Use & Throw

We have moved from a culture of “recycle & reuse” to “Use & throw”. I remember an interesting incident which happened a few years back. I was digging out my old coloured lights to light it for the festival of Diwali. Usually we use it for the festival and then dump it in some closet for the rest of the year.

We take it out just before the onset of the festival season and invariably find that a few bulbs are fused. The same thing happened to me. I picked up the light and went to an electrical shop to repair and replace the fused bulbs. The electrician was surprised to see me. He politely told me to dump the old bulb set and buy a new one.

I belong to an era, where we were brought up in the family and the community to “recycle and reuse” things. So based on my upbringing, I went to the shop to repair and reuse my colour lights. The shopkeeper gently smiled and said that the cost of repair may be more than the price of a new set of colour lights. I followed his advise,  left my old bulbs with him and bought a new set.

When I returned home I reflected on this issue. I realised that life has indeed changed. The way we look at life today is different from the past. If we considered recycling everything in life as the right thing to do, use and throw is the norm for everything in life today.

It struck me that this may be true in our relationships too. We were brought up to respect our parents and elders right through our life. We were trained to be grateful to people who help us at various stages of life, throughout our life time. But today, we tend to use our parents as providers of comfort and forget them as they grow old and may depend on us. We forget friends and relatives after we have benefited from their help and move on with our own lives.

Relationships have also transitioned from gratitude to usefulness. Gratitude symbolises renewing our relationship for our lifetime. Usefulness on the other hand fixes an expiry date for a relationship. We tend to “control+alt+del” or move on as soon as the usefulness of that relationship is over.

One may wonder if we are moving from “Selflessness” to “Selfishness” in life. It may be difficult to state whether it is right or wrong. After all today, we have mastered the art of justifying every action of ours. No value is absolute and sacrosanct any more. It is all relative and we find innovative reasons to justify our behaviour all the time, to everyone around us.

One more learning I got in life. Once when I was buying new clothes for my family for a festival someone suggested that every time I buy new clothes, I could consider donating an equal number of clothes ( in good condition) to those who need them more than me. This may again be an old fashioned belief but it does help others and is based on the philosophy of recycle and reuse.

Life comes a full circle. Today, use of plastic bags is being banned all over the world as it is polluting the environment around us, choking the drains and causing floods everywhere. We are urged to use cotton bags for our shopping and reuse them. I am happy with this change and I commit to do my bit in this direction.

We used to recycle a pair of shoes for at least two generations in the past whereas now it does not even survive one person for more than a few years as in the photo above.

Is it time to recycle and reuse everything in life ?

S Ramesh Shankar

21st July 2018

How little I know ?

I spent a weekend in the city of Pune. It’s a beautiful city just about 150 kms from Mumbai. It is popular for educational institutions, defence establishments and the enviable weather. I took a city tour to see the major tourist places around the city.

The first thing which struck my attention in Pune is the greenery. Pune is very green and has trees, which may be centuries old. Everywhere you travel, you feel as if you are driving through a lane of trees all around you. This could possibly be one of the secrets of the Pune weather.

The second thing which strikes you are the huge defence establishments. Every part of the city is blessed with military establishments and you feel proud of the prowess and the discipline of our soldiers. The cantonment areas are clean and well maintained. They provide a glamour to the city.

The third thing which struck me are the research institutions. The central institutes like the National Metallurgical Laboratory, Automative Research Association of India and so on. I saw an institute of tropical meteorology. This was fascinating as I was not even aware that a subject like that existed. It proved to me “how little I know ?”

Another impressive part of the city is the array of educational institutions. You have arts, science commerce, engineering, medical, management and every subject you can imagine in the world. You have public university and private universities. You also have autonomous institutions of repute.

After spending a day in the city and visiting some interesting sites like the Ambedkar museum and the Kelkar museum I realised the rich heritage of the city. But what really impacted me is the diversity of research institutions. I did not even realise that there are so many areas of research, which I have not even heard of.

I am aware that I do not even know enough on the subjects or areas I have been working for the last 38 years. Having come across different areas of research, which is happening in our country was a gentle reminder of “How little I know ?”This experience grounds me.

I salute every researcher through this blog and their dedication. I salute the government in the centre and states which sponsor and promote such institutions. I salute the corporate organisations which are also contributing to pure and applied research in various fields.

Let the research institutions flourish and bring innovations and prosperity to human kind. They can also inspire us to assimilate more knowledge during the rest of our lives.

It may be good to realise “How little you know in life ?

S Ramesh Shankar

11th October 2018

Tea under a Tree

One of the most fascinating things in my life is to drive on a highway. A highway gives you great insights on life and living. Apart from the fact that I enjoy driving, every sight around you gives you new perspectives.

The first thing which strikes me is the mesmerising skyline. Whether it is the early morning crimson sky or the blue evening one it is always breathtaking. I wonder how nature paints the colours in the sky. I am amazed at the shapes and sizes of the clouds.

The blue and green mountains along the highway make you realise how small you are and the need to be grounded always. Their mighty stature makes you realise the wonders of nature.

Then you pass through rivers and lakes and they are spots of beauty. Rivers remind you as to how much nature gives you as humans and how less ` we give back to nature. They also make you realise the value of water as a natural resource.

Another interesting aspect of the highway is the road side food. I love to stop by a road side cafe for a cup of tea or even the local cuisine for lunch. People along the highway are very courteous and customer centric. They are keen to treat you as their personal guest and make you smile always.

When you stand under a tree like in the photo above, you experience the rhythm of nature and the taste of tea is invigorating. It not only refreshes you for the drive further but also makes you realise that it is worth syncing with nature.

I also enjoy the quotes written behind trucks and buses. Some of them are very creative and remind you of the potential talent in our countryside. They give you simple lessons of life in a very innovative way.

The long winding roads teach you the best lessons of life. There are times when it looks as if the road will never end and at other times the traffic will never ease. But every time you do reach your destination with or without any hurdles.

We all have the capacity to deal with the hurdles along the highway. It is similar in life. As long as we believe in ourselves, there is no obstacle in life which we cannot overcome. Yes sometimes it may take longer than we believe. It is like sometimes our destination may take longer than we had estimated.

It is up to us to enjoy the drive on the highway or keep cribbing about the weather or the bad roads along the way. If we enjoy the drive, the journey is fun and if we don’t then it is a burden. Life is no different.

The weather may change along the way. The roads may be good or bad. The car may even break down. But it is up to us to make a choice. Either we can crib all the way or enjoy the uncertainties along the way. Every obstacle may be an opportunity to learn something new in life.

Life is like a highway and we need to enjoy the drive.

S Ramesh Shankar

2nd October 2018

Diversity in friendship

One of the most fascinating things in India is its rich culture, heritage and diversity. I was blessed to be born in a family where my father was in central government service. We got transferred almost every 3 to 4 years and thereby transgressed the length and breadth of our beautiful motherland.

I was born in Trichy. I grew up in Kolkota, Jabalpur and Chennai. Then I have worked in Bhilai, Indore, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore and now Mumbai. Every part of the country has taught me something. The place, the culture, the people and the traditions have fascinated me.

What has fascinated me most is the diversity in the friends I have in life today ? I have friends from the north, east, west, centre and south of the country. I have friends from various religions – Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhist and et all. The beauty of India is its imbedded diversity.

After having worked in a corporate for many years, I find it interesting when many multinational organisations take diversity as a priority. India is blessed with diversity as an integral part of the nation. I have seen this physically and in spirit when I started my career in a public sector undertaking in central India.

We had people from almost all states of India and representing all religions, castes and communities. We all worked as employees living and working together. There was never a sense of discrimination or divisiveness. This may be equally true for all central government offices.

The concept of India is the essence of diversity. It is ingrained in the psyche of all Indians. We live in 29 different states. Each state has its own language and culture. But we all merge into one when it comes to India. Sports is a great reminder of of our diverse culture.

If you take any team sport, you will find people from all states and all religions. Although there is no reservation for team selection but it is evident that the best performers in that sport come from different parts of the country.

The diversity of friends have made me whom I am today. They have honed my skills and made me respect and learn from everyone around me. They have made me realise that meritocracy cuts across states and religions.

We are able to appreciate the food choices and festivals celebrated across the country. This has been possible because of the diversity of friends and colleagues I have lived and worked with throughout my life.

It has made me realise that in a way diversity is an attitude of the mind. The way we treat people around us. The way we respect differences. The willingness to be challenged by anyone or everyone around you. When you have people in your team who come from varied backgrounds including state, language or religion, they bring with them a wealth of diverse experience.

As in the photo above, diversity in unity is embedded in the Indian ethos.

I am grateful to God for blessing me with a set of diverse friends. They have moulded me into who I am today. I would be grateful to them throughout my life. They have shaped my career. They have made me a sensitive human being.

Let diversity shape us always.

S Ramesh Shankar

11th October 2018

Be the change you want to see…

Mahatma Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see..”. The time has come today.

Everyone in my organisation today was waiting for the big announcement by our global CEO. Every employee was wondering what is likely to be announced and how it will impact her or him.

An organisation is a network of people. It is not buildings, factories or fixed or movable assets. It is the people working in them. So, if there is a change, it will impact the people more than any other asset. While we can rebuild a factory, office or any other asset, it is much more difficult to sustain the motivation of our team members during a change process. This is where we as leaders have a role to play.

The market place is changing more rapidly than we can anticipate. We are also transforming as an organisation. However, the speed of change is accelerating faster than the change itself and hence organisations have to anticipate this speed and be prepared for it.

We all should be happy that the board of our organisation has been proactive to anticipate this change and deal with it well ahead of times. We can be sure that the organisation change will benefit all stakeholders and especially our customers. We, as employees have to strengthen this process by being part of the change rather than worrying about it.

What can we do about this change happening around us ? First of all listen, be calm and welcome this change. Secondly, lets be the change agent. We need to lead our teams to a better tomorrow. We need to communicate effectively, listen to their concerns if any and address them empathetically.

The board of our company seems to be burning the midnight oil to prepare for this change. We need to trust their capabilities and their ability to steer this change. We need to prepare ourselves to adapt to this change and be the winning team.

A very detailed communication plan is being put in place and every employee will be touched through this plan. They are anticipating the likely impact on individuals, businesses and the organisation as a whole and are getting prepared to deal with it. As a fair employer, our enterprise will take care to deal with all issues with equanimity and fairness.

Apart from trusting the leaders in the organisation, we need to trust ourselves. We have to believe in our capabilities. For instance, we may have represented our country in the recently concluded world soccer championship. So, we may be among the best 15 football players in our country. But tomorrow, the selection may be for a continent – representing more than one country. We need to be the best among the best to be in that team.

The organisation of tomorrow will mean adapting to the radical changes of the business environment. We need to be ready to radically change. Our roles may change, our business may get redefined but our values and ethics will remain the same. Our customers will not change and hence we need to prepare ourselves to continuously and seamlessly deliver value to our customers.

Last but not the least, we need to be calm. There is no change in life which will not impact us in some way. Every change has to be dealt with calmness. If we are the best in whatever we do, there is nothing for us to worry about. If we are willing to adapt ourselves to the organisation of tomorrow, we have nothing to fear.

Our calmness will determine our success. We all strive for rapid change but when it impacts us , we may not be fully ready to face it. It is time to challenge ourselves. The best way to anticipate this change is to be a catalyst to the change process. A belief in our leaders and ourselves will help us deal with it.

Let us change for the better.

S Ramesh Shankar

30th July 2018

Anybody can fit into a frame …

I was passing through our domestic airport at Mumbai and was fascinated by people taking photographs in a frame. I realised that everyone – young or old, thin or fat could easily fit into this frame. I reflected and realised that life is no different. If we want to lead life happily, we can live life within our frames. On the other hand, if we are not content than we will not fit into any frame.

Life is a balancing act between need and greed. The day we convince ourselves that we can fulfill our needs but never are greed, we may be happier. The frame of life is drawn by us. It is not built by God and thrust upon us. Each of us have the liberty to draw our own boundaries in life.

Let me illustrate this through examples from my personal and work life. The first example I can share would be the people I have met in life, who live a simple life in spite of all the riches they have. They are symbols of humility difficult even to emulate. They can define the frame of life in which they want to live but on the contrary they fit into any frame they come across in life.

One such name that comes to my mind is that of JRD Tata. He could have bought almost anything in the world if he wanted but showed us outstanding examples of simplicity in everyday life. I was recently reading of how he used to buy chocolates for his gardener whenever he returned from his trips abroad. He used to take his secretary and her family for a treat on her birthdays. I have not come across many CEOs, who would show such gestures.

In my life, I have met people who will happily give credit to others for their successes. We see them in the field of sports every day. We see players, who play for the victory of the team rather than promoting their own personal glory. These persons create a space within their life frames for everyone in their life.

One such name that comes to my mind is that of MS Dhoni. Here was a leader who faded in the background of the team after India won the World Cup in cricket in 2011. He made Sachin Tendulkar lift the cup and lead the Indian contingent jog around the stadium. Such is their humility that if possible they may even disappear from the frame so as to let others get a place to be within it.

Even at the work place, you are privileged to work with leaders, who are willing to lead from behind. They are willing to lead the team in front and then follow the team. However, when there is a crisis they will be the first to be in the forefront. I recently visited Diu, where there is a memorial for our soldiers when an Indian ship was drowned by our enemies during a war in 1971. The captain of the ship decided to drown with his soldiers rather than save himself from the jaws of death. Such people create a frame large enough to fit everyone in their life.

Lets learn to live within our frames of life.

S Ramesh Shankar

4th August 2018

Technology & HR

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Everyone today is talking about technology and its impact on people. The impact on people could be from different perspectives. Let us examine it from the angle of impacting life and living.

I grew up in an era where the computer was not around nor the television in homes. Both these appeared in our offices and homes post the eighties in most countries and homes. How have they changed our lives ? Our quality of life has improved materially and physically although may have deteriorated emotionally ?

I remember many unions especially in banks were worried about introduction of computers and had resisted it for some time. Today a bank cannot imagine its existence without computers. We as customers do most of our banking ourselves on computers or mobiles. Has it impacted bank employees ? I would say it has helped the bank employees to improve the quality of their work and their productivity.

I believe the impact of technology will be similar in the future as well. Technology may develop more rapidly in the future than in the past. The quality of our lives and living may improve further. However, the same technology may be helpful if we are willing to use it prudently.

Let us examine the impact of technology on employees from a Human Resources perspective across the employee’s life cycle process – from recruitment to retirement. Technology may help in screening and assessing candidates more objectively and much faster. But I cannot imagine whether even artificial intelligence will ever be able to substitute human judgement in the future.

While it is true that a “Alexa” or IBM Watson may be able to derive logic from tons of data available to them but still may not be able to beat human judgement. It is like the development of technology, which brings the best of cameras in the world every day but none of them have been able to beat the human eye as a camera in its capacity and delivery.

We could trust computers and artificial intelligence to help in addressing routine tasks and also developing them in employees. However, the ability to respond intuitively like a human being may not be a reality in the near future. Even today the Alexa and Watson depend on inputs from human beings and programmers to derive logic from data fed into them.

Now, if we move to assessing and motivating employees, we need to examine the impact of technology. Technology can help us in objective performance assessment but the ability to empathise may not be replicable like a human being. I am aware of robots performing all types of tasks including love making but all of it will be without any emotions.

Similarly technology may help in making more precise decisions including in exits. However, human judgement is a combination of logic and gut. Logic can be built in by technology but not the gut. Most of the times in our lives, our decisions are based on gut and not by logic.

I believe technology will change life for the better in the future. But, no technology can substitute human emotions. We need to use  technology for improving our quality of life without getting impacted on our emotions. Today, we are willing to embrace technology and are increasingly losing the human touch.

Its like technology enables you to take a beautiful selfie without much effort as in the photo above. However, if we end up getting drowned in the sea taking a selfie on the beach, whom should we blame ?

Let technology lead us to a better tomorrow and we continue to trust human relationships to improve both technology and ourselves.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th May 2018

My ten learnings from a US holiday

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I have always admired the United States of America as a country for many things. Apart from being the wealthiest democracy in the world, it has a lot to teach the world as countries and individuals. I had been on a holiday for a fortnight to this wonderful country and learnt the following ten lessons as an individual :

1. Dream big : You need to kindle a dream in a individual and then strive hard to achieve it. Every American who migrated from different parts of the world to settle in this country dreamt of making America the best in the world. They have worked hard to achieve it and within a span of a century.

2. Unity In diversity : People from all parts of the world have come and settled down here. They are diverse in religion, culture, ethnicity and race. However they have evolved a common nationality. A common dream and a disciplined way of achieving their goals.

3. Discipline : A colleague of mine used to state of “Starting with enthusiasm and ending with discipline”. You can see it in action in this country. Every body is enthusiastic in whatever they do and enjoy doing it mostly. However they do not compromise on discipline. This quality you can see in most developed countries of the world.

4. Pride : While all of us are proud of our respective countries, one can observe a sense of patriotism amongst all categories of citizens. They display it in their behaviour and in discharge of their duties in whatever they do everyday in their lives.

5. Focus on your work: Everyone is focussing in what they are supposed to do. They are neither aware of what is happening around the world nor interested in knowing it. We spend most of our time in worrying about others and the world and lose focus in what we are supposed to do.

6. Every job is respected : We generally look at every job from a social status angle. Some jobs are more prestigious than others. However, what one learns from this place that every job is unique and needs to be respected. Every individual is respected in society irrespective of what she or he does.

7. Create a competitive spirit : Every state in the USA competes with the other to be the best. Every state is unique and wants to be that way. They set standards for other states and are not willing to compromise on their freedom or liberty.

8. Preserving your culture: While everyone is proud to be an American, they steadfastly maintain their state identity. They are proud about their culture and history and want to preserve it. Every state wants to lead the others in preserving and promoting their uniqueness.

9. Respect : The respect for senior citizens and the military is visible in their day to day actions. If you are waiting to board an aircraft, the active military personnel are given first preference after aged and the kids. They are given precedence over first class or business class passengers as well. This signifies the respect for the citizens who sacrifice their lives for their country.

10. Everyone wants to contribute : Everyone in the country wants to contribute in their own ways to make the nation the best in the world. This means that each of us have to strive to excel in whatever we do and not do it as a ritual.

The photo above is my tribute to Martin Luther King, one of the heroes of the American success.

I am not for one saying that there are no negatives in the USA. There are some things which I would not like to learn from here. But the positives far overweigh the negatives.

Let us learn from their positives.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th May 2018

“WELCOME” to College

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Today is the first day for you at college. I remember I entered this wonderful institution 37 years back. It was a dream come true. I had done my graduation in science and it was my father’s choice. I wanted to study about people, which was my choice. My father gave me the freedom to choose and this college took the risk of admitting me.

I was nervous and the first day was memorable. If I have to welcome you today, I will urge you to remember the word – WELCOME – and what it means to you.

A. W – Welcome to the world of professional education. You may have graduated in arts, science, commerce or any other subject. Today you enter a professional course and it is different. You need to learn to learn all over again.

B. E – Education at college level is different from school. Whether graduate or post graduate level, you have to stand on your own feet and learn. There will be nobody to hold your hands or scold you. It is an opportunity to be self reliant.

C. L – Learn, unlearn and re-learn. Today the world is changing at an enormous pace. What you learnt yesterday may be history today and irrelevant tomorrow. Our ability to learn, un learn and re- learn will be our competitive edge in the future for you.

D. C – Change – Change will be the only constant in the world of tomorrow. Our ability to change ourselves and adapt to the changes around us will be our only guide to success.

E. O -Openness – We have to open our minds like a parachute. There is an opportunity to learn from everyone and everything around us. If we keep ourselves open, the opportunities to learn are limitless.

F. M – Morals – We often have the dilemma whether to be ethical or not. We see a lot of people around us in all walks of life who have made good money, the wrong way. We are also tempted to do. In my view, it is worthwhile to lead an ethical life. It ensures good health and happiness for you right through your life. Please remember, health and happiness, money cannot buy for you.

G. E – Excel – You need to excel in whatever you do here. Excellence is a journey and not a destination. You have to excel in academics, sports, cultural activities, field work, assignments and et all. If you excel and be the best nobody can ignore you. You will land up with a great job even before you finish your course.

Wish you all the best.

S Ramesh Shankar

July 2018

The Invisible stickers

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A friend shared a story with me. It touched my heart and hence this blog. He said he was driving behind a car and was getting impatient since the driver in the car ahead of him was driving slow and not giving way. He honked and was fuming till he saw a sticker which stated that the car in front of him was being driven by a physically challenged person.

Why do we need stickers to teach us to behave ourselves in our lives ? Do we need people telling us that they are “suffering from cancer” or “they have lost a near and dear one” or they “have lost their job” through stickers on their face or their back.

We seem to be living in a world without emotions. We seem to be living for ourselves than for anyone else around us. Lets reflect on how we behave with our family, friends or colleagues at work.

When we get back from work we are busy with out laptops or mobiles and believe that the organisation does not exist without us. This false belief continues possibly till the day we lose our job or retire from work. It could be a false self image of ourselves. In this process, we do not have the time to wish our spouse or encourage our kids in their academics, sports or cultural activities. How can we justify this ever ?

If we move to the work place, the situation is no different. We believe our colleagues are machines, which are paid to work and give their best. We demand more than they can deliver and losing our cool with them is a matter of right for us. We are neither aware of the problems they are facing in their personal world nor do we have the time or the inclination to get to know them. We live and work in a heartless organisation and believe our colleagues are like robots, who work for us.

How about our friends ? In this era of social media, we believe if we get hundreds of likes for our posts on social media, our day is made. We get depressed when nobody reacts for a few seconds for every post we make on the social media. Our friends are virtual and emotions are expressed only in emoticons. We do not remember the birthdays or anniversaries of close friends and do not have the time to visit them.

This post from my friend really triggered my thoughts. It churned my emotions. I wanted to challenge myself and everyone around me to change. To change for the better. It is time to realise how valuable it is to spend time with your family. It is worthwhile to empathise with your colleagues at work and know them as human beings with emotions. We need to find the time to meet friends and share our time.

We can see a tram in front of us on the road as in the photo above, but if there is no sign -“Do not cross the road” , we may be tempted to do so.

We need to remember that human beings are social. We do not need invisible stickers on their face or their back for us to behave like fellow human beings. We need sense the emotions in others and be human.

Let us start now.

S Ramesh Shankar