Saturday, March 24, 2012


Some people have the innate ability to convince others. Many others may cite the same points as the 'convincing folks', but may never be accepted. Have you ever wondered why is it that the same point stated by different folks are received differently by the recipient of the message? I have seen this happen with increasing frequency in recent times.

Communication is traditionally referred to as the process whereby a sender dispatches a message through a channel to a receiver. That is theoretically correct. However, why is it that the same message from a different sender, is received differently by the receiver? Has it got anything to do with the stature of the sender? Or, is it related to the personal equations between the sender and the receiver i.e. there may be a message sent by somebody who is not greatly valued by the receiver. Yet, the same message sent to the same receiver, by a some other sender who is looked upon in awe by the receiver, is considered an expert view, or at the least sanguine.

Why is this so? Does this behaviour have any psychological connotation? Does this behaviour have anything to do with any personal vendetta that the receiver may have against the sender he 'doesn't like'?

Maybe, there is another angle to all this. The sender may enjoy tremendous credibility in the receiver's eyes. Or, the sender may benefit from 'favouritism' in the receiver's estimation of him. Or, there may be some open behaviour that is partial, or, more subtly displayed preferences by the receiver. To me, it is illogical that the same message sent by different senders are viewed and received so differently by the same receiver(s).

I have seen this behaviour manifest itself in multiple fora. In the corporate world, an outside consultant enjoys greater credibility in the company's eyes when the former provides certain recommendations/action items. Yet, when the same recommendation is made by any executive within the firm, it is not necessarily taken well. In other set ups, you find that when two friends go out with a group of friends and both of them crack a joke, the audience may not laugh at one of the 2 people who uttered the joke; yet, the same audience may burst into haughty laughter when the other person states the joke. Is there an explanation to this at all? It's the same joke, after all!

You find this 'sender-trap' as I call it in families too. There are people who demand respect. Such people, at most times, are insensitive to the idea of earning respect from family members. And there are others, who consider some people in the family more aligned to their thoughts and actions, than others (the latter are conveniently ignored). Yet, the ignored people, typically might have the same, well-meaning, well-mannered attitude to the entire family. But, they are never considered as part of the family. Their communication with other members of the family (especially, the people who don't consider them as part of the family) deteriorates over time. Ignorance becomes a norm. Silence becomes the way of life. The ignored variety begin to think 'why should I bother communicating with such people, who either refuse to understand my viewpoint, or, are incapable of taking my views?' 

Then, there are bosses who demarcate between people reporting into them. There may be situations when 2 team members may have the same suggestion in a project, where, the boss ignores the person he does not prefer; and credits the person who he prefers. That leads to a lot of ego issues, demotivation etc. The larger point is, the recipient's behaviour results in the 'ignored' employees to wonder why they should even be part of the team,when their efforts are not valued by the powers-that-be. 

Much of being ignored, results in getting supremely demotivated at most times. And in other cases, it can cause lack of belief in oneself (due to total non-acceptance from all quarters). I think, all this, has fundamentally got to do with being accepted as a human being overall. Communication is then just an offshoot. A person can try all he can to convince people and try to explain his well-meaning intentions. However, if the person is fundamentally not accepted by society, he/she is not going to get very far in being accepted in society/life. Otherwise, there just cannot be an explanation to this whole sender-trap. It is communication, at the end of it, which is a very standard process as outlined at the beginning of this blog piece. So, I am convinced that its acceptance of the human being that's at the core. It can't be anything else, to my mind, at least.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A 100 hundreds..!

Sachin Tendulkar reached immortality as far as batting in cricket goes, by reaching his century of centuries in international cricket, when he made 114 against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup league match earlier this week. The man , who has had his fair share of critics, reached the zenith of batsmanship with a nice flick on the leg side, and then raised his bat, and pointed his bat to the Indian flag and the BCCI logo on his helmet. Ramiz Raja and Sunil Gavaskar were in the commentary box! 

And I was at DKOM, on a day that I listened to some luminaries and their experiences in life - Vishal Sikka, the CTO of SAP; K.V.Kamath, Chairman of Infosys (former CEO of ICICI Bank); and popular author, Chetan Bhagat. Not to mention, an amazing DEMOJAM!

Hats off,champion!! Hats off! It will be hard to replace you in international cricket!!

That ability to prove others wrong

For long, I have admired sport for the virtues that it has taught me. Passion, commitment, discipline, love for what you are doing, do the best that you possibly can, make the most of your talents, make a statement to the world et al. Sport usually thrives on the ability of a chosen few to go beyond the ordinary that makes watching sport itself a virtue. But that is not the point of this blog. I firmly believe that sport teaches all of us, in any walk of life, on how to approach life and come up in life, in the wake of severe adversities. 
There is no point screaming at the top of your voice against people who have decided to harm you. It is better to take stock of the criticism being levelled against you (in whichever stream you may be in), and doing the best you can to prove those critics wrong. Like they say in cricket, let the bat do the talking. In much the same way, let critics talk; and all you need to do is perform and the same critics will either stop making comments about you, or will learn to appreciate that they need to watch their word before they speak.

I have seen this element of being criticised or ostracised or denegrated by many people in many ways. Some people end up saying that 'he is not good enough'; others are bit more impolite, and many others are downright rude. Of course, there is this other variety that you need to guard against the most i.e. the type that will sweet talk you and make you believe that you are great, when in fact, they are doing all they can to destroy you, bit by bit. Calculated demolition by people, who know to do it subtly, without your realising it. And this can be both at a professional and personal level. If it is professional, there is enough room to prove them wrong. If it gets personal, that is where the aspect of self-respect comes in. I have learnt in life never to let go of your self-respect, irrespective of anything else.

I believe that critics of all types can be made to eat their words in ample measure. The one thing that you need to watch out for, is to avoid taking things personally. That is easier said than done. Like my uncle famously told me, “You will you find the solution to a problem, if you focus on the problem”. Otherwise, one tends to get consumed by the feeling of revenge against the individual who demolished you and that will make it hard to focus on the issue. That's the key - focus on the issue, because, if that gets solved, then your critic will automatically eat his/her words and be careful about what he/she says to you or about you next time around.

The worst variety are the people who betray you (not just critic you) i.e. you may have grown up believing somebody no end. Such people may turn out to be supremely opportunistic and may stalk you in the smoothest manner possible, without any previous hint. They are the toughest and the worst set of people once can think of handling. When they demolish you they way they do, it affects your self-confidence and belief systems in life itself. You begin to wonder whether you can believe anyone on this planet at all. That is the time of supreme examination of an individual's patience, intellect and most importantly the temperament of the individual, who is at the receiving end of the critics. That precisely, is the time, to have the balance to handle the situation. Very few have that balance. That is where, I believe, sport can help.

The ability to handle the worst situation possible in the most balanced manner. Never to give it back verbatim to the individual who demolished you, but show the same individual that you are actually far better than he/she thinks you are. While those people may have the opportunities to be opportunistic, they conveniently forgot that ever dog has its day. One needs to bide his/her time and just go on about one's regular life and have the gumption to fight back, professionally and with a lot of dignity. A lot of this is to prove to such demolition-driven people to not only mess with you, but also to prove to yourself that you are far better than people think/perceive you to be.

I think, one really is answerable to oneself in the long-run. If I can look at myself in the mirror and be convinced that his/her conscience is clear, that is more than enough. Critics will come and go; so will people who think they have demolished you and thereby won in their lives. But, all of them can be made to eat their words, by your own courage of conviction and firm belief to prove to yourself that you can achieve the benchmarks that you have set for yourself. Opportunistic people are the worst people one can ever encounter; and such are the people who will first realise your worth, when you perform.  Take Rahul Dravid, for instance. Connoisseurs of cricket averred that the man cannot play one-day cricket; he didn’t react, he actually responded with 10,000+ runs in the ODI format. The old connoisseurs had no answer and were forced to agree that he was one of the greatest ever cricketers of all time!

Many of these lessons are embedded in the sublime world of sport, at least for me. I am convinced that all of us can draw from these lessons and adapt them to our spheres of life. There is no need to be bitter, or arrogant or irritable or reactionary.  Just do your own thing, keep your conscience clear and people who have done all they can to kill you alive, will eventually eat their words. Don’t even expect an apology from the people who tried to damage you; you will automatically know that they were wrong, when you go about things the right way, just as they will realise that they passed a judgement on you a little too early for their own good.  
One needs to look no further than a Dravid, or a Kumble, or Ganguly or of course, Sachin in cricket. Or, other champions from other games such as Federer, Maradona, Pele, Viswanathan Anand,  Jesse Owens, et al. All these legends have had their fair share of critics and people who have questioned them through their career, and indeed their lives.  The lesson that these champions taught me is to focus on their sport and make their critics eat their words.

I now firmly believe in many of these virtues that sport has taught me. It helps me live my life better.

First DKOM at SAP

It was a very interesting and new experience for me to visit the Developer Kick-Off Meeting (DKOM) at SAP earlier this week. The entire India office was there for this developers summit, that aims to showcase some amazing software codes to improve the world and make it a better place.

There were some amazing personalities who graced DKOM this year - an Executive Board member who is a technology geek, the CTO of SAP who has made every Indian proud with his success on the global stage, the founder of IIM - Bangalore, Mr. K.V. Kamath (the current Chairman of Infosys and the former CEO of ICICI Bank), Chetan Bhagat, Kailash Kher with a live performance et al. The invitee list with such luminaries is just another certification of the diversity that SAP truly believes in and the values that we pick up from each other's diverse backgrounds. I even remember overhearing that our 37-year old MD takes hours and hours in recruiting people, just to ensure that there is minimum duplication and repetitiveness in terms of similar people joining SAP etc. I guess, that just showed in DKOM as well. And yes, I got to meet the MD for a few minutes and it was nice to say hello to him! Imagine, a 37-year old MD of the second biggest R & D centre (India), of the world’s no.1 applications software company! Incidentally, he was just voted as a Youth World Leader by the World Economic Forum 10 days ago…! Inspirational!!

For me, the 3 highlights of DKOM were as follows - the keynote session by Prof. N.S. Raghavan (the founder of IIM-B), Vishal Sikka's keynote address as the CTO of SAP, and the incredible DEMOJAM. Prof. Ramaswamy is 87 years' old, a Padmabhushan winner. Incredible speech, fantastic control of the mind at that age, amazing clarity of thought, very obvious awareness of the world, and well-rounded knowledge of the modern generation thinks. He talked of world affairs, animal welfare, technology, sports, IT, BT, Shilpa Shetty, Indian history, Indian culture, why we are relevant in this modern age when many countries are disintegrating, how politics and sports are killing our country's growth, why karma and doing your job to the best of your ability is the fundamental thing in life, why commitment is important, how he has come to admire SAP and its numerous initiatives outside of software etc. 

Incredible speech, that had all of us in splits almost throughout the 40 minutes that he spoke. And he received a very automatic standing ovation....and very well-deserved too. The man sure did demonstrate that his knowledge and experience was immensely worthy as far as his winning the Padmabhushan goes. Most of all, he talked about intelligence - inspiration and why it is important to have inspiration in life!

Coming to Vishal Sikka, SAP’s CTO.  I think the man evokes respect, admiration and inspiration for all of us and his success has clearly demonstrated that it is possible for every Indian to reach global heights in professional life. His ability to very easily disintegrate complex, technical things into very simple English, is what has endeared to me to him the most, in the 4 years that I have been with SAP. For such a complex software that is challenged by emerging technologies and competitors, I am amazed to see how he is able to talk so simplistically about the newer paradigms in the software world and why/how SAP is driving that change. Incredible man, who is admired even by foreigners for his ability to explain SAP's technology to all and sundry, in the manner that they need to understand it. And remember, he is a geek (holds a P.hd in Computer Science from Stanford University!).

 Perhaps, I had no expectation from K.V. Kamath and that is why I did not find him particularly insightful or inspiring. Maybe, also because, I know a lot about the man, given my upbringing in a banking family! Yet, KVK told all of us about how the technological revolution in ICICI Bank helped create the kind of financial services giant that ICICI Bank is today.

And then, it was DEMOJAM. While I have heard speeches from eminent people in SAP in the past, I had never seen DEMOJAM before. It was a very interesting experience to see new ideas in software development and how they are relevant in the modern world. This was a competition, where 6 carefully selected teams get to present in front of the entire SAP house in India about their ideas on innovation, new areas of product development and practical application of such ideas. There is a panel of judges that comments on the technical viability and business value of these ideas along with a very noisy crowd that votes for the best ideas in a chorus! The higher the chorus, the better chance a team has to win the contest!
Some of the ideas were incredibly unique. 

The ideas that I saw were - creating mobile help alerts for delayed flights (Khelfish), how to find out the best deal in the market (deal dashboard), Genii (an expert system to solve customer queries in maintenance teams, real-time), translating customer queries and software code (including comments) in multiple languages, location based services (how much revenues and quantity n LA for a specific product vs. other regions etc). I found the concept of the DEMOJAM unique, with excitable crowd participation, a great platform to showcase fantastic ideas, a very interesting host, a super buoyant crowd and a fine winner (Genii!).

Last, but not the least, it was Chetan Bhagat, as a part of the Leadership Talk Series. I guess it is quite easy for all of us in this age group to relate to his story, given that he is from our generation and has spent his time in the competitive education market and then in the corporate world. Perhaps, my takeaway from his interview was one big line he made in between a bunch of jokes, when he said, 'Somewhere down the line, I started believing in myself'. I think that is a tremendous virtue and something I keep telling myself again and again, because, that is the fundamental thing for professional success.  Everything else is external.

In all, a great experience in DKOM. Of course, I spent almost an entire day with a fun-loving German, as much of an oxymoron as it may sound. It was good to spend quality time with him and exchange ideas on our respective cultures and also learn about his experiences in India. He knew the existence of Holi and has visited far more places in India than any Indian would have. Had some very sensible conversations with him as well! I should try and meet more people from different walks of life, more is a sure way of shaping my personality and improving my perspective in life.