Saturday, September 30, 2017

Three things that I liked about (first 85 pages of) the book “Hit Refresh”

It’s not often that a continuing CEO writes a book about his or her experiences. Memoirs are usually written after the end of one’s tenure and are more often as a reflection of what has gone by. Well, Satya Nadella, like he has done in his career, chose to do the unconventional. At the outset, it is fair to say that Nadella’s “Hit Refresh” is not a memoir. While some portions of the book talk about his evolution, but this book (atleast till the point I have read) seem more about an ongoing story of transformation, it is about Nadella’s passion to put empathy at the center of everything he considers meaningful.

While I am not yet done reading the book, the writer in me just couldn’t stop but sharing some reflections I had from the book so far. And here they go.

#1 Honesty of endeavor:

If there is one thing that stands out for me so far in this book is the honestly and frankness with which Satya has shared his experiences. He goes beyond his comfort zone and responsibly touches even some of the controversial topics. The fact that he chose to show his vulnerable side makes this book even more trustworthy.

The pre-Nadella era of Microsoft was notorious for some things. One of which was the constant in-fighting between the business units. One of the cartoonists reflected the infighting at Microsoft in this popular cartoon. Nadella didn’t shy from acknowledging this aspect in his book and made a mention about this-

“As a twenty-four-year veteran of Microsoft, a consummate insider, the caricature really bothered me. But what upset me more was that our own people just accepted it.”

At one point in the book he discussed Microsoft’s decision to acquire Nokia. He was a part of Steve Ballmer’s Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and when Ballmer asked his team to vote openly about the decision to acquire Nokia- Nadella had said No and was against the acquisition. The reason he says was that he couldn’t understand why the world would need a third ecosystem in phones when Apple and Google were already so dominant.

#2 The Guy next door impersonating as a CEO:

Ever since Satya Nadella was elevated as a Microsoft’s CEO, one of the things that was most striking (for me) was the sheer simplicity of the man. And I don’t mean simplicity of appearance but more about him coming across as just an approachable neighbour who grew up with you, had similar education and background and suddenly you discover him to be doing wonders in life.
He narrates his aspirations while growing up and these were no different than the average Indian guy-

1. He wanted to be a Cricket player, even played at school level.
2. He wanted to attend a small college, work for a bank.
3. He had a mom who just wanted him to be content and happy while father was ambitious.
4. He appeared for IIT exam and flunked.
5. He so wanted to pursue full time MBA but Microsoft offer really made him change his mind and he pursued it part-time.
6. While at University of Wisconsin, he admitted that he was not a proficient coder.

Just check out some of these quotes-
“By twelfth grade if you had asked me about my dream it was to attend a small college, play cricket for Hyderabad, and eventually work for a bank. That was it. Being an engineer and going to the West never occurred to me. My mom was happy with those plans. But my dad really forced the issue.

“I flunked the Indian institute of technology (IIT) entrance exam, the holy grail of all things academic for middle class kids growing up in India at that time. My father, who never met an entrance test he did not pass, was more amused than annoyed.

“I’d written a little bit of code but I was not a proficient coder by any stretch.” [While at University of Wisconsin]

“What I really wanted to do was go to business school. I knew that management would complement my engineering training, and I had been thinking about a switch to investment banking.”

He probably went through each of the dilemmas an average student or a professional goes through but despite that his ascent has been mind-boggling. To be only the third CEO in the history of Microsoft is an extraordinary feat.
One can attribute a lot of factors like hard-work, luck, sincerity, determination etc. to his rise but to me he is an epitome of what Carol Dweck calls as “Growth mindset”. In her ground breaking book- Mindset, she distinguishes between a fixed mindset and growth mindset as follows-
In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

In the book, Satya Nadella has often referred to his quest for learning and Intellectual curiosity as something that drives him and in the end I believe, that is the key factor that differentiates him with the ones he would have grown up with.

#3 Permanence is a myth and Impermanence is the reality:

One concept he shared that resonated deeply with me was that of impermanence. One of his quests of learning made Nadella read about Gautama Buddha and through some of his teachings he writes-

“I learned that only through living life’s ups and downs can you develop empathy; that in order to not suffer, or at least not to suffer so much, one must become comfortable with impermanence.”

I call the concept of impermanence profound because in today’s fast changing world, I have seen a lot
of professionals seek the comfort of permanence i.e. they don’t want the professional situations to change much. And when they do change, you see the anxiety levels rising and with it the mistakes. I personally starting believing in impermanence (though honestly, I didn’t have this word in my vocabulary till now) after the sad demise of my mother few years back. And it was moving for me to see it being called out in the book.

As Nadella further says
“If you understand impermanence deeply, you would develop more equanimity. You would not get too excited about either the ups or downs of life.”

And this fact was reflected in below quote that refers to his mindset when he was being considered for the role of a CEO. Having detached himself from the eventual outcome (which was impermanent), he set himself him for any possibility with a legendary poise.

“My attitude was that the board would select the best person. It would be great if it were me. But I would also be equally happy working for someone the board had confidence in. In fact, as part of the interview process one of the board members suggested that if I wanted to be CEO, I needed to be clear that I was hungry for the job. I thought about this and even talked to Steve. He laughed and simply said, “Its too late to be different.” It just wouldn’t be me to display that kind of personal ambition.”

Watch out for more reflections from #HitRefresh in the coming days.

Images source:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Three reasons why Google acquihired a part of HTC

Google recently entered a cooperation agreement with HTC according to which it is buying a team of HTC (working primarily on Pixel phones) for $1.1 billion. There are a few points that should be understood before we delve into the reasons of this agreement.

Firstly, it is a cooperation agreement and not an acquisition. This means that HTC will continue to function and retain its brand sans the division (called as “Powered by HTC”) and people that will move to Google.

Secondly, as a part of this agreement, Google also retains non-exclusive rights for some of HTC’s Intellectual property. To make it clearer, a Non-Exclusive Licence grants to the licensee the right to use the Intellectual Property (IP), but on a non-exclusive basis. That means that HTC can still exploit the same IP and it can also allow other licensees to exploit the same IP.

Thirdly, the meaning of term ‘acquihired’. As per Wikipedia, Acqui-hiring or Acq-hiring or a talent acquisition, is the process of acquiring a company to recruit its employees, without necessarily showing an interest in its current products and services—or their continued operation.

Lets look at some of the reasons now-
Reason#1: Google’s hardware ambitions:
Google wants to be increasingly seen as a hardware company. In Oct 2016 at the “Made by Google’ event, it announced various products including its Pixel smartphones, Google Home, Google Wifi etc. 
Google has traditionally (if I can be allowed to use the word “traditional” for company as trendy as Google is perceived to be) built a humongous software services business. Sundar Pichai,at the Google I/O event earlier this year, shared that Google Maps, YouTube, Chrome, Gmail, Search, Google Play each has 1 billion plus users and Android device almost twice that scale.
But it brings us to a moot question- why does Google wants to foray into hardware after having built insanely successful empire of software services?
At the outset, I would like to answer this question by putting forward another question. What factors have made Apple as successful as it is now? Of course, it would be naive to just pinpoint one factor for Apple being close to Trillion dollar valuation. But for the sake of argument and the context of this post, that one factor potentially is- “hardware/software synergy.” Apple tightly controls the entire iOS ecosystem and by building hardware of its own it really doesn’t need to deal with complexities that Google has embraced by being a true open system.
Of course, this open-ness (on Google’s part) has got its great deal of benefits including the ones that led rapid proliferation of Android devices (remember 2 billion Android devices as against 700-800 million iOS ones) but in a long run Google apparently has realized the importance of owning the entire ecosystem.
This aspect is well summarized in a Verge article that says-

If Google were to leave the battle to forever be between the iPhone and Android, between an integrated piece of modern tech and a mere operating system, Apple’s device would always win. Apple’s not-so-secret advantage is in having tight control over every aspect of the iPhone user experience. Google can’t be out there filing down the sharp edges of the USB-C port on its hardware partners’ devices. But it can design its own, premium-tier device that can go right up against the iPhone. The HTC deal today makes sure of that.

If we connect the dots from 2016 till now- Google hired Rick Osterloh (former head of Motorola), now leading Google hardware division, introduced slew of hardware products and now the agreement with HTC- it clearly indicates Google’s ambitious plans to make it big in hardware space.
Reason#2:  Google owning entire mobile User Experience
By building its own hardware, Google is really taking its destiny in its own hands. Of course, its not doing bad at all by forging partnerships with the players such as Samsung, Mi etc. but such “broken” approach to dealing with entire ecosystem, doesn’t hold well for Google’s future. The reason for this can be summarized in one word- “User experience”. This narrative from Wired article sums it up well-

Tighter control over manufacturing affects more than just the bottom line. "Bringing that design capability in-house would likely allow Google to design exactly the phones it wants to, giving it both more freedom and a greater ability to optimize designs to get exactly what it wants and needs from the hardware," says Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. New technologies like augmented reality and virtual assistants, especially, require massive power and optimization. Apple's ARKit works so well in part because of Apple's new A11 Bionic processor, and its dedicated GPU and neural-processing chips. If Google wants Google Assistant and ARCore to work seamlessly, it needs to make sure the underlying hardware can support them. And even if its traditional Android hardware partners churn out workhorse devices, Google risks that Samsung and others (but mostly Samsung) will eventually want push everyone to Bixby and the Gear VR instead.

Reason# 3: People and IP
The third reason isn’t too difficult to understand. Even though Google paid in excess of $1 billion for this agreement, it probably is no big deal for Google. Given its lofty hardware ambitions and cut-throat competition, time is of utmost essence. If Google doesn’t do this agreement, it will take more than many years to build the experience and IP and will cause it to lose crucial ground in the market.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Sketch-note: Citrix's Q2 2017 Financial Results

I do believe that note-taking is an underrated skill and doesn't get as much importance as it deserves. In context of most work related situations, we are bombarded with sea of information and are often left to try and make sense of it. Embracing efficient ways to take notes helps us deal with the information overload in many ways-
1. It helps us visually represent information.
2. When the information is available in front of us visually, it adds to the overall clarity of thoughts.
3. In absence of notes, the information floats around in mind leading to less overall recall when needed.

Of late I have been experimenting with the alternate approaches to note-taking. One of the approaches that i found useful and creative was the sketch-notes. The beautiful thing about sketch-notes is that it goes beyond just words and adds a lot of visual elements that helps to simplify the process of comprehending notes.
I went through a bit of learning process around getting comfortable with sketch-noting. I don't think i am an expert yet, far from it actually but would really want to share a few of my attempts in the upcoming blogs.
Here's is the first one below that represents that Q2 2017 financial results of Citrix.

Did you find it useful ? Watch out for more in the near future.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Talk on the topic: Security 2.0-Safeguarding the Digital Frontier

I was recently at Zinnov Confluence 2017 and got to present an opening note on the topic- Security 2.0- Safeguarding the Digital Frontier. For the benefits of the readers, I am trying to recreate my speech as much as I can in the below here. Will be sharing the slide-deck shortly.

The Inevitable Future:
Not so long ago, I was reading this intriguing book by the name- The Inevitable. Written ably by a futurist named- Kevin Kelly, this book gives glorious insights into technological forces that will shape our future.
We are approaching an interesting world. The reason I call it interesting is because as much as AI powered automation (also known as automation on steroids) is going to impact a myriad of jobs as we know them, there are lot of new, unthinkable jobs that would emerge. Being a Futurist is one such job that I am fascinated with. I do believe all of us have a hidden futurist in us that in our own ways helps us makes sense of how upcoming events of the future would impact us. If we wear that futurist hat for a moment, I don’t think it will take long for us to come to a conclusion that the world- for both consumers and enterprises alike- is headed towards a massive digital disruption.
Technology was, is and has always been and will be humanity’s accelerant, a driving force that has been instrumental in taking the humanity from one level to the next.  Kevin Kelly says in his book- “We are moving away from the world of fixed nouns and towards a world of fluid verbs. In the next 30 years we will continue to take solid things- an automobile for instance and turn them into intangible verbs. Products will become services and processes. Embedded with high doses of technology, an automobile becomes a transportation service.”

Cloud Powers the World:
When you think of broad range of technologies that came to power the world in the last 10-15 years,
one that has emerged as absolute no. 1 enabler- without a doubt is cloud. Think about mobility, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, internet of things- none of them could have attained the kind of maturity they had now, had it not been for the cloud. The cloud from being just the tool to cut cost became an amazing enabler for everything else that’s happening in the world of technology, in the world of work around us.

The World is Under Severe Attack:
While the world is amazingly being powered by cloud and the up-and-coming technologies, we should also remember that there is always a flip side to any technological advancement. And one of the threats that I bring forward here is that the world is also under severe virtual attack.

If you’re familiar with any of these terms, then congratulations — and welcome to the new normal of cybersecurity.

If I request you to put your futurist hat for one more time and ask you to predict the future of cyber-security, it is actually not as hard as some of you are thinking it to be. The future of cyber-security is that- there will be a next attack soon. There is a hacker waiting to exploit the vulnerabilities in your systems, trying to steal the data, trying to attack our systems.
There are several considerations that go into designing the security models for the future than only dealing with the innovativeness of the security attacks being unleashed. I would like to talk about a couple of aspects-

The Weakest link in the Chain:
Citrix recently did a study with the Ponemon Institute and there were some interesting findings from the survey.  One part of study suggested that today’s workforce really comprises of three different generations. Nearly 50% of people participating in the world economy are the Digital natives i.e. the people who were born with technology, the people who doesn’t know how the world looked like without technology. The rest of workforce comprises of Gen-Xers (born 1965-1980) and Baby Boomers (both 1946-1964).
But why is the discussion of generational differences important in the context of Cyber-Security ? As our study suggested, it turns out, it is quite important. As Christian Reilly says here-

Any technology-based solution is only as strong as its weakest link; it’s last line of defense, and, in case after case, we learn that the source of the introduction of malware and ransomware has been as a result of the intervention of one or more end-users. Perhaps they clicked a malicious link in an email. Perhaps they opened a malicious attachment.

Each generation of workforce has different views on information sharing, collaboration, technology, and the role security plays in each. The global study shows that each generation is also susceptible to different kinds of security vulnerabilities:
55% of security and business respondents said that Millennials, born 1981-1997, pose the greatest risk of circumventing IT security policies and using unapproved apps in the workplace.
33% said Baby Boomers, born 1946-1964, are most susceptible to phishing and social engineering scams.
32% said Gen-Xers, born 1965-1980, were most likely to circumvent security policies and use unapproved apps and devices in the workplace.
The security models of the future would be successful only if among other considerations they also take into account the generational differences at workforce.

Tightening Regulations:
Another aspect that I wanted to briefly touch upon was the effect current regulations are bringing forward.  By this time next year, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), would have come into effect for all the companies dealing with data of EU customers. In the past, many of privacy regulations were toothless – and for many companies it was easier to pay tens of thousands in fines, rather than investing millions to fix the problem. That’s not the case with GDPR. The fine can be up to EUR €20 million OR 4% of the worldwide (!) revenue (not profit!) of the company. As Martin Zugec said here-
We are used to saying that IT solutions can be cheap, developed fast or designed to be secure – and you can choose any two of those. With GDPR, secure is a mandatory requirement for any IT solution that contains data about individuals. Security is no longer an ad hoc process, it needs to become our new lifestyle.

Old Security Perimeters Doesn't Help The New World of Work:
How do Enterprises deal with such diversity of users, tightened regulations and the ever-increasing innovativeness of the attacks.

In the Enterprise context, We are an intersection of users and applications.
The current context of work has changed a lot. People are no longer using only the IT managed apps but are bringing any web-based, cloud-based, mobility app. Not only that, people are not  just working  within the organization boundaries but are working at any place of their choice, roaming, on any device, using OS of their choice. As we often say in Citrix-

“Work is not a place. Work is an activity you do at a place you find inspiration.”

Older IT enterprise architectures were designed more keeping in the principles of Inaccessibility and Invisibility i.e. any intruder outside the boundaries of the organization cannot access the details of network infrastructure, not could it access any data and applications. This physical perimeter built by the traditional IT worked reasonably worked in the world of past where application and employee location were a constant. But in today’s world when the application, location and work context is no longer static, the perimeter of past is longer sufficient. Current enterprises need a better, strong, secure and flexible perimeter. So, what’s the solution ?

Citrix Secure Digital Workspace:
This is where Citrix comes in, really helping the organizations tame that complexity and pulling it together in a way by creating this new software defined perimeter but also enabling this easy access for people wherever they are around the world, whatever device they come in, to give them contextual access to technology whether it is the cloud technology coming from one of many clouds, whether it is traditional on-prem technology or whether it is a mobile technology, they need to access it all in a simple contextual way and that is precisely what we do and on the IT side really need to manage all these devices, they really need to control the policy for access.

Very recently we introduced, Citrix Secure DigitalWorkspace- effectively taking up this amazing foundation that we laid down with Xen family of products, with Netscaler, with Sharefile and enabling this future of work- powered by Citrix Cloud driven by Artificial Intelligence.

Welcome to the Future of Work, Powered by Citrix! 

Credits and Inspiration:

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Would Slack be able to overcome Microsoft Teams threat?

Microsoft recently launched Microsoft Teams to compete with Slack as the workplace communication and collaboration software. While this launch from Microsoft was much talked about already but Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield's open letter to Microsoft added an unexpected flavor to the duel.

What really is Slack ? As per Wikipedia- Slack is a cloud-based team collaboration tool. The name is actually an acronym, which means, "Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge". Slack was launched in August 2013.

...And What is Microsoft Teams? Microsoft prefers to call Microsoft Teams as a new chat-based workspace in Office 365. As it defines, Microsoft Teams is an entirely new experience that brings together people, conversations and content—along with the tools that teams need—so they can easily collaborate to achieve more.

Given the fair share of success that Slack has had so far, it can be credited for being a creator of this new product category and Microsoft a competitor. What could be potential factors against which we can size up the competition between the two?

A battle of a Product and a Feature:
Though it is touted as a battle among the equals, there is a fundamental difference between Slack and Team. Slack is a product. Microsoft Teams is a feature. Teams is a part of comprehensive Office 365 suite. Office 365 does many things but Slack is laser focused on being a office messaging app.

Microsoft Teams- almost at feature parity with Slack:
Microsoft is looking at Teams more as a software that unifies many of their existing applications. As Satya Nadella said recently
"Just like Outlook brought together email, contacts and calendar into one magical user experience scaffolding that changed how we worked, Teams will bring together chat, meetings, notes, Office, Planner, Power BI... and other extensions and applications to help users get work done,"

Beyond Unification of existing office apps, Microsoft Teams already mirrors quite a few features of Slack as is evident in this comprehensive feature analysis between the two.

Strategy to Gain users:
Building a software product for sure is hard, but not many realize the complexity of ensuring a successful go-to-market of software products. The strategy to gain users often becomes a key differentiator between the competing products.

Microsoft Teams doesn't plan to go freemium in attempt to gain users. Freemium model is when the offering has some "free" features (to attract the users) and some "premium" features (to lure users to pay for more beneficial features). The fact that Teams is an Office 365 feature is its biggest strength. Through this association, Teams gains an access to enormous number of Office 365 customers. 
On the contrary, Slack runs on Freemium model. One of the better ways to introduce new product to users is through this model. This has ensured initial usage of slack and helped in building the much-needed credibility. According to an recent user estimate, Slack has over 1.25 million users worldwide and 33000 paid teams using it. 

Market Segments:
Microsoft Teams has a unique advantage of leveraging the large enterprise customers that Office 365 might already have. Whereas Slack, being a start-up won’t have that luxury. Slack at the moment has been gaining a good traction in both smaller and larger enterprises.

External Collaboration:
Slack allows for an easy participation of team members outside the organization. Since Microsoft Teams is bound with Office 365 subscription, it doesn't have an easy (or rather any) way to allow external audience from participating in the communication. Given the complex nature of collaboration in today's world when partners beyond existing employees often help with the decision making, not having this feature could prove to be a deterrent. This feature is said to be on the roadmap of the Teams software.

Leveraging Artificial Intelligence:
There are a still a few years before AI becomes a routine feature. Atleast for now, AI is one of the key differentiator among the software products. Both Slack and Microsoft Teams have leveraged AI by introducing task specific bots that help team collaboration. As an example, Microsoft Teams has a bot called T-Bot that is available to answer questions during the conversation, then there is a WhoBot who helps to answer questions about the team members. Meanwhile Slack seem to be overrun with many bots that users already seem to have gotten a good taste of.

Open Platform vs Closed Ecosystem:
As Slack CEO says in his open letter to Microsoft-
an open platform is essential. Communication is just one part of what humans do on the job. The modern knowledge worker relies on dozens of different products for their daily work, and that number is constantly expanding. These critical business processes and workflows demand the best tools, regardless of vendor.
That’s why we work so hard to find elegant and creative ways to weave third-party software workflows right into Slack. And that’s why there are 750 apps in the Slack App Directory for everything from marketing automation, customer support, and analytics, to project management, CRM, and developer tools. Together with the thousands of applications developed by customers, more than six million apps have been installed on Slack teams so far.

This is an area where slack probably scores over Microsoft. Microsoft has a reputation of being a closed platform, or atleast not as open as modern platforms like Amazon, Facebook and Google. It does warrant a mention that Microsoft, under Satya Nadela is working towards fixing this aspect of the business by embracing Linux, building software for Mac etc.

In product management, there are different strategies that either help first-mover (Slack) consolidate an early advantage or there are strategies that help fast-follower (Microsoft) learn from the mistakes of first-mover and emerge stronger. Microsoft has been a dominant force in the Enterprise Office software category. Given its openness, Slack is touted by many a analysts to replace email and other office communication software. The positioning of Slack in the Unicorn category and its ever-increasing popularity has certainly made Microsoft a bit nervous. On the other hand, Microsoft has a huge muscle power built by the enormous piles of cash and a strong network of partners which won't let it reach Obsolescence any time sooner. 

It’s hard to predict who wins this battle eventually but it is certain that this new category of software enabling Office communication is here to stay and there would be room for many a players to seize the initiative. Microsoft's entry in this space only validates the need of this product category. So far Slack seems ahead and Microsoft seems well positioned to play the catch-up game for next few quarters atleast.

What do you think ?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Knowledge not shared is knowledge wasted

All of us- through our life experiences, observations, interactions, studying and reading are in the constant process of gaining knowledge throughout our lives. While we consciously or sub- consciously gain a lot of knowledge, the process of sharing of knowledge is, interestingly, always a conscious one. Knowledge sharing is always a voluntary act. A lot of us, in quest for attaining personal expertise in subject of our choice, often don’t give sharing of knowledge an equal priority. As my life experiences have taught me, sharing of knowledge not only helps the receiver but also the teacher in more ways than one. The more of the knowledge we let out, the more it metaphorically creates space in our mind to gain further. I do hold this belief quite in high esteem that- Knowledge not shared is Knowledge wasted.

Knowledge sharing for the sake of Knowledge sharing
As I figured out in my life, one can be as creative in finding avenues to share knowledge as one could be in gaining one. Led by this belief, for most of my professional life I have found ways to codify my knowledge either by means of presenting in conference, writing (this, and few other blogs being example), short interactions, micro-blogging (twitter), visually (infographics) and made the output of my intellect available for wider consumption. All this while, the key motivation has just been Knowledge sharing for the sake of Knowledge sharing. As simple as that! Not for money! Not for any other tangible or tangible benefits!

Imbibe Progressive mindset, not an Excuse mindset to democratize your knowledge
I recently had a fulfilling experience finding such avenue in teaching MBA students at Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM), Bengaluru.
One of my friends and mentor, Tathagat Varma (TV) had come in to impart the knowledge of Agile mindset to my team. During the course of the day, we had several conversations- one of which was around the opportunity to Guest speak at SIBM. Tathagat has made amazing contributions in many areas related to Information Technology professional, as one can make out from his bio. Beyond these, one of the things that I greatly admire in him is the way he has democratized his knowledge. By making his presentations available almost religiously post his sessions, he has ensured that the impact of his work goes beyond the four walls of the classroom. You could catch a glimpse of some of his work here. So when he checked on my interest at speaking at SIBM, I knew I had to say Yes- without any doubt. The fact that I was going through a relatively busy job transition and preparing for a full marathon- among other things in life didn’t deter even once in saying Yes to this opportunity of sharing. Over the various experiences I have had in life, I have learnt that finding time for things you want to do is an art that's not impossible to master. It's always very easy to imbibe an excuse mindset and blame time for everything one cannot do but I think it’s not so hard to imbibe an progressive mindset and find time to say Yes to things you really want do.

Repetition solidifies knowledge
The topic that TV was teaching at SIBM was a course on Creativity for the students. Having gone through the slides that he shared over Slideshare, it was nothing short of a world-class content for the raw minds. The class that i was expected to Guest lecture was "Creativity in Industries" and I was supposed to kick start this session by sharing my thoughts on Creativity in Sports, followed by TV's narrative on the other industries. One of the many ways this session was different that I have done on public speaking platforms is that each of the lecture had to be given 4 times a day to the students of different sections. On surface, this would sound like a boring thing to do, but as i experienced later- it was actually a good experience. I could experience that- not only students but teachers also tend to get better by repeating stuff- if one keeps an open mind to it. Our joint session was set for 3rd-Sept-2016.

Books are among learner’s best friends
Being given some time before the session actually happened meant that I could try and prepare as much as I could. I do rely a lot on books and secondly the articles over the internet to form a solid perspective before imparting the talk. I did no different this time, and read quite a few books (listed below) and even more articles and eventually worked to form a deck which i share-
Books Read in quest of preparing for the talk:

For those of you who have been regular at sharing via public speaking would realize that it does take a considerable amount of time preparing and more so if the topic is offbeat. This was an offbeat topic for me as sports is not my primary profession, though I have been a passive follower of most of the sports India plays and active at marathon running.

The act of sharing is where the rubber actually meets the road
All the preparation is not quite worthwhile unless the sharing actually happens, much like a car tyre is useless unless it’s on the motion in the road. I delivered my session to students on 3rd-Sept-2016
The presentation that i delivered during the day is here-

It was indeed a humbling experience teaching students. I didn’t dislike the act of delivering the session 4 times in the span of 5-6 hours. Apart from me perfecting my delivery, it did help me empathize a good lot with a teacher's life. Moreover, I got to learn a good deal from students and listening to slides that TV presented. The act of repetition does help to reinforce the learnings more solidly.
Some key points from my session:
- Exhibiting Creativity in Sports is difficult because letting your body and mind together follow the creative thoughts are a tad tougher than letting your mind alone follow creative input.
- Your best chance to innovate is where different fields meet. Break down barriers between fields. Don't just go deep in your field alone, develop interest and leverage from the other fields too.
- Leverage self-learning as much as coaching. Some of best sportspeople have been self-taught, atleast initially.

Towards the end
If you have read till here, I am sure you would appreciate a quick summary of my experience here. Here it goes-
1    1.  Make knowledge sharing as much a priority as is learning. That’s an important characteristic of a growth mindset.
2    2. Strive to get in a state of sharing knowledge just for the sake of sharing knowledge. Don’t expect rewards for sharing what you know (though as I experienced I long run, embracing such state has immense professional benefits). Not everything in life is give and take.
3    3.  Lastly, find ways to democratize your knowledge. After all, the knowledge not shared is knowledge wasted.

If you would like to share your knowledge sharing experiences, I would like to hear and learn from you. Please do add your thoughts in comments.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

My Internal Talk to Emerging Leaders on the Topic of Leading Change

I am just sharing an internal talk that I gave to emerging leaders in my organization on the topic of Leading Change and fostering Innovation.
Just sharing the contents of my speech as below-

An Emerging Leader speaking to Talented Emerging Leaders: 
Standing in front of the talented set of people like all of you, one of the first thoughts that run into my mind is that almost all of us are emerging leaders for most part of our careers- probably at different stages of emergence. I would like to count myself as an emerging leader too.  My belief is that when we think that we have become accomplished leaders, we stop growing. I love sports- play a few of them and follow a lot of them. I can quote example from the world of Cricket.

When the Australian team was winning almost everything in the Cricket field from mid-90s through most of 2000s, their captain during the initial stages of its transformation Steve Waugh shared a secret of their success. I remember him once saying that internally the Australian team used to consider themselves as world no. 2 (though they were undisputed #1). This feel of them not being #1, even though artificial one but deeply internalized one, helped them get better even when they won. If they won by 10 runs, they did make sure to celebrate but more than that set themselves the goal to do win by a bigger margin in the next match. So this team remained emerging and constantly strived towards reaching great heights.

There is another opposing example, again from the world of sport. There was an England bowler named Monty Panesar, who was bowling in one of the Ashes tests. Commentating in the match and seeing Monty bowl, Australian legend Shane Warne said
“Is Monty bowling in his 33rd test or the 1st test for the 33rd time?”

Monty probably stopped growing and probably he started to think of himself as having been an accomplished bowler after getting a break into England playing 11 and didn't improve as much as the situation demanded.

Leander Paes won the Bronze medal for India in 1996 Olympics. The aspect that was unique about this achievement was that this was the first time in 44 unbelievable years that India won an individual Olympic medal. In this barren phase for India, athletes seemed to have lost self-belief.  There are a lot of stories that confirm that only participating in Olympics was a pinnacle of achievement as if winning a medal was a deal only for aliens.  After Paes won, it raised the self-belief of athletes and we have won in all the Olympics since then.

I fully embrace this thinking I shared so here's an emerging leader talking to a group of emerging 

Further to kind introduction HR gave, one thing I want to tell about myself is that inside office, I try to lean myself towards achieving expertise in the area of my choice- and outside of office, on a lighter note- I try to become the best "Jack-of-all trades". I do try to indulge myself in newer areas/hobbies as I believe this helps you learn a lot about life at a broader level and a lot more about self at a narrow level. Among the things that I have indulged myself in and that has surprisingly stayed with me consistently over the years is the hobby of Technology journalism. I do write on technology areas frequently and this indulgence, more than anything has made me a student of
various events that happen in our industry. And my intention is to decipher the events, finding meanings and relevant learnings that could be applied at the workplace.

I have been an apprentice about the subject of leading change. As much as I have thought in the past that I have mastered learning about the change, I have always fallen short as newer and unknown situations keep emerging. Having observed our industry quite closely for a considerable time, I can safely vouch that we live in a very dynamic industry in which no two days are the same. In this little talk, I would like my focus to be narrow.  And I would just try and focus on 3 core points-

Point#1. Anticipating change and adapting to it is a skill…
…and if we don't treat it as a skill we leave a gap open to become victims of change. And one of the things that I often tell myself and my team is that we should not let ourselves be labeled as victims. Being a victim is not one of the nicest and positive feelings at all. Our attitude should make us accountable to ourselves and own-up things.

A couple of years back, Facebook brought WhatApp for a whopping $21 billion dollars. There was a lot of analysis done on why Facebook would have spent so much for just an App. I mean one could buy multiple steel companies for that sum. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, it is easier to tell Facebook anticipated the disruption caused by Messaging apps much earlier before they even became a threat. They realized that amount of time average users were spending on WhatsApp was the time they were b spending on Facebook. Even though they haven’t possibly earned a dollar from WhatsApp in all these years, this acquisition helped them prevent cannibalization and stay relevant. Bottom line- they had mechanisms to anticipate these changes before they caused disruption.

John Chambers was a former CEO of Cisco who, after almost 2 eventful decades at top, finally hung his boots last year. In our career times, we have seen some legendary companies like Sun Microsystems, Compaq, Digital Equipment, McAfee, EMC etc. either merge with bigger companies or bite the dust altogether. What makes some companies and CEO like Chambers tick? Chambers wrote a piece in Harvard Business Review on his/Cisco’s longevity and associated the same with his ability to stay ahead of technology shifts. Did Chambers view the technology shifts and changes as a “threat”? He says-
“When you’re a large company with significant market share, it’s tempting to view market disruptions as a threat, but we view them as an opportunity. When a market isn’t in transition, gaining market share is hard—you’re fighting to take one or two points of share from competitors. That’s why we’re transforming our entire business, expanding to capture growth, and thinking very differently about the future of information technology.”

While describing how Chambers saw leading change as a skill, he considers listening to the customers are one of the key ways to gain insights about the trends. He further says-
"The best indication of when to make the jump frequently comes from our customers. That’s been true in nearly every market transition. Many years ago, before the market moved from routing to switching, I visited Ford Motor Company, a key customer. Executives there told me they were exploring a new networking technology called Fast Ethernet. I’d never heard of it before. A week later I called on some Boeing managers, and I asked them about Fast Ethernet. “Yeah, we think that might be the way to go,” they said. They told me about a company called Crescendo Communications that was making advances in that area. We ended up buying Crescendo to help us make this transition.

To generalize the view which Chambers and Zuckerberg’s actions presented, in my thinking, as a leaders we should keep our eyes and ears open and build systems that can help us sniff change and formulate the ways to connect the dots and make sense of what trends and happenings in our industry means to us, to our products, to our teams and to our careers.

If we just look at our work home, i feel Citrix as an organization is a great example of how the technology and market changes are anticipated and our response are planned. Citrix started in 1989 and has successfully weathered the storm created by many technology changes that has happened from the pre-Internet days of 1989 and today's times when we are doing all the work that we need to do on miniature devices. Not many companies, which started as long back as Citrix did, are still around and thriving as we are. We should be proud of this.

So summarizing my first point-
Anticipating change and adapting to it is a skill and if we don't treat it as a skill we leave a gap open to become victims of change.

Point#2: As much as we try, it's not possible to anticipate change every time
The second point that I present here is in a way contradicting with the point I just presented and it is that- As much as we try and want, it's not possible to anticipate and predict the change every time accurately. And when we cannot predict it, we should do the next best thing- respond to the situation like the best in the world.

Prior to joining Citrix, I was working at McAfee- which is a well-known company dealing with security software products. When I was there more than a decade back, its product and selling proposition used to be an anti-virus (AV) software. AV software, by definition, works on the premise of preventing the known threats. It creates a layer of security that prevents all the known threats from happening. Over the last decade, the security landscape has changed drastically as much as that it is no longer possible to predict all the threats from happening. The best thing that could be sometimes is the faster detection of vulnerabilities and swifter response to minimize the damage when the security is found to be compromised. Another security product vendor, FireEye- recently acquired a company called Mandiant which essentially deals with faster response after the security has been breached.

Taking a cue from this experience of mine and use this as analogy, it is not always possible to anticipate change as we don't live in predictable world anymore. In those situations, it's better for us to gear us up for a faster response. Sharing some more examples-
The companies that survived the aftermath of 9/11 attacks weren't experts in dealing with such situations. But they were the companies that were most responsive to change, they were the ones who were willing to work on the ground, they were the ones who changed their plans by every hour and do all that was need to get back on feet despite numerous odds. Southwest Airlines was one example which survived post 9/11 situation when most airlines just couldn't cope up with the gravity of the situation.

In the similar way, even the great economists couldn't predict the banking disaster of 2008 that lead to wide-spread recession. The companies that were most responsive to the change came our victorious during this time. I remember having been a part of Citrix in 2009 and one of the decisions we made then was to make our core platform product- XenServer free. Whether this move was successful or not is a debate for a different time, but the fact is that we didn't shy away from making a bold move. The intent here was to help our customers who were cash-strapped to try any new technology and pay for it, thereby helping us build a good footprint of the platform, which would have later helped us sell the management applications on top of it.

In 2000, The semiconductor chip manufacturing facility of Philips caught fire after a lightning strike created electrical surges across the state of New Mexico. They had automated sprinklers and a trained staff, as a result of which, the fire was put off in 10 minutes. At the first glance, the damaged seemed minimal. Semi-conductor industry has a concept called as "Clean Room" where silicon wafers are produced. Due to the requirements, this room is kept a thousand times cleaner than operating theaters in hospitals. Philips estimated around a week's delay in production as the water from sprinkler and the smoke itself had done some damage to Clean room.
Philips semiconductors had 2 major competitors as its customers at that time (who sourced the chips from Philips)- let’s say it- Company A and Company B for the time being. Company B, upon receiving the news about the fire and shipment delay; quickly checked its inventory. It determined that it had enough chips in stock to tide over the week's delay. Thus, they waited for the Philip's factory to be restored.
Company A, on the other hand, went into classic firefighting mode. It took some steps-
1. Setup a team to monitor the progress of the repairs to the factory. It figured out that the problem was bigger than was originally thoughts.
2. As a result of this knowledge, they went fast and contacted other supplier who could help them fill the void.
3. CEOs got engaged and Philips got into action to rearrange production in its factories in Asia.
4. It redesigned portions of the critical chip so that the chop could be manufactured in other plans.
By the time Company B woke up to this situation, it was too late and Company A took the lead. Company B, not surprisingly, incurred amounting to more than 100s of millions. Company B was Ericsson. Company A was Nokia.

Nokia rode on such thinking and agility to win more than 50% of market by 2007.
What happened after 2007 to Nokia is also widely known and written about. Though operationally, it had the best brains to take them past the fire-like situations with suppliers but strategically, it probably lacked the anticipation machinery that could help them assess the impact of disruption iPhone and Android were about to cause.
Another aspect in this case is that Nokia failed to part ways with Symbian OS when Android seem to be becoming a de-facto standard.
Instead of engaging in the futile exercise of predicting inflections, companies and individuals should develop capabilities that will allow them to deal with the inflections as and when they occur.

Point#3. During the early days of change, focus more on people who accept change fast than the ones who don’t
I have been quite inspired with former HCL CEO Vineet Nayar's book- Employees first Customers second and the management philosophy that he shares. During his tenure as a CEO, he brought about a massive change in HCL while keeping key focus on what he calls as true value zone for any knowledge based company True value he says, is not generated by the top management or middle management but it is the people who are closest to the product and the customers. In a way, the change he brought, turned the traditional management paradigms upside down.

As Vineet says, a change initiative can’t be termed as successful if affected people are not onboard. It
is generally not possible to have everyone onboard right from the day the change was introduced. When he first began to drive the changes in his organization, Vineer Nayar understood that not all people would come on board immediately and in fact there are three different groups of people depending largely on the way they embrace change-

Transformers: Transformers are the people who were just waiting for someone to initiate the change and they join the bandwagon almost immediately. They are the ones who are usually aware of shortcomings in the current environment but probably were not the influential enough to drive the change themselves earlier on. They are the people who not only embrace change but also are ready with suggestions, ideas and raise their hand to implement some to completion.

Lost Souls: They are the people who would never support any kind of change. They always have this negativity surrounding them and they somehow are never able to lift themselves from their hopeless state. They somehow believe that every new initiative is an eye wash from the management or the organization. Whenever the new idea is suggested they would simply go ahead and dismiss that not only in their minds but also knowingly and unknowingly try to spread their negativity by airing their views.

Fence sitters: These are the third bunch of people, who generally are reluctant to share their views, rarely would ask the questions and would rather play a wait and watch game. They may not openly criticize the change but won’t either embrace it with wholeheartedness. When asked their opinions, they are likely to say nice things rather than be upfront honest. They would closely watch "Transformers" and the "Lost Souls" and may even change their opinions in short time. In any change initiatives, such people are usually in the majority. They get easily influenced in either direction.
During my early years as a leader, while driving any change initiative I used to focus too much on getting a buy-in from the Lost Souls as a measure for success. As I learned from Vineet's experience here, I figured out the leader should focus more on Transformers at the start of change initiative and empower these set of people to show positive examples of adopting the change to the Fence sitters and Lost Souls and use Transformer's energy to help get buy-in from Fence sitters first.

In my experience, in any hierarchical organization, any mid-level leader plays the role of a leader to his/her team and at the same time- plays a role of a follower to his or her boss. Thus, we get to play the role of initiator and a leader of the change in some cases and in some, it is aptly following the change and ensuring the alignment of the teams. Both these situations requires different skills to get the buy-in from the team and from the management upwards and leaders should be willing to think of these differently.

Bonus point: Have a beginner's mindset
Years ago, the original product of Intel was D-RAM which is basically memory for computers and they had just started to invent the micro-processor. They had a real business problem, the Japanese were killing them in the D-RAM market, just destroying their market share.

So Andy Grove and Robert Noyce were at the office late one night and they were talking to each other.
·       Andy says to Robert: Wow we got a problem!
·       Robert says we sure do.
·       Andy asks- If Board says we would get the new guys to solve this problem, what would the new guys do.
·       Robert says Oh that’s easy, they will get us out of the D-RAM business.
So Andy Grove says, Yes why don't we do that before these other guys get in.

To me, Andy’s question about “what would new guys do” is quite profound because it reflects that Andy was more willing to be a beginner again. And to me that is what is needed the most when we drive the change efforts.
Most of the organizations fail to cannibalize the stuff at the right time.
As John Chambers also said-
"For Cisco, each transition required a decision about when to jump from selling a profitable product to a new technology—often one that would cannibalize our existing product line. These jumps were critical, though, if we wanted to stay ahead of the curve."

Even when we attempt to reinvent our careers, most of the people tend to focus a lot of learning new stuff but in reality the harder thing in any reinvention efforts is to unlearn what we already know that will not be needed in the future. As a leaders, we should help our teams unlearn stuff that’s hampering the growth to drive the positive change.

The Book “One Thing” narrates this story about Steve Jobs that reflects further on adopting beginner’s mindset.
"No one knew how to go small better than Steve Jobs. He was famously as proud of the products he didn't pursue as he was of the transformative products Apple created. In the two years after his return in 1999, he took the company from 350 products to ten. That's 340 nos, not counting anything else during that period. At the 1997 MacWorld Developers Conference, he explained, "When you think about focusing, you think, 'Well, focusing is saying "yes", No! Focusing is about saying no. Jobs was after extraordinary results and he knew there was only one way to get there. Jobs was a "no" man."

As a key learning, we should be ready to cannibalize something that's working for the sake of something better that you foresee coming.

Closing thoughts:

I will close the talk with the words of our CEO, Mark Templeton that he shared after one of our difficult change initiatives-
“Truth is people don't like change. And the older you get, the less you like it.
Change has to start here (pointing towards mind). You have to move mind before you move your bodies. Change is an intellectual process that you have to work to see it for what it is. It’s about staying relevant and not becoming a dinosaur.”

Thank you.

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