#BaldevSingh suicide allegedly due to depression in job change made me to write about the book I read on “critical success strategies for new leaders”. Mr. Singh had taken over as Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s Director of Corporate planning and marketing few weeks before his suicide. Before that he was Executive Director Flight Operations and the Chief Test Pilot.  If you thought he just wasn’t capable enough to handle job change, read this: Sqn Ldr Baldev Singh did early schooling in Bangalore at St. Joseph European High School and later joined St. Joseph College. He joined the National Defence Academy in 1970 and graduated from the academy in December 1972 and was commissioned into the Indian Air Force in June 1973 as a fighter pilot. He is a Qualified Flying Instructor and holds a diploma in Aviation Flight Safety from the Naval Post Graduate College, Monterey Bay, California, USA. He was 58 when he moved to the new role.

By the way, whether his death had anything to do with job change or not, I had realized reasonable enough value in the book that I wanted to blog about it. The book “First 90 Days”, written by leadership transition expert and Harvard Professor Mr. Watkins, gives Dos and Don’ts when moving to a new role/job.

Disclaimer: A lot of things said are common sense. But unless this is your 5th job in 10 years, you are less likely to intuitively do these things right. From personal experience, I can confirm I have had my bumps. Moreover, it brings a structured framework/approach to the transition and I am sure you will find it useful. Fyi – Author has claimed many executives/HR after reading this book have made First 90 Days as structured transition kit in their organizations.

And by the way, I am moving to a new role within my company. The next 90 days are the first 90 days for me! So keep watching this space as I write about my insights from my “trial” run in the next 90 days.

First step: Follow this link to browse a 20 slide PPT that tries to summarize the framework. [Well I thought I would create this PPT but its been crazy settling in the new job, new location, new BU, new people plus finding place to stay, school for my son and managing to disengage from current commitments including school fees, gas transfer and what not! Add travelling from one corner of the country to other for celebrating Diwali with family! So I figured if you are curious enough you would read the first comment in the amazon link I gave earlier on the book name. If not, here it is again: First 90 Days. On my part, I will not assume you have read the book or any reviews or any excerpts when I publish insights! Deal?]

I will certainly publish the PPT later. So here you go: The PPT is and is not certain things:

The PPT is not a step to convince you about the framework. For that read the book. This is a clear step by step guide assuming you are a “BELIEVER”.  I have also tried to sequence steps and put a timeline (hhmmm… what’s with us Project Managers in sequencing and adding deadlines). Author has not given timeline explicitly. This is just an attempt by me.

It’s hard for the incumbent to move to new, faster model.

Google chairman Schmidt opined like this about Microsoft in an interview with salesforce.com CEO Benioff. I thought that was so true. I could think of several such examples – salesforce.com itself is a good example of leveraging this advantage against “not so nimble” giants that occupied the CRM market. Google with the internet, facebook with social network, makemytrip/monster over traditional facilitators are all few case-in-points.

I had read many cases during my MBA about how IBM which stood the test of PC still lost some ground to newer players who leveraged offshoring like Infosys; How GM, Ford lost ground to Honda, Toyota; The point is that as companies age, they develop processes that fit the existing model. The people selection and development and other systems also comply with the incumbent business model. These processes become the huge ship that can’t turn quickly when they spot the iceberg (assuming they do spot it!). With time, when a new need emerges, a new entrant leverages a new model to effectively satisfy the new need. The incumbent then is unable to swiftly change their model to stay relevant. The people, processes and systems not only create friction to change but also groupthink makes company happy with status-quo. I have to note here the concept called “Theory of Business” – the idea is to stay relevant to the market i.e. to spot the iceberg. But that does not address how a company stays nimble with its people, processes and systems.

But then is it really true? Does a company become less agile as it ages? I wondered. Well, tell Steve Jobs that “It’s hard for the incumbent to move to new, faster model.” Following responses are possible: Smirk, Slap or rolling on the floor laughing out loud. :) From an existing company he kept giving new products that, as someone put it in TechCrunch, were not just hits after hits but were home-runs after home-runs. First the iPod that took good care of the “incumbent” Sony. You could argue that iPod and iPhone are in fact the case stated by Schmidt. Just that it’s an existing company that entered a new market. But take PC market. First with Mac, Apple defined the edge of computing, usability and even form factor with iMac. With iPad they are defining the next evolution of personal computer. After I come back from work when I hop onto fb, twitter, linkedin, google reader, youtube and my internet reading list why would I switch on my laptop again? To call a desktop a personal computer is so stone-age Microsoft! Let’s think for a moment. Why couldn’t a new entrant come up with a tablet and surprise the PC market incumbents, to name a few – Apple and Microsoft? Not with Apple, because Apple defines the evolution and not the new entrant!

This is what leaders do – they don’t just have market-share, they define the market. Now what does it make Apple so successful in staying nimble even as it ages??? Certainly, it’s a worthy topic for a research paper. Let me speculate on this a little bit and please share your thoughts:

  1. Have being nimble as part of the strategy itself – then your people, process and systems or more comprehensively the 7S of McKinsey will be designed towards nimbleness – huh…It’s so easy to lay down these terms know. That is why MBA is easy but businesses are not!
  2. Keep the radar on – to check if the assumptions of the business (theory of business) are relevant for the current changes in the society, markets, customers, products and technology.
  3. Depending on the industry and the company strategy keep a portion (more for say hi-tech, pharma as against say construction) of the company focused on innovation. Focus on the five tenets of innovation development: read this article I wrote.

Obviously the list is not complete. Let me know what you think your company is doing to stay nimble. Or is it really hard for the incumbent to move to new, faster models?

Three Professors from HBS, INSEAD and Brigham Young University spent years researching innovative companies and leaders and wrote the book Innovator’s DNA. They conclude there are some basic skills that differentiate business innovators like Steve Jobs from ordinary managers.

They sound pretty logical and hence un-innovative! Nevertheless, logically thinking :), it’s clear why these skills will help in being innovative!

So here’s the list. Master them and you will give yourself a good chance of being innovative.

The three profs call them the five skills of disruptive innovators:

  1. Questioning allows innovators to challenge the status quo and consider new possibilities; Example: the interface with computers for humans is through body organs – eye, ear and hands. Then is mouse natural? Why not gestures and voice recognition?
  2. Observing helps innovators detect small details—in the activities of customers, suppliers and other companies—that suggest new ways of doing things. Example: College kids spend most time socializing but emails are not good enough then why not build a new product?
  3. Networking permits innovators to gain radically different perspectives from individuals with diverse backgrounds; Example: (If true) Aamir’s suggestion to picket MP’s residences to force an opinion on Lokpal proved a masterstroke. If not Aamir, someone in the network came up with this right!
  4. Experimenting prompts innovators to relentlessly try out new experiences, take things apart and test new ideas; I guess this is the most intuitive one – so no examples.
  5. Associational thinking — drawing connections among questions, problems or ideas from unrelated fields helps to create innovative solutions. This is triggered by questioning, observing, networking and experimenting and is the catalyst for creative ideas. Example: If offshoring works for IT why not for knowledge processes and core operations? The book Corporate Chanakya is another example.

There you go: The mantra to be innovative is “Questioning, observing, networking, experimenting and associational thinking”

Now if you are a leader of a group that needs to innovate – here’s another framework – 3P framework for people, processes and philosophies. Fundamental change within senior managers (some mastery of the five discovery skills); changes in how their innovation project teams work (processes that support innovation); and changes in philosophies that foster the belief that innovation really is everyone’s job.

RT @bhadragiriyar கருவின் வழி அறிந்து கருத்தைச் செலுத்தாமல் / அருவி விழிசொரிய அன்பு வைப்பது எக்காலம்?

Bhadragiriyar was a king who became a votary of Siva(God). He wrote two line snippets which are called “cribs”. The cribs about life are written in his penchant to reach god (tamil – meignana pulambalgal). His period of existence is not known but research points to the fact that he could have been a contemporary to pattinathaar.

I really loved this snippet. Ancient (Sangakaala(?)) tamil is so diferent from current (valakku) tamil. So my translation is questionable! Nevertheless, here is my take:

1) When will I stop researching origins and instead focus on practicing love?

Aren’t we lost in origins? It starts right from theological questioning on life, existence, re-birth etc. Why do I need to KNOW the answer to these questions? Isn’t it just enough if I live a life of love? The lower level of thinking on origin would be about birth origins – leading to racism, casteism, religious fanaticism. The lowest level could even be favoring one’s own kid over neighbor’s or brother’s! Why do I look for these origins? Do they mean anything?

I found a book on “Chanakya for corporate life” in a book store. Certainly the parables of Chanakya, bhadragiriyar etc are applicable in modern day corporate life as well. I would replace origins with “pre-conceived notions (about originator)” and love with “objectivity”. Shouldn’t a good leader stop having pre-conceived notions and focus on objectivity!

This crib has a beautiful “uruvagam” (metaphor) – Aruvi vizhi (waterfalls eye) – used in the context: love like a person who would cry (feel) for another being with tears falling like waterfalls.

I will tell you one more reason why I love the “cribs”. They don’t preach. For example if the above point was to be made by a thirukural or a bhagavat gita or a kuran or a bible, it would have just preached: “Don’t focus too much on life origins, but instead focus on practicing love!”. The cribs are written from the perspective of a flawed person – an incomplete human being! Every crib ends with “ekkalam”. In English translation, let’s say, every crib will start with “When will I”. They highlight human frailties – inability to come out of one thing to reach a stage where you know you should be! Gandhi said “Knowing ones own weakness is his biggest strength!”.

Going back to the snippet: Why do people research origins? I think human mind wants reasons, has a natural curiosity and for the lower levels has an interest in things closely related – the reason why facebook is such a huge hit! Any thoughts?

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Epilogue: if you liked this, you may want to follow “bhadragiriyar” in twitter. You owe a beer to my friend Arvindh Rajesh (which he doesn’t drink so u can treat me instead) who has written a bot to post a “crib” in twitter twice every week – tuesdays and thursdays!. You can help by posting translation or even writing “urai” in valakku thamizh. If you are in a real hurry to read all – go here: http://projectmadurai.org/pm_etexts/pdf/pm0074.pdf

In many of his cribs, bhadragiriyar talks about inability to control material desires. I don’t know if one needs to control them. I’ll say un-attachment over material things whether you enjoy them or not is important. But truly the guy is awesome – here’s to illustrate the beauty: His diplomatism might be lost in my translation “When will my thoughts be like that (single-minded thoughts) of a separated casanova who is searching for his previously intimate lover?” :-) To state in simple terms: “When will I search for Siva with single-minded obsession like how a seperated casonova would search for his previously intimate lover”. In tamil “koodip pirinthuvitta kombanaiyai kaanamal / thedith thavippavan pol sinthai vaippathu ekkalam?” Happy reading!

Mr. Pranab Mukherjee has exempted earnings upto Rs. 1.8 Lacs from taxes. So what’s the end effect of the increase in tax slab? Rs. 2000 lower tax, for anyone with annual salary of Rs. 1.8L and above.

There was lot of confusion with even some of the learned minds in calculating the tax benefits. What is the rate at which this Rs. 20,000 increase in slab would have been taxed? 30%, greater than 30% or 20% or the “effective tax rate” (just divide your actual tax amount in last payslip by annual salary for this). None of it – it will be 10% of the Rs. 20,000. And, by the way, this Rs. 20,000 increase in slab does not cascade for all other slabs. The buck stops at the base slab :) Let me explain here.

Check the existing and proposed tax slabs and tax rates below. The only change is highlighted in yellow and red.

Tax Slab 2010-2011 Tax Rate 2011-2012 Tax Rate
0 – 1,60,000 0% 0%
1,60,001 – 1,80,000 10% 0%
1,80,001 – 5,00,000 10% 10%
5,00,001 – 8,00,000 20% 20%
8,00,001 – your salary amount 30% 30%


If that didn’t explain, read on: Existing slabs and tax rates are: 0-1.6L – 0%; 1.6L-5L– 10%; 5L-8L – 20%; above 8L – 30%; So basically what Mr. Pranab has done is to squeeze the 10% bucket to 1.8L to 5L instead of 1.6L to 5L, so you will save 10% on the Rs. 20,000 (1.6L to 1.8L) which will not be taxed.

And, by the way, if you are from the fairer sex, none of this discussion is for you as your tax exempt slab already was Rs. 1,90,000 in FY 2010-2011 ;)

Yes, numbers lie too! Don’t confuse yourselves with Rs. 20,000 increase in slab. Thank Mr. Mukherjee for the 2K that will you can pocket sometime before April 2012. Getting a bit more technical, if u r going to have ur dinner on him tonight don’t spend more than Rs. 1,818. That’s Rs, 2000 discounted at 10% per annum – net present value of Rs. 2000 in April 2012 as on today (subject to lot of assumptions)!

I liked what Kamal, a versatile film-star (legend), had to say to four budding, and very promising, directors in a TV show. He was saying “the more ethnic you become, the more global you get!” – I liked the way he thought about how a “world-class” movie should be made. To make a movie that will excite audience worldwide, you don’t need to go to exotic locations across the world, use latest technology etc. You just do a movie showing interesting characters that are soaked in taken culture. You normally do this right when you take your own culture. A fan loves to see Japan as it is and that goes to any other place. In his opinion, and I tend to agree, virumaandi, naan kadavul etc are world-class because they get more ethnic and hence world audience would want to have a peak! I have appreciated similar cultural portrayals in Memoirs of a Geisha, Troy, Aviator, Spanglish etc etc….

I thought this was interesting – don’t go elsewhere for glory, search within!

In a way this philosophy is good even for many other cases of identity building where one goes out of the board to differentiate without recognizing if you just be, you will be different! This goes to one as an individual (say professional), an organization in monopolistic competition (say restaurant), in children’s upbringing… almost everything I can think about!

Let me briefly explain the examples I took so as to illustrate the pattern. Individual – never try to be someone else to be noted. If you just be, you will be different. God never made any two men same! Restaurant – there is nothing better that explains ‘get more ethnic to get more global’ than a restaurant. The more authentic you get with food, ambience, experience the more global reach you will get! Upbringing – Don’t raise an American in India or an Indian in America – either will confuse the kids. Both are great cultures, just make your choice and teach core values – what I term as values are all single word adjectives (Honest, Open, Brave, Hard-working, Kind, Fun-loving…). My point about upbringing is that: don’t go broad across cultures rather go deep in one culture along with acceptance of other cultures.

Note: the beauty of getting more ethnic to get more global is based on the premise that people “want” and “like” multiplicity in – restaurants, cultures, people etc! So don’t loose it as a fanatic when you get more ethnic ;)

I welcome any thoughts on this – this topic roused interesting debates in my recent discussions with friends: best of both worlds is better? Spineless followers of west (or east)? Ethnicity is necessary but not sufficient condition? Get the hell out of your hole :) Etc etc….Pretty interesting stuff. Many valid observations but a man has to make his calls and I made mine :)

I was starting from Chennai to Madurai. It was going to take 8 hrs by train and I will reach by 8:30 PM. So my anni (bhabhi) gave me a box with lunch. Usually I am against carrying such stuff. But perhaps ageing (31) has changed me a little bit. I did not make any fuss and accepted the “tiffen box”. There was only one request – “don’t forget to bring it back” :) I have to give some background here. I have a notorious reputation of forgetting things (in fact it’s so common among my bros that all bhabhi’s gang up on this topic when we meet together). My brother came to rescue, “amaa thanga thatta koduthu vidura” (hmm… that is a golden plate or what). I promised myself that I will not forget and decided that I will be “double” careful. My bro gave me a tip, after eating put the box in your laptop bag!

When I reached railway station, I realized my e-ticket for AC chair car got cancelled as it did not move. I decided to take an unreserved ticket and travel with the crowd so that I did not have to wait longer to see my son and wife. In a way I did want to enjoy going in unreserved compartment. :) After 7 years in US one misses a few things I guess. I was lucky to get a seat. I was trapped in a seat with so much crowd standing that moving out of seat for say going to loo was out of question. The problem with unreserved compartment is that food or pantry services are not available when the train is in motion – partly because of the crowd and mainly because the unreserved compartment is cut off from the rest of the vestibules without a connecting path. So the personnel from pantry car can’t come to UR compartment. So the tiffen box was a boon – really! I felt hungry in between the journey and ate the delicious contents of the tiffen box. I had a good habit of thanking people then and there. So I called up my anni and conveyed how tasty the food was and how I would have had to stay hungry had I not carried it in unreserved compartment.

I stacked some more “Manapparai” murukku, a delicacy from the place I grew up (Manapparai) on the way, in the bag I carried for the tiffen box.   Because of incessant rains, I reached Madurai one and half hours late. I just had to get in the crowd and the next thing I found myself in the platform ;) Took an auto without wasting much time and was on my way to wify!

Half way thru a lightning struck! What the heck? I had forgotten to take the bag with tiffen box and manapparai murukku!!! I asked the auto to turn about and go back to station. It was not about the monetary value or anything just that when someone had been so kind I can’t be so careless. I was so ashamed that I spent about one hour searching, walking all the way to the end of the train to the unreserved compartment, asking people whom I should talk to for “lost and found” service(in Indian Railways unreserved compartment!!?? I just lost my sanity). My efforts turned futile. Not losing hope I went to the railways police station and gave a verbal complaint (!!! Come on) b4 leaving to my in-laws place. This time I did not want to take an auto instead took a public bus. I felt so bad that I wanted to deprive myself of any comforts!

I started lamenting to myself on my way. What the heck – I called her up thanking when the true thanking wud have been to bring back the box thoughtfully filled with other delicacies and then thanking in person. If only I had not forgotten! After two stops in the bus one thought came to my mind. Was calling her less important than not forgetting? Isn’t it a paradox that when reflecting on past we always want negatives to have been avoided and take the positives for granted??? Like in this case, I should have avoided the “forgetting”; calling her back was not a big deal against not forgetting. Let us for one minute think of the vice versa: Negatives would have happened and the positives doesn’t happen. Had I not called her on the way, I wouldn’t have had the face to show up and say “I forgot”! Since I called her in between that at least gives a true picture of me – that I am careless in some things and I am caring (show love/thanks) in other things. Wud our life be better if we don’t take our positives for granted and be over critical on our negatives??!!