The root of all evil

Our careers and lives are shaped around the type of insecurities that we all harbor within ourselves. 

Our insecurities bring out the worst in us. When we are insecure we pick the extremes. Fight or flight. 

For instance, financial insecurity might lead you to choose a stable job with poor growth opportunities or a very high-paying job with a poor work-life balance. Saying “Yes” to things that are not aligned with our values and beliefs. 

Insecure about your position? You tend to deploy all the deviant and unacceptable behaviors to secure it. Work long hours take credit for someone else’s work, backbiting, the list goes on. 

Insecure about your image/appearance/self-worth? You might start belittling others, compare and avoid others whom you feel are better than you.

Insecure about the relationship? You might end up becoming the controller, aggressor or simply become submissive. 

Insecurities intensify when we feel life and progress are a 0-sum game.

What’s your take?

Just blame it on the environment!

The tallest mountain on Mars is called Olympus Mons. It is 16 miles (24 kilometers) high which makes it about three times higher than Mt. Everest.

What makes it so tall? 

Lower gravity as compared to earth allows volcanic formations on mars to grow higher. 

Why I am even telling you all this?

The environment has always played a major role in shaping things and lives.

A life form that thrives in the depths of the ocean has poor sight or even no sight. They simply don’t need it.

So environment matters. Home, workplace, or your neighborhood shape you in ways you never imagined.

So sometimes when you put all the blame on your surroundings and the people you hang out with, guess what, maybe you are right!

Don’t be so harsh on yourself. 

The challenge is there is too much developmental burden put on the shoulders of the individual.

Thanks to self-help books and Warikoo’s of the world.

Why there is so much emphasis on self-development? There is no good answer for this but perhaps it makes more business sense. 

Why there is no focus on managing the environment? because it is very tough. 

By no means I am undermining self-development.

But it helps if we also have a look at the environmental factors that might be disabling us. 

There is a reason we don’t have a Sachin Tendulkar in Kenya or a Michael Schumacher in India. 

What’s your take?


Are you a 7-11?

Are you a 7-11? Or Ram ki Bandi? 

7-11 is a famous grocery chain that is open 24 hours a day. You don’t have to worry when it is open, it is always open.

“Availability” is the keyword here. Stores like to be “available” that’s how they differentiate.

If you are not from Hyderabad (India), you might have not heard about Ram ki Bandi. 

Ram ki Bandi is a famous Dosa/breakfast joint in Hyderabad that only opens from 3 am to 9 am in the morning. 

Back in 2015 when I was working in Hyderabad, I could never visit the place. 

I only heard anecdotes about its fame. 

Anyway, the small joint worked on “exclusivity”. It differentiated on product and did not care so much about availability. The owner expected people to turn up in the wee hours, still sleepy but excited enough for the offerings. 

So are you a 7-11 or Ram ki Bandi?

Are you playing on “availability” or “exclusivity”?

I see so many people working hard to be more “available” when it comes to working.

Very few work on building the competence to be “exclusive”. 

Is there anything wrong with being more available? 

Depends on the “cost” you are paying to be more available. Oftentimes the cost is poor work-life balance. 

What’s your take?

The value of a lie.

I visited this hair cutting salon for the very first time.

There was just one customer who was having a haircut. One more was waiting for his turn.

I asked the barber, there is just one waiting right? Are you the only one available today?

There was a hesitance on my face that he read. A prompt reply with a smile followed “ there is one more person who has gone out to get tea”

I was a little relieved after hearing that. I assumed that I don’t have to wait for my turn. 

Much to my dismay, after 5 minutes or so, the person who returned was just a teen boy, holding three teacups. I was taken aback.

The boy was just a support staff running errands. 

And now the person who was already waiting had made himself comfortable on the barber’s seat. 

It was apparent that I was told a lie that an additional resource will service my request.

The barber now smiled apologetically and said just give me 10 minutes, iske baad aapka turn”

Maybe he knew this situation arises all the time. His response had some finesse to it. A mixture of shame and apology.

He disarmed me. I didn’t know how to respond to him.

The situation was diffused. I wasn’t so bothered now as I became more aware of my surroundings.

I could see how 7 chairs were idle. The business had hit rock bottom.

On one corner, a note read “we are low on staff, expect a delay in service”

On one wall, there was a Shahrukh Khan painting with some quotes on fate. On other walls, there were nicely done sketches of Ranvir Singh.

The errand boy offered me a cup of tea as I sat there waiting for my turn.

Morality is a tricky area. The kind of morality sold to us through movies, books, religions are based on basic scenarios. 

Morality is much more complex to deal with. The background and context matter. 

In that barber’s shop, I digested a lie sold to me. I was in a dilemma, should I question it? or just keep quiet and never return?

Was it justified because he didn’t want to lose an impatient customer?

Who knows 🙂


Do you really need a 10-minute delivery?

Zomato’s 10-minute delivery sounds like 2 minute Maggie noodles.

Can you really fix noodles in 2 minutes? 

But for decades we have had this on top of our minds. 2 minutes is something very quick. 

Noodle is a quick fix for your hunger pangs. Do I really need my noodles in 2 minutes? Not really.

Do I really need the delivery in 10 minutes? I don’t think so.

10 minutes is super fast. Hence Zomato can deliver something faster than the alternatives. Zomato equals speed.

I am limited by imagination when I try to think about how this is even possible, especially when there are humans involved in making this happen.

Nevertheless, 10 minutes has created the necessary buzz. A win for Zomato. 


Freedom comes at a price

There is a price attached to every form of freedom.

Ukraine is fighting tooth and nail against Russia. Someone is paying the price to be free.

Last year Afghanistan fell within weeks. No one was ready to pay the price.

We are free in this country owing to the sacrifice made by freedom fighters, youth, scientists, the army, industrialists, and other revolutionists. They paid the price. Someone is still paying the price.

Applies to individuals as well. Wish to be free? are you willing to pay the price?

Want to quit your job? have you already done the hard work to save enough?

Lending Your Ears

In one of the peer coaching sessions, my coachee took a notepad and started scribbling her thoughts on a notepad. 

It was a Zoom call. As time passed I became a little impatient.

I am supposed to ask questions as a coach.

I started wondering what is my role here?

Why I am even here if the coachee is taking so much time to think and arrive at answers on her own.

After 10 minutes, I started getting a little concerned.

I just waited like a curious parent observing his kid drawing a horse. Holding back his assumptions and thoughts around the five-legged horse that is slowly appearing on the canvas.

The silence was getting louder.

Alok, why don’t you interrupt? What value are you even adding here?

As we passed 15 min mark, she got some clarity and action items.

I asked what was the new realization?

She pointed out a couple of things that she needs to address before moving on to the next steps.

Sometimes you might feel you have nothing to offer in a conversation.

You are wrong, you can always offer your presence. 

It could be any conversation with your friends or close ones. Just offer your presence. Show intent, curiosity, and patience to listen.

If you lend your ear to someone, that is a service too 🙂 

The death of a bread toaster: A life lesson

We love toasted breads and we need around 16 toasts (8 each) two days a week. Tuesdays and Saturdays to be precise. I love toasts with omelettes. Sometimes peanut butter but mostly omelettes. 

Our beloved toaster gave up on us last Tuesday. All these years we operated it on the cancel button to pop the toasts manually. About many many years back the automatic pop-up function of my toaster stopped working. I don’t even remember when that happened. I simply lost track of time. One of us had to be always cautious around pressing the cancel button just in time. 

This bread toaster I am talking about would have completed 8 years this year in August 2022. It was ancient especially in an economy where such devices are designed around planned obsolescence. Three years max, give or take one.

Last Tuesday we could feel the absence of a toaster. We tried warming the bread slices on a frying pan, but it was no fun. 

The output of 16 toasts needed some degree of co-ordination between us. One person had to keep a watch. There were days when we had our share of toasts turned charcoal black. Then the blame game begun. 

The breakfast prep, especially on the days we prepare omelettes is quite hectic. There is boiling tea on one stove, frying omelette on a big pan and then the output of 8 toasts has to be managed on the side. We need this output just in time. A little delay and the omelette would go cold. A little early and the toast would go cold.

All these years, even once it did not occur to us that we might need a new toaster. If something is working, why dispose it?

That’s the trap we all fall into. 

Functionality and intended functionality are two different things. 

The automatic pop-up function of a toaster can be a huge relief. Most of the things in life are like that. We learn to live with them but should we? 

Every small change can make your life better. If it makes your life better do that change.

Getting your cavities filled. Upgrading your spectacles. Changing your sports shoes. Changing the old battery of your laptop. Servicing your air conditioner.

We waited for years to change our toaster. It was a trivial thing but it mattered. A good toast contributed to our joy twice a week. But the good news is we have placed an order for a new toaster, 4 slots, steel, many automatic features and it is arriving today. 🙂

Personality Vs Behaviour (Don’t hate someone for their personality)

There is always that one person at your workplace who just gets on your nerves. Sometimes that person might not even be part of your team.

She could be part of a different team altogether. But when you see her or hear her speaking, you just can’t accept her. You get annoyed and start hating that person. Not only at workplace, but in general you might find that one odd person who irritates you to the core. Restaurants, pubs, bus station, the person sitting next to you at a clinic.

What’s happening?

You are not able to come in terms with their personality. Somehow their personality is not in harmony with your worldview. You think why this person even exists?

What’s wrong?

Actually it has nothing to do with their personality, it has more to do with your thinking and perception. Personalities are formed over number of years, the upbringing, environment, deep personal traumas, the good experiences and bad experiences.

Then what is behaviour?

Behaviour is WHAT we do, personality is how we THINK, FEEL and WHY we tend to behave in a certain way. 

Behaviour is nothing but a response. 

Your boss shouts at you for not following a procedure, that is a behaviour.

It is his response for your action.

Is it justifiable? Absolutely not.

Did you boss have an option to respond in a different manner? Perhaps give you a feedback? Of course!

But instead, he chose to shout at you at that instant.

This is completely unacceptable.

Does this have something to do with his personality? Could be, but it doesn’t give him the right to shout and behave in that manner.

Now you can’t address the personality which could be neurotic, shot-tempered because of genetic or physiological reasons. Your boss tends to overreact at slightest provocations but that overreaction affects people around him in a negative way.

You could definitely do something about shaping the behaviour. You could tell him that this approach is unacceptable or simply go to the HR hoping that they would take some corrective action.

The bottomline is, hating someone for their personality, the way they carry themselves is not correct. They have the right to have a personality, if it doesn’t fit into your worldview, it is your problem.

But don’t go kind on nasty behaviour. You have all the right to respond appropriately if the behaviour of other person affects your well being.

Where to begin your career? Start with a tool

Just after I graduated,  I got a call for interview from Funskool, a toy manufacturer. 

I went for the interview and the interviewer asked me, do you know AutoCAD? 

I said I do know the basics but I can learn. This was a textbook interview answer. I was not very confident around it, the interviewer could sense it.

The interviewer told me you should know this design tool, it is very important. 

I never heard back from them again.

I was not taught all this at the engineering school. Maybe a workshop or two focussed on the use of various tools. The 4 year rigorous course was more about advanced mechanics, dynamics of machinery, thermodynamics etc. All the high end things that I never ended-up applying. After I graduated, I struggled for a job. 

A few years later, I was studying business. B-schools are all about jargons and frameworks. In the two years I never studied any tool as such. Yes, business is an acumen. You learn the language and skills and all the knowledge that enables you to become a generalist. But you never learn a tool except excel and powerpoint. 

Without a tool, the odds are against you. In the interviews you show your knowledge and personality. Thankfully MBA is more personality than actual skills. It is more about interpersonal skills and influencing and knowledge. I used all this and ended-up getting a job.

But years later I realised you are just going to depend on your personality then you will be always vulnerable. Sometimes the situations around you will not enable you to be yourself. 

In that case, you need a tool or a framework that you master.

If you master a tool, you will be objectively better than your competition. Later on you can use personality to grow in your career but start with a tool.