Our past may not determine our future…

Adapting is the key to the future

One of my ex colleagues called me up to check on how to deal with the current crisis. I told him that “ I don’t know” and that’s the truth. Although I have spent almost four decades working for the best corporations of India and the world, I have not come across a crisis of this type.

This is symptomatic of what the future has in store for us. Our future challenges cannot be solved based on past experiences. Our past may not be able to help us to solve the complexities of the future. It is as simple as the seasons in a year. In the past, we could predict, summer, winter, monsoon, spring and autumn. We could also predict when it will rain in our region. Now with climate change, nothing is predictable. It snows in Middle East and its hot in Europe, which nobody would have even dreamt.

Our life is not going to be very different. We may not be able to anticipate the future. The best of corporations with their intelligent employees and the best of artificial intelligence cannot anticipate the future. Someone has beautifully said that “ The future has a habit of suddenly and dramatically becoming the present..”. That is what is likely to happen. Who imagined a 21 day lockout in a country like India ?

Economic power or technological power may not be able to enable nations to find solutions for human problems. We can find a solution to a problem provided we understand what it is and how it going to impact us. What the current Covid crisis has taught us is that we neither can predict the future nor anticipate it. We have to adapt to the future as it evolves in front of us.

One of things we always talk in corporates is adaptability. It is this ability to adapt to change,which could enable organisations and individuals to cope with it. Even though we may not be able to anticipate or predict the change, we can develop the ability to adapt to it and steer it to our advantage.

All of us may have gone through multiple crises in our lives. Some of us manage it well and get over it fast and move on. While others may get sunk by the crisis and get stuck for the rest of their lives like sinking in quicksand. They can neither pull themselves out nor help others stuck in a similar crisis. The successful people find ways and means to adapt to the crisis and move on.

Organisations are no different. They are like a summation of individual behaviours. That is what we call the organisation culture. HR specialists and managers need to develop this adaptability as a special skill in their teams. If members panic and get sunk, then the organisation may never survive and thrive.

The other quality one can think of is Resilience. This is our ability to withstand a crisis without getting ruffled too much and bounce back. While we may not be able to anticipate a crisis of the Covid type even in the future, we can show resilience and bounce back sooner than others. Organisations which bounce back faster than their competitors are the ones who will succeed and not the ones who keep analysing what went wrong and how to deal with it in the future. This is because the future is no longer going be a reflection of the past.

As individuals, one great lesson this crisis has taught us is to be close to nature. Everything we have done to move away from nature has harmed us. The more we cut forests, build on lakes, dump garbage in the oceans, the more we may have to pay in the future. Individuals in the past fought for survival and growth. On the other hand, individuals in the future will fight for clean air, drinking water, healthy food and so on. These may appear basic today but may become extinct tomorrow if we do not get back to respect nature as we did in the past.

I am a born optimist. I believe this crisis will wake up the world forever. As nations, communities and individuals, we will be more conscious of our duties and responsibilities than in the past. We will create a future of our choice and try to evolve it to become predictable again.

Time to start is today. Let us as individuals commit to make one change in our personal lives. It could be as simple as carrying a cloth bag for all our purchases rather than dumping single use plastic, which is used as carry bags even today. It is not for governments to mandate anymore. It is for individuals to change our own behaviour.

As in the photo above, if you are rowing a boat in the ocean, adapting to the waves will be the key to success as a boatman can never anticipate the wind or waves on the sea.

S Ramesh Shankar

28th March 2020

What do I do post retirement ?

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Today it is exactly a year since I retired from corporate life. One of the oft repeated questions I am asked post my retirement from a professional career in March 2019 is “What do you do nowadays ?”. While it is a fair question to ask, my answer may bemuse you certainly. I seem to be more busy and occupied than during my corporate days.

Now to be specific on how my day is spent, let me share a typical day of mine nowadays post retirement. I get up up around 6 am and then after my morning ablutions, do yoga along with my spouse for about 45 minutes. This is followed by my morning coffee and then a nice nature walk in my campus along with my partner for half an hour.

Then I return home and after a sumptuous breakfast, I read three newspapers. This is a habit, which I pursued thanks to my daughter, who is a student of journalism. This habit is to get different perspectives on the same issue. So I read a business news paper and two newspapers – one generally supporting the government and one opposing it. This helps you get a balanced view of things happening around you. This takes about an hour.

Then I sip a cup of fresh brewed coffee and go to my study room to check my emails and also respond to any issues I am supposed to during the day. I also check my social media and linkedin account and post my responses. I tend to read a bit, when in mood to do so. This I do in a room facing green trees and the wind whistling past me along with birds singing their tunes.

I also meet young professionals in person or on call or video to answer career questions or any conflicts they are facing in their profession. This helps me to share my learnings with them.

It’s time for lunch and both me and my wife have home made lunch together and share our stories for the day. We also exchange information we may have got from different sources since morning which the other person may not have read or heard.

Then I check the news and other updates I get from friends and relatives on my social media accounts and also watch some videos etc before I soak into a healthy afternoon siesta for an hour. This refreshes me for the rest of the day and make me energetic again.

I now go around taking photos of my garden, birds, animals and plants and post some quizzes on social media to share my limited knowledge or to seek answers about things I do not know from my friends and relatives. Some days I skip the afternoon siesta if I have some interesting things to do.

I may also go out to the city for some shopping or meeting partners for my professional engagements. This helps me to be in touch with happenings in the professional world in which I spent the last four decades.

Now it is time to give back to society in some way. So I am busy with my residents welfare association doing some volunteering to improve our quality of life. Further to save water and power in our campus, we are also experimenting with some new techniques.

Nowadays, I have the time to visit friends and relatives in my city and other places and attend all family and social events. I also call on all elders and enquire about their health and well being. Spending time with my life long partner and helping her in her daily chores helps her relax and also gives me joy.

Then it is time to share my limited knowledge. So I am tutoring school kids of our neighbourhood on English, maths and science subjects. They are children of employees working in our campus and I love the sparkle in their eyes, when they speak to me in English. It is indeed a gratifying engagement.

Then my evening coffee and it is time for some sporting action on TV. It could be cricket, tennis, badminton, hockey or any other sport where India is participating. It gives me joy to see Indian sportspersons excelling around the world nowadays. On some days, I am watching a play or some music or dance programme to quench my interests in arts and culture.

I then go for a stroll again for another 30 minutes in the evening to relax and listen to nature at night. This also helps us share our insights during the day and plan for the next day.

Then dinner time followed by some and news and analysis on tv if it is of interest to me. I generally avoid tv except for sports nowadays. Then I also like to see news on cars and bikes from around the world and business updates.

Now it is time for bed and we do pranayama again together and thank God for bestowing us with everything in life and pray for the wellness and happiness of mankind before we have a good night sleep.

Now , you may wonder as to where I have the time to waste even post retirement. I should add that on days I travel out of station, I am driving my car for hundreds of kilometres a day and enjoying nature and environment around me as in the photo above at Hampi.

Is it time for you to retire and join me in this joyful life ?

PS: This blog was written of a typical day before the Covid crisis hit us.

S Ramesh Shankar

10th August 2019

Time to be human again…

The world is hit by a virus. The best of technology and human power is not able to combat this deadly virus. Human lives are being lost every day in thousands around the world due the impact of this virus. What lessons we can learn from this human catastrophe.

I decided that every day I will reflect on one limitation of myself and explore how I can change for the better in the future. Today, I will focus on the innumerable human beings who serve us from morning to night. Do we treat them as humans on equal footing like us or do we still continue to live in our glass houses ?

The outbreak of this virus taught us a lesson that social distancing is applicable for everyone. This virus does not discriminate based on nationality, caste, religion or state you belong to. It randomly impacts people who violate the guidance given by the medical professionals and the government authorities.

On the other hand, we as human continue to discriminate based on caste, religion, social status and nationality. Today let me go through a day in our lives and help us reflect on how many people impact our lives positively sacrificing their own welfare for the societal good.

Our day starts with the morning newspaper boy. He may be working beyond his education hours to earn that extra buck to support his family. We say let us stop the newspaper boy because he may spread the virus. Then the milkman. Imagine the milkman stopping supplies as he is worried about spread of the virus. Our day will begin on a sour note.

We stopped the maids, drivers and Gardners in our community when the lockdown began yesterday. There was a big hue and cry. The members felt that they could not survive without maids for a day. They wanted the maids to sanitise a million times a day but were least concerned about the maids getting impacted by the same virus. We have become so self centred that we want all services possible under the sun but we are least concerned about the health and welfare of maids, drivers and Gardners. As if, they are not human beings like any of us.

We want the sanitary workers to visit us everyday to collect the wet waste. We cannot find an organic way to compost the waste for a few days in a garden or even a pot inside the house. We may get impacted by wet waste inside the house but the sanitary workers are fully immune to all such infections.

Our lives are incomplete without cooks. How can we imagine cooking our own food or cutting our own vegetables ? How does it impact us if cooks are travelling in crowded buses and trains to help us out in our homes. After all it is their duty to serve us and not ours to care for them.

The list can go on. We have our security guards in our campuses who are working 24 x 7. We have municipal employees serving us. We have the utility employees, the police and most important the medical and health workers working round the clock to keep us safe and healthy. What are we doing in return ? In some communities, we are ostracising medical personnel and airlines staff as if they are coming back home only to spread the virus to us. We do not realise that they are putting their lives on the line to serve us day and night.

We as humans have to learn to be grateful to other human beings every day of our lives. No job is menial. No human is high or low. Everyone contributes to the happiness of mankind. We realise only when we pick up the brooms as to how difficult it is to clean the garden in front of our homes. If we put the wet waste in compost bins, we realise how much these workers sacrifice to keep our environs clean.

It is time to look within and change. Let us commit to treat every human being around us as human beings and respect whatever they do and be grateful to them.

S Ramesh Shankar

25th March 2020

Slow down before it is too late…

The Covid -19 virus attack around the world has helped people to forcibly slow down. I have always wondered why people are always on the fast lane especially in their career. The cut throat competition makes people sacrifice their life and family to stay ahead of the curve.

Let me be honest. I was no exception. I also ran the rat race till the age of 38, when suddenly an illness in the family shook me up. I used to spend extra hours at work and never worried too much about my family , friends or relatives. This incident not only shook me up but it changed my life.

I am not sure if it is worthwhile to run in this rate race called life. We need to get our priorities right. It is difficult to draw the line as to where work ends and family life begins. But it is worthwhile to do the same. After all, we all work to lead a happy and healthy life, enjoying ourselves with family and friends. What will we do with all the money we earn if we have no time left with family or friends to celebrate in life.

It may appear philosophical but it is worth reflecting upon. What is the purpose of life ? If we are able to find an answer to this question, it may help us set our priorities in life right. If not, we will continue to wander in this mesh called career / business and will never be able to get out of this vicious circle.

I remember a few years back one of my close relatives consulted me. He had got a great break in a leading fmcg company in Mumbai while he was working in a public sector organisation. He and his spouse both worked for the same public enterprise. Both husband and wife were keen to take up this job in Mumbai but his parents refused to move with him. Since his aged parents stayed with him, he was caught in a dilemma. If he moved, it was good for his career, if he did not move, his parents continue to happily stay with him. So, it took him some time to take a call. After consulting a few well wishers, he decided to sacrifice his career to keep his parents happy.

So, in life, we have to take a call on what is our goal ? What is our purpose ? How do we define happiness ? This could change as we grow up and as our family expands. But it is worth asking these questions time and again and prioritise your life accordingly. We have to remember that money cannot always buy happiness for you. In the true sense, money can make you materially prosperous but inner happiness may still evade you.

Today with the Covid – 19, virus hitting the world, everyone is shaken. Governments are dealing with this crisis every hour. Families are worried for their kith and kin especially if they are working in the virus infected regions or countries. We have to remember that we need to take a call what is important at every stage of our lives.

Having worked in the corporate arena for almost four decades, I am not professing renunciation of one’s career. I am only advocating that we need to set and reset our priorities in life time and again. It is fine if it changes and we go wrong. It is only when we make mistakes do we learn. It is good to learn and change. After all life is a long journey and we get more than one chance to make mid course corrections. However, if we don’t, we cannot blame the world, we need to blame ourselves.

Now is the time to sit back and reflect. Now is the time reset your goals in life. It is never too late but the earlier the better for us.

Lets start today.

S Ramesh Shankar

15th March 2020

Critical eye

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I have met people in my life, who have a critical eye for everything around them. They will read the newspapers word by word and will always be in a position to point out a spelling mistake or language misuse. I am not one amongst them but I do admire them a lot. I have never been meticulous in my life. I am self-disciplined but live life leisurely and sometimes may slip up. I love the critical people around me as they add value to my life.

It is not fair to say whether critical people are good or bad. Each of us have our likes and dislikes in life and have a right to live life on our own terms. I love critical people as they can always point out areas for improvement in our life. They look at things from different angles than ourselves. They have the ability to see things you are not able to. For example if I write an article, I may not find any mistake in spelling or use of language. But they can read the same article and point out a couple of mistakes easily.

It is equally valuable in organisations. We need to have people of different thinking abilities in our teams. Some may think the same way as we do. We need others who think just the opposite way and some in between the two extremes. This not only adds variety to work but also challenges our limits. We are able to think on the same issue from multiple perspectives and this adds value to our work.

If we look at our family environment, it may be worthwhile to have members who think differently. A critical person is able to add value in the family too. It may help us improve ourselves and also our ability to take decisions in different circumstances. We may also sometimes not take wrong decisions because one valuable member of our family cautions us against it. On the contrary if everyone toes the line of the senior family members, we could end up in mistakes, which we could have avoided.

In a democracy, we need a critical opposition so that the government is on its toes. Unfortunately, we do not see this in our parliament nowadays. But one can recall outstanding speeches made by our own parliamentarians as opposition leaders. They have not only been critical of key government decisions but have enabled the ruling government to make mid course corrections.

Even in team sports, it may be worthwhile for captains and coaches to have critical team members in their teams. These members may help team strategise effectively in every situation. They may think differently or even question the team strategy. This may help the team to re craft their strategies or make mid course corrections. Sometimes, this may also help teams to renew themselves against tough opposition.

On the other side, it may not be easy to live with and deal with critical people in your life. One may feel irritated or defensive when one is questioned on everything every day. It may be easier to have like minded people in your family or team. Life is cosier and easy to navigate. We need to develop the magnanimity to encourage diverse thinking in our teams and appreciate the value of it. We need to learn to adapt to critiques.

As in the photo above, my wife Meena R Shankar has a critical eye and hence is my life long editor of all my writings. She is always capable of giving alternative perspectives.

Life may be boring if it is monotonous. Imagine watching a TV programme or movie in black and white all the time. Once in a way it may look interesting. However, we always like things to be colourful around us. The same is true in life. We need to have variety and spice to make life full. We need people thinking differently and diversely. We need to learn to respect them and deal with them effectively.

Life is fun with diversity.

S Ramesh Shankar

Has Religion become a business ?

Every one of us has the freedom to choose our religion in a democratic state. We may be Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Muslims or Buddhists. In my view, all religions lead us to the same destination. The routes could be different but the goal post is the same. Each religion teaches you multiple ways of attaining your goal. At every stage of life, you realise that you have to improve a lot to reach your ultimate station in life.

Am I religious ? I am not sure. My definitions of religion is ” To be a better human being, every day I live, enjoying myself and making life enjoyable for everyone around me in whatever ways I can.” I am a Hindu and proud to be so. Hinduism is one of the most liberal religions in the world. It gives you alternative paths and allows you to choose what best suits you. It neither imposes any rituals on you nor directs your behaviour or actions. The same may be true for most modern religions of the world.

However, I do believe that “Religion” has become a business in the world today. The causes for this belief could be life style and stress of people today. We are constantly competing in the world and want the best of everything around us with minimum of efforts. We are in a rat race and never satisfied with what we have. Our greed invariably exceeds our need. This leads to unavoidable stress and then we fall prey to religious leaders who exploit this emotional vacuum in us.

We tread on a dangerous path out of our own choice. We want to conquer the world before anyone else. We are willing to sacrifice our health and life to achieve our goals. Sometimes, we may be willing to compromise on our values to realise our dreams. This leads to degeneration of life and also may impact our health. It not only makes us physically vulnerable but emotionally too.

While technology today could help us detect and cure physical illness, it may not be able to cure our emotional strain. We then turn to our family and friends for emotional support. When friends and family do not have the time or patience , we go to the religious gurus. They could be from any religion you follow. All religious gurus tend to exploit the situation we are in and make this their business.

We are willing to spend a lot of money to get rid of this emotional trauma. We do not realise that we are responsible for putting ourselves in this situation. We cannot blame the world or our family, friends or colleagues for putting ourselves in this quandary. Then we approach a religious guru. Most religious leaders today are running religion like a business. They look at how to exploit your weakness into monetary gain for themselves.

These are the actions, which makes me lose respect for the religious leaders. I sometimes feel bad even visiting temples or other religious places because the leaders create an atmosphere of greed in these spiritual places. Anything and everything can be monetised. You can have a darshan of God faster by paying more money. We forget that all humans are equal in front of God. We are happy to flaunt our money to get closer access to God or their forms.

If I reflect, I would like to blame myself for this state of affairs. We, as individuals have through our actions made religion a business. Our greed is exceeding our need and thus leading to religious exploitation. We start believing that we can busy anything and everything in life through money. The day we realise that money cannot buy everything in life and least so happiness, we may be better off.

As in the photo above, we have to restore the sanctity of religion by our own actions in every day life.

It is time to reflect ? What do you think ?

S Ramesh Shankar

Park & Purpose

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Each of us may have a different purpose to visit a park. Some of us go to the park to exercise. It could be a walk, jog or practise in an open gym as in the photo above. While others may go to play or just to relax and rejuvenate themselves.

So each of us may have a different goal to visit a park and it is fine. I have been visiting a park for the last seven years for my morning and evening walks. Apart from walking, it is chat time with my spouse. We walk together and exchange our thoughts, beliefs and stories as we have experienced the previous day.

As we stroll around the park, we can see kids playing and sharing joy. Kids do not come to the park to maintain their fitness. It is sheer entertainment for them and that is the way it should be. They may be looking forward to meeting their friends and teasing each other after a hard day at school.

On the other end, we see young adults meeting and mating at the park. It’s a beautiful park along the sea shore and ideal locale for romance. So as the sun sets, we can see lovers in full glory. They are oblivious of the world around them and that is how all of us have experienced love as we grew up as adolescents and young adults.

Then we see senior citizens strolling around the park in groups. They play a game of housie, have some snacks together and share their stories with each other. The park is a place to meet and seek good company for them. Their world may be lonely at home and hence the park provides an ideal place for socialising.

As you go around the park for your walk, you meet people from different age groups and in different colours and costumes. It is fun to admire the energy and enthusiasm of different groups. Of course, you also meet people who have entered the park with no stated purpose. They may be just admiring nature or enjoying the sunset all alone and why not.

Another interesting dimension is that a public park brings people from all religions, caste, creed, nationalities and social status together. There is no discrimination and each one has the complete freedom to enjoy the park the way she or he desires to. Even observing people of diversity in the park is great fun.

I am not sure even a religious institution like a temple, church or mosque can provide you with such a beautiful social setting. It is indeed a gift of nature that a park brings people together with no boundaries or discriminations.

Let the parks bloom and all people visiting them fulfil their purposes.

S Ramesh Shankar