Every year 5th September is celebrated as Teachers day in India. We were preparing a custom greeting card for our little one
(to share with her teacher) to demonstrate a good gesture. Around the same time my mind started thinking about teachers, coaching and positive impact it creates individuals. The process of coaching doesn’t end after we pass out from school/college; in fact one requires coaching from a different dimension afterwards. I have been coached by many exceptional individuals for whom I will remain eternally thankful. There are numerous occasions when I was clueless, done mistakes or even frustrated. These set of mentors/coaches were always available to me to help and support all the time. I tried to look back and try to understand what exactly these individuals have done to me? After all what exactly is the crux of coaching?
I would like to take my recent example of coaching from long distance running experience and try to find answer for my previous question. When individuals are getting trained for long distances, it is highly likely possible those individuals face difficulties to keep up with running long distances. The issue can be due to physical fatigue, injury, mental blockers, and inferiority thinking which eventually leads to lesser self confidence in the person. In such situations individuals end up running last or walk or even think of quitting the run. Understanding this state quickly, I have seen the coach end up running along with this slowest running person in the group.
Now what is the powerful and indirect message that coach is conveying? Primarily the slowest runner gets a mental support that he is not alone and running slowly is not a big issue. By getting an encouraging word or two during such situations (“Good job, you are getting better”) from the coach instills confidence and re-assurance. This creates a huge transformation on the person, who is getting coached, which will help them to get out of the issue (mentioned above) quickly, even though it might fall under any of the category.
Connecting back, this is exactly what they have done to me time-and-again. In challenging situations these mentors ensured that they kept faith and confidence, which meant a lot to me during such situations. With this support it was quite natural for me to figure out action and come out of difficulties.
In my opinion, having faith in individuals and installing confidence during difficult times summarizes the crux of coaching. For the person is receiving end it is a humbling experience.
Recently I was in conversation with one (relatively younger) colleague (say named A), who is at peak of his career. He is been handling plum assignments, Work activities matching to his strengths, Strong backup from senior leadership for his assignments, Very high visibility with customers – a great combination anybody can ask for. Definitely his hardworking ability and capability matched with this opportunity which has made him a star performer over years. Everybody (including myself) have seen such phase of career, during which individuals demonstrate lot of confidence, positivism and energy. However during the conversation, I found A slowly crossing limit and started behaving in a arrogant manner. He quickly gets into ‘godfather’ mode and start providing unsolicited advice as if he knows everything under the earth. Frankly I didn’t expect this from him. As a higher performing individual, I always thought he is a mature individual, who still has a long way to go in his career. Success (that too when it comes in abundance), starting affecting his behavior now. By looking more closely, he always been an individual contributor working on plum assignments with heavy duty back-up. Any change/issue, he is given necessary power to get it escalated because of which he always got his things done in his own way.
Similarly, some years back I have seen another individual who was in pinnacle of his career (say named B). You name any award he already got it. In fact there were some special award categories were created in order to acknowledge his contributions and results. This individual has organically grown his group from the scratch, because of which he enjoyed enormous amount of ‘organizational currency’ in terms of higher reputation with customers, better command over customer dynamics, deeper understanding of people etc. Faced by same behavioral he ended up rubbing shoulders against individuals, picked up fight with peers and demonstrated as if there is no tomorrow. However due to certain business situation, organizational structure got changed and he was rotated into a different role where he was put into a total new situation in a new business with new team.
As B always grown things organically, it was like ‘fish-out-of-water’ feeling to take up something in between and struggled to gain grounds. As his behavioral issues (like arrogance) has multiplied over years it became impossible for him to adapt to the new situation and demonstrate leadership. Slowly-and-steadily he lost his credibility and became ineffective in the organization. Another job rotation followed, which has made B’s life even miserable. Even today it is very hard for B to come in terms current situation (caused because of multiple changes). Since he has not faced the situation in the past, one small change has literally blown away his career. I am now wondering if the similar situation comes for A, how will he come out? What if he is asked to lead a set of people whom don’t know at all? How well he will be able to manage change? How effectively will he be able to keep his ego under check? How well he will adapt to new situation and perform? How effectively he will be able to handle ‘out-of-limelight’ situation for which he has not used to?
Often there is very thin line between confidence and arrogance, which makes whole lot of difference. Unless individuals are able to manage it well, individuals and their career soon becomes history.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. This seems to be truer in case of Airtel.
I have been Airtel’s loyal customer more than a decade now, ever since I took my mobile phone connection. Few years later I have taken broadband + telephone connection as well. In both cases their customer service was really good, always used to have great experience in every other interaction of support. For example they have surprised me even during a normal phone call, which I wrote in post titled ‘A great customer experience’. However over the years their service quality is consistently taking toll. During 2011, I again wrote a post titled Irate customer – A lost opportunity, where I called out painful experience I had with Airtel, while resolving some issues related to Jwritings domain. Over the past two years their service level even gone down, which I heard from many of my friends who have Airtel connections.
My recent experience was awful when I visited them to get my mobile rate plan changed. Even after spending 30 face-to-face minutes with customer service representative he couldn’t even locate which rate plan I am currently using. My objective was to convert my plan into a corporate plan, so that I can bring down my monthly rental as the corporate plan seem to offer more benefits in terms of free minutes. The issue hit the roof when I asked him about my current data plan, when the customer service representative enlightened saying “Sir, till 2 GB data limit, you can download anything from the Internet. However after that limit you can only browse the Internet”. This guy doesn’t know the difference between browsing and downloading from the Internet. I thought I will forget my computer science fundamentals if I continue to stay in their showroom.
Definitely Indian service providers are under tremendous cost pressure due to various issues (Regulatory issues, scandals, ARPU challenges and maintaining healthy top- line etc.) in telecommunication sector. In order to meet these challenges, Airtel looks like subcontracting customer facing services to third party providers who are ruining customer relationships.
[I wrote this article to share with my folks in Runners High community (referred as RH in the article below). Some names might look little unfamiliar for general readers. I will continue to write about long distance running, going forward]
Initial conversation with Santhosh
Keeping up physical fitness is one of the key priorities for every one of us. There are many options available (ex: Aerobics), however long distance running is something which I have been aspiring to start for a long time. My initial understanding with running came in form of Santhosh, who was doing his marathons (for Asha NGO) when he was working in the US. I used to follow his blogs to keep in touch ever since we passed out of college more than a decade back. He used to write regular blogs on his preparation, challenges and how money raised through running is used to contribute grass root level organizations, especially children. Even much before Santhosh started off RH (vaguely recollect it was year 2008), I clearly remember meeting up for lunch with him about me doing running, which I immediately ruled out by saying “Running? Give me a break. Please coach somebody else to keep your motivation high; I will probably bring down your energy levels by not showing interest in such crazy stuff!”
Times passed and we went on our own ways. In the mean time, I have kept up with my aspiration to keep physically fit by doing various activities like Yoga, Meditation and some games over the weekend. However I was doing them all alone, which was becoming very difficult to sustain. Over a period of time, consistency took a huge hit as it is very easy to give up when you are alone. Again back to square one, I was primarily looking for some activity with higher sustainability factor. In the mean time, there were some colleagues who got into long distance running, through them I used to get updates about growing “community” approach towards running in Bangalore. Finally I decided “let me give it a shot, let even hell break loose!” One email to Santhosh (again) and got signed up for KTM with 10K finish goal.
IIM-B and DTS sound in my stomach
When I dropped into for intro session at IIM-B, I got really scared at first sight. While the “community” factor was really heartening to see, fellow runners from RH scared me continuously talking about running among them. Key words like “ultra”, “Boston marathon”, “finish goal”, “ITB” were getting exchanged among folks, sounded Greek and lain for me. When Santhosh introduced individual coaches (and their accomplishments in running in Grand Canyon, Himalayas etc…) I almost fell like running out of IIM-B auditorium. I was telling myself “Where am I, what am I trying to do? I have absolutely no exercise background and these folks are talking about running 50 KM!” I could clearly hear DTS music in my stomach and somehow (!) stayed back in the auditorium and paid the fees. At the same time I told only one thing to myself “I will stick to the schedule given my coach, let me stop thinking and start running”. When I look back that’s probably the best decision I have taken when it comes to long distance running.
Kicking VIRUS (Viru Sahasrabuddhe) out!
Thanks to strong support from my wife, I was able to get up on time and show up for running by not bunking any classes (except couple of occasions due to self/family health reasons). Initial few days were very difficult where I literally had lot of pain all over the body. Every other day I used to get new type of pain from different set of muscles, which I didn’t even knew existed in my body for so many years. As per my initial commitment (of sticking to schedule) I decided to put on with coaching schedule.
The first thing that amazed RH is about the excellent, self-sustaining system built which works automatically. Right from day one I didn’t even bother about my timings, ran as much as possible. When I couldn’t run, I just paused, stopped, gained breath and again started running. I also ensured that I don’t end up comparing myself with fellow runners mainly because I wanted to come out of this “metric” (popularly known as KPI) based thinking which we are so used in school, college and corporate world. After all I didn’t want to emulate VIRUS (ref: 3 idiots) by overtaking the fellow runner to keep myself ahead. The very fact that I am able to get up and run at morning 6 AM at Cubbon is a huge achievement, rest all were immaterial anyways 😉
Coaches and mentors
Now coming to coaches, they were absolutely amazing people. In our Cubbon library group we had Srini, Kanishka and George were our main coaches who led by example by ensuring we followed the schedule
on time. I still remember them running along with slowest runners in our group (I am definitely one among them) ensuring that they are supported well. This built a huge confidence, faith and aspiration to push myself further. If not for the confidence coaches had in each one of us, KTM 10K would have never remained a possibility. Our mentor Asha brought a lot of enthusiasm and energy by sending regular emails, follow-ups and breakfast meetings. By now all my DTS music (from stomach) almost went mute, because I was able to understand the fact that coaches and mentors also started off similar to me. With sheer persistence they were able to run such long distances.
The Macho image and KTM
Slowly and steadily number of kilometers increased (2,3…6) during weekend runs. By now I was able to build my “mental creation” for completing 10K. Thanks to social networking, I was posting some updates in FB about my running and my friends and family started responding quite positively. Over a period of time “macho” image got built for me (Oh! You run 10K? That’s amazing) and I know how much still I need to learn when it comes to running. I don’t want to write much about KTM day as it was just a “flow” and made it happen! I am a much better person (in terms of both mental and physical) already signed up for Ultra for 12.5 KM with same commitment of sticking to the schedule, stop thinking and start running.
This post will remain incomplete if I don’t write a paragraph about Santhosh. We started off together during our undergraduate days, been a partner-in-crime for four long years (got ragged by same set of seniors, got caught by police for violating section-144, danced together in countless fresher/farewell/birthday parties, got first job in same company etc..) . It feels amazing to connect with him in a new dimension called running, after 12 long years.
Way back in 2006 I have learned Sudharshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) as a part of my Art-of-living course. Years might have passed by, but SKY stayed on with me as a ‘capsule’ given immense benefits. This post is about benefits I have experienced with SKY.
SKY is a rhythmic breathing mechanism taught as a part of Art of living course. Typically it takes about 20-30 minutes to do this breathing exercise, it is highly advised to do it after performing certain Yoga asanas. The philosophy is to first stabilize the body using asanas and then move on to perform SKY for working at breath level. This is also called as ‘short kriya’ which is typically done at individual level. In case of weekly art-of-living follow-ups a ‘long-kriya’ is performed which takes about 45 minutes of time.
Typically in our daily lives many challenges are caused because of external issues (tension, anger, disappointment etc…) which immediately alters breathing. When inhale-exhale cycle becomes shorter, lesser oxygen is taken inside, which aggravates negative emotions. Most of us would have observed when we are in the state of emotions, it tend to continue for longer time mainly because of our breathing pattern. The idea is alter breathing rhythm with long deep breath which will create positive impact thereby altering our emotional. This is what in nut-shell happens by performing SKY. There is definitely a spiritual dimension to it, which will be shared as a separate blog post.
Coming to its benefits:
Immediate alteration in emotional levels by switching into positive state. I have performed kriya is peak negative emotional conditions (ex: workplace crisis) and felt immediate benefit by coming out of it and operate with higher emotional state
For some specific diseases/issues I have found immediate relief. For example, in case of minor head ache, stomach problem or back/neck pain, by doing SKY has provided immediate healing effect by making me normally operate
Because of the mental & physical benefits mentioned above, individuals tend to be in much positive state of mind with higher optimism and action orientation when faced with real life challenges. This sustained benefits come over a period of time which is more experiential
Some of my family members had serious breathing issues (ex: Wheezing), who could see significant impact in overall immunity and attacks have come down drastically. However it also depends on the individual how regularly he/she is performing it.
There is no specific equipment or location required to perform SKY. As long as there is relatively quite place is available, once can perform this without any difficulty. There are many occasions I have done it in my workplace ( sick room) and during travel (trains)
Ever since I have learnt SKY, I have not 100% regular in doing it on a daily basis. Definitely I have been fairly regular and benefits have been immensely higher. Especially, after taking up long distance running, Yoga asanas and SKY is acting as an excellent combination!
Recently I was talking with my colleague about book reading habit, he was asking me to get a list of my favorite books. Few years back I created a list consisting of my favorite books using Google drive (it was called Google docs then). This list grew over the years when my friends started adding additional items into it. Recently I have updated the list; latest version can be downloaded from the link below:
I have been writing blogs over years now, which were spread across multiple places. Last week I have worked on integrating them in one place, mainly importing my older posts from Blogger to WordPress. I have also done some changes in look and feel, by creating fav-icons. Following URLs were really good, helped me with a smoother migration:
With article on Bigbasket, the ten part innovation series comes to an end. When I understood the innovation types (created by Doblin) way back in 2011, my idea was to apply it from Indian context and make case studies fitting various types. It took two long years for me to complete this series with decent satisfaction.
Innovation has gone beyond building a particular product or service. By building something different doesn’t guarantee a business success, whereas ensuring customer derives value will. India, unlike some of the developed countries, is in the cusp of transformation where we have both traditional old school thinking and new school of thinking co-existing with each other. This made my inquiry to innovation all the more interesting. As and when I observed some innovative way to serve customers, I started mapping them back to Doblin’s model and came up with this whole series spanning across industries.
For most Indians, reading about Abdul Kalam and his work is always an inspiring item. Post retirement, he started off his journey into writing by scripting his auto-biography titled ‘The wings of fire’, followed by some popular books like Ignited Minds, Envisioning an empowered nation, Turning points etc. Most of them talk about his early life in Rameshwaram followed by his experience with various defense and space research organizations. Another popular theme in these book is about “Vision 2020”, where Kalam is been articulating India becoming super power by 2012 by achieving excellence in technology, rural transformation, self reliance and self sustainability.
In this latest book ‘My journey – Transforming dreams into Action’, Kalam has followed pretty much the same canvas but gone into very small and specific stories. Unlike his previous books, he has chosen real life anecdotes and shared deeper learning from them. Growing up in town like Rameshwaram with very high aspirations and dreams is not very easy situation to handle. With lesser resources and exposure, Kalam need to go thru lot of struggle and build his career brick-by-brick. The most inspiring part is about him overcoming umpteen numbers of challenges and overcoming them with very strong vision and value.
For example, he explains how he became a working person at the age of 8 by supplying newspapers in Rameshwaram and struggle associated with it. Every day he would to get up at 4 AM followed by his morning tuition and prayers. In order to support his family Kalam takes a part time job of distributing newspapers to Rameshwaram household. Thanks to some policy change, Chennai-Dhanushkodi passenger train which carried daily newspaper bundle from Chennai removed Rameshwaram station from the list. This resulted in Kalam doing every day stunt by catching paper bundle thrown from a moving train at Rameshwaram station. Kalam will then go on distributing them after which his school day would start. In the evening he would finish his homework and complete settlement of newspaper daily account with his cousin who gave him this opportunity. It was quite obvious to see the amount of stress and pressure he might have gone thru as a 8 year old boy, but the way he put it across along with key learnings is simply amazing.
There are multiple similar stories related to his profession filled with struggle and failures. Inspired by the vision of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Kalam and his team went on building Indian space story from the scratch. He recalls how his professional career is similar to his early life in Rameshwaram – Lesser resources, Limited knowledge, larger challenges and a passion to win. Taking references from Bhagavat Gita to Thirukkural, Kalam mentions how he taken inspiration from these great ancient text to lift him up when things went wrong due to mistakes. There were some repeated stories (ex: Church in Thumba becoming ISRO office, thanks to the local people), however they are always inspiring ones to hear again and again.
Unlike his previous books, Kalam kept this one very simple which can even read and understood by a high school kid. Definitely worth reading!
The tenth and final type of innovation is around customer experience, which is all about creating a superior experience to customer’s entry to exit. In India many players attempted to do online grocery store for quite some-time now. It is extremely challenging business in Indian context (logistics, poor roads, unpredictable traffic, varying climate conditions etc…), which Bigbasket is able break by creating very good customer experience around it. I have personally tried and tested this many times, it works all the time with great experience.
Simple and effective User interface
The first thing that impressed me about Bigbasket is their simple and effective user interface. It was very easy to search/navigate for individual grocery items and create an order in a hassle free manner. Every item contains optimal information (neither too less nor too much) with put me into ease. Also when individuals go back for re-ordering, it keeps previous list handy for modification, which saves time for second time. This works very well for monthly grocery ordering.
While building an easy to use user interface might look relatively easy, integrating with backend supply chain to meet the promise is super critical. Especially in India, where the probability of providing prompt service is less (due to inherent challenges like infrastructure) providing prompt alerts to customers about the order status creates a lot of trust. In case of Bigbasket I get regular alerts (both in form of email and SMS) about my order status. Just before the final delivery of goods, authentication PIN is provided via SMS, so that both delivery person and customer can be assured about delivery.
Service delivery guarantee
After placing order, customers get to choose the time-slot in which they wanted the goods to be delivered. This super critical item (similar to Flipkart’s cash on delivery service) which helps office goers to get goods delivered at a convenient time. Their interface also shows the current booking status and slot availability in order to help customers choose the proper delivery time. From execution point of view, I have always seen they deliver goods on the time promised.
Return policy and wallet
During delivery, in case of item mismatch (ex: quantity) or damage (ex: broken seal), Bigbasket delivery folks take it back without any questions. Upon entering these items in backend (using Mobile application) customers again get immediate notification about when the updated item will be delivered. In case of item return, the money is kept back in a digital wallet which can be adjusted for next purchase.
In summary right from order placing to goods return, Bigbasket has done massive integration and prompt execution of their service. This gives a great end-to-end experience for customers in terms of quality, on-time delivery and reliability.