thoughts might spark some ideas and from those ideas, the actions happen. Those actions can lead you somewhere. … purge all the unproductive thoughts. Angry thoughts, resentful thoughts or sad thoughts all of these. Fill your head with quality thoughts. Learn to use your time wisely… Thank you”.
The title Monk who built his own Ferrari is inspired by Robin Sharm’s Monk who sold his Ferrari. Though Sridhar doesn’t live like a monk. He has spent millions of dollars on a team for designing and developing an indigenous microprocessor chip. That is his Ferrari.
I take full responsibility for any errors, omissions and misrepresentation. As a reader, if you find any mistakes please bring it my notice and I will correct them.
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“ A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says is never accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something that he can understand” – Bertand Russell
By Raghavendra (Raghav) Mithare
Raghavendra (Raghav) Mithare is Regional Head for ProcessWhirl Management Consulting, UK and he is based in London, he is a professional coach, Agile consultant, Speaker and aspiring writer. His interests include Leadership, Philosophy, Economics and engineering. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Happiness is something that all of us seek. There are various definitions of happiness but deep inside all of us know the moments when we feel truly happy within.
Personally for me “happiness” comes as #1 priority and it ranks even before health and wealth. Recently I read a quote that I completely resonate with
“Happiness is success, success is happiness “
Dimensions of happiness
We engage in many activities in order to be happy. Below are the activities we engage in to be happy.
Happiness = function of ( P, E, M)
Now let’s look at each of these components.
#1 P stands for Pleasure
There are many activities that give us instant gratification and give happiness, we can call them as pleasure and happiness. For example
Listening to music
Eating our favourite dish
There are many actions we do to be happy. These include habits like smoking, internet surfing etc. Such actions that involve “instant gratification” give happiness. But the problems is, at the end of the activity we feel like “I want more”. However when we repeat the activity, we notice that the level of happiness comes down drastically and at one point it even stops giving any happiness.
Another issue with activities that gives us instant gratification is they are addictive and at some point the activities become mechanical.
#2 E Stands for Engagement
When you are completely involved in these kind of activities, they also give happiness. The level of happiness is more than the activities involving pleasure.
Playing football than watching football
Playing a musical instrument than listening to music
Preparing a dish for family and friends than eating your favourite dish
In these activities you are completely involved, and there is some sense of accomplishment. You are in a state of “Flow” – It is a state of total absorption in an activity where the individual is so focused that nothing else seems to matter.
Compared to “pleasure” the activities involving “engagement” are longer in duration.
(please refer excellent work done by Mihaly Csikszentmihalay – FLOW)
The optimal engagement comes when your ability and the challenge is optimal. When the challenge is bigger than your ability to do the activity then you experience some stress/fear whereas when your ability is more than the challenge then you experience boredom.
The problem with “Engagements” is it involves lot of time and requires initial investment. To enjoy playing guitar or violin you should invest your time in learning the instrument, then practice playing the instrument. You need to have certain level of skill to experience the “FLOW”.
So far we covered pleasure (p) , and engagement (e). The next aspect of happiness is activities involving meaning.
#3 M stands for meaning
Meaning involves engaging in activities with a purpose – a purpose bigger than self and caring about others. When you are involved in these kind of activities your level of happiness is not only higher but is also long lasting.
Prof. Selgman (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Seligman) authority on positive psychology reportedly conducted this experiment with his students. One day instead of his regular class he took them to a movie and when they came back he asked them to rate on a scale of 1-5, the level of happiness they felt. All students rated whatever they felt.
Next week again instead of his regular class he took them to a near by community school where kids from underprivileged background were studying. They spent the afternoon playing with these kids. Again when they returned to college he asked them to rate on a scale of 1-5, the level of happiness they felt. He collected the data.
After six months towards the end of the semester, he handed over two forms, one was titled “Movie” and the other was “Visit to community school” and he asked the students to rate the current level of happiness with respect to these two events. Many of the students had forgotten that they had gone for a movie but everyone remembered the visit to the school. The ratings after six months for “Visit to community school” were much higher than the that for a “Movie”
The activities involving meaning will not only give higher level of happiness but it is also long lasting.
I can share from my own personal experience. We run a trust called Kruti( www.mykruti.com ) and couple of years back we did a photography workshop for kids from lower income group families .I still have beautiful memories about it.
Even after so many years, when I see the Kruti videos, I feel very joyful remembering the time spent with kids and their unconditional love, editing the videos, selecting the music and compiling the movie etc.
We can see that when we engage in activities that give us meaning and engagement automatically our level of happiness goes up.