Internal dialogue, externalized

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  • Pecking order and pandering egos

    Between men and women there is no friendship possible. There is passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship. – Oscar Wilde

    At a wedding party I was nibbling on hot, crisp starters; winter weddings are great, you don’t sweat in your Kancheepuram saree I insightfully thought; as I was drifting into my slumber with another paneer tikka in my mouth, my friend’s daughter slipped next to me; after a few pleasantries she asked a question that was bothering her; ‘What should one do when you know at work you are stack ranked by men?’ I said ‘For what? Ask them to focus on their work’. She looked pensive and exasperated, ‘NO! they are stack ranking all women based on looks, fitness, smartness, coolness, oomph, shapes and brains!’

    Well I choked on the tikka I was enjoying; I’ve been working for many years and now I wonder if this is what these stupid guys do? Went back to my girl/women gangs and posted to understand the reaction; they went berserk, talked of how they have heard or experienced or both; ‘Men are so dumb, after few drinks they let the cat out while socializing after work, that is how I know this exists’, ‘Half the guys go around showing their bum cleavages, can’t hold their pant on hip! They are talking about us’,

    Some demeaning/unsavory details got bumped off; in all this mess the question, ‘Does this happen’ got addressed, but ‘Why’ was muddled and up for debate; why objectify and quantify? A regressive thought of looking at a woman as sex object? Fantasy or belief that women are there to serve his lord and master? Is it a gender thing? So, what does civilization and education taught us? instead of groping upfront, do it in your free time and at private places mentally? What does this mean to women? Knowing covertly or overtly of being ranked? Does this make women anxious, competetive?

    Do women in the pecking order unconsciously push to race? Do they come dressed to be noticed, starve to look a size less, spend to stay ahead, fight and bitch each other to be up in the ranking? Its predatory and primitive, a raw sense of animal instinct drives the thought, even if it is covered by a linen jacket or Diesel jean; there is no winning at the top for any woman, remember where the list got generated, in the reeking space between men;

    As for men in their la la land of visualization at that sleazy moment of ranking, for a split second, if one of them looked at himself in a mirror he would probably wake up to a reality that no women out there are even thinking of him or any of them!

    Female gangs when they get together think, talk, laugh and discuss more exciting stuff like food, hopes, dreams, aspirations, family, clothes, fragrance, health, fashion, travel, flowers, diet and in that list, comes last the noun called ‘men’!! Well that is the truth men must live with!

    Tell me a story of who you are, and see who I am in the stories I live. And together we will remember that each of us always has a choice.
    – The Dance, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

  • Black the bottomless Pit

    There is no formula for success except perhaps an unconditional acceptance of the act and what it brings
    ― Arthur Rubinstein

    That black T-shirt!! the all-powerful BLACK tee-shirt, where is it? Hell, I need it, we are having a product launch and without it am like a banana without a peel; err, something as stupid/impossible;

    The tech world’s fashion statement is the black t-shirt, the cool, the awesome, the rocking attire; as I rampaged my cupboard and finally decided to go shopping to pick up one, wondered, BLACK T-Shirt, when did this become the thing of beauty, fashion, coolness? from the day Steve Jobs walked on the stage, with his deadly swag in a black tee to a cheering mob? My guess is that, Job being the king of swag nailed the tech world’s obsession with it;

    The other day was reading an article on how Microsoft launched a product and I squinted my tired eyes, what! Steve jobs photo, have they made a mistake, as I clicked and lo and behold Satya Nadella was there in the cool black tee-shirt, could have mistaken him for Steve Jobs; well that is scandalous to Microsoft or Apple?! So now what? from Vishal Sikka to Sundar Pichai, are we going to witness this craze and standardization for black?

    Why am I bothered? Well, to see some color there on the stage during the mega events; also pondering for all the innovation and creativity we talk of, are we ending up copying style statements of one another, not being able to create one for thyself? playing it safe? the color coding of attire during product launch looks very naïve, predictable and so risk averse; paradoxical for a product launch which is all about innovation, creativity, wanting to see what is out there beyond the boundaries defined!!

    It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse
    – Adlai E. Stevenson

  • Myopic Mindset and Marathon Race

    “Stop acting so small.
    You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”
    ― Jalaluddin Rumi

    Recently traveled to Dubai and I choose this airline, not sure why, might be because they were sponsoring the football team I love or because heard loud screams of how they scored a hat trick for best in-flight entertainment!! Was traveling business class, so was a little full of myself; Well I have arrived in life, so let me be a bit condescending to all and sundry!

    The good news first, the in-flight attenders took excellent care and enjoyed a fantastic service; But! ….there has to be a but! the ground staff of the airline had this frozen expression whenever I approached them be it in India or Dubai, no smiles, no curtsy, to a large extent they were brazenly curt;

    At Dubai on my return journey after loads of over squeezed meetings (the mindset of trying to get maximum out of a trip) I was worn-out; looked like a rat that just survived a tumble in a washing machine with a dryer! at the airport I trooped in and approached a counter of dazzling brilliance, specifically, designated for business class travelers; the staff was smiling and nodding to this cologne spilled white male, as he moved on, I stepped near the counter; she froze seeing me and curtly told to check in at a different counter; she had some reason of how I got to a wrong counter, but the curtness made me blink my myopic eyes;

    At the business lounge, the staff were no different, staring and stiff, I fidgeted from deciding whom to approach as everyone was looking over/through me; finally approached one counter to be brusquely told that trolley is not allowed inside; hesitated for a second, pondered whether I should tell her regarding my shoulder ache; it felt wasted with her already looking over me and inviting someone with more pleasantness; turned around to see a white couple approaching the counter;

    Stooped into the lounge tired, looked for a dark, quiet, unambiguous corner and slouched trying to melt into oblivion; As I slowly drifted wondered what is it that made the staff treat me less pleasant or favorable; why was I on their wrong side or was I imagining?

    One no-brainer conclusion i came up was , perhaps i being an Asian or it can also be that I crossed forty-five some time back and looked my age! Or it might be because I do not color my mop of grey hair, or my unpainted lips or conservative dress or looking very much a working women or my tired looks, it might be any of them or all of them??!!

    When you are on the wrong side of so many molds, it is difficult to say which is the cause, or what/where the trigger is, discrimination, hierarchy perceived, transference, counter transference, projection from them or me?!

    OR……..might be, it just me being prickly, which is the right side when you are on the wrong side of 40!!

  • Godfathers, Gladiators and Goal posts

    There is no formula for success except perhaps an unconditional acceptance of the act and what it brings.
    ― Arthur Rubinstein

    ‘Do you need godfathers to grow in professional life?’, was loving the Lychee ice-cream melting in my mouth when the question was asked by an young family friend who just started to work; with no such mortals in my career ‘NO, you can grow on your own, on your terms and at your will’; the young friend insisted, ‘It is not about you but the truth’;

    What is the truth? I have seen amazing individuals as my colleagues who have grown and reached pinnacle of success without Godfathers/Godmothers; they stand tall and inspire many to emulate; there are also some who become his/her master’s voice, thus become a Gladiator; if the relationship is in direct reporting then it becomes even more difficult and less acceptable around; at one point the dependency of the Godfather with the Gladiator or Gladiator with the Godfather becomes so interdependent that they become one and the same or even act as alter egos;

    The question is will these envied Gladiators succeed in new, not so friendly, difficult environments; will they negotiate and thrive in unknown, trying territories to reach their Goalposts?

    This takes me to a question my father posed to me and my cousin many years back, we were fourteen full of ourselves and super arrogant; he asked, ‘What will you do if one fine morning you wake up in a new environment not knowing anyone or the place?’ we were not sure whether it would be a ‘fine morning’? But on second thoughts with the nagging my aunt and mother are capable, it just might be! We came up with all the smart susceptible answers; he persisted asking us to ponder over the question longer on how we will survive, what will we do and what will we pursue; this was very difficult at that time, but helped me many years later whenever I had to get past the cold, arduous, grim wall of unknown space as a new team member in a new organizations;

    Does having Godfathers have an undue advantage? What is wrong with a Godfather helping one climb up the ladder or reach Goalposts?

    Well, the freedom of not having a godfather is you will have your achievements speaking than a godfather doing it for you; titles sit easy on your shoulders, more respect among peers; you learn to meander the hierarchies obvious and hidden; learn to navigate and negotiate thus empathize and collaborate while you grow; all this is somewhat difficult with Godfathers shadow casting their magic spell;

  • Game Changers and Galloping Gooseberries

    Process engineering gives the leverage to peel the onion and understand the core competence of human capital. This empowers us to leapfrog into tomorrow to influence business enablers and drivers that will transcend how we do business. This also gives us the opportunity to leverage our strengths, touch-base with customers, assimilate learnings and come up with game changer ideas that will force multiply our revenue, upsurge profitability, revitalize market share and empowers our success.

    Phew! Corporate life is peppered with jargons: linear regression, exponential growth, aggregate demand….. the more we spew them forth, the more we gain self-importance, and come to believe that the next rocket to Mars is being launched from our desks.

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  • Compelling Consistency and Kambipaagu

    Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.

    – Bernard Berenson


    The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the word ‘consistency’ is the kambipaagu consistency of jaggery that my grandmother taught me while making Ariselu or Athirasam (a sweet from south India, golden brown, melting in mouth, well, death as small disks); now-a-days the word has become a part of standard corporate mantra/strategy – “you need to be a consistent performer”, “we deliver results consistently”, “my boss is consistently being an ass” etc;

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  • Objective Realities and Optical Illusions

    Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power – Abraham Lincoln

    My friend called, sounding distressed. When asked what was wrong, she said the man is crazy. (Aren’t they all?!) After a few minutes of trying to cajole information out of her, she started lamenting about her boss, how stupid he is (is anyone surprised?) and how he thinks he is God’s gift to mankind. The problem is, she said, he thinks he is great, powerful and treats the rest with disdain. Throughout the whole conversation what kept me wondering was the word ‘power’ that came up twice or thrice.

    On the corridors of power, a few walk with grace, while some slide with awkwardness and the rest strut with arrogance; the last lot walk with purposeful insolence, and remind us of the story The Emperor’s New Clothes. Power is like that invisible dress the emperor wore, which was professed to be the most beautiful, but it only took a child to call out that the emperor was naked, and his perceived dress, obnoxious; the mighty king in a fraction of a second was beyond redemption: lost, finished and buried; irrelevance can be that fast, quick and final.

    History is peppered with countless illustrations of such people, who laboured under the illusions of power, only to be brought to reality with a mighty thud; we only need to look at the great, powerful dictators and their plunge to insignificance to realize this; closer to home, governments have been blinded by the smoke of self-proclaimed power so much so that they dint see a nation-wide revolution getting ready right in their backyard; Or the case of megalomaniac CEOs who believe that nothing exists in the world above and beyond their span of power, until the organization collapses and their corner office on the top floor is taken away from them; reality hits that the absolute subservience they were enjoying was only because of their title, and had nothing to do with their personal credibility; Organizations world over have realized during their fatal fall that the governance power given to them was just to govern a body and not to run it as one superior to governance processes.

    In our world of targets, growth, deals, mergers and acquisitions, the child to call the bluff is recession; one trembling market causes havoc on the rest of the world. Like the invisible but unquestionable pull of gravity – the grey tug at the core of our being that we are told keeps our feet grounded to solid earth – markets are tied to each other and anchored on dependencies; as one slides down, it causes along with it a sequential fall, like a row of dominoes pushing each other down on their way to doom; they seem unrelated to the common man but each one is tied to the hip, the codependencies, coexistence visible and invisible, leaning on one another precariously. As the market slips by a few points, the rest of the economy falls a few inches and a few hundreds jobs vanish, resulting in thousands losing their livelihood and for those who survive the pink slip the essential living is burdensome with prices shooting like missiles misfired.

    When an event of this nature falls on humanity, brushing aside our assumed powerful with a careless sweep, wonder what happens to them who till yesterday walked with arrogance, who in their cocooned comfort and perceived power existed under the illusion that success is unquestionable and power, uninterrupted; the blue-eyed boy/girl of the organization, the pin-up star of yesterday needs only one adversity for the curtain to fall and face the reality that Today can be survived only if one had been humble and gracious and built credibility in one’s success Yesterday.

    Power is your capacity to influence in a positive way a change, you are powerful when you can make a difference, are responsive to others, usher growth which is inclusive and sustainable; when you are conscious that you are part of this magnificent universe and recognize that along with you the ant, the fish and the dry twig are also part of this all-encompassing world; comprehend that each is as special and powerful as you are and each is here to perform their duty which is unique and matchless; the interconnectedness of each other is so compelling and the vastness of creation so forceful that our ego is a speck and irrelevant.

    The day the powerful realize that power is in generosity and grace, in vision and purpose, in courage and trustworthiness, they will stop behaving like caricatures by an ill-paid cartoonist; and until they realize that, we can watch them dizzy with arrogance, continuing to walk in ignorance like the emperor in the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes – naked, frivolous, vile and inconsequential.

    Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely – Lord Acton. Amen!

  • L board Lamenting

    Crowds weaving their karmic dance or maybe driving to karmic tunes make you nervous, you do not know who, when will decide to spill on to the road and stand in your way!! We Indians are very accommodative – we have cows, donkeys and dogs all on the road while a cab driver cuts into the footpath or whatever remaining of it to fly past you; you need to methodically size up the quality of the road as you bend, honk and sway past the next pothole; as you wait for the traffic signal to clear, there is someone blasting their horn from behind you; the horn is blasted in rhythm with the music being played on their radio and finally he/she falls on the horn as it screeches to glory; is it dysentery of thoughts, do they not know that when the signal is red you can’t move?!

    During my 10-day learning class, observed a few patterns; since learning to drive was too challenging, started observing the patterns, which was easier and came naturally, unlike keeping in mind the accelerator-clutch-break combination. On the road, there are different species – there are those nice persons, a few but definitely the best ones, who accommodate the learners (L), do not scare the pants or whatever off you, but quietly and elegantly pass you with confidence and magnanimity; looking at them, you feel envious and want to drive like them; then there is this lot who couldn’t care less whether you are dead or alive, act as if you are non-existent and move past through you; you feel their detachment and their refusal to see or notice you in your bones; but you suppose they are fine, for you are insignificant and accept it; with the skill with which you are driving, well, you have to accept!

    The most interesting are the third lot, who make it a point to trip and off-balance the newcomer on the road; they honk, cut and rub the cheek of the car as they go by; you are scared and sweaty by the time they overtake you; if given a chance, they would happily shove you off the road and laugh a wicked laugh; these are the ones that make you want to hit them, hate them, scream at them, but they toughen you up and finally allow you to escape their relentless pursuit till you get the balance to hold the wheel and manage to operate the clutch and brake; coming to think of it, these are the people who make you learn the trick of staying alert, alive and drive;

    Well, in life there are those who nurture, coach, and protect you, they allow you the space and time to grow and flower, they leave a compelling and impressive picture; their purpose and clarity make them stand out; then there are those who are engrossed in their success and life, they will never recognize your existence if you do not fit into their scheme of things; and finally you have some who make it their KRA to ensure that they make your life miserable, punish you arbitrarily or rip away your peace of mind; at the end of the day, you learn to drive and also live, and you have a choice to become one of these people – you can either choose to take time to nurture the L board, or you can ignore them and pass them or go speeding closer to them and shaking their slow-built confidence and faith; the choice is there out to reach out and emulate.

  • Mergers, acquisitions and vada around the corner!

    Huddled and cooped up in a cabin with 8 of my team members in the smoldering heat of Chennai that was trying to blast open the window planes and wash in to burn us, the idea popped up! The organization I was working for was up for sale and the buyers were sizing us up and we were feeling small, insignificant and irrelevant; being acquired has insecurity, anger, frustration, uncertainty thrown in equal measures, giving you pangs of deep depression and hysterical laughter at the same time – while you dress professionally, wear the access/id card and come to office on time every day as if nothing crazy is happening.

    “What would I do if I lost this job?” asked my young team member, who, with all the wisdom of youth, had decided to get married to her childhood sweetheart in a few months; amidst blank faces that looked at me (well, you have to have an answer when your team absolutely expects it), I dug hard into my dry, evaporating brains and came up blandly with “don’t worry, worse comes to worst we can start a Vada Corner”; was hungry, hence the idea probably.

    What started off as a crazy idea was received with such gusto that I had to hold the armrests to not fall off my chair. In a few seconds we were in an intense brainstorming session; transformed from being a worst-case scenario to a best-case scenario; By the end of the day, the team had decided on the revenue & profit models, business operations and market segments to target, management positions were taken and even the menu card was conceptualized! Colour of the walls, size of the chairs, the dress code, there was no stopping; the tag line read ‘Why should Vada be round?’ When I looked lost, they came up with a chirpy answer, “Sunitha, as a startup, we will not have cooks on our payroll and have to manage making vadas ourselves; well, none of us is good at getting them round (read plain, we do not know how to make vada) so let us question the status quo!” Even the usually sane and safe finance team members were willing to review the project plan!

    For the health-conscious types, we decided to introduce olive oil based beetroot and carrot vada, low-fat dahi vada, and sprouted pesara vada. for those who don’t care about the ever-increasing size of their waists, we would offer crisp-fried keerai3 vada, soft-as-a-pillow ulundhu4 vada, and the quintessential masala vada; for the incurable carnivores, we even offer keema vada and egg vada. They say when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. In this case, the tough decided to set up a vada corner!

    A few years later, when I casually mentioned this to one of the top executives of a global company, she jumped up and offered to be the delivery girl/ women for the vada corner, willing to do door-to-door sales and daily deliveries; one of my friends wanted to be part of the executive team, with one condition – his executive compensation had to be in vadas! Told him that the CEO, COO and Head of HR positions for the vada corner enterprise were already taken, but impressed by his enthusiasm, offered him the position of Chief Strategic Officer, to strategize on excellence in making vada and develop a global delivery model.

    When I look back at those days, the best remembered moments were when we met each other in the corridor or during tea/coffee breaks and enquired around as to where we were on the Vada Corner enterprise; there were a few who went ahead and told me the list of alternate careers they were considering in worst case scenario of losing the job; At a point when there was a question mark on what shape and form professional life was going to take, we realized that what matters at the end of the day is the resilience and the will to bounce back, take up a challenge with aplomb and walk the strange, new and never-before-taken road.

    Recently when my boss heard the story, he looked thoughtfully at me and said, “I think I should fire you!” Well, he was missing authentic, crispy vada in life, you see?!

    Often, when one door closes, we are so preoccupied with self-pity or a lack of clarity on where life or we are heading, that we miss out on the window that has opened a few inches beyond the periphery of our vision, trying to bring in the fresh wind; it only takes a little bit of faith in self and trust in the larger scheme of things to spot that window, open it up wide, and wave to the opportunity that is waiting on the other side and let the waft of fresh, crisp, crunchy and round vadas roll in!