True Guru

Are you wandering in search of your Guru, or are they wandering in search of you.

The word “Guru” means one who dispels darkness or enlightens. “Gu” means darkness or lack of knowledge and “ru” means one who throws light and dispels the darkness. In simple words, a guru is a teacher; someone who guides an individual to learn something. The learning could be about music, painting, writing or simple values of life. Therefore, an individual would have many gurus during the course of a lifetime and the gurus themselves may come in many forms.

The English word, teacher is not adequate to define a guru. It is important for us to note the distinction between a guru and a teacher. Anyone with adequate training (e.g. in music or painting) can be a teacher. A guru, on the contrary, goes beyond the subject knowledge and becomes a mentor and a spiritual guide, leading the shishya (disciple). To lead and to be led, both the guru and the shishya need sincerity and a dedication to each other. Because you pay someone Rs.1000 per hour to give you piano lessons for one hour does not make for guru-shishya relationship. In a guru-shishya relationship, a disciple (the word originated from discipline) dedicates himself to the guru because of an inner desire to be led. The guru, in turn, takes the shishya as a sesha (an integral person in his life) and considers the mentoring of the shishya as his sacred duty. Only such mutual dedication and attachment makes for a guru-shishya relationship.

The guru and shishya relationship is unique to India and has been cultivated over 2,500 years of Indian heritage. Upanishads form a sacred part of our heritage. The word Upanishad comes from two words – upa and nishad. Upa means sitting nearby and nishad means to listen and learn; literally translated, Upanishad then refers to a dedicated shishya sitting near a guru and listening and learning from the spiritual experiences of a great master. In this relationship, the shishya considers the guru to be God himself and has absolute faith in the teachings and guidance of the guru. For his part, the guru dedicates himself to the guidance of the shishya. There is no competition in this relationship – just mutual respect. Nothing in this world is more satisfying to the guru than the accomplishments of his shishya. Such is the greatness of this relationship. However, for both the guru and the shishya, finding this relationship is as much about chance as it is about one’s own willingness to find knowledge wherever it may reside.

A King was passing through a forest followed by his entourage of soldiers carrying arms and his servants carrying jewelry and other ornaments. Suddenly they came upon an old man lying in the middle of the forest, clad only in a loincloth, laughing merrily and appearing enormously happy. The old man had no possessions and yet seemed quite content with life. The King, despite all his possessions, had never been this happy and was curious to learn the secret of the old man’s happiness.

The King got out of his chariot and approached the old man lying on the forest floor. The old man took no notice of the King or his entourage. The King, however, did not take the elder man ignoring his presence as an insult. Instead, the king approached the elderly man with respect and asked him, “Why are you so happy? You have no possessions or a comfortable place to live and yet, you seem to be content and satisfied. What is the secret of your happiness? Revered Sir! Would you let me know who your guru is so that I can also receive guidance from him on the secret to happiness.”

The old man turned to the King and said, “Oh King! I have had 20 gurus. My gurus include this body, this earth, the birds, the animals, and the trees. Everything in the world has taught me something. The good things of the world taught me what to see and how to be good and the bad things taught me what I must avoid.” The King saw the wisdom in the old man’s words, bowed to him and continued with his journey.

True Gurus are everywhere. They are waiting for their shishyas. Dedicate yourself as a true shishya, look around, and you will find one.

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Between in and out

Markets are the playing field for product and service providers, and their customers too. In reality a battlefield where the free-play of market forces gives the customer many choices as providers showcase to ‘win’ them.

Actually, it is a mouth-watering prospect for those who can stomach a fight. A well-prepared student eagerly awaits the exams; a well-bodied gladiator relishes a challenge; a confident provider looks forward to unleash products and services in a market full of competitors.

While competitors keep a tab on the market shares and the movements there is a complex interplay of a variety of factors that influence the outcome. For products it could be superiority, and for service it could be a technical edge.

If we study the case of telecom, it has some interesting lessons for those outside the industry as well.

20th January, 2011 was a landmark day both for the mobile network operators and subscribers alike in India. After months of speculation, the much awaited Mobile Number Portability (MNP) became a reality.

For a change both the provider and the customer were looking forward to it. The operators rubbed their hands in glee at the tempting prospect of poaching and the customers who had heard about being kings, had a chance to feel like one.

After a little over a month of MNP, the Department of Telecommunications released the following figures:

Between in and out





Like a balance sheet, conventional wisdom suggests that we look only at the last column which represents net additions. However to a strategic thinker, these numbers reveal much more than what they display.

Let’s understand what each column tells us.

The first column, ‘Subscribers in’ indicates the customers acquired and is definitely an asset to the company. It reveals the power of attracting new customers. It is a validation of all the marketing efforts and is harvest time for the seeds sown earlier. This indicates that the customers have dumped their existing provider in your favour. Smile!

The third column, ‘Net addition’ indicates what was gained minus what was lost. This equals to net gain or net loss. After all, in business, you win some and you lose some, and if at the end you have gained more than what you have lost, you have earned yourself a reason to feel good. Continue smiling.

The second column, ‘Subscribers out’ is what concerns a long term player. This column represents your dissatisfied customers. They have chosen to part ways with you – either because you were unable to meet their expectations, or your competition promised a better product or service. This is an alarm that your service and delivery is poor and found wanting.

To many the only concern is the net effect in business. As long as we are getting more than what we are losing, there is little cause for worry.

This is a Trojan horse. It is likely to hit you badly before you realize it. Focussing only on the net effect is like collecting water in a bucket full of holes. You are so happy with the constant flow of water that you hardly notice that a lot of water is dripping out all the time. You take cognizance of this only when the level starts dropping. We can keep on adding new clients but if we can’t hold them, we cannot win the long term game.

With competition in every business segment, there is nothing much to choose between products or services, and no one can be expected to have the winning edge for long. Players, new and old keep blunting the competitors’ edges and discovering their own in the quest to capture market shares. While a lot of emphasis is paid to attract new customers, the focus should also be on plugging the holes in the buckets or retaining what they already have i.e. satisfied customers.

We breathe in and out to survive, but success in the market is what we keep in, between.

The Article originally published at DQ Week, 20 May, 2014

Posted in: Focus on Solutions

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New Wine for Old Bottles

The world witnessed the Gulf boom from the mid-seventies for nearly a decade. Many equations changed as the new found wealth travelled the globe and impacted the world politically, financially and socially.

During this period it was not uncommon to hear bizarre stories which shockingly were found to be true. The Arabs could be believed to be outlandish but nothing was beyond reach. Stories of wealthy Arabs making offers to buy London’s Big Ben or our own Taj Mahal in Agra were a chuckle amongst the rumour mills with little surprise if they came true.

Amidst all this came an authentic anecdote from some known sources that left me in awe. Two global entrepreneurs, one from Japan and the other from India were on the hunt for a very large business deal from an Arab. Their pursuits landed them at a luxurious summer resort in Hawaii. Both hung on with stiff necks to the scent of their target as he relaxed in the pool oblivious of the predators. They waited eagerly for the Arab to step out, to make a dash and close the deal.

Suddenly there was a splash as the Indian saw his Japanese competitor jump into the pool making strokes towards the Arab. On reaching him, he pulled out his recent Japanese innovation – a plastic visiting card, and after a chat concluded the deal in the pool itself.

Though it’s nearly three decades since this event occurred, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a repeat of such stories every few years. No, I don’t mean in the pool but in the innovative ways to conduct business.

Consider the recent phenomenon. You don’t need to know, yet you know so much of whom you want to know. You can think of doing business with anyone on the globe and be connected via a social network in the next hour. People are digging info records, references, collecting data of prospective customers, vendors, employees or just following the fortunes of certain companies for their diverse interest. You don’t even need an email address, leave alone a contact number.

Today’s era has made visibility disappear in a cloud. Earlier business referrals were accustomed to be identified with source. Today it seems futile and almost a backward step. People are making every effort to be visible to the entire world and not the least surprised with overtures from across the globe. In these times you don’t need matchmakers to pick an equity in a start-up, or approach a giant for a niche requirement. You have enough dope to make your own dossiers and devise your move.

There’s a change in how you do business today. Definitely old models and practices are being thrown out of windows. Floating clouds with newer practices reinvent the hammocks that earlier platforms rested on.

New businesses will have to tune themselves not to just business offerings but also stay abreast of fresh challenges and the ever changing environment that promises to bring a new dawn with every sunset.

As the Head of Science, Einstein suffered the wrath of the university when they found that he had repeated the exact same questions for the Science paper as the previous year. How could he make such a blatant mistake? He just smiled and replied, “The questions are the same, but the answers have changed.”

The times now have turned the proverb on its head. More than new questions, expect new answers, to the same questions.

This Article is originally published at:

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Teaming Up

People are seeking to learn all the time. They read books, listen to thought leaders, get coached, and of course learn from experience. Those with a keen eye find that every observation and interaction offers an opportunity for learning to a fertile mind which is ready to absorb the knowledge overflowing in life.

Every interaction is a learning experience and any group activity offers a rich cluster of lessons.

Any group activity needs purpose, planning and execution. And all these within a framework of teamwork which can make the difference between winning and losing.

Purpose: It almost seems absurd that you can have a team engaged without a purpose. However we have seen two key areas of deficiency. One is clarity of purpose and the other is lack of communication. You may come across groups which are feverishly committed to be together but have little idea why they have come together. They fail to achieve anything significant other than being a social interaction platform. Some groups start with a well-defined purpose but the lack of proper communication or the continued communication of purpose gradually erases the primary reason of their association.

Leadership: Whether the group is made of two or two hundred, leadership or the lack of it makes its presence or absence felt. Good leaders will be communicative, assertive, encouraging, inspiring, guiding, selfless, and lead from the front. Weak leaders will be poor in communication, unsure, wavering, self-centred, and play favourites. Leadership has something unique about it. The leader may be visible or invisible, but leadership is always omnipresent in any group.

Execution: The success of any venture or group’s purpose is measured by its execution. It is the team the members, the way they perform individually and in tandem, and the team spirit is what determines the outcome. Good leaders and passionate team members still follow the proverbial rule of a rotten apple and keep the team free of one. Purpose and Leadership ensures the team is on track and meets its goals.

Teams are a collection of individuals and individuals performing well collectively make a great team which achieve great results. So it boils down to individuals: how they see their role and how they contribute.

Some want to do it, from some you have to get it done. Some want to do it well, while some need others to get out the best from them. Some want to win, and some want to participate. Some look at what they have to do, while some see what the team needs to do collectively to win.

Great team performances are a result of a combination of the three key factors and the team players who make the final difference. Team members committed to give their best do not wait to be summoned or reminded of what they are expected to do. They in fact are constantly looking at how they can improve their contribution towards the team cause. And it is this approach and attitude from each of them that makes the team unbeatable.

So ask yourself the key question: Do you voluntarily give your best or has it to be extracted out of you?

Posted in: Motivational, Team Work, Work Culture

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Tally Team to Task

Does your team match the job at hand?
Thanos Papadimitriou

Every start-up thinks the activity of an organization as the process of sourcing, securing, allocating, assembling, managing, and scaling human and material resources into business capabilities.

Smart entrepreneurs are like accountants, they match the duration of their assets and liabilities, both financial and human.

No one can do it alone. Sooner or later entrepreneurs have to enlist additional team members to execute existing tasks so that they can focus on new, higher value initiatives.

Four things to think about when you are building your team are as follows:

1. Fill in the gaps

A complementary partner is the most important asset available to an entrepreneur. A partner is an additional set of eyes, a sounding board and a reality check-the person whom you trust to tell you when you are wrong. Finding the right candidates begins with honest self-examination. Compare your capabilities to those needed to succeed to find the gaps. Entrepreneurs would be wise to apply the same analysis to every addition they make to the team. 

2. Get started with what you have, but upgrade relentlessly

Most entrepreneurs lack the resources or track record needed to attract qualified candidates, and thus rarely have the pick of the litter when hiring. That’s ok. Part of being an entrepreneur is learning to make it work with what you have. That said, remember that difference between “A” and “B” players is not one notch, it’s 100x fold. Covering an empty position for a few weeks sounds horrendous but keeping an inept person in a critical position is crippling. The ambiguity and lag time makes it all the more important to act decisively. Immediately saddling new team members with actionable and measurable tasks can help to uncover subpar hires sooner.  

3. Plan for roles to change

This means making it clear to early hires they are filling temporary needs. Make short (six month) commitments, which include flexibility for role changes as needed.

4. Hire for the job at hand

Many start-ups mistakenly hire a professional VP of Sales before finishing the product, much less validating demand for it. Not only is it expensive to have a VP of Sales sitting around before there are customers to sell to (you, the founder, are in charge of evangelical sales, remember?), anyone worth their salt wouldn’t come to work in your basement anyway. It’s just not worth their time yet.

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Testimony of April 1st

Across the globe April 1st is celebrated and is sometimes referred to as All Fools’ Day. It is a day that is marked with hoaxes, practical jokes and ridicule that takes various forms and shapes.

I meet some people who give me an impression that they are celebrating April 1st round the year. Like making tall promises; making promises to show up, which they don’t; or making commitments which they have no intention to honour.

You would have heard of the boy who cried wolf. The tale concerns a shepherd boy who repeatedly tricks villagers into thinking a wolf is attacking his flock. He probably celebrated April 1st once too often which resulted in the wolf actually putting in an appearance and destroying the flock whilst his cries fell on deaf ears.

Reputation: Brands are nothing but a string of dots. People behave in a certain fashion and that establishes a pattern in the mind. Some companies have a reputation for reliable products whilst some are known to have cheap and affordable products which may however not last long. Some are innovative, others run of the mill. People show up on time, punctuality being one of their virtues whilst some don’t show up at all nor do they bother to inform. Their behaviour registers a pattern which becomes their brand.

Commitment: Brands are etched in the minds of the people. Both good and bad impressions leave a mark. A poor experience may take years to erase from memory and a great experience can be cherished for life. These are a result of the commitments that brands make to deliver what they promise and the experiences they wish to leave in people’s minds. Everyone encounters trials and adversity in one form or the other. Their commitment towards what they wish and choose to do makes their brand equity higher than the others.

Talk: At the bottom of this brand value is talk. Some don’t walk their talk seriously nor do they expect others to take them seriously.

Brands are built tirelessly by people who are serious about their commitments. They understand that there are some April foolers and they choose to use this day to remind themselves that unless they work towards what they say, what they commit, and what they deliver, their brands would appear to be as ridiculous as some of the pranks played by people on this day.

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True Colours

Celebrating the ‘Festival of Colours’ and a few introspections

Celebrations begin with lighting of a bonfire on the eve of Holi. Legends and stories associated with Holi make the festival exuberant and vivid.

Holi, the festival of colours is unique in a way. You cannot stay aloof from this festival. Even if you don’t want to participate, you can’t pass it. You have to dodge it. It provides others the right to invade your private space, take liberties and most of it is done in good spirit. Are you an active or a reluctant participant, or are you a dodger? This says a lot about your true colours.

The Legend

Hiranyakashyap was a demon king who had won over the kingdom of earth. He was so egoistic that he commanded everybody in his kingdom to worship only him. But to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana and refused to worship his father.

Hiranyakashyap tried several ways to kill his son Prahlad but each time Lord Vishnu saved him. Finally, he asked his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. For, Hiranyakashyap knew that Holika had a boon, whereby, she could enter the fire unscathed.

Treacherously, Holika coaxed young Prahlad to sit in her lap and she herself took her seat in a blazing fire. Legend has it that Holika had to pay for her sinister act with her life. Holika was not aware that the boon worked only when she entered the fire alone. Prahlad, who kept chanting the name of Lord Naarayana all this while, came out unharmed, as the Lord blessed him for his deep devotion.

Thus, Holi derives its name from Holika and is celebrated as a festival of victory of good over evil.

There is also a tradition of people rendering their gratitude to Agni, the god of fire by offering gram and stalks from the harvest with all humility. Further, it is customary on the last day of Holi for  people take a little of the bonfire to their homes. It is believed that the fire would purify their homes and their bodies will be free from disease.

The Other Legend

Young Krishna is known to be very playful and mischievous. As a child, Krishna was extremely jealous of Radha’s fair complexion since he was very dark. One day, Krishna complained to his mother Yashoda about this injustice of nature. To pacify the crying young Krishna, the doting mother asked him to go and colour Radha’s face with whichever colour he wanted.  In a mischievous mood, naughty Krishna heeded the advice of mother Yashoda and applied colour on Radha’s face; making her one like himself. Well! Did he?

Can you change someone’s true colours just by painting their face differently?

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Taming the Enemies

The biggest enemies we face are not outside, but within – Jim Rohn

We are not born with courage, but neither are we born with fear. Maybe some of our fears are brought on by our own experiences, by what someone has told us, by what we’ve read in the papers.

Some fears are valid, like walking alone in a bad part of town at two o’clock in the morning. But once we learn to avoid that situation, we won’t need to live in fear of it. Fears, even the most basic ones, can totally destroy our ambitions. Fear can destroy fortunes. Fear can destroy relationships. Fear, if left unchecked, can destroy our lives. Fear is one of the many enemies lurking inside us.

Let me tell you about five of the other enemies we face from within.


The first enemy that we’ve got to destroy before it destroys us is INDIFFERENCE.

What a tragic disease this is. “Ho-hum, let it slide. I’ll just drift along.” Here’s one problem with drifting: we can’t drift our way to the top of the mountain.


The second enemy we face is INDECISION.

It is the thief of opportunity and enterprise. It will steal our chances for a better future. Take a sword to this enemy.


The third enemy inside is DOUBT.

Sure, there’s room for healthy skepticism. We can’t believe everything. But we also can’t let doubt take over. Many people doubt the past, doubt the future, doubt each other, doubt the government, doubt the possibilities and doubt the opportunities. Worse of all, they doubt themselves. I’m telling you, doubt will destroy our life and our chances of success. It will empty both our bank account and our heart. Doubt is an enemy Go after it. Get rid of it.


The fourth enemy within is WORRY.

Just don’t let it conquer us. Instead, let it alarm us. Worry can be useful. If we step off the curb in New York City and a taxi is coming, we’ve got to worry. But we can’t let worry loose like a mad dog that drives us into a small corner. Here’s what we’ve got to do with our worries: drive them into a small corner. Whatever is out to get us, we’ve got to get it.

Over Caution

The fifth interior enemy is OVER CAUTION.

It is the timid approach to life. Timidity is not a virtue; it’s an illness. If we let it go, it’ll conquer us. Timid people don’t get promoted. They don’t advance and grow and become powerful in the marketplace. We’ve got to avoid over-caution.

Do battle with the enemy. Do battle with our fears. Build our courage to fight what’s holding us back, what’s keeping us from our goals and dreams.

Be courageous in our life and in our pursuit of the things we want and the person we want to become.

We will be facing the toughest opponent today in our life.

We have to make thing work, if it doesn’t work- we don’t leave but keep on firing our bullets of self belief.

Posted in: Motivational

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To gather together

Festivals are an integral part of our cultural landscape. They come along each year and while most of us delve into the festivities, some use the opportunity to revisit their significance and probe if there are any relevant lessons.

The upcoming Dushera festival epitomizes the victory of good over evil. Its rich storyline throws up new lessons on every visit.

From a strategic perspective, Ravan made a calculated move. He knew that the two brothers and a wife were serving a penance in the forest, and living in solace.  With no allies or support with them, they seemed to be an easy prey for his lust.  Ravan made his move and succeeded in implementing his plans.

The abduction of his wife Sita made Ram aware of his loneliness. Though the two brothers were accomplished warriors, away from their kingdom, and no support in sight, they found themselves in a hole. However Ram responded with strategic thinking. He realized the futility of waging a battle against a mighty king. A king who was armed to the teeth with a rich armoury of boons accumulated through years of penance. If this invincibility was not enough, he was also assisted with a battery of heavy weights in slumber.  He woke up to the fact that he had no chance to break in and release his wife from the clutches of her abductor.

He did not resort to a desperate dash of despair but recognized that the need of the hour was to have a team that would put up a fight in his endeavour. With nothing in the bank, he looked beyond humans to get whatever he could stitch together. He forged a string of alliances as his team swelled to a respectable proportion.

The journey was unknown to them and they needed the combined skills of their diverse workforce to meet the constant challenges of an unforgiving terrain. The injustice and humiliation to the innocent family coupled with the ideals of the aggrieved galvanized the entire team who with spirit and grit kept marching towards their lofty goal.

While the Ram camp was swelling by the day, the Ravan camp was blissfully unaware of the growth in the ranks of the opposition. Proud of the imbalance of their unmatched strength of personnel and resources, they stood still in overconfidence. It was therefore no surprise that the friendly overtures of reconciliation by the Ram camp were ridiculed and refused.

History has it that the underdogs felled the mighty. With the defeat imminent, pride made reconciliation impossible and the invincible paid with the heaviest price a human can.

Nature has provided humans with enough power to survive, but to thrive they have to combine. However powerful and independent one may become, in times of despair or thrive they need to pair to drive.

To overcome tough challenges, or to attain great heights, they need to get together. And what seems impossible individually, they gather collectively.

It is in the shelter of each other that the people live. – Irish proverb

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To be known or unknown

Everyone does something. Some do what they ought to. Some what they like. Some do it for pleasure. Some do it for profit. Some do it quietly. Some make a noise about what they do. Some are known for what they do. Some do, but are hardly known. Some do it with a purpose. Some do it without knowing why they are doing it.

Different folks, different strokes!

A passionate teacher works tirelessly, sometimes for a pittance and sees many students reach great heights. They prosper financially, make a name for themselves and are remembered more than the one who taught them the foundation principles.

A small actor from a town’s street play group performing for social awareness makes it big on the silver screen. Though doing meaningless roles, he becomes immensely popular, starts making big bucks and hits the headlines.

If you look around, you will find that these are not isolated cases but some of the many that you will come across.

The tough question is what do you aim, desire or be satisfied with. The teacher could definitely do with some recognition and of course money. The passionate, driven by a larger purpose of social awareness would welcome better achievement of their objectives and some better conditions for themselves too.

Like people there are many brands in the marketplace which face similar dilemmas in their journey. Should they aim at popularity, recognition or focus on what they have to. Should they look to more profitable avenues or continue in their areas of strength.

Honestly, there are no clear cut answers. If there were, then the world would not have the various shades of grey that makes up the landscape.

However, conventional wisdom does teach us that fame, popularity and financial gains should not be the sole guiding forces of any journey. They are by-products.

The teacher does what he does because he is qualified to do something, enjoys what he does and is happy for what compensation it provides. The actors driven by the passion to make a difference do what they do, enjoy their purpose, drive satisfaction and the compensation is incidental.

If people enjoy what they do, why they do, and what compensation they get from it, it bothers little to them if someone else is getting something which they aren’t. They understand that some vocations allow people to be more visible, some don’t and people are willing to pay more for some things even though they may not be of as great a purpose as theirs.

Many organizations especially in the B2B segment are doing a great job, and are in fact extremely profitable too, but are hardly known outside their industry. On the other hand small players who need to make themselves noticeable are well known to the general public even though their operations are a fraction. Both need the maturity to understand that popularity is not the litmus test for what they are doing.

However, there is something that the people can do in their evaluation process. On their part they too can understand that mere awareness or visibility of a brand is not what matters. They can put into their minds an evaluation matrix that will then put what people do, why they do, and what they get for it, in the right perspective.

Would that change your perception? Try it.

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