Thursday, April 24, 2008

APJ Kalam on managing failures

On March 22,2008, former President of India Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was asked this question at Wharton India Economic forum in Philadelphia:

Could you give an example, from your own experience, of how leaders should manage failure?

And what Dr. Kalam said is worth reading again and again. He started by saying..

"Let me tell you about my experience. In 1973 I became the project director of India's satellite launch vehicle program, commonly called the SLV-3. Our goal was to put India's "Rohini" satellite into orbit by 1980. I was given funds and human resources -- but was told clearly that by 1980 we had to launch the satellite into space. Thousands of people worked together in scientific and technical teams towards that goal.

By 1979 -- I think the month was August -- we thought we were ready. As the project director, I went to the control center for the launch. At four minutes before the satellite launch, the computer began to go through the checklist of items that needed to be checked. One minute later, the computer program put the launch on hold; the display showed that some control components were not in order. My experts -- I had four or five of them with me -- told me not to worry; they had done their calculations and there was enough reserve fuel. So I bypassed the computer, switched to manual mode, and launched the rocket. In the first stage, everything worked fine. In the second stage, a problem developed. Instead of the satellite going into orbit, the whole rocket system plunged into the Bay of Bengal. It was a big failure.

That day, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, Prof. Satish Dhawan, had called a press conference. The launch was at 7:00 am, and the press conference -- where journalists from around the world were present -- was at 7:45 am at ISRO's satellite launch range in Sriharikota [in Andhra Pradesh in southern India]. Prof. Dhawan, the leader of the organization, conducted the press conference himself. He took responsibility for the failure -- he said that the team had worked very hard, but that it needed more technological support. He assured the media that in another year, the team would definitely succeed. Now, I was the project director, and it was my failure, but instead, he took responsibility for the failure as chairman of the organization.

The next year, in July 1980, we tried again to launch the satellite -- and this time we succeeded. The whole nation was jubilant. Again, there was a press conference. Prof. Dhawan called me aside and told me, "You conduct the press conference today."

I learned a very important lesson that day. When failure occurred, the leader of the organization owned that failure. When success came, he gave it to his team. The best management lesson I have learned did not come to me from reading a book; it came from that experience.

Leaders, are you listening?


Monday, April 21, 2008

Celine Dion speaks

Her husband was her rock, her manager, her behind-the-scenes support system. Then came a stunning role reversal, and the singer discovered a voice (and an identity) she didn't know existed.

I am the youngest of 14 children in a close-knit family, so I had lots of people watching out for me and giving me loving support from a very early age. A brother or sister was always there to take me to school or help me with my homework. My mom wrote all my first songs, and when it became clear that singing was my dream, she arranged for me to meet with one of the best-known music producers in Canada, René Angélil. He agreed to become my manager, and my career was born.

From there, things took off so quickly that I didn't have time to stop and think about everything that was happening to me, but I never had to; René made all the decisions for me. He arranged the meetings and placed the phone calls. He picked my songs and planned when and where I would go on tour. I had to focus only on my passion: my singing. Even after we became husband and wife years later, we were happy to maintain that balance.

All that changed on March 30, 1999, my 31st birthday and the day that René was diagnosed with skin cancer. After nearly five years of marriage and 20 years of working together, my husband, who had always been the one to take care of me, suddenly needed me to take care of him. For the first time in my life, I was in charge. I was no longer merely the performer; I became the manager of both our lives. I placed the phone calls and made the decisions.

I coaxed him through the debilitating side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. I cared for him when he couldn't keep his food down or was too weak to get out of bed. I had to be his support and strength. I made sure we were going to embrace life.

Cancer was an incredible challenge for René to go through, and it allowed me to discover strengths that I had never before put into practice. I used to keep everything inside; today I speak up for myself. I pick my own songs. I'll tell a technician that I don't like the way he's lighting me. I've learned to say, This works for me…. That doesn't…. This is unacceptable…. This is how I'd like it to be done. At home I make decisions as a mother, and I communicate my feelings to my husband.

The most important thing I learned, though, is that my life is so much more than show business. Over the years, a lot of people have asked me what I would do if I could no longer sing; it's amazing to me that they think I would lose everything. They don't know—and perhaps I didn't, until this time—that my inner voice is a lot stronger than my singing voice. I am a mother, daughter, sister, and wife, and now I know that if anyone I love ever needs me, I can take care of them.

When people come to me and say, "I want to be just like you; the only thing I want in life is to sing," I tell them this: "Please don't make your career your life." Let it be your passion, let it bring you pleasure, but don't let it become your identity. You are so much more valuable than that.

Learn to build your foundations. Figure out your likes and dislikes, and don't ever be afraid to express them. If you can realize you are capable of many things, you'll be able to survive anything life throws at you.

— As told to Naomi Barr


Friday, April 18, 2008

Let's run through the rain

She had been shopping with her Mom in that store. She must have been 6 years old, this beautiful red haired, freckle faced image of innocence. It was pouring outside. The kind of rain that gushes over the top of rain gutters, so much in a hurry to hit the earth it has no time to flow down the spout. We all stood there under the awning and just inside the door of the departmental store. We waited, some patiently, others irritated because nature messed up their hurried day. I am always mesmerized by rainfall. I got lost in the sound and sight of the heavens washing away the dirt and dust of the world. Memories were a welcome reprieve from the worries of my day.

Her voice was so sweet as it broke the hypnotic trance we were all caught in, "Mom, let's run through the rain," she said.

"What?" Mom asked.

"Let's run through the rain!" She repeated.

"No, honey. We'll wait until it slows down a bit," Mom replied.

This young child waited about another minute and repeated: "Mom, let's run through the rain." "We'll get soaked if we do," Mom said. "No, we won't, Mom. That's not what you said this morning," the young girl said as she tugged at her Mom's arm.

"This morning? When did I say we could run through the rain and not get wet?"

"Don't you remember? When you were talking to Daddy about his cancer, you said, 'If God can get us through this, he can get us through anything!"

The entire crowd stopped dead silent. I swear you couldn't hear anything but the rain. We all stood silently. No one came or left in the next few minutes.

Mom paused and thought for a moment about what she would say. Now some would laugh it off and scold her for being silly. Some might even ignore what was said. But this was a moment of affirmation in a young child's life. A time when innocent trust can be nurtured so that it will bloom into faith.

"Honey, you are absolutely right. Let's run through the rain. If God let's us get wet, well maybe we just needed washing," Mom said. Then off they ran. We all stood watching, smiling and laughing as they darted past the cars and yes, through the puddles.

They held their shopping bags over their heads just in case. They got soaked. But they were followed by a few who screamed and laughed like children all the way to their cars. And yes, I did. I ran. I got wet. I needed washing.

Circumstances or people can take away your material possessions, they can take away your money, and they can take away your health. But no one can ever take away your precious memories. So, don't forget to make time and take the opportunities to make memories everyday.

I hope you take the time to run through the rain.


Making the parrot talk

A woman bought a parrot to keep her company. She returned to the pet store the next day with a complaint: "This bird you sold me won't talk."

The pet store manager said, "Does he have a mirror in his cage? Parrots love mirrors. They see their reflection and they start up a conversation." So she bought a mirror and went home.

A couple of days later she was back. The bird still wasn't talking. "How about a ladder?" the manager asked. "A ladder will make your parrot happy, and a happy parrot is more likely to talk." She bought the ladder and left.

Two days later she returned. The bird still hadn't said anything. The store manager thought for a minute and said, "How about a swing? All parrots need a swing. A swing will loosen him up, and he'll be talking in no time." The woman reluctantly bought the swing and left.

She was back the next day, looking forlorn. "My parrot died," she said.

"That's terrible," the manager said. "Did he ever say a word?"

"Yes," the woman said, "Right before he died he said, 'Don't they sell any food at that pet store?"

Hope you're not doing the same with your loved ones. Whether at work, or at home, the food to survive is affection, genuine care, and lots of praise for good deeds. Don't let them stay deprived of it. Ever.


Struggle of butterfly

A man found a cocoon of a butterfly.

One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole.

Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could, and it could go no further.

So the man decided to help the butterfly.

He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time.

Neither happened!

In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.

What the man, and perhaps many of us, in our kindness or haste, do not understand is that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were God's way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieves freedom from the cocoon.

Things take their own time, hurrying never helps. And when struggle challenges you, don't panic. Just remember God's wish behind the struggle of butterfly.


Two frogs

Once upon a time in the country of Japan there lived two frogs.

One of whom made his home in a ditch near the town of Osaka, on the sea coast, while the other lived in a clear little stream which ran through the city of Kyoto.

At such a great distance apart, they had never even heard of each other; but, funnily enough, the idea came into both their heads at once that they should like to see a little of the world, and the frog who lived at Kyoto wanted to visit Osaka, and the frog who lived at Osaka wished to go to Kyoto. This was just by coincidence.

So one fine morning in the spring they both set out along the road that led from Kyoto to Osaka, one from one end and the other from the other. The journey was more tiring than they expected, for they did not know much about traveling, and halfway between the two towns there arose a mountain which had to be climbed. It took them a long time and a great many hops to reach the top, but there they were at last, and what was the surprise of each to see another frog before him!

They looked at each other for a moment without speaking, and then fell into conversation, explaining the cause of their meeting so far from their homes. It was delightful to find that they both felt the same wish--to learn a little more of their native country--and as there was no sort of hurry they stretched themselves out in a cool, damp place, and agreed that they would have a good rest before they parted to go their ways.

"What a pity we are not bigger," said the Osaka frog; "for then we could see both towns from here, and tell if it is worth our while going on."

"Oh, that is easily managed," returned the Kyoto frog. "We have only got to stand up on our hind legs, and hold onto each other, and then we can each look at the town he is traveling to."

Osaka frog loved this idea so much that he at once jumped up and put his front paws on the shoulder of his friend, who had risen also. There they both stood, stretching themselves as high as they could, and holding each other tightly, so that they might not fall down. The Kyoto frog turned his nose towards Osaka, and the Osaka frog turned his nose towards Kyoto; but the foolish things forgot that when they stood up their great eyes lay in the backs of their heads, and that though their noses might point to the places to which they wanted to go, their eyes beheld the places from which they had come.

"Dear me!" cried the Osaka frog, "Kyoto is exactly like Osaka. It is certainly not worth such a long journey. I shall go home!"

"If I had had any idea that Osaka was only a copy of Kyoto I should never have traveled all this way," exclaimed the frog from Kyoto, and as he spoke he took his hands from his friend's shoulders, and they both fell down on the grass. Then they took a polite farewell of each other, and set off for home again, and to the end of their lives they believed that Osaka and Kyoto, which are as different to look at as two towns can be, were as alike as two peas.

The things around us change their meaning according to the perceptions that we carry about them. Its the same world, but the way optimist looks at it is very different from that of pessimist.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ant and the feather

One morning I watched nearly for an hour a tiny ant carry a huge feather cross my back terrace.

Several times it was confronted by obstacles in its path and after a momentary pause it would make the necessary detour. At one point the ant had to negotiate a crack in the concrete about 10mm wide!

After brief contemplation the ant laid the feather over the crack, walked across it and picked up the feather on the other side then continued on its way. I was fascinated by the ingenuity of this ant - it served to reinforce the miracle of creation. Here was a minute insect, lacking in size yet equipped with a brain to reason, explore, discover and overcome. But this ant, like the two-legged co-residents of this planet, also share human failings.

After some time the ant finally reached its destination - a flower bed at the end of the terrace and a small hole that was the entrance to its underground home. And it was here that the ant finally met its match. How could that large feather possibly fit down small holeOf course it couldn't. so the ant, after all this trouble and exercising great ingenuity, overcoming problems all along the way, just abandoned the feather and went home.

The ant had not thought the problem through before it began its epic journey and in the end the feather was nothing more than a burden.

Isn't life like that?!

We worry about our family, we worry about money or the lack of it, we worry about work, about where we live, about all sorts of things. These are all burdens - the things we pick up along life's path and lug them around the obstacles and over the crevasses that life will bring, only to find that at the destination they are useless and we can't take them with us!


Four apples

A teacher teaching Maths to seven-year-old Arnav asked him. “If I give you one apple and one apple and one apple, how many apples will you have?” Within a few seconds Arnav replied confidently, “Four!”

The dismayed teacher was expecting an effortless correct answer (three). She was disappointed. Maybe the child did not listen properly, she thought. She repeated, Arnav, listen carefully. “If I give you one apple and one apple and one apple, how many apples will you have?”

Arnav had seen the disappointment on his teacher’s face. He calculated again on his fingers. But within him he was also searching for the answer that will make the teacher happy. His search for the answer was not for the correct one, but the one that will make his teacher happy. This time hesitatingly he replied, “Four¦”

The disappointment stayed on the teacher’s face. She remembered that Arnav liked strawberries. She thought maybe he doesn’t like apples and that is making him loose focus. This time with an exaggerated excitement and twinkling in her eyes she asked, “If I give you one strawberry and one strawberry and one strawberry, then how many you will have?”

Seeing the teacher happy, young Arnav calculated on his fingers again. There was no pressure on him, but a little on the teacher. She wanted her new approach to succeed. With a hesitating smile young Arnav enquired, “Three?”

The teacher now had a victorious smile. Her approach had succeeded. She wanted to congratulate herself. But one last thing remained. Once again she asked him, “Now if I give you one apple and one apple and one more apple how many will you have?”

Promptly Arnav answered, "Four!"

The teacher was aghast. “How Arnav, how?”, she demanded in a little stern and irritated voice.

In a voice that was low and hesitating young Arnav replied, “Because I already have one apple in my bag.”

When someone gives you an answer that is different from what you expect don't think they are wrong. There maybe an angle that you have not understood at all. You will have to listen and understand, but never listen with a predetermined notion.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Riding the donkey

Different people have different perception. One man's meat could be another man's poison.

A couple bought a donkey from the market. On the way home, a boy commented, "Very stupid. Why neither of them rides on the donkey?"

Upon hearing that, the husband let the wife ride on the donkey. He walked besides them. Later, an old man saw it and commented, "The husband is the head of family. How can the wife ride on the donkey while the husband is on foot?"

Hearing this, the wife quickly got down and let the husband ride on the donkey. Further on the way home, they met an old Lady. She commented, "How can the man ride on the donkey but let the wife walk. He is no gentleman."

The husband thus quickly asked the wife to join him on the donkey. Then, they met a young man. He commented, "Poor donkey, how can you hold up the weight of two persons. They are cruel to you."

Hearing that, the husband and wife immediately climbed down from the donkey and carried it on their shoulders. It seems to be the only choice left. Later, on a narrow bridge, the donkey was frightened and struggled. They lost their balance ...and fell into the river.

You can never have everyone praise you, or condemn you, all the time. Thus, do not be too bothered by words of others if your own conscience is clear.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The exceptional cow

Once upon a time, a village witnessed one of the severest droughts ever. The crop failed and the villagers did not get anything in return from the landlord. Most of the villagers fled to the cities.

One of the villagers was particularly in a very bad state. His wife was suffering from malaria and in the absence of food or money he was desperate. He was desperate about ways to get some money to take his wife and his children to the town to get some work.

He then saw his cow wandering nearby munching the dried up patches of grass and bushes. He suddenly had a thought to sell his cow. "Surely someone would like to buy her", he thought.

The next day, early morning he started for the market. There, he stood under a tree and explained his plight to anyone who came and requested them to buy his cow. Nobody seemed to be the least interested. With sweat drenched dirty clothes and in the poor state of health he was in, he was looking a picture of the misery. As evening was approaching, he was losing all hope he had started with.

Out of nowhere, a merchant passed him. He looked at the peasant and with a sudden drive of compassion decided to help him sell the cow.

He asked a few questions and then, in a loud voice full of enthusiasm, he announced to the passers by, "Ladies and gentlemen, never let go an opportunity like this. This cow here, gives 2 bucketfuls of milk everyday, morning and evening. Do not be mistaken by her health. It is just because she has recently given birth to a young calf. This animal is of such an exceptional breed that last year she had won a prize during the agricultural exhibition of the neighboring village. My friend here, has come to an urgent situation and is willing to part with her for a price that seems to me ridiculous for such a prize animal. Who amongst you realize that an opportunity like this does not come everyday?"

Meanwhile, a small crowd gathered around them all willing to buy the animal. They all wanted to know the price. The merchant asked the peasant, "Well my friend, what is the price you expect? We have several buyers here".

The peasant stood up and with head held high, declared with pride and arrogance, "This animal is mine. She is too good to be sold. I shall keep her!"

Sometimes it is necessary to have the outside view to appreciate the value of what we have inside.