Substance over style…

I was watching a cricket match recently when one of the commentators made a very pertinent comment. He said he liked one of the young and aspiring cricketers of India for his style. But, it is time that he shows “ Substance over style”. This set me thinking.

Many of us spend our life time trying to sharpen our styles. We forget the fact that Substance is more important than Style in everything in life. While style make get you temporary accolades in a particular match when you score well but if you do have substance and are not consistent then you may fade faster than you could imagine.

This point is equally true in every aspect of life. We tend to focus on the outer behaviour and forget the inner one. We tend to be outwardly well behaved without a human heart. What is the use of being the best dressed man in the office if we end up being the worst behaved manager at the workplace.

While dressing for the occasion may be important but dealing with people humanly is more important than our dress. We may never remember the best dressed persons we have met in our lives. But, we will always remember the people, who made us feel special on all occasions.

It is like being a great orator in a debate. While our diction and style of delivery can get us admirers, we will be remembered more for the content and quality of our debate than the style of delivery. This does not mean style is not significant. What is being emphasised is that substance should always prevail over style. If we have substance and deliver in style that could be the best option before us.

Even when we listen to speeches of great parliamentarians in India or abroad, we look for substance over style. While a great orator with an eloquent command over the language impresses us in the moment, it is the content of her delivery, which lingers in our thoughts forever.

I remember one of my college professors who had great substance and no style. He was grounded, simple and down to earth. He did not have a sense of dressing too. But all of us as students used to admire his content and even nicknamed him as a walking encyclopaedia in college. He was knowledgable , modest and had quest for learning and sharing with others. This proved that substance always prevailed over style.

Another important learning for me is that people with substance may not necessarily need to focus on style. Whatever style they adopt, their substance overflows and takes care of any deficiencies in style. However, it cannot be the other way around. If we do not have substance, style cannot compensate for it.

As in the photo above, while style is good, substance over style is also critical.

It is time to lay the foundations of substance before we mould our style in life. We need to focus on substance first and style next and not the other way around.

If substance is there, style will always follow.

What do you think ?

S Ramesh Shankar

9th November 2020

Can work be fun ?

One of the questions I have often been asked in my career is -“How to enjoy your work ? The answer is simple. If you know what you enjoy and do that as your work, then its easy to enjoy your work. This is the most difficult in life. First to understand -“What you enjoy ? And second to get to work in that space, which you enjoy.

I was recently watching a video of two pilots who have been grounded by an international airline. They have taken up alternative employment as bus drivers. One of the drivers during the course of an interview actually said – “If you enjoy your work, you don’t actually work, do you ? This was an inspirational statement and made me think. That statement inspired me to write this blog.

In life, it is possibly easier to know what you don’t like rather than what you enjoy. It is important to realise that this is a challenge for all of us. Some of us get it earlier than others. I know of some people, who changed the course of their career almost in their mid careers and there is nothing wrong with that.

Quite a few years back I was reading an article in the Harvard Business Review which was titled – “ Job Sculpting”, where the author beautifully explains this concept. The author explains that we need to keep sculpting our jobs till we feel we found our choice. It is possibly like the sculptor keeps chipping till she feels that she has made the best sculpture.

The authors go on to explain how people in different vocations around the world have found their calling at different stages of their career. I remember the standing out example in that article was that of a software programmer who spend more than two decades in programming and suddenly during a holiday on the coast realised that he enjoyed being a coach for skiing much more than anything else he did in his career till then. So, he quits his job as a programmer after two decades and undergoes a coaching course for skiing and then evolves as a coach.

We may not know or realise what we enjoy. If we put in some efforts we may but we should not be afraid if we do not. The day we realise and understand what we enjoy then it would be great if we can explore our career in that space. For eg. if I enjoy travelling and I am working as a HR manager in a factory, it may worthwhile to explore if I could become a travel guide or even a travel blogger. That way I would work in an area, which gives me maximum joy.

While some of us may find it easy to get to work in an area of our choice, some of us may be stuck to vocations we don’ like for reasons beyond our control. But, it may still be worthwhile to find the right time and place to take a break and do what you enjoy. This way work becomes joy and not work anymore.

I love travelling and writing. So if I have to start my career all over again I possibly would love to be a travel writer.

This may be easier to write about than actually try out. But most things in life are not easy to accomplish unless we are willing to take it as a challenge and do it. Our work and career is also one such thing. If we enjoy what we do then work is sheer fun. If we don’t, then every day looks longer than the previous day at work and even our health gets impacted in this process.

It is time to challenge ourselves and discover what we enjoy. If work is fun and we enjoy it, it is no longer work for us.

Do you agree ?

S RameshShankar

9th November 2020

 

Selective Learning…

As humans, we possibly start learning when we are born and it may be ending only when we die. At least we are not aware as to what happens to us post our death. Every stage of life teaches us new lessons every day. It is upto us to learn from every experience and every person we meet in our lives

If we walk through every stage of our life, we realise how much we learn. As a child, every action of ours is a new learning. Starting from learning to crawl, walk and run, we have so many opportunities to learn every day.

We learn from everyone around us. Our parents, siblings, friends and neighbours teach us new things every day. We crawl, walk, fall down and get up again to run ahead in our lives. We cherish every moment and are grateful for the people who enable us to learn every day.

As we grow into an adolescent, we tend to learn what we want to. We ignore things which does not interest us. We also rebel when we are forced to learn things against our wishes. We have a world view of ourselves and believe there can be no alternative view.

As an adult we tend to become more rational. We learn by our own choice. We categorise things based on our mindset. We decide what we want to learn and what we don’t want to. This I would call as “Selective learning”. All the curiosity of our childhood gradually fades into selective interest and learning. In this way, we lose many opportunities to learn from experiences and people around us.

One good example is learning when we travel around the world. While we want to learn all the things which we possibly need not, we ignore things, which we should learn. We learn to accumulate things more than we need in our day to day lives but we ignore the self discipline which we see on the roads or even in everyday life.

We learn to be self centred in our lives but we fail to learn to give back to society. It is important to realise that every experience of life is an opportunity to learn. Every person we meet and interact with can teach us something if we are inclined to learn from them.

Out of our own ignorance or ego, we decide what we want to learn and what we do not want to. This leads to selective learning. A side effect is that we lose multiple opportunities to learn and grow in life. It may be worthwhile to challenge ourselves and ask why this happens.

One of my best experiences in learning is my travel around India and the world as in the photo above.

I believe it is never too late to learn in life. I was recently reading an octogenarian lady attending computer classes since she wanted to email her grand children and chat with them online. I also have read of grand parents pursuing research or post graduate degrees when they do not need to at their age. This proves learning ends only in our mind and not with our age.

Lets us learn to learn unconditionally from everything and every person around us all the time.

S Ramesh Shankar

9th November 2020

2 +2 = ?

Many of us think life is as simple as 2 +2 =4. In most cases, we realise through our experience in life that 2 + 2 is not equal to 4. Life is not a mathematical equation. If it was one, the scientists in the world may have conquered it and solved the puzzles of life for us.

Life is not black and white as many of us want it to be. In most situations it is grey like the monsoon clouds. In the monsoon, you can be sure that most of the days when there is a cloud cover over our heads, it is likely to rain. However, in life we never know when it will be sunshine, when it will be rain and when it is likely to be just cloudy all day.

Some of us spend our entire life trying to figure out how to make life more black and white for ourselves. In my view, it is just a waste of time. It may be better of for us to figure out our own ways of dealing with greyness of life and enjoy it that way.

We need to view life as a new discovery every day. It is like a mystery movie whose script is written and re-written in our lives every day. We have a choice to make. Either we enjoy the mystery as it unfolds in front of us or we wonder what happened after its over. Some of us are neither willing to anticipate life as it opens up every day for us nor willing to accept it as it flows.

The day we realise that life is not logical or mathematical, we may have reconciled to ourselves and be willing to deal with its uncertainties as it happens every day. It is the like the pandemic today. None of us including the experts know for sure what is happening and why is it happening ? Everyone is trying their best to figure it out as it unfolds and then guide us to the best way to deal with it.

If one keeps wondering why this pandemic could not have been anticipated or why it cannot be treated , then we are being cynical as nobody knows its origins. Similarly in life, some things happen for no reasons. If we spend our whole life trying to go to the root cause of why it happened, we possibly may be wasting our time. It may be better to adapt, adjust and move on.

Our ability to adapt to change as it evolves may be one of the best ways to face life. We do not know better ways unless it occurs to us. We should neither get hassled by what happens to us nor worry about why it happens. We should prepare ourselves to face it with a smile and deal with it as it comes.

It may be easier to write about life than to experience it as it comes to us. I am writing after experiencing more than half of my life. May be a bit easier than my younger generations. But I have learnt that the better if not the best way to deal with life is to experience it as it comes and deal with it as you think best at that point of time.

This newly married couple ( as in the photo above) may realise today that 2+2 may not be always equal to 4 in life.

There is neither a right way to deal with life nor a wrong way. Whatever we decide is the best option before us at that juncture of life. It is upto us to take a plunge and experience success or learn from our failures in life.

Life is not a mathematical equation but a mystery movie. Lets learn to enjoy it as it unfolds in front of us every day.

S Ramesh Shankar

6th August 2021

Education & Intelligence

 

Today in most situations formal education does not prepare a kid for a career. It only enables the award of a degree and certificate. While we may say that the current education system possibly lays a theoretical foundation, it lacks in application. Further, it assesses the ability of kids to memorise and reproduce and not apply their intelligence to solve a problem.

What do we need to do to change the system ? In my view, education should prepare kids to assess themselves and realise their full potential. As a kid, I should be clear what my strengths are and what my passion is ? We should take children to places where they can live their passion. Imagine a creative child working in an organisation like a BPO where the job is process driven and not much scope for innovation. On the other hand, imagine an analytical child trying to innovate and create new designs in an advertising agency. Both the kids are likely to be unhappy and may not be fully equipped to do their jobs.

Our system conditions the child to believe that some careers are more prestigious than others. The inequity in salary and wages also makes children force themselves to take up high paying jobs although they may not be enjoying it. Similarly, the environment also does not encourage entrepreneurship. It is generally believed that smarter people take up certain kind of jobs only.

All these fallacies in our system makes us believe that it is time to reset our education system. Starting from schooling we need to delink education to our ability to memorise things and reproduce. It should be more vocational after an objective assessment of the child’s potential. Some kids are analytical, some creative, some love sports and others dramatics. We need to create a system which enables each child to make a self assessment on what they are good at and what type of work will give them joy.

My experience teaches me that we need to enjoy what we do in life. If we enjoy what we do, we give our best and live our passion in life. Otherwise, it becomes a ritual and adds to stress and agony in life. It does not matter if we are playing a sport or teaching in a college. We need to do what brings out the best in us. We need to experience joy in doing it and add value to ourselves and society at large.

At primary level, kids should not be in a competitive environment like today. They should be free to play and learn and understand what they enjoy doing more. This will take them to their area of strength. At the mid school level , it should help them self assess and then decide on which area they would like to study. At senior school and college level, it could be a right blend of theory and practical application in the field of their choice. This should be supplemented by compulsory internship as part of the curriculum to test their application skills.

All the above steps will prepare a child to go where they want to go. No destination is final. If a child realises that they have made a mistake on the way, our systems should be flexible enough to for them to choose an alternate path. This way we can ensure that children find their passion in life always.

As in the photo above, a child is not the most educated when young but could be more intelligent and creative and can trouble shoot many issues if they enjoy doing what they do.

Organisations needs to support internship for children so that they can assess themselves and make them industry ready. This could include businesses who can prepare kids interested in starting their own ventures and improve their risk appetite.

After all education is the foundation for a better tomorrow.

The journey has to begin today.

S Ramesh Shankar

2nd June 2020

 

 

Parallel lines…

I was amused but it struck a chord with me. Many a time in life we meet people who are not like us nor have much in common with us. We still enjoy their company and want to be with them. It can happen at home or outside.

Even within a family, a husband and wife may be like parallel lines in terms of personality but they may get along well and love each other’s company. They may like to enjoy the differences between them more than the similarities. In life, we tend to look at people similar to us. This was a new revelation for me. How can we enjoy life as parallel lines ?

In organisations too this may be true. A manager generally tends to recruit people similar to himself or herself in their team. However, a leader may look at diversity in recruitment. This distinction between a manager and a leader may explain the logic of how parallel lines can meet in real life.

A leader believes that diversity in thinking brings in richness in decision making and effectiveness in teams. On the other hand, a manager looks at synergy through similarities. This also could be the reasons for a manager to be seen as less risk taking as compared to a leader.

Most of us in life look for people similar to our likes and interests. We have been brought up with the belief that only people with similar interests get along well. It may be against the spirit of science, which believes that opposites attract and similar magnets actually repel each other.

Of course, life is not like magnets and neither people are. But the quote by Tagore where he explains that we can enjoy each other’s company even if we run as parallel lines like the two banks of a river was a true eye opener for me today.

I looked back at my life and realised that I was looking for more people like me and less who had alternate views or likings. This possibly made me efficient but not necessarily effective. While working, I did take the risk of having diverse people in my teams and may be that helped me to be more effective most of the times.

As in the photo above, one can be friends like the two banks of the river running parallel to each other but still flowing along peacefully and harmoniously.

Life is no different. We need to learn to live the same way.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th august 2020

Let us light a lamp today

I am neither a religious person nor an atheist. Of course I am a proud Hindu and I believe Hinduism is one of the most liberal religions in the world since it allows me to live life my way without any restrictions. I do respect all other religions and I am proud that India is a multicultural and multi-religious society, where we respect all religions and celebrate each other’s festivals with life and vigour.

I realised albeit a bit late in my life that most of our rituals in all religions are meant to make us more human. We tend to follow religious rituals blindly either because they have been followed over ages or because we believe that by following them something good is likely to happen to us.

Today is Deepawali. In the northern parts of India, it is believed that Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after his vanavas ( exile into the forests) and was reincarnated the King on his return. So the citizens celebrate Diwali by lighting lamps and bursting crackers to welcome back their beloved king.

In the southern parts of India, it is considered that Lord Krishna killed the demon Narakaasura and hence the victory of good over evil is celebrated with the bursting of crackers at the advent of dawn. It could be other stories in the west and east of India.

The rituals guide us to clean our homes and light lamps to celebrate the victory of good over evil. This is symbolic. This could mean it could be a day when we can clean our body and souls too. It is a way of the religion telling us to light a lamp in the life of others who are not as privileged as we are.

Most of us today are in the rat race. We are not only competing with others to get ahead in the race of life but sometimes are competing against ourselves too so that we cannot be beaten by anyone else. There could nothing wrong to be competitive in life. However, it is unhealthy competition which leads us to be greedy and ungrateful to what we have and make us want more than what we need in life.

In my definition, being good to others and serving them unconditionally is the best form of religion. If we are able to dedicate ourselves today to help someone,who is drowned with sadness and darkness, it may be the best way to celebrate this Festival of Lights.

Many of us are privileged and we have a place to stay, family and friends to support us and are bestowed with good health and wealth. While we need to be grateful to many who made us what we are today, the best way to repay their debt may be to help people who needs that kind of support today.

In our worldly affairs, we may have forgotten to express our gratitude to all the people who moulded us into a better human being today. Today this festival of Diwali gives us an opportunity to light a lamp in the lives of those who need the most.

We need not think of changing the world. I would appeal to each one of us to make an impact on any individual, who needs it the most. That may be the best way to celebrate this festival. Let us spread happiness around us. Let us bring a smile into the face of those who need it the most. Let us meet and be grateful to the people who have made us what we are today.

Let us celebrate Diwali by lighting a lamp into the life of someone today.

S Ramesh Shankar

24th October 2022

Power of Music

I have always wondered as to what is the power of music. I can share some of its healing properties through my personal experiences. I listen to ghazals whenever I am on a flight and can write blogs non stop listening to them. They relax my mind and thoughts flow through my fingers onto a iPad like water flowing down the river.

I always listen to music to relax my mind. Instrumental music from all parts of world fascinate me. They have the power to heal my mind and calm my soul. They can make me sleep or bring out the best of my writing skills too. Music can make me creative and enable me to give my best too.

Many of us enjoy music while driving. It not only makes us enjoy the journey but keeps us relaxed and enables us to drive for long hours without getting bored. Of course the choice of music could differ from one individual to the other but almost everyone enjoys some form of music.

I know people travelling hundreds of miles just to listen to their favourite music. The good thing today is that youngster who are passionate about music are willing to take it up as their life long vocation and passion.

The good thing in the world today is that everyone is open to live their passion. Music can change the world for people and humanity. It can heal the world and cure a person of a dreadful disease. Music can be used as therapy to cure the incurable. It can cast its magic on everyone who needs it.

Music can relax our mind, body and soul. In these days of hectic everyday life, music can help us calm down. It can help us to relax and enjoy every moment of life. It can enable us to think differently. It may help us to resolve conflicts within us or with others.

Music an be life for many. The power of music is not yet fully harnessed. It’s potential is unlimited and it is upto us to realise it. I have seen the impact of music even on animals. An angry dog can cool down if she listens to a music of her choice.

Let us learn to enjoy the music of life.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th July 2020

HR

“H” stands for being human and “R” stands for being responsive. Many people have asked me the role of HR especially post the pandemic. If I have to simplify, it is just to be human and responsive to every employee who needs help.

Although, it may look simple, the most difficult things in life are the day to day things, which we fail to do consistently every day. Someone once asked me – “What it means to be a professional ?. I had stated that responding always, keep your time and commitment, dressing for the occasion and being empathetic always.

Today I would think its simpler. Just be human, grounded, accessible and respond to the stated and unstated needs of every employee. During this pandemic, quite a few young employees reached out to me and expressed their concerns. I would share two case studies to share their anguish.

The first was a young employee working in an multinational. She reached out to me knowing that I had retired more than two years back from an active corporate role. When I asked – “Why she reached out to me – she said that I was always accessible and she was sure I will respond to her call. She sent me a message on social media and I did respond.

We then had a call and followed up by multiple calls. Her concern was that “work from home” has ruined her work life and personal life. She said that she had to respond to international calls even at 11pm and her spouse was not amused nor were her kids. She said she was more stressed than ever.

The second case was a mid level manager from an Indian corporation. His query was – why is it everyone is under stress nowadays ? Can stressed employees deliver their best ? He went on to state that this sort of stress neither is good for the employees nor the organisation. Again, when I asked why he contacted me as I have not even met him, he said that some of his friends told him that I would respond positively.

The two cases are symptomatic of what is happening in organisations today. Employees, managers and leaders are all under stress. They are finding it difficult to balance work and life and the pandemic has made it more complicated for them as the line between office and home has blurred.

What can “HR” do to help employees ? I would say – lets keep it simple. HR needs to be human and responsive. They need to be accessible to the employee all the time. They need to be empathetic listeners and employee champions. They need to respond to every employee irrespective of them being an introvert or an extrovert, a junior or senior employee in the hierarchy. I would rather say, HR needs to reach out to the quiet employees much more and respond to their needs.

Some may ask – “What it means to be Human ? “. Being empathetic and responding to every employee by putting yourself in their shoes will make you respond in a human way. If we respond the way we expect others to respond when we are in a crisis, is the human way.

It is like the murmuring of birds in the sky. Nobody knows who the leader is or who HR is. They sway together and support each other when attacked by a predatory bird always as in the photo above. HR needs to be like the invisible saviour of the birds in the sky within organisations.

If we are human, grounded, accessible and responsive, HR will be the function, which employees will hail as their messiah in distress. Otherwise, they may wonder as to why HR exists in organisations ?

It is time for HR to be human and responsive always.

S Ramesh Shankar

30th September 2021

Trophies & Medals

We all love to be recognised at every stage of our lives. As a kid, our mothers more than anyone else take care of this need. They pat our back on every possible occasion and give us enough chocolates and other incentives to keep us fully charged. As we grow up this need possibly increases but may not get fulfilled.

At educational institutions, many teachers do not realise the value of recognition. They may assume that too much of recognition may go into our heads and make us too top heavy. This may be true and we need to be grounded at all times. But, in my view, recognition is never enough.

Some people think that recognition has to be in material form or financial terms. While financial incentives do play a pivotal role especially in early stages of a person’s career, it is the non financial recognition which really makes the positive and lasting impact on people.

I remember my wife losing her gold medal of college in a burglary at home. The value of the gold medal she got more than four decades back was not much in financial terms but the intrinsic value of the recognition she received was invaluable. I went to her college principal and requested them to give it to her again. They organised a special function and she could relive that glory. It was one of the best surprises for her in her life time.

Recognition and rewards are beyond trophies and medals we may receive in school, college, Universities or even in organisations. The value of the recognition is more valued than the material or financial value of the same.

I am sure most of us would not remember the cheques we may have received in our career. But the hand written certificate from your college principal or even from your lovable boss is a treasure forever. Many of us would like to frame such letters and preserve it for posterity.

I have to confess that I realised the true value of such non financial recognition quite late in my career. I used to be generous in recognising my team members both through rewards and verbal accolades quite regularly. However, one day I wrote a hand written ( my hand writing is not something I can ever be proud of) appreciation letter to my colleague and she literally framed it and told me when I was leaving the organisation that it was the best reward of her life.

We as parents, teachers, managers and leaders have to realise that human being need constant recognition. Recognition is not necessarily in monetary terms. On the contrary, true recognition is non monetary and valued more. The earlier we realise this in our life, the better it is for all of us.

I am not in any way negating the value of financial rewards or incentives. However, what I am trying to emphasise is that non monetary awards touch your heart. Like a hand written note is valued more than a letter even if printed in golden letters. We need to realise this and not miss a single occasion when we get an opportunity to appreciate anyone around us for the smallest good deeds we see.

Let us start by appreciating everyone around us from today.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th Nov 2020