I was at an FT125 conference earlier this week where I had a fascinating discussion with the CEO of a medium-sized cosmetics brand company. I told him about my background in Communications and was surprised to hear that he too started his career in a somewhat similar role. “So how has the meaning of the word changed for you now?”, I asked him. “A lot”, he said, “what I value most in communication today is brevity. Today – whether it’s an email, a call, or a meeting – I insist that the writer/presenter tell me in the first sentence what he/she would have told me in the last sentence. That simple rule helps remind everyone what is the most important point of the conversation!”. Brilliant; reminded me of Donald Coduto’s famous MPT rule, “The most important thing (MPT) is to keep the most important thing the most important thing” … Would you agree?
I had a very interesting experience while exchanging cards with a fascinating Silicon Valley entrepreneur at the Singularity University’s Global Conference in SFO last year. Let’s call him Mr. M for the sake of preserving his privacy. Instead of the traditional visiting card, he had a blank sheet, the same size as a visiting card, but blank. After we had finished our chat. I gave him my card and he flashed out this blank sheet, wrote his name and on it and scribbled a small note beneath it that said “the guy who runs a mobile platform startup in San Jose that you could explore for building your Marketing Department’s data dashboard”…
I was mind-blown by his ingenuity! By replacing the cold visiting card with that creative piece of paper, he had done three excellent things in one stroke – personalized our connection, gave our meeting an intimate touch and put an action-item for me to think about!
In the distracted economy where every moment is a fight to gain people’s attention, it’s but natural that we should all be thinking like Mr. M and get out of the comfort zone of conventional templates!
A few days back I was reading a compilation on what some super successful CEO’s consider the best advice they had received. One of them cited a children’s book called ‘The Little Engine that could’ as his golden gospel. Turns out the story is very short and very powerful; a must read for everyone:
A little railroad engine was employed about a station yard for such work as it was built for, pulling a few cars on and off the switches. One morning it was waiting for the next call when a long train of freight-cars asked a large engine in the roundhouse to take it over the hill. “I can’t; that is too much a pull for me”, said the great engine built for hard work. Then the train asked another engine, and another, only to hear excuses and be refused. In desperation, the train asked the little switch engine to draw it up the grade and down on the other side. “I think I can”, puffed the little locomotive, and put itself in front of the great heavy train. As it went on the little engine kept bravely puffing faster and faster, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
As it neared the top of the grade, which had so discouraged the larger engines, it went more slowly. However, it still kept saying, “I—think—I—can, I—think—I—can.” It reached the top by drawing on bravery and then went on down the grade, congratulating itself by saying, “I thought I could, I thought I could.”
I am quite a huge fan of author/thinker Seth Godin. Sometimes his 200-character pieces give more wisdom than a book! Like this 2-liner he recently posted: “You can disdain gravity all you want, call out its unfairness, seek to have it banned. But that’s not going to help you build an airplane.”
In his book ‘Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work’, Mason Currey documents daily rituals of some of the greatest artists, thinkers and scientists of our time from Darwin to Dickens to Picasso to Mozart and 160 others. Here is a gist of the 5 habits that were apparently common across all these stalwarts:
- They all worked very hard and, frequently, for VERY long hours.
- Regular, extended exercise – usually walking – was frequently an important part of their routines.
- They were mostly early risers, with significant exceptions, and did their best work in the first several hours of the day. There were a few nightowls but not many.
- They had a work routine that they adhered to almost fanatically.
- Finally, implicitly, habits were key in their successes and productivity.
This very accomplished CXO from a US based Financial Major once told us of an interesting dilemma she faces as a woman leader. While it’s definitely tough for woman to move up the leadership pipeline, she said, it is equally and sometimes more challenging to keep validating the position every single day in the most inconspicuous of situations! In a restaurant for example, she may be hosting customers, her team or partner colleagues but when it comes to billing time, the waiters always hand over the cheque to one of the male members on the table! “They have a tough time imagining a woman is the host of this important looking delegation; so the cheque would never come my way!” she said. How did she solve this sticky situation? By imitating the alpha male game! Now whenever she’s taking people out for a meal, she ensures she sits at the head of the table, when she walks in she ensures she sends enough “I’m the woman in-charge here” signals to the waiter serving her table and right before the finale, she makes eye contact with the waiter while requesting for the cheque! Hard work eh?! Every single day!
Everybody has their favorite cabby story and mine just happened a few weeks back. On my way from to office one morning I started chatting up with my middle-aged Indian cabby. Hearing about my company’s work, he pushed two fat books towards me. “I am learning coding and testing too” he said. It so turns out, he drives at day, learns coding at night and in between also runs a web design company. For the latter, he said, he had found inspiration from Malcolm Gladwell’s famous book ‘Outliers’ and was now looking for a “lucky break” which could take him to the other side. “Life can change in a second” he philosophized and then asked me to watch a movie that he swore would change my life too! Its apparently a German movie called ‘Run Lola run’ – an intense, fast paced action film with a rather simplistic plot and unexpectedly deeper philosophical implications about fate, chance, time, choice, and consequence. The movie is one of those underground pieces of art that only true connoisseurs are aware of and understand; to see a cabbie peddle it so fluidly and evocatively had me totally stumped. As I got down from his cab at the busy London Bridge intersection, I thanked him for a riveting conversation and hurried my steps to the office. There was a gazelle in town.