Luck isn’t contagious…as luck would have it


Life is a gamble at terrible odds—if it was a bet, you wouldn’t take it.


We have all seen it- the ubiquitous post on LinkedIn wherein an executive from a blue chip company posts some mundane random stuff that begins with the customary ” stoked to be…” that attracts scores of likes, shares and comments as if it were to be a Nobel Laureate deserving accomplishment. The same kind of post by an individual with a non blue chip organisation gets the cold shoulder. As luck would have it…


Luck is never a strategy. At best it can be a tactic, provided its allies are you showing up consistently with tenacity and resilience and doing the work that matters and shipping it out to a minimum viable audience. Over time, the dice will roll favorably for you and you might want to attribute that (tongue firmly in cheek of course) to luck.


It’s dangerous to be presumptuous about someone’s success and offer luck the benefit of the doubt. A game of cards will be largely decided by luck. Get some good cards and you are well and truly in the game. Early luck has a massive impact. In the Canadian NHL(National Hockey League), which month of the year you were born determines your chances of playing in the League because as a kid where you play hockey when at age six adds up over the decades. Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers articulated this example beautifully.


As a society and culture we are guilty of under delivering or being sub optimal because we are not creating the conditions for consistent resilience till such time the luck comes along.


VCs build portfolios capitalising on early luck in some investments knowing fully well that a lot of the others will take time to realise the upsides from. A portfolio is a simple way to reduce the impact of luck (good or bad) over time.

Rather than punt on luck, it’s better to steel ourselves in building the resilience and the consistency that will help us meet it as and when it comes along the way. A flip of the coin does not lead to an inevitable outcome. It can go either way. Your being a victim or a victor- it could have easily gone the other way- was it your fault? Was it luck( good or bad)?


Sometimes we over index on our talent, skill, competence as against acknowledging that we were there at the right time in the right place.

(W)interaction Field: Creating high value for organisations, customers and society


If you allow me to state the obvious it would be that successful businesses create value and ignite smart growth.


Yet, most companies today focus on competition and disruption instead of collaboration, participation and engagement. The core endeavor is to optimise or extract value rather than share it. They hoard assets and thrive on unwieldy economics of scale and distribution, and fragile brand recognition. All this is fine till such time a new entrant or rival comes in that doesn’t care much about your brand and your other assets and whiz past you or mow you down. RIP!


The Interaction Field model is one where brands and organisations are allowed to generate, facilitate and benefit from data exchanges among multiple people and groups- from customers and stakeholders, but also from those you wouldn’t expect to be in the mix, like suppliers, software developers, regulators, researchers and even competitors. And everyone in the field works together to solve big, complex, industry-wide and unpredictable societal problems.


By participating in these interconnected groups, interaction field companies can achieve a kind of unstoppable momentum and wild expansion that one can term ‘ velocity ‘. It is a new form of multidimensional, constantly accelerating, explosive and smart growth that goes far beyond the traditional metrics of sales, profits, market share and market capitalisation.


Velocity-multidimensional, constantly accelerating, explosive and smart growth- is what all companies must strive for today, no matter their size or how long they have been in business. It doesn’t matter if the company is a start-up or an incumbent, or a leading player in an existing industry or part of a new and emerging category. So many of the business areas where traditional companies operate are being disrupted, disaggregated, and demolished by changing consumer habits, escalating customer expectations and the ever dynamic force of technological advances. The old business models cannot withstand or survive the torsion of these forces, but the new interaction field companies feed on them.

In retrospect, one would have imagined Accor or IHG or any of the leading hotel chains to have launched Airbnb but that was not the case. Or HMV(with over 80 years of content in their archives) to have launched something like iTunes or Spotify( Apple is a hardware maker mind you).


The interplay of companies in an interaction field has three significant effects:-


– the network effect sets in..more the number of restaurants on Uber Eats or Deliveroo means more options and choices and hence more customers and average ticket size


virality– value created by the velocity rings in more word of mouth and advocacy that are invaluable as against paid or coerced endorsements


-a learning effect emerges- with multiple stakeholders and higher engagements, data becomes more distilled and relevant that can be used to go with trends and predict consumption and behaviour patterns- Tesla collects more data through sensors and cameras than other manufacturers, which enables machine learning for its autopilot software, which increases driver safety.


No matter what customers buy today, they want everything at the speed of Amazon, the accuracy of Google, the ease of zero click convenience of Domino’s Pizza, the everyday low prices of Walmart, the personalisation of Netflix, the charm of Singapore Airlines and the availability and selection of Irrespective of whether they are buying a complex piece of medical equipment or a pair of sneakers.


Customers want companies to be responsive and human, socially conscientious and environmentally aware. They want innovation and delight delivered to a world-class standard. They want security and privacy and(not oddly) openness and transparency. They want the feel of a small local business with the capabilities of a global giant. A good share price would do nicely as well too, not to mention leaders who don’t get jettisoned or thrown in jail for fraud or bad behaviour.


Quite a challenge- it may sound ambitious and it is, unapologetically. But looking around, one should reckon that this indeed is the best(rather only) way forward for businesses today.

It’s a specialised world..but the generalists are triumphing!


You’ve probably heard of the 10,000 hour rule, which was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell‘s blockbuster book “Outliers.” As Gladwell tells it, the rule goes like this: it takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery of complex skills and materials, like playing the violin or getting as good as Bill Gates.


There is also the famous Bruce Lee quote which goes like this ” I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times “.


The above alludes to the common perception that specialists are having a field day and they are the ones most successful, while the generalists are getting the wrong end of the snakes and ladders game. Yet, here’s another perspective worth considering- “A provocative generalization,” is what Anders Ericsson calls the 10,000 hour rule made famous by Gladwell. The first flaw of the 10,000 Hour Rule: It focuses on the quantity of time practicing, not the quality of the practice – and not all practice is equally helpful. More here on Debunking The 10,000 Hour Practice Myth .


Focusing intensely, racking up hours of deliberate practice, starting early, are the de facto calling cards for anyone wanting to develop a skill, play an instrument or be a leader in their chosen field. But what is more evident through research and real life examples of the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists is the fact that generalists, in most fields are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.


This might sound blasphemous but David Epstein in his seminal book Range makes a compelling case for inefficiency. Failing a test is the best way to learn. Frequent quitters end up with the most fulfilling careers. The most impactful inventors cross domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area. As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.


A recent meta-analysis by Case Western Reserve University psychologist Brooke Macnamara and her colleagues found that deliberate practice and skill are related – but far from perfectly related. You can do a deep dive here to know more about the research conducted.


A specialist’s mind is a slave to his specialization. Intellectually curious men become generalists. Intellectually lazy men settle for being specialists- Mokokoma Mokhonoana




Leaders, Big Ideas and their ” we shall let this pass ” mindset !


Tony Hadell had a knack for building things right from the time he was four. His grandfather would ask him to fix and build things and he would take to it like a fish to water. Little wonder that he went onto build the iPod, the iPhone and Nest. He is now the CEO of Nest ( he co founded it with Matt Rogers) which Google acquired for US$ 3.2 billion. He also has over 300 patents(not just as an aside).


It wasn’t easy going though. When Tony first went with the idea of the iPod and the iPhone, some leaders did what they seem to do best- give it a pass. And there were some big names in there. Take a look :

PHILLIPS: Gave up on Tony, their VP of strategy and new ventures

MICROSOFT: Steve Ballmer, worth $41 billion—“There’s no chance!”

MOTOROLA: Padmasree Warrior, CTO—“Nothing revolutionary about it . . .”

PALM: Ed Colligan, CEO, worth $3.4 billion—“[They] are not going to figure it out.”

NOKIA: (market leader with 1 billion customers), Anssi Vanjoki, Chief Strategist—“With Mac, Apple remained a niche [expect the same] in mobile phones”and switching to Android would be like the Finnish boys who “pee in their pants”for warmth in the winter.

BLACKBERRY: Mike Lazaridis (worth $2 billion)—“[With Apple’s ads] customers are now coming to the store [and leaving with a Blackberry], and so what it’s actually done is increased our sales.”

Why did the market leaders dismiss the potential of such a revolutionary product when you and EVERYBODY else immediately realized the smartphone would be awesome? They were too comfortable and confident in their familiar paths. 


The paradox of success is such that new ideas look too awkward at first, thereby causing them to be overlooked . And by smart, industry leaders at that. Another brilliant example is that of Enzo Ferrari, founder of the iconic Ferrari brand. Actually a Ferrari rebuke, caused the launch of what you see today as Lamborghini.  Read the story below at Know More:


Smart people overestimate their level of control. Often the idea thats dismissed becomes the one that topples an empire. Ironically market leaders are at a greater risk of missing out. Enzo Ferrari wasn’t the first market leader to dismiss an innovative idea presented to him. History is littered with instances where a market leader couldn’t see the potential in a rivaling idea. Read on, you sure are to recognise a few of them:-


England rejected Thomas Edison’s light bulb and said it was “unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men.”

Western Union rejected Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, saying it was “idiotic. Why would any person want to use this ungainly and impractical device?”

• The Kansas City Star fired Walt Disney, saying he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”

Kodak invented digital photography in 1975 but didn’t adapt and went bankrupt

HP rejected Steve Wozniak’s computer ideas three times

Atari could have owned 33% of Apple for $50,000

EDS could have bought Microsoft ($60 million)

Excite could have bought Google ($1 million)

Myspace could have owned Facebook ($75 million)

Yahoo could have owned Facebook ($1 billion)

Britannica could have been Encarta, but they rejected Bill Gates

Encarta could have been Wikipedia

Blockbuster had three chances to buy Netflix ($50 million)

• You and I could have been a lot wealthier if we put all our money into Amazon


Almost every tale of disruption involves smart people dismissing a subtle new idea!  Successful companies often fail to see the potential of  new ideas outside their wheelhouse.


With the internet establishing its footprint in the 80’s, Jack Smith and Sabeer Bhatia set out to pitch investors on the concept of Hotmail. Imagine: a service where anyone in the world could get their own email address, absolutely free! It was a relatively simple business model, which could be funded by advertising. This didn’t seem as complicated as you might think, but investors hated it. Smith and Bhatia’s idea was rejected 100 times. Eventually, the private equity firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson cut them a check for $300,000. A year and a half after their launch, Hotmail was sold to Microsoft for $400 million. Not a bad return.


Sum summarum, being open to new thinking, new possibilities is the best default mode. But, we are more dependent on past decisions than we would like to think(or accept).

The Antagonists In The Script Of Life: For or Against?


The Hollywood Paradigm ( widely followed across both generations and geographies) of filmmaking | storytelling is about ‘ set-up, conflict and resolution ‘. Cast as central characters will always be the protagonist and on the other side the antagonist.


We can extract similarities of a film script even in our real lives. The thing about antagonists in real life is usually they are no match for our sheer will to create our happy ending. So that begs the question- reel life follows real life or the other way around? When we are pursuing a better life, antagonists and we ourselves can also be allies.


Your antagonist forces are not as obvious as what you might see on the silver screen- a vampire wearing all black, darting among Gothic architecture as he trails you through an overcast, evocative location while you are wearing the same ripped-up clothes for three days in a row. It will not be a surprise to note that most often our antagonist forces are often ourselves. They are the things we do and think that not only slow us down but also have the ability to stop our show. They could be a flaw or weakness on steroids.


We are familiar with these characters(forces) within ourselves which are of the personal | internal variety including fear, indecision, doubt, discomfort, uncertainty, an unwillingness to take action and so on. A classic set of examples of you stopping you.


On the screen, when faced with the ‘ ghost of the dark night ‘, the hero must take a leap, and a big one at that..otherwise you know it’s not a movie. Or, it is a sad and disappointing movie in which the hero does not obtain his goal.


Though it may feel that way but external antagonists don’t necessarily have evil intentions. They are whomever or whatever has a goal in direct opposition to yours. External antagonists might be a family member, a colleague, friend, an enemy, frenemy, a competitor, your boss, a loved one, the government, an evil empire, business..


Very often the thing that holds us back is the lack of support from people closest to us. Therefore allies can be our secret sauce. Even if that means the basics of someone who is listening, talking, validating. There is a parallel call here- where you might benefit from keeping a distance from those very people during the pursuit of your goal which in a way lessens the forces working against you.

So the questions we ask here are- is there a way to make an antagonist an ally on our specific path? Is it time to metaphorically kill the antagonistic force by disengaging or putting distance between you?


In this show called life, when looked at from the perspective of a scriptwriter, you will always find antagonist forces( be it a loved one or a competitor) who are prepared to derail your course unless you are prepared to take action.


Time to plot your go to mode!

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?