The Dolphin’s Eye View

‘Bird’s eye view’ or big picture thinking and Worm’s eye view’ or detail orientation are terms that are often used when we talk about leadership.A leader is expected to see things from a bird’s eye view so that she is strategic in her approach and to see things from a worm’s eye view to demonstrate strong attention to tactics and details. Usually, a leader’s ability is judged by her ability to move between these two views.But in my view this is not sufficient. What a leader needs is a ‘Dolphin’s eye view’.

A dolphin serves as a better analogy to me as it is important to recognize and capture the dynamism as we move between the big picture and the details. This dynamism affects how we see a problem. A leader needs to not just move between these views but also between contexts since the contexts change the nature of the problem.With a dolphins eye view, a leader may be better positioned to achieve the following

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Staying with the question

One of the common challenges that we face in professional and even, personal settings is that people argue whether a particular idea is good or not without really knowing what the idea is for and what the argument is for. Also, when you go with a question to your peers or boss, there is always the possibility that they may ask ‘What do you think we should do about this?’. Everyone wants ‘answers’ and ‘solution orientation’ is celebrated in organizations. But this overemphasis on problem solving brings its own side effects wherein quick fixes get visibility and real problems get sidelined because of ‘lack of answers’. Innovation efforts and new initiatives get affected the most as for new initiatives, there may not be enough data points and people start to evaluate an idea through their own opinions. A leader’s ability to drive new innovation needs to be judged by his ability to stay with the question and influence people to come along with him.

In 2012, I was part of a team that designed a business model for a large corporation to help low income patients to afford expensive cardiac therapies in India and we were running a pilot in a hospital in a few cities. Since financing the cardiac procedure is a key component of the model, we introduced the idea of patient counselors who can help the patients who go through the procedure. These counselors had a station in the hospital where patients and their families who need support can go and get advice. After a few months, during a team meeting, two of my colleagues came with the idea of moving this station outside the hospital as they felt there was a risk that the hospital and even the patient may perceive this as ‘non-neutral’. But when they presented the idea, it received immediate push backs within the team saying that the process design will go for a spin. Another colleague argued that managing the staff will become complex. His argument was that we may have to change the organization structure to accommodate a new manager to oversee the staff and also, an administrator to run the office if it is not part of the hospitals which has its own implications on budget when the model is scaled across so many cities.

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5 Countries, 5 Insights

2014 was a great year for me – I was able to unearth many dimensions/blind spots of me and became more aware of myself. Happy New Year to all of you!

From a rural and orthodox society in South India to the sophisticated Switzerland, there are so many great experiences that I have encountered and these experiences have shaped me. I am grateful to these experiences and through this post, I want to share my learning from these experiences living in Japan, USA, Sri Lanka, Switzerland and India.

Japan: Japan is the first country that I saw outside India. Everything about this country was an eye opener for me. If you ask who is the great leader from India, we would say Mahatma Gandhi. What about USA? Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln… What about Singapore? Lee Kuan Yew and similarly, every country has their own share of great leaders. I tried to ask this question in Japan when I was studying there. Who led Japan in their transformation after the world war tragedy? I asked many people during my time in Japan. The answer I finally got through my own reflections was ‘Every Japanese’. Japan changed my idea of Leadership. It is not necessarily an individual who creates a vision and drives his followers towards the vision. Here it works like how fish schools and bird flocks work together where everyone leads and follows at the same time. It is magical. in Japan, collective consciousness can be experienced and Japan reminds me of my favorite quote that I learnt from my rowing coach at Wharton ‘The melting of the individual into the collective consciousness is the ultimate realization of the human potential’. I met my wife there and I got a scholarship to study there and this country has given me so much. In fact, I like Japan so much that I named my daughter ‘Midoari’ which means green in Japanese.

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‘Not knowing’ liberates you

My son asked me the most complex question ever. Who came first? Chicken or Egg? Before jumping into giving an answer, the idea of helping him ‘explore’ stuck me. My question to him was Q: ‘What do you think?’ A: Chicken. Q:Where did the chicken come from? A: Mother chicken. Q:Did it directly came from mother chicken? No. Mother chicken put a egg and it came from it. Q: Where did that egg come from? A: Mother chicken. Q: Where did that mother chicken came from? Egg. After a while, it was so confusing for me. It left me wondering what was my original objective. Next question. Ok. Ok. Who came first? He said ‘Chicken’.

He was convinced by his answer and his conviction was more convincing than the answer itself. He taught me a powerful lesson. Sometimes, the answers may all look the same or there may be no clarity or probing more may lead to a vicious circle. In those times, we need to have the conviction to make a choice fully knowing that we don’t know enough about the problem and be comfortable with the uncertainty. Not knowing does not necessarily stop action and in fact, could become a powerful approach as we can learn from the example below.

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My Uber predictions

Last week, there was a ‘rape’ incident in New Delhi that involved a cab driver who was part of the Uber network. It created quite a storm in India with protests from all quarters and subsequently, Uber was banned in New Delhi and several other states. I wrote the post below in 2008 when I was a MBA student in Japan. I predicted the emergence of a taxi service model riding on the social networking technology and also, predicted that such a service could be misused by criminals if not managed well. Both the predictions have come true. More from the post below but before you start reading, please don’t forget to rewind back to 2008 when social networking sites were in their early days.

11 January 2008

We had a great guest lecture at campus today through the Mobile Consumer Lab of Prof.Sugai. Mr.Jonathan Brown from Forrester Research gave an inspiring lecture on Mobile Social Computing among Japanese users.My mind was immediately thinking on how we can use this for practical applications in India.

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What to teach

In my last post, I used Bruce Lee’s ‘No way as the way’ as a theme for how to think about approaching a problem without frameworks. I was questioning myself on two things 1. How would one transfer knowledge and best practices to others with this approach and ‘how do we teach’ what one learnt through his/her experience. 2. How will one adopt such a thing without replicating the model. As I thought more about it, I realised that the real question is not ‘How do we teach’ but rather ‘what do we teach?’. I have a couple of examples – 1. one that involves children who don’t have any fixed frameworks and help them create a structure 2. The other that involves senior executives who have strong ‘models’ and how to challenge and move them from their models. We need to combine the two – creating models and dismissing models that may lead to the Bruce Lee state.

In 2012, I attended a parenting workshop of Magic Hive in Bangalore run by my friends Subha and her husband, Parthasarathy S. I was the only father in the company of 10 mothers and it was such an enriching experience seeing the kids’ world through the mothers’ eyes. All of us had so many questions – What should I do for this situation with my daughter? My son is not listening to me and How do I solve my son’s problem?. In a way, we wanted Subha’s model that we can replicate in our homes and create great outcomes. Subha’s question to us was ‘When your kids ask questions to you, what do you do? Do you feel anxious and you go out of your way to find the ‘right answer’ for your kids?’. Almost everyone said yes and we were feeling proud that we were giving so much time for the kids. She asked us to stop ‘answering’ and start ‘exploring’ the answers with the kids. If a child asks ‘Why is the ocean blue?’, instead of giving a scientific explanation, ‘explore’ with the child on why the ocean is blue.

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No way as the way

In recent times, I am fascinated by philosophy and its approach to solving problems from business to parenting to relationships. One thing that is common across problem solving is the use of frameworks. As a MBA student, I was taught various frameworks from 4Ps to balanced scorecard to 5 forces etc. When I was a consultant, I was using the disruptive innovation framework, BCG Matrix or any new age innovation frameworks so on and so forth. I loved frameworks at that time because it helped to quickly size up a problem and come up with a model that helped everyone to understand my approach to framing and solving a problem. While these frameworks help at a certain level, these frameworks are a synthesis done by someone studying a problem in some context. While the synthesis is explicit knowledge which can be adapted to some extent in other contexts, it doesn’t tell anything about the ‘tacit knowledge’ that went behind creating it which includes moods, contexts, combination of ideas, interpretations to name a few. I realized that these frameworks are affecting my ability to go to the root of any problem and to come up with my own structure to solve it.

The famous spiritual teacher J Krishnamurti had summed it up beautifully long ago saying ‘Truth is a pathless land’. If we want to pursue the truth around anything, it cannot be pursued through anybody’s path. Whether it is individuals pursuing truth or organizations pursuing the truth around a problem, the path has to be created by themselves.

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Where does innovation end?

Last week, I was in India after 18 long months and when I stepped into Mumbai airport, I was amazed. It was stunning. I haven’t seen an equivalent airport in the western world and I was even more amazed when I landed in Indore, a Tier 2 city in the rather underdeveloped Madhya Pradesh. The airport again was stunning. The infrastructure development is steadily on the rise but what was missing in the infrastructure is the integration of ‘human factors’ — The processes, the service design and the user experience need so much improvement.

With the rapid industrial development, the face of India is changing dramatically. Massive shopping malls and well built roads are common scene wherever your travel. Too many cars, too many motor bikes and too much pollution is making the conditions extremely difficult. A common sight is women covering their faces with a cloth wrapped around the face to protect themselves from the extreme pollution in the cities. Automobile and motor bike manufacturers produce so many innovative new products but there is not a single product to take care of the after effects of their innovations.

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