Monday, 13 August 2018

My delicious laptop

No, no, I've not turned to those kind of 'bytes', nor do I see my laptop as an 'assetizer'. It's just that my laptop now brings a wonderful deliciousness to my life, gives me visuals and descriptions to slurp over and makes life a spoon more yummy.

My gourmet cravings have been met from the most unexpected quarter - a drab, grey machine that (too) often transports me from the world of words and presentations to a haven of aromas and flavors. The teleportation is so effective that I have almost ceased missing the actual texture and taste of a divine dish on my palate; it's sublime enough to read the description, see the images jump out in high definition glory and drool over the recipe.

Long years ago, I would pore over those gorgeously mounted cookbooks, resplendent in their imported gloss and visual feasts. They would be too expensive to buy and the school library would be my stop for them. Behind wood and glass cabinets, they held a peculiar draw - prized, yet accessible. Every 'library period' I would treat myself to one of these confections. It was never enough to skim through them there, they needed to be issued and carried home gingerly in eager anticipation. Once home, I would furiously leaf through them and stick little pieces of paper (DIY bookmarks!) into pages that captured me. And then, once again, I would backtrack at a more leisurely pace and savor the contents.

Out would come my well-worn hardcover 'register' and painstakingly I would note recipe by recipe, ingredient by ingredient, method by method in laborious longhand. The irony of it was that at that time in life I neither had access to those exotic ingredients or the means to whip up those fantasies. God alone knows what I was doing for what time in the unknown future....

And then came the days when I had the means and the accesses. The endless poring over those longhand notes came to fruition and I started churning those recipes into wonderful (and sometimes far from wonderful) concoctions that we enjoyed. 

Time moved on and the internet came into our lives bringing an infinite world of many treasures to explore and relish. Today, it gives me a curious thrill to quickly scan my favorite food sites, pick a recipe that catches my eye, do deep research on techniques across the web, click on a button and print a long sheet of ingredients and instructions out - all in a matter of seconds. It also has become a stress-buster and deliberate distraction to hover between food sites, learn a bit and drool a bit more.

The sheets of paper get filed away in my big black book today. Some of them find their way to the kitchen and to a delectable (with heart in my mouth!) dish. But even today, I hold on to that frayed register and once ever so often turn those pages back in time.... that nostalgia is as overpowering as today's convenience.                

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

The culture conundrum

Companies today obsess about culture. Big or small, there is fast-growing realization within corporate corridors that commercial concerns acquire a distinctive aura under the culture umbrella.

Corporate culture has almost become the by-word for a credible, legitimate identity that transcends mere profit-making. It's what the brand, the employee proposition and the customer value all get associated with. And there is enough research out there to prove that a defined, robust culture has engaged employees who add value to customer service and relationships. This in turn translates to healthier bottom-lines and satisfied shareholders. In short, a sustainable commercial proposition.

But is this so easily attainable? And what actually defines the culture in an organization? Commercial propositions are coded in hard performance metrics - goals, targets, financials - that are keenly chased and tracked. On the other hand are the softer elements of managing an organization - soft skills, leadership attributes, organizational values. Very often, these become almost synonymous with 'culture', but that's not quite the fact. 

Culture is actually the environment that is created when the 'soft' elements interface with the 'hard' elements. More often than not, these end up in conflict by their very nature; this is the culture conundrum I'm referring to. Aggressive pursuit of targets often means sensitive leadership falling by the wayside. Regulatory environment may see ethical values being short-changed. Obsession with quantitative metrics could lead to qualitative decline. And so gets built a pattern of behaviors that become the organizational culture.

In effect, the practice of the softer elements in pursuit of the hard elements is what organizations need to target to create a desired culture. Here, I'd like to cite an excellent article by Tricia Emerson that articulates What You're Willing to Tolerate Sets The Tone For Your Company Culture .

The more aligned the notions of expected behaviors or values are to their practice and outcomes, the smaller will be the culture gap and the more robust the company's culture.



Friday, 3 August 2018

Connect to your audiences with these 3 E's

It's apt, even if a trifle cheesy, that the same tenets that work in interpersonal relationships and life also work in connecting with your audiences. Be it writing, speaking, presenting, advertising, it's about the 'hook' you create to get them in, the stickiness of what you say that keeps them there and the feeling you leave them with as they exit.

Too often, we get caught up in creating complex material and presenting it elaborately. We work on how we look, what we say, data we cite and the 'wow' we create. These are great, but if we need to create the three touch-points above effectively, it's as much about empathy, emotion and enjoyment.

I am not discounting all the other things that go into great delivery or presenting or writing. Nor am I over-simplifying a craft; just that, for me it's as much about including your audiences in the experience or knowledge that you are sharing with them.

1. Empathy: Anyone who takes the time out to listen to you or to read what you have to say wants to feel that you understand him or her and their points of reference in some way. They want to feel that you have similar pleasures and pains, constraints and challenges and if you have something to share it's because you have found a way to address these. Be it a business problem or a life-skills issue, we all want to listen to someone who can relate to us in a similar way. Speak my language and I hear you! So, actively create those moments of mutual sharing, of being on the same journey and having similar goals that we are trying to address and you will keep them close.

2. Emotion: This is a wide scale. From the emotion in your words and expressions to the emotions you are able to ignite in your audiences. Passivity puts off, so animated connect is imperative. More importantly, even complex theories and ideations can be communicated in a way that strikes a chord not just cerebral, but one that also speaks to the heart. Reference to a patient's travails when one speaks on automating the healthcare system does not take away from the gravity of the subject, it just adds a resonant dimension, gives a small tug at the heart. 

3. Enjoyment: We are all susceptible to humor, to a little fun, a relief-giving aside. And, we so often forget to inject that in our connections with people. Nothing stays more with you than a laugh shared or a fun moment. And, nothing is so serious that we can't lighten the tone. I have always admired how some people just have the gift of spontaneous humor. It's probably worth our while to consciously practice this and weave it into the narrative if it doesn't come naturally. Personally, one reason why I so love to hear President Obama is the heavy dose of humor that he appears to slip in so easily. And, while we may not intend to have a roomful of folks clutching their sides, smiles around are always welcome!

If these seem very 'touch and feel', I forewarned you - this is about connecting, in personal relationships as well as with audiences with whom you have another kind of a relationship!                   

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Beyond hype and hoopla - the case for brand authenticity

Everything is marketed. Everything is a 'brand'. Everything (uh okay, almost everything) has a price attached to it. No wonder, then, hype and hoopla herald everything. 

In the cacophonous marketplace that our world has become, it's just not enough to stand out; it's important to beat your chest and be shrill and in-your-face. So, whether it's a product or a persona, it's all about positioning and preening. Look around you and you will see what I mean... newspaper front page real estate has been sold to advertising, gimmicky marketing is the order of the day and if you don't have a business or personal platform (read website, social media page etc.), you are persona non grata !

As a professional communicator and brand promoter, this should be music in my life! But, truly, in my book honest-to-goodness authenticity wins hands down. Now, I'm not suggesting that we don't get out there to market our wares, or talk about them or put them up for all to see. But, what definitely riles me up is to promote and position that which isn't. And, in the rat-race for getting a toe ahead, we often fall into the trap of plugging and hyping to an extent that it borders on the false. 

This is the one thing that I want to put out there for professionals, or anyone, for that matter. It is important to advertise, but it's more important to be authentic. At the core of anything you market - whether it's a product or an idea or your own persona - is credibility. Credibility, or authenticity, is a baseline component of a brand's value. It is credibility that sustains long after the hype has blown over. The return footfalls, the repeat visits, the recurring inflows happen on the basis of the sheer solidity, quality and premise of what you have to offer. Hype gets in the first-time visitors, what makes them stick is the promise made good.

So much of what goes around today has little or no substance, and it is tempting (and easy!) to 'keep up with the Jones' in this regard. But, gradually, we are building a bubble society and economy and it will burst badly one day. It's not difficult to sell something that's great, but it sure is difficult to keep something poor going just on the basis of hype.   

Set up a great website, do the snazzy advertising, but only when you can put your hand on your heart and vouch for the values your products - or you - stand for!

Suggested reading:
Forbes >>>Steve Olenski/2015/09/15/ Brand value what it>Steve Olenski: brand value what it means...

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Wild Wild Country....Shock and awe

I'm not done yet, still two more episodes to go.... but I'm reeling under the onslaught of 'Wild Wild Country', the Netflix documentary on (Osho) Rajneesh. It is the first time I am getting to see up close what I had just heard or read about as a young person. 

Truly, this is one of the times you realize that the printed word just does not do credit to something so bizarre, so macabre, that it is actually 'out-of-the world'. I grew up on a sporadic diet of what the glossies fed us about the glamorous, hush-hush world of this self-styled guru who held sway over some pseudo elite circles in India in the late '70s and early '80s. In perhaps what was the curtain call to the flower children and the hippies that traipsed through the country in the '60s, this cult of free sex, free living, free-for-all held a kind of vicarious fascination for a pre-teenager. One read about them fleeing to Oregon (US), the fabled Rolls Royces, the star followers, the hypnotic speaker in his flowing robes and flowing beard. And then I lost track... it was too far away, too exotic to keep up with my humdrum, more immediate and acute growing pains.

When I first chanced upon the series, I didn't quite jump in; because by now it was a long-forgotten chapter with a vaguely murky end. Then, curiosity (or was it boredom?) got the better of me and I tentatively clicked 'play'. The narrative is compelling, toggling between some main players (Ma Anand Sheela, Rajneeshites, the then US Justice Department officials, journalists, Oregon residents and many more) recalling those momentous days, supported by actual visuals and TV clips from the archives. It begins with covering familiar ground in Pune, India and flashbacks from Oregon residents. 

As it unfurls, so does the underbelly of crime, drugs, murders, naked power, aggression, greed. And every time the epithet 'Bhagwan' is uttered, my insides squirm. Leave aside spirituality or God (the meaning of 'Bhagwan'), where was there even a particle of the promised peace to those thousands who left homes, careers and families to follow him? Was it truly the work of a master hypnotist? Was this what people looked for and got? Did this actually happen?

Sheela, the central character to Rajneesh's depicted life, the determined force behind his movement, strangely touched a nerve for me. The bright, love-filled, trusting eyes that I saw in the young, pretty woman who unabashedly professes, "I was in love with him', transmutes to a disillusioned, faded and weary old woman. And every tear that slips out of those eyes now is as authentic as the hard-as-nails, gritty persona of back then. Where did misplaced devotion lead her? 

And then there is Rajneesh. He, of the hypnotic gaze and the flowing robes and beards that popped out of every paper and magazine of the time. But, now I see him 'up close', I hear him. Weak voice, bad pronunciation, inane homilies and finally, drugged gaze and filth-spewing tongue. Wow, what a con!

I have yet to see the finale, but I may have seen enough.      


Monday, 23 July 2018

The Land of Peace

All through my growing years I thought of Japan as 'the land of the rising sun', an epithet I read in Class 3 geography, when we got introduced to different countries and cultures. Some forty summers later, when I got to go to this country, I came away with a multitude of impressions and many 'aha' moments. 

Above all, peace permeates, and that is what remains indelibly etched in my mind. I come from a culture that is widely perceived as peace loving and all-embracing, yet I find this not here, but in Japan. Perhaps I see it from the eyes of a foreigner, a first-time visitor, but I feel it strongly. 

The peace is palpable. It manifests in the courtesy with which one and all interact. It manifests in the consideration for people, time, rules and laws. It manifests in the warmth that transcends language barriers. In the public places, in parks, in shrines. In the order and method. In the lowest (almost negligible) crimes rate across the world.

Popular images of Tokyo are of a teeming metropolis, where people need to be pushed into the subway during peak hours to get them in, of capsule hotels and cramped housing. And yet, one has just to stand by at the famous 'scramble crossing' in Shibuya to see how hundreds of people can cross a road in all directions at the same time in a few seconds without a push or a nudge or an impatient word. Nowhere did I feel the peace more than at the Meiji Jingu shrine in the heart of Tokyo. The verdant green expanse muffled the noise of the crowds, but there was more... vibrations that simply flowed into the body and created an indescribable harmony. 

For a country tormented repeatedly by natural disasters, bombing, wars and nuclear leaks, where does the peace come from? Perhaps from the all-enveloping and omnipresent religious integration, where one has to look through a lens to distinguish a Buddhist home from a Shinto? Or from the fact that nation comes before any individual and, therefore, this is a family rather than just citizens? Or is it just a calm forbearance and acceptance of fate that has got genetically coded into this race over the years?

True, stress levels are high, suicides are high, women are the 'lesser' race (at least in the older generations) and competition is tough, but the country has also developed its own unique antidotes - cat/dog/bird cafes to find furry (or feathery!) solace, maid cafes to revive innocent childhood, anime or manga to entertain, not to speak of the serene harmony created in tranquil gardens and flowing art forms. 

The peace is poignant, especially so in Hiroshima. There is no angst, no bitterness in the relics, no anger in the narrative, just a small remorse and a huge resolve to bring peace to the entire world.

For me, for time to come, it will be 'the land of peace where the sun rises.....'     


Saturday, 21 July 2018

Pause.... and play it again, differently

Is it the norm that age brings a hesitation to not just how one moves, but to how one talks and thinks.... and even wishes?

I have seen so many people become more cautious, more circumspect in their approach, as they add grey to their hair. And, I have grown to respect this deliberation that one scoffed at in younger times. The ability to see things from all angles, the ability to pause and reflect, to seek opinions and to take decisions that are tempered with kindness and compassion are traits that I'm beginning to value - even just about recognize - in 'maturer' people. I, of the quick to judge, quick to decide and quicker to action mode, often catch myself doing just this.

Perhaps, having spent five decades in living a life does this to one! The impetuousness, the steps stumbled, the follies committed, the experiences collected, the thirst for instant gratification - all meld into creating a mellowness that is so far removed from the strident, vibrant years gone by. Today, in silent contemplation, I checked myself from wishing for something very dear. In my mind's eye I saw the 20-something years old me desperately praying, even demanding from God. I remembered the fasts, the endless praying... and I also remembered some of it being granted. And then, some years later, the regretful realization that what I had held God virtually at ransom to, was maybe not the best for me.

I also saw that many of the things I'd wished for - that seemingly prize job, the swank house, the 'that one thing' - that hadn't come to me were for the best, for some good reason or the other. And, I saw that what I underwent at some point with a great deal of pain and forbearance, brought the richest, never-imagined rewards at the right time.

And so, many years ago, I began to realize that if you let it be, it will come to you. It will come if it's meant for you. It will come at the right time. It will come, not because you fought for it or yearned for it, but because He ordained it.

If this is age, and if it has made me pause and be cautious, I welcome it. If this is experience, and it has made me wiser and more patient, I value it.... immensely.