Monday, August 25, 2008

Emerging challenges before the budding professionals

After going through close to two decades of grilling in schooling, under graduation and professional post-graduation, I can almost picture you as the long distance runners standing on their marks and all set to cross ambitious milestones in the race for achieving professional excellence.

I can see the readiness in your posture, confidence on your faces, dreams in your eyes—a perfect recipe for a perfect Victory!

As a fellow professional, claiming no edge over you--whether intellectual or in any other way, I still have a benefit of close to two and half decades of hindsight. And my quick dip into this history, hopefully, will bring you some useful insights for your future.

Today, I plan to just open for you my own book of lessons learned in this significant period of 25 yrs, as you plan your professional endeavors. As the saying goes, there are no new sins; the old ones just get more publicity.

Lesson 1:

Pace is essential for success but not sufficient – We all know the story of an African Gazelle who has to wake up every morning and start running so fast that the chasing lion can not catch it. If caught, it will perish. And an African Lion who has to run faster than the Gazelle, because if it can’t catch it, the lion will perish of starvation! So far so good, but, imagine a situation where keeping it’s pace the same, the gazelle actually runs in the direction of lion! Therefore pace without a sense of direction actually accelerates path to failure. Thus, always keeping an eye on the goal – post is critical to success.

A thief breaks into the home of a sprint runner in early morning hours. And the runner gets up to some unusual hush-hush sounds around him. The thief having noticed this development, starts running away only to be chased by the runner. They both hit the road and suddenly a cop stops our runner friend and demands for an explanation for his running so frantically at that odd hour. “I was chasing the thief who broke into my home”—says he. “and where is the thief?”—asks the cop. “Oh, I left him behind quite some time ago—he can’t probably win against me in the race”—says our friend. Now what’s the use of such pace without any real sense of tangible objective?

Lesson 2:

The day you don’t learn something new, knock down 5 days of experience gained- While learning is a very active and conscious process, every opportunity to learn that we allow to just pass by us leads to some erosion of experience base. The more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know! You should therefore never allow a student in you to go on a holiday! All learnings can not be truncated and delivered in various forms of training. Therefore, there is a need to learn from continuous experiences that we go through every moment. I actually look at learning as an attitude with which you face experiences. When a child inadvertently puts his hands in boiling water for the first time and gets hurt, it avoids doing the same the second time around. That is learning. Putting the hand in boiling water every time and instantaneously taking it out upon getting hurt is an example of not learning through experience. This example also underscores one other important aspect of learning and that is not every learning happens smoothly—some happens through bumpy rides and bruises, but the trick lies in our ability is to look at even those as experience building opportunities.

Lesson 3:

Knowledge alone doesn’t assure success, but it’s application certainly does it-
Knowledge is knowing more but is not worth having it just for the sake of it. Nothing is more important for a practicing professional than applying such knowledge. Wisdom lies in application. Knowing Tomato is a fruit and that is knowledge and not adding it to your fruit salad is wisdom.

Through this whole MBA program, I am sure, you have gone in great details relating to various Management theories and now you are almost at the threshold of entering the corporate world. It is going to be your opportunity now to apply in practice what you learnt in class so far. I have to forewarn you about likely obstacles here. You will meet n number of people who will put it to you with conviction that what you learnt here is completely irrelevant in the real world. Just ignore them! Remember, your success will only come when you are able to apply what you learnt here and add experiential learnings to your professional actions as you keep making progress. You will find examples after examples of successful professionals who were not necessarily high in acads and equal numbers of not-so-successful ones who were brilliant in acads. You may therefore erroneously come to the conclusion about irrelevance of your professional education! While the fact is exactly the opposite as we observed earlier.

Lesson 4:

Trust is the foundation of relationships and credible relationships are the foundations of success-Trust building is a conscious and time and effort investing process. There are many shades of trust that go into making a long term relationship. At one end of the continuum is trust as an absolute value that individuals hold and cherish and the other end of the continuum is trusting judgments of people we work with. Let me explain this a bit more. You are likely to share confidential, sometimes even personal information only with people who have demonstrated to you in their earlier interactions that such information sharing on your part has never passed beyond them. You then tend to build a closer relationship with such trusted people. On a plain professional front, you trust individuals for their knowledge base or ability to judge the issue and advise you appropriately etc, here again, you tend to build stronger relationship bond with such people. You can almost get anything your way if you have credible relationships with people and in absence of such relationships face bumpy roads. I am sure you know this story of a army officer –
Officer: "Soldier, do you have change for a dollar?"
Soldier: "Sure, buddy."
Officer: "That's no way to address an officer! Now let's try it again! Do you have change for a dollar?"
Soldier: "No, SIR!"

Lesson 5:

Virtuality is Reality- When we hear people say that world is becoming a well connected and compact global village-it sounds so fascinating and simplistic, and in the same breath when people say geography is history, it sounds even more amazing. But we have to look at these global developments in a context. We no longer have colleagues working leave alone in the same office or in the same country but not even in the same continents! Traditional forms of relationship building therefore need to undergo a dramatic transformation. While on one hand two colleagues working seven seas apart, operating in diametrically opposite time zones, are expected to team up and succeed together in achieving common goals and objectives. There is also a good chance that the individuals in reference have not met each other ever and may not get a chance to do so anytime in future. They have to interact virtually and create real results—that’s why over- simplifying the process of globalization is dangerous. Look at the constraints under which these individuals have to build credible relationships. They come from two different cultures, two different nationalities, two different linguistic heritages, two different social circumstances, two different cultural traditions and so on. Continuously enhancing one’s cross-cultural sensibilities is something that is what I see as a challenge in front of you--of much more formidable proportions compared to what my generation had to undergo.

Lesson 6:

Perception is Reality- Barring some absolute and universal truths where perception and reality merge in unison, everywhere else differential perceptions make people assume differential realities.
Once again a point needs to elaborated: if you show red color card to 10 different people they all will recognize them as red colored cards but when it comes to human relationships individual perception becomes individual reality therefore there are as many realities as perceptions. A hardened criminal’s daughter looks at him as a loving and gentle person and that is her reality and all her behavior with him is in relation to that reality, no matter what many others may feel about her father. These still are fairly simplistic examples to essentially to prove the point. In reality the phenomenon is more complex, but at this stage it is enough to state that people react based on their perception of reality and no reality-when it comes to human relationships, is absolute.

Lesson 7:

You have a choice to make complex things simple and simple things complex—Quite simply put, it is up to us to make things around us simple enough to deal with, albeit we may not necessarily succeed in every situation. But being aware of our ability to simplify is very critical to our day to day management of life! And now, please take a look at this story:

Family ProblemsTwo men, one European and an Indian were sitting in a bar drinking shot after shot.The Indian man said, "You know my parents are forcing me to get married to this so called homely girl from a village whom I haven't even met once." We call this arranged marriage.I don't want to marry a woman whom I don't even know..leave alone loving her!... I told them that openly and now have a hell lot of family problems."And then the European said, ‘‘Talking about love marriages... I'll tell you my story.I married a widow whom I deeply loved and dated for 3 years. After a couple of years, my father fell in love with my step-daughter and so my father became my son-in-law and I became my father's father-in-law.Legally now my daughter is my mother and my wife my grandmother.More problems occurred when I had a son. My son is my father's brother and so he is my uncle. Situations turned worse when my father had a son.Now my father's son i.e. my brother is my grandson.Ultimately, I have become my own grand father and I am my own grandson.And you say you have family problems..!!!’’

Lesson 8:

The rule of High Risk-High Gains has one exception-Never take uncalculated risks-You should not risk jumping from the 20th floor if you are hoping to dramatically catch attention as you won’t survive to witness effects of your move! Driving fast cars is fun and can give you adrenaline highs but not wearing seat belts at that time is certainly not a good idea. Remember, wheelchairs are more confining than the seat-belts!

Lesson 9:

Be flexible- Adapting to the changes around you is an example of flexibility. And integrating situational behavioral styles into your professional persona is also flexibility. You cannot treat an experienced employee the same as a young lad who is just finding his feet in this professional arena. The style you adopt with them will be based on their developmental level and differential need for coaching and supervision.

Lesson 10:

Don’t compromise on your core values--Flexibility is good but not at the expense of compromising of your values. Let your values guide your behaviour. Therefore do not stretch your flexibility beyond your value system else the tension so created will tear you apart. You can’t probably be so flexible that you lose view of what you wanted to accomplish in the first place.

A man & his wife filed an application for Divorce. Judge asked: How will you divide your kids, since you have 3 children? And the man promptly replies: Ok! We'll apply NEXT YEAR
Lesson 11:

You always wake up with two choices either to smile and welcome the rising sun or to frown in dismay of yet another tough day staring in your face- Your outlook can change the situation but don’t allow situation to change your positive outlook. There are worse things than getting a call for a wrong number at 4 AM. Like this: It could be a right number.

Lesson 12:

Confront hard realities of life sooner, else those realities will confront you- A skier always chases bad fielders on the cricket ground!

Lesson 13:

There is 180 degree distance between looking back and looking forward-Then why look back when you are naturally and physically more inclined to look in front. I am sure you know this story of Buddhist Monk, who was traveling on foot with his two disciples. During their journey, they reached banks of a river that they needed to cross. And they met a young lady who was awaiting help to cross the river, since she didn’t know swimming. Without batting an eyelid, the monk carried her on his back, swam to the opposite bank, left her there and continued his journey with his disciples. The disciples were stunned! Knowing the monk’s views on keeping distance from womenfolk, they found this action of his very strange and that prompted them to confront him with a question, “ how could you go so close to a woman, while normally you preach keeping distance from them?”. The monk’s spontaneous response can give us some interesting insights…all he said to them “ I have left her back quite some time ago, but you seem to be still carrying her in your thoughts!!” …and continued his further journey.

Lesson 14:

Goals define directions but the journey provides happiness-
Enjoy the journey.

Lesson 15:

If you don't have a sense of humor, you probably don't have any sense at all-
Two friends are discussing--- 1st friend----- "if I drink coffee, I can’t sleep!!!!" 2nd friend----- "with me it's exactly the opposite! If I sleep, I can't drink coffee."

So keep smiling and the world will smile with you!!


Unknown said...


let me take a bow! Pure wisdom. If even one out of the MBA students adopts most of these Lessons or most MBA students adopt even one, you would have done a service to budding Corporate professionals. Reminds me of Sharu Rangnekar of the 70's and 80's and how he influenced students like me with his home truths on navigating the Indian Corporate environment of those days. You must come out with a book which can herald the fact that an Indian Corporate Management identity has come of age....

Amit Malik said...

Hi Abhay,

Only word that comes to my mind is WOW! I wish someone would have shared these with me when I was graduating. While I did have an opportunity to learn few of these from you (I can see others envying me already) but it was not long enough. I feel it was better to have had it for a shorter time than to have none of it.

Your writing reminded me of Subroto Bagchi's book- Go kiss the world. I feel you too have a book inside of you. Its time you let it come out.
All in all it is Simple yet impactful.

Thanks for this.

Unknown said...

Abhay..this is simply brilliant.This can only come from someone as experienced as you .After reading it I wish in hindsight I had done all these things to go beyond what I am doing today.It was an eye-opener and I am actually sending this to a few of our Management Interns as I am sure it will be an invaluable advise for them.
By the way if around please watch me on Zee Business 8.30pm on Saturday in a program called Swadesh.Wish I had read your blog before giving that interview!

Unknown said...

well put and comprehensive Abhay. I would just add that patience and persistence is another skill to be built in working for the longer term.Also one should consider gathering diverse experiences and challenges early in life to be able to develop an all round view and personality.Moreover it is not work exeriences but life exeriences in terms of pursuing personal hobbiies and passions that add great flavour to life. Ulhas

Unknown said...

well put and comprehensive Abhay. I would just add that patience and persistence is another skill to be built in working for the longer term.Also one should consider gathering diverse experiences and challenges early in life to be able to develop an all round view and personality.Moreover it is not work exeriences but life exeriences in terms of pursuing personal hobbiies and passions that add great flavour to life. Ulhas

Anonymous said...

Folks...first of all,I want to thank Ranjit,Amit,Lata,Susan and Ulhas for sharing very interesting insights in response to my latest blog.While most of the comments were more in the nature of appreciating what I wrote(and I'm truly grateful to receive those!),I also got some additional points that I will incorporate in my next presentation.I don't know if I deserve all the praise I have been receiving from you folks,but I must admit that your continuous encouragement and interactions keep propelling me come up with newer and newer thoughts/ideas....cheers...Abhay

Anonymous said...

Awesome stuff, Abhay! And very well written. One of the things I have noticed, is sometimes experience can hinder you too! You may have to 'unlearn' things to start with a fresh perspective again. This is especially true of the high-tech industry where change has been so rapid, where you can no longer extrapolate the future from yesterday's truths.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shantanu...thanks a ton.Very valid observation indeed. In today's organizations, we can't continue to create success by using the same old formulae that may have worked earlier.cheers

Sajithkumar said...

Hi Mr.Abhay, reading through your blog, I felt your are the right person to share your views on internship programs. If you could send me your mail id, I shall send you the details or you can directly go through it from this link. Thank you for your time in advance.

Anonymous said...

Hi Abhay,

Its always a refreshing experience to learn your thoughts. In addition to reading, I had an opportunity to hear the recording of this program. What I liked the most was your response around managing difficult communications when values we believe are at stake & also the one question around the age of corporate values.

I am sure the students would have adored the valuable piece of wisdom shared with them.

Thanks for sharing this.

Neha Phanse said...

I am reading the article at the right time!!

Trying my best to inculcate the Pearls of Wisdom.

I am sending it to as many friends as possible!

It truly encompasses essentials, gathered over a long time, ready to be used by students on the verge of entering the corporate world. Otherwise remains to be learnt the hard way!!

Thank you for the guidance!!

Harold said...

Abhay - I chanced upon this, so simple yet so very true. Very nicely written and extremely thought provoking and helpful.

Anonymous said...

"Ethics and integrity are the building blocks of any business success. The Code of Conduct, clarifies the standards of behavior that a company expects of its employees and guides employees in making ethical decisions. It aligns their values with their business practices and policies and provides a foundation for good governance.

The Code of Conduct guides the business operations all over the world. Companies apply the more stringent of either local laws and regulations or the principles laid out in their code of conduct. May require compliance with the provisions of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other similar global anti-bribery and anti-corruption laws which expressly prohibit bribery or other corrupt behavior.

Every employee is required to read the Code of Conduct, take an online training course that further illustrates code principles, and to sign a statement acknowledging that they have received, read, and agree to abide by the code. Through an established Office of Compliance and Ethics and Compliance Committee to set policy and internal controls and to address any alleged ethical misconduct. Employees are encouraged to report any Code of Conduct or human rights violations to their manager, the Office of Compliance or to an external ethics hotline" -

How realistic and practically such policies Work???
Employees with fake credentilas are the examples of such corruption or NO???