Sunday, November 30, 2008

Some parts of my upcoming New Year's Resolution

From Nandan Nilekani's interview on TalkAsia:

I want to be less busy and more effective.
I want to be generous with money and stingy with time.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why half measures?

I tend to be a person with limited political opinion until things start affecting my own life. Mumbai's disaster has shaken me up in a way as has the siege at Bangkok's international airport, which puts my looong planned break in jeopardy. I am actually quite surprised how both the Thai and the Indian government have resorted to half measures in recent days.

Let me first talk about my country. We were witness to one of the worst terrorist attacks in the last decade. In such a situation our government (and that of our neighbour's) has taken nothing but half steps to bring the guilty to justice. For years, we've had intelligence and satellite surveilance reports that have confirmed the presence of terrorist training camps of the Al-Qaida and the LeT in Pakistan. Its been quite some time since Dawood Ibrahim was placed on the Forbes' world's Top 10 most dreaded criminals list. The captured terrorist from the Mumbai attack has revealed that he is from Pakistan and was trained there . I wonder why after repeated evidence we haven't sought the approval of the international community particularly countries leading the war on terror, to storm these terror camps and actually raze them to the ground? I wonder how many more security personnel will be killed and how many more such tragedies the country will have to face before we see serious action? Does Pakistan need another Marriott before they can bring Dawood to the law and stop LeT's rallies in Karachi? Does India need another set of attacks on its civilian establishments, before it whole heartedly accepts help from the FBI and Mossad to pulverize the heart of these terror establishments? The passive action I see, is way too familiar and I know where it ends and I don't like it.

Moving on to Thailand, the country and its seemingly popularly elected governments has been held to ransom by the PAD for the last 6 months or so. Isolating the country by blocking off the Suvarnabhumi airport should really be the last straw, no matter how valid the protest. I find it surprising how the government there too can take a half measure by declaring an emergency asking security forces to help clear the airport sans the Army! The inefficacy of the emergency decree shows, as the police have literally been chased away by the PAD demonstrators. The government is happy to act in exile by setting up shop in remote Chiang Mai than give up power. I wonder if both parties want to drive a nail into Thailand's already troubled economy by continuing the stalemate at the airport. While I can see both parties waiting to see who blinks first, I hope they realize that their country is burning in the background. 100,000 people are stranded in Bangkok; a million people are set to lose their jobs and the tourism industry is in for a huge slump. If both parties are really interested in the welfare of their nation, one of them has to back down for the greater good. Or perhaps, this is something I don't understand!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai bleeds...

My favourite city in the world has bled for the last 24 hours, at the hand of bloodthirsty demons. I feel driven to tears each time I see the visuals. For those that know Mumbai, will know that its a city that doesn't give up; a city that represents the cosmopolitian face of modern India. What damage this does to Mumbai's psyche, time only can tell. I hope in the interest of not giving the extremists a sense of success, that Mumbai can still awake and go to work tomorrow. This said, I am angry; very angry. We've lost many people, many guests to my country died too. Many brave security personnel laid down their lives. I am angry because deep down I fear that other countries will consider this to be an unsafe nation. While I hope we can get the powers that be to sit up and smell the coffee, I also hope that we don't let this metamorphose into a widespread fear psychosis. I hope that politicians in India don't try to cash in and gain mileage from what is a national tragedy. I hope that our neighbours support us in our war on terror; which in itself is a pity considering that we both won our freedom using non-violent means. I hope that the whole country wakes up and realizes that while we have the bravest of men in uniform; we perhaps have the most inept people in khadi and silk. I hope that tomorrow when political terrorists such Raj Thackeray and Narendra Modi try to create division in the country, we tell them that the people that laid down their lives to ensure that we can sleep peacefully, were amongst the 200 commandos from Delhi; I hope we tell them that amongst the people that died there was no distinction of religion; I hope we tell them that amongst people that conducted rescue operations there was little cultural homogeniety. I hope that through this incident, we find a reason to stand as one nation instead of suspecting each other. I say this, because as an Indian and a one time Mumbaikar I am sad, I am angry and I am just tired.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The "Gift" of Feedback

Often we receive feedback which jars us and shakes up what we believe about ourselves. Our natural tendency is to defend against this feedback and find out what's wrong with it. In situations like this I like using my friend Khali's metaphor of equating feedback with a gift that you recieve from someone. You don't know what it is, but you know that its well intentioned. Given that you wouldn't be rude and say "I don't like this gift..." and return it. Instead you'll accept it and appreciate (and even explore) the intent with which he/ she picked the gift for you.

So, maybe its a good idea to explore "why the feedback is right" instead of telling yourself that the other person got it all wrong. I find that this gives me the best way of dealing with feedback as compared to when I refute it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Final ThoughtWorks University for 2008

This is when 18 hours of effort in a day becomes worthwhile. Its been a privilege to be associated with this group of next-gen ThoughtWorkers. They make the entire year worthwhile for me and I know my upcoming break is well deserved. Thanks guys!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Coaching - Eliciting Well Formed Outcomes

Last night I was was watching a repeat episode from Contender Asia 2008, particularly the Yodsanklai vs Naruepol fight. This may be inconsequential for many, but something I see an important lesson in. Yodsanklai and Naruepol are fast friends, fighters from the same gym. They were both fighters in the Contender 2008 championship. Given that they are such close friends, it was really tough for them to face off against each other in a knockout situation. Now Naruepol was finding it really tough to prepare for the fight, and kept saying right until the last moment, "I don't want to fight my friend." Yodsanklai on the other hand was reluctant but focussed on winning the championship and saw that as his clear goal. His hunger to win showed. It doesn't take guessing to know who won. Yodsanklai won that match and also the Contender title. If you set aside the "he screwed his friend" argument for a bit, you will notice that one of the reasons he won was because of his strong desire to win and because he had a very clear goal. As a coach you cant teach that -- you can't set a goal for someone: you can only elicit that and make it explicit. The desire to achieve something is inherent.

Often in the process of coaching we impose goals on our coachees and that is a bit of an antipattern that I sometimes observe. As a coach you can take your coachee's desire and perhaps mould that into a well formed outcome. The NLP Meta Model helps you convert strong internal desires into tangible, measurable outcomes. One of the tools I love using (and this is taken almost word for word from Robert Dilts) is the Well Formed Outcomes Worksheet. I use this to elicit and qualify goals. Here's the pattern I tend to follow when discussing a coachee's goals:

  • Outcome– Stated in Positive Terms. What do you want?
  • Sensory Evidence – Observable Behavioral Definition of the Outcome. How, specifically, will you know you achieve this goal? What are the performance criteria? How will they be tested?
  • Self-Achievable – Goal Can Be Initiated and Maintained by the Person or Group Desiring It. What specifically will you do to achieve this goal?
  • Positive 'By-Products' Preserved – Positive Intentions and Secondary Gains of the Problem State. What positive things, in any way, do you get from your present way of doing things? How will you maintain those things in your new goal?
  • Appropriately Contextualized – Outcome Appropriately Contextualized and Ecologically Sound. Who and what else could reaching this goal affect? Under what conditions would you and would you NOT want to have this outcome?
I have had great success in measuring progress when using this model and it helps me understand clearly what my coachees wish to achieve. In that it allows me to have greater influence as a coach, when guiding them to resources that'll help them achieve their goals.

Monday, November 10, 2008

End of an age

Often in sporting history, you see an age end and a new one begin. Fittingly, that's what happened today. India's most successful cricket captain, the talismanic Sourav Ganguly called it day -- and what a day to choose! India beat Australia convincingly in a test series with Ganguly reclaiming his captaincy one last time, for the last 5 overs of the match. To know that India is now in the hands of another "all-go, no quit" skipper like Dhoni, is a great symbol of how India's cricketing present models its more recent past.

I make no secret of my admiration for Ganguly -- he is my favorite cricketer and regardless of the unsavory remarks that Vengsarkar made about him sometime back, he remains a legend that towers over most of his critics - Vengsarkar included. My memories of watching Sourav date back to 1992 when he against the Windies and scored just 3 runs. Sourav's (now famous) offside drive fetched him his first couple in an international innings. Sourav was infamously dropped thereafter and left in the wilderness for four years, before he came back in 1996. Now 1996 was a great year in Indian sporting history. In the world cup just gone by, Sachin Tendulkar had become the leading run scorer, Leander Paes won us a tennis bronze and Sourav made a charmed debut with a century in his first innings. Being in Calcutta, home to both Paes and Sourav, I was obviously keen to get face to face with these new age celebrities. I was then the editor of my school magazine and I started to call Leander Paes's and Sourav Ganguly's residences asking for interview appointments. While getting through to Leader was easy, getting Sourav was equally difficult. I must have called him a dozen times, only to be greeted by his brother Snehashish each time. All I'd hear was "Sourav's at practice". And why shouldn't he have been! He was working to be part of one of the most destructive opening pairs in Cricket history. My interview with him was not to be and I caught my first glimpse of Sourav many years later at Test match with the West Indies which unfortunately ended in a tame draw.

I have fond memories of watching Sourav: as a fiesty opener in ODI's who scored 120 odd runs in one of India's first successful 300 plus run chases against Pakistan; as a new captain who rubbed South Africa's nose on the ground; as shirt waving Indian in Lords gallery; as a shrewd strategist that frustrated the Ice-man-Steve Waugh; as a wronged servant of the nation when he was dropped; as a player of tough character when he made one of the grittiest comebacks in Indian cricketing folklore; and as a gentle, outgoing senior statesman of the team when he retired today. Its difficult to express in words, the admiration I have for the man and the countless proud sporting moments he's made me privileged to have watched. India owes it to its ex-Captain Courageous for putting it on the overseas cricketing map. I hope we don't forget his contributions, each time we win abroad, each time we fight fire with fire and each time we win hearts for showing the stomach for a fight. As a fan, I bid Sourav farewell in the hope that I will see him back in cricket albeit in a different avatar. Thank you Sourav for your contributions. As a cricket lover, I owe you this tribute.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Getting feedback from your learners

As a trainer, I feel that the feedback we get from learners is often underrated. Given that they are the direct consumers of what we deliver, I enjoy hearing from them what they think of my performance in the classroom. Piggy-backing on what Pat Kua wrote many months back here, I used the following list of questions to ask for feedback off my students.

  • When in class, how have I created a safe environment? What could I have done differently to better this?
  • How did I involve you in class? What would have helped your involvement further?
  • When you've made points in class, do you feel I've listened to you? Tried to understand you?
  • When answering questions, have I provided the clarifications you sought? If yes, then what specifically would you likely me to continue doing? If not, what should I do differently?
  • What things made it easy to understand my sessions ? What would have made it easier?
  • In my role as a trainer, do you think I was very effective or ineffective? Why?
  • What do you see as my greatest strengths in training and/or facilitation? What do you think I could work on?
  • Did I treat you with respect and acknowledge your contributions? How do you think I did this, and if not, what do you recommend I change?
  • How engaged did you feel in my sessions? Did I demonstrate the flexibility to tune the session to the group's needs?
  • Lastly, did I demonstrate a sense of humour and the courage to laugh at myself?
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