There can nothing be as stark as Black and White in this world. There can be nothing so right or so wrong in this world. Something that is correct for me might be incorrect for you and vice-a-versa. Know why? Because it is all just ‘Perspectives’. Your perspective and my perspective. As the saying goes – ‘Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder’; maturity is when it seems ‘Grey’ to both of us. It’s like the Indian nod – Ye bhi sahi hai, who bhi sahi hai


Donot define your world in Black and White… because there is so much hiding amonst the Greys…

The Janitor Story


1962 was a memorable year for The States as the entire team in National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) were on their toes to complete a mission; unique as well as a dream of the generations.

President John F. Kennedy set a goal for the United States that would surpass any previous engineering and scientific feat: Humans would land on the moon and return safely to Earth before the end of the decade… was the mission.

There was immense pressure on NASA for accomplishing this mission as USSR had already sent his first man to the moon – Yuri Gagarin. US wanted to break the record by making an American walk on the moon.

John F. Kennedy once visited NASA to check the progress of the work. After his discussions with the scientists he was taking a stroll around the office along-with some other key member-scientists of the mission. President Kennedy noticed a janitor (caretaker/sweeper) mopping the floor.  He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing here?”

The janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon, Mr. President.”

Apparently, the janitor understood the significance of his contribution. He truly felt he was a valuable part of something bigger than himself, and his attitude created a feeling of self-confidence and involvement in his mission. He gave this impression to the president that he wasn’t merely a janitor; he was a member of the 1962 NASA Space Team!

Lessons to learn:

I would draw your attention to majorly two lessons:

  1. Goals, Vision, Mission, how they are aligned to employee’s goals, mission and vision
  2. Employee/People Engagement

How can a company capture its employees’ hearts and minds so they see the link between their own job performance and the company’s financial success?

It’s all about closing the gap between strategy and execution. A company can spend lots of time developing a perfect strategy, but it means nothing if it is unable to “cascade” that strategy down to the day-to-day work of its employees.

“Goal cascading” is a method for communicating business strategy so every employee in the company understands the role they play.

The process starts with top management setting their goals based on the company strategy. They then share their goals with their direct reports or VPs, who in turn set goals that align and support those of top management. By cascading this process all the way down through the company, top management can feel assured that all employees are working on goals that can be linked back to the company’s overall strategy.

This is how it is supposed to work. However, more often than not, goals are not cascaded very low in the company. Perhaps they reach down into the Director or Manager levels — but stop there.

Example: If a company’s goal is to increase profits by 20%, the CFO and VP of Sales may know what they have to do to achieve this target, but does the company receptionist, production operator or mail clerk know what they need to do? Unless goals are cascaded all the way down to the lowest jobs, employees are left feeling their work is not important and cannot really make a difference.

The other key lesson is Employee engagement.

Every 1% increase in employee engagement indicates a 0.6 % growth in sales, according to Aon Hewitt’s 2013 Trends in Global Employee Engagement report. Applying this logic to a $5 billion company with a gross margin of 55% and 15% operating margin, a 1% increase in engagement would be worth $20 million!

I read these lines somewhere and it put a strong impact on me: “When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.” This is the essence of employee engagement. Top to bottom everyone in your organization should be connected to the vision you ought to accomplish; then you can defy the impossible.

Though the story is over, it won’t end without mentioning the aftermath of such high level of employee engagement. July 1969, a little over eight years since Kennedy’s mission setting, the day of “Translunar injection” arrived; which in other words means – it’s time to head for the moon. We better know this mission today as “One Giant Leap for Mankind”

Stick at it!

Want a counter-intuitive lesson on goal setting? How about: not setting goals! Well, perhaps allowing goal-free time, to be more precise. Most advice on goal setting or time management in the workplace implies the need for order, structure and regimentation.

It’s important though, to ensure that you and your colleagues allow yourself time to think. In fact, one notable business success story indicates how sticking to just such a free-time policy has paid a world-famous dividend…

A Note-able Story

What if you and your staff could spend 15% of your time on projects of your own choosing, pursuing ideas you think could make a difference for your organisation? What kind of lesson on goal setting would that be? That’s exactly what U.S. corporation 3M have done to encourage creativity and to allow people with ideas to take a lead.

The 15 percent rule, as it has become known, has been the catalyst for some of 3M’s most famous products, such as Scotch tape and “notably” Post-it Notes.

But the “Post-it note” story is not just about giving people the time and the opportunity to follow their ideas. It’s also a lesson in perseverance and in realizing success from failure.

Sticking but not remaining stuck!

In 1968, 3M scientist Dr Spencer Silver discovered a formula for a glue which didn’t seem to work properly. It was sticky, but didn’t stick! Another failed experiment?

Possibly, if not for the predicament of a colleague.

Silver’s colleague Art Fry was experiencing a problem. A very frustrating problem. While singing in the church choir his book marks kept falling out of the hymnal, causing him to lose his page. Fry needed a repositionable note, one which would stick, but would not remain stuck. Six years after Silver’s “failed” experiment, Fry remembered his colleague’s low-tack glue.

You may think the story ends here and that the rest is history, but connecting a problem to a possible solution was only the beginning. Using 3M’s 15% rule, it took Fry another three years to create a practical product. Post-it notes were first introduced in 1977, and were in mass production by 1980. Today, Post-it is a globally recognized brand, with around 600 products.

Making the Difference

This lesson on goal setting illustrates the importance of giving people time and resources to capitalize on their potential. How much creativity is lying dormant or stifled, for the want of encouragement?

Creating the space and providing the time for creativity is a crucial lesson on goal setting. Let others take a lead in taking the business forward.

This was a fundamental philosophy of William L. McKnight, credited with creating 3M’s corporate culture. His words are well worth quoting here:

“As our business grows, it becomes increasingly necessary to delegate responsibility and to encourage men and women to exercise their initiative. This requires considerable tolerance. Those men and women, to whom we delegate authority and responsibility, if they are good people, are going to want to do their jobs in their own way. Mistakes will be made. But if a person is essentially right, the mistakes he or she makes are not as serious in the long run as the mistakes management will make if it undertakes to tell those in authority exactly how they must do their jobs. Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative. And it’s essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to grow.”

What difference would it make to your organization if you and your colleagues were allowed “bootleg” time?

What could you do with 15% of your time spent developing ideas or projects?

Some interesting questions, and an interesting lesson on goal setting.

My Car Hates Vanilla Ice cream

The other day, I was watching the movie Rocket Singh. It gives me a strong message every time I watch it. One among which is to understand your customer, their needs and of course their delight. In a nutshell- being customer centric. Market is indeed experience sensitive and experience driven. Being customer centric in such an era is never an option; it’s a ‘have to’ for survival.

When I ask people what is/what should be the core of an organization, I get replies like: Dedicated marketing team, Training, Research & development, Values & ethics, Process orientation, Strong HR, Right recruitment. Correct. But sadly, no answer has ever appealed me than what Rocket Singh conveyed: Customer.

You begin with customers; not products. You focus on what those customers want to do. If you design any organization from the customers’ perspective, your organization will remain nimble and focused on customers’ changing needs and market conditions.

As customer-centric executives, we want to foresee customers’ needs and delight them with solutions they might not have thought of, yet they immediately love and value.

A man purchased a brand new Pontiac car. The family would have an ice cream every day post dinner. This man noticed that whenever he purchased a vanilla ice cream his car won’t start! This happened every time he got vanilla ice creams without fail. Out of curiosity he thought of writing to the General Motors co.

He didn’t receive any reply for his query and he kept writing. Twice, thrice. The complaint division was naturally skeptical about these letters. However, they felt the letter is written by someone who is well educated and Pontiac being a premiere range car the user must be affluent. So they decided to take up the concern.

An Engineer was sent to check the problem. The Engineer accompanied the man every night after dinner. When they ordered any customized ice cream or any flavor that is not Vanilla the car would start and the day they order Vanilla it won’t.

The Engineer now realized that there was a problem that needs to be sorted out. He started to record the visit details – arrival time, time taken to make the purchase, time taken to pay the bill and several other factors. Soon he had a clue – purchases of vanilla ice cream took less time than the other flavors. The reason was that the freezer containing vanilla ice cream was at the front of the store near a quick purchase, while other flavors had a niche and customized flavors required more time to be prepared which required lining up to get checked out.

Now the Engineer realized that this was the answer to the problem – not the ice cream flavor, but the time required. While purchasing vanilla ice cream there was a vapor lock that prevented the car to restart. With the other flavors, there was sufficient time for the engine to cool down, allowing vapor to dissipate and the car to restart.


Customer complaints, issues, demands; how outrageous may be, should never be discarded. Being customer centric the organization not only provides an outstanding customer delight experience to its end users but also develops, discovers and innovates several new ways of gaining a competitive advantage.

Laughter is powerful

On the day of Rama’s coronation, in the middle of the royal court, Lakshman started to laugh. Everyone wondered who was Lakshman laughing at. Was he laughing at Ayodhya, victim of palace politics who had to bow before a pair of footwear for 134 years? Was he laughing at Kaushalya who always wanted to see her son crowned king? Was he laughing at Kaikeyi for all her plans to become queen mother had failed? Was he laughing at Bharat for letting go of an opportunity to be king? Was he laughing at his mother Sumitra, and his brother, Shatrughna, who would always be servants no matter who was king? Was he laughing at Sugriva who got Ram to kill his brother to be king or at Vibhishan who became king because he sided with his brother’s enemy? Was he laughing at Jambuvan because the bear was too old and so was overshadowed by Hanuman? Was he laughing at Hanuman who set his own tail aflame to save Ram’s wife and got nothing in exchange? Was he laughing at Sita who had to prove through a trial by fire that she was chaste when she was liberated from Lanka? Was he laughing at Ram for ending up with a wife of soiled reputation?

But Lakshman was laughing at no one. He was laughing at a tragedy that was about to unfold. He could see Nidra, the goddess of sleep, approaching him. He had requested her to leave him alone for 14 years so that he could serve Ram. The 14 years were up and he had to keep his word, fall into deep slumber exactly when he was about to see the one thing he desired most in life — his beloved brother, Ram, being crowned king.


Why did Lakshman’s laughter make people insecure? It is because laughter is power. When we laugh at someone, we feel safe, secure, unthreatened, even powerful. However, when someone laughs at us, we feel insulted, humiliated, uncomfortable, even powerless.

The many comedy shows on television and Internet make us laugh because they make fun of others, usually those who we want to mock: Politicians, Bollywood stars, macho men, feminists, the rich, the glamorous, the beautiful. We often do not see the power dynamics involved in laughter. Neuropsychologists and philosophers believe humans first laughed to express shared relief at the passing of danger, when the prey gave the predator a slip, or a predator, after days of hunger, finally found food. It had to do with feelings of security and trust. This is the reason that everyone laughs when the boss laughs, and we crack jokes about the boss only behind his/her back.

Those who laugh at themselves, or let others crack jokes about them, are seen as sports; they allow others to feel powerful at their expense. But sometimes jokes hit too close to home and strike our deepest insecurities. And then, we snarl.



Conventionally, Vedic knowhow were categorized into three categories:

  1. The Mantra -That works on the mind,
  2. The Tantra – That works on the body, and
  3. The Yantra – That technology or instrument that is independent of the mind or body

Mantras pursued to construct conceptual precision or emotional stability; that uses the power of the mind to bring stability in thoughts and in life.

Tantras are activities – chanting, fasting, celibacy, pilgrimages; that uses the body – the physical abilities to solve problems, without placing any demand on the head or heart.

Yantras are present outside humans – idols, images, and geometrical patterns; designed to influence the world around us without putting any pressure on the mind or body.

Yantras are about plug & play: just wear the amulet and see your fortune turn. Now it is true or not, works for all or not is a different story all together but this is what the veda says.

Does it have any relevance for people like us who wear corporate suits and not orange robes?

Yes, it does. Every organization today needs mantra (conceptual clarity and emotional security) to produce leaders, tantra (behavioural modification) to craft an acquiescent workforce and yantra (technology) to do repetitive jobs that do not need human intervention.

Of these mantra is least anticipated but most effective, especially for handling shifting contexts. I will speak about the financial services industry where I have spent most of my career. The corporate head-honchos are chosen on the basis of business they generate. They work under tremendous pressure and the only thing the mind and body chases is – numbers. Clarity of thoughts, emotional stability and maturity shown in order to handle a testing situation; demands peace of mind.

Tantras function only in fairly homogenous ecosystems where all the stake holders are committed to a given goal. There is persistent need for ‘change management workshops’ and ‘re-training’ every time there is transformation in organizational structure, business processes or technology. This helps the internal customers to get updated with what happens in the organization’s eco-system and up-skilled with its volatile demand.

Yantras or technologies can either be cast-off to empower people (tool or software), or to bypass people completely (robots). We are in an era where the brick and mortar presence is disappearing rapidly. A couple of days back there was an article in the newspaper that one of the renowned hotels is investing in robots in place of human beings as receptionists, waiters and janitors. The management of the hotel says; it is worth to make a one time investment in hiring (purchasing) and training robots than what they have as a cos-to-company otherwise.

Companies, faced with the pressures of targets and expectations, tired of human defiance and unpredictability, are increasingly betting more on yantra, less on tantra and even less on mantra. The whole idea is to create technology that replaces human beings completely, hence the obsession with algorithms and robotics. Instead of making tools that are human-friendly; humans are being expected to be tool-friendly! It is this mindset that values processes over people and technology over thought.

Go to the ROAR!

Lions love to eat gazelle meat; however, it is very difficult for them to catch gazelles because they run so fast. Instead, a group of young lions herd the gazelles away from them. The gazelles easily outrun the lions and head off in the direction the lions have chosen, which is unknowingly towards a deep grassy area where a group of older lions are hiding.

The moral is that running from your fears and not facing them can often lead you into real danger and worse outcomes. In day-to-day life, the lions lying in wait may not be life threatening, but they are often false fears.

Running away may mean we remain stuck and unhappy for a long time or until we face and move through our fear.

Immediately, the gazelles, responding to their perceived fear of imminent death, turn and run in the opposite direction, right into the mouths of the young lions. The older lions are too old and tired to be part of the chase; many are missing teeth, and would never be able to catch their own meat. When the gazelles are driven within close range of the older lions, they jump up and ROAR loudly.

We’re not sure about the accuracy of the lion analogy, especially as it’s well known that in the lion kingdom, it’s the females, the lionesses who do all the work!

Nonetheless, we can’t disagree with the moral. This is still one of our favorite personal development stories.

So, what to do next? Remember Jack Canfield’s words in The Success Principles:

“If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.”

And as Gall Sussman Miller says:

“Acknowledging and facing your fear may actually mean a better chance of survival. It is nearly *always* an opportunity to grow, learn, and improve your confidence and success. You increase your tolerance of risk and your ability to move through your fears better the next time.”

Instead of acting instinctively, or from habit, think about your fears. Analyse them. Take steps to defeat them. Then go to the roar. Think of your fears as a challenge to be overcome, or a problem to be solved. The key to analyzing any problem is to ask the right questions.