Category: Heroes

Rest in Peace, Dr. Kohli

Image source: here

Dr. Faqir Chand Kohli passed away today at the age of 96.

Founder & 1st CEO of Tata Consultancy Services (India’s largest software consulting co.), he is considered the ‘Father of the Indian Software Industry’ due to his significant contribution to the field.

Oftentimes legends like him are simply names and a string of achievements, for us humbler mortals to look up to and read or talk about. And many of them remain just that, achieving success and fame via their work, retiring, and receding into oblivion. But Dr. Kohli was very different. Which is why at least I will remember him for a long time, and aspire to be like him.

Two instances come to mind that showed the wonder that was Dr. Kohli.

Apart from consulting companies in the areas of innovation and growth strategy, every once in a while, I do think up either some way in which I can help a particular company, or a service that I can offer to a particular sector. Of course, most times the companies I write to are too big so I don’t expect a response, even though I almost feel like I’m the only one who could help save the company (in the past, I’ve written to & offered my services to Yahoo, HP, a bunch of VC’s, etc.; all in my blissful ignorance and confidence).

Anyway, one such exercise, to a broader audience, was when I sent out letters (the paper in envelope kind) to probably over a 100 b-schools and engineering colleges across the country, offering to help them create or shape their entrepreneurship ecosystem. I think three or four at best responded to the letter, all being top institutes who were already actively building their entrepreneurship cell. One was NITIE, Mumbai, and I had the privilege of visiting and checking out some of the work they do there.

Another response was an email asking me to get in touch with the Director of the institute I had written to, with the Director’s phone number on it.

A little flashback – After having selected those 100 institutes to initially write to, in the mundane task of finding the top person and address, what I didn’t realize, is that one of the people I had addressed a letter to, was Dr. Kolhi (Chairman of the Board of Governors of College of Engineering, Pune). And that email I had received with the Director’s phone number on it, was from none other than Dr. Kohli!

Can you imagine a 90ish year old god of industry emailing you to acknowledge a letter you had written, and guiding you on the steps forward?!

To give you some context to it. From the time my book was published, I have couriered over 60 paperback copies of it to various industry leaders with a letter addressed to them. These are people I felt whose businesses might benefit from the book. About 4-5 of their secretaries responded, acknowledging and thanking me for it. So, a 90+ year old gentleman responding to a letter from just another charged up chap who hopes to change the world could have at best landed in the trash. But that was not who Dr. Kohli was. And it also tells us that we have a choice on the kind of leader we want to be.

The second instance was a year or two after that. I was at an industry awards function with my folks, and I spotted Dr. Kohli. My mother was bored and feeling out of place all evening, so I tagged her along as I went to speak to Dr. Kohli. As I introduced myself and my mother, he complimented my mother on her purse, and my mother was beaming all evening. Just like that, in an event where everybody’s busy talking work and accomplishments and potential business, he made a homemaker feel comfortable and at home. I mentioned to Dr. Kohli about him being kind enough to email me, and he brushed off like it was no big deal, inquiring what happened with the meeting.

There are plenty of industry creators, company builders, the rich and the famous. And there are those that simply thrive under the legacy of those before them. And then there are those rare individuals who are so grounded, that they singlehandedly reinforce the idea of humanity and take it forward.

Immortals like them are never forgotten.

Rest in peace, Dr. Kohli. Until we meet again.

Dr Jagadish Rai – A Hero who stood between us and the virus

 
Dr. Jagadish Rai
 
My friend’s father, Dr. Jagadish Rai, a 70-year old obstetrician and general practitioner passed away recently.
 
Despite an underlying leukemia, and obviously not officially assigned to Covid duty due to his age and medical condition, he saw patients through the lockdown, many of whom were Covid positive.
 
Given his keenness to help his patients, he followed several safety measures – restricted social contact, even isolated himself at home, apart from taking the necessary regular precautions.
 
Unfortunately, he contracted Covid from a 28-year old patient (who came to him coughing blood, and who passed away within a day of testing positive). And despite contracting Covid and being hospitalized, in the days leading up to Dr. Rai’s death, he continued attending to patients on call until he got too breathless to be able to.
 
For an unknown virus that has kept even far younger and healthier doctors away from the risk if they had that choice, Dr. Rai is from a rare breed of bravehearts whose sense of purpose and duty was far bigger than the virus, bigger than our collective fears, and bigger than our collective carelessness.
 
So the next time any of you are stupid enough to think it’s okay to step outside without a mask, or remove the mask while in public, whether for a picture or to talk; think of Dr. Rai.
 
Selfless people like him sacrificed their lives to save us from health issues and the virus; not so that we could be stupid enough to knowingly run toward the virus despite such a great sacrifice.
 
Read about him here.

Jane Elliott

Jane Elliott

Jane Elliott: image

Heard of Jane Elliott?
 
She’s an American schoolteacher and an anti-racism activist. She is especially famous for her truly visionary “Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes” exercise that she conducted in her classroom, 50 years ago.
 
Get a quick overview of her Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes exercise here. I first came across this a few months ago and thought it was exceptional.
 
Now, Jane recently spoke about world maps, racism, and a bit about her childhood. The stuff about maps really shakes, or at least shook my foundation about maps. Like me, you might just ask yourself what in the world is actually true, if something as fundamental as a map could be distorted that much.
 
Check out the interview here.
 
What an inspiration, this woman is!

Carlsberg – Boldly Beer’ing Global Burdens

Beer’ing Global Burdens

Consider the amount of plastic we use in our lives. Getting rid of a lot of it seems like quite a challenge, considering how dependent we and businesses have become on it.

And yet, it is refreshing to see companies like Carlsberg committed to drastically reducing the use of plastics. A few years ago, they took it upon themselves to reduce the use of plastic rings used to keep beer cans together.

With an initiative which stretched over three years, they managed to reduce plastic in their packaging by an impressive 75%!

How? They replaced the plastic rings with dots of glue that now hold cans together. Called Snap Packs, they keep cans in place during their logistic journey, but remain easy enough for consumers to break with a simple twist.

That was 2018.

And they didn’t stop there. They have recently developed two recyclable prototypes of the sustainably-sourced wood fiber bottle. One prototype being tested, is lined with a thin film of recycled PET plastic to prevent leakage. The other uses a bio-based lining for the same purpose.

They seem committed to minimizing the damage they as a business, cause the environment. If a few more large companies could have that level of commitment, it would be so much easier to inspire other companies to do their bit as well.

More on Carlsberg’s eco beer bottles here.

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

Is it possible to Fall in Love with a Company?

Is it possible to fall in love with a company?

Not the kind where you are loyal to a company or brand or product line and refuse to buy anything else.But truly revere a company because of their values.

A few weeks ago, I was at the Indian Hotels company to meet a senior gentleman there. Unlike other companies, where either an assistant or the receptionist or some peon might walk you to a meeting room, this person came to the lobby to receive me.

I’m not particularly good with small talk, and almost always jump right to the point. However, I started this meeting differently. I told this person about a story a close friend’s son had shared recently. It went like this.

Many years ago, when my friend’s son was in school, the school bus would drop him off at Kemps Corner. They lived up Altamount Road, quite a steep walk up. Especially for this stocky boy with a big schoolbag, huffing his way up the road. And every once in a way, a Mercedes car would pull up, an old gentleman sitting in the back, would offer to drop him to his building. This boy would sit in front, next to the driver.

The old gentleman would ask some questions about how he liked school, etc. One evening, this boy decided to mention to his family at dinner, that he had been occasionally getting dropped home by a complete stranger. As he narrated the story and described the old gentleman, his granny smiled and said, “that man is J. R. D. Tata!”

For the uninitiated, Mr. J. R. D. Tata is arguably one of the greatest Indian businesspersons.

What’s more, when this boy grew up and shared this story on social media, it turned out that other people who lived in the area had similar stories of their own. It seemed that success didn’t create a divide between Mr. Tata and others, but rather, Mr. Tata chose to use his success to help those around in whichever way he could.

This gentleman at the Taj Group was thrilled to hear this story, but not completely surprised. I guess the values infused into the group are so strong, it’s not something they would struggle to believe.

Rewinding a bit to a little before this meeting of mine…. I reached the Indian Hotels office a little early. Restless as always, I was walking around, admiring the picturesque view of Bombay from the window beside the reception area. I then noticed pillar-like structures just behind where the receptionists stood. There were seven on one side, six on the other. And each one had a name and number etched in. I had a faint idea about what they were. But just to confirm, I walked up and asked the receptionist about them.

And indeed, they were in memory of their brave employees they lost during the 2008 terrorist attack. The last pillar on the right just had a name on it. ‘Lucy’, and no date. Turned out it was a pet of theirs, which was always outside the hotel.

The two stories were truly humbling. Even just a few more companies with the kind of humility, respect and values that the Tata Group of companies has, could truly transform the business ecosystem.

Perhaps it therefore comes as no surprise that the brave Taj employees did not try to escape during the attack. On the contrary, many of them displayed superhuman courage and presence of mind to do the unimaginable. The kitchen staff formed human shields as their guests tried to get out.

No amount of rules, threats, salary packages or incentives can get someone to do that. It is something much more. And has to come from within, but only when the ecosystem is right. It’s something very human. Something the world needs more of.

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If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

Staying Power

In the years after starting my strategy consulting practice, during one meeting with one of my mentors, he asked me how work was.

I said it was good, but had a lot of ups and downs. He said he was really glad that I was sticking with it.

He told me that decades ago, as one of the fastest growing leaders in one of India’s biggest conglomerates, he had once written in an article where he had mentioned a human trait. A trait that he wished more people had.

It was, what he called ‘staying power’. According to him, it is the ability for someone to know that there will always be ups and downs, and that when striving for something huge, one must have the ability to hold on through the storms. He said the few people who have it, always reach their goals.

I was recently invited to attend the Maharashtra Startup Week, where I was fortunate to attend two sessions by Bala Girisaballa. In one, he perfectly articulated an entrepreneurs journey. He said, ‘the journey for most entrepreneurs often comprises of spending 90% of their time in the dark (business uncertainty), and then there being a flash and the 10% of good times (or less tormenting times), which then takes the entrepreneur to the next 90% dark phase.’

If you think about it, a good life (one committed to striving for tough goals) should be the same too. Between seemingly impossible 90% challenges. For which we need our staying power.

A Pad Idea!

A Pad Idea!
Once upon a time, there was is a man named Arunachalam Muruganantham from Coimbatore in India, who could not bear to see the discomfort and embarrassment that his wife had to go through, just to buy/ wear a sanitary pad / napkin. Risking even his very marriage, Arunachalam’s empathy and resolve lead him to research everything from material to pricing of sanitary pads. And after a long, unrelenting journey, he makes sanitary napkins that become the preferred and highly affordable alternative to what many rural and even urban women were used to for the longest time; cloth. This inspiring story of an Indian hero was recently depicted by way of a Bollywood movie, Padman.
Now consider some Hollywood movies inspired by real-life heroes. Erin Brockovich (played by Julia Roberts), Joy (Jennifer Lawrence starrer), Sully (featuring Tom Hanks), Argo (Ben Affleck playing the cool, brave Antonio J. Mendez of the CIA), etc., etc. Noticed anything in common?
The protagonist always bears the real name of the character it was inspired by. The way I see it, that helps real heroes get the recognition they deserve in their home countries, if not the world. And it helps the masses connect better with the name and great actions of that hero or changemaker. Of course, there are other movies loosely based on some real-world people. In which case, I agree that moviemakers would be wary of incurring the wrath of linked families. And therefore use fictional names. But why the same even with movies completely inspired by one, known person.
Bollywood has been notorious for decades, for being “inspired” by original content from the world over, and repackaging it for our audiences. To add to the plagiarism, is the unimaginative rehashed Bollywood classic songs that regularly make their way back to newer Bollywood movies. The least this multi-billion dollar industry that avoids imagination and innovation like the plague could do, is let real heroes have a share in the limelight. By using the person’s real name in the movie it is inspired by.
They did with Padman. And with Airlift. With Guru, among other movies.

Why do they do it? Are box office proceeds all they care about? Or is it some lawsuit they’re trying to avoid? Or do they want credit for the empathy, innovation and perseverance of another?

‘Arunachalam Muruganantham’ is a tough enough name even for Indians to remember, without it being portrayed by Akshay Kumar but bearing a completely different name. Giving a fictional name takes away the powerful connect it could create among the masses. And this movie could have been the perfect effort to make the real man a household name. To inspire many more such changemakers because of the direct connect to the real person it creates.

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China – The Punishment Due

China – The Punishment Due

To,
Mr. Xi Jinping
Chairman of the Central Military Commission
People’s Republic of China
Indian politicians have always been soft about matters regarding our country’s borders. You however, should not for a moment, think their encroachments will go unchallenged. Or that our army doesn’t stand a chance.
The Beating Retreat ceremony that happens at our Attari (and Wagah in Pakistan) border should give them some perspective. Look it up online.
The soul-piercing eyes of our Border Security Forces. The fire, the bravery and the love for the country. It isn’t something that can be copied or manufactured like everything else China is notorious for. These traits are inherent. What’s more, that border ceremony is a tradition of brotherhood and cooperation. Imagine dealing with them in the event of a war.
Image: source
So, if Chinese border infiltration continue, surely our politicians will bumble around for a long time. Trying hard to imagine the problem doesn’t exist. Or hoping to push it under the carpet for another government of the future to deal with. But the day one of them decides to take action, and that day will come, I’d hate to think of the plight of those facing the wrath of our armed forces.
In all the wars India has ever fought, it has never been on the offensive. Never once have we, unprovoked, attacked another country. And that should tell the world everything it needs to know that we as a country, hate war more than any other country on earth does.
But there is one thing we hate far more, and do not tolerate. And that is, outsiders encroaching on our land.
It is another, and rather unfortunate matter, that all our politicians since independence, have not reflected the necessary concern for our borders and our people who live near it. But, it would be foolish to continue to push your luck, using the Sino-Indian war as a yardstick to compare powers. Back then, we were a young, relatively unaware, 13-year old country post-independence. If you really need proof of our military prowess, look no further than the Battle of Longewala of 1971. It remains, among the only battles in the history of the world, where an unimaginably outnumbered army faction held on, and won. That, is the Indian defense forces for you.
In the hope that you come to your senses soon, and for your own sake.
Cheers!
Megadeth performing ‘Holy Wars… The Punishment Due’. Hammersmith Odeon. 1992.
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Dr. David Lagrew – Saving Mothers with Empathy & Innovation

More women in labour and new mothers die in the US than in any other high-income country. And the CDC Foundation estimates that 60% of these deaths are preventable! 60%!! In one of the most developed countries in the world.

And since 1990, only 13 countries in the world have seen a rise in maternal death rates. The US is one of them. Along with North Korea and Zimbabwe. And shockingly, since 2007, the US National Center for Health Statistics has even been publishing an official maternal mortality rate. Personally, I’m at a loss for words for this kind of indifference.

However, like in most other grim sounding situations, there is a small group of changemakers, who do what it takes to make things better in their area of work.

Recently, I read an article (link below) about Dr. David Lagrew and Stanford’s California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative. (CMQCC). This is an organization committed to ending preventable morbidity, mortality and racial disparities. The doctor and CMQCC have a single, worthy cause. A case of Empathy and innovation working at their best, to dramatically increase the number of lives saved.

Dr. David Lagrew    image: source

Below is the highly recommended article on how, a noble pursuit, is achieving the seemingly impossible. We all have matters that concern or consume our thoughts. What we must realize, is that it doesn’t matter how many other people are indifferent or don’t care enough to do something about it. The real question is, do we?

Article Link: California decided it was tired of women bleeding to death in childbirth

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The Determining Fire

ITBP - Women contingent

Image: source

The Determining Fire

Late on 15th night, I read a news piece about 500 trained women personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) being the first women contingent to be deployed in high-altitude posts along the India-China border. I was thrilled.

However, I’m also sure many may have asked, ‘would they be able to handle it’; or, ‘can they meet the grueling job expectations? Especially given the conditions, where even their physically stronger male counterparts sometimes find it tough’?

Well, there are capable people, okay ones, and damn good ones, both men and women. On the corporate side, I’ve seen a fair share of men and women who’re below average at their jobs, and those who are really exceptional too.

What makes some truly exceptional, I have come to learn, has a lot to do with the distance they’ve covered, and the resistance they’ve overcome, to get to where they are. Often, it’s also what drives them to go even further.

We all know that both distance and resistance are overcome by sacrifices. Sacrifice being the screening fire. Those who have been through it, come through on the other side with something extra. All they then need to do, is fight complacency.

An incident comes to mind. My office building has good security. Friends, clients and acquaintances who have come to meet me there have always mentioned it. From visitors needing to register at the reception, a picture taken, a gate pass issued, security at the turnstiles, and acknowledgement on the gate pass from the office you’re visiting.

As I entered the building sometime last year, I realized I’d forgotten my access card. A male and female security personnel were at the turnstiles. Many of them are on rotational shifts, and I’m not a particularly regular face there, so they don’t always remember me.

Now anyone working in India knows how we deal with things like forgotten access cards. Many people even know how to deal with breaking laws and rules the same way. Saying it’s a one-time mistake, it happens, everyone else is doing it, and so on.

Anyway, I walked right to the turnstile, and told the chap to let me pass, telling him which floor I worked on. And that he could call and check with my office. He agreed without any hesitation, and was just about to swipe his card to let me pass, when the lady security personnel who was quietly watching us, stopped him. She politely expressed her reluctance to allow it, requested me to go to the reception and get a guest pass.

By this time, I was beaming with admiration. Because, funny as it is, in our country, it is rare that someone sticks to a rule, a law, a process; and not because they’re scared or feel pressured, but because they understand them and their responsibility towards enforcing them. And this lady wasn’t the least bit scared or confused. I know the difference.

In many situations, people bypass such rules or even the law with a little pat on the shoulder, a little bribe here, a nonchalant ‘chalta hai yaar’ there, and so on. But not this lady.She was polite, but was in no uncertain terms, following the procedure, and simply expected me to too.

How often do we stop at a red signal light when the streets are empty? And if we do, how often do we still jump the light if someone behind us honks, or other cars drive past without waiting? How frequently does name-dropping happen, or do we feel entitled without having earned something? How often do we throw our weight on people who stand no chance of defending against it? Do waiters, security, small shop employees, and peons among others, come to mind?

The lady security personnel is one of those concerningly rare individuals we have in our country today, who isn’t afraid, or doesn’t feel awkward about being fully responsible for what she’s been entrusted with. Now all we need are more such people. Many, many more.

The ITBP women, as indicated by the news itself, are the first women contingent ever. Which means there’s a mountain of ice and glass they’ve already overcome to be where they are today. It is also why would they be just as strong, if not far stronger, and more effective than their male counterparts who’ve been guarding that region till date.

Koi shuck?

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