The truth about rejection


In a zeitgeist that is primarily encouraged to ask ” what did you accomplish? ‘ and (rarely) the better question in ” how did you fail ?” , rejection can come as a thunderbolt. The culture has set the template and hence people like us do things like this.


Contrary to how we perceive or are hardwired to interpret it, rejection has nothing to do with you. They did not reject you. They rejected a pitch. They rejected an application. They rejected a business plan. They rejected a piece of paper. They rejected a modus operandi. They rejected an idea. There is nothing personal about it. You are above it.


For someone to claim the entitled domicile of being the rejector or the victimised agony of being the rejected, the question to ask would be ‘ you hardly know the other person, what makes you think you are in a position to reject? ‘.


Zero Dean had this to say about rejection : ” rejection is neither an indication of value or talent. Remember that. If you believe in what you have to offer, do not stop offering it simply because some of who you offer it to reject it. Many people are simply not good at recognising either talent or value. It doesn’t mean that you on’t find an audience that will”.

Rejection is merely a GPS recalibration. An opportunity to explore newer, better, larger vistas and unearth your greater hidden potential. A redirection that continues to take you onward in your journey.




Why today’s CEO have to have designs on design?


Back in the 20th Century, the CEO job was rather predictable. When her role was primarily to optimise business as if it were a machine- making sure the supply chains, the value chain, the manufacturing process and the marketing channels, all combined to delver maximum output at minimal cost.


That is not to say the above are unimportant. Efficiency and delivering solid returns still matter, of course, but the old methods of getting there are threatened. Neither are they good enough for us to face the present and most certainly the future. Given where we are today where we are witnessing the most volatile, dynamic and disruptive business climate the world has ever known.


Competing well and at the highest level calls for tenacity, resilience, creativity and dollops of AQ( Agility Quotient). This calls for a brave new brand of leadership and a helicopter view without getting into the trenches will tell you that thinking like a designer has become sine qua non.


Some years ago ‘ core competence ‘( a shout out to Gary Hamel) was to maintain manufacturing dominance in core products. Cut to today where core competence has moved the needle to customer obsession, agility, resilience, all of which are intrinsic to a designer’s craft. When you design a new product, service or experience, you are working on prototypes based on the needs and desires of the customer and creating something that is agile or flexible enough to pivot quickly to ensure continued relevance.


Consider Airbnb. To them, designing for trust is everything. After all you are expected to go into a stranger’s home and spend a few nights there. And the host is inviting a complete stranger into his home too. This need for a leap of faith makes trust a cornerstone of Airbnb’s design process. Familiarity breeds contempt(?), while reputation breeds respect and trust. In the case of Airbnb, a high reputation was defined as 10+ positive reviews. The way they do it is by making sure the host and guest reviews are revealed only after both sides have left one. That incentives both host and guest to leave reviews(in order to get one) and makes leaving truthful reviews easier by eliminating the chance of the other side giving you a bad review just because you left a bad one.


I would urge you to listen to Joe Gebbia’s TED Talk titled How Airbnb designs for trust.


Another example is the automobile industry. The model was once to sell cars and get people to drive cars . That said, today the concept of mobility is completely different and very fluid. Now, car companies are designing for driverless cars and deliveries, for ride sharing, for multi-modal commutes, and for high-efficiency electric vehicles. That calls in the need to look at urban infrastructure, urban planning, gas stations, parking lots, charging stations, looking at retail(how driverless delivery will pan out) and all of that. The automobile industry has been disintermediated from being just a mover of people in a hunk of steel from point A to point B.

A growing number of companies are building design into their core competency. That includes legacy companies like Ford, IBM etc. The message is clear- we are working together to create something magnificent and we will walk into an unknown future, side by side, together. Today the organisation itself is a ‘ design project ‘ where the metabolism runs faster.


Shifting the purpose of an organisation made for today to an organisation fit for tomorrow and beyond is the job of the CEO. And at it’s very fulcrum, it is a problem that requires design thinking.

Time to be less thankless to our teachers!


Having seen this close at hand for a couple of decades( my mother is a retired teacher) where she would unfailingly beat the 4 am alarm, day after day, prep the morning breakfast and lunch routine for the entire household and get going to her school to be on time, come hell or high water. While it would be tempting to assume that economics made her get up from bed every morning and scream ” wow another day at work “, it was on the contrary her passion and intrinsic motivation for her profession that made her go when ideally it should have been ” Oh, another day at work? “. Given the emoluments that was doled out every month that constituted her ‘ salary ‘. And the absolute lack of co relation between effort, emotional labour, time and dedication invested. Needless to say, teaching offers the lowest ROI of all professions( maybe nursing might match it or come a close second).


For all the education fads of the past 50 years, that we are obsessed about( read fancy swimming pools, high tech computer labs, state of the art auditoriums, air conditioned classrooms, cafetaria serving sushi and what have you) researchers have found that what matters most for student learning — far more than reducing class size or handing out iPads — is a high-quality teacher. Without a shadow of doubt.

If we are at all serious about hanging on to and attracting capable, willing educators, then we damn well be prepared to respect them as true professionals. And teacher’ compensation constitutes a vital cog in the wheel. No disrespect meant here but an insurance agent selling motor or health insurance, calculating premiums from a pre set default deck( no effort or brain power required), gets better paid than the average teacher. Common, we can all do better than that. It is a shame.


A lot of the teachers are doing back to back classes( most of the time without a bathroom break), staying after school hours to lead some extra curricular initiatives, get back home do grading(including on weekends while compromising on family time) and prepare for the next days’ classes, manage unreasonable parents and the PTAs..its incessant and high pressure. And a lot of the schools do not even have a good pantry where the lunch they carry from home can find some heat, so that it is still good enough to eat, if and when they can.


The report card on how teachers are cared for and compensated looks very shabby. Nobody will sign it. It is an F Minus.


Administrators, government entities, educational institution owners– whose bell are you ringing? Because the people who matter are not hearing it! And they are not being heard either. The lame cannot lead the blind.



What’s in a snap?


Snap: break suddenly and completely, typically with a sharp cracking sound.

Snap: a hurriedirritable tone or manner.

Snap: done or taken on the spur of the moment, unexpectedly, or without notice.


That’s the full lowdown on the dictionary terminology of snap as a verb, noun or adjective. Though, the rant here is a snap of a different kind. Sorry to snap you out of the default.


Once upon a time, giving a camera to a kid marked a coming of age, so young people thought of taking a photograph as a personal advance. Today, we all have phones that snap anything and everything. So, selfies are as casual and disposable as chatter. It is the new talk.


Possessing a photograph is not owning a person, but it’s a step in that direction. If you start to study the way people display portraits in their home or in their life you may learn more about the family dynamic than is comfortable. Photographs are helpless testaments, but they can be possessions. A photograph ironically evokes both presence and absence: it reminds you of a person, but it underlines the way the person is not there now. Perhaps it’s easier to love a photograph than a person?


And as your girlfriend asks ” do you want me to smile? ” or ” do you want me to look at the camera? “, immense aesthetic decisions descend on upon you straightaway. As someone clicking the snap, you have all of a sudden become a director, just as your girlfriend has taken on the role of herself, the one that never ends its run. This doesn’t mean that either of you is a fake or dishonest: but you cannot carry out this simple matter without complex self-examination. Erving Goffman wrote a book called The Presentation of Self In Everyday Life(1959), where he identified a doubleness in our selves, which is not duplicity, but is so far-reaching it may threaten the eight-hour sleep of assurance or integrity.


You may not think of yourself as a photographer(or a director) but the camera does not permit that casualness. Because you are ‘ making a shot ‘. So, in that sense, the merest ‘shot‘ from daily life is not far removed from the scheme of shots in a film of maybe two hours and several interwoven narratives- perhaps even a work of greatness.


Whether you like it or not, to choose a shot and ” take ” it is to leave a record of your own sensibility, just a few lines of casual talk can lead to a searching analysis of your own persona simply on the basis of vocabulary, grammar, and verbal construction. We are not good at being spontaneous or free from analysis. That maybe the why we love the idea of that freedom so much.



Disagreement equals growth


There are some steps to leaps. During disagreements, isn’t it fascinating that we can get so caught up in proving ourselves right that we often dismiss or even denigrate the other person?


Growth occurs when we are facing some degree of challenge and difficulty. Growth from physical workouts requires sufficient stress on our muscle tissues. The resultant micro-tears force the muscles to repair and build studier and larger muscles. It is an apt metaphor for character growth. The challenge of facing disagreements and a rejection of one’s viewpoints is an opportunity to grow.


As a natural contrarian and vehement opponent of the ‘ yes man ‘ culture, I have more than my fair share of disagreements. The intent is to move the conversation forward albeit by presenting a point of view that is against the flow, yet, at least in my intent, relevant. I am not sure if at that time, I am looking to win a popularity contest. I am not a disagreeable person, and I’m not creating these positions simply to be contentious. It is a very heavy decision to take a stand when it means taking an opposite opinion from a colleague, superior, client or a friend.


Allow me a caveat here: Likable people get ahead more than contrarians. I know many average performers who had stellar careers almost entirely because they were so darn likable. So, while it’s important and necessary to disagree, don’t wield an obnoxious megaphone while you do that.


Growth never comes from being birds of the same feather. Disagreements are necessary, unless the idea is to create a vast universe called the ‘ echo chamber ‘, wherein everyone sounds like everyone else.


If society and culture has its way, the push is to be the best( that is where everyone else is going as well- into a deep ‘ Red Ocean ‘ territory). I disagree(there I go!). Better to be the only. Be the Green Swan. Zig when others Zagging. Not just for the heck of it but because you believe you have something valid to add. Remember that the more individualistic you are, the more your universal appeal.

Disagreeable situations can bring growth in humility. We need to recognize that genuine disagreements arise from diverse lived experiences from which people see the world. Other people are not always right, but they are almost certainly not always wrong.   The rant here is be brave. Be bold. Tell the truth. Take risks. But take care of people along the way, too.


Disagreement is a mindset which actually should add and learn rather than shun and spurn. Agree? Disagree?

The magic of Being Yourself!


It is no surprise that most of us are the way we are. Trying to be people pleasers. To fit in, conform, adhere, comply. Norms, society and culture would have it no other way. Our education industrial complex (tailored purely for scaling in most cases) only fans the fire. Look at the vocabulary in use there- standard, uniform, grades, test, class, exam…top down with a vengeance with little heed(forget sensitivity) for individuality. And this is unfairly lopsided all the more in the case of the fairer gender.


The motivation to maintain the status quo is so huge that it is almost an aberration that we manage to make progress at all. As author and podcaster Glennon Doyle quotes on the courage to be yourself: “Your job, throughout your entire life, is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing yourself.” Yes, as they say charity begins at home.


The joy and peace we discover when we stop striving to meet others’ expectations and start trusting the voice deep within us is magical. It is a release. Like the floodgates have opened up and you are on the path to discovery of your best desired self.


We remain in denial. Wallowing perennially in our own discontent. Stigmas and taboos are not allies ever in any case. We do a brilliant job actually of hiding our discontent from ourselves. The emotional labour we invest in being the best mother, daughter, wife, father, son, husband, colleague, friend, sounding board etc is beyond tenable. And if R&R were to be your goal( I mean rewards & recognition) in the form of feeling more alive, think again. The tangible trade off is that it comes with us feeling weary, overwhelmed, underwhelmed, stuck and in a state of deep impasse.

The provocation here is to ask” are we bringing our full self to the table of life? “. Are we at home with our aging bodies, anger and heartbreak, anxiety and enthusiasm, are we trusting ourselves setting boundaries that we can manage and unleash our fullest, wildest instincts so that we can look at the mirror and confidently claim ‘ here I am, in true blue, full protein form‘.


It is no coincidence that the braver we are, the luckier we get.

The Myth of Creativity!


There is a firmly entrenched mythology around ‘ creative genius ‘ which over indexes on individual brilliance, divine intervention and the magic of the subconscious. This rant is an attempt to take that perception head on.


We have been spoon-fed the notion that creativity is the province of genius — of those favored, brilliant few whose moments of insight arrive in unpredictable flashes of divine inspiration.  And if we are not a genius, we might as well pack it in and give up. Either we have that gift, or we don’t. Remember Archimedes Principle, the ‘ Eureka Moment ‘. Let’s attempt to demystify the myth around creativity and give it some relevant..well..buoyancy.


As the world’s most creative people have discovered, we are enticed by the novel and the familiar. The brain is considered the laziest organ in the body. So, there we are in familiar territory when it is not taxed, when the processing is almost on default mode. There it is said in communication strategy to adopt the mantra, ” the brain remembers what it least expects, so deliver the unexpected “.  The novel in that sense is a different novel altogether. The quest for the ‘ shiny new object ‘ is where it originates from and concludes post the ‘ after glow ‘ having worn off.


Both at a personal level and at a professional | business level, the probability of ‘mainstream success‘ is at the sweet spot that exists between the familiar and the novel. By navigating what author Allen Gannett describes as the ‘ creative curve ‘, the point of optimal tension between the novel and the familiar – everyone can better engineer mainstream success.


A classic example is when the famed Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand launched a ‘ lavender ‘ flavour of its ice cream. Despite the fanfare and the brand salience, the product was a colossal flop. Stepping back and understanding customer insights and thinking led them to think a little differently. The most familiar flavour of ice cream is vanilla.  The team at B&J decided to go back to the market with a flavour that combined both vanilla and lavender. i.e the familiar and the novel. The product was a runaway success.


Layering the novel atop something that is familiar leads to better acceptance, adoption and affinity and the chances of success multiplies. You don’t have to be born with Superman like super power to achieve great artistic or entrepreneurial heights. Neither do you have to rely on mysticism or LSD. Creativity and the potential of high success is intuitive and accessible to all. Just find yourself at the happy intersection of the familiar and the novel.

The default trap of ” time to be spent “


The doctor attending to a patient is expected to spend a certain amount of time( validated as the right amount by the culture we inhabit) with her patient.


Uber Eats or Deliveroo or Careem etc are expected to deliver food within a certain amount of time- read the right amount of time.


How long should an undergraduate degree take? If you are in N America, four years. Most other places, three years. The default of the right amount of time has already been set. It is done and dusted. The script is already hard bound. Just be the actors now.


Learning to play the violin or a new language. Coming to terms in using a new software program. Looking around for a new home. There are set expectations on time to be invested in each of these, an informal validation that the culture has taken the initiative on.


In an highly commoditised world, spending a similar amount of time like all others would mean reaping( or under reaping) the same benefits as the rest of the tribe.

An alternative scenario can come in the form of either of the below:-


– Spend considerably more time than the rest in something which is way beyond the set default. In the process, extract a significantly better outcome.

-Spend far less than the rest which is way less than the set default. And use that time to unearth alternatives and processes that benefits everyone, something that the rest is overlooking.


Under indexing or over indexing through well intentioned time hacks can create significant positive changes in the culture. Explore and discover those possibilities rather than be at the mercy of the diktat called the ‘ right amount of time‘.


Its worthwhile here to be understanding Howard Gardener’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence 

The Obsession with Leadership!


If the definition of a leader is someone who catalyzes positive change, then every organisation needs all the leaders it can get. Sadly, the idea of leadership that predominates in most organisations has been hopelessly compromised by bureaucratic thinking.


For us to move forward on this rant, let’s go back in time a bit. During the early years of industrialization ( the Henry Ford era and all of that), administrative competence was scarce, in serious short supply. The workforce multiplied rapidly between then and the outbreak of the second world war. Who was going to wrangle this fast growing herd of employees if not a cadre of newly minted managers? Some of today’s most renowned US Universities jumped into the pit to help, namely the Wharton School @ Univ of Pennsylvania(est 1881), Harvard Business School (est 1908) and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business(est 1925).


Drip by drip, a corpus of management knowledge began to invade the zeitgeist. General Electric opened its famed management academy in New York. The then Chairman Philip D Reed was to make GE the world’s best managed company. A worthy goal. Let’s not forget that it was management magic that turned labour and steel into locomotives, turbines, generators and washing machines.


By the time it was a couple of years before the millennium, management was no longer considered the mysterious or prized exceptional activity. Fatigue had set in and the novelty had worn off. Thanks to the work of seminal thinkers like Peter Drucker, principles and practices of administrative competence had found its threshold level.


By the 1980’s, management had become passe. Universities and management consultants needed something new to sell. A product upgrade, if you will. The dice was rolled and they landed on the shiny new object called ‘ leadership‘.  They asked their clients, why would you want to remain a mere manager when with the right training, you could become a valiant leader? Just give us a week or two of your time, a few thousand dollars and we will convert you into a happy amalgam of Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Alfred Sloan.


Today, more business books are written about leadership than any other topic, so it’s easy to forget the relative novelty of our obsession with leadership. Despite the ubiquity of the topic, if you Google ‘ leadership model ‘, you will get more than a billion hits. That said, there’s little evidence we know how to grow leaders, or that most of those who claim to be leaders deserve the title!!

To be fair, leadership training is seldom focused purely on administrative skills. Today, in a multi-week program at a leading B-school, there will be modules on AI, Blockchain, Neuroscience, Generative AI, IOT, and the Gen Z workforce. Contemporary leadership training also emphasises ‘ soft skills ‘ that affirm the values of authenticity, empathy and mindfulness. Unfortunately, all these become superfluous in a bureaucratic cage match. Back on the job, there is little in the organisation that reinforces introspection, humility and honesty and not much they can do to change the fact.


Leadership training tends to be stratified( otherwise how will elitism come into play?). Hierarchy dictates that at the excutive level, it is ‘managing the organisation’, at midlevels on ‘ leading the business ‘ and at lower levels on ‘ leading your team ‘. This hierarchial approach is based on the absurd assumption that lower-level employees are unable to think beyond their own role or limit.


Leadership and hierarchy are conjoined twins and disentangling it is a long way off. When an organisation refers to ‘ leadership team ‘, do they mean everyone in the organisation who can also make amazing things happen? Certainly not. It refers to the dozen or so EVPs who sit atop the pyramid. The reality is that many of them on the ‘ leadership team ‘ are not leaders at all. In the true sense and sanctity of the word. Neither are they a ‘ team ‘, if by that you mean a group of selfless souls united around a common cause.


Radical thinking is the need of the hour to change this default. We need a bunch of hacktivists across organisations around the world. Deep change comes from the fringe, people who are not bothered about the spotlight but are willing to put themselves in the firing line.


When we finally abandon the myth that a big title makes you a leader, and when the HR function stops playing to the top of the house, then our approach to leadership will finally catch up to the realities of the twenty-first century.



Dis’ journey from distraction to traction


The bank of time has finite deposits. We live with the belief that there is always tomorrow. But very soon our tomorrows will run out. The power of now( also a classic book by the same name written by Eckhart Tolle) is under utilised as we move sub consciously from one distraction to another leaving little scope for deep work that matters.

Perhaps the best way to move from distraction to traction is to make a To-Do-List and alongwith that make make a To-Not-Do List and time blocking which helps in distilling the important from the unimportant. Offers you the time to do deep work.  Time blocking is a preferred route adopted by people like Bill Gates, Elon Musk etc to do intense work of the highest importance.


It’s hard to change anything unless our motivation is strong enough. Before we can deal with our addictions to distraction, we need to uncover our motivations first.


If you’re living in your inbox or reacting to an ever-expanding to-do list, it is time to recalibrate our motivations. Because your real competition is your distraction.


As James Clear mentions so eloquently, “The more things you have, the more things you have to manage. Simplicity isn’t merely cheaper, it’s easier.”