Of farms, innovation and all that…

The other day, a few of us got together and the discussions moved on to how we would need to consistently work on ourselves to stay relevant in today’s fast moving world. A collegue Kartic pulled out a slender book “How Stella saved the farm“, and recommended we read it – this is a mini story of how we make the transition from cash cows to the “next big thing” he said.

The book lay on my table until yesterday – when I tentatively started to read it. It proved to be a quick and awesome read – and seemed to be just the topic to offer on the blog post.

First up, you should know that its two authors (Chris and Vijay) are experts at innovation – so expect that to be the theme of the story. Delightfully though, the book is shorn of jargon – and is plotted around an animal-run-farm (yes you got that right!) which is trying to find its next growth business. Its certainly fun and has been written to engage – its hard to not be regaled when stallions, bulls, turkeys and sheep are the central characters in a book – and with a little poetic license it may even turn out to be a good bedtime story for your kids!

Now the story reads well and it has a few questions at the end – if you want to go into “back to school” mode, all you need to do is sharpen your pencils and there are enough queries to have you working for 3 hours or more. There were certain takeaways though that I thought were important – and sharing those in this post:

1. Existing businesses and the “next big thing” both need attention – albeit on different aspects. That said, they also need to coexist and even share some parts (maybe some teams/ infrastructure etc.). And the extent of sharing isn’t static – it keeps changing. So you need to keep your ears close to the ground – The leader makes 5 org structures in the book to reflect changing needs.

2. Next big things(NBT!) need some dedicated teams and they should be measured on different metrics. The book offers a wonderful insight of how viewing NBT progress as a series of disciplined experiments is a better approach than using traditional metrics. This is so cool an idea, I think I need to dedicate one whole post to this sometime. You also need to have the right experts and may need to bring them in from outside – enthusiasm is good, expertise is a must!

3. It has some wonderful leadership stories. How the young CEO’s open dialogue with a very disgruntled (but high performing) elder convinces him to stay on for instance. Or a clarion call to the teams on the ground to stay together and work as one – when things are at their worst – is inspiring. Or the CEO’s ability to create new roles, change operating structures, connect across levels and generally be very agile in her thinking – is worth emulating. Finally, the ability to be humble and own up her mistakes (she forgets to close the gates and a few hens escape!) . Good stuff.

A good yarn – the last time I enjoyed an animal story was a decade or more back when I chanced upon “Animal farm”. That book moved me – this one doesn’t go that far, but its certainly inspiring – and a in a few ways enchanting.

Are there things I would have liked added to the book? A couple – one, the motivations of the animals seem to be very similar to the humans it models – and that is a bit of a downer – but then this is but a fable. Also, there is very little focus on the joy of working (except w.r.t maisie the cow) – its my belief that its this joy is what keeps the folks “in search of he next big thing” going – even more than market conditions?

Thanks kartic for the wonderful share – and will now pass the book along – and keep the learning going.

Lead without a title – a Robin Sharma seminar experience

Late last week I attended my first Robin Sharma seminar – this one was titled “lead without a title”. This post captures my impressions and a few takeaways (have taken a lot of poetic license with the verbiage but trust it would cover the essence well) that I thought will benefit all my readers.

It took place at a prominent Chennai landmark – the ITC Grand Chola – and was packed to capacity – about 800 delegates turned out for the meeting. What stood out was Robin’s involvement in the seminar – a lot of the delegates were leaders in their own right (and perhaps cynical of management guru speak) – to his credit, Robin displayed great energy, focus and had the participants engaged through the 3 hour meet. His delivery and voice modulation (not to mention the simple but impactful slideware) added to the experience.

He opened with a very engaging question “In your last hour of your last day on this planet, what would you be proud of?”.

At that point obviously office sizes didn’t matter, nor did bank balances or assets owned. He let the question hanging in the air for a while and offered an answer – you will be proud of just two things – on that fateful hour of the destined day:

1. Who you have become as a person

2. And how many people you have helped

Reinforcing this point was a wonderful Steve Jobs quote

“being the richest man in the graveyard doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed knowing we have done something wonderful matters to me.”

That got us thinking – and we were invited to identify 1 idea that was most meaningful to us – and the idea had to be expressed in just a few words. An example chosen by one of the delegates (who led a 3000 strong company) was “make 3000 leaders”. Another doctor decided “founding a medical college” was most meaningful for him.

Ideas have no value until they get implemented was the next clarion call.

Toward implementation, a few powerful insights were provided:

1. The 90-90-1 rule: For the next 90 days, spend the 1st 90 minutes (which apparently are the most productive minutes of the day) on your most powerful business opportunity/ personal goal identified in the para above. The focus would make this a reality

2. The 66 day rule: If one kept up a behavior for 66 days, it would become part of your muscle memory – become a habit infact. Great sportsman for instance don’t think about the special moves they make – the moves are hardwired into their system by force of daily habit. Interestingly, the Hindus (and I suspect the Buddhists) believe that 21 is the magic number (also called a mandala) – so whatever works for you – 66 is Robin’s magic number though

3. Genius = Focus.Practice.Grit. Genius is not about only talent. His view was 5% are super achievers (the majority 95% are the average set!) not because they have the maximum talent but because they were persistent in developing genius through continued focus, extensive practice and remarkable grit.

A couple other vignettes which caught my attention:

a. An average person apparently spends 2.1 hours/ day getting distracted.  And why would they do that – because being distracted makes people feel productive! Busyness is not equal to effectiveness! Eliminating this he opined will alone free up enormous times

b. You are paid not just to work, you are paid to be scared! His feel was that if we felt we were successful due to being associated with a successful company, we were very vulnerable. The seduction of safety is most dangerous people!

Finally, there was this Mary Angelou quote somewhere toward the end which I thought summed it all very well

 “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Thanks Robin and the organizers – Eyeball Media  – was a good experience – and time to pass on the stories for others interested as well……