Thursday, June 2, 2016
Saturday, September 5, 2015
Monday, December 2, 2013
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
He is 58 years old, bespectacled with distinguished silver grey hair. He’s spent 25 years working for one of India’s most respected corporate houses. I have learnt a lot from him. But it is unlikely you would have ever heard of him. His name is Karunan. And he worked with me as my driver.
Sometimes, the biggest lessons in life come from very unlikely sources. And as Karunan spoke to me one morning about his life and times, I thought young people would benefit from listening to what he has to say. Since Karunan will probably never be invited to deliver a convocation speech or a commencement address at a college, I decided to share those lessons with you. Here goes:
1. Getting a driving licence does not make you a driver. “I was 18 when I got my licence. But it was only after several months of driving a car that I actually learnt to drive, and became a real driver.” Young people must remember that. A licence is only a permit – and not a stamp of authority. An MBA does not make you a manager. It is only after you spend several more years learning on the job that you truly qualify to call yourself a manager. Many young people confuse getting a degree as signifying the end of their learning. Wrong. It’s just the beginning. A degree or a diploma – the licence – simply marks you out as someone qualified to learn from real life experiences. It doesn’t make you an expert.
2. The real world is very different from a classroom. “I learnt to drive a car. But my first job required me to drive a little tempo. The steering wheel was different, and so were the gears. I thought I knew how to drive – but I couldn’t even get the tempo started.” The world outside the classroom is a very different place. That’s as true for engineers and MBAs and accountants as it is for drivers. Get ready to get surprised.
3. Slog. Get your hands dirty. “I spent nights working as a cleaner. That’s when I learnt all about the insides of an automobile. Knowing what’s under the bonnet has made me a better driver today.” Most of the brightest marketing professionals in the country will tell you that they learnt their biggest lessons in the days they spent slogging in small towns selling soaps or colas. There’s no other way. If you want to be successful, work hard, dirty your hands – and go beyond your specific role.
4. In the early years, what you learn is more important than what you earn. “In my first job, the pay was bad but the boss was good. He gave me opportunities to learn, to make mistakes. He trusted me. I banged his tempo quite a bit – and while the dents were quickly repaired and touched up, the lessons I learnt remain firmly etched in my mind.” In your first job – don’t worry about your pay packet or the size of the organization. Get a good boss. A good mentor. That’s priceless.
5. Don’t worry about which car you drive. Focus on being a good driver. “I always wanted to drive the best cars – but rather than complain about having to drive a tempo or a school van or the city transport bus, I focused on driving well. I told myself that if I do that, the good cars will come. And they did.” Now that’s a great lesson. It’s not about the company. It’s about you. Do the best with what you have, wherever you are. Karunan spent fifteen years struggling in odd jobs before landing a driver’s job in one of India’s largest companies. We could all benefit by staying focused on doing a great job – rather than worrying about the next job, or the next promotion. Do a good job. Success and happiness will follow. Inevitably.
Those then are five fabulous life lessons from an unlikely guru. Follow Karunan’s advice and I guarantee they’ll make a difference to your career. And to your life!
(This appeared in the January issue of Careers 360. For more, jump to http://careers360.com/news/5086--Prakash-Iyer-s-advice-Slog-Get-your-hands-dirty
Sunday, October 24, 2010
A friend I met last week was recalling his experiences from his first job and telling me about his boss. The friend had started off as a rookie reporter with Sportsworld – the magazine that Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi used to edit!
His boss was the assistant editor at Sportsworld: David McMahon. And he recalled with great enthusiasm the one trait that marked David out as someone rather special: his willingness to bet on youth! And here’s the story:
When the Indian cricket team travelled to the West Indies in 1983, every newspaper sent its senior-most reporter out to cover the tour. There was Rajan Bala from the Indian Express and Sunder Rajan from the Times, R Mohan from the Hindu and Ayaz Memon – all senior folks, recognized and respected. After all, this was a big tour. And who did David choose to send to cover the tour for Sportsworld? A young not-yet-out-of-his-teens lad called Mudar Patherya.
Mudar went on to do a great job – and his youthful exuberance, his natural curiosity and the desire to ‘live up to David’s trust’ ensured that Sportsworld had some of the finest coverage of the tour. In fact one Sunday morning – an off day with no cricketing action on the tour, Mudar happened to hear that Viv Richards – the big man – was going to be playing beach cricket with some kids in Antigua. And while the rest of the senior folks were either relaxing in the hotel or out sight-seeing, Mudar drove out to the beach, saw a bare-chested Richards having a blast with the kids on the beach and quickly clicked a picture of Viv Richards – with his amateur camera. The picture made it to the front pages of the Anand Bazar Patrika newspapers, and Mudar had another exclusive story to his credit. And David’s faith in the youngster had been vindicated.
Mudar went on to become one of our finest cricket writers, and now runs a successful financial communication services company with his wife in Kolkata. And I am sure he will admit to the role that ‘early break' – that vote of confidence from David - played in his eventual success.
And Mudar wasn’t alone. When it was time for Wimbledon, David – himself a terrific tennis writer – chose to pick another rookie: Rohit Brijnath. Rohit apparently did not even have a passport when he got told that he’d be covering Wimbledon! Rohit went on to become one of the finest sports writers India has produced.
Most good leaders have a knack of spotting great talent. But it’s the exceptional leaders who bet on that young talent – ahead of it’s time. A big assignment, a special project – or an out-of-turn promotion – and suddenly that young talent becomes a hot success. Many many successful people owe their meteoric rise not just to their talent – but also to that leader who was willing to bet on them. And when a leader does that, the whole team benefits. Notice how the story of David’s greatness was being narrated to me by not by Mudar or Rohit – but someone else who was on that team!
The bet may not always come good. And when it goes wrong, the leader and the young prodigy often pay a heavy price. And here’s the irony: If the leader plays safe – he doesn’t really attract any criticism for not giving the youngster a chance. Which is why it take a special kind of leader – and a courageous one at that - to take that bet. And then the fearlessness of youth takes over. The enthusiasm – and the desire to prove the leader right – usually pave the way for the youngster’s success.
The day after I heard David McMahon’s story, India was fighting to win a test match in Bangalore. The big hope – Sehwag was out cheaply. And when all of KSCA roared to welcome Dravid, out came the debutant Cheteshwar Pujara. And my mind went back to David and Mudar and Rohit. Pujara had failed in the first innings – and yet was now was being trusted by his captain to play a defining innings. And he did.
Had he failed, it would have been easy to say that Dhoni erred. After all, the youngster had failed in the first innings. Why put him under pressure? Why change the batting order? Why… and the questions would have been many. Hindsight is usually pure genius.
Which is why you need to doff your hat to Dhoni. And David. And others like them. It takes courage to bet on a youngster.
So think back then, When it was your turn to take a punt on the kid, did you play safe, or did you bet on the youngster?
And hey, remember the guy who bet on you? Clearly, the corporate world needs more Dhonis and Davids.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
As I park my car in the basement and wait for the elevator to take me to my office on the sixth floor - I am confronted by choice. There are two elevators that I could possibly choose from. One is a 'slow' option: it stops on every floor. And the other is the 'express' option: It stops only at the even number floors - and of course at the basement. Which elevator should we take? The express one? Or whichever comes first? And as I wait with other folks for an elevator - it's fascinating to watch the dilemma play out every morning.
And I wonder if it's only in my mind - but it seems to me that the 'slow' elevator option almost always presents itself first. We get into it, rather reluctantly - longingly eyeing the panel of the elusive express elevator. And as it stops on the first floor, you can hear a collective sigh of disappointment. People turn their wrists to look at that watch - "Argh! late again!". People look at each other with a shared sense of dismay. One face seems to say "Why did this lift have to stop on every floor?" And all the faces seem to be saying "We should have taken the other lift!" If elevators had a mood indicator - this one would clearly be showing "irritated".
Makes me think. Our experience with elevators is probably true of our lives too. We see two paths ahead of us - and are never sure which one to choose. And we make a choice - and then worry about the road not taken.
And often our choice is dictated not by what we know is the better option - but by what presents itself first. A bird in hand - seems like several in the bush. We are not willing to wait. So we take the elevator that comes first. Or the first job we get offered. Waiting seems such a waste of time.
So what's the way out? Should we just decide what's best - the express elevator for instance - and then not get tempted when life's slow elevator comes up first? Easier said than done?
Maybe we should all just learn to relax a bit and not get too stressed by every choice we need to make. Both the elevators eventually get to the sixth floor, to our destination - and maybe that's what should really matter. No one's gonna look at us and say "ha, ha, he took the slow elevator!" And by not getting too caught up in the choice of the elevator, we might learn to enjoy the ride, just a bit more. And maybe, just maybe, that might help wipe out the frown on our face and replace it with a smile. Now what's that worth!
And in life - as in the elevator - it might help us to let go of our fascination with this misplaced sense of urgency. Getting there faster - nay, first - doesn't need to become an over-riding tenet of our lives. Think about it. Wherever you go, you see people agitated about getting ahead. Look at the queues in the supermarket, and you'll see this young couple splitting and waiting in two separate queues - just in case Murphy is right again. Why give up the pleasure of each other's company for five minutes - just to possibly check out 30 seconds faster? It happens early morning in the airport - as busy executives jostle like school kids - just to get past security first. Worth the stress?
As I mentioned to my wife the other evening about my daily elevator dilemma - she didn't even look up from the book she was reading. She just said: "Why don't you take the stairs? That would be really good for you!"