Saturday, October 02, 2010

To innovate, you have got to ask - 'What is your story?'


Friday morning, 36th floor of a San Francisco high-rise - overlooking the Bay bridge.

On a conference call - "We have got to investigate more deeply as to what options are available. Let me spend some time thinking through this - and see if I can pull something meaningful. In the larger scheme of things, because this is so new, we clearly have a challenge in finding the information - but that is why this will be innovative."

Sounds like another day in the office? I bet it does. Definitely for many of new age professionals working in the most succesful firms of our times. So whats the take-away?
"Give me a break - can you not ask me for a take-away? "

Next after the above 'brief but professional call' came a few minutes of engaging thinking about how we approach innovation and what would make it intuitively relevant. And the core thought that evolved was that for any effort to innovate - it had to start from the individual and his or her innate sense of the world and the story he/she was looking to make of his/her life.

So if I were to ask you - "Whats your story going to be?" - and was willing to accept anything that you put up there and then together discuss our common view of the world 10 years out and what factors in our opinion would drive change - then we would start having powerful ideas. RElating these ideas then within the confines of a more practical business reality would be a whole lot more effective and interesting.

Need to run for another meeting - but I want to come back to this ramble and build more clarity and directness to it.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Professional Services

Greetings for a new year!

Wanted to share some thoughts (and invite some as well) on a topic I have long been pondering over. Although being personally involved in a 'professional service' may bias my opinion on the subject, I think explaining the subject from an insider's perspective might lend some insights and credibility into any hypotheses that develop.

As simple as the etymology of the word seems to be, a lookup on the word 'Professional' resulted in the meaning I refer to in this blog - "engaged in one of the learned professions". To keep it simple, let us include medicine, engineering, accounting, law and similar professions requiring some kind of advanced learning - either by study or by vocation.

When i was growing up in India, the clear objective of most children from middle-class families was to be employed as a professional (preferably in a professional services firm). Today, one may add that one of the great Indian dreams is to be an 'IT' professional. However, today - as was the case 5-10 years back - professional services were not a just a good job, they were reputed jobs. To be an auditor, lawyer, consultant etc. with a big multinational gives one access to more respect and admiration from family, peers, friends and acquaintances. This, I deduce, is one part due to the tremendous quality of the select few who succeed against a populous candidate pool and secondly, a result of the value clients give to professional services.

This value for professional services is something I find absent in Singapore. As I mentioned at the start, my opinion may be biased and limited to the perspective of the industry I work within. However, be it audit or consulting, it seems these services are not valuable enough for client organisations. This is reflected in the lower fees that professional service firms can demand from clients in return for meeting not just normal clients needs but tighter deadlines (for audit) and covering larger scope (for consulting) as compared to clients in other countries. I may also find support from professionals in these sectors who have worked in other countries and have worked in Singapore.

On many occasions, I have thought about underlying reasons for this. These include reasons such as the small size of the market, clients being to short-term focused, lack of a truly competitive manpower base and some others which I am either not clear about or I cannot articulate coherently enough. But as I get more entrenched into this business of services, I hope that varied experiences can provide a logical pattern which explains this. And of course, once one can identify that root cause, we can work towards improving the perception of value of professional services.

Will write in more on this as we go along.
Wishing a very Happy Pongal to the Tamil community.


Monday, December 31, 2007

Living in acronyms


This is something funny I came across recently. Thought might be amusing to most of you, and certainly gives a preview of this acronym-crazy city. Ofcourse, not all of it (infact very little) is an accurate reflection.

"In Singapore, the majority of us live in Highly Dangerous Buildings (HDB), And most people have already got used to Paying and Paying (PAP). Not only do you have to pay, you Pay Until Bankrupt (PUB). If that's not enough, somebody still Purposely Wants to Dig (PWD) and get more from you. So what more can you do when you are in the Money Only Environment (MOE)? With the current Mad Accounting System (MAS), you are forced to Pay the Sum Ahead (PSA), Which will leave some people Permanently Owing Some Banks (POSB). And forced to live on the Loan Techniques Always (LTA) system.

When you fall sick and happen to be admitted to a Money Operating Hospital (MOH), You might be able to use your Cash Prior to Funeral (CPF) fund. If you are out of luck, you may meet doctors who Never Use Heart (NUH) to treat you, And you will be Sure to Give up Hope (SGH).To help ease the traffic, motorists have to pay Cash On Expressway (COE). If that doesn't help, they can always Eternally Raise Prices (ERP) on the roads.

If you don't own a car, you can always make a Mad Rush to the Train (MRT), OR get squashed in a bus Side By Side (SBS). Lastly, under all these pressures, there are not many places we can relax, not even the good old place we used to go because it has become So Expensive and Nothing To See Actually (SENTOSA)!!!



Friday, March 30, 2007

In the pursuit of conviction. .


I am getting consistent with the breaks in my blogging. Almost developing a "competence" in it - a term, some colleagues of mine are very passionate about these days. Their goal is to define boundaries for the terms - skills, competencies, talent, capabilities; in the context of job requirements for employees.

Anyway, retracking back to my own competence of getting consistent with breaks, its one part due to the optimism I have been trying to generate in my mindspace, and another, due to my affinity for being euphemistic (read "satirical"). However, the root cause of getting into these breaks is just lethargy, in a chaste and simple sense. And I believe lethargy has a cyclic dependency on the state of mind (a 'depressing' state of of mind).

Work has been occupying the bulk of my time and mindspace over the last few weeks. And it hasn't been worth diddly to me. Just in terms of learning and living upto to constructive challenges, there has hardly been an opportunity knocking at the window. Quite ironically, the challenge has been to just measure upto expectations (albeit vague expectations) of more experienced individuals. All this has made me look for reasons (and excuses & shortcomings) related to people (and their beliefs), the place and the circumstances - but I have realised the reasons may not be worth nailing down to the detail. Simply because the opportunity cost of such analysis is outweighed by the benefit of finding solutions and making outright changes. The conclusion to me is simply that actions outweigh thoughts.

So the resolution I have made and found to be useful, is rejigging our own effort at the most basic level. I guess thats what many wise persons refer to as going back to the basics. Like in Cricket - when you are out of form, the best way to claw back into form, is to apply yourself and do the basics right - move your feet, watch the ball closely, and play as straight as possible. The analogy for consulting is - ask what is required, agree on deliverables, write down your thoughts, invite feedback, review your output and check if expectations have been met.

I guess the common thread in all comebacks is to generate and exude the mental strength (conviction) that all of us are capable of . It is this pursuit of conviction that probably helps us become better professionals, and in most cases, better individuals. I think reading books or articles from some thoughtful persons (authors, philosophers, leaders) can help this process, as it does for me. The other aspect is to really be able to talk and discuss about your performance (or rather the drop in it) with trusted friends and family. I guess having a confident and trusted partner helps this process a lot - and is also invariably a great opportunity to buttress the bond you already have.

The one benefit of coming out of a trough in the state of mind is that it makes you ready for bigger challenges. You feel more energised to try new things, and to go the extra mile to distinuguish yourself. I guess the redundant question to ask ourselves at such a point, is whether we are capable of achieving any distinction. The goal of doing that is the dignity of our own effort and individualism rather than the achievement it brings. I draw this belif from the grand message from the great "Bhagwad Gita":

"You have a right (and responsibility) to perform your prescribed action,but you are not entitled to the fruits of your action.Never consider yourself the cause of the results your activities,and never be associated to not doing your duty."

Without wanting to preach or sound religious, I just want to highlight that the attitude to our work can be an end in itself, just as the attitude to life can be the base of our aspiratons. So,if you are giving yourself a hard time, thinking hard about hard work, just try going back to the basics. My hypothesis is that it is true in all contexts and situations.

To end - want to share this anonymous quote (limited to my knowledge) that I discovered with my wife today. For everything we desire to do, "the time is now, the place is this".


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Values, career, family and a weekend

Guten Tag,

I continue my procrastination with blogging, and that certainly needs some serious explaining. However, rather than giving something potentially unwanted - I think more interesting is the life of 27-year olds in 2006 AD.

I wonder what 27-year olds did in 1996, in 1956, in 1906, 1506, 1006 and 6 AD. Not very sure about the other things I mentioned in the title, but I think the weekend was not a concept they looked forward to, like I and many of my other peers do. The weekend, quite simply, has come to be a time to recuperate, feel wonderful about on Fridays and only dream about on Monday mornings, to iron clothes, to have the perception of catching up on reading (what we do is so minimal), and most importantly to spend quality time with family and friends.

Family and friends seem to occupy that cherished spot within our minds, and certainly do give us the moral and logical highground while grumbling about working the hours. However, when we do have the time - we do not realise it. I think this one is really a specific to individuals and their families but atleast for me - the idea of spending quality time is always being able to have a great conversation and have a bit of fun.

Not sure if I want to talk about career and values, though I started writing out this blog thinking about the things that matter in life and thinking about the interconnections they have. I have been thinking quite a bit about work and what its in one's work that one can leave an indelible impression on - and it becomes quite obvious to me that it can only be the attitude. Irrespective of industry, function, talent, qualification, hard work - it is really the attitude that will seperate the achievers from the have-beens. And attitude is something that is challenging to define, keep, change and measure.

Think this is where the interconnection between career and values becomes the strongest. We possibly can enjoy work in a career which allows us to use our intrinsic attitude and values. If our values include being intellectually challenged, our work must be such or the team which we work with must spur us for the same. Simultaneously, we must be able to bring the energy and challenge to the workplace. Thats resonant with the idea of sustainable growth, which requires a symbiotic and mutal relationship between all entities involved.

Hmm.. I wander off yet again into convoluted prose of the language. But it helps me, so I think its alright. And I can only hope that you made some sense of what I managed to write.

I watched the movie 'Happy Feet' yesterday. Its a decent movie - simple and entertaining, but not something that energises many of your brain cells. But for the kids in us and those who have them - its a good opportunity to acquaint with the Penguin.

thats for now then. Hope you are making the best of your weekend.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Getting Along


Today feels like a different day, and I seem to be in a clinical mood where I could dissect every idea and issue to the smallest level. And yet in such a mood, the question is always the biggest of them all. And that always is, what is the purpose of life.

While I was on my way to work, I watched parts of an interview on the mobile TV on the bus. An interview with Shashi Tharoor, author of a new book called "Riot". I guess people know him better these days as India's candidate for the UN Secretary general. The relevant point was the inerview set me thinking on what was it that made people tick at something. For Mr. Tharoor, it probably is writing and along with it a plump diplomatic job that he is weel suited to. The next obvious question, what is that thing for you and me.

In being a consultant, I often times ponder over the stereotype of the profession and I must admit that at most times I see a fantastic fit. But I guess having been into this for almost 18 months now, I have begun to question whether the stereotype is valid. I think the consulting job is more influenced by the organisation and the particular team you are working with, than the job itself. There are just too many variations in the approach to client engagements, in terms of context, attitude, leadership, approach and of course, the people; that describing the consulting job generically may indeed be misleading.

Back to the purpose of life, I keep reiterating to myself and others that the main thing is to live passionately. And yet in the daily scheme of things, passion gets thrown out of the window to be replaced with things like financial security, soceital existence (another term for emotional security) and not the least of all, career progression. If you are confused about these, think again, and you will find the diverging paths of your passion and the three pursuits I mentioned. I do not mean to say the paths will always diverge, because you can always live passionately while pursuing anything. But we tend to focus on the convenience of the journey rather than the completeness of the journey itself. I remember someone who believed in the phrase "Convenience Rules!" :)

The hope is to carry on the journey of life with vividity and completeness, so one can look back and feel that the time spent has been worthwhile and made a positive difference to atleast a few people. And as all consulting projects, such goals will need to be translated into action items and attitudes that can sustain. So here I begin a project for and on myself.

So much for now. For all those who celebrate, wish you a very Happy Deepavali!


Friday, September 08, 2006

Between the last big thing and next big thing in life

Hi,This has been a truly long hiatus, and the primary motivation of writing in today is just to get rid of the inertia. Well, its going to be almost 5 months since I last wrote and thats a big chunk of one's life.Well, apart from the primary excuse of being busy with my wedding, I think the biggest reason for not logging in should be my lethargy and laziness. Wonder sometimes on what makes us rational individuals tick, and be at something for no tangible benefits. Think I have resolved to myself that the benefit of blogging to me, is just a constructive expression of my thoughts - including the many contradictions, arguments and questions.Have many things to share about the last 5 months, some of those I feel are more private now than before. So thats already one big difference. But I think in terms of attitudinal differences, a major one is that of the anticipation of the next big thing in life. I dont know about all of you, but I have always perceived daily life as the progression between events that provide discontinuity. A bit like the theory of disruptive technologies - because these events change the course of our lives. It seems to me that our anticipation of the change is often times greater than the change itself. I still think that the anticipation of change is the hope that all of us live with each day.Going back to the next big thing in my life, I really dont know what it is going to be. There are a few dimensions in which it could happen - in terms of work, personal life, the place I live or the things or beliefs I choose to pursue. I guess the most important measure of knowing the big change of course is the passion and enthusiasm it may induce. I admire people who are passionate about something. I admire my mother who is so passionate about living righteously and being productive 24 hours of the day, a few friends who are passionate either about their familires or their work and the majority of successful business, sports and entertainment personalities - for the fun they seem to have at work. So the next big thing in my life would certainly have to make me enthusiastic and excited. Put it another way, I am looking for making things exciting by pursuing something that I can be challenged with and have fun in accomplishing.I guess this is already a heavy restart into blogging. So I will keep it to this much for now. But with a resolve to write more often - and the hope to be more coherent.Hope life is good to all of you.Tschuss!Satish