Wednesday, July 22, 2015

5 lessons successful bodybuilders teach us about career growth

No, neither have you been mistaken reading the word 'career' in the title line nor has there been a typo on my part to key in 'career' in place of the seemingly apt word 'muscle'!

I have been a vivid gym goer and I have come across a lot of achievers when it comes to bodybuilding. On the other hand, I have been a keen observer as well, at the workplace and other corporate places I have been to, and have found stark similarities in the way a successful bodybuilder approaches muscle growth and the way a successful and fast growing corporate professional (at any level) approaches career growth. Based on my observations of others who're successful and those who aren't, in both the fields, here is my list of top five lessons I believe we can learn from the successful bodybuilders about career development.

No one size fits all
The biggest and by far the most common mistake I have seen people doing, especially the fresh entrants in the gym as well as in my industry is, blindly walking on the footsteps of someone they think as a role model and expecting similar results. We get fascinated by seeing what they are today and desperately attempt to just follow their routines. What we don't see is that they have molded their routines after years of trial and error methodologies based on their own strengths and weaknesses which may not be applicable to us. Successful bodybuilders retain their individuality in terms of their goals, success measures, training methods based on their individual body types, strengths and weak areas and other priorities in life. Similarly, in case of career development, we should be careful following the footsteps of someone as-is because things which worked for them may not work for us and in fact may not even be relevant for us to follow especially during these times of rapidly changing industry dynamics.

Progressive overload principle
Muscle grows only when gradual increase of stress is placed upon the body during exercise training. You may as well keep on training with the exact same intensity and volume years after years without any results and hit the plateau. Same rule applies to careers too. Remember, it is all the more easier to just keep on playing in the national level tournaments for a cricketer and score centuries after centuries, win awards after awards, but that can't be called as growth. If he has to be successful at the international level which is indeed 'growth', he should be open to fail for zeroes, open to getting hit on the chin by the leather, open to getting dropped from the team frequently and so on. In the corporate world too, if year on year you are performing the exact same roles and managing similar responsibilities without any increase whatsoever in the breadth and depth of your impact, or complexity of the challenges, or variety of efforts and scale, you are simply not growing and sooner you are bound to hit the plateau or in aviation terms, a deep stall, recovering from which becomes next to impossible.

Make hay while the sun shines
If you have the opportunity to do something, do it before the opportunity expires. Bodybuilders understand this very well and hence you will always find them adjust the intensity and volume of training as per the conducive nature of their surroundings and resources they have. They train extremely hard during winters when the climate is cool and supportive for quick healing, natural nutrients and meat resources are grown aplenty, and injury risk due to dehydration is minimal. Come the summer, they cut down on their intensity and just go through the motions to maintain the form and shape. Similarly, working in a corporate environment has its own set of challenges in terms of team, work-group dynamics, resources, infrastructure, leadership support, customer backing and conducive work culture. There will definitely be moments when all of these things are favorable for you to produce the best, so use such opportunities to the fullest. When things don't go the way you expect them to go, slow down and use that period to sharpen your axes. Equip yourself with weapons you can again use when the times change.

There are no shortcuts to any place worth going
In bodybuilding, it is no secret that steroids as well as supplements like creatine and high calorie protein shakes can give you that beefier look in no time, however, an illness of a couple of weeks and doses of antibiotics can get you back to square one in no time as well! When it comes to building quality muscle in its best form, there are no shortcuts. It is almost always a long hard journey. Similarly, when it comes to growing careers, there are no shortcuts and even if there are, the success derived from those is hardly long-lasting. There are loads of quick-success formulas that exist in the corporate world, about which I don't think I need to elaborate more as they are well known, at the same time, the success ratio and the probability of sustaining the initial exponential growth that generally is associated with these is found to be pretty low.

Muscles grow outside the gym
There's an old saying in the bodybuilding community, they say, muscles grow outside of the gym and that's true indeed. If one has to categorize muscle growth in numbers, 30% growth comes from the actual workouts you do in the gym, 40% comes from the food that acts as a nutrient, and remaining 30% comes from the 'rest' that allows you to recuperate and heal the muscles. Similarly, majority of our career growth happens outside office. A healthy work-life balance, fun elements, extracurricular learning lead to a healthier mind and body that produces best output in the office, as well as, keeps oneself equally motivated throughout all the phases in his career. These factors also act as nutrients that fuel our personality development. That's primarily the reason I believe I have found a lot of workaholics struggling in their respective jobs. All-round development is essential to one's personal as well as professional growth and that majorly comes from outside of the office premises and cubicles.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

If it's not Boeing I am not going!

I read somewhere that talking about airplanes is a very pleasant mental disease and I must say I have been suffering from this disease ever since I became aware of what an airliner is. No amount of time I spend on reading about them, or watching the documentaries, or fictional movies or just plain textual engineering stuff, is sufficient enough to satiate my hunger. Talking about jetliners, only two names come to mind, the Boeing and the Airbus, and guess what, today I visited what you call the mecca of the awesome birdies...that's right, the Boeing Factory! I can't believe it took me 4 trips to Seattle to be able to finally meet my birdies and watch their conception to birth journey in action.

Built in the year 1966, located at the north-east corner of the Paine field, approximately 20-25 miles from Seattle, it is the largest building in the world by volume covering 100 odd acres, that's just humongous. This is the factory where the wide body 747, 777, 787 and 767 are assembled. Just to throw some data around, 40 thousand employees work in this facility, churning out 1 and half 747s, 8 and half 777s and 10-12 of 787s per month. To put things in perspective, the cost of these planes ranges from USD 250+ millions for the DreamLiner to 300 millions for 777 and 350 millions for a 747-8, that's a whopping 2000 crore Indian rupees for a single bird!

I reached there at around 8.40 am in the morning accompanied by my dear friend Varun (without whom this trip wasn't possible), and my colleague Paul. Again Varun who also doubled up as a tour guide, took us to the stratodesk (or something of that sort they call it) from where you can have a 360 degree view of the Boeing factory, its surrounding, largest private runway, airfield and the adjoining motorway. Did I mention the large number of jets that you see, some just lying there straight out of the factory, waiting for their maiden test flight, some waiting for their delivery to their buyer airline, some in the queue to be painted et al. Luckily enough, we also witnessed a Boeing 787 DreamLiner taking off on its test flight right in front of our eyes straight down from the runway. The right side of the stratodesk lies the hanger for the DreamLifter which is nothing but a fleet of 4 modified 747-800s that are used to carry the entire fuselage, other large components and big control surfaces of the DreamLiner from various locations like Japan, Charleston etc. to the Everett factory. We came down, and it was still some time before the scheduled 9 am factory tour so went across the floors to the future of flight aviation center which hosts a lot of exhibits such as flying and aviation videos, presentations and mock-ups, original plane fuselages, simulators, cockpit, full size and actual jet engines from Rolls Royce and GE, other components from 747 including tail, wings, landing gear, flight deck and full sized engines. Simply marvelous. Spent around 15-20 minutes there and proceeded to the Boeing factory tour. The entire factory tour is of 1 and half hours duration and you cannot take any electronic device including mobile phones along. You have to deposit them before the start of the tour. A guide takes you through all the assembly lines starting from the manufacturing of 747s to then 777s and finally the 787 DreamLiner. 767 is just on display because it is being used for the military aviation purpose and as a refueling aircraft these days. The vastness of the factory area is overwhelming and the sheer size of the birds being assembled there, it just cannot be described in words or even a camera (though they don't allow one inside). We are talking about witnessing the birth of a 200 tonnes metal marvel, with a wing span of around 70 meters, height of 65 feet, and length of 80 meters capable of carrying along 400 tonnes of weight in the sky at a ridiculous 600 miles per hour speed, beat that. In other words, simply majestic. We moved from 747 to 777 to 787 one by one, beholding one stunning sight after the other, only to cherish them all forever. Believe me it is next to impossible for an aviation fan to take his eyes off the birds in making, and to think of the fact that every single Boeing plane you have flown in your life has taken off from right here for the first time, its a wonderful feeling to just be there!

One small unfortunate incident which we happened to coincidentally witness, unbelievably, was a small two seat single engine plane crash that happened right in front of our eyes, though, at that moment we didn't realize it is a crash which simply looked like any other landing much farther away from the runway (we assumed there is another runway down there which was nothing but the dense forest). Later in the day heard the news about the crash of the same plane on the internet. While on our way back, we even saw the rescue briefly but didn't realize that time it's the rescue effort of the crash-landed plane on the highway sidelines.

Anyway, back to the post, as I wish to end it here, some of the links that may be of interest to you. Some of my pictures can be found out on the other social mediums such as my Facebook public profile.

That's the lovely birdie I am talking about!!

About Boeing factory and the tour

Since they don't allow camera and photos, all the stunning images of the factory and the beautiful planes can be seen on the bing/google search text 'Boeing Factory Images' in the image section.

More information on the Boeing Tour and Future of Flight center

About the small plane crash we witnessed inadvertently

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Singapore Diaries

Anything related to Singapore has to start with the flying experience these days. The strait of Malacca has been in the news, especially in relation to the aviation industry the entire last year albeit for not so positive reasons. I have been a post 911 generation flier, having started air travel a couple of years later to that, so not sure how it was earlier but every single time I fly, I make it a point to closely observe my fellow passengers while waiting in the lobby to on-board, or while entering the aircraft, for suspicious activities. This time though, in addition to observing and spying on my fellow passengers, I found myself closely observing the pilots of the plane as they were getting through the gates, for signs of mental wellness or any abnormalities in their gestures, postures etc. Don't get me wrong, I so much love flying, and not just flying, I can sit for hours at the terminal observing those monster birdies take off from the tarmac. This time however, my passion for flying was tested at an altogether different level. Midway through the Hyderabad Singapore flight, as we had just finished the meals and were about to doze off, the aircraft experienced a severe sudden jolt, huge vibrations and horizontal shake accompanied by rapid fall to some feet, and a red light on the cockpit door (without any announcements though). It lasted for maybe 15-20-30 seconds but those felt like eternity. The aircraft soon corrected its manners and we all knew this was definitely not the routine turbulence that we had encountered. In all probability, this was a case of a clear-air 'Wake Turbulence' that is caused by the wingtip vortices of another jet (jet wash) coming your way when the jet overtakes you flying (minimum 1000 ft up above) in the same direction. I am a self-proclaimed aviation fan and have read just too many books, researches and blog posts from the actual military and commercial pilots to know turbulence very very rarely causes any mid-flight crisis, especially in the cruise mode but this was one hell of a scary experience. I must admit though, that in such situations, it is amazing to notice how calm one's mind remains, knowing that nothing's there in our control anyway so worrying is worthless!

On a side note, landing at the Changi was uneventful and the airport is so big it would be a fair ask to have an entire fleet of cessna to internally commute from one place to another inside the Changi.

Now, after this harrowing experience mid-flight, the last thing you would want is to get onto an 'externally located' capsule-like elevator in your 34 storey hotel to reach 29th floor. This was like standing on top of the glass wall overlooking the grand canyon beneath your feet through the transparent view. God blessed me with this another vertigo inducing experience immediately after landing at Changi and checking in to the hotel in the city. How merciful.

No matter if your hotel is a five star, six star (if there's ever anything like that) or a seven star, and offers 100 different dishes from 10 different cuisines all over the world for breakfast, lunch and dinner, my observation is that you end up eating the Idli Dosas, Vadas for breakfast and Dal Rice with some curry during lunch for the major part. Food is one of the most critical factor that kicks instant home sickness no matter how lavish your spread on the offing is.

This was my second visit to Singapore and during my last trip itself I had visited most of the tourist spots and shopping malls. This time I was alone and it was so very kind of my colleague and dear friend Mani and his family to lovingly accommodate me as part of them wherever they went. A great company indeed and I am thankful to them for their kind gesture. In these two trips I have now finished almost entire Singapore.

From tourism perspective though, Singapore has nothing 'natural' to offer. Each and every object that you see in Singapore is a man made marvel. So if you are a nature lover, you are bound to be disappointed. You can anyway finish the entire city in two days sharp. Same goes with shopping. I haven't found a single stuff there that can not be purchased here in India with equal or less pricing and equal or more ease of availability. Again, even in a general sense, Singapore is an extremely expensive country. My rule has always been the same. As much as possible, I am not going to pay a dime to the foreign government for something that I can get back in my nation with equal ease and pricing. Period.

One interesting experience while dining out in Singapore was, and this is a repeat of my Facebook post, please pardon. "If you strongly desire to learn something, the whole universe conspires to force you learn." Here in Singapore, as I was learning deep insights on Customer Obsession through an American agency, another American food chain too contributed to my learning in the most practical way possible. Happened to visit a restaurant (famous chain worldwide) for lunch and settling down in my seat asked for a WiFi passcode to connect to the internet. The hotel guy responds, 'Yes sir first you order the main course and then only I tell you the passcode for the restaurant WiFi'. So much for the customer obsession!!!

The return journey was also equally turbulent, all the time vibrating and shaking as if this is not a plane cruising in the skies but a Mahindra Bolero offroading on the beautiful Hyderabad roads in the monsoon! However, given the onward journey experience we had, this felt like a butter-smooth flight.

And yeah, to and fro I was sitting on the emergency seats deliberately chosen (window14A) and loved noticing the vigorously rocking wing, the lightening in the clouds, appreciating the fact that I will be the first one to get out in case something happens, and I am an excellent swimmer too!!

Yeah one interesting thing that happened there is, while passing through the security gates at the Changi, just before boarding the plane (in Changi, the security checks are done right at the gates, and not at the airport entrance as in most places), on passing the security metal detector, I habitually marched towards the security personnel (a lady in this case) with both my arms up flaying sideways (that's what we do here in India airport security checks for the staff to run their metal detectors around our body). Here, the lady got scared and said "No no, you're alright sir". I then realized they are not doing this running around metal detectors stuff for the passengers. I can't say for sure the assumption that this person is going to hug me was the reason behind her scare!

The trip itself was an official one with intense three days training and networking, though my role doesn't allow me to share a single word about the event itself in a public domain. Those of my colleagues in the same company who happen to read this post, can contact me in private to know more about that 'experience' if interested!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Accident, Suicide or Murder?

No, this is not a work of fiction though the subject may just have indicated that and no, I wouldn't have imagined myself expressing my views on the theme that's going to unfold next, especially when I am writing after a long hiatus.

Road safety is a fairly common topic of discussion and there has already been so much written, talked about, published and promoted on this that there would hardly be any living soul who isn't aware of what it is all about. Yet, then, we come across such kinds of 'accidents' happening on the roads of India almost every hour, that make us wonder if we should really call them accidents, or suicide or a murder.

Last week itself I came across two unfortunate events where one lady lost her life as she was waiting on her scooter with her family on the traffic signal (while it was red), and some drunk driver who was racing his vehicle to impress some of his fellow passengers, lost control and hit them from behind at high speeds. Another one was where there was a head-on collision right in the middle of the lake where apparently the machine boat sped carelessly towards the ferry allegedly for some stupid adventure and equally stupid photo-op and 'selfie' opportunities for the passengers. Again, although this second incident is not particularly linked with the road safety, I am sure I need not surf the internet to find at least 10 such news daily about the 'accidents' caused by similar stupidity and misadventure.

Now, the question that we need to ask ourselves is, are these really 'accidents'? To me, an accident is something you have no or limited control over, for e.g., a tyre burst, or the vehicle catching fire, or the sudden malfunctioning of the equipment like steering, handle, brakes. Even in these cases there is a very thin line between an 'accident' and 'act of negligence'. You can always say the vehicle couldn't be controlled on the tyre burst because the speed was out of permissible limits for the road and the vehicle. In that case it is no more an accident. The vehicle wasn't maintained properly and the fuel used was of low quality, the electric components of the vehicle were tampered and hence it caught fire. In that case it is no more an accident. You can always limit the damage caused by accidents for yourself, your loved ones and for others on the road whose lives are as important as your own.

My anguish goes beyond such 'acts of negligence' though. Drunk driving leading to a fatal accident is either a suicide or a murder (depending on who bears the brunt of it). Not wearing a seat belt resulting in fatal injuries is sheer suicidal. Excessively high speed driving causing accidents is an attempt to murder, nothing else. Underage driving, talking on mobile phones while driving, not wearing helmet on a bike, performing a wheelie, a drag, leaving infants and kids alone in the vehicle so on and so forth, all of this amounts to either suicide or murder. These things can't just be sidelined in the name of accident or negligence. Negligence is an act where one doesn't realize the potential impact of doing it upfront, and that's where crime is different from negligence in a sense the criminal act is one where the owner of the activity has absolute control on the activity and realizes the impact fully if the outcome of the activity goes wrong.

Is it really worth it? I mean, if the doers yearn for getting a 'high', instead of resorting to these monkey antics, my advice to them would be to try bringing a smile on the face of the needy with small acts of kindness and experience the 'real high' out of it. If they are yearning for a real adventure, my advice to them would be to join army, go to the border and fight the enemy, spill the blood on the border rather than wasting it on the roads.

Is it really difficult? wearing seat belts, helmet, following signals and other basic rules, maintaining lane discipline, managing healthy speed limits, not mixing drinks with drive, keeping safe distance, all just too simple things to do. In fact, these are the things where there is absolutely no need of any explicit promotion or awareness. A fair amount of common sense and applying that on the roads is enough. Unfortunately, many of us still don't have either, or don't apply for the reasons best known to them.

I make it a point to follow as much as I have inculcated in my driving habits over a period of time and with a lot of grey hair, to wear seat belts, maintaining the lanes, speed limits not crossing three digits, no drunk driving without exceptions, not stretching the vehicle beyond its capacity, day driving as much as possible, not jumping signals, not taking shortcuts, no wrong side driving to save time, no mobile while driving, to name a few. Through this post, I appeal to the readers to pay proper attention to the road safety of themselves as well as others, by following basic rules and applying common sense while driving. If this post makes some impact on at least one reader, even for a duration as short as a week, I will believe my time writing on this was worth spent. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Management lessons from a simple man and his team

My recent road trip down south was full of interesting observations, unique experiences and humbling moments. One of the places we visited was Wayanad, in north Kerala where we had an amazing stay for three days, every bit of which resulted in cherishing memories. Apart from the prime location and serenity of the place, I attribute most of it to the management principles of the owner of the property. Just to observe the way he has created, nurtured and grown his team and the way his team serves the customers was a lesson in management which can be applied in the corporate world as well.

Let me share three of the basic team management principles that no corporate training will likely talk about, but were on display day in day out during our stay there and seemingly had a strong positive influence on our amazing experience during our stay.

Love your people, you are because they are - If you are in a role which demands working with and for the people, you got to love them as your most valued assets. You got to love the fact that you are privileged to work for them. You got to love the fact that you are endowed with the responsibility to work for their professional betterment and personal development. You got to love the fact that you have them for a reason. On 31st December the resort had arranged a celebration party for the resident guests. Unbelievably, as we were expecting a rock-n-roll stuff, the get together begins with a surprise felicitation of each of the resort staff at all levels alike without any ordering or sequencing per their hierarchy. This was done none other than the owner himself and the emotional bonhomie was a sight to behold. I mean, you have guests who have paid premium amount to be there in your resort on the 31st gala event, some of them are foreigners as well, and yet, on such commercially important occasion, to witness this beginning was a humbling experience. Throughout our stay, one more time we encountered a cake cutting program for a junior staff member, again done by the owner and his family all by themselves.

Wear your emotions on your sleeve - No matter how higher you reach, if you want someone to trust you, to follow or be with you, to bet his or her life on you or your actions, be authentic. You are sad, reveal it. You're happy, share it. You're frustrated, crib about it. You want to make fun of yourself, do it and do it right. You want to crack a joke, crack it. You want to be a punching bag for your people to hit you, admit your mistakes and be it. You want to cry, cry out loud. Your people follow you if they can see what you are, and not when they can only see who you are. Once they get that, the culture trickles down seamlessly. During our entire time spent there, we never ever came across plastic smiles (which are so blatantly displayed in almost all premium hospitality sector properties), or fake emotions of any sort. Whenever there was a face to face encounter with any of the staff member, right from the managers at the desk or operations to the security personnel outside, genuine and warm smile greeted us. Whenever there was even the slightest lapse (which we too didn't even notice to mind) in the customer service as per their standards, genuine admission of guilt apologized to us.

Task isn't small or big, will and intent is - Every staff was empowered to take a decision as long as it served the purpose, and no one was bothered about the triviality or the significance of the job each was performing irrespective of their position in the hierarchy. For e.g., the chef was attending the customer's request for information if the front desk was busy, the right hand of the owner was acting as a gatekeeper to open the gates for a car to exit, when the watchman was engaged in other stuff equally important (so as the customer shouldn't have to wait), the owner himself was serving the dinner to the guests along with his kitchen staff, and likewise. No matter who was performing the job, the goal was still the same, pursuit of customer service excellence and everybody had imbibed this in their DNA.

Ultimately it all boils down to the very basic fact that the resources can be acquired, capabilities can be built, skills can be grown, infrastructures can be developed, behaviors can be mended, but will and intent has to come from within,

And last but not the least, in Hindi there is a saying 'Yatha Raja Tatha Praja' which translates as 'Subjects in a kingdom will be like the king'. The great Alexander was spot on when he emphasized on the significance of the leader acting as a role model in his famous quote which says 'I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep, I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion'.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Phillip Hughes and the mystery called destiny

'It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves' - William Shakespeare. I disagree, for there have been hundreds of thousands of those bouncers bowled in the centuries old history of the game of cricket, innocuous and vicious, faced by openers and tails alike, expertly hit or naively ducked under, with or without protective hundreds of batsmen around the world. Why the poor kid Phil Hughes then, and even poorer young lad Sean Abbott met their destinies as these?  

The unfortunate and tragic demise of this promising young international cricketer, an expert opener on the field, with all precautions in place, caused by what the doctors called 'one in a billion' type of injury has once again made us reflect on the mystery called destiny. Just few days back I was having a conversation with my partner on the probability of a human body accidentally getting hurt in the most sophisticated and delicate places which can be catastrophic. For e.g., a wrist cut is fatal, how many occurrences we have known where it got accidentally snapped for someone? Similar for the exterior delicate portion of our throat. Every individual throughout his lifespan falls, during sports or outdoor activities, during accidents on the road, during street fights and what not, but how many times we have encountered a case where that portion got accidentally hurt? Same for the reproductive organs, same for the lower abdomen, same for the temple, same for the spine. And we did talk about the lower back side of the skull.

I read somewhere that our destinies are sealed even before we come on earth to learn, experiment, mature (in soul) and depart for the new beginning, only to come back for further betterment of the soul depending on its learning needs, as applicable. We decide our own destinies based on our learning needs and/or contribute to others needs on this planet, but we do it much before we 'physically' come into existence. Well, we don't know what we don't know but then this philosophy somewhat explains the mystery of chance happenings, the mystery of the so-called accidents, coincidences, or even incidences.

Think about it, there's this guy of the 'friends of snakes' community who survived 49 snake bites, and died due to Malaria (mosquito bite). There's this guy who conquered so many races in perhaps the most dangerous of all sports, the motor-sport, only to get severely hurt during a routine skiing adventure. There's this four year old girl who was the only survivor, of all the 156 passengers in the horrific plane crash (flight 255, 1987). There are people who suffered fatal injuries falling in the bathroom and then there is this British skydiver Michael Holmes whose parachute got entangled, leading to his free fall from 15000 feet but miraculously survived. In fact, it was all being shot in the sky, and he waved good bye to all saying 'I am dead, bye!'....landing from 15000 feet on top of a blackberry bush and survived to live healthy thereafter. Then there are instances where people survived train or plain crashes due to inexplicably missing the boarding, or replacing seats with someone else, or postponing trips. Were they controlling their destiny?

Talking about destiny, destinies are never individualistic. They are intertwined. If anything positive or negative (although these are very relative terms which humans have created) has to happen to someone or something, the entire system has to be in a perfect equilibrium. As for this sad event to unfold, everything had to be in place. The time had to be 2.23 pm on that fateful day in 2014, the score had to be 63, the bowler had to be the poor Sean Abbott, the shot making decision had to be a mistimed hook, the helmet had to be a 2013 made missouri brand and not the latest one which had better protection chances, the batsman's mother and sister had to be among the spectators and so on.

It may sound philosophical, and it is, but the most plausible belief remains the same. We do not control our destiny. We live it, day in day out, every moment. In the overall scheme of things, then, we are the variables who undergo change, destinies are sealed.

Rest in peace Phillip Hughes. You died doing what you loved the most, in the company of people who loved you the most. 63 not out forever. Sean, not your fault...not at all..stay strong.....