When I received an invite from a large software company to speak, I felt nice for two reasons. First, they thought me worthy of a talk on “Leadership Learning” and also because this initiative was started by my colleague when he was with that organization!
My objective? After an hour of talk I wanted everyone to feel that the hour was well spent – and each carried with them some sense of deja vu, a few AHA moments – and of course curiosity to explore more on their own. So here is a brief account of what I shared with them on August 13, 2015.
Everything we see around us is complex – organization, family, society. Everything we have to tackle is complex – be it performance reviews or raising a child. How do we tackle complexity? Complexity can not be confronted with complexity.
The answer is K.I.S.S. – “Keep It Simple, Stupid”!
The celebrated Gall’s law goes like this: A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked.
This law is essentially an argument in favor of underspecification: it can be used to explain the success of systems like the World Wide Web which grew from simple to complex system incrementally, and the failure of systems like CORBA, which began with complex specifications. Gall’s Law has strong affinities to the practice of agile software development.
I then talked about inversion – and other counter intuitive techniques to look at the complexity which give us dramatically simple perspective to address complexity.
We were always taught to mug up answers to get good marks, right? But in the real world we know that it is all important to ask the right questions. (What’s the use finding correct answers to wrong questions?) Learning is important – but un-learning is more important! I was told by my teacher to un-learn my procedural language training – “otherwise you will program Fortran in C++” he told me! Vikas Joshi (Founder, Harbinger Group) once told us how one should deliberately create knowledge gaps by entrusting tasks outside people’s expertise – so, you avoid creating silos of expertise and induce collaboration. And as the chief people officer of Google (Laszlo Bock) has famously said, letting the inmates run the asylum works the best!
What is the simple mantra of Success in the corporate world? Believe it or or not – it’s “Helping others drives success“! Instead of aiming to succeed first and give back later, giving first is a promising path to succeed later! (But if you do it only to succeed, it probably won’t work.) This is not an extract from some sermon, but findings by the most highly rated professor from Wharton, USA – Adam Grant. You actually don’t need to give back – but better give forward. If someone helped you, help someone else. He also talks about presentation and negotiation. Conventional wisdom tells us that one needs to dominate the conversation, to be assertive, to win an argument. Wrong. If you want to lead someone to your conclusion – you need to do that on their terms! And, instead of dominance, you need to focus on prestige. The motivation has to come from within.
Intuition – don’t we love it when we seem to know things – but don’t know how we know them? It’s a startling fact that the intuition, or heuristics, often leads us astray. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow” shows us that we are often complete strangers to ourselves – and that’s a frightening thought!
Laszlo Bock cites a study in his book where more than 2000 interviews were recorded. The naïve observers were shown the slices from each interview beginning with the interviewee knocking on the door and ending 10 seconds after the interviewee took the seat. Observers provided ratings of employability, competence, intelligence, ambition, trustworthiness, confidence, nervousness, warmth, politeness, likability and expressiveness! For 9 of the 11 variables thin slice judgment correlated significantly with final evaluation of the actual interviewers. is it not scary? Point is, as Kahneman explains, we constantly make up stories – and then seek evidence to corroborate those stories.
We advise young people to emulate successful people. Is that good enough? Remember, successes can’t tell us what not to do! When failure becomes invisible, the difference between failure and success may also become invisible. Looking at failures is more important. Example: Start up companies and venture capitalists.
At the end I shared what Vikas Joshi shared with fellow Harbingers about leadership during our Annual Award event. Do take this test of leadership.
How do you experience different people around you? Do you pay attention to differences?
Do you know how different people experience you differently? Harder question – as you go higher, mirrors get curved!
How do people experience themselves when they are around you? That’s the hard test of leadership.
Then I invoked Gandhi.
I believe, irrespective of the ideology, Gandhi was the epitome of leadership. Why Gandhi? Imagine – when even a telephone was a luxury, forget Internet, he had the mass following across the length and breadth of the nation. The way he excelled in the third test was beyond compare. He made every ordinary person feel like a freedom fighter, not just a patriot, through simple acts – be it wearing khadi clothes or walking along the Dandi march.
As someone said – गांधी एक आंधी थी जिससे तिनका भी आकाश चढ गया!
Gandhi was a typhoon, that catapulted even a straw to the sky!