Integrative Thinking for Leaders.

Today on a chilly tuesday evening, the Dean of Rotman school of Management - Roger L. Martin gave a talk about his new book at Bangalore International center,Bangalore. The book is called The Opposable Mind.

The talk was scheduled at 6.45 pm and the hall was filling up with many leaders of Bangalore. I expected a young crowd to be preset, but to my surprise more than half of the visitors were over 40 or 50 years old. Many leaders of B-schools, Business and professions such as Architecutre were present to listen to the talk about Leadership.

I was first of all intreguied, about what could, a Professor with degree from Harvard Business school have to offer to old and battle worn people sitting in the hall, to my delight he had some very insightfull ideas to share with us.

He mentioned, that he interviewed around 50 leaders of businesses and found remarkable similarity of thinking in most of the successful leaders. There are lots of books out there that talk about, how a particular leader was successful, but this Professor Roger mentions is mostly based on context. what does "Based on Context" mean?, it means that, if you find yourself in exactly the same situation as the one mentioned in the how-i-did-it books, the advise there might not be very helpfull to you, in you present circumstance.

So his work focuses on how these leaders think and not a how-to get same results book.

Next, he mentioned a what the opposable mind means, he drew his inspiration from opposable thumbs that humans have accuired that has give us an evolutionary advantage in survival. So the opposable mind is...

have the predisposition and the capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads, [and that they are] able to produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea.

Professor then goes on to explain how we are thought in our education system to just work with models and not come up with creative solutions.

Here are a few interesting points

  • He defined success very well - the results that are got , to the actions that you have taken undertaken. i.e You are successful if you get the results that you set out to acheive.
  • Leaders have high aspirations and are highly successful.
  • Mastery and originality are the indicators of successful leaders. i.e in the long run, you get good at what you do - Mastery. But it is Originality that is mark of great leaders. Example: Piccaso. So ask your self every week end - Did i do something original?
  • The main purpose of leaders is to come up with creative solutions to models that are contradictory. A very good example he gave was of, ICICI chairman Kamalnath, he had to choose between growing the bank abroad by M&A , or growing locally in India. To his Kamalnath decided to grow with Indian dispora abroad. This was Integrative thinking.

This made lot of sense to me. The Opposable mind, is one of the finest business books that i have come to know of late. In the same league of - The halo effect, Fooled by randomness. I hope you enjoyed this writeup. open for comments.


Difference in Leadership style of Kumble and Dhoni

Today, Anil Kumble one of India's greatest leg spinner announced his retirement from International cricket. After taking 619 test wickets over an 18 year career, he called it quit at Ferozsha kotla statdium in Delhi.

It was a highly emotional moment for all the people who have seen kumble over the years. He has single handledly won many matches for india. Some of the words that were used to describe him were - commitment, giving 100% to the team and integrity both as a cricketer and a human being. The Australians also appreciated him for the competative sprit that he brought to the game.

A quotable quote mentioned today was by VVS lakshman. He said that "it was amazing to see Anil (jumbo) take a catch with broken fingers, while other members dropped sitters.". This shows that kind of commintment that Anil kumble brings to the field. 

This got me thinking, why does such a commited and competative player, who can raise to the heights of individual brillance, not be able to inspire and lead the India cricket team to victory?i.e The record of Kumble as Captian is not as good as Dhoni's.

I guess this is symptomatic of players of his generation, all the Sachins, Dravids, Guangulies and Lakshmans of our team are individually brilliant but have not been able to match the results of MS Dhoni and Co. I guess these players have come up throught the hard way by being individually brilliant and so have not picked up the skills that Dhoni and Shane warn have displayed to raise the performance of their teams above the individual skills of each member.

Dhoni represents the new India, where the leaders know how to raise the performance of thier teams above themseleves and above the combined skills of each members. Cheers to the New leaders of the new generation.

Looking forward to better results and performances from Team India.


which dealines are real?

Welcome back google euro and mountain view readers, also the Canadians.

Perfect team players, perfect designer, perfect employee ...it this a myth or reality. then why do I expect to get everything done in a perfect manner to meet the timelines? Yes there is product to be shipped, yes customers to be satisfied, yes there are deadlines. My question is, which is real?

Most of the times the deadlines are self-imposed, working backwards from the release date. Sometimes it's real, like when your under audit and your laundry is out in the open and you frantically try to clean up add a little bit of shine :).

I believe in emergent behavior, but most economic systems are based on carrot and stick to get things done on time.


how much should information should be shared?

Most teams work under project management guide lines. i.e. every body else in the team know what work every other person is doing and also the deadlines for each tasks.

But (a big but), most teams or groups don't work this way. The internal politics dictates that one does not know what his team-mate sitting next to him is working on. Also the priority of that task to the company is kept hidden. Now why does this happen? i.e even inside a professionally managed project, you have some people 'in the know' about everything and most of the workers are not at all aware. Is this a need-to-know basis management ?

while this kind of model perpetrates the status quo and the powers that be,it does hit the moral of the team members. I have seen this every-ware from the top multinationals to nimble startups.

I wonder what kind of team and task management is carried out in ING America,Southwest airlines, Toyota, threadless.com, 37Signals (they work only 4 days a week), Semco (Ricardo Semler).

after thinking about this for some time, i realized that, the kind of openness and trust that I was expecting being an employee is not available in 99.99% of the companies. Unless you are a founder, you will not know everything that is going on in your company.

I guess, I would like to create a culture where each employee is trusted and he brings his best work to work. A place where results matter as much as the people. does your work place have such a culture?



what does a manager need from his people

In the old work era managers used to assign work to his people and follow up till its done. Now a days , folks in IT know what needs to be done before a manager can assign the work.

Well I don't tell my folks what needs to be done in more than 50% of the time. So how can i track who is doing quality work? I guess the new age manger has to expect his people to 'keep him in the loop' :)

So the new workforce can help his manager by giving the following support ....

* what am i currently working on?
* how long will it take?
* how difficult or complicated is the job?
* what help do i need from my manager?

So instead of waiting for a report from your people to understand what they are working on, its great to find out at the beginning



Great Manager or Average Manager ?

Its easy to build just an ok team. All you have to do is not do the following things. Don't pick people with no talent for that job, Don't set unclear expectations, Don't ignore them when they excel, Don't play them off against one another. Now avoiding these behaviors and you will be less likely to chase your best people away. But this does not answer how do you build high performance teams?

Lets take a sports analogy: Evey sports team requires many different skills. No one is the best at everything. A winning team requires each one understand their specific roles and roles others play and how they all need to fit together to work as a winning team.

Every great manager finds what is unique about each of his people and makes the most of it.



what would you advise a FTM in under 2 mins?

You meet interesting people on flights. I met a Director of a medium sized telecom firm from Bangalore and asked him what should a first time manager know and do.
  • Your team should trust you and you should trust your team.
  • Each and every individual is different and is motivated by different things.
  • It is easier to get work accomplished when some one wants to do it.
  • You should fight for your team in the company.
While this advise is pretty much commonsense, Experts tell us that commonsense is not common.



how little managers understand the moviations of their people.

Most of the managers think they know their people, but do they really?

1. One manager was shocked to know that half of the people in his department did not know how to book a conference room using the voice dialing system. How would they know if no one has ever showed them how.

2. the next example comes from people using the normal email distribution list to talk about non-work activities. Everybody wanted a separate forum for this, but when a news group was created hardly anybody signed up as members. it turned out that most of the people did not know how to configure a news reader. the manager just assumed that everyone knew.This was not the only reason, just an empty group does not make it interesting for people to sign up, if there were some interesting discussion posted to this mailing listed and then peopel were asked to join,it would have been a successful launch of the new service.

3. People are moved around from project to project in big corporations so ruthlessly that their personal interests are never addressed. For example in one high profile project that was barely stying above the water, management decided to replace a young inexperienced person with two people who were more experienced. the reality was that this youngster was the one who was keeping the project afloat and his older college was the dead weight on the project. This information was available to the management, but they moved the younger fellow to a more mundane project without asking if he would be interested. Immediately the youngster started searching for new job and left this company for a startup and a senior position. This is not an isolated case. I have seen lots of occasions where a senior person is given higher priority just because it is more difficult to higher someone like him and the company looses a promising talent.



Reading list for First Time Managers

Going from doing things to getting things done is big change. There are a lot of unwritten and written rules on how to do well in your new position. this is small list that has helped me.

Start by reading First Time Manager , this book helped me understand that one of the most important things a new manager can do is - understanding the culture of the organization. The way you treat people, is the next important lesson. Finally comes figuring out how work is done.

You can get a lot of insight into managing smart people from this manifesto by Scott Berkun, who has worked as Program Manager at Microsoft. One of the striking points is that a manager is responsible for the careers of people reporting to him. Also that the best managers do not use their power often.

I also loved the management reading list by Joel on Software. Don't forget the popular Personal MBA (PMBA) reading list and its India yahoo group.

Finally do check out The Dip by Seth Godwin, cause you want to be the Best in the world.

Help from Nasscom for the First Time Manager, and a 5min video :)


How should you keep yourself upto date?

I am writing this post after moving to my next company in short span of 4 years. This is for my friends who want to keep themselves updated about IT industry on a regular basis.

1) Magazines relating to IT in Bangalore.

* SmartIT
* Slicon India
* i.t.
* PC Quest
* Linux for you

2) The next question is, do you know which are the best books of your domain?
For example for QA, following are the books

Kaner, Cem, Bach, James, and Pettichor, Bret, eds. Lessons Learned in Software Testing. John Wiley & Sons, 2002.

Kaner, Cem, Falk, Jack, & Nguyen, Hung Quoc, eds. Testing Computer Software (2nd Ed.). International Thomson Computer Press, 1993.

Myers, Glenford. The Art of Software Testing.

John Wiley and Sons, 1979.

Patton, Ron. Software Testing.

SAMS Publishing, 2000.

Sistowicz, Jon, Arell, Ray, eds. Change-Based Test Management: Improving the Software Validation Process. Intel Press, 2003.

Viega, John, McGraw, Gary, eds. Building Secure Software: How to Avoid Security Problems the Right Way. Addison-Wesley, 2001.

3) Blogs and Authority sites. Do you know which are the best authority websites for your domain?

4) Do you contribute to online forums? and do u know how to join the most active and interesting forums?

5) Do you use online tools like RSS, linkedin.com and Del.icio.us?

6) Have you optimized your time management routine or have you read Getting things Done?

7) Do you have list of websites you read on a daily basis? Following is my list.


I will be updating this post with more details stay tuned.



Entrepreneurship Event at IIIT-B on 26th Jan 2008

On India's Republic day this year(2008) , an event spanning 16 cities was held to bring together successful entrepreneurs and new startups. This was organized by Pan IIT, TIE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) and NeNonline (National Entrepreneurship Network).

This is a small write up of the Bangalore Event. I will try and capture all the important details here.

There was lot of excitement at IIIT-B campus on a crisp Saturday morning. There were lots of people who had turned up to attend the event. we could see a few typical techie's with their laptops, a small sprinkling of MBA students from IIM's and lots of founders in their full pinstriped suits.

We started the day by flag hoisting and singing our national anthem. Next at about 10.00 AM we trouped into the conference hall. Four distinguished speakers were to take the morning session.

Talk #1
The first speaker of the Day was Samir Kumar, who leads Inventus Capital Partners (VC Firm). Samir Spoke about "What do VC's Look for in a Startup". The first talk charged up the entire audience. The key take aways from Samir's talk are as follows.

* Address a real customer need.
* VC's look for 20x to 30x returns, because they make such high risk investments.
* VC's look at quality of the Team
* Founders should have good past track record in academics and on their jobs.
* Founders should have unquestionable integrity.
* Exit options should be considered.

the most important point in getting VC money is "Clarity of Thought".
i.e you as an entrepreneur, have to think through your target market and idea.
So unless your business can scale and grow, VC's might not be interested in your biz plan. Also there is lot of potential in India.

Talk #2
Next we moved on to an electrifying speech by Amar Lakhtakia. He is a serial entrepreneur(with 5 startups of over $100 million under his belt) . He currently working on sherpaz. (which helps companies in contract workforce). He talked about the following

* As a person with ideas you have to cluster bomb people who can help you get ur idea running.
* As an entrepreneur you have a great calling card to talk to senior people
* Differentiation is important.
* Timing is very important.
* Create Barriers to entry for Competitors.
* Create Business Value.
* Simplicity sells.
* To use BSD licensed code.

He also mentioned that we can look for our competitors through RedHerring and 10-k filings (A comprehensive summary report of a company's performance that must be submitted annually to the Securities and Exchange Commission). It was an inspiring speech.

Talk #3
next we moved on to a speech by Trilochan Sastry, Professsor IIM Bangalore.

Professor Sastry brought a great sense of balance to the event. He talked about how he had filed a petition to India's Supreme court for Right to Information. He said that, this is one powerful tool for enlightened citizens of India to achieve positive results in Large Public funded projects.

He also told us that if you become a "Social Entrepreneur" then funding money will chase you rather than
you chasing VC money !. There is a tremendous vacuum for good people in this space.

He also said that it took 55 years for one Indian to file a request to the supreme court and get the right to know the financial details of the people who stand in elections.

Indian farmers don't loose their income by high interest rates, but they loose it when they sell their produce to the local merchant. This is a very important point.

Talk #4
This was an interesting talk by Mukul Singhal, Canaan Partners. His approach was from an analyst's perspective.

he talked about how consumption is growing in India. He also talked about
* the future telecom boom.
* A big market attracts lots of players. example: Retail in India.
* Which sector will get future spending.

His style was from the view of the market size and the predicted growth. So not much talk about technolgy innovation from Mukul. His Slides were very good, in terms of market research. Next we broke for Lunch.

Post Lunch Talks

Talk #5
This was by K. Ganesh CEO, Tutor Vista.

Mr Ganesh has built a business that involves tutoring kids over the internet live by Teachers in India. Key points are as follows.
* They brought down the cost from $60 per hour for a local teacher to $100 per month.
* They got $18 million funding.
* They train and certify thier tutors.
* The median age of Indian tutor is 50.

Talk #6
This was by Nagendra Ramaswami, Co-founder, CoreObjects. This was a very good talk. Their core competency is Product engineering.
He talked about
* Doing Market research, Product design and execution.
* Not having too many architect's in you company. It will lead to a situation where people end up spending time in defending their views and not worrying about the actual product.

Next we moved to few presentations by new startups each of 5 minutes.

1) Kuliza.com - founders have worked in Trilogy. They build Software products made to order. Currently building products for Pharma industry.

2) Invention labs - Very good philosophy. Low cost, but high end engineering design firm. Have built an ATM that originally costs Rs 8 Lakhs in only Rs 50k.

3) PicSquare - a web site to get your photos printed.

4) OutSourced CFO - a company with 20 crore revenue cannot afford a fulltime CEO for Rs 30 Lakhs a year. So gen an outsourced one.

5) Micro finance.

6) Buzzworks - 2 IIT'ans trying voice search + user generated content + ad revenue.

7) Authpod - trying to replace passwords in websites.

8) shunia - design work by4 IIMk grads.

9) Data analysis - 3 IIM grads take large amounts of data collected by big corporations like HLL and run the data through statistical models using Matlab and other tools to generate actionable data for CEO's.

Thanks for reading.

- Praveen.


7 Games People Play with IT employees

By this time you must have read Games Indians Play. now lets take a look at IT games...

Name Dropping: Most people drop names of famous or important people in everyday conversations to let you know that they are well connected and powerful. This technique is use by IT Managers in meeting where they drop names of Directors of VP's. This is done so subtly unless you are 'in the know' you will not catch it. One give away is when a manager starts to use the same director's name more than twice and saying that "I will talk to about this". this might be true or it could also be a first time manager trying to tell you who is in charge.

Using Corporate Speak
: Every specialization has its own jargon words.So people talking about WBS(work Breakdown Structure) might not have read 'The Mythical Man-Month'. software folks are artists, they create ideas out of thin air. Most great artists don't do their best work only for money, that is why programmers work on open source projects. Open source gives freedom to create interesting stuff. So just because a manager uses WBS, deadlines,etc... it does not make him an artist.

Employee of the Month
: This is oldest trick in the book. But subtly tuned in IT to award folks with kudos letters from customers to drive the organization spirit. This is used in one on one's. A gentle hint that you are also expected to get these sort of things.

Strong Managers Network
: The managers network might not look very close. This is just a facade. Every organization has a network of peers at each level. So the next time you are wondering whats up with this guy, just remember how you had messed with his peer.

Hiding Deadlines: This is a neat little trick. Suppose the deadline is 10 days away. You will be informed that it is only 5 days away. So this give a buffer time. In case you check in broke the code. Also early delivery makes your project manager a knight in shining amour.

Getting you to over commit: This is a classic. Stating that you need to finish this work by end of the month with out clarifying how much work it will take. Result you will end up slogging on weekends to meet the month end deadline.

Telling your team that you are an expert: you might not have written the code for google pagerank. But it will surly sound like you are the sole technical guru. when you feel like this just
check if you have been Knighted or your name has popped up next to Linus Travolis, Tim Burners Lee, etc.