Heartbreaks…they go on…

Last I wrote on how skinned knees are easier to cure than broken hearts. I got some shocked reader feedback….how can I bare all about my broken heart on a public platform??… is it not too personal a story??…etc etc

Till people read my examples and understood that am talking of intense disappointments and let downs…whether done to me …or done by me…and then got what i mean by heartbreaks. It was not a bare all, no holds barred story of unrequited love confessions a la Hollywood style, but rather the day to day jolts and falls we all go through.

Am reminded of the famous Sardarji joke. Santa slips and falls off a banana peel one day. The very next day when he sees another banana peel lying on the road, he curses aloud,“धत्त तेरी की!!! आज फिर गिरना पड़ेगा!!” (Oh Heck no!!!! Now today I will have to fall again!!!!)  

Life is all about facing disappointments and pain, and carrying on despite it all! Napoleon had remarked that there is no brave soldier…one who is not scared…all soldiers are scared in the throes of battle…but a good soldier is one who is scared and still retains his ability to fight and follow his orders. Life’s battles continue to prepare us to be better soldiers…one who retains the ability to fight back and continue despite all the setbacks, the knives in our backs, the large let downs, the broken expectations and the unfaithfulness of our friends. Sara Teasdale (The Collected Poems)  put it ,well,“It is strange how often a heart must be broken/ Before the years can make it wise.”

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I, for one, tried to follow other smart people’s advice and suffered the same fate as Agatha Christie who noted: “Everybody said, “Follow your heart”. I did, it got broken”. Or see the immortal love queen Marilyn Monroe’s famous musings:  “This life is what you make it. No matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up. Girls will be your friends – they’ll act like it anyway. But just remember, some come, some go… As for lovers, well, they’ll come and go too. And baby, I hate to say it, most of them – actually pretty much all of them are going to break your heart, but you can’t give up…” Rather, I have reconciled with the view that the heart was meant to be broken and the road to true happiness is paved with many sad events, disappointments and longings.

The present crisis in my heart’s journey is seeing my daughter off… as she goes abroad for further studies! The feeling that she will not be around daily is disconcerting and disturbing. That she will be alone in a foreign land, fighting her own battles, resolving her own issues and far, far away from my watchful eye is heart rending. But alongside this feeling is the basic question: am I unhappy because she will be away? or am I more disturbed by the fact that she may actually not miss me at all? She has a new life opening up before her. So will I be redundant in her life? The dilemma is similar to that of any father at the time of marriage of his daughter…while he wants her to be happy in the new household that she is going to be a part of…there is also a sadness and grief of the emerging gap in your own life, your own family, your house, your own heart…. Mineko Iwasaki knew his stuff when he observed: “Stab the body and it heals, but injure the heart and the wound lasts a lifetime.” 

knew what

All of us who have loved and lost know: Once you had put the pieces back together, even though you may look intact, you were never quite the same as you had been before the fall. Augusta Webster sings of this state ” we two shall still meet day by day,
But never more shall heart respond to heart.
Two stranger boats can drift down one tide,
Two branches on one stem grow green apart.
Farewell, I say.”

Farewell. God Speed. All the Best. I for one aver and understand: we must open our hearts and be ready for the fall. Know our heart will break, but expose it anyways. To complete Marilyn Monroe’s earlier quote: “…Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie? So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life’s a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.” 

So to my daughter and all those who regularly and routinely break my heart, to my sisters, brothers, friends and lovers, to all my well wishers and ill wishers, I say what Augustus Waters tells  his lover Hazel in the Hollywood blockbuster The Fault in Our Stars: “It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you”.

ways to die

The quintessential philosopher of today’s nihilistic times Albert Camus has the last word on this: “It is necessary to fall in love – the better to provide an alibi for all the despair we are going to feel anyway.” This appeals to my misanthrope heart and mind. But for you, my dear positive readers, I end with our favorite ABBA

Chiquitita, you and I know
How the heartaches come and they go and the scars they’re leaving
You’ll be dancing once again and the pain will end
You will have no time for grieving
Chiquitita, you and I cry
But the sun is still in the sky and shining above you
Let me hear you sing once more like you did before
Sing a new song, Chiquitita
Try once more like you did before
Sing a new song, Chiquitita

 

So dear daughter,and all my heart breakers, I end echoing Nayirrah Waheed:              “you                                                                                                                                                      not wanting me
was
the beginning of me
wanting myself
thank you” : vikibaba

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Skinned Knees, Broken Hearts

Sometimes I wish I were a little kid again!  Skinned knees are easier to fix than broken hearts!!!

It is still raining in Mumbai;  and on my daily morning walk, I managed to slip/slide/glide over a largish speed breaker and found myself descending to the road surface, with great speed! There was nothing I could do in the seconds that intervened, between my insight that I was falling, and my landing unceremoniously on the wet street, face down!! During the fall, I had bent forward, landing hard on my left knee, which slid down the bump. The first thought was that this will result in a bruised knee and shin: which will pain for days. Curiously the second thought was : this pain and hurt will be much better to bear than a broken heart!!

knee

Being 62 years of age, one has had ones’ fair share of falls,  and broken hearts!!! Lives there a man who has had a charmed existence, happiness and success always, and nary a broken heart? I doubt it very much! Expectations and desires (despite the Learned Buddha’s exhortation to avoid them) are a part of our make-up and human story/history. And so breathes there a soul who has not experienced the pain of a broken heart?

This sharp pain of a broken heart begins early in our lives. As kids, it is the refusal by our parents to buy the new toy we have taken fancy to. Why, it may even be our Mother’s refusal to take us with her, when she is all decked up and leaving for a formal dinner. My heart also broke when my elder sister refused to take me in her playgroup as I was too small, and worse, I was a boy! The first unrequited crush on the English teacher. The fair girl in class whom I dared not speak to! My new cycle involved in an accident; with me tearfully looking at the mangled frame. My father’s job transfers which made me say Good-bye to friends made with great difficulty. Losing my first Chinese ink pen. A friend refusing to trade the WWF picture card, that he already had a duplicate of !!!! How many times has the heart broken? How many times one suffered the ignominy of “defeat”, of missing something that your heart desired and wanted so badly?? It was a sweet time of grieving- your heart was broken, but your life was changing. Many times you counselled yourself: “It is ok Vikas, life will be different when you grow up! You don’t have to depend on others. You can take decisions yourself. You can get (or take) what you want”!!!

1broken-heart

Then you grew up. And then the heartbreaks continued. Unstoppable, the heartbreaks were now more severe. Took longer to get over. The young roly-poly Bengali History teacher whom everyone in class had a massive crush on. Not getting admission in the academic course you had set your heart on. And to make it worse, your friend securing admission and he and his family consoling you, “Surprising how Raghavan got in? You were always better in class and we always expected you will walk in with flying colors. So sad you did not get through” Adding insult to injury; breaking, nay crushing your heart even more. Not getting a job offer from your dream company on campus. Being turned down for promotion. First time you get an average performance rating when you believe you have excelled in all projects that year. Your BFF letting you down. Girl issues. Boys’ issues. Heartbreaks galore. Making the logical you, ask a fundamental question: What is stronger than the human heart, that shatters over and over again, and still lives?

Zelda and F Scott Fitzgerald, illustrious litterateurs,  had a most tumultuous marriage. Their very public confrontations were full of accusations, cheating, nervous breakdowns all fuelled by generous dollops of alcohol. Zelda observes ” No one has ever measured, not even poets, how much a heart can hold”. When F Scott died, they were estranged. Another brilliant author, Oscar Wilde was in love with Lord Alfred Douglas. In 1891, this was looked at in askance and Douglas’s father disapproved of his son’s liaison. Oscar was accused of acts of gross indecency and convicted for homosexuality. Wilde concludes in one sentence, “The heart was made to be broken”.

In Invisible Monsters, Chuck Palahniuk has a great insight to share:“The one you love and the one who loves you are never the same person”. But how many of us understand this fundamental truth? Rather we are enamoured, star-struck, infatuated; sometimes with the very concept of love. Edgar Allan Poe captures this well, “We loved with a love that was more than love”. In India we are all brought up on the Bollywood version of all sacrificing love, which stands tall when all around is crumbling, and is still able to belt out a heartfelt Laila Majnu or Heer Ranjha song. What we ignore is that the line after तेरा मेरा प्यार अमर is the earthy  फिर क्यों मुझको लगता है डर? The English poetess Emily Dickinson who never married or had children summed it up, “If I can stop one heart from bleeding, I shall not have lived in vain.” 

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In The Wizard of Oz, young Dorothy gives great advice to Tin Woodman, “I think you are wrong to want a heart. It makes most people unhappy. If you only knew it, you are in luck not to have a heart.” Is it hard to let go? Would you rather hold on to something that was not real anyway? No matter how bad your heart is broken, the world does not stop for your grief – it moves on, and expects you to move and play your part down the road. In the hoary Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet B Stowe puts it so well,” Of course, in a novel, people’s hearts break, and they die, and that is the end of it; and in a story this is very convenient. But in real life we do not die when all that makes life bright dies to us.” Look back on your own life, all the heartbreaks you experienced over the years, only made you wiser, taught you life, showed you how to live. Remember Nicholas Spark, “The emotion that can break your heart is sometimes the very one that heals it…”

So let us sing alongwith Jaidan Taylor:

Cause, baby, I could build a castle/Out of all the bricks they threw at me/And every day is like a battle/But every night with us is like a dream

Baby, we’re the new romantics/Come on, come along with me/Heart break is the national anthem/We sing it proudly

Concluding with Violeta Parra: “Don’t cry when the sun is gone, because the tears won’t let you see the stars.” : vikas

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The itch to blame

The itch to blame and tame is with all of us….yours truly,  leading the pack! You decide whether you are guilty, by your own reckoning :  & then decide whether it is worth reading this blog OR you would prefer to skip it!!! I will not blame you….as this introspection has taught me a lot….

The blame game starts because one feels helpless, frustrated and ineffective. Rather than take responsibility for your situation and own the consequences, you find it easier to blame the circumstances, the situation, others involved, even luck or destiny, family or karma….but always something external, which has caused this outcome. You, of course, are blame-free and above it all. Which explains why Douglas Coupland observed “Blame is just a lazy person’s way of making sense of the chaos”.  Very often, we need to take a hard look at our preparation, our efforts. But we are comfortable finding a peg to hang our failure on. As our own local saying has it “नाच ना आवे आंगन टेढ़ा”.

Yogi Berra the iconic baseball player captured this attitude well when he said “I never blame myself when I’m not hitting. I just blame the bat, and if it keeps up, I just change the bat. After all….how can I be mad at myself?” And this happens to the best of us. We all would do much better if we learnt to not spend time finding others to blame. We put in too much energy in finding excuses for not becoming what we are capable of being. Our approach should rather be to grow out of our past and get on with our lives, by putting our energy  and our own self on the line.

blame-and-shame-game

My favorite poet Rainer Maria Rilke puts it so well “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty”. What a thought!!! For the Creator, there is NO POVERTY. You are limited by your own imagination and your effort.  So should we not keep the itch to blame in reins?

One more aspect of the blame game is true since times immemorial. Aeschylus the first great Athenian dramatist observed in 5th Century BC “Everyone is quick to blame the alien”.  We all draw such a close circle around oneself, our own way of thinking, our favorite theories and even our pet peeves that anything which is different is “alien”. And we are quick to blame, reject, question, doubt, ridicule and run down whatever does not conform to my worldview. We refuse to respect diversity and we are not intellectually honest to accept that “I do not know it all” : the other person’s POV may be different; but it could also be right. In fact social reality is multi dimensional and just because I see things in a particular way, does not mean that is the “right” way. Others can, and do, view things very, very differently.

blamemyself

This perspective is especially critical to remember when there is a power differential between the two parties. Otherwise the blame game can easily deteriorate into the “tame” game. Recollect our childhood Aesop fable about the Big Bad Wolf who blamed the Cute Little Lamb for polluting his drinking water in the flowing brook. When the Lamb tried to protest that he was downstream,  and Wolf was at a higher level and so how could the Lamb pollute the water? the Wolf’s famous reply was ” Well if not you, then it was your ancestors who muddied the drinking water” And so the Lamb is still to blame  and will be eaten by the Wolf to teach a lesson. Any excuse will serve a tyrant, as Hitler proved to millions of Jews during the Holocaust. Blame game often ends with a overpowering desire to tame the opposing point of view. Why Hitler? let us remember our own bosses. And we will easily see that the itch to blame and tame is omnipresent. Even in family, my daughter thinks the same about me.

Yet truly, if you see life in it’s full-blown glory, you will see also it’s rich diversity. In India there are sharp contrast between the haves and the have-nots. So while we have the richest private residence in the world Antilia which is valued at USD 1,000,000,000, we also have 62% of Mumbai’s population living in slums as per HT report (9/8/2018). There are stark differences in lifestyles of the people of Mumbai but somehow we have mastered the art of peaceful coexistence. We do not question the propriety of either a USD 1 Billion home or the fact that compared to the 1991 Census there is a staggering increase of 50% in the population of slum dwellers. The beauty of our pluralistic society is seen in the fact that the street children are happy, while our rich, nouveau rich and middle class children are unhappy, stressed and hassled. In the rainy season I truly admire the resilience of the street urchins who are gleefully enjoying the rain. While the kids who are bundled in cars or school buses fret and scowl!!! Fortunately, we have not yet gone down the Kenyan and Nigerian path, and there is still no strident blaming one another or forcible taming of the other side.

Picture1

The cartoon above says it all: we must learn to cope and ignore. Rumi puts it so well : The art of knowing is knowing what to ignore. Wish I had got this advice much earlier in life. Blaming and efforts of taming would have been much less. Recently I came across something interesting about sunflowers. We all know that sunflowers follow the direction of the sun and turn to face the Sun. But what happens when it is raining? and there is no Sun? Apparently sunflowers turn to one another and bask in the reflected energy and positivity of one another. How beautiful would it be if we humans learn this skill from sunflowers; and rather than rue the absence of the Sun, take joy and energy from the glory which is all around you; get energized from one another. Overcome the itch to blame, shame and tame. Rather revel in the people and energy around you. Remember Creation knows no Poverty. You need to ask for the riches. Ask and it shall be given!!!!

I close with memories of a beautiful abhang of Tukaram: लई नाही लई नाही मागणे देवा Here Tukaram beseeches Lord Pandurang to give him just enough cloth to cover his body; just enough food to fill his and his guests’ stomach; but continuous blessings of the Lord…he wants nothing more. All blame vanishes, as sunflower-like I turn to all, in a most positive way. The only taming I do is of my own self.

Live life; Love life: vikas

yourlife

The Gift of Advice

The Bard had observed “Neither a lender nor a borrower be, for loan oft loses both itself and a friend”. Shakespeare might as well have spoken about the fate and prognosis of advice, instead of a monetary loan. Like money, advice often distances both the giver and the receiver. And truly genuine and “good” advice may end up alienating friends.

We all are always ready to give advice. But at the same time , consider our own selves to be above the need for any guidance/advice. In fact, advice is the cheapest currency in social interaction, as everyone is very liberal in sharing and giving advice.  And yet when the transaction reverses and we are at the receiving end of any advice, our approach u-turns and we feel we are on top of the situation, we understand every nuance of the case and so there is no need at all for us to get any advice from anyone else. We live Benjamin Franklin’ wisdom “Wise men don’t need advice. And fools won’t take it”

As evidence I put forth experiences we all have had in dealing with the people closest to us….our wife and our children. Breathes there a man who has not felt the frustration of trying to get his significant other to follow a course of action,  that you see as perfectly logical and “crystal clear”, being fought tooth and nail and your better half obviously sees it very, very differently, and wonders why you cannot see it her way (“be reasonable, do it my way”)!!! The problem becomes far more acute, when you have children who are growing up. Whatever you tell them seems to be wrong from their perspective!!! And if you persist in trying to save them from a certain fall down a deep precipice, the response you get is “Baba let it be… Let me get my own experience… You just can’t see it my way… Why don’t you leave it to me?” leading up to the final retort ” Will you please get off my case??!!”  Experiences with family and friends have proven that to profit from good advice requires more wisdom than to give it!!

children advice

On one side of the spectrum is the faith and trust of Henry Ford who avers “I believe God is managing affairs and that He does not need any advice from me. With God in charge everything will work out for the best in the end”. But how many of us have the same faith and trust? In the short run, we feel the need to tinker and turn; especially if the events are happening in our friend’s life. We are quick to put on our thinking hat, sharpen our claws, and dig in…shovelling loads of “good” advice and opinions to illuminate our “dumb” friend’s path!! We gleefully forget the axiom of Samuel Coleridge “Advice is like snow…the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks in the mind” .

It is good to remember the age old wisdom of Cicero “Nobody gives you wiser advice than yourself”. Caught in a difficult and uncertain situation, we find ourselves confused as to what is the right way out of the maze, and so so we open ourselves to counsel and advice. Even this would be fine if we had the demeanour of Thornton Wilder “My advice to you is not to inquire why and whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it is on the plate”. Even when we ourselves have sought intervention or indulgence of friends, we still want to second guess, twist and modify their advice, and remain in control. Which would be OK (remember Cicero?). But unfortunately we hear only what we want to hear, we listen only to what we wish to. We fall into the trap defined by John Steinbeck “You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway”.  And thus we lose out on a fresh and different perspective, a contrarian view, an alternate approach which could have better resolved the issue on hand. Getting external help is based on the faith that the master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried!!! So indeed there is great value in sound and independent advice.

fight

Having said this, I do not deny that sometimes you have to consciously UNFOLLOW some people in real life. Some of our “friends” have given rise to the euphemism “with friends like these who needs enemies?” All people in your life are not around to smoothen your victory path and clap for your wins. Some may not necessarily guide you on the right track, they may not themselves know what is good, or in the worst case, lead you down a garden path strewn with bristles & thorns to enjoy your discomfiture!!! After all, it takes all types to make the world. And this makes life interesting!!!! But one needs to have one’s own lodestar, one’s own  litmus test to separate the wheat from the chaff; to know the right path and stick to it! Elon Musk suggests “It is important to have a feedback loop…that is the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself“. Sound advice to keep us on an even keel and our life on the right course.

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I cannot pen an article on Advice and not give you some of my own. So here goes!!! These are my “parasmani”, my lodestars, my touch stones to check if the advice I am being given is right for me.

  • Do what is right, not what is easy. Remember Abe Lincoln as a child, accepting he cut the tree.
  • Face your fears. Neil Armstrong’s colleague was to  be the first man on the moon. He hesitated. NASA ordered Neil to step forward. Rest is history.
  • Make small changes. Rome was not built in a day.
  • Expect less, Give more. Hands should be stretched to Give, and not  only to Take.
  • Learn to say no. A reluctant, half hearted Yes is a life waster.
  • Admit what you don’t know.  When you say you don’t know and then you learn, you are saying  you are smarter now, than earlier…every day…every way become smarter and brighter.

Vade Mecum (Come with me) : Drink deeply the Elixir of Life. Use these “Philosopher’s Stones” to convert all that comes into your life to sheer gold!!!

Remember the best project you will work on is YOU. PT Barnum (The Greatest Show on Earth)  while convincing the “human abnormalities” to agree to public display left some great advice : “No one ever made a difference by being someone else”. And as you live this joyous life, you must use all the gifts that you have got; all the advice that well meaning folks have showered on you and craft the way ahead to be a shining star. When looking back does not interest you anymore, I would say you are doing something right. The Ark was built by a novice, while the Titanic was designed by professionals. So do not hesitate. Chart your own journey. And be happy.

Be you. The world will adjust : vikas

flow

Now…Now…Now

Long long ago, in my 30s, I had read a Zen Koan. It was about a Zen monk who is running, to avoid being eaten by an angry tiger, pursuing him. As he rushes to save his life, he falls into a precipice, a deep gorge into which the monk will fall to certain death. Desperately, the monk reaches out and grabs a shrub growing on the rock surface. Temporarily it arrests his fall. He is hanging onto the shrub, looking down on a sheer fall of hundreds of meters, considering his imminent death. Just then he sees a ripe berry on one of the branches of the shrub. He plucks it and eats the berry. And then says: “wow, that berry is so sweet”.

Story over. The end. For years & years, it left me wondering : what was the import of that story? Till a time when I grew wiser (??; arguable, I can already sense my friends sniggering) and understood that the Monk epitomised living in the present. Being in the here and now. And enjoying what you can, when you can. One of the most influential philosophers of the modern day, Eckhart Tolle has penned a whole book “The Power of Now” to celebrate living in the present. Tolle says “You cannot be both unhappy and fully present in the Now”. If you live with your whole heart and being in the Here & Now/the Present, then you understand the nonchalance of the Monk as he stares at imminent death and still enjoys the juiciness of the berry. Naturally he says ” that berry is so sweet”.  In his death, he teaches us to live Now.

h&n

Truly we should understand that we must enjoy Life Now. This is not a rehearsal!!! we pass this way but once and get only this chance to play the game right. So why mope and tarry? Play boldly. Experiment. Whatever happens, trust that it happens for the right reasons. So do not fight the consequences. Learn to enjoy all outcomes. Napoleon Hill, the famous author puts it well, “Don’t wait. The time will never be right !” The present FIFA matches we all are seeing shows this courage on every striker’s face. When you have executed your play and gone forward, and have reached striking distance: now you must take your shot. The opposing Goalie will try to stop: but the sheer energy and enthusiasm that erupts in the entire stadium is all egging you on to take your shot. The time is Now!!

mart

This is not new wisdom. Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor 161-180 CE, best known for his Meditations on Stoic Philosophy, exhorted us back then “Confine yourself to the present”. One of my favorite English Romantic poets John Keats puts it graphically, “Now (is) a soft kiss – Aye, by that kiss, I vow endless bliss”. That was in the 18th century. Closer to date, Osho observed, “Now is the only reality. All else is either memory or imagination”.  Despite all this good advice, we tend to live everywhere but in the present. We bargain away today, living continuously in the past memories. Successes of the past make us happy; but we continuously relive all our past miseries. Yet a car cannot be driven by looking only at the rear view mirror!!! New and vibrant reality is constantly unfolding ahead of us. We need to understand this reality and act in the present.

The other mind game we play is living in imagining the future. Had read somewhere that Tomorrow is a mystical land where 99% of all human productivity, motivation and achievement is stored. Consciously and deterministically we must withdraw from the mystical future: focus our attention & act in the present. Results are intricately tied to the present. It is said that there are only 2 times in life: Now. Or too late.

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History is replete with examples where companies (and the individuals therein) did not capitalise on their innovations and discoveries in time and left it, till it was too late! Most famous example is  digital photography : Kodak owned the patent but kept it away as  executives thought it would affect their photographic film business.  Affect it did,  as Sony and Fuji walked away with the entire business, forcing Kodak to shut down!! Motorola stuck too long to its traditional cellphone designs and did not leverage its Razr brand or couple it with a smartphone, until the Motorola brand itself was run into the ground!!! Another example is of DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) . While IBM dominated the mainframe computer business, DEC emerged as the “owner” of the minicomputer space from 1960s to the 1990s. In 1993 its rank was 27 amongst the Fortune 500 companies!!! But it lost out totally by not entering the workstation and personal computers business quickly enough. This is what has given rise to the famous epithet: The best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is now!!

doit

Consider the phrase: “Life is nowhere”. How did you read this? Life is no where? Or…Life is now here. Success obviously belongs to those who realise Life is NOW HERE. All our actions and reactions have to be tempered in the present. And we will reap the benefits also in the Now. As James Joyce has noted: “Hold on to the now, the here, through which all future plunges into the past”. What beautiful clarity!

Let me end with another favorite Zen story. This is about a very beautiful lady monk, who was in a Monastery.  Despite following her vows seriously, a male monk developed a one-sided romantic interest in her. He started keeping messages for her hidden at places, where she would find them. Naturally, she was disturbed and did not know how to stop this. One evening, when all the monastery monks had assembled for the evening prayers, she stood up in the middle of the gathering of monks; and said “You who love me and keep sending love notes surreptitiously, if you truly love me & want me, stand up now. Come and embrace me in front of this assembly”. When shocked silence followed and no one moved,  she again said ” If you cannot profess your love NOW and HERE, do not bother me again”.

The time, friends, is NOW!! Do not tarry. Do not postpone.  Remember, Tyrion Lannister’s revelation in the Game of Thrones, “You are in the Great Game now. And the Great Game is terrifying”. All the best in your battles.

NOW…for ever…Now: vikas

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Correct? …or… Continue?

Albert Camus put it so well : “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life”.  Our human condition is such that we all have to make compromises, adjust, sometimes rethink our goals, and carry on. Continue, or Correct?

Think of the time before Google maps:  when we went into unknown territory, a new town and searched for an address. The process was iterative. With many stops on the way, much questioning the locals, moving forward and backward alternately: totally confused, insecure, feeling you have been on this road before, till by happenchance – suddenly, we found ourselves on the doorstep we were searching for long!! As we traversed the unknown roads and bylanes, the constant question in the head was : Correct my path? or Continue on this one?

This dilemma dogs us wherever we are and whatever we do. Correct? or Continue? and Google cannot help us answer this question in all walks of life.

correction

“Correct” word can be used as an adjective or as a verb. As an adjective it denotes something which is already perfect, accurate or right. We are of course talking of “correct” as an active verb. The verb ‘correct’ denotes rectify, amend, ameliorate, cure or improve. It is this sense of the word that we are trying to understand and expand here. It has it’s Latin roots in “correctus” which signifies improved or amended. It is the past participle of “corrigere” which translates to “make straight”. Now tell me truly: how many times in the twisted paths and turns of life have we wished we could correct as in improve, amend or make straight? We chose a path, an alternative, an approach…and as soon as the first signs of challenge, the first difficulty, the first proverbial rock in the middle of the road is in front of us;  our heart cries out: Do I continue? Or do I change course, move away, correct?

Pawn chess piece of smallest size and value beating businessman

On such occasions we have often hungered for the magic wand which would dissolve the difficulties facing us. Or at least the magic goggles which would show us the smoother route to a better future. But life has no easy options. Rarely does serendipity help like it did Alexander Fleming in the discovery of Penicillin.  Fleming went on a holiday with his family. Before leaving, he had stacked all his cultures of staphylococci on a bench in a corner of his laboratory. On returning, Fleming noticed that one culture had developed a fungus, and la viola!! the colonies of staphylococci immediately surrounding the fungus had been destroyed, whereas other staphylococci colonies farther away were normal. The first famous words when he saw that fungus which was later to lead to the discovery of the first antibiotic in human history was “that is funny”.  Later he has written: “One sometimes finds, what one is not looking for. When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.” Fleming, and humankind, was lucky.

On the other hand,  most of us have to struggle like Madame Curie who continued her  lab research till she discovered radium and polonium. For all her research and contributions in understanding radioactivity, while the world gave her a Nobel prize. But in this very process she got so much exposed to radiation that she died of aplastic anemia. She continued her efforts till she found answers, but paid with her life! Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park, tested thousands and thousands of different materials to create the first incandescent lamp. During his research he found some materials would glow and give  light but would not last. Some lasted, but would not glow. After much effort,  Edison found tungsten which lasted and glowed. Edison at one time had 1093 patents to his name. The phonograph, stock ticker, Motion picture camera, first electric battery for a car are amongst his inventions. All these inventions were a result of his burning desire to continuously rectify, amend, improve and correct.

Some say that “mistake is the first step to success”. When you are on a path of scientific discovery or innovating to create a more robust, better version of present product, maybe experimentation requires making several ‘mistakes’ on the path and moving ahead. As Orlando Battista has observed: ” An error does not become a mistake unless you refuse to correct it”.  Most scientific advances/innovations have a long history of failed efforts. But it is not the mistake that is the first step of success; rather the real fact is that, correction of the mistake is the first step of success! To benefit from the school of experience, a man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them and strong enough to correct them. Mistakes , slips, errors and attempts are the building blocks of success.

The lesson to learn in this journey is – do not continue to water a dead flower!!  Sometimes we must have the courage to recognize the dead end; and make a required u-turn to move ahead, albeit on a different route.  We must consciously guard against the mindset typified by Nikki Giovanni’s famous quote: “I am so hip even my errors are correct”. This may make sense in a poet’s world, but in the real brick and mortar world we will have to learn to cut our losses when we are faced with brick walls, correct our course and continue on our path. Remember, a man who has committed a mistake and does not correct it is making another mistake. Possibly graver! Remember, never leave a true relationship or a right direction for a few faults or difficulties. Nothing is perfect. Nobody is always correct. In the end, correcting your path, and continuing till you reach success will get you to the Holy Grail of perfection.

Tu sais, La vie continue: You know, Life goes on: vikas

continuar

 

 

Contemplation, Rumination, Introspection

We are in the Holy month of Ramadan. This is considered the most sacred period of the year in the Islamic culture,  to mark that Allah gave the first chapters of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad during this month.

Is it a happenchance that all major religions/ethnic groups have a month defined? Christians observe the month of Lent; Jains follow Paryushan; Parsis have their holy month of Bahwan; the Maharastrians have their Shrawan. Typically this is a month of introspection, of prayers, abstinence, and….gratitude. Gratitude for being alive. Gratitude for the good life you enjoy. Gratitude for your friends and family. Gratitude for all the things bestowed on us by the Almighty…by whatever name you call him.

The Arabic root of the word Ramadan/Ramzan is Ramida or ar-ramad which means scorching heat or dryness. Experiencing that, burning your negative thoughts & actions, and emerging into the joy of munificence, celebrating life and experiencing joy of both Cleansing and Community  is what Ramadan is about. It is believed that the gates of Heaven are open in Ramadan, and the gates of Hell are closed! Prayers offered in Ramadan give you the highest Thawab – spiritual rewards!!! In the final analysis, Ramadan stands for contemplation & rumination; introspection & learning; reflection; self discipline; self control; sacrifice; empathy & charity and through all this :  self purification.

A Muslim pilgrim prays at the top of Mount Noor in Mecca

Lent, Shrawan, Bahwan, Paryushan, like Ramadan are characterised by prayers and withdrawal into self: a time to take stock and balance your life’s books, if you will. A space and time for renewal and recommitment.

Ideally this sort of intense soul searching should result in much greater sense of clarity and acceptance; more trust in self and/or the powers that be;  and finally, gratitude. This triumvirate of Acceptance; Trust & Gratitude can guide our lives through the most challenging situations and circumstances. But we humans are indeed the most difficult to predict and understand.

When things are going well: we will find the roots in our efforts and convince ourselves that we deserve no less!! It is always our own actions; our karma; our purushartha that is giving results.  But as soon as the first thing happens that is not as per our desires, we find external factors to blame. In India often it is our Naseeb/Fate/”Vidhi Likhita”. Or the politicking ways of others who do not want us to succeed. Constant refrain in difficult times is always : God why me?

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There is a classic anecdote of Arthur Ashe.  The legendary Wimbledon player was dying of AIDS which he got due to infected blood he received during a heart surgery. From the world over, he received letters from his fans. One of them conveyed: “Why does God have to select you for such a bad disease?”. To this Arthur Ashe replied: The world over-50,000,000 children start playing tennis, 5,000,000 learn to play tennis, 500,000 learn professional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5000 reach the grand slam, 50 reach the Wimbledon, 4 to semi finals, 2 to finals. When I was the one holding the cup, I never asked god “Why me?”.  And today in pain, I should not be asking GOD “why me?

Curious indeed are the ways of the Allah! Unto each life some rain must fall, as a saying goes. We all know the well reported case of Anant Ambani’s weight loss. Earlier whenever we saw the over bloated Anant on the cricket ground with his svelte mother our hearts bled for the Ambani family. We pitied Mukesh Ambani despite all his riches; looking to the overweight human balloon. His 108 kg weight reduction may have set the balance. But think of Sridevi. Despite all those Botox injections and trying to look younger than her debutante daughter, her untimely and unnatural end made her a matter of  abject pity. It is said that “God tests his true soldiers” but what a debonair Shashi Tharoor  or the once powerful Indrayani & Peter Mukherjea couple are going through makes the question “Why me?” look legitimate.

To me, all these cases prove another truism: all bills must be settled in this life, before you go yonder. Great riches gotten through questionable means; great power wrested by a hungry soul – all will have costs attached. And unlike Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey we do not get an external picture to sully: the gashes and wounds go directly to our souls and bodies; besides creating challenges for our families. e.g. those who knowingly smoke and drink will pay for their indulgence in other ways. What you do in this life catches up with you here and now.

That is where these Holy Months come in giving us a chance to review the life hitherto lived. It is never too late to make amends and go back to the Right Path. The concept of Jainism is a powerful one here: the Paryushan ends with a wish ” Micchami Dukkhadam” : which is shorthand for saying ” if I have hurt you or harmed you by my actions or thoughts in any manner: forgive me.” Introspect and repent and make amends,  for Christ will be born again heralding hope and peace in the time to come. The main message of all introspection and self learning is positive: accept; trust and move forward in gratitude.

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Arun Shourie whom we have all known so well for his public life as a brilliant economist, Editor, author, Minister shared a very moving personal story of his son who  suffers from cerebral palsy. Dealing with his son and now aged wife who are both totally dependent on external support Arun’s advice is that we must “learn to love till it hurts” . Calling himself the “servant -in-chief” to both of them, he quotes the Dalai Lama ” If you want to be truly selfish, help someone.” To this line Arun adds his own twist : “If you want to be truly selfish, help someone – who cannot do anything in return for you!!”.

What better advice can come to us in the holy month of Ramadan: accept others for what they are, trust all, love till it hurts, give till it hurts; and be grateful for all that you have, and be doubly grateful that you are in a position to share your fortune and give to others: as you have received!!

Ramadan Kareem : shukar guzar vikas

 

 

 

 

 

Parmanu

“Sare Jahan se Accha Hindustan Hamara” my heart sang as I left the theater after seeing Parmanu: the Story of Pokhran.

It is a very feel good movie which manages to engage and enthrall you. 2 hours 9 minutes: a story which has NO suspense: since the denouement is well known: the bomb blast did take place at 1545 on 11th May 1998 in Pokhran.  No new news , something which happened so long ago and was well documented and read about in the whole world. Despite these obvious challenges the director Abhishek Sharma and the scriptwriter duo of Saiwyn Quadras and Sanyukta Chawla Shaikh manage to keep you guessing and on your seat. The same script writers gave us Neerja and again they come up again with a balanced and sound script.

John Abraham obviously carries the whole film on his own shoulders. Though there is a motley team of 5 people ( from DRDO; ISA; Army; etc) who support the story and the principal character of Ashwath Raina, it is John Abraham who pervades nearly every shot in the movie. Boman Irani as the Chief Secretary in PM’s Office has a significant role; all other characters play a second fiddle and execute their supportive roles well: letting John carry the main narrative and drama fully on his own steam. Diana Pretty, oops!! sorry,  Diana Penty playing the role of the person in charge of Security Ops does precious little besides looking cute. Anuja Sathe playing John’s wife shows great promise; but her role finally starts interfering with the flow of the story and so you want her to move on and disappear from the screen so that you can watch the story of India’s entry into the Nuclear Club unfold in all its glory.

Very smartly, live-stock TV footage of  leaders of that  bygone era viz. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif; a visibly angry US President and our own rhetorical Atal Behari are blended in the movie, to embellish the narrative and give it a semi formal, slightly more authentic feel. But that does not draw away from a very tenuous argument the Director puts forward: 6 people battling all odds: a failed nuclear test 3 years ago;  an irritated neighbouring state; pressure from USA; PM’s tottering political fortunes; lack of time; US satellite surveillance; coordination required with multiple  governmental agencies in India manage to pull off successful nuclear test blasts of  3 fusion and fission type of nuclear devices. Our superhero Aswath singlehandedly completes the tasks which in reality were a masterful working together of many governmental agencies in complete secrecy. Similarly the glossing over of contributions of Jawaharlal Nehru, Homi Bhabha, Indira Gandhi, Vikram Sarabhai, Raja Ramanna and others from the roll of honour for India’s nuclear success looks churlish: we love Atal Behari; but we love others too, right?

The movie has some other gaps: The stupid inappropriate songs which slow down the pace. Or the first half of the movie which becomes maha relaxed after the initial PMO meeting where Ashwath Raina is introduced. The time taken to show Ashwath’s relationship with his wife after he is suspended. The over mature young son playing the balancing act.  The ISI agent who is caricaturistic;  as is the CIA counter intelligence operative.

But despite all this the movie works. The story keeps you guessing on the next events. Challenges and solutions flow seemlessly. Protagonists get the audiences’ love and sympathy all thru their difficulties; and you want them to succeed. Though we all know the conclusion (the successful nuclear test) already, the movie does pick up pace as it approaches the climax, and that whole sequencing is handled well whereby you actually move to the edge of your seat and feel your heart swell with pride when you see the smart computer graphics of the bomb blast and its effects.

As the koimoi.com review sums it up : Don’t watch the movie for anyone else; watch it for your country. America haters can see the movie to see the abject failure of the CIA intelligence gathering machine and the resultant angst. Whatever the reason: do watch the movie and feel good to be an Indian!!

Jai Shakti! Jai Pokhran II !! Jai Hind!!!                                                                                     Proud to be an Indian: vikas

 

Ours – by choice!

We are adoptive parents. We adopted a baby girl in 1993 from Vatsalya, an agency in Kanjur. My daughter Rashmi recently turned 25 years. She is a Textile Designer working in Raymonds.  And she is now poised to go to London College of Arts for further studies.

Recently as a part of my HR consultancy work I was approached to help set up comp structure, job grades, policy manuals, org chart etc. When I came to know the NGO who needs that support is Vatsalya, I told them I will be privileged to work for them and will do so au gratis: as Rashmi’s smiles for past 25 years have put me in a debt to Vatsalya which I can never repay.

Life has come a full circle: and I am back in Vatsalya after 25 years. That led to some long drives down memory lane, looking at old papers and photos. One of the things I came across was a letter we had written to a known couple who were prospective adoptive parents. Their questions were:

  • why did we adopt?
  • why a girl?

The old letter Rashmi…Ours – by choice! I had written still rings true. And I  reproduce it here as my next blog.

Be forewarned this is longer than my normal 1000 words limit. But I earnestly exhort you to read it fully.  This would give you some fresh insights into parenthood – be it natural, like yours or adoptive, like ours.

QUOTE

Our decision to adopt a child was necessitated by our need to become parents, to be called Baba & Aai, to be loved and depended upon. Having completed 12 years of marriage, we knew we would never become natural parents. Initial period of marriage began with a positive choice not to go in for parenthood very early. When we started feeling the need to call someone our very own, parenthood eluded us.  Normal round of doctors – allopathic, ayurvedic and homeopathic – did not help. Neither of us were interested in faith-cures and religious solutions. Some tension did mount.

Every new doctor, every new suggestion added to tension. Will this work? Somewhere down the road, we decided not to try any longer. There was the occasional snide remark, the purposeful probing question. But both of us had reconciled enough with our state to not care. Being self-content and not overtly social must have helped us. During this period the idea of adoption took seed.

Vinita had worked in an adoption center. So the concept was not alien. We began to discuss it with one another off & on. The driving force was a shared view – we want a baby. The main question was – were we prepared? were we willing to change our life-style? were we ready to abnegate our concerns and our personalities?  would be be able to adjust? could we take the responsibility? were we prepared?

This phase dragged on for quite a while. Both of us are strong willed, with firm views, not very compromising on personal matters. Hence these discussions were held again & again. At no stage did the question of societal acceptance bother us. Why should it? Why care for others? It was to be our own decision. We were to make it work. How much time do we spend with others? Are we truly ourselves in company? The inner self is bared to so very few that we both were sure that how “others will react” was not worth worrying about.We should do it if we want it. What others feel is not really relevant in such an important matter.

The only others we were both worried about were our parents. Their acceptance of the child was important. Social legitimacy would stop there. If they accepted the child as a part of the family – we would be very happy. For ourselves. But more for the child. We concluded that only the grandparents were important. Cousins, brothers, sisters, uncles, nephews, aunties, etc should also accept the child. But if they don’t we will love the child more and make up the loss/gap. How much time do all other relatives spend with us anyway? The apriori, predominant position was of grandparents.

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So we decided that they would be the only people with whom we would discuss. Share. All others we would only inform.  Their opinion would not concern us overly. Our parents, individually, we did talk to. And we did not get any major objection. No: what are you doing? how can you think like this? Only there was : why don’t you wait some more? try some more? Politely we said no. And, with strength morally doubled, went on ahead.

During this period we had found out that 10% of couples are childless. We were far from alone. Now came the question – girl or boy? Unanimously the choice was a girl. What are girls made of? Sugar and spice and all that is nice. Boys? Nails and frogs! Both of us were convinced that girls are far more affectionate and giving of their own selves. Our view. Maybe right, maybe wrong. Why should we adopt a boy? To carry one’s name? What is that? carry it where? After one is no more, does it matter? And who guarantees how that name will be carried on? Polished or tarnished? Who can say? Did my parents conceive me with the express desire to carry on their name? I don’t think so. I happened. Whether I polish or tarnish their name is a matter of chance. Did they really plan it all? Do they have control?

Children, beyond an age, will be independent. They will do as they damn well please. If you like it, good for you. If you don’t, well… How many “own” children have lived their life only for their parents? What lineage, what name do they care to carry forward? So why should we think that the adopted child will be any different? We can well imagine that that child too could turn out an iconoclast, a misanthrope, what-have-you. But is a natural child any guarantee against this? a big question mark, best left to unravel itself.

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So the conclusion was boys are nothing special, but girls surely are. And what we were doing, let us not forget, was purely for our own selves. To fulfill our own need. Our desire. So why expect any return? Give the child the best possible for you. And that should include the freedom to think. The freedom to spurn you. The freedom to spite you- if she feels you have stolen her true heirloom. Whatever it might have been. Have we all not thought, as children, that actually these people – who claim to be my Pa & Ma – are not really my Mother & Father. My parents are really Kings and Queens who will come one day and rescue me from all the misery that these normal, average people hood) are putting me through. By adopting a child are you doing any favour? Are you going to deny the child the right to despise you? We both were clear, we are doing what we are doing, for ourselves. In no way can we abridge the rights of the child. And if the child grown up to hate us for what we did- we must accept it. Que Sera Sera.

So why adopt at all?  Because we have too much and we want to share. We have a need to hold a tiny being and call it our own. Because we feel we will get a lot of joy from that small bundle. Because social consciousness demands a return price for all all that we have, and asks for the right of all who do not have. Can we not begin with a small, infinitesimal impact?

Vinita and I were not born in one house. If we could decide to come together and share with each other, why not one more in the house with whom we can share? And so we went out and chose. Chose a sweet, innocent child. Rashmi. A ray. A ray of happiness. A ray of joy. A ray of light. A small bundle of love. The greatest gift we have given to each other. Ever. Forever.

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She will of course have to be told that she is adopted. All recent literature recommends that. Told at a time when she can take it. Very, very difficult to decide. But we will face it when it comes. But we will tell her. Tell her she was not born from Vinita’s womb, but she is our own.  Tell her we have tried to give her what we could. Tell her to forgive us for what we could not. Tell her she is free. Free to continue to stay with us if she wants. Or leave , if she feels that is her path of happiness. But above all, tell her we wanted her. Only her. So we chose her. Only her. Tell her that we love her very much. Tell her of our need for her. Tell he she is very special. Very dear. Very very close to her. Tell her we would like her to love us back. If she wants. And we pray she wants us. As much as we want her.

Society at large still may not understand. Either our need. Or our decision. Some people do come and ask questions. Questions like: what will happen to her in school? Will other children torture her? Our answer is : we hope not. But children may taunt. We hope our love for her will give Rashmi the confidence to say: I am possibly loved far more than any one of you are. Questions like what will happen at the time of her marriage? our answer: Have we jeopardized her fate? Have we reduced her chances? Have we created complications for her? We are sure we have not harmed her interests in any way.  And as a free independent being, she is sure to have a fate and a will of her own. Who are we to interfere with either her will or her fate? We are just beggars of her affection. Happy to receive, if she wills it. And adjust we must, if she wills it not. Life is larger than all 3 of us. But for us, she is all.

R&V

Legally we are her parents. But legality? what is it?  Emotions are far more important. And in emotions  we are trying our level best to give her everything. Everything we can. That may not be much. But it is all we have.

Somerset Maugham had said that life is such a curious game that if you demand too much from it, you normally get it. We hope we are able to give Rashmi that confidence to demand and get whatever she wants from life. We are only incidental in providing her with a base. But she is all. She is important. And she needs to understand that she needs to only demand, and life will run forward to give it to her.. That is our hope for her. And our only prayer. For her. Amen.

UNQOUTE

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As I read all that I had written 25 years ago: I feel good that we have done our part and Rashmi has truly flowered as an independent, confident woman of the world. Our decision to adopt 25 years ago felt right. And even now it feels right.  Rashmi has proven true to her name: a ray of sunshine, full of promise and potential.

Bon Voyage Rashmi: continue to learn & grown in the new environs of London : vikibaba

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Failing to fail

The old proverb “If at first you don’t succeed try, try again” … should actually read “If at first you don’t succeed FAIL, FAIL again”.  Life has taught me –  true path to success is strewn with failures, multiple attempts, missed calls…all rich learning experiences & events which propel you on the road to success and achievements.

why-Its-fine-to-fail

Johnson & Johnson (where I had the privilege to work on Global transformation teams) gave me a lifetime opportunity to be trained by IDEO;  world’s most famous design & innovation company. We were seized with how to design the new  global HR service delivery model for J&J and turned to IDEO to understand how to create human-centered design. We wanted a creative approach to problem solving that starts with people and arrives at new solutions tailored to meet their lives.  Clear advice of IDEO was “rapid prototyping”. Put a stake in the ground based on present understanding; study the impact and change again. We experienced  IDEO’s formula of  success: “Fail often to succeed sooner!!”

Unfortunately, this runs counter to our deep rooted fear of failure. We are brought up on a diet of doing it right first time; ironing out all the glitches before we launch. Failure is a bad word: whether in school or in corporates. Witch hunting and blame fixing becomes the norm whenever there is a failure. This is like trampling on all the clues and evidence on the “crime scene”… and then bringing in Sherlock Holmes!! Actually each and every failure brings in learnings. But rather than analyzing what happened; what went right; how did we go wrong and what do we need to do differently, we tend to get into an over- gear of “burying the body” and obfuscating all the evidence such that even the fabled Hercule Poirot cannot help us!!!

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Fortunately, the days of shooting the messenger who brings in the bad news have faded into history with the Roman Emperors who would hear no contrary views. Today companies and bosses are far more open and ready to  take risks. This creates more transparency and openness on one hand; and on the other, better team solutions by leveraging everyone’s inputs and creativity. No gainsaying this is indeed the need of the hour, where no one has all the answers and even if  one does –  we soon experience that given the VUCA world, the problem/challenge has undergone a change;  and so we need to start all over again.

It in this context we must understand James Quincy CEO of Coca-Cola comment in his Strategy Summit in May 2017: “If we are not making mistakes, we are not trying hard enough”. Innovation means experimentation; and experiments mean failures. There is no learning without failing. There can be no success without setbacks.  Truly innovative & efficacious companies know that. So, to be successful – double your failure rate!! And from every failure: analyze and capture learnings. Try again and Fail again. This is the path to resounding success. Which is why NetFlix CEO Reed Hastings laments: ” Our hit ratio is too high. We have to take more risks, to try more crazy things….we should have a higher cancel rate overall”

epic

We have our own classic example of Abdul Kalam’s over riding the computers at Sriharikota at T minus 20 secs of a SLV  blast-off; and seeing the Missile nosedive into the sea – under the watching eyes of the nation and the press. But with the backing of Satish Dhawan they faced the Press and told them that they will learn from the failure and come out successful – which they did within an year.  Recently SHAR-ISRO gave the country a gift that can be best called ‘one of its kind’:ISRO launched India’s 100th satellite along with 30 others, out of which 28 were from different countries!!

It is not rocket science, but sheer common sense, that you improve your odds if you increase the no of tries. In Angel Broking and VC funding there is only 10% chance of success. Pharmaceutical companies have high profile R&D centers with latest equipment and top class scientists working on hundreds of molecules which may lead to one marketable drug in 3/4 years time frame. Movies  is another high risk game; it  is seen that 1.3% of all films earn 80% of Box Office collections. Point being there is no sure fire formula for success: Big Shots are just little shots who kept plugging away till they made it big!!

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Seeing it in another way : there are umpteen examples where success bred the “failure trap”.  Companies became over confident and complacent: refused to change with times and their past success was the biggest millstone around their neck . Cases of Nokia; Kodak; and closer home Hindustan Motors; HMT Watches; Bush Radios  are all well documented to prove that past success guarantees nothing in the future. Such companies and their managements get lulled into a false sense of security based on their past; and stop analyzing the causes of success. They fool themselves that success is due to their superior strategy/better product/more intelligent understanding of the market. And since they do not investigate the real causes of success -their failure to ask why- makes their success shortlived. They can break this vicious circle ONLY and ONLY when they face failure and learn from their failures.

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Karl Slym who was my MD in General Motors once made all of us on the  management board sweat. He asked each Director if they had achieved their target. Marketing said yes; as did  Manufacturing; ditto Logistics & SC; Technical  like-wise and also Finance &  HR. Then the prophetic hammer : “Gentlemen if each one of you is green on your dashboard; why is GM India red?” There was a story in Fortune 2009, after Alan Mullaly moved from Boeing to Ford he asked people to use a color code for their management reports. Green if all was well; Yellow if it required more scrutiny and Red if there was a problem. All reports which were tabled used to be green; totally frustrating the new CEO. Are we really doing that well in Ford was the question? Till the day one Department Head dared to table a Yellow report. While all other Board members were stunned into silence; Alan’s response was a thumping applause when that report came up for discussion. Thereafter, the reports submitted started becoming more colorful.

It is the Leaders’ role to encourage failure. And to learn from each failure. Of course a pilot or a surgeon does not have the liberty of making mistakes and learning from them. Fedex will attempt a “Perfect Order” in terms of deliveries (right package; right address; right condition) and be perfect in facing the client: but they experiment and improve in all other internal facing functions.  Corporate world will do well to remember the Pixar President’s edict: ” Mistakes are not a necessary evil. They are NO evil at all”. That is why Tatas have a “Dare to Try” award. Trikaya Grey gives out in their Annual conference a “Heroic Failure” award. Even NASA apparently has instituted a “Lean Forward, Fail Smart” award.

Happy failing; happy learning; happy growing: vikas

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PS This piece is inspired the research done by my partner and friend Ramchandra Rao for one of our assignments. Gives me a chance to acknowledge his contribution in my intellectual life…