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No Limits, No Barriers

What are the barriers to growth and high performance? What will be the downfall of a startup or the Achilles heel of a giant corporate? How to live a life that has no limitations?

Some musings…

The battle really is in the same place it has always been. The mind.
We think that the world has changed a lot since the early centuries when there were kings and warfare abounded. But nothing much has really changed. Adventures are always around us and the greatest ones are within us!

Not many recognize this, and fewer still, accept and embrace this challenge. We think startups or people setting up businesses are mentally better prepared for risk than the ones who seek employment in companies and the comfort of a steady salary income. But is that true?

The fact is, the entrepreneur does not think his endeavour to be too risky; he actually cannot but embark on this task, as it drives him, and he cannot be comfortable in the cosy confines of a normal job.
So the entrepreneur starts off with what he knows and thinks he knows rather well. He actually never ventures into territory that is unmapped or uncharted, he skirts its edge, and is lauded by some for being bold, and criticized by others for being reckless.

True entrepreneurs always tackle the unknown. The truly successful are those who do what no one has done before, those who challenge the foundational ‘givens’.

Even though the entrepreneur starts a new business, he still uses methods and means which he knows and is familiar with; techniques he is acquainted with and technologies that he understands too well.
The truth is, he never really dares to venture into areas where his fears reside; he never risks doing things simply because he wants to do them or feels goaded by; he still weighs the risks and then goes forth.
Yet the real frontiers lie in the mind, in ideas you never dared to believe in, in approaches you never assayed.

You must be ready to think the unthinkable. You must question your holy cows.
Genuine innovation lies there!

True entrepreneurs always tackle the unknown. The truly successful are those who do what no one has done before, those who challenge the foundational ‘givens’.

It is for this reason that Elon Musk is one of the most admired entrepreneurs in the world. He did something truly new, whether in the e-cars, spaceships or transportation (Hyperloop).
I have worked in diverse and unrelated fields such as journalism, advertising, run my own advertising firm; I have worked with NGO’s and voluntary agencies, insurance, banking, stockbroking, investment banking, alternative investments, real estate, e-commerce and online marketing, etc.

I have sold newspapers (for Indian Express, when it was challenging the hegemony of The Times of India in the English language dailies) door-to-door for over a year, sold clothes & posters on the footpath, run a chicken shop, and sold villas and flats worth crores while working in real estate.
Doing news things taught me something. It taught me to face my fears. It taught me, first, to recognize that I had fears!

Fear is a lie. Like the commercial says, Darr ke aage Jeet hai!

While everyone warned me against entering new sectors such as banking from insurance, I went ahead because I wanted to develop the work ethic that was demanded by MNC banks in those days.
I moved on to broking when I saw that as bankers we were advising people on wealth management but most people around me understood nothing of mutual funds and the stock market.

While in the broking company I saw the great opportunity for private equity among SME’s, and I gravitated to investment banking. I was hungry to learn and grow. I never baulked at new sectors. I just dived in. And I thrived. I refused to accept old barriers that people with years of experience told me had to be respected.

I learned that sometimes staying in a place for too long does not mean that you know the most about it. I realised that most companies who ask for applications from candidates with 10-15 years of experience in a particular field do not understand what they are talking about. You can learn almost all there is to learn in a particular field within a much shorter time frame (I don’t mean things like science and research etc. for these are endless!).

A few additional years are adequate to give you the required experience to deal with the aberrations, variations and oddball challenges that may arise. My point is that if you’re a learner you can learn and be in the top ten rather soon and it’s not merely a function of the amount of time you spend there.

In fact, too many years in the same job may indicate something negative. It could be stagnancy or a fear of new challenges or satisfaction! Satisfaction can often mean that the fires have died. And it is shocking that hiring companies do not recognize this simple fact!

But usually, where the HR department is completely in charge of recruitment, you will find that their policies are of this sort. HR people should be people who can discern talent, competence, drive and calibre. Unfortunately, they are simply those who have an MBA in HR while demonstrating a total lack of understanding of the human resource itself.

If a sports team fails or fares poorly despite great talent, it is the coach who is sacked. But not in the corporate world. Here it is the lower level people who are axed. HR heads never pay for high attrition. Why not? Isn’t it their responsibility to ensure they hire the right talent and to ensure that good talent is retained?

A good HR head can make a clear contribution to the bottom-line of the company. Yet how many actually do so?

I am sorry to say that in most organizations the real fat is in the top layer!
While all cost-cutting exercises target the lower rung staff, the real flab sits easily in the top segment of most companies, starting with the VP’s.

Most of them actually do nothing, yet hog all the credit for the work done by their juniors! They take home the fat pay cheques and the perks but there is little evidence that without them the organization would have failed to achieve its goals or targets.

Of course, this is primarily true in the area of sales, marketing and HR and not the purely technical functions like Accounts, IT etc. Perhaps these do bring something to the table in those areas.
Why does this happen? Why do people who were strong performers and achievers become so slack that they can be counted as ‘fat’?

The only purpose of having an ego is to keep you from quitting.

The reason for this is simple – fatigue, a sense of having arrived and entitlement. Most executives begin to feel entitled to some rest and relaxation at the level of VP; they feel they need not be as hands-on as they used to be; they feel they have done enough to reach there and now they should simply delegate and get others to work. And to some extent that is right. However, it can actually become an excuse for laziness and abdication of responsibilities.

They tend to make others do the work by using the carrot and the stick, but they add little to their subordinates or teams, by way of real guidance, wisdom or direction. One can always get results out of one’s team by threatening them with dire consequences, so one chooses that easier path, as against the tougher way of leading from the front; of being a mentor, guide and leader.

And that’s how the fat rises to the top; it isn’t called the creamy layer for nothing!
I feel many people in the top hierarchy can be safely eliminated without affecting the total productivity of the organisation adversely; in fact, it may actually improve!

It may not be appropriate to say this but I have risen from the bottom rung all the way up to my last corporate position as President, Sales & Operations, and I saw this almost everywhere.
The fire dying, the vision dimming, the drive flagging.

Which young man worth his mettle will want to spend his youthful zest and creativity at a stodgy old giant company merely for the cash?

Complacency sets in; incremental growth is accepted as sufficient; the top man is afraid to ask for more because even he, perhaps, thinks it’s not possible; or he feels that what’s happening is good enough. The top team keeps saying they’re doing really well and much more isn’t possible.

That’s when they start writing the ‘book’ as in ‘play by the book’. Systems and processes become onerous and begin to stifle innovation, initiative and fire. New ideas are not encouraged. And slowly the truly talented begin to hunt other pastures.

The company doesn’t die immediately. It grows due to its reputation and size but this is simply momentum! It continues to grow deceptively for a while until calcification has set in deeply. This is when the word ‘moribund’ becomes an apt description for it.

There are very few, truly visionary, entrepreneurial and enterprising companies out there. This is why youngsters are drawn to startups these days and are rejecting six-figure offers from large MNC’s. Which young man worth his mettle will want to spend his youthful zest and creativity at a stodgy old giant company merely for the cash?

The fact is, when you are really good at what you do, you also know that money is nothing! You do not work for a salary because you know that you could earn a salary almost anywhere; what you want is a real challenge; an opportunity to build something that lasts, that is excellent; a company that will serve society’s needs, that will be an excellent and profitable business, and will look out for the interests of the people who work there and give them genuine avenues for personal and professional growth.
You may be an entrepreneur or a young graduate just starting off his career.

You must not fear.

You must always be a learner.

You must take pride in your work but not be proud.

You must have an ego, but remember!

The only purpose of having an ego is to keep you from quitting.

You must not look down on anyone or any work.

Entertain no barriers in your mind, no limitations. Test your core beliefs, test what has been told you.
But remember: Old values are not to be scorned; only things that have become rituals and meaningless traditions must be judged.




Learn humility.

But never lose your compassion.


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