Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Regaining our lost wisdom: Art of wisely breaking the rules #leadership

When in need of inspiration, I often resort to watching a TedTalk, as this helps me to reinvigorate my soul and mind.

Last week in one of my moments of seeking for inspiration, I came across the passionate talk "Our loss of wisdom" by Barry Schwartz.

In his talk, Schwartz, shows us how we've lost our wisdom together with our sense of virtue, kindness, care and empathy.

The following day after watching Schwartz's TEDTalk, I witnessed what Schwartz referred to as "loss of wisdom, virtue, kindness, care and empathy", and Voltaire's words about common sense came to life:

Common sense is not so common

As I was living through my "loss of wisdom" experience, Schwartz's words kept ringing in my head:

  • "It takes lots of experience to learn to take care for people." 
  • "You do not need to be brilliant to be wise, but without wisdom, brilliance is not enough"
  • "Rules and procedures may be dumb, but they spare you from thinking" 
Schwartz is damn right: "The truth is that neither rules nor incentives are enough to do the job. Moral skill is chipped away by an over-reliance on rules that deprives us of the opportunity to improvise and learn from our improvisations. And moral will is undermined by an incessant appeal to incentives that destroy our desire to do the right thing. And without intending it, by appealing to rules and incentives, we are engaging in a war on wisdom."

In his talk, Schwartz quotes Aristotle: "Practical wisdom is the combination of moral will and moral skill." and says:
A wise person knows when and how to make the exception to every rule, as the janitors knew when to ignore the job duties in the service of other objectives. 
A wise person knows how to improvise, as Luke did when he re-washed the floor. Real-world problems are often ambiguous and ill-defined and the context is always changing. 
A wise person is like a jazz musician -- using the notes on the page, but dancing around them, inventing combinations that are appropriate for the situation and the people at hand.
A wise person knows how to use these moral skills in the service of the right aims. To serve other people, not to manipulate other people. 
And finally, perhaps most important, a wise person is made, not born. 
Wisdom depends on experience, and not just any experience. You need the time to get to know the people that you're serving. You need permission to be allowed to improvise, try new things, occasionally to fail and to learn from your failures. And you need to be mentored by wise teachers.
Thank you Mr Schwartz for showing us that we're only a step away to avoid commit the sin of losing our wisdom. So let's hope that we all regain our wisdom, become more virtuous, caring and empathetic.

And thank you for a passionate and thought-provoking talk!




Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Selfie: narcissism or solitude?

Wikipedia describes selfie as:
A selfie is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone. Selfies are often shared on social networking services such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Tumblr. They are often casual, and are typically taken either with a camera held at arm's length or in a mirror.
Once a novelty, selfies have now become our bread and butter....

Be it you are President Obama at Madiba's funeral, be it the oscar star studded selfie, be it a biker on a Roman bridge, be it an F1 fan going to a race, be it a 9 year old playing with mum's or dad's phone or iPad and experimenting a selfie.

Even NASA could not resist the charm  and glamour of a selfie and decided to launch a campaign asking folks to take a selfie. Guess what 36,000 people (where they narcissists or terribly lonely folks) responded to their call, resulting a stunning mosaic of our planet to celebrate Earth Day.

I guess if you are anywhere between 5 and 50ish, chances are, you may have done a selfie. Not sure anyone will admit that their selfie is a sign of narcissism, and I am equally sure no one will admit that it is a sign of solitude..... Maybe it is somewhere in between.

What struck me the other day, as I was crossing one of the beautiful bridges in the eternal city, were two ladies, one a bike, and other one obviously travelling on her own, both of them fully engaged in a selfie. I had the urge to ask them whether they wanted me to take their picture. But their posture and look of pleasure on their face taking a selfie made me reconsider my offer.

Before the advent of selfies, we would have stopped someone, conversed and asked them to take our picture. Today, on the other hand, conversation seems to be luxury and the quest for self-sufficiency and immediacy seems to annihilate everything else.

I committed the same sin on Sunday.... We were getting ready to leave for the Monaco F1 race and I had the urge of posting my excitement on social media. While my family was getting ready,  I resorted to selfie......

After committing the sin, I thought to myself, would it have made a difference if I had posted the picture 15 minutes later? And of course the answer is NO, not at ALL. So why did I resort to a selfie......

And the honest answer, is I do not know, maybe because I had never done one before..... Maybe because I was super excited and wanted to share my excitement with my friends in real time. But then so what? Did they really care? Did they see it the moment I posted it?

What ever the motivation of a selfie, I wonder how it will at the end of the day transform our identities and culture. Now that we've seen the selfie version of our planet, of the Pope, President Obama, Hollywood stars and you and I, what next?

Saturday, 10 May 2014

The demise of innovation and creativity


Curiosity killed the cat and conformity killed innovation

I am on the final leg of what ended up being a very eventful trip back home. Looking out of the window, while the crew is finalizing the boarding procedures I see these ads:
"We invest in sustainable future and sustainable partnerships" 
"We understand the value chain from A to Z and the ppl who keep it moving"

Reading them made me realize that now a days innovation and creativity are rare commodities.... 

Think about it, how many brands you know carry the same messages as these ones and how many advocate for the same things?  I am sure you will come up with quite a few. And I am also equally sure that the brands you came up with belong to different sectors.

These particular ads belong to a bank, but they could easily be those of an NGO, a development organization, be it a multilateral, bilateral or for that matter an international financial institution or a supermarket chain.

This all made me reflect that today, more than ever, it is a challenge to create a brand proposition that stands out and is unique. Only a few succeed and when they do, it is because they have something unique and outstanding to "sell". 

When that is not case, we end up with more of the same, which then means a lot of noise and we end up either getting deaf, or not hearing anything at all. 

Some end up justifying their copy-cat syndrome by calling it replicating or scaling up......

All of these fancy terms to justify lack of ideas and innovations and adopt a cookie cutter approach which brings about conformity and kills diversity.

Bless the few innovators and geniuses that are around. May you be given the necessary space to spread out your wings and create something unique. 

May the world churn out more innovators who are bold, take risks, rock the boat and advocate for business as unusual. I want to sign up with them and be part of their agenda.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Want to be a fly on the wall when Barack Obama and Pope Francis meet :)

In a couple of minutes, in a hermetically closed eternal city, President Obama and Pope Francis will  meet to discuss issues around economic inequality.Undoubtedly they will also be talking about world politics, Russia, Ukraine, Crimea and who knows, maybe even talk about my country - the ancient Persian civilization.....

I wonder if they will also discuss the root causes of inequality which go beyond economic issues. Hope they'll  address also issues of social inequalities, how lack of mutual respect foments inequality, how resistance to embracing and accepting diversity of views and culture can cause inequality.

I guess for the first time in my life, I wish I was a fly on the papal walls to listen to the conversation of these two giants.

Hope we get some good soundbites and pearls of wisdom from this meeting.


Monday, 3 March 2014

The backstory of the unexpected success of structured chaos - better known as ICO speedgeeking #ifadgsm


If you’ve ever been on a blind date you probably have experienced the accompanying sense of apprehension and anxiety....

As you are getting ready to go on the date, you are thinking to yourself, Oh My God, what am I doing.... What if the guy or the gal turns out to be a psychopath... You are thinking, I must tell someone I am going on a blind date. And you may be contemplating to ask your friends to go to the same restaurant, so that they can keep an eye on you.....

As you enter the restaurant to meet your blind date, the sense of apprehension becomes panic and you start to consider turning around and leaving... That is when you start praying to all the saints in the heavens to let you come out of this experience unharmed.....

On 24 February 2014 at 2pm when my colleague Willem, stood on what a couple of minutes earlier was our nurse’s medical booth, we held our breaths and prayed to all the saints in the heavens to make the speedgeeking work. And surprise surprise, it WORKED.




It worked because THE PARTICIPANTS made it work. It worked because our country office colleagues gave nothing but their best by sharing compelling stories to engage the folks who visited them.

It worked because the stories were informative, fun and had the perfect blend of facts, figures and cultural aspects of their countries. It worked because the people visiting the various stations were curious and humble to learn.

It worked because everyone had put away their “I know it all attitude” and were wearing their “I want to learn more” garments. It worked, because it was a different way of interacting. It worked because it was of interest to everyone. It worked because it was a nice break from an orchestrated meeting - and was a structured chaos!

It worked so well that there was unanimous request for more of these things. Colleagues wanted the session to be longer so that you had an opportunity to visit more stations.  This comment on one of the feedback forms was music to our ears: “We have become a knowledge organization as we’ve embedded KM in all our processes”.

Thank you for making this blind date a pleasant and memorable experience. Hope you found your better half and that you’ll live happily ever after :)

Backstory of the ICO speedgeeking

In the spirit of knowledge sharing, here is the genesis and the backstory of this structured chaos.

The challenge: Give air time to 34 country offices to show case in 60 minutes three key characteristics of their countries, a challenge, and a remarkable achievement and learning.

The unknown: Number of participants showing up for the speedgeeking.... The million dollar question was how best to divide the participants so that all stations received and interacted with an equal number of colleagues.

The known: Given the time limit, participants could only visit a maximum of 4 or 5 stations

The moving goal post: Do all in the plenary hall.... Divide the speedgeeking between the plenary hall and the conference area.... Use the lounge and the corridor leading to the plenary hall..... If the weather is nice do it in the parking lot....... And you know what, we still had not completely made up our mind until 1pm.

The process:

  • Meet with focal points and brief them on what was expected
  • Ask our country office colleagues to respond to the above three questions
  • Follow-up, follow-up and follow-up
  • Organize briefing sessions with colleagues as soon as they arrived in Rome
  • Brief volunteers on how we were going to conduct the structured chaos
  • Discuss the structured chaos with security folks  to get tips on how to move people
  • Reassure the planning committee and management that it will work
  • Make sure the layout allowed for a seamless flow of the various groups (we had 16 stations in the plenary, 10 in the lounge and 8 in the corridor connecting the lounge and the plenary hall)
  • Ensure variety.... Mix the countries and avoid participants visiting countries from the same region
  • Give clear instructions and prepare a straightforward itinerary
  • Distribute people in such a way to avoid collisions and bottlenecks
  • Believe in the speakers
  • Rehearse the structured chaos
  • Pray that all the stars align in the best possible manner
  • Hold your breath when people start filing in through two different doors that you all stands have visitors

The moment of truth: No matter how much you’ve rehearsed, how many times you did your calculations and simulated the structured chaos you will only know it succeeds when it happens.....

As the people started filing in with their itinerary in their hands, we realized we had fewer people that the expected 600. This meant that the first stations had more visitors. Thinking on our feet, the volunteers jumped into action by going around and redistributing the participants. This allowed us to have a better distribution.

We managed the time in the best possible way, allowing participants to visit between 4 to 5 stations.

Our knowledgeable and extraordinary ICO colleagues did the rest....
The end-result was a memorable and magical moment resulting in people getting acquainted with different country realities, finding out that some of their challenges were already addressed by others, making new connections and learning from each other.

In other words - perhaps for the first time - we finally took a step to find out what we know by connecting with each other!

Lesson learnt:
  • Definitely repeat it
  • Allocate more time
  • Start with making your groups smaller. If you have more participants, enlarge your groups
  • Plan and rehearse
  • Have an intimate knowledge of your space
  • Leave somethings to chance, and think on your feet
  • SMILE and have fun
In closing,  thanks again our brilliant ICO colleagues, all the folks who played ball and participated in the speedgeeking, the GSM planning group in believing in this method and not micromanaging its deroulement, the volunteers who made sure it all worked and our facility management colleagues for reconfiguring the space in record time.

Now that people have seen how this structured chaos knowledge sharing method works and rated it as one of the highlights of the Global Staff Meeting, hopefully it will get replicated in other upcoming events.

THANK YOU for making this blind date a memorable one.












Sunday, 23 February 2014

When a vision becomes reality - the story of my organization's social reporting team - aka dream team

When you have a vision, you want to inspire others so that they can help you achieve it.  Usually the transformation of a vision into reality requires that people either “see” the vision in its entirety or at least “see” some elements of it. Alternatively, and in the best case scenario, the people who need to help make the vision come true, are like-minded folks who trust you and YOUR vision. In that case you are in business.

If on the other hand, you have cynics, naysayers and people who go out of their way to pull the rug from under you, then fulfilling your vision becomes an uphill journey, as it is highly unlikely for a visionary person to forgo their aspiration.

The realization of a vision is always accompanied by a sense of joy and pride. The second best satisfaction for a visionary person is when a respectable person outside their immediate circle sings the praises of and acknowledges their vision.  That is when you sit back and think to yourself - well, you know what, it was worth it all.  And if you are amongst the lucky ones who had people around you who “saw” your vision and accompanied you on the journey, then you feel truly blessed and accomplished.

This is exactly how I felt when I read Nisha Pillai's blogpost, singing the praises of my organization’s social media efforts. I think it is fair to say that introducing and mainstreaming social media has been quite a challenging experience. But comments and words of appreciation from seasoned professionals like Ms Pillai warm my heart. Thanks to my organization's social reporting team, today more people see the power and potential of social media. 

I thank the DREAM TEAM for sharing my vision. Through out our journey, you gave nothing but your best to overcome all the challenges. You continuously and consistently championed and mainstreamed an alternative communication paradigm. 

I go proud of what we managed to accomplish together. I am proud of never giving up, preserving and forging ahead as if there was no tomorrow. I am proud of your unwavering support which allowed us to turn the vision into reality and to make our organization's social media practices  a model to follow.

Well done DREAM TEAM. You are and will continue to be a DREAM TEAM.
THANK YOU and love you all.


Friday, 13 December 2013

A long walk to "Madibahood". Honouring the great Nelson Madela #mandelamemorial


Nicholas Kristof in his poignant op'd entitled How to truly honor Mandela, talks about how all those who are rushing to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela have failed to "uphold Mandela's spirit".

Is it because people no longer feel morally obliged to do something meaningful for others? Is it because the cost of taking sides can end up being too high? Is it because committing to fight for something you believe in may be too costly?  Or is it because there is comfort in compliance which is preventing us to open our minds and embrace diversity?

Mandela once said “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”

I guess this is the Mandela spirit that Kristof is referring to.... and I guess this is precisely why visionary leaders of the calibre of Madiba are few and far between. 

How many of our leaders practice Mandela's mantra of: "A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger" and how many are prepared to say: “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

Madiba taught us that the art of forgiving is the only way we can move forward and achieve our vision: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.”

I do wonder whether he ever forgot.... But I guess at this point it really does not matter.

If you ever have had a real vision and not just a rehashed "safe and secure"  idea,  you know helping people see your vision is far from being an easy feat, as you will have the naysayers barking; the snipers ready to shoot; and the cautious running for cover to avoid getting hurt.

But when you get a handful or just the ONE person - because that is what it takes - just ONE person with a decent social capital and influence - to "see and share"  your vision,  then you are in business and can pursue realizing it.

Mandela was determined to realize his vision of uniting his nation. In doing so he tried to help people see his vision, or at least asked for their indulgence to give him the benefit of the doubt...... He then ended up having many partners in crime and with his iron determination, his wonderful smile and stamina managed to bring about the change he had always dreamt and advocated for.

He is one of the few people who stood for something all throughout his life. He never gave up his ideals and convictions to please anyone or to be politically correct. He criticized the people in power when they deserved it or when he was not convinced of their actions. He never forgot nor abandoned his friends and allies - even if this meant going against the tide.

Indeed he was a giant and even if he said: "I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying"  do not be  surprised if sometime soon he will be elevated to sainthood.

Madiba, may you rest in peace.  Hopefully collectively we'll be able to honour your immense legacy.

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