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January 2013

Push vs. Pull

-Karthik Gurumurthy

One of the parents whom I tutor was sharing their thought process of how to get their kids accountable for their improvement in studies.

She mentioned that, " Oh I continually remind them that they need to study more, practice more problems. I cajole them about getting it done."

I responded back to her, "How is the reminding and cajoling working out for you so far?". "Despite all my efforts, it hasn't worked at all, " she responded.

I told her, "Maybe that's because you really aren't helping him accountable. Instead of reminding him, why not  make some time and work some problems with him."

We often think we are holding people accountable when are doing nothing more than requesting, pleading, begging and sometimes demanding performance. As the instance illustrates, these approaches aren't very successful. We need to help people be accountable rather than holding them accountable. We need to be active participants in their change and improvement. Think about it.

What is the Goal?

Helping people be accountable is more than identifying what they need to do; it is about clarifying what needs to be accomplished. Clear outcomes can often be achieved several different ways. We tend to be too rigid about the means and completely miss the end.

We need to structure your efforts around the end goal, and involve the person you're working with in determining the how. It is about giving them an active role in creating the process which will engage them and give them the sense of ownership.

When I read "Magic of Thinking Big",  the author Schwartz always mentions that the people are not motivated by a goal; they are motivated by the reasons for achieving a goal. If I can't see a benefit or a negative consequence to be avoided, why would I even exert any effort to change?

Motivation is usually all about hope of good news or avoidance of bad news. To help someone be accountable, we have to unpack the consequences of a change or lack thereof. The important thing is to find reasons that are worthwhile to them and not just to you.

Sometimes it helps to sit down with them to identify their roadblocks. I am not suggesting to plan for them which defeats the purpose. I am suggesting to work with them which can increase the effectiveness.

We also need to differentiate between excuse and an explanation. When I sit down with a student to understand the reason for his/her grade. An explanation is a statement of fact about what happened. An explanation is "this is what happened, and why". An excuse is "this is what happened, and why it wasn't my fault". If somebody is in the habit of making excuses in their routine, it is quite unlikely that they will take ownership of where they are at.

I love hearing to entrepreneur Brad Duncan who often says, "Your action speaks so loud that I don't hear a word you are saying." To help somebody become accountable, we have to show it by action, be the person they feel worthy of following and then help them accomplish their goals. A good teacher/leader always creates the pull which makes the student to do the right thing.


-Karthik Gurumurthy

Last week, I had a tutoring session with one of my students who plays Junior Pro tennis and he shared an interesting story about Tennis champion Andy Roddick.

From what I heard from my student, he was playing final round of a Masters tournament in Rome against Fernando Verdasco from Spain. It was a match point in favor of Roddick. Apparently when Roddick hit his second serve, the line umpire had called the ball "out," and the crowd was cheering for Roddick. Verdasco had already moved towards the net to shake hands, as the match appeared to be done.

But Andy Roddick did not accept the point. Instead, he said the ball was "in" and called the umpire's attention to a slight indentation on the clay court which showed that the ball had landed on- not beyond- the line. Surprised by his act, the umpire allowed Roddick to overrule him and the point was awarded to Verdasco.

Everyone was amazed. In a game not typically played on the honor system- but on the umpire's calls- Roddick has made a call against himself and went on to lose the match.  The actual story is found here.

Though he lost the match he gained credibility and trust which is far greater. My dad would call this as good sportsmanship by Roddick as demonstrated through his action.

One of my favorite chapters in Math is Congruent triangles. For some reason, I always love the word 'Congruent'. Congruent triangles means one and the same.They have exactly the same size and shape. Two triangles are congruent when the three sides and the three angles of one triangle have the same measurements as three sides and three angles of another triangle.

When a person is congruent,  there is no gap between the intent and the behavior. People who are congruent work in sync with their deepest values and beliefs.  When we consistently demonstrate inner congruence to our belief systems and to principles, we inspire trust in both professional and personal relationships. When somebody does that, it tells the world that they are strong, solid and dependable and they are certain to have positive results which instills confidence in other people.


Leadership Trends

-Karthik Gurumurthy

On my train ride back home, I was reading an entertaining book "Whole New Mind" by Daniel Pink. The author has forecasted a subtle shift in the mindset of future leaders. According to Pink, three factors are quietly driving a huge change. These are well known and have been commented upon widely.

The first is the fact of abundance in western societies. Consumers have all that they want. Lately, they have been shifting from seeking material wants to seeking meaning in life.

The second is the rise of Asia where there is a surge of knowledge-hungry, prosperity-seeking young people. They yearn to improve their lot in life and can do all sorts of tasks at a fraction of the cost of their ' ageing, overpaid' counterparts in the West.

The third is the breakthrough in automation. Information of all kinds is available with far greater ease to every knowledge worker, thus changing forever the basic nature of job description and tasks.

After the above exposition, he forecasts a tectonic shift in the evolution of the 'ages'. We have learned in the past that agricultural age giving way to the industrial age, then to the knowledge age. According to Pink, Human society is in transition to the conceptual age currently.

In this conceptual age, the fulcrum of thinking will shift subtly from L(left) brain thinking to R (Right) brain thinking. Their relative importance will change: the two brains will not per se become more or less important. Most managers are products of the L-brained approach: analytical, logical and reductionist.

What is the R-brained approach? Creative and empathetic rather than logical and rational.  According to Pink, R-brained thinkers are more influenced by design, empathy, story, play, symphony and meaning and he goes on to describe these terms in the book.

What I understand from the reading is, we do not use one or the other brain at any point of time. Our brain switches between the left and right hemispheres automatically and our decisions and actions are based on where the fulcrum of the balance is. We have to recognize that the two hemispheres of our brain do exist and have different functions. All that we can do by becoming aware is to develop habits and skills that freely allow migration between the hemispheres.

To succeed in anything worthwhile, requires successful execution. Execution needs the involvement of three core processes.: the people process, the strategy process, and the operation process.

People process involves knowing the people and selecting your core team with care.  Strategy process is about setting the strategic direction and making sure your core team is aligned in that direction. The operations process is about having regular review of the whole process where the questions for forward movement gets asked and keeping an openness in moving forward.

Assumptions of forgiveness

-Karthik Gurumurthy

Lot of us mention freely we have forgiven somebody for what they have done. But in our mind, we think and tell ourselves secretly and unknowingly, "I have forgiven but not forgotten". That is not  complete forgiveness.

When we say we forgive somebody, what is being understood is as follows:

  • I would not dwell on this episode.
  • I would not bring up this episode again and use it against you.
  • I will not talk to others about this episode
  • I will not allow this episode to stand between us or hinder our relationship.

Let us be loud and clear on that. One of my business associate Sajid Sayed  says "Forgiveness is a blessing for the one who forgives as well as for the one who is forgiven."

Four important traits

-Karthik Gurumurthy

I  was reading the book Charles Swindoll "Growing strong in the seasons of life" and this is what I got from the book. Author  had mentioned four traits of those who impact our lives.

  • Consistency

Those who impact lives stay at the task with reliable regularity. They seem unaffected by the fickle winds of change.

  • Authenticity

People who impact others are real to the core; no alloy covered with a brittle later of chrome, but solid, genuine stuff right through out.

  • Unselfishness

Those who impact us the most watch out for themselves the least. They notice our needs and reach out to help, honestly concerned about our welfare. Their least-used words are "I", "me", "my", and "mine".

  • Tirelessness

With relentless determination they spend themselves. They refuse to quit. Possessing an enormous amount of enthusiasm for their labor, they press on regardless of the odds.


Lessons from Norman Schwarzkopf

-Karthik Gurumurthy

Retired General Norman Schwarzkopf who was the commander for the US forces during Gulf war of 91 died last week of December. 

Last summer I got a chance to read his Autobiography: "It doesn't take a hero".  The title comes from a quote the general gave in an interview where he mentioned "It doesn't take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle". This shows how he came from a dysfunctional family all the way to being a 4 star general. This is a fascinating story, a real inspiration, it shows what one man can achieve through clear thinking, positive attitude, boundless enthusiasm, and a love for country and humanity.

What did I learn from him?

The following are his thought processes on different aspects of leadership.

  • Character

Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without strategy.

  • Leadership

Do what is right, now what you think the high headquarters wants or what you think will make you look good.

  • Courage

True courage is being afraid, and going ahead and doing your job anyhow, that's what courage is.

  • Success

Success is sweet, but the secret is sweat.

  • Action

The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is actually doing it.

Leadership "I"s

-Karthik Gurumurthy

We live in a time where our main topic discussion is always related to I, IPhone,IPad etc. To succeed or lead a team, you still need to have an eye for the following "I"s.

  •  The prerequisite for any one to lead is the Initiative. That  is the first step.
  • If you look at the people whom you admire, they all have Insights. So all leaders have Insight.
  • They exert Influence.
  • They have Impact.
  • Last not but not the least, they exercise Integrity.

To have long term  worthwhile success in any endeavor, we have to work on all these characteristics simultaneously. The first person to lead is obviously ourselves.

Hide your cell phone/computer/watch

-Karthik Gurumurthy

Last night, I was reminded by my wife Shobana that I spend too much time on the phone or computer.  Another thing she mentioned was that I look at watch constantly when I am around the family and I am preoccupied most of the time mentally. Initially when I heard that, I was defensive and denied that. But when I slowed down and looked at the amount of time I spend texting/ emailing my friends/students/business associates, she was right. It adds to considerable amount of time. She wanted to spend  to spend one-on-one time with me.

With colleagues at work and even friends and family during get-togethers I would secretly glance at my watch, fearful that I would be late..for whatever!

Today, with technology allowing us to be instantly connected to our work lives 24/7, many of us literally never stop working. After the experiences I faced in 2012, it was a powerful reminder that our time on Earth is severely limited. We humans live much longer lives than bumblebees but much shorter ones than most redwood trees.

To me that means that instead of scheduling every moment, we should occasionally make time to contemplate life and the experience the joy that can only be found when you interrupt constant doing and start simply being. What is sad, though, is that most of us have the choice of having some free time; we simply don't make it for ourselves. So many of us today are living unbalanced lives and struggling to make every second count in a way that actually deprives every moment of its chance to develop.

There is a story that Buddha said his happiest moment was when he was four years old and his attendant nanny left him alone for a few minutes. Left unattended he had a rare chance to watch a butterfly dance toward a flower and simply enjoy the light of the sun slanting through the green trees. Buddha was said to have believed that it was the first time he was first alone with unscheduled activities and had a moment of pure being- at one with the universe- that brought him a kind of spontaneous ecstasy.

With his attendant nanny away he was able to truly experience the moment. Buddha was said to believe that such spontaneous moments were the greatest gift in his earthly life. How many peaceful, unplanned moment do we grant ourselves in our modern rush to get somewhere and do something? All the statues I have noticed of Buddha show him sitting. Is that because you can't run toward such peaceful epiphanies?

Perhaps these moments can only be truly experiences when you take off your watch, turn off your phone and email, lose your sense of time, and let yourself be still. Don't we all feel sometimes like we are racing the clock- as though life were a sprint in which we wanted to cross the finish line first? And we are all so proud of what we are doing.

Do you notice  in America when we meet someone news we almost always ask them:   "What do you do" As though doing were more important than being.

We define people by what they do rather than who they really are.

All our focus is on doing rather than experiencing each moment in a more profound and contemplative way. But it sure is hard to contemplate anything when we are so surroundded by the relentless counting of clocks-on our wrists, cell phones, computers, wall clocks and so on.

Thousands of years ago our ancestors paced themselves by the light of dawn creeping over the hill and the shadows of dusk falling out from the trees. Then came church bells that rang the hours to keep towns on time. A farmer out in a distant field might be in touch with the hours of the day.

Next grandfather pendulum clocks were invented, becoming dominant family possessions that took the place of honor in the home-proudly ticking with great solemnity and ringing the chimes loudly on every quarter hour. About one hundred years ago the gold pocket watch became a kind of symbol of success. It was given to loyal employees at their retirement to remind them of all the hard years they had worked in an office. They could take it out and glance with respect at the face as the minutes of what was left of their lives ticked down.

Then the wrist watch was invented, and it became inexpensive and so accessible that soon everyone was wearing one. No one left home without affixing such a timepiece to their skin. Eventually dates and time zones and latitude and longitude were displayed and watched as well, and you could go swimming or take a shower without having to take your wristwatch off.

Today, with cell phones, computers, and other entrancing electronic devices, we are never away from the dictatorial focus on constant measures of time. In many ways we have become mental and emotional slaves to the constant, finite calculations, and it is hard to resist such an anxious focus on every ticking ground.

My wife Shobana was right. I see that one-on-one time with your children or your family or others you love or even yourself is by far the most important time. Yet in our rush through life we often forget to grant ourselves that precious time and attention.

What is the point of all of this: Give yourself time to fully enjoy the gift of today.

Even for just a hour a day. Slaves to your IPhones and computers: Throw off your electronic chains. Free yourself.  Time out:)

Lessons from Dr. Asha Chopra

-Karthik Gurumurthy

Last year 2012 was a tough year for me. I lost three people who were very attached to me and and my family (to cancer and myocardial infarction).


One of them was Dr. Asha Chopra. Dr. Asha came to this country about three decades back and really worked hard, graduated top of the class in Medical school and worked in Medical Practice for more than a decade. Then she also finished her MBA from a premier business school and worked in Medical Management. She was a Management director of an elite medical organization when she was diagnosed with cancer. She fought the battle successful for two years and it looked as if she had won until cancer showed its evil side. Despite what she went through, she was one person who was absolutely optimistic and she knew how to shine light on other people. I knew her through a business opportunity where it gave me a chance to know her closely and I learned a lot from her and we all miss her dearly.

If I have to summarize what I learned from her, it would be as follows:

  • The only difference between you and the people who accomplish lot of great successes is the way they think and act.
  • You can never be too generous. Give to other- and then give some more!
  • Always be asking yourself, "What is important now? What is next?"
  • Make today count. Live it like it is your last. Every second counts.
  • Assume "YOU" are the problem. When you start doing that, you quit becoming the victim of circumstances and begin shaping the outcome.
  • Embrace rejections. Every nos gets you closer to a yes.
  • In the race towards success, you never really cross the finish line. Finishing one goal, performing at a big show, creating a record isn't the finish line. It is the preparation to new starting line.
  • Play all-out. Give it everything you have and hold nothing in reserve.

Thanks Dr. Asha for teaching these valuable lessons. We all miss you dearly. Thanks for making this world a better place to live.