Judging people


I have a tendency to judge people or companies. They are all doing the best they can under the circumstances and we do not know all the circumstances to judge them. When a person acts in a particular way, he does it based on his beliefs. We take this action of the person and extrapolate from it, his beliefs. Can we generalise based on one action?

I need to remember that I do not like to be judged. Why should I not extend the same courtesy to others?

What does my balance sheet look like


In order to make oodles of money, I need to have something to sell that other people want and are willing to buy and pay. What I have are my assets.

I can have a physical asset (either god given, inherited, purchased or created by me) – this can include looks etc. as well as material assets, or mental assets (my ability to think, ideate etc) or interpersonal relationship assets. Sometimes it is a combination of all three.

Another aspect is the permanence of the asset and how many times it can be sold. For example, looks can be sold until I am old or a better product comes up, or people are bored, but real estate that I possess can be sold once only.

My experience is not an asset. It is an effort to create an asset. What did I achieve and the lessons learnt are the assets created, that would help a prospective buyer.

All assets need to be periodically maintained, cleaned up etc. Relationships are also assets and are evergreen, as long as I maintain them.

Another such asset is attitude. It is well known that people who look at the positive side of things are more successful in life. For example, a sales person who is realistic will not revisit a customer but an optimistic one will make one more effort. Situations change and sometimes he gets an order when logically he should not.

If I make a list of my assets, I suddenly realise that I am quite rich. All these assets are part of my balance sheet (read resume). Some assets are attractive to some buyers, others are not. My experience may not be attractive, but the lessons learnt may be.

The trick is to find out what the buyer wants.

Beliefs or frames of reference


If I have put my child to sleep and am relaxing in front of the TV with a glass of well deserved Laphroig in my hand, and he comes crawling out, I get pissed off. My belief is that I need to relax. The child’s belief is that he does not want to sleep. On the other hand, when my wife points out that this is the first time he has walked. She brings in another frame of reference. From that perspective, I am happy that my child came out of the bedroom. The same event, two different beliefs / frames of reference, two different emotions.

Our parents beliefs (read rules to live by) were our own, until we started creating our own beliefs (rules) and it then became a fight as to whose beliefs (rules and frames of reference) are more important. They tried to tell us why their beliefs were important, we did not want to believe them. So we ran away to college, with the hope that we can follow our own rules but no, we now had to follow the rules of our seniors, our colleagues and our professors. A bigger prison.
Then came placement. We believed that we knew what was required for a good placement. But for some reason, the recruiters do not seem to be following our beliefs. We do not know what are their beliefs. And so placement becomes very confusing.
Same event, two different beliefs / frames of reference, I don’t get placed, some one else does.
If I do not know the recruiter’s belief or the recruiter’s company’s beliefs, then how can I be certain of placement?
Selling. I, as a salesman, believe the TV’s features are its strong points. The customer believes that the more expensive, the better his ego is massaged. I am selling features, he just wants to know the price. No sale. Why?
I did not take time to know his beliefs / frame of reference.
Any sale, whether placement, promotion or product, requires us to know the customer’s frame of reference. Our frame of reference is immaterial in this world of sales.

Why are we here on earth and what is the purpose of our existence?


It is my belief that we are here to better mankind. To me, ‘better mankind’ means to leave people who come in contact with us better than when they met us.

Some of us are blessed with the means and the opportunity to improve a large section of mankind but the rest of us can only hope to improve our children. Each person has his sphere of influence and must strive to increase this sphere of influence. How do we do this?

The four ashrams that Indian philosophy refers to can be used as a framework.

Brahmacharya is about focussing on self, recognising our abilities and creating the skills that would help us to create the means and the opportunities to help others.

A career is defined as that path which allows us to best utilise our skills and strengths. We feel good about doing things that are in sync with our strengths and we enjoy what we do. This feeling good creates better products and services. When people see that we enjoy what we do, they are happy to pay us for our services because of its inherent quality. Even if it is not payment in monetary terms, they pay us in terms of contacts, relationships and references. This increases our opportunity to influence a larger set of people.

When we are looking for a job and if we do not know our strengths, then any job will do. It may take time before we find our true path and till then, we need to meet as many persons as we can and listen to them, so they we can find the right messages and the right guidance in terms of what could possibly be our path. The first job just sets us in the path of self-discovery.

This is the only phase in which we take more than we give.

Grihastha is about starting to give back. We first concentrate on our family by first creating it and then using our strengths to make then stronger, better, happier. Family does not just mean spouse and children (the future of relationships) but our parents, siblings and the extended family (the past relationships). The wealth that is being created is partially used to serve our past family, partially to serve the future family and the rest to provide for our future by investments in the future so that we have the means and the opportunities in the later stages of life. This means that we should not focussed on short term gains.

This is a phase in which the give and take is equal. Some of us, however, still remain in the Brahamcharya phase, because we are unwilling to move on or do not feel confident of our skills and strengths. We create wealth, and we do not know what to do with it, so we spend it on ourselves. We have the opportunity to influence our family, make them better than us, but we focus on ourselves. We spend more time on ourselves and our pleasure than our family (watching TV etc.).

Vanaprastha is about giving back to society, not just the family. By this time, we are senior enough in our organisations to be able to influence the course of the organisation, and a larger set of people. We provide for (creating jobs) and help others find their path (career counselling and mentoring). This phase has little take and more give. The investments made during the Grihastha stage now bear fruit.

Since Vanaprastha is focussing on others rather that our family, we have to let go of our family. This means that they are free to do what they want. This also means that our children have to fend for themselves. If we have guided them well, they shall do well. They need to fall and learn how to fall, they need to find their own destiny. Some of us are unwilling to let go of our children and endeavour to choose their paths for them.

Sanyaas is about focussing on the Universal mankind. The universe of the kingdom of God and it is said that the kingdom of God is within us. Therefore Sanyaas is a time for introspection and to determine how we could have done things better. This knowledge of how things can be done better is provided to others (orally or in writing) so that they have the benefit of our experience. Sanyaas is about taking people who are in the Brahmacharya stage and providing them guidance when necessary.

This phase is all about giving. It is not necessary that people take your advice. People need to make their own minds and their destiny and their path is their own. People ask for advice and we have a tendency to guide (sometimes force) people on a certain path that we believe is right for them. We do not know enough of people and their destiny to make decisions for them. Our job is to open their eyes to choices but the choice remains theirs.

In this way, we fulfil our destiny.

Why am I being passed over?


I burned the midnight oil, I helped my colleagues finish their work in time, I fetched and carried for my boss, I made his presentations, his spreadsheets, his reports but my colleague got promoted.

I thought I was indispensable. My colleague did not work as hard as me, and in my opinion he was an ass-licker of the first order. Just because he had the gift of the gab, had better polish, came from, arguably, a better institute and was an apple polisher, he got the promotion.

What happened? What was the problem? Do I need to be a flatterer as well? Was the culture of the organisation incompatible? Is there something wrong in me! Do I need to change myself? I did a lot of agonizing and came to some conclusions.

As I look back on my life I realize that life is unfair. Sometimes I have the luck and the advantage, sometimes some one else does. Sometimes I get what I want, sometimes I don’t. So I need to shrug my shoulders and move on else I will be stuck in that time warp.

Does it mean I should get kicked on every time? I don’t think so. I think I need to learn my lesson and ensure that the next time this does not happen. I need to control what I can control.

What can I control? I can control my response to this adversity. Easier said than done, when the unfairness is hurting and I want to lash back and kill my colleague and my boss in no particular order. However, the realisation that I can control something is the first step towards control but I know the road is long and hard.

While I figure out my long term plan towards self control, what are the lessons learnt from being passed over?

I need to handle my boss. With this particular incident, I need to understand what it was that I did right, and what was it that I did wrong, in his eyes. Even if I do not agree to his (il)logic, I should seek to understand how his mind functions. This will help me modify and/or advertise the appropriate behavior. Would that be ethical? Does it sound manipulative? Ethics is easy. If I think it is unethical, I should desist. Manipulation – that is easy too, for me. If I get my objective, I think it is justified. At the end of it, he will know your mind and be careful.

Should I undercut my erstwhile colleague? If I now report to him, too bad. It is a long and arduous battle to prove his incompetence. Maybe it is better to have a long chat with him, speak your mind and ask him the way forward. Maybe not. He might not take it the right way. Maybe when the time is right. In all, the best strategy is to make him to realise my worth, say over the next 3 months, and at the same time prepare plan B – another boss in the same or different organisation.

Although the appraisal process talks about my KRA and the resultant KPIs, they are company oriented. I need a separate set of KRA and KPI with my boss. I need to know my boss’s expectations and his measures of evaluating performance. If it is subjective, so be it. It is his yardstick and I cannot change that.

Should I talk to HR? If I feel strongly, I should register a protest. Bit typically hr is busy with process and if not handled sensitively, this can backfire.

Should I be negative and show my disapproval in obvious ways. It will make me feel good. It may make the other persons feel bad. The end result would be a spiral of negativity when they will lash back and the whole relationship will go downhill. Ultimately everyone, including the organisation suffers.

am I doing the right thing?

Rome was built on the last day


The subject is a common project management adage. It means that things get done at the last minute, even if there was enough time to plan well.

It is human nature to prioritise things on the basis of the pleasure principle – personal gratification and ease of use, or the pain principle, that is avoidance of discomfort.

Each day, there is some crisis that throws intentions into disarray. I use the word intentions deliberately, since ‘intentions’ are not actions. ‘Want’ does not lead to action. Motivation comes in between.

Motivation to do things come because of 2 reasons. The obvious one is the stick-carrot or risk-reward. Enough has been written in management literature about it. The other reason is probability of success. The two are multiplicative. Whatever be the size of the carrot or stick, if the chances of success is low, things won’t happen. Similarly, if it is easy to do but the reward is not great, it won’t happen.

A word about reward. It is in the eye of the beholder. It is very difficult to fathom what motivates another unless I know the person. What I consider as gratifying may not be important at all to my colleague. Which is why most HR policies can only be at best, hygiene factors. Motivators is the job of the immediate manager.

I have meandered a bit. The aim of this blogcast was to point out that, as it is, we are not motivated enough, and on top of that, if we have to do things on a consistent and regular basis, it requires a sustained stamina for what seems like a marathon, with no end in sight nor any instant gratification. Hence, Rome is built on the last possible day.

Activities like exercise, building skills, reading a book cannot be done on the last day. But we postpone starting these things or are at best do it intermittently. How do we motivate ourselves so that we do not wake up one day to see a muffin-waist, or need to finish a lot of books before the exam?

We can’t. All of us are different. If we are in the military, such activities are regimented and forced on us because they are the raison d’etre for the army. If we are civilians, with a choice, most of us will fall on the wayside, so to speak.

I do not mean to say it is futile to attempt to regularise our life. Our moms have got up every day for all our life to provide food to the family. She did not do ‘last day Rome’ by cooking food for the month on one day. She did not look at motivation theories or excuses thereof. She did it every day out of a sense of duty or love. Maybe she had no choice, or she considered the alternative, or she got tuned to that way of life. She is a true professional and mostly taken for granted.

If we need motivation or inspiration, we do not need to go far. Look at our mothers, and be inspired by her, to keep plugging away and be a true professional. Rome will be built day by day, brick by brick.



Long time ago, I read a series of novels by Peter O’Donnell which had a team, Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin, that ran a crime network and then retired. This was the time of the Cold War and getting into the Iron Countries was next to impossible, and you were monitored constantly by the secret police of that country. The two protagonists used to pose as buyers of second hand books and visit all these countries regularly, each year, just to create an innocuous profile and allay the fears of the secret police, in case they needed to criminally operate in the country some time later.

They did this boring and tedious thing, for no short term gain, because they were consummate professionals and the payoff could be huge in the long run.
Although a bad example of professionalism, it underlined the concept very well to me.
A google search yielded the following result: http://www.tipsforsuccess.org/professionalism.htm
I am not advocating an intensity that borders in the fanatical. However, I am suggesting that we should understand what our profession is about, and what determines professional success and train ourselves to acquire the traits, skills and mind set necessary. After all, we will be paid for our professionalism and it behooves us to provide the best value for money. It makes self-marketing sense.
Management skills are of 4 types:
  1. Conceptual Skills: Mental ability to analyse and diagnose complex problems
  2. Interpersonal skills: Ability to work with, understand and motivate people, both individually and in groups
  3. Technical Skills: Ability to apply specialised knowledge and skills
  4. Political Skills: Ability to enhance one’s positions and build a power base

It is imperative that we understand, given our goals, what skills are required to do a professional job, based on the above classification. We need to analyse if we possess these at an adequate level and if not, create a plan for learning about these skills and then practicing them till we have the right level of expertise.

A portion of time in an MBA college needs to be set aside each day towards identifying and subsequently honing these skills. We cannot read a book and be a professional unless we practice it till it is second nature.

A part of this pertains to professional conduct. Although an organisational culture plays a large part in defining condonable conduct, a large portion can and should be learnt early on. The ability to meet deadlines, a sense of urgency, behaving appropriately and ethically are skills and qualities that need to be learnt, specially if a lot of unlearning is required. What better place to start than a campus which allows this experimentation, without the risk of getting fired?

Why is sales so distasteful?


When I talk to MBA students about sales as a career, a distasteful look fleets across their faces. I sympathise. The image of a sales person conning you into buying something you do not need comes to mind. I did hardcore sales for 2 years and then decided never to do it again. Lo and behold, for the last 10 odd years I have been spending an increasing proportion of my time selling. As I grow more senior in an organisation, I am selling my organisation’s products to customers, the organisation’s prospects to shareholders and the organisation’s values to current and prospective employees.

The reason selling seems distasteful is probably because I am dependent on the ‘buyer’ to make a decision and therefore I am in his power. Maybe this hurts my ego. Another reason could be that there is no set formula for success and we need to make a new effort and come up with a new tactic for each sale. This means we need to understand and adapt to each situation as it comes. There is no predictability and so a perceived loss of control.

Is convincing people not selling? Am I not spending my day in and outside office convincing and being convinced. How can I escape selling?

So let us get real. We sell all our life and sales is unpredictable. There is statistically a 50 percent chance of success or failure. If our success rate more that 50%, we are ahead of the curve.

Although there is no formula, I have adapted the old Xerox methodology for selling. This was called the SPANCO method.

  • Suspect – list of all potential customers that I need to convince
  • Prospect – a short list of qualified suspects
  • Approach – what tactics do i adopt for each customer
  • Negotiate – Come to terms, monetary and otherwise
  • Close – get a letter of intent or be the only one in the running
  • Order – get the money or a contract

In order to sell anything, including myself for a job, I can follow this method.

  1. S: I make a list of all potential companies that I can apply to.
  2. P: I create a set of criteria to short list the targets. This can be based on location, salary, other perks, culture, learning potential, availability of jobs, seniors’ feedback, competition with other job seekers, company financials, company potential etc. I give weight to each of these criteria in order of importance. I then do my research and give points for each criteria (simple one is: 1 for favourable, 0 for no information, -1 for unfavourable). I then perform a weighted average calculation for each suspect and come up with a short list of companies.
  3. A: For each company, I find out who to contact, what is the job, how to meet the person, what makes that person tick (what is in it for him), why will they take me, where and when should I meet the person, in essence the who/ what/ where/ why/ when/ how of each prospect. I need to have a 3-line pitch ready. This is when I customise my resume based on the requirement (equivalent to a proposal).
  4. I do the homework and then I approach the company. Once I have reached a decision maker I make my short pitch and get him to engage so that there is a follow up action. I cannot get a sale done in one meeting and this this stage takes time, with different meetings, different deliverables and maybe different approaches.
  5. N: Once the prospect is convinced about the product (me), he needs to get the company to shell out money (salary). So a negotiation starts with maybe the purchase department (HR in this case). This is the time when I need to evaluate the relative merits and demerits of the competition, so I need to know who is the competition and I project myself as the ideal product for the job in the most cost effective way.
  6. C: This stage is when I am the only candidate in the running and the numbers have been negotiated. This is where I am waiting for an appointment letter. Many times, specially like now, these letters can be withdrawn or a renegotiation can happen.
  7. O: This is when I have actually joined or I have a proper contract with the company, the PF has been set up and I am a bona fide employee.

How to read a book (and make notes) effectively


One of the problems we face is of information overload. We read books, handouts, newspapers, magazines and Internet articles and are expected to have instant recall of the right information at the right time.

How do we typically read?
We take a book, sit or lie, (maybe with the TV or the radio or the music system on) and read it from cover to cover. If there is less time (like the night before the exam), we read faster. Our minds wander off and we rudely pull ourselves back from that seductive wonderland, cursing the exam or the deadlines. We get irritated, do not brook any disturbance and feel a sense of achievement when we have finished the book. We remember something about it the next day but within a week, it is gone.
If we are more active, we sit upright and we highlight sections of a book. This gives better focus as our hands are busy, and at the end of it we have a fluorescent, highlighted / underlined book. But when we need the information and we read the highlighted paragraphs, do we know what we highlighted and why? We also realise that we have highlighted 50 % of the book. Do we know which book to refer? And if it was a library book?
If we are even more active, we make notes. Start from the first page and assiduously copy salient paragraphs. Better than highlighting as we are actively writing and therefore cannot daydream. Since we are copying, we are reading a paragraph twice or thrice and slowly. If time is short, we make notes faster (illegibly). Sometime we are in-the-zone and we make notes of the book without even knowing what we are writing. Reminds me of lectures – same process – at the end of the lecture, lots of notes but no remembrance of the lecture.
When I read my notes (if I can decipher my handwriting) I have no clue what it was about.
Ah yes, the internet! How can I forget the proliferation of e-books and search engines. So now I can search for anything I want, whenever I want. Does it help? When was the last time we were able to get stuff that was relevant? And if I am in an interview, do I say, “Hang on guys, while I get the answer from my mobile phone!”
Why can’t we really read?
We need to participate actively in the reading process (as opposed to passively be awash with information), analyse and categorise the data in real time such that the information makes sense and we are focussed enough to retain this information in our mind, actively looking for cross references, coincidences, linkages so that the concept stick.

We need to have a some sort of Knowledge Management System (hey! stop groaning) that allows us to keep the information in a readable, recallable format such that if we look at our notes, we can grasp the concept in its entirety, recall the salient features and delve deeper due to the references and cross references.

Sounds like an awful lot of work! Might as well just read and hope for the best. But think about the following plausible scenario:

Placements are round the corner and the chaps coming for an interview are jaded lot who just came from a set of colleges like ours, who want to go home and who need a reason to flunk us. So they ask the first candidate (poor him), a question about the latest fad, say, ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ and our colleague’s mind freezes. Man, he had just read that book and now he doesn’t remember a thing!
When he comes out, all of us crowd around him and in a daze he tells us about the interview. All of us power up our laptops and Google for ‘Blue Ocean’. Of course, this question is not asked again in the interview, but something similar and equally arcane is.

In my 20 years of experience I must have read an average of 1 non-technical book (not to mention manuals and other stuff pertaining to the job) a month, which comes to 240 odd books (actually a lot more) but for the life of me, I don’t remember most of it. That was a colossal waste of time and money.
Bottom line, if I cannot recall what I read, there is no purpose in reading.
What creates good recall?
  1. Remember doodling in class? Very enjoyable, and sometimes, part of your notes are inside that doodle. How can I make doodling a part of notes-taking? Remember the game of remembering 10 objects in a tray? If you used the ‘a-b-c-d’ concept of linked association, you could remember it. Most good mnemonics are humourous in nature.
  2. If I take one concept at a time, or one paragraph at a time and, in real time, categorise this topic and put it in conjunction with other topics, I would have made a better imprint in my mind. Add to this some colour, some squiggles, some cartoons and some highlighting, then I am interested in and looking forward to what the lecturer is going to say (of the book is talking about) so that I can make more squiggles and create something Picasso-ish (or maybe Pollock-ish).
  3. If I repeat, I remember.
  4. If my memory is refreshed, I will recall faster.
  5. I don’t need to remember every line, unless it is a drama script. If I remove everything but keywords, an article/chapter can become quite small.
  6. If I have a top level map of where I am and where I need to be, I remember the roads quite well. So a map of a book shows me how things are linked and helps me remember

If I can use sight, sound and other senses, I can recall better. My daughter creates a rap song for her history lessons, throws in some guitar chords and she remembers it all!!!

Is there a methodology to make notes in such a way that it is easy to recall?

Can this be used to take down lectures and notes from books?

I use something called mind maps . A mind map of this URL is shown here.

Freemind and XMind are pretty good Open Source software, which you can install and use to make notes. It can also be used for brainstorming, outlining a project, a project report and I even use it for presentations.

I have, at the end, included a mind map of this article. You will notice that there are more things in it, and it summarises the article quite well.

But before you jump into mind maps, there are a few things to keep in mind. If you just create a mind map of a book, it is like taking a short cut, and purposeless.

Some tips on how to read a book

    1. Approach the book outside in. This is not ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (you know, “begin at the beginning…”). Look at the cover, back cover, about the author, and read the table of contents. Close it and try to recall the table. This starts creating a map in your mind about the book and the overall territory. Read the TOC again. Think about what is different about this book. Why did this book get written (and no facetious remark, please, about making money etc.)


  • Understand why you want to read the book. What is it that you want from it? Is it just the concepts? Or is it to prepare for an exam? What type of exam is it? Therefore what do you need to extract from the book.



  • Get an idea of the time it will take to read the book. If you do not have enough time, what are your priorities? Do you need to read every line, every chapter? So what happens if you do not read this book?


All the above should take you 15 minutes maximum.

Now start with the first chapter (or the chapter you need to study)

    1. Take a guess about the chapter. Read the section headings. Look at all the diagrams. Skim very fast, without stopping.


  • Now read the first line of each paragraph



  • This is the time when you are going to do your first recall. Create a preliminary mind map.


This should take you another 15 minutes. Later this will improve to 5 minutes.

    1. Now read the details of the chapter, which are necessary and fill out your mind map.


  • If you have to remember stuff, create funny mnemonics.



  • Time taken for this depends on length of the chapter, the complexity and the amount of work needed.


Take a break. Reward yourself. Then go to the next chapter and do the same thing.

Link up all the chapters in the mind map. One advantage of this is that if you leave the book half way and come back to it, just by looking at the mind maps, you will retain the continuity.

If you can get together in a group and every one does a book and gives a presentation, you can all cover a lot of books. Share the maps.

What about those lectures?

Create a mind map during the lecture in your notebook. Do not use your laptop. Use color pencils, doodles (and save the desks).

Listen to what the instructor is saying, and THEN put the keywords down. This is important. If you don’t understand, you cannot write it down. Ask for a clarification. If we just blindly make notes, might as well bring a Dictaphone to class. Don’t worry that your mind map is a mess.

In the evening, recreate the mind map on your laptop. This is your first revision. Add in more details from the internet or the book. See if you can cross reference with other lectures or book reviews.

Revisit the map before the next class or while waiting for the instructor. This should hardly take you one minute and you will know what happened last time. If there is a spot quiz, you are ready!!

Scan the map periodically or before a test / interview.


Mind maps of this article


The above is a collapsed mind map. Here is a detailed one. Please download and view