What is my purpose?

purpose Linkedin.png

Everyone ends up asking oneself this question eventually. Some really early in life, some when in a crisis and some as a result of a discussion or external influence.

The following is my story of determining my purpose. It might be a long read, but hopefully a good one.

I vividly remember asking myself this question in March 2002, when I had just finished reading “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. I was part of an IT project team stranded in Ahmedabad, Gujarat during the infamous 2002 Godhra Riots and even though we were in a safe part of the city, we had nothing to do as our project was stalled and such existential questions often emerged as part of the environment we were in.

Deciding upon one’s purpose is usually an iterative process and so was mine.

My first iteration was to define my purpose in terms of my job. So my first purpose was:

** My purpose is to build the best networking solutions for my customers **

While this looked fine, it somehow lacked the idealistic flair that well defined purpose statements (especially organization mission statements) have. Also it felt too limiting and dependent on my job.

My second iteration was to define my purpose in terms of me as a person. And the role I have to play in life. So my second iteration got me to:

** My purpose is to be a great son and a supportive brother **

(I wasn’t married at this time)

Again, this still felt a bit limiting. After all, don’t we all aim to be the best version of the relationships we maintain? What’s so special about that?

Now it was a morose time in Ahmedabad. Everybody went about their business in hushed silence and the sombre tension in the atmosphere was depressing and often weary. You could notice that even though the violence did not affect us directly, everyone was tired of it.

These were the days of Internet cybercafes which used to be the only place you could check your emails, if you could not afford a costly dial-up internet connection in your home. I remember waiting in line for a computer terminal to free up when I heard the cybercafe owner lamenting about how his IT guy had not done a good job of setting up his network and everyday was a struggle with getting his network working.

I offered to help him redesign his network and sat up with him in his shop past midnight to configure all his computers into one well configured network. Sometimes as a techie, you just want to switch off your Word documents and Excel spreadsheets and just get your hands dirty with technology.

Three days later, when I went back to the shop, Rasikbhai was all beaming.

“Navinbhai, ekdum (totally) firstclass!! Not one problem. Even the speed of surfing is better.”

Everyday since then, when I passed his shop, Rasikbhai would wave at me with a happy smile. He could not stop telling other people what I had done. For him, I was the technical magician who improved his business. Moreover, it brought me joy and pride that I could help someone with my skills.

And it was then that I realized what I believe is my unique purpose:

My unique purpose is to bring a smile to everyone I meet

For me, that “smile” is a metaphor. It can be telling a funny story to someone who’s down, bringing a word of encouragement to someone who is demoralized, helping a Rasikbhai with my technical skills, helping a client solve his business issues with my consulting or just sharing a friendly smile with the doorman or parking attendant. It is taking away the “pain” from another person’s mind, even momentarily, to enable them to smile.

Yes, it sounds foolish and rhetorical. I have been laughed at by interviewers when I’ve stated this in interviews, scoffed at by well meaning friends who would tease me to become a stand-up comic as well as had many dismiss me as an idealistic fool.

But I truly believe that this is my unique purpose. To be a catalyst in other people’s lives, as much as I can. To bring a smile to anyone I meet.

After all, Rasikbhai’s smile is always a testimony to the accuracy of that purpose.

*********

(Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill is my favorite book. Its a great book to start the thinking process and to discover your purpose and calling in life. I will highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it before.)

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Delete that “About Us” slide

Do consultants really add value to a business?

Lately, my limited television viewing has included the House of Lies series. Its interesting to watch real life  consulting situations melded with all the jokes and anecdotes about consultants that you have heard. And while this may be a comedy series, it does have a lot of factual details to can make consultants smile and wince in cognizance to the situations depicted.

Which brings me to the question – Do we add value to your business?

Executives I’ve spoken to are varied in their opinion, depending upon which side of the change they’re on. Some swear by the consultants they’ve hired and sing praises in every forum they find. The majority however have a not-so-favourable opinion of the value delivered.

In all honesty, we as consultants are also guilty of doing too little to change the perception that the world has of us. Its time we project and publicise the value we bring to customers, not just the size of the deals. Not just get the business, but create evangelists among clients.

 

So we can have our reputation for bringing value precede us. So we waste less time proving who we are and spend more time doing what we can do.

So we can get rid of that “About Us” slide in our presentation deck.

Interviewer Etiquette

A lot has been said and written about how a candidate should dress, groom, speak, behave, non-verbally communicate, answer the questions at an interview. While most of these suggestions are taken seriously and often followed, it brings me to wonder about the lack of such suggestions for the interviewer. After all, an interview is a two way process.

Consider then this anecdote shared with me by a very good friend:

“When I received a call for an interview at the firm’s residential guest house rather than the corporate office, I had to wonder whether I would be subjected to a “casting couch” of sorts. Considering the person interviewing me was the Sales Head of one of the largest IT firms in India, I gave him the benefit of being impossibly busy. Being the professional I’d like myself to be projected as, I landed at the address, dressed impeccably in suit and tie, even though it was the end of a long gruelling day. 

When I reached the place, I was asked to wait for exactly 27 minutes. If I were in an office, I would have asked to be announced again. However the caretaker of the guesthouse had already done so… twice! As I was just about to leave a note, I was greeted by an unshaven man, dressed in a loose T-Shirt and Bermuda shorts, holding a copy of my resume. I was informed that the original person, the erstwhile Sales Head was unable to make it to the meeting and this person, another Sales Head at par with the original interviewer in the corporate hierarchy,  would now be taking my interview.

What followed was perhaps the worst interview of my life. Rather than discuss my strengths and weaknesses as suited to the role, this person started off a diatribe about various competitors and industry individuals. That, using some of the most colourful language I had heard. He spoke about people in the industry who I worked with and had learnt a lot from. After about 10 minutes into the “knowledge session”, I excused myself and called the interview to a close, when I realised that this individual would be a regular contact during my workday, if I chose to join the organization.”

While I listened to my friend, I realised that this is not some obscure firm operating out of a small town in India. This is one of Indian IT’s biggest powerhouses, held as a shining example of professionalism. And I could not help but wonder:

1. What kind of impression did my friend now carry about this organization?

2. What would be his feedback to his circle, should someone ask him for his opinion about this firm?

3. In the future, if my friend had to make a decision about business deals with the firm, how could it be anything but negative?

4. For a third party listener like myself, what is my impression about this firm and its care for its brand?

 

Probably this is a stray incident and it might be an exception rather than the norm. However, this was a senior level position my friend was interviewing for. There would have been some ways the whole incident could have been managed:

1. The original interviewer could have been courteous enough to call and let my friend know directly that he would be late or unable to make it to the meeting.

2. Reschedule the meeting rather than allow the meeting be conducted by a proxy who obviously had no clue about the position being hired for, much less the skills needed for interviewing.

3. Ensure the meeting is held in a formal manner. Treating the same casually like a chore to be "ticked off the To Do list” just leaves a bad impression on the candidate.

4. Remember the axiom “A good customer tells three, a bad customer tells nine”. This holds true for partners, vendors and potential employees.

5. Protect your brand value. Marketing can build a brand only so far. It is the “moments of truth” that actually build the brand.

Just like hiring managers would not hire an unprofessional, shabbily dressed, ill mannered and casual candidate, the same holds true for candidates. In today’s day and age, where the average employee lifespan is 18 months, it is important that employers extend the same professionalism that they expect from their candidates, not just in the work life once they’re hired, but from every “moment of truth” that they have with the candidate.

Saying No to the Customer

 

A lot of thought provoking insight comes when you interact with people. People who play various roles: Spouse, parent, leader, subordinate, fellow citizen. As a sales person, the one fundamental role that stays with me is that of a customer. Hardened sales leaders will concur that everyone you meet is a customer and you are always selling.

So then what happens when the customer is being unreasonable? When the customer is bullying you into delivering free services? Or cutting your price way below your cost, just because he’s the bigger guy? What happens when the customer ignores the value of the products or services you deliver and evaluates them as a commodity?

You say NO !!!

Agreed, you may not get the business. Agreed, you may let your competitor win. Agreed, you might fall short of your target this quarter. Agreed, the customer will not want to have anything to do with you henceforth.

The number one reason why you would want to risk all of the above is that you BELIEVE you have something of value to offer. If you believe your product or service is differentiated from its competitors, its relatively easy to avoid succumbing to unreasonable demands from customers.

I do not advocate walking away from every deal that starts to show some sign of trouble. I am assuming you have done everything to ensure that the uniqueness of your product is conveyed to the customer. A detailed, logical comparison between your offering and the competitors convinces most buyers. But to those few customers who will not see reason and unreasonably negotiate like its an agenda, its always noble to shake hands and walk away.

Three things happen here:

  1. You leave with your differentiation and market position intact. You did not succumb to becoming a commodity and hence decrease your chances of being treated as one. Sometimes being a snob is good.

  2. The customer will gain respect for you. When such a buyer is playing unreasonable, she’s not going to expect you to be reasonable and mature. When you walk away from the table, the buyer will be left with an impression that he is missing out on something. Doubt can be good.

  3. Chances are you get what you pay for. If the competitor vendor is going to win the deal on unreasonable terms, 95% of the time, quality will suffer. So the next time the buyer looks for a product or service, they will remember the one vendor who refused to compromise on the product or service they believed in.

But, the primary requirement for taking this stand is your unwavering belief that your product or service is unique and differentiated and can bring genuine value to the buyer.

Comments from readers, especially from the buyer side of the table, are welcome.

Thank you, Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs Picture courtesy: Apple Computer Inc.

It must be very strange that I write my reactionary post to the demise of Steve Jobs, five days after he passed away. Unlike most media agencies who would have a readymade eulogy for every ailing celebrity, for me, the unfortunate passing of Steve Jobs was extremely sudden and has still to sink in. It was just like the time I was told that Michael Jackson passed on.

I am not an Apple user, have never bought an Apple product (apart from an IPod that I was gifted and hardly use) and have been fed a staple of competing products from the day I saw my first computer. But when you saw an Apple product, you felt envy. They were beautiful, simply beautiful. While most of us would argue that were not exactly functional, you have to agree that they were beautiful.

As a computer technician, I remember when I was asked to install software on an iMac G3. None of the other technicians wanted to take that service call. This was in India where the standard is Windows and Intel. And the Apple iMac was the costly fancy gadget that everyone wanted to just gape at and not mess around with. In a small discussion room in my office, there stood the Bondi Blue funny shaped monitor. When I snapped out of the awe for the funny looking computer, my first reaction was “Where’s the CPU??” And when they told me, I said “Why didn’t they think of that before??”

That reaction embodies Steve Jobs’ influence on Technology. He proved that technology was not just functional, but needed to be aesthetic too. The joy of a product is not just what it can do, but also what it looks like, feels like, the experience that the user gets. For Steve, like with Michael Jackson, it was the experience, not just the product. When you focus on that, its not about the product anymore. Ask any Apple fan anywhere in the world. 

Then as I got Steve Jobs as a case study in MBA class, you started to marvel at the maverick business sense the man had. With ideas that were way beyond the present, but with constant touch with what the customer would desire, he went onto to do things that were outrageous for the norm. The Apple Macintosh, iMac, the iPod, the Macbook, the Apple Store, the iPad… everything that made no conventional business sense, but Steve knew it would work. And how.

I know Steve only from what I’ve read about him, the presentations he made and generally hearsay. But when you hear him talk about life in a commencement address to new students at Stanford, you realize the depth of the man. he was not all technology and business, not all greed and the other human shortcomings. He was about life, and being the best you can be. And he was. In his own way, Steve Jobs was the best he could be.

Sir Richard Branson, the entrepreneur I most admire, calls Steve Jobs the entrepreneur he most admired. And in a way, I have to agree. Steve Jobs was the magician and showman who resurrected not once, but thrice in an entrepreneurial career that I’m sure he looked back at with restless satisfaction. There are few people for whom Frank Sinatra’s My Way would be the perfect swan song. Sinatra was one. Steve Jobs would be the other. But then for Steve Jobs, his swan song would be the enormous legacy of products, ideas and “awesomeness” he’s left us to gape at…

I’m going to miss him say, “One more thing…”

Thank you, Steve.