Raj's Lab

Strategy and Entrepreneurship


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Vedantic Wednesday: Attachment, the formidable foe

While Vedanta proclaims that attachments stop us from evolution andgirl-hugs-bear attaining state of god hood, attachments impact us significantly even in our worldly pursuits. Like a toy car that has to be pulled back and released to move forward, we need to move back, let go to scale greater heights.

A lot of companies spend time and money in generating products and ideas. Apart from the resources spent, a lot of executive time and emotional energy is also invested. Even when the product displays little chances of success the company is not willing to let go. It holds on under the pretext of salvaging sunk cost. But what is it that is making them hold on to a non-revenue generating asset? What is making them stick to decisions that are so obviously wrong? Isn’t it an underlying emotional attachment – to the product, to their earlier decision, to their own image?

Attachment also comes in the way of individual achievements. Very often under the guise of commitment and attachment we do not take steps required for us to move towards our set goals.  But the constant thought of the missed achievement creates an underlying feeling of compromised living. For the choice we have made is not based on our intellectual assessment of our situation, priorities and goals. It is a choice taken in an emotional state – born out of a misplaced sense of attachment.  And because it is not a well thought decision, it haunts us and makes us feel incomplete, frustrated, suffocated and chained.

This is also the reason why you find entrepreneurs starting off by taking large risks but very quickly settling down with reduced entrepreneurial spirit to safeguard their worldly success. Only those who are willing to risk all that they have created in the past, scale greater heights.

In simpler terms attachment is the sense of safety of the past. We feel attached to what we have seen, what we have, what we have gained and what we have achieved. When we get too attached, we fail to see the possibilities that exist in front of us for the fear of losing the objects of our attachment.

Even if we don’t  go all the way in understanding attachment from the view point of Vedanta, lets us take a small step to understand the way it affects us at the worldly level!


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Planning helps more than plans

Though this seems cliche’d in hindsight, it is very different as a practice. Most entrepreneurs I meet, especially the smallPlanning business CEOs detest planning. Anything abstract such as strategy, vision, planning, etc is seen as a waste of resources. They seem to know what they want! They seem to know where it is available! They seem to know how to get it! However for some inexplicable reason it always seems to elude them! So I asked why? And behold they had answers to that as well – execution, market conditions, industry forces, timing, lack of talent, lack of capital, etc

Do you see a pattern in this? All of these people are smart and intelligent. This made them see opportunities that most others didn’t. This led them to start enterprises. But soon after they got off the ground, they seemed to have stopped doing something right. What could be done  by them in their mind and executed almost individually earlier, now requires a lot more people. And very often most of these people can’t see what these entrepreneurs are seeing. But the entrepreneur fails to see this. He / She wants people to see what they are seeing – it fails!  And people around them get frustrated and disillusioned. The typical reason being they are not able to read and get what is in the mind on the entrepreneur – neither the dream nor his expectations from them. Most often this gap is mitigated if planning as a function is used.

Planning as an activity helps the core group around the entrepreneur see the vision of the entrepreneur. This group works to present their ideas on how this vision can be turned into reality. The approach and set of choices is then turned into plans. By the time the plans are turned into action items for the various members and their teams, most of them know their role in making this vision become reality. They know their contribution. This gets them charged up as individuals and enables them in turn to charge up their teams. They take ownership for what they wanted to contribute.Because as Peter Drucker says, contribution is freedom and this freedom to make it happen comes with a responsibility, but when it is by choice, it is ownership, else it is seen as a burden.

So the next time you as a CEO want to skip the planning session and directly define the goals for the company and how they are going to be achieved – think twice!


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On Leadership: Go for the Moon

I had the opportunity to interact with some students last week. The conversation post class got onto goal settings. A youngstar one remarked as his argument towards setting high goals ‘One should aim for the stars; you may not get them but you will atleast not come down with handful of sand’ An often heard statement so I was least prepared when I heard a vociferous counter to this. Another student vehemently said this statement was one that reflected a very sub average goal setting mindset.

Surprised we listened on as he explained:  ‘The statement is asking you to reach out for some stars from the millions available. So once you manage to stretch your hand; your options are actually limitless; but the goal statement limits it to just a handful. Also the second half of the statement makes it look like you have already built in a certain acceptable level for failure. The reason for setting this goal does not seem to be to encourage the doer to grab the stars – but to tell him it is okay if he fail!!’ In a normal situation I would have dismissed this as a typical cynical reaction by a Gen-Y to something that is so established. But on my way back to office; I could not help being bothered by this. Do we have leadership lessons here?

How do we set our goals? Whenever we start something new, what is our approach? Does it define success and achievement in Boolean or does it allow a permissible error? How often do we make statements similar to ‘Let us attempt for 120 so at least we will achieve 100’..Very often our goals have certain negotiable factor to success. Then is this the right way? When you set goals like this could you be countering your own intent?

Instead of aiming for just a handful of stars from the millions that are available – should we not aim for the singular Moon? Then like the archer who is focused not on the parrot as a whole but its ‘eye’ – all our efforts would then be on the single success criteria. In today’s highly competitive environment apart from redefining our outlook; we may even need to reframe the existing sayings and quotes to be more aligned to our current context!

How we set our goals for ourselves and our team, how we communicate them and how we lead to achieve these are important. As leaders it is important that are thoughts, actions and attitude align themselves without any margin of mis-interpretation or error. Tough task – but who said being a leader is easy?


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On Entrepreneurship: What Is Your Startup’s Singular Goal?

Every startup is created with a specific goal which often gets buried pretty soon into the venture’s operation.Soca nördlich von Kobarid

The goal to do that one thing that its founders want to do, which is of value to both the receiver (customer) and giver (firm). With regards to this there is one key consideration: Will the entrepreneur / founding team enjoy doing it consistently and sustainably over time?

While an emphatic ‘Yes’ should lead one to check the viability of enterprise from other angles, even a slightly doubtful ‘Yes’ should make the team stop and take stock.  Otherwise even if the venture is economically viable, it is going to make the journey extremely stressful.

Very often we overlook in our excitement the difference between our interest and creation of a venture around our interest. The difference between the two is as stark as love for singing and founding of a Music school.   And many entrepreneurs have lost steam midway because they failed to realise in the beginning that running a Music School  is very different from singing.

Hence when we were researching on the concept of Idea to Opportunity Maps – we brought in the entrepreneur’s perspective.  Because creating a venture around your passion may really not quench your thirst.  It will give you many other thrills but you may not be seeking them. Unless your aspirations as an individual can be satisfied by the goal of your startup, you may not have a good enough case to begin with!


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Lofty Resolutions And The Smaller Resolve!

Its another first day of another new year. Time for a fresh set of resolutions and goal setting. While setting goals that too800px-Mountaineers_in_High_Tatry_mountains_winter ambitious ones are important, what makes the real difference are the concrete steps that one takes towards them.

More important than having a list of lofty goals on the first day of the new year, is the small step that we take towards them. The best goal is one where the destination gets defined along with the determination that everyday we will take one step towards achieving it. No mountain was climbed through inconsistent leaps. They were all scaled by taking consistent steps throughout the climb. This resolve to keep moving forward each day is what makes a resolution of ours a reality. The resolve to plough through with a little action every day, towards the pre-set goal is the proven way to realizing results.

So here’s wishing all of you a great 2013 filled with lofty resolutions and the smaller resolve to act on them everyday!


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You don’t need a purpose to live!

This is a continuation of what started as a talk on Saturday evening, went online as a blog ( http://rajshankar.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/when-should-an-entrepreneur-think-of-purpose/ ) on Sunday and led me through a day of extremely spirited discussions for & against on Monday. While some agree that purpose can make a difference to the startup, many have questioned its authenticity. They feel its just a flashy statement created to look interesting in front of the customer. Its contribution to the firm’s evolution, growth and sustenance has been questioned strongly. Voices are stating that one does not need a purpose to live.

I AGREE COMPLETELY! You don’t need a purpose to live life! Why do you?

You need it only if you intend to give meaning to your everyday actions!

You need it only if you intend to have at least one man / one woman (not family) miss you!

You need it only if you want to live a life of service!

You need it only if you want to derive joy in enabling another live better!

You need it only if you want to be self-driven!

You need it only if you want to sustain your passion & energy!

And many more… BUT why do you need a purpose to live? To live like any other plant, animal and so many human beings who live their lives in a pre-programmed way – you don’t need a purpose. You only need it if you want to wake up every morning to get back to what you love doing irrespective of the outcome. You need it if you want to thrive not survive! You need it if you want to give not take!

So don’t worry about not having a purpose – if all you want to do is just live! AND the same holds true for firms too!


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Vedantic Wednesday: Discipline and Growth

What strikes you when you look at most business owners / entrepreneurs – especially the aspiring ones, the first gen and the youth? The first thing that would strike you is the immense impatience to grow. The energy and zest is almost infectious. On a closer look you may find similarities between them and a person trying to Sprint in a Marathon!

In most organizations – words like delivery, speed, productivity, turn-around, more orders, more work and more… all seem to refer to various aspects and attributes of growth. However on the contrary – process, routine, checklists, tollgates, SOPs are all seen as deterrents to speed – and hence anti-growth.  In the rush to grow – the ingredients required to sustain that growth is often forgotten.

This is what came to my mind as I was reading through some reference on Upanishads. It is said that once a group of six boys in their eagerness to realize the supreme knowledge  – went to a venerable sage asking him to initiate them into the higher echelons of truth, knowledge and realization. The wise sage smiled and told them, to first discipline themselves with simple acts and to demonstrate sustenance in the practice of that discipline. After many years of having mastered the discipline of living the life of an ascetic, was when the six boys were allowed to raise questions on various topics. The sage then patiently answered them and these answers are what is presented in the Prasna Upanishad. It was the rigor of the discipline that prepared the boys to scale their understanding thereby grow manifold in knowledge.

Unfortunately in many instance of entrepreneurial journey, any form of disciplining process is considered to slow down the progress. This is also not the place where most attention of senior leadership is directed. The attention is more on the outcome and not on the sustainability or consistency. The thrust is on one-time results, while expectations are always on repeat performance.

This leads to dilution in effort of arriving at any framework that can assure performance and consistency.  This is because while progress is viewed as interesting – preparing for progress is not.

Organizations who opt for such shortsightedness, resemble a group of actors – who are keen on acting but forget to prepare the stage!!

It is important for organizations to first discipline themselves especially during periods of growth. Sacrificing discipline at the altar of progress is not only short-lived but often detrimental. It is only through practice of discipline that the organization can actually be ready to sustain and hasten their progress. It is only through conscious organizational disciplining that one prepares for the next leap.

Look at it! Even learned ones when they want to go further into the higher levels of learning and realization have to exhibit high levels of discipline at their current stage. This discipline of mind and body is both a test and a necessity for taking on the next step in the path of self-realization. It is also then important to know acts that need to be disciplined are different at different stages.

It is very important for entrepreneurs to think and know that without preparation, progress is not possible! Yes, there may be exceptions, but they may also not last long. Because, there are some laws of nature that cannot be won against!

Happy Thinking!

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