Sunday, March 30, 2014

MAYA as Reality: The Embedded Magic of the Indian Traditional Knowledge

Everyone finds India to be enigmatic. The country has hoary history, rich culture, vibrant energy and penchant for progress. Yet, the country has huge contradictions such as sparks of plenty amidst swathes of poverty, genuine order in chaotic disorder, and quest for growth amidst bouts of stagnation, to name a few. India is today as industrial as agricultural. India is as materialistic as spiritual. India is as reverential as iconoclastic. India is as independent as conformist. India loves huge cars but puts up with narrow roads. India is full of resources, human and other factor, but lacks the will to utilize them productively. India as unified as diverse. Indians are global but for one Nadella in Microsoft, possibly there are scores in TCS or Infosys. India is awe inspiring for its religious, spiritual and yogic gurus. India is surprising also for its craving for all things that are Western and materialistic. India has a singular desire for progress but loses focus ever so often.  Are these contradictions real or imaginary?

Indian literature and culture have a Sanskrit word called ‘maya’, meaning illusion. The Vedas have several references to the word maya, one of which refers to power. The question, not unnaturally, is whether the Indian hypothesis of economic growth and global dominance is an enigmatic maya, an illusion, or a powerful reality, another shade of maya? As certain Indian products and processes get the flack in certain markets, the question arises as to whether the global product conquests of Indian firms constitute illusory transience or sustainable reality.  As rapid-growth Indian startups as well as highflying corporate firms suddenly stutter and stop, the question arises as to whether the great Indian entrepreneurship is illusorily strong or conspiratorially buffeted by adverse winds.  As with the essence of maya as a concept, there is no realistic description or quantification of maya. The debate of contradictions can continue endless but this blog post has a different take on maya as the core of a uniquely Indian enigma, MAYA.    
MAYA, the four dimensional concept     
There are four parts of the Indian tradition that have not been evident in any other civilization, from so many centuries ago and in a deeply scientific manner. These are Mythology, Ayurveda, Yoga and Astrology, making for an acronym MAYA. What connects these four heritage domains of India is a great and powerful thread of logical emotion, respect for the Divine, holistic understanding of human body and mind, and discovery and application of science in an age in which people had nothing to help in analysis and computation except the mind and fingers. As more and more scientific concepts get validated, reflecting the knowledge embedded in MAYA, it is clear that the Indian forefathers imagined and analyzed several centuries ago what modern science is now focusing on. Probably, a bit of this is true of other oriental civilizations but the Asian civilization does have a strong shade of the exquisite Indian MAYA.

MAYA for the modern Indian is a tradition, deeply ingrained in the psyche despite all his or her external trappings. MAYA, as a framework, ought to govern the emotional and physical health of an Indian as an integrated paradigm. What is equally important, however, is the logical and scientific fervor, and also possibly years of research, that has gone into establishing these four domains of knowledge. Envisioning, strategizing, perfection, accuracy, attention and discipline, and several other virtuous aspects that are required to be a part of modern day thinking, and critically viewed as missing in the current Indian way to an extent, had all been integral parts of the MAYA framework. Even more importantly, these have been carried through generations and across centuries without any modern means of communication such as printed paper! Clearly, there was far more competence in the Indian ethos than is apparent today. A deeper look at each of the MAYA components reveals that.
Every religion and nation has its mythology. But no nation or religion has the mythological diversity as the Hindu religious mythology has. Mahabharatam (scripted by Maharshi Veda Vyasa, in and around 1600 BC, in fact believed to be dictated to Lord Ganesh), Ramayanam (written by Maharshi Valmiki, in and around 200 BC) and Bhagavatham (also by Maharshi Veda Vyasa) are three of the great epics (oe Puranams), and so are several other mini-epics of diverse Indian cultures. They are more than epic stories of divinity, statecraft or governance; they are principles of human and family dynamics in all dimensions, including the emergence of evil, nurturing of good, and the triumph of the good over evil. Purely from a scientific viewpoint,  one must also admire the great imagination that brought in, several centuries ago, the concepts of darting arrows (villu and ambu), flying chariots (pushpaka vimanam), and virtual reality (maya sabha), which are the scientific discoveries of the very recent generations. As we go contemporaneous, the society must start abhorring the evil and accepting the good so that the modern society can be built and developed more on togetherness and collaboration rather than on craftiness and jealousies. Every Indian must wonder if the ancient society could visualize such dramatic scientific apparatus, with nothing except the power of mind, why the modern Indian cannot visualize new products with all the knowledge and tools now available!
Ayurveda is the ancient Indian science of natural healing. It understands the body through its natural phases and cures it through the natural plants and herbs. Several compounds developed or now understood by modern medicine have been of integral use as the traditional Indian herbs and spices. While a few like turmeric and cinnamon may have captured greater fancy, every herb and spice used in the Indian cooking has had a curative or wellness property. More importantly, the combination of such natural food ingredients with an ayurvedic way of dealing with the body toxins makes ayurveda a holistic science. Equally relevant are the various Indian food styles which have certain certain scientific rationale, in terms of the recipes and sequences. Unfortunately, while so much research goes into the Greek mediterranean diet or  the Japanese Okinawa diet, practically no research gets done on the various types of Indian diet and their impact on human health. In fact, without understanding the subtle nuances of the Indian dietary systems, there is a tendency to blame them uni-dimensionally. It is time that Indian institutes and laboratories start understanding the Indian dietary systems and ingredients. Just as another example, something as traditional as Ugadi Pachadi (a special offering prepared on the occasion of the Telugu New Year) has significant scientific logic! Charaka (in and around 300 BC) wrote the ayurvedic medical treatise Charaka Samhita while Sushruta (in and around 600 BC) wrote the ayurvedic surgical treatise and Vagbhata (in and around 600 BC) wrote Ashtanga Hridayam and Ashtanga Sangraha.
Yoga probably is the most universally popular components of the Indian tradition. It has two important dimensions. Yoga as the Hindu philosophy teaches one how to control one’s body and mind in the belief that one can become united with the spirit of the universe through that. It also represents a system of scientific exercises for one’s body and for controlling one’s breathing, to become more relaxed and fitter, synergistically. While it is so well appreciated and accepted, its adoption by the educated class, let alone the common man, in India has been extremely wanting. People seeking fitness are open to running on tread mills for hours but are unwilling to spend a few minutes on the all-curative yoga. Integration of yoga in the curriculum of students from the primary school stage, integrating yoga in physical therapy courses, offering specialized yoga courses leading to diplomas, making yoga studios part of all fitness centres, and developing community yoga centres could be a holistic strategy to make yoga an integral part of everyone’s daily life. Maharshi Patanjali (in and around 400 BC) probably wrote the greatest of the Yogic texts.
Nothing demonstrates the ancient Hindu knowledge and competencies in mathematics, physics and natural phenomena more than the Hindu astrology. Astrology plays an integral part of every devout Hindu’s life, from birth to death, and for individual activities or family matters. It is based on the premise that the positioning and movement of heavenly bodies, including the grahas (or planets) have significant impact on the lives and living. While a part of the scientific community fails to accept astrology, especially the predictive astrology, the population as a whole has total or subtle beliefs in the Hindu astrology. More than the outcomes, and the rituals, the exact science used by the Hindu sages (Sages Agastya and Bhrigu, in and around 2500 BC) and the Hindu mathematicians and astronomers (Arya Bhatta and Varaha Mihira, in and around 500 and 550 AD, respectively) in developing the Hindu astrology without any scientific and technical aids whatsoever is truly amazing. While being respectful and reverential to astrology as a spiritual science and religious branch, it is equally important to recognize the power of the human mind to undertake complex calculations and develop sophisticated theorems all by itself. The spirit and science of astrology would continue to strengthen the scientific way.
MAYA: less of illusion, more of power
We started off with the semantics of maya as being reflective of two most important concepts of several concepts relating to the word in the Hindu tradition. The review of the four components of Mythology, Ayurveda, Yoga and Astrology, as above, suggests these four together as MAYA represent a deeply embedded nature-driven and scientifically sharp holistic approach to human living. Even as Indians must learn modern curricula and contemporary skill-sets to be relevant in a global scenario, the traditional knowledge base and application practice of MAYA must continue to be promoted and revived with greater understanding from the Indian society and the Indian governments. This blog post could touch upon only a few of the ancient Indian works, several scores remain to be mentioned in various Indian languages. Institutes dedicated to traditional Indian studies could revive this process. Eventually, India will need more than one Nalanda University to support the process. Each State would need an Institute for bringing the best of the embedded traditional Indian knowledge into the bodies and minds of the Indian society, for greater good and sharper focus towards growth and equity.   
Posted by Dr CB Rao on March 30, 2014     

(Note: Any mistakes or approximations in the mentions, in this blog post, of the periods of the great Indian sages, writers and experts of the previous centuries may kindly be excused)   

Sunday, March 23, 2014

From Product Life Cycle to Process Life Cycle: The Need for a Paradigm Shift in Managerial Thinking

Amongst several managerial concepts, the concept of Product Life Cycle has been one of the most enduring concepts. The concept is based on the fact that every product goes through four distinct phases of introduction, growth, maturity and decline in its life. A product’s life journey is depicted by a curve which is plotted on the two axes of time (X-axis) and sales volume/value (Y-axis). The nature of the product life cycle curve varies based on the nature of the product, the firm and the industry. While the level of innovation in a product determines the extent of introduction and growth phases, the level of competitiveness and competition determines the onset and extent of maturity and decline phases. All firms would like to shorten but spike up the introduction phase, enhance and extend the growth phase, delay and sustain the maturity phase and preferably avoid, and if unavoidable supplement the decline phase with a new product life cycle.

Ideally, product life cycles occur in waves. As one product moves into the latter half of its growth phase, the agile and innovative firm would seek to bring a new product (complementary or substitute) into the introduction phase. An overlapping wave structure of product life cycles moving with time ensures that a firm retains market dominance, with a portfolio of products. Firms which are market-savvy and technology driven are in a continuous quest for product life cycle optimization, including extending product life cycle through product improvements in the maturity phase of the life cycle. There tend to be cases, of course, when it would be either infeasible or unviable to stay with an outdated product beyond a particular time point and below a particular sales volume/value. Firms are so focused on developing, improving and replacing products that they miss another important aspect of all human and organizational endeavor, which the author of this blog post would call the Process Life Cycle.
Product-process nexus
When the word “process” is mentioned in technical or administrative discussions, the intended, implied and absorbed reference tends to be on typical operational or organizational process, be it functional or administrative. Processes do get improved, but often with newer equipment; to mention two examples, machining of components is improved with newer, high tolerance machining centers while analysis of a food ingredient is improved with newer, more sophisticated analytical equipment. As new products get developed, often requirement arises for new materials and new processes; to mention two examples again, radiation therapy is improved with newer, high precision diagnosis of malignant tumors while the pharmaceutical product is rendered more efficacious with a new delivery system. The process-product nexus is often in terms of improved development, manufacture or delivery of the product.
The less visible product-process nexus is in terms of how a product forms a part of a larger process network. There are four aspects to this in terms of changes to products and processes. The first is that products change but processes do not; an example is one of computer replacing a typewriter but the office documentation processes remaining unchanged. The second is that products do not change but the processes change; an example is one of computer remaining the same but paper transmission moving from facsimile to scanned electronic transmission. The third is that neither products nor processes change; examples are some of the basic needs such as writing instruments and writing. The fourth is that both products and processes change; an example is one of land phone becoming a smart phone and it becoming a medical companion and communicator. This phenomenon of both product and process clearly is the most important combination for continued progress. It is important to note that like products, processes also must have life cycles of their own to drive totalistic progress.    
Process life cycle
Like products, processes also should be deemed to have a concept of life cycle. It is, however, not one of introduction, growth, maturity and decline as is the case of product life cycle. The stages of process life cycle are improvement, optimization, stabilization and substitution. Every process intrinsically cries out for improvement. Some improvements are driven by learning efficiencies while some are driven by new products. A housewife improves the cooking process by experience on one hand, and use of modern kitchen gadgets on the other hand, for example. An improved process leads to optimization. Optimization involves continuous experimentation to arrive at the optimum combination of products and learning efficiencies to ensure the best possible quality, consistency and stability in the processes. A skilled housewife knows, for example, which products and processes are best suited for particular recipes.
Stabilization is that phase which lets an optimized process remain in a state of control. The way a restaurant works to deliver a standardized menu, day after day, is an example of a stable process. Substitution represents a phase where dramatic changes take place transforming the very essence of the process. The first time a pressure cooker entered the kitchen, the microwave changed the way of cooking or an automated food making equipment line entered the restaurant space represented a substitutive process, in each case. Each of the four phases of process life cycle has certain unique characteristics in terms of change management. In the improvement phase, users are typically experimental, in the optimization phase analytical, in the stabilization phase contended and in the substitution phase impatient. It is important for firms to be cognizant of the market expectations as they seek to understand and define process life cycles.
Life cycle synergy
The interplay between product and process life cycles is a critical factor in sustainable development. In an ideal scenario, there must be a one-to-one correspondence between the four phases of product life cycle (which are necessarily sequential) and the four phases of process life cycle (which are not necessarily sequential). Achieving this consonance is a great challenge because while the product life cycle can be responded to by the firm with product development actions, process life cycle typically has to contend with several internal and external factors. To illustrate the opportunity and challenge of internal consonance, let us take the example of a green-field automobile project that is to be established. It is easy to adopt the most advanced manufacturing equipment and utility services to turn out the most advanced cars but this exercise tends to be largely a matter of comparison and choice from among the available equipment. However, the adoption of the right phase of process life cycle of automobile operations, in terms of improvement and optimization, requires a different thinking in terms of layouts, utilization of space and people practices. Such an effort would, however, be well worth the effort.  The above is an example of an operational process leveraging the new products of equipment industry to deliver greater value through people and practices.
To illustrate the opportunity and challenge of external consonance, within the same industry, let us take the example of a driverless car as a new product. For even a nominal introduction phase, the customer segments, at the minimum, have to be prepared to be experimental and seeking improvements. If the customers are in stabilized phase, it is unlikely that the driverless car would receive the required reception. On the other hand, if urban traffic systems become chaotic with bumper to bumper, unsafe driving conditions and inordinately long travel times, the transportation process life cycle would be in the substitution phase, welcoming a driverless car. Understanding and driving change in the life processes tends to be a key success factor in the evolution of well matched product life cycles. Product evolution racing ahead or trailing behind process life cycle could lead to dissonance. Reverting to another example, could there be an automated kitchen gain acceptance with the homemaker by itself? Would a completely automated homemaking product be a better solution for the homemaker? Quite unlikely, without the homemaker being driven to completely reconfigure as to how she would prepare ingredients, cook recipes, and store the cooked food in the first case, and how she would ensure a safe, efficient automated networked home from remote location even while at work or on travel . A high level of readiness in substitution phase of the homemaking process life cycle would be required for new automated home solutions.
User psychology, process cycle
The common view is that product drives process or that users get enamored by products. For example, had not high end photography been brought to simple cameras and smart phones would photography have come to the hands of common people or more importantly would social networking with photo walls and video clips have been possible? The superficial view thus is that product drives the process or consumer choice. The truth, however, is that the innovative product designer imagines the new process and designs the product for such new process. Very often, the designer, and the firm in the overall, will need to create an ecosystem of materials, equipment, accessories and applications, in fact a total process ecosystem, to make the idea work. Once this is done, it becomes the responsibility of the marketer to enable the users discover the benefits of the new product-process ecosystem. Not many firms understand, however, understand how the product and process life cycles are intertwined in terms of the user psychology.
The user psychology has four components of exploration, experience, choice and acquisition. From a manufacturing process that is validated in the shop floor to a home asset acquisition that gets completed in the realty market, the four components of user psychology drive the process life cycle. While single window is an oft repeated concept, very few firms shape the process life cycles around the user psychology. The success of today’s mighty global technology firms such as Google (as the global search engine) as well as the new homegrown startups such as redBus (as the bus ticket provider in India) is based on leveraging the process life cycle concepts with the right awareness of user psychology. The difference between successful firms and not so successful ones as well as between successful societies and not so successful societies is anchored on how well they understand the importance of process life cycle (as compared to just a product life cycle) and imagine and shape successive waves of new process life cycles. While all this may appear to be serious essay stuff, the simple message for firms, both startup and grown up, is to perceptively imagine a new process life cycle that satisfies the user psychology on an ongoing basis – product successes would follow almost as a corollary!
Posted by Dr CB Rao on March 23, 2014

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dispassionate Analysis and Passionate Execution: The Winning Combination for Optimal Outcomes

Business and administrative organizations are constantly focused on positive outcomes. The outcomes vary across organizations but there exist some common threads. Business organizations look for growth with profitability. Administrative organizations look for development with equity. Executives delivering business activities and officers taking administrative actions depend on certain visions, strategies, plans, policies, systems and processes (collectively, the Organizational Processes) to achieve results. Many times, however, despite considerable academic and practical knowledge, executives are often at a loss to understand why all the Organizational Processes, or simply the Processes, do not deliver the intended outcomes. In fact, it is the differential performance on the Processes that determines why some organizations tend to be more competitive and successful than others.

In parallel to this, there is an oft held belief that if passion is injected into the Processes, the outcomes would be efficient and effective. This is, however, only partially true. In an organizational context, passion is a strong feeling of belief for, and enthusiasm on, something, mostly an outcome. People with passion are easily differentiated from those who lack passion. People with passion lead others while people without passion merely manage, at best. Passion, however, is not an all-inclusive mantra. Competency constitutes the basic platform for performance while passion provides the additional thrust. Even so, competency and passion, even if together, do not still explain the differential performance in firms possessing similar competency-passion profiles. The reason, probably, lies in passion itself. As we have seen, passion has a strong emotional component of belief and faith. In human endeavor, there exist some activities that are moved by faith and belief but there are quite a few others where passion is not required, and could even be counterproductive.
Passion with balance
Human traits are multifaceted. At the core of one’s performance lies competency. Competency is acquired over the years as a result of aptitude; an innate and natural preference to acquire certain specific types of knowledge and skills, and operate in certain specific domains. When passion is built on both aptitude and competency it becomes a tremendously positive force driving positive performance. If there is a lack of such alignment, for example passion without aptitude and competency or vice versa, the performance outcomes would be poorer. Passion to be a leader works but it would be even better if the leader has genuine aptitude for, and competency in, his or her field of performance. Similarly, high aptitude and competency may not be effectively translated into the full potential of performance without passion. Ability to introspect where one’s aptitude, competency and passion lie is an important component of one’s leadership journey.

In leadership journey, no leader can usually be successful unless he or she is truly passionate. At the same time, all passionate leaders need not necessarily be successful. The reason lies in the characteristic of passion itself, which is the determination to pursue an activity or execute a project till the desired outcome is achieved, and the willingness to undergo any personal or professional sacrifice in this pursuit. A mindless pursuit of passion can lead to an emotional overinvestment in causes that have outlived, much to the detriment of business. Passion requires the balance of logic and perspective to ensure that the business or administrative purpose is not lost sight of. If these filters are not applied in passionate pursuits, the changed reality may be lost sight of, or more dangerously reality itself may be viewed in a distorted manner.  Healthy passion for one’s business or administration brings clarity of purpose and focus, and leads to sustainable growth.  To understand how balance in passion could work, we have to dwell on the two core processes of the typical human mind: analysis and execution, which form the core pillars of all business and administrative action.
Analysis and execution 
We have defined Organizational Processes as being visions, strategies, plans, policies, systems and processes. Of these, the first three require, and support, the faculty of analysis in a significant manner. The last three require, and enable, the faculty of execution. Analysis is the faculty of understanding the nature and structure of anything. Analysis involves the ability to grapple with multiple data points and develop patterns that aid decision making. Analysis is not only about quantitative parts of business or administration. Analysis also is relevant for intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects, including feelings and relationships. While conceptualization, the faculty of forming an idea or a construct, is an important faculty, it is the analytical faculty that develops rational pathways to achieve business or administrative objectives. Analysis is one of the critical faculties that continuously occur in human mind, even as all other faculties from conceptualization to execution keep working. Probably, only the level of analysis would vary across people; but some analysis is integral to every human being.
Execution is a faculty that enables people undertake a task in a structured and skilled manner. While analysis leads one to arrive at what could be appropriate decisions considering available inputs, execution enables implementation of the decisions. Vision without strategy, strategy without plan and plan without execution would remain as pipedreams. The way to outcomes is through execution. Execution requires all of the Processes that are mentioned herein. The better formed they are, the better would be the execution. Successful companies take their time in putting the Processes in place prior to execution. Probably the best model to describe this is the way a construction project gets done, from architectural vision through construction strategy to engineering plan that are executed as per construction policies, systems and processes. In construction projects it is understood that unless all the six elements of the Processes are in place, construction cannot be flagged off, except at the project’s or people’s peril. Unfortunately, the same does not seem to be the case in respect of ordinary business and administration projects.  
Dispassionate analysis   
Contrary to popular perception that analysis and execution are sequential, they are in fact integral to each other. Analysis would be unfocused if the desired outcomes and execution capabilities are not kept in perspective. Execution could lead to wrong results if contemporaneous realities are not taken into account. Analysis requires dispassion and execution requires passion, and both analysis and execution require each other. It is easy to get biased while undertaking analysis; bias that gets influenced by one’s own past successes and failures or others’ current successes or failures. As an example, if an airliner is passionate about being a leader in the Indian airlines industry, despite the inherent loss-making and consolidation, such an airliner, despite its losses, could still place multi-billion orders for new aircraft! If one is dispassionate about ensuring profitable growth in a bleeding industry, the same low-cost airliner would apportion just a minute fraction of the multi-billion capital investment to several on-ground and in-sky investments to improve user experience and win customer loyalty on considerations other than crash fares.
In perpetually evolving industries with fast changing technologies, yesterday’s execution passion could be today’s outcome liability while being dispassionately analytical could be an asset. Being dispassionate means a state that is not influenced by emotion and an ability to take a calm and impartial view of things. Nokia’s decision to embrace Android operating system (for low and mid range phones) despite its rejection earlier in favor of Windows (which continues all across the smart phone range) is an example of being dispassionate about the past, and objective about new decisions. Microsoft’s reported decision to license its Windows OS for free for select emerging markets is yet another example of dispassionate analysis. While some may dismiss such decisions as mere opportunistic plays or practical exigencies, the truth remains that such decisions have strategic import and cannot be taken without dispassionate analysis. Dispassionate analysis enables leaders in some cases steer clear of emotional overinvestment in strategy and execution that could have lost their utility, and in other cases compensate for the underinvestment in opportunities that emerge from time to time unanticipated.
Passionate execution
Execution gains immensely from the Processes being in place in an organization. Passionate execution overcomes the limitations in the Processes. The high performance of entrepreneurial startups is driven by passionate execution. So is the completion, against odds, of complex construction and infrastructure projects. The successful execution of Delhi Metro Rail is attributed to the passion of its Chief, E Sreedharan.  The successful development of India’s first indigenous car by Tata Motors is attributed to the shared passion of Ratan Tata, its Chairman, and V Sumatran, its Chief Designer.  Yet, successful execution, however passionate, also requires continuous dispassionate analysis. Nothing illustrates this requirement more than the surgeon undertaking a surgery. Prior to commencing a surgery, the surgeon would have all the Processes laid out, and assimilated but when he or she opens up the abdomen or the chest in the conventional way or peeps inside the skull with robotic assistance, he or she could face a completely unexpected situation. Successful surgery under such a circumstance requires not only passion to save the patient but also dispassionate analysis that balances a new reality with the pre-formulated hypothesis.  
Leadership journey would be truly rewarding for organizations and their leaders when their passion for execution is balanced by dispassion in analysis, and their relentless focus on execution is accompanied by a continuous update with analysis. Professionally, analysts and executors could be different specialists but in leadership they are one and the same. If leadership is one of managing paradoxes, the most challenging paradox is one of reconciling passion and dispassion in one’s own leadership personality. This does not come easy; requires a high degree of reflection and introspection on one hand and a healthy respect for value of alternatives and the value of time on the other. Certain leaders are able to manage the paradox by having leaders around them who have dominant streaks of these attributes, and collaboratively manage them for effectiveness. Whether a leader achieves such balance of passion and dispassion singularly or through the leadership team could be a matter of choice but to ensure an appreciation, across the organization, of the winning combination of passionate execution and dispassionate analysis for optimal outcomes is mandatory to ensure sustainable growth and profitability of business organizations as well as development with equity of social organizations.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on March 16, 2014  

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Leading Without Title Versus Leading With Stature: The Real Essence of Leadership

In Chennai, on March 2, 2014, the popular new-age leadership guru and executive coach, Robin Sharma led a leadership coaching session titled “Leading without Titles”. The program was reportedly a sellout. Given the obsession of organizations as well as individuals with titles, one would think that there could not be a more apt program for the times that are we in. The historical evolution of the modern organization has verily been accompanied by an increasing engagement on the importance of organizational structures and the accompanying titles. This, by no means, is confined to corporate organizations; the Dictatorial State as well as the Democratic State and the Mutt of the Hinduism as well as the Church of the Western Christianity all have their own structures and titles. In fact, any organization that has more than one person faces the practical and legal requirements of organizational structure and title.

According to Robin Sharma, in many ways, the whole idea behind Leading Without a Title is the democratization of leadership. Robin acknowledges that positions are important to the smooth running of any organization (whether that organization is a business or a community or a family). Having said that, he proposes that the new model of leadership is all about every single stakeholder showing leadership in the work he or she does. As per his model of distributed leadership every single person owns the responsibility of showing leadership at his or her craft. Every single teammate is the CEO of his or her own small business unit called job. Traditional organizational experts referred to grassroots leadership but clearly Robin gave the concept deft posturing. All this is easier said than achieved, though. For example, in a true leadership program on being led without titles, Robin would have been one among equals, at least by the end of his conference; but not unnaturally, I am told, he continued to be the leader!


Robin Sharma, in his popular work “The Leader Who Had No Title: A Modern Fable on Real Success” postulates that in business and in life, anyone can be a leader. According to him, too many people go to work with the mindset that to be a leader they need to work their way up the company ladder, get the title or position they seek, and then they can be leaders. This is the wrong approach, according to Sharma. The book is written in a business fable style with a story that is engaging. The leadership principles that emerge out of the narration make the book worth reading. Sharma proposes self-leadership as the foundation principle of his hypothesis. Anyone who understands the concept of self-leadership can lead regardless of his or her official title in an organization. According to Sharma, “leaders are those individuals who do the things that failures aren’t willing to do…; too many people pay the sad costs of mediocrity and forego the spectacular rewards of being a leader”.

In the story told by Robin Sharma, the main character (Blake) has conversations with four unorthodox leaders. Each of these individuals works in a position that — based on conventional wisdom — would not be considered a leadership position. Each conversation brings out key principles that can help “ordinary” people become true leaders: The first is that to lead without a title on has to be persistent and courageous. The second is that challenging times are opportunities to learn and transform. The third is that the deeper the relationships, the stronger the leadership. The fourth is that a great leader has to be fundamentally a great person. Robin Sharma proposes a repertoire of principles, tools and techniques to achieve that, which is probably his business of leadership development. Much of his leadership kit focuses on self-awareness and self-discipline. There is a strong oriental approach with Robin that emphasizes introspection as the foundation for development, which resonates strongly with this blog post.

Stature, the leadership driver

Stature is the importance and respect that a person has because of his or her ability and achievements. In social life, title follows achievement, and in some cases precedes it as well; but stature follows distinctive ethos and accomplishment. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was called Mahatma Gandhi as a result of his stature (Mahatma, in Sanskrit, denotes a person who is respected for his distinctive greatness). As a leader who won independence for India Mahatma Gandhi is called the Father of the Nation. Stature does not come easy; it involves several distinctive capabilities as Mahatma Gandhi’s life demonstrates. From a leadership perspective, how stature gets developed is more fully described in my blog post titled, “Mahatma Gandhi: Ten Leadership Lessons”, Strategy Musings, October 2, 2013 ( From a corporate organizational perspective, the concept of stature has certain implications.

Firstly, stature matters at all levels in an organization; from frontline executive to top level chief executive. Secondly, institutions and individuals reinforce each other’s status. Thirdly, stature inspires confidence, and motivates acceptance and/or followership. Fourthly, stature requires probity. Fifthly, stature is built on positive performance, and is lost on negative performance. A campus-fresh executive is judged by the status of the institution he or she hails from. At the same time, much as graduates are judged by the institutions, their performance in business or life adds stature to the institutions. IITs and IIMs are symbolic of the mutual stature building, with several top honchos getting early career traction due to the institutional stature and institutions gaining from the leadership achievements of their alumni. More recently, for example, Nadella’s elevation as the CEO of Microsoft added lustre to his alma mater, Manipal University. There is strong element of honesty and ethics in stature as much as, or even more than, performance.

Stature-title conundrum

From a logical perspective, statures and titles in an organization would need to be positively correlated. People of high stature should be occupying positions of high titles. As a corollary, people in high positions should be those with high stature. Simple as it may seem, the relationship between stature and title in an organization defies easy understanding. Not all persons of stature tend to be title seekers or position seekers; Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Theresa, for example. In certain cases, positions may require acts not in consonance with the stature. In national governance, for example, one may need to act independent of a recognized stature to remain or manage affairs at the helm. In certain other cases, the higher titles may not match the preferences of the statured individuals.  In academics, for example, the most accomplished or most statured professor may not accept the position of director of an institution due to a dislike for non-academic, administrative work.

The conundrum becomes a conflict when the ecosystems fail to recognize true stature, in terms of separating individual brilliance (or lack of it) from institutional brilliance (or lack of it) and bestow titles not commensurate with the statures. The conundrum becomes a conflict when the ecosystems confuse stature (or lack of it) with expertise (or lack of it), or vice versa. The conundrum becomes a self-limiting constraint when ecosystems are so constrained in culture, scale and scope that they cannot accommodate several individuals of stature. The conundrum becomes an intellectual riddle when ecosystems consider that stature implies statesmanship and wisdom while title requires go-getting and risk-taking performance. The stature-title conundrum in all such facets would look unmanageable when leadership is viewed as being all about getting results but would certainly be resolvable when leadership is viewed as being about building the stature of the institution as much as about accomplishing results.

Aligning stature and title

Clearly, every virtuous organization must aim to align and integrate stature and title. The Art of Living Foundation has the founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar with the highest stature in the institution also being at the helm. In fact, it is interesting that organizations dedicated to philosophy, spirituality, religion or theology are able to achieve alignment and integration of stature and title. Other organizations seem to reconcile themselves to a perceived inability to align stature and title, and appear to resort to alternative structures to accommodate the perceived dichotomy between stature and title. The separation of an apolitical President position and a political Prime Minister position in national governance is an example. The separation of a “wise” Chairman position from a “smart” CEO position in corporate leadership or constitution of a board of directors made up of persons of stature for corporate governance are examples of such alternatives to align and integrate stature and title in commercial organizations.

Returning to the starting point of this blog post, it may be possible to lead without titles but it would be impossible to lead without stature. That is because leadership is about not only competencies to lead people, organizations and businesses for smart performance but also about stature to assure them for good governance. Under the model of distributed leadership or self-leadership, it would be necessary for individuals to acquire stature in their domains of work from the very early stage of their careers, and build on them progressively and consistently. Performance may be measured by metrics but stature can only be experienced. That certain firms, conglomerates and leaders have superior statures compared to others even with greater scale and scope is a fact that means accomplishment that captures the imagination and trust of a broad sweep of population, be it of organizations or societies. Despite all the challenges discussed herein, organizations in their quest for virtuosity must seek to align and integrate statures with titles.  

Posted by Dr CB Rao on March 9, 2014     




Sunday, March 2, 2014

Technological Efficiency + Financial Sufficiency = Sustainable Growth: From Startup to Ramp-up, the Winning Formula for Corporate Sustainability

The week of February 17, 2014 was notable for the eye-popping occurrence of the Facebook - WhatsApp deal. That a technology startup, which achieved a user base of 450 million through its private messenger service in just three years, could garner a deal value of USD 19 billion is certainly amazing. Yet, Mark Zuckerberg, the Founder-CEO of Facebook went on record to say that WhatsApp was worth much more. Analysts say that the acquisition was a reasoned attempt by Facebook to stay relevant to the younger generation which has part moved away from its infatuation with Facebook and part is taken in by the exclusivity, privacy and snappiness of WhatsApp. While the Facebook - WhatsApp deal has attracted huge interest, one cannot overlook certain other past technology deals of similar eye-popping nature of their times.  The deals, in fact, are indicative of an interesting dimension of the technology companies – despite their rapidly ramped up scales and large market capitalizations they remain respectful of the value the technologically savvy startups can bring to the future businesses.  

The more prominent of the past technology deal history has been the Google - YouTube deal. When Google acquired YouTube in October 2006 at a deal value of USD 1.65 billion, many thought that it was a risky foray by Google into a disorganized and often self-compelling online video streaming service. Yet, YouTube has emerged to be one of the most successful technology acquisitions ever, and probably the most notable amongst all of Google products, aside of the core Google search engine product. Equally important but not so well known has been Google’s acquisition of the Android mobile operating system startup in August 2005 for an undisclosed sum. Android has since raced, under Google, to become the most dominant mobile operating system, overtaking iOS of Apple. Other notable deals are Microsoft - Hotmail (December 1997, USD 500 million), Microsoft - Skype (May 2011, USD 8.5 billion), Google - Instagram (April 2012, USD 1 billion) and Yahoo - Tumblr  (August 2013, USD 1.1 billion) acquisitions, each with its compelling logic. These deals, which are only a few of the several scores of the deals that have happened, and which will no doubt be followed by several others of such unique nature, signify certain important lessons for corporate sustainability.
Technology bets as game changers 
Many of such amazing acquisitions are seen to be bets placed by the acquirers on promising startup technologies and rapidly revving up businesses. When such technologies succeed in shaping new user functionalities and behaviors, more especially and more strongly under financially stronger acquirers, they become truly game changing, as technologies themselves, and for the acquirers’ businesses. While they seem to be technology bets, they actually signify a wise appreciation by the larger acquiring firms of the futility of trying to organically emulate the successful startups against a background of the need for such new technological functionalities. When a technology ceases to be a futuristic bet and instead becomes a business booster is a case by case occurrence.
From a strategy perspective, acquisition of such promising niche technologies and businesses is validated by the superior performance of such acquired entities and acquiring firms, post such acquisitions. All these acquisitions point to such technology bets becoming game changers. Some of these have been huge bets in a technological sense (technology was not yet proven but the acquirer placed the bet with financial ease) while some have been huge bets in a financial sense (technology was well proven but the acquirer placed rather high financial bid). In the former category we have Google’s acquisition of an unproven Android at a relatively low price while in the latter case we have Facebook’s acquisition of the popular WhatsApp at a very hefty price tag. It is also interesting that in most cases, the branding of the acquired entities continued to be maintained indicating that niche technologies have their market followings and brand equities.
Breakthrough ideas are non-linear
Conventional strategies tend to be anchored around linear development of technologies and businesses. For example, if email was successful in the 1990s as a popular niche technology of instant communication, all subsequent efforts focused on making the email more powerful and more collaborative, for example an Outlook version.  If Facebook wove an expanding open social community, Google+ attempted to build multiple circles of communities. Successful technologies tend to be non-linear, however. Twitter achieved success with the 140 character instantaneous brevity of messaging. WhatsApp achieved success through texting service that is both free and private. Both also built rapidly expanding communities of users. A motor pump can be continuously improved for performance and power consumption, including multi-stage draw of water and graded power consumption. A water submersible pump, however, is a breakthrough technological idea. A laptop battery charger can be continuously improved for the charging efficiency, power consumption and form factor. A technology which draws back the laptop’s heat and recharges the battery would be a niche technology.
Sometimes non-linear ideas have their roots in the basic and oft forgotten natural configurations. Most of the Internet firms and search engine firms are dependent on vast server farms, established on vast tracts of land. Tesla’s electric car revolution would hinge on a massive battery factory ("giga factory”) with adjacent solar and wind farms, making Tesla as much a huge power storage company as a premium electric vehicle company. In future, just as Sun provides free solar power as nature’s gift to the mankind, manmade satellites may be designed and launched to provide wifi connectivity all over the world. Technologists and business persons may, in future, learn more from nature with inventiveness, and offer new public services with affordability and humility. Conventionally, technologies have tended to influence new user lifestyles. Non-linear technologies would increasingly tend to align with human body as well as nature to develop game changing products and services. Newer technologies would follow human thoughts and physical capabilities to invent new niche products that could improve human life and environmental management in an almost limitless manner.
Technological efficiency, financial sufficiency
Embracing a niche idea to serve life or nature, converting the idea to a product using new or existing technology and influencing customers to use them is often in the capability of technology-driven startup firms. Large firms have the ability to innovate new products in a linear fashion, for example from simple Positron Emission Tomography (PET) to PET combined with Computed Tomography (CT) or with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). In each combination, the number of slices could increase across generations of equipment (say, from 64 to 360) or the efficiency of 3 D imaging could be enhanced. These developments are best done by the medical equipment giants such as GE, Philips and Hitachi. However, the very basis of PET in the past had been university level researches in the late 1950s (University of Pennsylvania, Washington University School of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital and Brookhaven National Laboratory, for example).
Futuristic radical biomedical technologies in this domain could be non-linear. Nuclear medicine and imaging studies require a radio-isotope tracer (or, a radio pharmaceutical) being injected into the blood stream for imaging. If there were to be new technologies that make a constituent of the blood itself or the blood volume and flow rate themselves descriptors of the imaging study, there could emerge a totally new generation of non-interventionist, bio-friendly non-nuclear medical diagnostic equipment. Newer, non-linear technologies in any domain make for efficiency. However, technological efficiency requires financial sufficiency to germinate and grow.  As seen by the PET example, public funding of such universities and research grants made such technological innovation possible. However, firms which licensed the technologies had the financial capability to mass-produce the products and also achieve increasing levels of technological efficiency in such equipment. In a technologically virtuous world, there would be far more number of technology ideas than individual funding opportunities. The academic, industrial and business ecosystems must evolve in a manner of combining technological efficiency and financial sufficiency.
From startup to ramp-up, from passion to fusion
The above discussion brings us back to the examples that were reviewed at the beginning of this blog post. Successful startups have technological efficiency but they need financial solvency to validate their entrepreneurial theorems and ramp up their business models. While the examples quoted in this post are dramatic indicators of the practice and potential in the technology space, routinely hundreds of decrepit as well as robust startups get acquired or co-share and license their technologies to enable the growth of startups. It is a virtuous even if occasionally chaotic and brazenly capitalistic world as technological efficiency and financial sufficiency seek the synergy of each other. The point at which the synergistic marriage gets made in each case is a matter of considered judgment and reasoned risk-taking. Despite the virtuosity of this equation, many times lack of introspective ability on the part of the brilliant startups and the lack of prospective ability on the part of the financial behemoths act to derail the virtuous process.
Not to be outdone, big firms do try to set up mini-laboratories, incubators and venture teams to bring some of the startup innovation organically into their behemoth structures. However, behemoths tend to be more adept at scaling up product lines and businesses rapidly rather than patiently nurturing potential ideas and products. External startups would continue to be the most important resource for innovation and new business. The inventiveness and passion of the technologists and entrepreneurs would continue to be responsible for converting new ideas into innovative products and then onto scalable businesses. When inventiveness would mature into practicality and passion would accept fusion on the part of startups, and when institutional solidity would get flexed by respect for external technologies and clinical analytics would get overruled by futuristic visions on the part of corporate majors are the vital time-points of intersection for the startups and the acquiring firms, respectively. The equation of adding technological efficiency and financial solvency for sustainable growth delivers maximum value when the timing is right, and mutual competencies are well-understood, well-respected and well-supported in the pre- and post-acquisition scenarios.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on March 2, 2014