How Harry Potter taught me how to swim

This is 2004, I was staying back in college during the summer vacations (for a research project) and had a strong urge to learn swimming.  If I could learn and be good at it, this probably would be the only sport at which it would be so. ( I used to suck at all other sports I tried). But swimming was really close to my heart & I had to give a whole hearted attempt at learning it.

I was in the list of  candidates who could make it to the team which would compete in the upcoming inter-college sports event. Now we had to get trained to give a good fight in the competition.  So we got a trainer from the Army who could help us with that.

 

We had a standard 50m pool and our training used to happen every morning 4-5 hours + a few hours in the evening. This was the time when my stamina & endurance were constantly being stretched and tested. (I was already a high endurance dancer, but swimming , especially sprints took far more energy and endurance).

So it would go like this:

  1. Start with a 45 min warm up by running stairs.
  2. Then do a further warmup by swimming 6-8 laps in the pool ( 300-400 m).
  3.  By this time you are tired and exhausted already 😉
  4. Now lets start sprints – 50m and 100 m.  Jump and race to the end  – super fast.
  5. Do 4 such sprints.
  6. Now relax by doing another 5-6 laps.
  7. Sprints again
  8. Again relax by doing another 5-6 laps.
  9. Now take a 10 min break.
  10. Now play water polo for the next couple of hours.

During and after these sprints, almost all my body parts and my lungs used to pain (actually scream with pain inside my head) . And that pain used to be un-bearable many times. This is when Harry Potter helped me 🙂  Every ‘relax’ round of 5-6 laps I used to imagine watching Harry Potter movies in my head and distract my attention from the pain to the amazing world of Harry Potter.

There have not been many situations after that where I had to do this, but focussing on good things in life when in extreme stress lets you pass through it & makes you stronger.

Thanks to JK Rowling for creating the stories that became that good thing for me !

 

 

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One advice for budding leaders – don’t be like a teenager.

There is a particular mistake, I made a lot when I started to get into leadership roles.  I think that growing up process was very much like teenage, where a kid suddenly realizes that he/ she is not a kid anymore and then thinks that he is probably smarter than his parents / seniors.

(Thanks to in8.uk.com for the image)
(Thanks to in8.uk.com for the image)

He begins to disrespect them. Don’t do this as a budding leader. Don’t disrespect your seniors / leadership. 

You may end up burning bridges. You may end up disappointing people a lot. (PS: I did this and I regret it).

Even if you think that you are actually smarter, find out ways of keeping your calm. Try to find out the reasons why your seniors / leaders may be doing certain things a particular way.  Is there a background to what they are saying ? Why are they the specific questions they are asking ? Is there a reason why they behave certain in front of others ?

Try to understand them better. That would grow you as a leader.  You may not copy them, but you would have learnt more about leadership.

Here is a related post I wrote a while back – https://pankajghanshani.com/2012/10/24/dear-over-energized-rock-star-learn-to-stay-quiet/

I screwed up (and still do sometimes) , I hope you don’t 🙂  . All the best !

 

Do you know what brings you back to life ? If not, find it, you may need it someday.

This is a post about times when one is feeling low. Sometimes you are so low that you can’t even face your friends / family. You don’t want to.  Is there anything that has the power to bring you back ? Is there anything that gives you energy, that gives you a positive spirit.

(Thanks to mylilventure for the beautiful pic)
(Thanks to mylilventure for the beautiful pic)

As one grows in his  / her career / family, you become more and more lonely in your job/place in the family. There are not many you can share your pain/ trouble with.  Of course friends are always there, but do you have them nearby so as you can talk to them face to face ?  Not always.

This is when you are alone. This is the time your ‘savior’ would bring you back up.

For me, its music (playing, listening..gives me a lot of energy, pumps life back into me). For some its dance, for some its watching movies, for some its meditation.

When nothing works, you can rely on this one.

If you don’t have one, go find it / create it !

And the ones who already have it,  do tell me about them 🙂

How to keep yourself Motivated and in touch with your network at the same time

Make a list of people who you feel happy with, or motivated, or inspired. Keep them close.

(Thanks to blog.clarity.fm for the image)
(Thanks to blog.clarity.fm for the image)

Make a list of people who bring you down, who add no value to your life, who probably just your waste your time. Keep away from them if you can.  ( I read about this idea on a blog somewhere which I am not able to find now…) 

And I also learnt about using tools to keep your network in touch from my mentor of mine.

So this is what I have been doing (for the last year or so)

  • I have a google spreadsheet in which I have a single list of people who motivate me, make me happy, inspire me. (Its about 80 people right now)
  • Against each name I have a date when I last met / talked to him or her.
  • And there is a third column – status. If the date of the last conversation has passed more than 6 months – the status turns red. If its between 3 and 6 months it turns yellow and if its less than 3 months – it shows up in green.  (you can easily setup a conditional format to do this coloring)

Now all I need to do is to open this sheet once every week or two and make a few phone calls / meet my friends (who are in red / yellow status). I can open it my iPad / phone given that its on Google drive

This way I keep my motivation high  and keep in touch with my motivators. I am not perfect at this, but I try my best 🙂

Do share your thoughts.

Want to be exceptionally successful ? Combine best practices with an open mind

Experiment
Lots of great leaders / academicians / researchers have written texts, helped define standards, practices, concepts that others can re-use and benefit. 

We also call them best practices. Do you think we should always follow them (by the book) ?
I would say ‘mostly’. That ‘mostly’ is for me to keep an open mind and creating space for some experimentation.
Experiment
Lets take a few examples where not following the erstwhile known best practice or the ‘standard’ was key.

#Think about the advent of Low cost airlines. Not serving free food.
#Think about huge transition happening right now in customer service from traditional call centres to twitter / Facebook.
#Think about the transition from classic waterfall software development model to agile and other new models.

Best practices / industry standards change. Are you with me ?

Practices followed by individuals / teams / companies that take leaps of success or become exceptionally successful are later followed by others.
This is what people start calling best practices and then they later evolve into a ‘standard’.
Think about the classic ‘Product Development Model’ of running a startup to the new ‘Customer development / Lean’ way.
The formula of successful folks, becomes the mantra for others. Did I make my point ?  Read that line again. ( What I meant is that these successful people had to invent their own little formula)
So here is my theory  – “If you want to be exceptionally successful, have the courage to experiment. Be open to trying new ways of doing things”

BUT there is a pre-requisite – for you to not adopt best practices, you must know what exactly you are letting go. That implies you must understand why a particular practice is called ‘best’ – why is that so good. What are those benefits of that practice and in what situation that you are willing to let them go. Obviously, you ll have to know why you are willing to let them go. Have a deep understanding before you play your bets. (Otherwise you would be depending on  your luck too much)
Go experiment wherever you want to ! ( And may be you ll get exceptional results 🙂  )

Value of a good phone

Thinking whether you should go & buy that expensive ‘smart’ phone for yourself ?
goodPhones
Here is how I like to think about it ?
‘Smart’ phones are by nature devices that give you information and tools which you would not have had in your hands otherwise.
If you have a small and simple feature phone, you may still have been able to get the information if you have a computer at home/office/cyber-cafe.
if you do have the computer, then the phone is just making it more accessible. For me, thats a big deal, its saves me time. Allows me to give time to things which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.  Or wrap up things faster.
Here is some quick math which can potentially quantify that:
  1. Suppose your income is 100 rupees a month.
  2. That means your each day is worth 3.3 rupees.
  3. Suppose your phone saves you 15 minutes each day. And lasts 2 years.
  4. Thats a total of  15 x 30 x 12 x 2  = 10800 minutes in 2 years. Which is roughly 18 days saved (assuming a 10 hour day.)
  5. The value of your phone is worth 18 days of saved time. Thats #2 x #4  => 3.3 x 18  = ~60 rupees.
 60% of your monthly take home. Ballpark, but you get the idea.
PLUS – if the phone allows you to do things which were otherwise not possible, then you should think how valuable these things are to you. That may bring some objectivity too.

Book recommendation: Crucial Conversations

This is one of those books which you would want to read once, read again and keep with you to read  again later.

crucial-conversations-tools-for-talking-when-stakes-are-high-400x400-imad6qhfgkhnnmag

This a book which explains how we react under emotional stress. How we deal with conversational violence or silence and why we deal with it that way.

And then explains how to have these emotionally charged and difficult conversations without getting off track and make positive progress.

This has had a great positive impact for me and is a must read book for folks who live with their families. Would also be extremely useful in office for those who deal with senior stakeholders and drive direction/decisions.

The Power of Mentors

mentor

Mentors have had an enormous positive impact on my life and the same can happen to you.

mentor
(thanks to http://www.usfbap.org/ for the image)

Recently, I came to know about someone who wanted to move to a Product Management role. She had been wanting to do that for years, but not been able to. She got in touch with an experience product manager and asked him for guidance. They worked together to create a five month plan.  She followed the plan and the fifth month – “magic happens” 🙂 – she gets a Product Manager role in an organization which she wanted to join.

This, I think, is no big deal if you have got a good set of mentors and are willing to go an extra mile whenever needed 🙂

Easiest is to reach out to senior folks in your Organization, College Alumni, ex-colleagues / family etc. to find mentors.  But do keep in mind that you need to respect their time as well.

All the best, Happy mentee-ing 🙂 !

Put things down on paper !

As a Product Manager, there have been a few instances when I missed out putting things down on paper.

And later regretted that!  I don’t want the same to happen to you.

Few instances where I screwed up: 1) Publishing the notes / minutes of a meeting where a wireframe was discussed and approved by the consumers. 2) Discussed a small requirement with the engg team but did not put that into the  PRD. 3) Discussed, a success / release criteria but did not put that in the plan.

Mom

When you put things down on paper / email –

  1. The communication/ message gets a date to it.
  2. The written message becomes an evidence of a communication that happened.

This :

  1. Drives clarity and forces people to come onto the same page if they are not w.r.t a decision / process.
  2. Clearly calls out the people responsible  for any action items and the expected timelines. (at least a good note does that)
  3. Also, clearly admits any open items.

This is a BIG DEAL  for organizations / people who deal with a lot of people./ or with people who tend to forget things.

Dear Over-Energized Rock Star – learn to stay quiet

This is something I have been telling myself and have learnt recently.

I think more than knowing when you should speak up and how you should articulate, whats important is to understand when you should NOT say anything.  When you should just be a listener, observer.

There are plenty of instances where I thought, I had something I could share. A piece of advice, some feedback, my personal opinion / comment etc. But I stayed quiet and that was much better for all the parties involved.

Few Examples

  1. When you are trying to build a relationship with  and the other person (  your boss / colleague / a potential friend client ) is basking in his own glory. Let him enjoy. Don’t bring him down. (Feel free to share a positive comment, but keep your negative feedback / comments inside you)
  2. The other person is un-necessarily blaming someone to feel good about himself . Stay quiet. Providing feedback is important but with the right timing.
  3. When you think an idea is very sub-optimal but the other department / team (which you do not directly control) is going ahead with it. You know there is a big political scene out there and a sub-optimal decision has been taken. Try sharing your feedback with individuals if you really need to but don’t speak up publicly.  Stay out of politics un-less you are the boss.
  4. When you think someone is insulting you in front of a lot of people. Its not necessary for you to retaliate then and there. Stay cool. In the worst case,walk out of the conversation grace fully if you need to, but not retaliating with a bullet in front a big group would definitely help.

These are only a few examples, but in general – I have realized that staying quiet is more important a skill than many other rock star competencies one may have.