My Wish List for 2014

This is the time of the year when everyone makes their new year resolutions. I, on the other hand, am lazy. I would rather make a wish list for 2014 and hope that others will help make it come true. It is no different than my little one writing a letter to Santa with her laundry list of things she wants him to bring. Now, you might think that my list would include things like peace in the middle-east and food for all, but it doesn’t. Why? Because besides being lazy, I am also realistic and funny. Well, at least I try to be. Jury is out on both of those aspects. However, my wish list does cover a broad range of topics. Hope you agree with them. If not, feel free to add more by commenting on the blog.

  1. I wish Super Bowl would move to Saturday night. In my opinion, the most depressing day of the year is the Monday after Super Bowl. This is for several reasons: it is the official end of Football season, and beginning of that dreary gap between Football and March Madness or Spring Baseball when nothing interesting is going on. It is also the beginning of February, easily the most depressing month of the year. Even non-sports fans enjoy Super Bowl by going to a party and getting a little intoxicated. The game doesn’t end until late, and parties even later. To be back at work on Monday – well, not easy for most. So, why not just move it to Saturday? It is, by far, the most watched TV program for the year. The TV ratings will be high either way. Come on, NFL, as one of your sponsors might say, just do it.

  2. Continuing with sports theme, I wish Brent Musberger would just retire. If you are a sports fan, or even as sports-aware as I, you know who I am talking about. He announces the Rose Bowl every year, and has been with ABC Sports longer than any of us can recall. He is annoying. And therefore, he should retire. I am sure you have your own favorite announcer you would like to meet the same fate, and if so, I hope your wish also comes true.
  3. I wish we could all agree to a social-media separation policy. Facebook is for sharing personal stuff, LinkedIn for sharing business stuff, and Twitter for the confused, ambivalent folks who can’t figure out any separation. This will make life so much easier for all. Don’t tell me that you have not struggled with that Facebook invite you got from a business contact, and you so wanted to decline but didn’t want to offend them? You ended up accepting their invite and then blocking them from everything you share. To my FB friends, in full disclosure, I don’t block anything or anyone. If you are my friend,  you are getting a dose of my personal life like everyone else. Deal with it, or unfriend me. 🙂
  4. On to a more serious topic…I wish we could pass the following law. If Congress can’t find a way to keep Government running, all the senior leadership of Congress – majority and minority leadership across Senate and the House must resign immediately and not be allowed to run again for at least four years. It is simple – if you are an elected leader, well, you are supposed to lead. If you can’t convince people to keep the place running, just resign, and let someone else try it. Same applies in Corporate America – why wouldn’t we hold the Government leaders to same?
  5. We can’t have Christmas on a Wednesday. For most Americans, who work through the so-called holiday season, it is highly inconvenient when Christmas falls on a Wednesday since it splits up people’s time off. Some take off Monday and Tuesday, some Thursday and Friday. Very inconvenient. So much easier when it is on Thursday – you know nobody is working that Friday. It is the same reason why Labor Day is always a Monday, as is Memorial Day, and President’s Day. It is easier to plan ahead. We are Americans. We make up time zones, day light savings time – we can move Christmas too!

I could keep going. But I am not greedy. I will settle for the above five. Now, I said I was realistic and funny. I lied. I am definitely not realistic. But, I did call this a wish list, didn’t I? Have a happy 2014, everyone. See you on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and whatever other way we are connected.

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The Privacy Fallacy

Facebook is killing Christmas. Or at least one critical part of it. Every year we used to look forward to receiving nice holiday cards from our friends and relatives, with pictures of their little ones growing up each year. Well, not so much anymore. Thanks to Facebook, we get live updates on their lives throughout the year. Little Johnnie graduated from T-Ball to Little League this year? Check. Sarah has expanded her horizons adding Karate to an already busy schedule of music and dance lessons? Check. All of the Jones family took a nice vacation to Grand Canyon in early summer? Check. We know it all. There are no surprises in those end-of-the-year letters we used to get. Heck, Facebook even tries to summarize your year for you by letting you take highlights of everything you posted throughout the year and creating an album out of it. We decided to cancel our annual card this year – realizing that we had nothing much else to say that we hadn’t already said…on Facebook.

Of course, there is one other thing Facebook has killed for us – privacy. Or, I would argue that Facebook brought to forefront what most knew but never acknowledged. Privacy has been a fallacy in the increasingly Internet-influenced world. It has been true for a while. Ever been surprised by an ad that pops up when you are scrolling a website, and the ad happens to be related to something unrelated you had searched earlier? Behavioral targeting on web has been around for more than a decade, although regulated in some countries. A few years ago, I was in the market for a specific TV, and had looked up prices for it on line at many retailers. A couple of days after my research, I went to an on-line site for a well-known Electronics retailer, and I get offered a one-time deal on the exact TV I had been researching. I took them up on it and had it held at their local store. When we picked it up from the store, the person signing us out was stunned by the price we got since the store itself had not been discounting that particular model. Did I feel that my privacy was violated? Yes, a bit. But was I happy to get a great deal? You bet.

It is above that makes the recent stories about Big Brother violating our privacy ironical to me. Here we are, posting our life-details on Facebook, Googling so much that our profiles are rich with content about our interests for others to target us, and yet, we freak out when a story breaks that someone might be listening in on our conversations? The main argument you hear is that what we do on-line is voluntary – versus what Government is doing is without our permission. Try explaining that to someone who posted an embarrassing video voluntarily but didn’t understand that he/she hadn’t set the permissions correctly on the social media sharing site and now their friends of friends have access to everything about their life. If you seriously want to be a private person in today’s world, you are going to have to live like a hermit. There is no getting around it.  

The issues you should be debating are what you are doing to protect yourself and what services you use are doing to protect you? How much do you know about Facebook’s privacy settings? Are you careful about what you post publicly? Do you know if you like 100 things – everything from specific music to specific retailers to specific games – it is likely that data will be used to enhance your profile and serve back ads to you? Stop expressing surprise over what Government has on you, worry about what the Internet has on you! Or, stop worrying altogether, admit that privacy is a fallacy and adjust your expectations accordingly.

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Are you self-aware?

“For this position, we must get an A player!” If you are in management, you have heard that sentence, or worse, have said it yourself! I know I have. And every time I hear it or say it, I cringe. At first glance, it seems as cliched or harmless a sentence you will ever hear, but that is exactly the problem with it. First, who, amongst us doesn’t want to hire the best candidate for a position? Do you interview for your openings with the intent of finding someone who is just good enough? Of course not. That is the harmless part…the part that I dislike most about that sentence is the underlying fallacy: we are so focused on hiring the best person that some times we forget the most important element of recruiting for a position: how does that person fit into the team you are creating?

At this point, I would be remiss as an executive if I didn’t bring in a sports analogy. Football season in US is a few weeks away – so, let’s go with that instead of my favorite – Baseball. Those of you familiar with American football are also familiar with the notion of draft every April – where the Pro teams get to select from the latest crop of college football players. It is, by far, the best way to build a team. Team executives work weeks, months prior to the draft date on their “draft board” – ranking all the players available. But what distinguishes a good draft from a bad one isn’t necessarily whether you managed to draft the best player available – it is whether you found the best player to fit the holes in your current team. Much of the attention on draft day is focused on some marquee offense players common sports fans recognize but teams that win on the draft day are typically those who draft defensive backs, tackles, linemen – very important ingredients of creating a championship team.

Creating a team at work is no different. There is no point in hiring the absolutely best programmer you can find if what you really needed was someone who is good at system architecture. It would be a mistake to hire a marketing manager with 15 years of experience in product positioning strategies when you really needed someone who was proficient at creating marketing literature based on product positioning you have already established. Simple – you would agree – but it is alarming how often hiring managers make the mistake of getting side-tracked during their recruiting.

Other side of the coin of recruiting is developing people from within for the right positions. This turns out to be a lot more difficult for most managers, and employees, alike. At the core of this challenge is one simple concept: “self-awareness”. How aware are you of your own strengths? What are you really good at versus what you might want but are not really best suited for? Most popular example for me comes from Sales. Most sales executives learn the hard way that your best sales people do not actually make the best sales managers. The issue is – if employee is not self-aware, is the manager good enough to make the employee aware of their strengths and weaknesses? I also find that there is no correlation whatsoever between years of experience and self-awareness – yeah, so don’t expect that just because you are more experienced you suddenly become more self-aware!

Once you are self-aware or made-aware, however, things do get much simpler for the employee and management. It is easier to match the positions to employee’s skills, to choose the right career track for them. From my perspective, it is very important to play to your strengths. Yes, you can work on your weaknesses but most corporations pay you for what you do well – exploit those strengths. This is where there is actually a direct relationship with years of experience. More years you have, more likely that your strengths are clearly established, and even more significantly, it is hard for you to work your way out of your weaknesses. Remember the old adage – older you get, more set in your ways you are likely to be! I know I am. Just part of being self-aware!

Creating productive teams isn’t easy – but as a manager, if you are self-aware of your needs precisely, and if your team is self-aware or you can help them be so, well, then you are golden!

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Of Mentors and Mentees

This year marks 22 years of my working in Corporate America. There is nothing special about that number except my own realization that means I have spent exactly half of my life working in the Corporate world. Don’t worry – I am not about to go into a midlife crisis meltdown or have you analyze my last 22 years with me!  No, I bring this up only because it is as good a time as any to reflect on the shifts I have seen in those two decades (oh boy, do I feel old!).  Shifts primarily related to one key topic – mentorship, and specifically its close association with leadership.

Graduating on the heels of one of the worst recessions, that spring of 1991 was probably as stressful for new graduates as the class of 2008. But, I was fortunate enough to land the perfect job – with Bellcore, which had been spun out from Bell Labs in 1983, as the research arm of Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs). Not only did the environment at the company foster research and development, it happened to be a collection of some of the finest brains in Telecommunications, my core focus during undergraduate program.

My five years at Bellcore provided the perfect foundation any fresh graduate could ever ask for. But it all started with one unique thing you don’t hear much of nowadays – mentorship. On my first day, I didn’t just have a manager, I was also assigned a mentor.  How many of you are wondering right now – a manager and a mentor? Aren’t they one and the same?  Yes, they could be – but in those days, before the word “productivity” took on a whole new meaning in Corporate America, it was considered a calculated investment with a clear payoff: getting the best out of the new employees. The foresight of that investment has to be lauded.

The role of mentor was clearly prescribed: show the employee around, introduce them to other folks, but most importantly work with them on their first project and guide them through the process of what it takes to complete it successfully within the context of the rest of the organization. Simple. But very powerful. The confidence you get in the successful completion of that first assignment leads to great things. And let’s not forget the pay-it-forward effect – just two years later, I was mentoring the new hires. I had to give back.

Mentoring is extremely important in those foundational years. Many people are not as fortunate as I to be assigned an official mentor but I can say this – we all seek them daily. In early years of your career, it is more explicit; in later years, you do it somewhat subconsciously. But you do it all the time. What exactly is mentorship? Well, simply put, it is learning the ropes. However, it changes over time. In early years, you just want to learn the basics: who is who in the company, how do I get a project done, what is expected behavior of me, etc. But quickly, it turns to other skills. If you are in sales, it is about learning sales skills; if you are a developer, it is about learning efficient design and coding methodologies; etc. As you advance in your career, it turns to soft skills: Corporate politics and how you deal with it, conflict resolution between employees, negotiating your way to advancement of your business or even career goals, ability to drive those around you towards what you want to get done. None of us learn those things on our own even after 15 years in the Corporate world, and good news is that you never stop learning.

However, there is one gotcha. Sometimes we fall into the trap of being mentees but not switching to being mentors for those around us. This is a subtle transition and closely related to leadership. Let me give you my definition of leadership first –tied to two basic things: inspiration and execution. You are a good leader if you inspire those around you to do more than what they ever thought they could, and even a better leader if you can help them execute. You don’t have to be a manager to be a good leader – a mistake, I think so many people make. There are leaders everywhere in an organization. Good managers have to find them, and leverage them for the good of the rest of the organization. If you buy my definition of leadership, you will see why I think the tie to mentorship is so important. It starts with one simple fact: good leaders tend to have had some good mentors in their past. But having a good mentor is also like a drug – you seek them everywhere you go!  The challenge is making the transition from being a mentee to being a mentor – i.e., the mentee realizing that he/she has now become the leader, and people around are looking to them to be inspired, to be led, and yes, to be mentored by them.

As I mentioned earlier, good mentors never stop learning, but here is an interesting fact: if you did your job right as a mentor, the person you might learn most from in the future (if you are lucky) is your mente.! That is when you know, as a mentor, you have been successful. It is the ultimate nirvana for mentors, and something we should all aspire to. Just imagine how successful organizations could be if you were able to achieve that level?

Mentorship and leadership – two very closely connected concepts, and don’t ever forget one leads to the other. Mentorship, therefore, has to be at the core of each organization – formally or informally – and if you do, your future is going to be just fine.

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“OMG – Should we move to Canada?!”

One of the most famous post-election headlines I can recall was one from The Daily Mirror (a UK publication) the day after 2004 election: “How can 59,054,087 people be so dumb?” Yes, some people may have found it insulting; some funny. But one thing most of us can agree upon – every election result produces overreaction from someone. This year, the poster-child of overreaction happens to be the man who has been lampooned by people on the left regularly lately, Donald Trump, who had a complete meltdown on Twitter.

As a moderate “Independent”, I find the overreaction more funny than annoying. In full disclosure, let me state some of my opinions clearly: I am fiscally conservative, I believe in simplifying the tax code, significantly cutting back Government spending, creative incentives for private industry to thrive, but I also believe in the notion of social responsibility. My operating definition of “social responsibility” is simple: any progressive or developed nation has the moral obligation to create programs to allow its less-privileged citizens to have the opportunity to bring themselves up to the so-called sweet spot of any healthy, growing economy – the “middle” class. So, yes, my fiscal conservativeness is balanced by the understanding that Government does have a role to play beyond just Defense! Finally, I have highly libertarian views on personal social issues – nothing gets me more ticked-off than some politician imposing their personal views on religion, marriage, etc on the general public. Okay, now you know why I consider myself an Independent! Neither party truly reflects my views – so, I vote for people, not parties. That is why I find the overreaction amusing. What I find annoying, however, is so-called political pundits’ lack of in-depth analysis, and wanting to jump to the simplest conclusions.

The conventional wisdom of past is that high unemployment leads to voters throwing out the incumbent. That didn’t happen this year. The simplest analysis I have heard from many political pundits can be summarized in one word – “demographics”. The “white” vote has gone down consistently as an overall percentage in the last three elections. The theory – founded in results as well, I admit – is that the so-called “white vote” ( a phrase I find very uncomfortable) would have resulted in Mr. Romney elected as President, had it been at the same levels as 2008. The corollary to that theory immediately is that the “Latino and African-American vote” went overwhelmingly to Mr. Obama. All of the above are true. But, as an Indian American, I feel left out by these pundits. Well, no need to despair. NBC’s “Meet the Press” addressed that by indicating that the overall Asian American vote has gone increasingly for the Democratic Presidential candidate over the last three elections. So, yes, demographics are clearly at play. But, what is really going on under the covers?

First, it is good to start by busting one major myth. Perhaps driven by their desire to be “simple”, pundits translate demographic voting to issues they (the pundits) can match to simple talking points. Best example: Latino vote going to Mr. Obama because of Republicans’ views on Immigration. To think that all Latinos care only about the Immigration view is, at a minimum, insulting to all Latinos. Fact is that Latinos, African Americans, Whites, and Asian Americans have more in common than not – they all play in the same economy, they all want what is best for their kids, they all have family members in Wars that keep them up at night, and most importantly they all love this country and want to be proud in what they do in return.

So, the basic fallacy in any analysis is that no vote is about one issue. It comes down a multitude of issues that get processed before someone votes. Unlike The Daily Mirror headline, Americans are not that dumb! And, if I reflect on this election, a few things come to mind:

Electorate’s Intelligence

A former boss and a great mentor made this statement after the 2004 election, “You could say that I am more aligned intellectually with the Democrats…” I laughed then, and thought that was a very polite way of hiding his disappointment. But this election, more than any other I can recall, represented why “intellectual alignment” does play a big role in a voter’s selection. And this time around, it worked in Democrats’ favor, thus helping Mr. Obama win re-election. By the way, by no means am I implying that Mr. Romney is not intelligent! But the issues go deeper than the two individuals. There are some issues where Republican party has failed to show its collective intellectual alignment with – well, much of the educated world. Here are a few examples. There is the famous question of “do you believe in evolution” asked at a Republican Primary debate. I still can’t figure out what I found more surreal – the fact that the question had to be asked or that majority of the candidates reflected that they didn’t! Second example: Climate Change. It is one thing to debate the cause(s) and what should be done to mitigate Climate Change, but to question its very existence leaves intelligent people confounded. Let me not even get started on the stupid remarks of a couple of Republican Senate candidates on issues related to rape. Both of them were defeated, even in territories considered strong Republican strongholds – thus showing that “intellectual alignment” plays a much bigger role in voting patterns. Our electorate is more in tune with realities of the world, and for better or worse, it is hard to argue that Republicans’ collective snafus, even though they didn’t reflect Mr. Romney’s views, didn’t hurt him in the end.

Challengers’ Inspiration

I wasn’t in US for the 1980 election but when you hear about it, Mr Reagan captured the nation’s imagination by his unique ability to inspire. Mr. Kennedy did the same in 1960. Mr. Obama repeated the same phenomenon in 2008. Whether we admit it or not, one thing that ties Americans together is the desire to be “inspired”. Even in Corporations across America, you will find successful leaders being able to inspire their people to think differently, be able to perform beyond their capabilities. When it comes to Presidential elections, and especially where the incumbent is one choice, the burden of “inspiration” falls on the challenger. Even when I have asked my friends who are staunch Republicans what they find inspiring about Mr. Romney, I mostly heard what they didn’t like about Mr. Obama. Enough said. One issue where Mr. Romney had an edge over Mr. Obama, at least based on the resume, was “economy” and selection of Mr Ryan as his VP confirmed that realization. Yet, there was not one policy laid out that could have inspired the moderates to think that economy would have acted better or different under Mr. Romney’s leadership.

Candidates’ Image

Here is an interesting thing about American voters. On one hand, we want our leader to be more like “us”, but we are also smart enough to know that we want our leader to be smarter, more charismatic, and global than us! I give you two classic examples: Mr. Clinton and Ms. Palin. Nobody meets the test of the perfect “image” of a President than Mr. Clinton. To this date, he can speak to each American like nobody else I know. He seems to know the exact issues that are on top of their minds, but then you hear him speak at Clinton Global Initiative or at any International Summit, you are amazed by the depth and breadth of his intelligence across a broad range of topics. It is said he has one of the highest IQs of all our Presidents – and unlike the stereotype of a typically intelligent person, he is charismatic, does not come across as an “elitist”, knows how to work with national and global leaders, etc. Ms Palin, when chosen as VP candidate by another respected leader, Mr. McCain, initially inspired many – she was charismatic, came across as being aware of problems people were facing, but then she quickly faded. Why? People figured out that while those qualities were great, we do want our leaders to know more than us!! That was obviously not the case, as we all know now, and is well documented in “The Game Change”, a movie based on real accounts of the McCain-Palin campaign. In this election, Mr. Romney lost out on “image” points to Mr. Obama. On the global stage, polls of top 25 nations showed that except for one (Pakistan), people preferred Mr Obama to Mr Romney. Even locally, Mr. Romney failed to create a credible “image”. Many have blamed the Republican Primary – I don’t buy that. Democrats went through a vicious Primary in 2008 – and Mr. Obama’s image was preserved through the process.

Intelligence. Inspiration. Image. Three issues that go much deeper in explaining what happened in this election – and they have nothing to do with whether you are White, African-American, Latino or Asian. The Republican party has much to analyze over the next few years, but if all they do is focus on “immigration” issues to think they are going to win over Latinos, or on pretending to moderating their stand on abortion to win over women’s vote, then they would have missed the basic point. We want two healthy parties focusing on the right issues to continue our global leadership. And, I, for one, am hoping that Republicans get it together soon.

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