Wall Street’s favorite distraction or lucky charm for the wealthy & the wise?

aquariumLast week I went to meet this senior leader from Bloomberg LP at their HQ in London. I loved their giant aquariums, which the gentleman told me was a fixture in almost all their offices and the reason goes back to their founder, the eponymous Michael Bloomberg. Mike was such a workaholic, often working on his desk without a break for hours at a stretch, that his wife put a small fish tank on his table to offer him some diversion! The man really took a liking to the gift and it became his favorite distraction when the workload got too heavy. As his business grew he thought it only fair that his employees should also enjoy the tranquility and recreational moments the aquariums offer.

Well Mr. and Mrs. Bloomberg for sure weren’t alone in their thought. Urban legend has it that Bill Gates also has a huge wall-to-wall aquarium at his island home in Seattle and who could forget that huge aquarium in the ‘Swiss Banker’ scene in the movie ‘Wolf of Wall Street’. If reports are to be believed NYC/Wall Street does indeed have the coolest fish tanks in the world. Does it have something to do with power symbolism or good luck or just diversion for hectic work lives? I don’t know. What I do know is that I could start this week with a goldfish bowl on my desk. What do you think? 


Who is the “Boss” of our Brains?!

amygdala_cistockjanulla_000020351273_large.jpgDon’t ask me why but I’m deeply fascinated by the human brain and its functioning. Despite their deeply complex vocabulary I often try to read articles and see documentaries on the subject. In one such expedition I came face-to-face with my fears, like literally – this was a piece on Armygdala, a small almond-shaped piece in the middle of our brain. In simple language, this guy is in charge of keeping us safe. The Amygdala is the reason we are afraid of things outside our control. It also controls the way we react to certain stimuli, or an event that causes an emotion, that we see as potentially threatening or dangerous.

An article I was reading said that it also often “gets in the way of you taking bold steps and moving with confidence”. So this almond-sized small thingy has played a very crucial in shaping the human race. Our forefathers could have been annihilated by their brashness or simply walked into their deaths off hazards…. and well… long story short – the almond hath saveth us all! But hey, here is an alternate take, has Armygdala harmed us over the long term? Have we become too afraid to take risks? Think about it.

To each his own Armygdala!

P.S. As part of one research initiative Armygdala was removed from two rat’s brains. Result – “the rats were said to have no fear of anything, even cats. The removal of the amygdala had taken away the rats’ memory of fear, therefore the rats did not fear anything!”

“Remember to tuck the shower curtain in”

48cfb2ce012f6015ad78ba73f474d636--clawfoot-bathtub-bathtub-showerConrad Hilton, Founder of the Hilton hotel chains, at a gala celebrating his career, was called to the podium and asked, “What were the most important lessons you learned in your long and distinguished career?” His answer:

“Remember to tuck the shower curtain inside the bathtub.”

“You get ’em in the door with “location, location, location”—and gorgeous appointments. You keep ’em coming back with the tucked in shower curtain”, he said.

Excellence indeed lies in the small things.

How’s this for a 2-word differentiator?

Here’s to the ones who believe in simple and short unique differentiators/ value propositions!

A taxi in the Indian city of Calcutta where cabbies often refuse to ply passengers if the destination is not far enough to make big fare money or if it’s not on their convenient routes! Picture courtesy: Teresa Rehman



An Ode to the ‘Finishers’…

Boston-Marathon-winnerA mom pal from my son’s school pinged us with panic on the morning of the Sports Day. Her boy had woken up with a frozen neck and even though the GP had given a reluctant go-ahead for the kid to participate in the races, she wasn’t sure it was a good idea. The boy on the other hand would have none of it. He wanted to run and a cranky neck wouldn’t stop him! A few hours later we stand at the finish line with the valiant child finishing all 6 races he had registered for, one of which he trailed by a good 30 seconds after everyone else had finished, which when you consider the fact that the turf was only about 12 foot long, becomes an awfully (and awkwardly) long time. But this boy didn’t have a care in the world and neither did his classmates. We all hooted, we all laughed, we all celebrated. Finishing the race was clearly the spirit of the day not the rankings!

It was an inspiring morning to say the least which I finished with a cup of coffee with another mom who volunteers for several charities in London and also for the London Marathon. She told me some interesting nuggets from her experience at the latter; the most important one for relevance of this piece is the fact that in some cases (like Berlin) as high as 30% people who participate in marathons don’t finish the race and an equally high number never even turn up to the starting line. At London, this figure is nearly 28%! Fits in well with Woody Allen’s famous words – “80% of the success is showing up”!

Long story short – Turning up for what we signed up or aspired for and finishing it, is clearly a precious lesson that some of us forget with age. Is it one of those magical secrets of success that we’re missing out on? – I don’t know – all I know is that I will be cheering for the ‘Finishers’ and the ‘Turn-Up-ers’ from now on!

Are you a ‘Tiger Worker’?

TIME MagAdvance Stereotype Alert!

A mom I recently met on a play date asked me if I was a “Tiger Mom” for she (rather apologetically) believed that most Asians were. She was of course referring to Amy Chu’s famous portraits of Asian parenting style in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I had read the book and so was able to give her an honest answer – I was somewhere in the middle – maybe a Horse Mom – stubborn and flexible at the same time, but yes definitely leaning towards “efforts” in the “efforts vs innate ability” argument.

I bring this topic up today as I believe that Asian parenting style (the stereotypical portrait that Amy draws) has similarities in their working styles (stretching the stereotype here) too. And so if you’re looking for inspiration from other work cultures today, this summary of Amy’s might give you some interesting cues:

“Unlike your typical Western over-scheduling soccer mom, the Chinese mother believes that:

(1) schoolwork always comes first;

(2) an A-minus is a bad grade;

(3) your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math; (4) you must never compliment your children in public;

(5) if your child ever disagrees with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the teacher or coach;

(6) the only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal; and

(7) that medal must be gold.

Final take away – “Chinese parents–like many other Asian parents–are more likely to emphasize effort over innate talent. Experiments show that people learn more when they believe that effort, not innate intelligence, is the key to achievement. And other research suggests that Westerners are more likely to assume that a child fails because he lacks innate ability”.

So much for clichés!



A Zen master believed that this one skill is most important to be a ruler

I talked about the timeless leadership wisdom of Aesop’s Fables in a post last week. Today let’s look eastwards to another great spiritual philosophy or rather civilization – the Zen and Confucian era of Chinese history. This story of a Zen Master’s view on the skill most needed to be a successful ruler is relevant to all leaders of large teams today:

Back in the third century A.D., The king Ts’ao sent his son, Prince T’ai, to the temple to study under the great master Pan Ku. Because prince T’ai was to succeed his father as king, Pan Ku was to teach the boy the basics of being a good ruler. When the prince arrived at the temple, the master sent him alone to the Ming-Li Forest. After one year, the prince was to return to the temple to describe the sound of the forest. When Prince T’ai returned, Pan Ku asked the boy to describe all that he could hear. “Master”, replied the prince, “I could hear the cuckoos sing, the leaves rustle, the hummingbirds hum, the crickets chirp, the grass blow, the bees buzz, and the wind whisper and holler.” When the prince had finished, the master told him to go back to the forest to listen to what more he could hear. The prince was puzzled by the master’s request. Had he not discerned every sound already? For days and nights on end, the young prince sat alone in the forest listening. But he heard no sounds other than those he had already heard. Then one morning, as the prince sat silently beneath the trees, he started to discern faint sounds unlike those he had ever heard before. The more acutely he listened, the clearer the sounds became. A feeling of enlightenment enveloped the boy. “These must be the sounds the master wished me to discern,” he reflected.

When prince T’ai returned to the temple, the master asked him what more he had heard. “Master,” responded the prince reverently,” when I listened most closely, I could hear the unheard – the sound of flowers opening, the sound of the sun warming the earth, and the sound of the grass drinking the morning dew.”

The master nodded approvingly. “To hear the unheard,” remarked Pan Ku, “is a necessary discipline to be a good ruler. For only when a ruler has learned to listen closely to the people’s hearts, hearing their feelings uncommunicated, pains unexpressed, and complaints not spoken of, can he hope to inspire confidence in his people, understand when something is wrong, and meet the true needs of his citizens. The demise of states comes when leaders listen only to superficial words and not penetrate deeply into the souls of the people to hear their true opinions, feelings and desires.”

My favorite leadership story about Pope Francis

Pope embraces young woman during encounter with youth in Cagliari, SardiniaI’m a big fan of Pope Francis. His servant leadership style is such a breath of fresh air. Despite holding the highest office of the largest religion in the world, he is just so humane, so simple and so accessible. There are hundreds and thousands of endearing stories giong around about his humility, but it is a very simple moment between a devotee and Pope Francis that is my favorite.

This was mentioned in the Vanity Fair magazine’s profile on him.

A young girl had signed up to volunteer at the Church’s World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro where Pope Francis attended and gave a rising speech. When it was over, Francis made his way to the helicopter base— desperate to meet him, she begged an airport official to let her meet the Holy Father. Miraculously he lets her slip in.

“I walk out onto the tarmac, where the helicopter is. There in a line are all the generals. There in another line are all the cardinals. And there in the middle is the Pope. The rotors are chopping. I have to shout. I shout to Francis, ‘I want to hug you.’ Francis shouts back, “Come and get it.” They hug. She tells him she is struggling in her personal life. He tells her to pray on it. They hold hands. He blesses her. The entire entourage is waiting. The helicopter is buzzing but Pope Francis gives her his full attention and makes a moment that lasts a lifetime for the girl. 

As a servant leader, you’re a “servant first” – you focus on the needs of others, especially your followers, before anyone else and Pope Francis is every bit one. #Salutes

The lesson my child’s storybook taught me…

I recently bought a book on ‘Aesops Fables’ to read to my kiddo at night. He is big time bedtime story fan. In seven years of his amazing companionship I must have told some 1,000 odd original stories that I make up on the fly so that he could sleep fast. A few months back, I started amping my story armor with outside help from books J and this ‘Aesop’ book was one such buy. Long story short- amazing book with some amazing lessons that grown-ups can heed just as much. Here is one that I read to my son last night and ended up reading to myself more… you’ll know why when you read it too. So here it goes:

A Fox once saw a Crow fly off with a piece of cheese in its beak and settle on a branch of a tree.

“That’s for me, as I am a Fox,” said Master Reynard, and he walked up to the foot of the tree.

“Good day, Mistress Crow,” he cried. “How well you are looking today: how glossy your feathers; how bright your eye. I feel sure your voice must surpass that of other birds, just as your figure does; let me hear but one song from you that I may greet you as the Queen of Birds.”

The Crow lifted up her head and began to caw her best, but the moment she opened her mouth the piece of cheese fell to the ground, only to be snapped up by Master Fox.

“That will do,” said he. “That was all I wanted. In exchange for your cheese I will give you a piece of advice for the future: “Do not trust flatterers.”

Enough said.