Archive for August, 2009


There was a farmer who grew superior quality and award-winning corn.

Each year he entered his corn in the state fair where it won honour and prizes.

One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learnt something interesting about how he grew it.

The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors.

“How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.

“Why sir,” said the farmer, “didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field.

If my neighbors grow inferior, sub-standard and poor quality corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn.

If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbours grow good corn.”

The farmer gave a superb insight into the connectedness of life. His corn cannot improve unless his neighbour’s corn also improves.

So it is in other dimensions! Those who choose to be at harmony must help their neighbours and colleagues to be at peace,

those who choose to live well must help others to live well, for the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches.

And those who choose to be happy must help others to find happiness for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all.

If we are to grow good quality corn, we must help our neighbors grow good quality corn too….

Advertisements

The magic of team work

Posted: August 21, 2009 in General

Sam Pitroda

Sam Pitroda

Here is an article by Sam Pitroda,  Satyanarayan Gangaram Pitroda, better known as Dr Sam Pitroda (born 16 November 1942) is an inventor, entrepreneur and policymaker. Currently chairman of India’s National Knowledge Commission, he is also widely considered to have been responsible for India’s communications revolution

A special one for Indians.

(One Indian = 10 Japanese, 10 Indians = One Japanese)

Lack of teamwork and co-operation is one of the most serious problems affecting progress in all areas of India and wherever Indians work worldwide. The key problem in India is always implementation, not lack of policies. We have great policies and ideas about how to do things, but severely lacking teamwork.

When the Japanese came to work in India to develop the Maruti Suzuki car, a joke went around that one Indian was equal to 10 Japanese: Indians were very smart, capable and dedicated individuals. But 10

Indians were equal to 1 Japanese: Indians lacked team spirit and co-operation.

What makes matters even worse is our “crab” mentality – if someone is trying to climb higher and achieve more, the others just drag him down. The signal that the others send out is, ” I wouldn’t do it; I wouldn’t let you do it; and if by chance you start succeeding, we will all gang up and make sure that you don’t get to do it.”

The question is: Where does this attitude come from, and how do we recognize and handle it? Hierarchical System Part of the problem is our cultural background. We’ve had feudal and a hierarchical social system in which whoever is senior supposedly knows the best. This was fine in earlier times when knowledge and wisdom were passed on orally; but in modern society, there is no way that one person can know everything. Today, you may find that a young computer-trained person has more answers for an accounting problem than a senior accountant has. Until we understand how best to leverage this diversity of experience, we will not be able to create and fully utilize the right kind of teams.

Sam Pitroda: ” In my younger days in the US, I attended an executive seminar for Rockwell International, where about 25 senior company executives had congregated for a week for strategic discussion. In the evenings, we would break out into five different groups of five people each. In those group workshops, someone would delegate tasks, saying: ” You make coffee; you take notes; you are the chairman; and you clean the board”. The next day, there would be different duties for each group member. No one ever said, ” But I made coffee twice or I cleaned the board entire day”. I thought to myself, if this were happening in India, people would be saying, ” But I’m the senior secretary – why should I make the coffee and you be the chairman?” Hierarchy comes naturally to our minds.

What Derails a Team?

Group work requires a thorough understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of individuals irrespective of their hierarchy. Because of our background, we often don’t learn how to exercise and accept leadership- to lead and to follow – simultaneously. Some gravitate toward exercising leadership, and others gravitate toward accepting the lead of others. But in true teamwork, everyone needs to do both.

Being a good team player implies respect for others, tolerance of different points of view and willingness to give. The ability to resolve conflicts without either egotism or sycophancy is a very important aspect of being a team player: You have to agree to disagree. I find that people in India somehow tend to focus on achieving total agreement, which is almost always impossible. So before work begins people want everyone to agree on everything instead they should say OK. This is what we agree on, so let’s start working on this. What we don’t agree on, we will resolve as we go along”. For things to move forward, it’s important to work on the agreed-upon aspects and not get bogged down in the areas of disagreement. Yet another snake that kills teamwork is people’s political agendas. You’ve got to be open, clear and honest to be a good team player. Most people though, have a hidden agenda – they say something but mean the exact opposite. I call it “split-level consciousness”. To say and mean the same thing is a very critical part of a good work ethic

Criticizing the individual or the idea?

When Sam was working in C-DOT (400 employee size company), If someone had not been doing well, Sam used to tell the person directly to his face in a general meeting. The employees said that was insulting and they should be pulled aside individually to be told of the inefficiency. But in today’s world, you cannot afford to do that every time. Besides, Sam figured that criticizing someone in a meeting was for the benefit of all present, and everyone could learn from that individual’s mistakes. It was then that Sam learned how Indians do not differentiate between criticizing an idea and criticizing an individual.

So in a group, if you tell someone that his idea is no good, he automatically takes it personally and assumes that you are criticizing him. No one can have a good idea everyday on every issue. If you disagree with my idea, that does not mean that you have found fault with me as a person. Thus, it is perfectly acceptable for anyone to criticize the boss – but this concept is not a part of the Indian System. So from time to time, it is important for an organization’s Chief Executive to get a report on the psychological health of the firm. How do people in the team feel? Are they stable? Confident? Secure? Comfortable? These are the key elements of a team’s success. For a boss to be comfortable accepting criticism from subordinates, he must feel good about himself. Self-esteem is a key prerequisite to such a system being successful.

Mental Vs. Physical Workers Another serious problem facing India is the dichotomy and difference in respectability between physical and mental workers, which seriously affects team performance.

Mr. Sam had a driver named Ram, who he thought was one of the best drivers in the world. He used to open the door for him whenever he entered or exited the car. Right in the first few days Sam told him “Ram bhai, you are not going to open the door for me. You can do that I f I lose my hands”. Ram almost started crying. He said, ” Sir, what are you saying? This is my job!” Sam told him that I didn’t want to treat him like a mere driver. He had to become a team player. Sam told him that whenever he was not driving, he should come into office and help out with office work – make copies, file papers, send faxes, answer phone call or simply read – rather than sit in the car and wait for me to show up.

Diversifying tasks increases workers’ self-esteem and motivation and makes them team players. Now, even If Sam calls him for work in the middle of the night, he is ready – because Sam respects him for what he does. Team Interactions unfortunately, when good teams do get created, they almost invariably fall apart. In our system today it is very difficult to build teams because nobody wants to be seen playing second fiddle. It is very hard in India to find good losers. Well, you win some and you lose some. If you lose some, you should move on! You don’t need to spend all your time and energy of different cultural backgrounds, religions, ethnicities and caste groups – a fertile ground of diversity in the workplace. We should actually be experts in working with diversity. But it can only happen when we get rid of personal, caste and community interests.

There could be a 40-year-old CEO with a 55-year-old VP. It has nothing to do with age; capability and expertise are what counts. But you don’t yet see these attitudes taking hold in India. Managers in the US corporate environment who work with Indians – and in fact, with Asians in general – need to recognize that these individuals have a tendency to feel that they are not getting recognition or are not being respected. It must be realized that these individuals have lower self-esteem to begin with and therefore have to be pampered and encouraged a little more because they need it. This makes them feel better and work better. No Substitute for Teamwork. Teamwork is key to corporate and national governance, and to get anything done.

The fundamental Issues are respect for others, openness, honesty, communication, willingness to disagree, resolution of conflict, and recognition that the larger goal of the team as a whole rumps Individual or personal agendas.

Don’t be afraid of pressure. Remember that Pressure is what turns a lump of coal into a diamond.


I am happy that *Hindustan Times* has brought out the India Inspired series
showcasing innovations and creative thinking, which can transform the lives
of many in the country.

Such innovative spirit has to become a part of life of every young mind in
the nation. I would like to present to the readers two great minds who have
nurtured creativity and innovation even in the most difficult circumstances
and both of them are remembered for their work.

Birth of Creativity in a difficult situation Mario Capecchi had a difficult
and challenging childhood. For nearly four years, Capecchi lived with his
mother in a chalet in the Italian Alps.

When World War II broke out, his mother, along with other Bohemians, was
sent to Dachau as a political prisoner. Anticipating her arrest by the
Gestapo, she had sold all her possessions and given the money to friends to
help raise her son on their farm.

On the farm, he had to grow own wheat, harvest; take it to miller to be
ground. Then, the money which his mother left for him ran out and at the age
of four and half years, he started sometimes living in the streets,
sometimes joining gangs of other homeless children, sometimes living in
orphanages and most of the time hungry.

He spent the last year in the city of Reggio Emelia, hospitalised for
malnutrition where his mother found him on his ninth birthday after a year
of searching. Within weeks, Capecchi and his mother sailed to America to
join his uncle and aunt.

He started third grade afresh and studied political science. But he didn’t
find it interesting and changed into science, became a mathematics graduate
in 1961 with a double major in Physics and Chemistry.

Although he really liked Physics, its elegance and simplicity, he switched
to molecular biology in graduate school, on the advice of James D Watson,
who advised him that he should not be bothered about small things, since
such pursuits are likely to produce only small answers.

His objective was to do gene targeting. The experiments started in 1980 and
by 1984, Capecchi had clear success.

Three years later, he applied the technology to mice. In 1989, he developed
the first mice with targeted mutations. The technology created by Doctor
Capecchi allows researchers to create specific gene mutations anywhere they
choose in the genetic code of a mouse. By manipulating gene sequences in
this way, researchers are able to mimic human disease conditions on animal
subjects. What the research of Mario Capecchi means for human health is
nothing short of amazing, his work with mice could lead to cures for
Alzheimer’s disease or even Cancer. The innovations in genetics that Mario
Capecchi achieved won him the Nobel Prize in 2007. The message we learn from
Mario Capecchi:

When you wish upon a star, Makes no difference who you are Anything your
heart desires Will come to you

A genius well ahead of his time, Ramanujan, born and raised in Erode, Tamil
Nadu, first encountered formal mathematics at the age of 10. He demonstrated
a natural ability at mathematics, and was given books on advanced
trigonometry by SL Loney.

He mastered this book by age thirteen, and even discovered theorems of his
own. He demonstrated unusual mathematical skills at school, winning many
awards.

By the age of seventeen, Ramanujan was conducting his own mathematical
research on Bernoulli numbers and the Euler–Mascheroni constant. He received
a scholarship to study at Government College in Kumbakonam. He failed his
non-mathematical coursework, and lost his scholarship. Srinivasa Ramanujan
lived only for 33 years and did not have formal higher education or means of
living.

Yet, his inexhaustible spirit and love for his subject made him contribute
to the treasure house of mathematical research — some of which are still
under serious study and engaging allavailable world mathematicians efforts
to establish formal proofs.

Ramanujan was a unique Indian genius who could melt the heart of the most
hardened and outstanding Cambridge mathematician Prof G H Hardy. In fact, it
is not an exaggeration to say that it was Professor Hardy who discovered
Ramanujan for the world. Professor Hardy rated various geniuses on a scale
of 100.

While most of the mathematicians got a rating of around 30 with rare
exceptions reaching to 60, Ramanujan got a rating of 100. There cannot be
any better tribute to either Ramanujan or to Indian heritage. One of the
tributes to Ramanujan says that, ‘every Integer is a personal friend of
Ramanujan.

Ramanujan used to say “An equation means nothing to me unless it expresses a
thought of God. For him the understanding of numbers was a process of
spiritual revelation and connection.

In his investigations into pure mathematics, he drew extraordinary
conclusions that mystified his colleagues, but were usually proven,
eventually, to be right. He opened a universe of theory that still today is
reaping applications. The landscape of the infinite was to Ramanujan a
reality of both mathematics and spirit.

Dear readers you saw, how great innovative minds even in difficult
circumstances, challenged the problems to succeed through the instrument of
knowledge and creativity.

Dear readers, when I we see the great lives of Mario Capecchi and Ramanujan,
very important traits emanate for achievements are: Inventions and
discoveries have emanated from creative minds that have been constantly
working and imaging the outcome in the mind. With imaging and constant
effort, all the forces of the universe work for that inspired mind, thereby
leading to inventions or discoveries. Higher the number of creative minds in
the country, the best results of innovation in all the three sectors of the
economy will emerge.

Inventions and discoveries is possible only through inspired minds. Inspired
minds will elevate the nation in thinking and action.. May I wish the people
of our nation a happy, prosperous, peaceful and dynamic life. On this
independence day, let us all take the independence day oath:

My national Flag flies in my heart and I will bring glory to my nation


After the Speaker indicated that the proceedings of the House could begin, Manmohan formally introduced me to the entire House. He mentioned that as the head of the Unique Identification Authority of India, I was responsible to ensure that each and every Indian had a digital smart card as a proof of his existence.

Manmohan spoke about why I was selected and also some references to the various projects executed by me in Infosys were mentioned. The Speaker then formally inducted me into the House and before the proceedings could move any forward, there was a small commotion on the other side of the hall.

It was Minister of Textiles who had a comment to make before the next point on the agenda. He made a request that I should be attired in a more austere way instead of a flashy suit. It did not go well with the image of a minister who should live to serve the common man and should be less ostentatious in his habits. I stood up to reply. I offered my apologies to the Honourable Minister and assured that I shall be in a more acceptable dress next time. I felt that he was right. We also used to have corporate dress code in Infosys. So it’s here as well!!!!

I sat down and felt somebody nudging me. I turned around and to my surprise; it was the former Indian skipper and one of my favourite batsman Mohd. Azharuddin. I remembered that he had recently won the elections. I smiled at him and mentioned to him that I used to like his game very much, shaking his hand. No Rolex, I noticed. Azhar told me that he would “fix” me an appointment with an Italian designer who had designed his dapper Kurta suit. An Italian designer in Milan doing Kurtas!!!!! I made a note of this and reminded myself to give this example to Friedman for his next book,” The World Markets are flattened”.

The proceedings of the House went on with numerous bills being debated and passed as I sat as a passive audience waiting for my project’s turn to come up. After the lunch break, it was the moment for me!!!!

MY PROJECT”S FIRST REVIEW CAME UP FOR PRESENTATION.

I was at sea. My laptop did not have any reserve power. I went to Manmohan and apprised him of the situation. I was sweating. He calmly replied that this would not be a cause of concern. I was flummoxed!!!! The Speaker asked me to explain to the House on what were my plans for the Unique Identity Project. I replied that I have a plan prepared for 30-60-90-120 days’ milestones and I have presentation to make for which I need a power socket, a projector and a screen. I had no idea what was going to happen after this.

The next couple of minutes were a complete jolt for me. I was completely in a tizzy. Let me just summarize what happened. A Joint Cabinet Secretary Committee was set up to judge the feasibility of my request. The Under Secretaries for the Ministries of Power, IT and Broadcasting will prepare a Viability Report after scrutinizing National Security threats to my request. This was because the power socket comes under Power, laptop comes under IT and projector comes under Broadcasting. I have also been told to reconsider my timelines of 30-60-90 days and start thinking in terms of years. Probably, they are right. I did not have the foresight in this matter.

The summary of the issue is that I need to come up with a more inclusive, democratic, comprehensive long term plan for this project to be executed over the next five years. I have also been given a presentation slot 3 months from now (by which the issues related to the power cord etc will also be resolved). I am filled with mixed reactions. I was planning for a quick resolution; the management wants a strategic solution. I come out of the House and text Murthy.

“You won’t believe it but these guys work just like us. I am on a NATIONAL BENCH for the next three months!!!!!!!!”