Heroes of Jadotville: The Soldiers’ Story – written by Pat Quinlan’s son (Leo) and niece (Rose Doyle)!
Siege at Jadotville: The Irish Army’s Forgotten Battle – by Declan Power
Lose some…Win 'em all.!
We humans have always dealt awkwardly with time. Some look for new ways to kill it. Others, better ways to fill it.
And the lockdown has really done a number on how we treat time; most likely amplifying our pre-Covid perception of time. So we have either gotten better at killing time (longer binge watching sessions), or a bit more efficient in some ways, to include the added house work (especially in places like India, where a lot of us were accustomed to having house help do a ton of the housework, but suddenly found ourselves needing to do it through the lockdown).
While I toggle between filling and killing time, I have struggled with trying to better manage it. And while I’ve always been aware of how short life is, the number of deaths in the last year have really highlighted the brevity of it.
Here are 4 habits I’ve been toying with in the hope of managing time better; with varying degrees of success:
Let me know what habits have been helping you better manage your time.
One of my mentors, Mr. Ramesh C. Sarin passed away on the 10th of April this year.
He was already long retired when I first met him. And he had this rare, dignified personality that reflected a wonderful blend of an unimaginably impressive corporate journey that he had had; and plenty of humility and grace. He climbed the ranks at the ITC Group to be the youngest person inducted to the Board, probably at the age of 39, if not a bit younger.
Meetings with him were enjoyable. I wasn’t exactly moving the earth, quite the opposite in fact – struggling to create a niche and presence in the field of innovation and design strategy. My updates to him would be over in a few quick minutes. Then came the wonderful part – a few minutes of conversation with him. While it was no easy task for him to even just entertain me at his age (he was nearing 80 at the time), he would take the effort of not just listening to all I have been up to, but also telling me little stories from his absolutely fascinating corporate life. Like when he was flown abroad on practically no notice for a meeting to discuss a job opportunity; and how the meeting got extended, and how worried his wife had been. Or how satisfying it was, completing the challenging Bhadrachalam Paperboards (it was before he turned 40!). He also kept inspiring, and on several occasions he told me he was glad I held on through challenging times.
There is a very interesting article about him from a few decades ago. It talks about his bold and radical efforts to set Voltas on a more solid growth path. In the article, there’s reference to Mr. Sarin being asked if he had ruffled a few feathers with his shake-up at Voltas. He replied, “Oh by god, yes!” Every time I’ve read that line in the article, I could almost hear Mr. Sarin actually say it. Because I’ve heard him say something along those lines in conversation.
The Voltas article is fascinating in two ways. Despite strong disagreements between him and Mr. A.H. Tobaccowala (his predecessor and then Chairman of the Voltas Board), their interactions and views of each other were extremely dignified. It shows the class of a different time. And more importantly, it offered a glimpse into the clarity of vision, the conviction, and the unstoppable force that Mr. Sarin was, in trying to make whichever company he worked for, the best version of itself. After all, which leader in recent times, has the candour to say something like, “”I have made some terrible mistakes, but I now see growth a head for Voltas: all it needs now for the strategy to work is time.”
[Read the Voltas article here]
He was of the view that good and challenging goals take time, and that it is important to stick with it and not give up. It is from him that I first learnt of the phrase, ‘staying power’; a phrase that continues to be a guiding force for me.
He once suggested I create a brochure for my consulting practice. On my next visit, he sat patiently and reviewed a few drafts I had taken. He also offered valuable inputs with great attention to detail. ‘Excellence’ seemed to be a word close to his heart. I remember him suggesting it as an addition to a draft. One needs to understand, this was not the word ‘excellence’ being dropped by a starry-eyed youngster, but by someone who had built businesses that excelled, before building other businesses that excelled too. So it was not just someone suggesting a word. It was probably him inspiring with words he had proven the meaning of by example.
It has been my observation that Mr. Sarin possessed a supremely important mindset and trait that was in short supply during his time, and that is exceedingly rare today. A mindset and a trait I completely believe in. It is that companies are built for a purpose, and that it is the duty of those working for the company to channel their efforts towards the best interest of the company. Even if that means locking horns with bosses or top management if they might be shortsighted or somehow not aligned with the company’s best interest. He will remain one of the most ideal role models one could aspire to be like – a visionary and a compassionate leader – one who inspired his troops to achieve the seemingly impossible.
Over the years, as I trudged along, I would send Mr. Sarin the occasional update, not wanting to trouble him too much with frequent visits. And twice in the past year, he had replied to my emails, telling me to drop by to catch up over coffee. Obviously I would not dream of risking visiting him in the middle of a pandemic, so I told him I will meet him as soon as things are safe again.
Nothing can describe the loss as adequately as Mr. Kanwal Jeet Jawa did in his obituary, where he wrote, “For those who have not had the good fate of knowing Mr. Sarin, and more so for those who have not had the better destiny of having been influenced by him and groomed by him, you have missed something all along but saved from the pain of losing him today.”
I will always remain grateful to him for inspiring me to keep working on getting better than I was.
Staying power: ON
Until we meet again, Mr. Sarin. 🥃
How much attention do you pay to detail?
I had read about this somewhere and found the attention to detail unimaginably inspiring.
The sculpture of Moses by Italian Renaissance artist, Michelangelo Buonarroti has a slight indent in the forearm (yellow marker).
That indent is not random.
Such an indent is only formed when a particular muscle is taut, which in turn only happens when the little finger is extended, as is seen in the sculpture.
Try it out yourself to check.
The incredible attention to detail clearly differentiates legends from the rest.
Jane Elliott: image
This amusing but perhaps effective picture I saw in this tweet last month got some thoughts rolling.
We could all use some personal space in public. Especially in countries like India. Where the population, combined with the general lack of regard for other’s personal space can be quite a challenge. Growing up, I have been in several queues, where, people behind you are far too much in a hurry. So they stand next to you. In rare cases, they might even try to get ahead of you when you finally reach the counter. Or they’re peering over your shoulder, as you ask the bank teller something, or pay for your train ticket, or are about to place your food order.
But that said, have you ever been to a restaurant where you had to share a table with strangers? Where, if you walked in alone, or with two other people, you could only occupy that many seats at a table. Because other customers would sit in the remaining available seats. Or they would ask you to scootch over.
And did you feel an invasion of your privacy? Did it make you uncomfortable? Or did it make you think, ‘what the hell, it’s just for a snack, so why not go with it?’
There are a few such places in Bombay, that I visit from time to time.
I am still confused if these are times of personal space, or the conceding of personal space to technology…But while we’re in that confusion, I have found such restaurants to be something that keeps us social. Even if for the brief time we are there to gulp down a milkshake or eat a quick bite between legs of shopping.
At such tables, we finally notice other people, even if for a brief moment. Out of curiosity, we might even peep at what they’ve ordered, how they’ve dressed, or how they eat. Some of us might feel a mental nudge to eat faster, so as not to hold up others queuing up outside. We might be polite to pass on the menu to someone seated at the same table. Or pass the salt or a paper napkin. We might even start a conversation, or join in for a shared laugh about something funny that occurred.
Most importantly, we notice other human beings almost uninterrupted, for a brief moment in time. And it is without the invisible glass walls around us.Something that otherwise takes an accident or mishap or an argument for us to perhaps notice.
Some of us might also be inclined to be a little more civil, and less noisy than we ordinarily are.
But in all, I think such places do the opposite of what technology is doing for us humans. These places bring us closer.
I’ve created a list of the few restaurants I have visited, that have the shared table format. Here’s the list.
If you have come across this kind of a format in your own city or country, or during your travels, you could enter details about it below, and I’ll update the list above. That way, perhaps with time, the list could provide us with details about shared table establishments in different parts of the world.
If you run or manage a business, and innovation, strategy, problem-solving, customer experience or ideation are areas of interest, there are a few ways I can help. More about it here.
My book, ‘Design the Future’ is available as an Ebook on Amazon, and as paperbacks across leading online bookstores including Amazon &Flipkart. Do leave a review on Amazon once you’ve read it. Thanks!
My 9 Step Version of the Design Thinking Process
This post about my 9-step version of the design thinking process has been long overdue. It is already explained in my book, ‘Design the Future’, but I also wanted to share it here for those interested.
The five-step Stanford design thinking process is arguably the most popular process out there. I have however, come across numerous different processes or versions. Ranging from the 15-step Darden process that I was taught, to oversimplifications and misleading three-step processes I have come across.
In my interactions with managers, business leaders and even students, I found that while many were familiar with the Stanford or some other design thinking process, they did not quite understand it well enough. For instance, ‘empathy’ came across to them as something that is ‘just done’. Similar to how many people assume hearing is the same as listening. And seeing empathy as a step in the process gave many the impression that like a switch, it had to be turned on and then off, as one moved to the next step.
So, in an effort to simplify the design thinking process so more people may use it, I created my own version of the design thinking process based on my understanding of design thinking and experiences practicing it. I took the Stanford model, and hopefully improved it.
You need to remember that any design thinking process is a broad guideline. It is not like a military obstacle course that one must complete in a defined sequence. You might find yourself looping through a few steps multiple times. Or in some cases, depending on what the information or insight presents, you might find yourself back at the beginning; starting again with renewed understanding of the challenge.
Sherlock Holmes, in the series ‘Elementary,’ once tells Watson, “The danger with rule books, Watson, is that they offer the illusion that leading a moral life is a simple undertaking, that the world exists in black and white. Welcome to the grays.”
At least when it comes to areas such as creativity and drawing inspiration, remember there can never be stringent rules or guidelines.
My 9-step version of the design thinking process:
Of the nine steps in the process, the first three are more underlying criteria than steps. Criteria that are critical to improving the chances of success on a project. Those three criteria are Humility, Empathy, and Intention. While these might seem obvious to the point of sounding stupid, they are often the most ignored aspects to a design-led process. More on that as we understand each step better.
After that come the more common steps of most design thinking processes. They are: Define – Empathize with Intent – Redefine – Ideate – Prototype – Test
Let’s look at the nine steps more closely:
Humility – The quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance. Its relevance springs from the simple signal versus noise perspective. Our objectives as design thinkers is to maximize our understanding of user experiences and needs. Of those we want to innovate for, or whose problems or challenges we want to solve. That is the signal that is of utmost importance to us for innovating for them. Our views, opinions, and biases are the noise.
The moment you can bring yourself down to the level of a beginner or a learner, you put yourself in the backseat, and that’s when the end user or final beneficiary of your innovation will come into the limelight of your focus. Remember to start with humility.
Empathy – The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Putting yourself in a live user-setting and observing and/ or interacting with users to get a better sense of what a problem or future opportunity might mean to them, how they deal with it, and so on. In conjunction with humility, it offers a good environment to capture user information.
Unlike what some methods might state, empathy (and humility as well as the next step, intention) are not steps in themselves. They should not be traits that you turn on and off depending on which stage of the design thinking process you are. It is also why, along with the intent, I have placed them at the base of the six-step process, to signify how the three traits always need to be ‘ON.’
Without being in a constant state of empathy, no real innovation is possible. And that will be the difference between a real design thinker or team creating an exceptional change, and people simply practicing it as a flavour of the times.
Intention – An intention is the larger thought and nudge to action for a change, that brings you to employ the design thinking process. You might wonder what the difference is, between humility, empathy, and intent.
As a business leader, humility will always help you spot customer or employee or other stakeholder needs and concerns. Empathy will let you better understand those needs and concerns. To get to the root causes of it. You might still choose not to do anything about it, because you don’t have the intention to. Contrarily, if you have the intention, but lack humility and empathy, it would mean that your objective or goal is not the right one.
Equipped with humility and empathy, but in the absence of any intent, a business leader will always spot improvement areas in his or her business. All they need then is to choose their intention – i.e., determine the direction of their effort, and get working on it.
Define – Here, we put the problem statement or opportunity statement in words. It is a starting point of sorts, to the primary design thinking process. Before interacting with user groups, this is a step where we broadly express what we think the problem or opportunity area might be. It could be how a client has described a problem, or, if we are helping a friend or industry colleague, it could be their description of the issue.
One key thing to remember with defining a problem or opportunity is to make it sound positive, irrespective of how grave or pointless the situation might seem. A lot of companies are prone to defining/ framing what hurts first. Their definition ends up being a problem statement which sounds grim. The disadvantage of doing this is that when you invite people to think of ideas, even as part of a brainstorming exercise, a grim-sounding problem statement stifles the thinking, and will hugely limit the number and quality of views that you receive.
On the contrary, if you turn your problem statement into an opportunity statement, people ideating will be in a positive mindset, and be more attuned to think of creative ideas. Try to notice the difference of mindsets the following two statements evoke. Read them more than once if necessary:
A Problem Statement: “How can we drastically reduce our after-sales service related expenses?”
An Opportunity Statement: “How can we redefine our service arm to be more relevant to customer needs, while not proving expensive for us?”
As Abraham Maslow once said, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Defining a challenge too negatively and very precisely might give you solutions that just create more problems of their own.
Empathize with intent – This is the fun phase, where you spend time observing actual users in their natural surroundings. See how they consume a product or service. How they interact. And you must do this in the subtlest way possible, even when you are interviewing or interacting with them. Especially if the process is delicate or embarrassing for the end-user, or if the user is introverted or are in some way intimidated by you and your team’s presence.
One important thing to remember in this phase is to be subjective with the empathy, but objective with what they share with you. If you have a subjective mindset when trying to find learnings, you might tend to get lost in a problem. And depending on the type of assignment, it might leave you either in disbelief, or maybe even depressed or an emotional wreck, depending on the kind of problem you are working to solve, as users expose you to severe difficulties or bitter experiences.
Instead, empathize with users as they walk you through their journey, experiences, feelings, and thoughts. But look at it from behind a glass wall when taking notes or drawing inspiration or conclusions from it. That way, your focus is not diverted by problems but instead stays focused on noting down those problems and possible thoughts, reasons, etc., that might spring to mind. The focus will help you then work towards getting rid of the problem, as opposed to being overwhelmed by it.
Redefine – After gathering user insights, we revisit our original definition with what we have learned. After enough information has been collected in the earlier stage, the team debriefs. The information is shared amongst team members without contaminating it with their inferences. That way, each member gets a clear sense of how things presently are.
Often, when tasked with solving a problem for someone, even when we have little or no information to go with, we are eager to get started with identifying potential solutions right-away. You might have seen this tendency in yourself and others (I tend to, from time to time), where someone mentions a problem, and without stopping to understand more, you start rattling possible causes or solutions.
That happens when we go with our definition of someone else’s problem. Which is why, after an initial definition, once we get a better understanding of it from actual people facing the problem (in the ’empathize with intent’ stage), we redefine the challenge more accurately, based on what we have learnt.
Ideate – This is the stage where designers would take the information they have gathered and use it as inputs that they put through a choice of design thinking tools. Tools including the brainstorming or versions of it, to contra-logic, worst-idea, brain-writing, trigger questions, changing perspectives, etc., and then use anchors, forced combinations and connections to come up with numerous ideas. The more ideas, the better, and the crazier the ideas; even better!
Prototype – Prototyping an innovative solution is akin to shaping a solution using two pairs of hands – your design team’s, and your users’. In the previous stage, you would have identified some potential ideas and possible directions regarding a solution. This is where you need end users to help you figure out what works for them, and what does not.
The objective of this stage is to be able to move rapidly towards a final solution, with minimum investment (as far as possible) on experiments towards refining potential solutions. The moment each prototype becomes too expensive and complicated, there is a tendency to either convince yourself and your team that it is a great solution (because of the effort that went into it. It is a cognitive bias called the IKEA effect).
Another possibility is that if you encounter a roadblock at this stage, your team or the top management might get easily demotivated and consider it a colossal failure, solely because your team spent a fortune building a prototype that user groups did not like or approve of.
Instead, make the most basic and low-cost but effective prototypes possible. Use anything from sheets of paper for story-boarding, to card paper or cardboard, Styrofoam and other craft supplies to work toward a final solution. Your objective with each prototype, is to test no more than one factor or variable you need clarity on. Test too many criteria, and the learning becomes unclear.
At workshops I conduct, I sometimes take my old letterheads for participants to use for discussions, sketching, or to make things out of.
It is only when everyone finds using anything lying around them as potential material for prototypes, is when prototyping will become far more prevalent. The same goes for ideating. If the materials you use are too fancy, you or your team might use it as an excuse to delay prototyping, or even ideating.
Which is also why, while a lot of design thinking workshops use post-its and put up pictures of it, few participants continue to use post-its to implement some of the tools they learnt. Because buying post-its is expensive and sometimes inconvenient. If you can’t make do with stuff already at your desk or around, the action gets delayed till you buy those supplies. Take this from someone who uses toothpaste or soap to write on the bathroom wall so that a potential idea does not disappear with the flowing water.
Test – Once you’ve completed the prototyping phase, you move on to testing. The significant difference between the two is that while prototyping was far greyer and also, the prototypes were far less expensive but required a slight stretch of the imagination by the user, the testing phase is that much more advanced, as it is that very close to the final product or service.
And unlike checking one feature at a time in the prototyping phase, here you are testing the product or service in its entirety, towards ironing out any features or poor service extensions that exist, by letting your users directly interact with the solution.
The first rule to keep in mind in the testing phase too is that your product or service is not final or finalized yet! There would still be some assumptions that your team would need to test. For instance, it is one thing to prototype with sketches or storyboards or even pretend mobile interfaces. Quite another to have end users interact with your store layout or theme park or mobile application.
Which is why we have the testing phase, where your team would help build almost-final solutions to test them in the hands of a closed group of stakeholders. It is great to have a select list of people who will evaluate your creation. That increases the focus and feedback capturing. And what you will be testing, are any assumptions that were earlier not tested, or that sprung up along the way with the increase in clarity.
It isn’t possible to overstate the amount of valuable, even critical insights that can be gained in the testing phase.
Testing is followed by eventually launching the product, service or change – once all assumptions and user hesitations have been factored in.
After you’ve gained more realistic insights from real users who interacted with your prototypes and brought you very close to a final solution that you by way of prototypes and then running exercises with them in the testing phase, you are finally onto an almost ready and well-refined answer.
Ideally, even after launch, the journey should be looked at like it is the making of a TV series. You’ve launched season 1 or 2, and it is doing well. But you need to check-in now and then as to how viewers are reacting and engaging with it. The bigger question in your mind always is, is there enough traction to demand a season 3, and if yes, would there be any significant changes needed (replacing actors, etc.) or is the show no longer relevant to its audiences. In which case, you then need to figure out what next. That way you are not going in blind with season 3, to later find out it lost its audience midway through the previous season itself.
One should remember that there is no perfect product, service, experience or solution to user needs or problems. And there are no runaway results promised by design thinking, the way some firms guarantee the ability to create viral videos. But yes, you always have a far greater chance of arriving at a product or service that people want or need by using design thinking, than by merely guessing or troubleshooting your way through.
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.
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.
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, he said, ‘staying power’. He said it was 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.
Ava and Dr. Jimmy Patell, dear friends of mine, were extremely kind to gift me a poem that they wrote about my book on design thinking, Design the Future.
The poem itself is more priceless to me than the book. Really humbling.
Here it is.
Design the Future, what does it portend
What does it say, what message does it send
Does it help Managers in their work place
Or a simple layman in his home space
How can the processes that evolve
A family’s day to day problems solve
Or is it just solely business tools
Being espoused in some management schools
Well to clear the mystery of it all
Shrutin Shetty has taken a call
And made things clear by writing a book
That may well become the subject’s handbook
Friends, it may help giving the book a read
It may assist you in your hour of need
Solve the problem before others do
And get credit that is due to you.
– Ava and Jimmy
If you haven’t picked up my book yet, you can use the code JIMAVA here for a 25% off on the paperback. Paperbacks are also available across leading online bookstores worldwide, and ebooks on Amazon and Kobo.
If you do buy the book, would appreciate a review on Amazon once you’ve read it.
Look forward to your views. And if you liked this post, do follow or subscribe to my blog (top right of the page) for similar topics that encourage reflection and discussion. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.