Sunday, February 26, 2017

Making Real Organisations


I had a session on this topic with managers of a large MNC recently. They were interested in the thought, vision and strategy involved in creating an organisation.
You cannot help but personalise such an endeavour, if you want authenticity. It all starts from a considered and declared choice. ‘Who am I’? The real authentic model! I will live ‘MY’ life; not someone else’s. It is only one life to live after all and why short change yourself.
Once you understand the ‘Who am I’ part (facing the truth is tough!), it becomes easier. The next vital question is ‘Why’ do something? It’s essential to connect the ‘Why’ to the ‘Who am I’. You want to do things which are fulfilling your aspirations. There is a very good talk on TED by Simon Sinek which explains the ‘Why’. He then goes on to secondary questions, like ‘What to do’, to satisfy the ‘Why’. And once you decide on the ‘What’, you can go into implementation and talk about ‘How to do it’. (Simon Sinek ‘Start with Why’)
The ‘Who’ is our soul; ‘Why’ is the vision; ‘What’ is the concept/strategy; and lastly ‘How’ is the tactics.
Most organisations function only on the ‘What and How’ level. Its not authentic and it’s generally not sustainable. At some point, to exist beyond plain commerce, they will have to dive deeper to learn about themselves.
My legacy, driven on by the ‘Why’, is doing ‘What’ my soul wants to do. Not what ‘someone else’ wants me to do. If I deliver on what someone else wants to achieve, that is no success. I may have wasted my life.
So from childhood I wanted to do certain things. Money or position was a minor achievement in life. Fun, adventure, helping others were the big reality. Respect for characters like Abdus Sattar Edhi was intense. On the other hand, I had little admiration for corporate executives, especially the gung-ho variety.
To use Engro, as illustration of the above process.
The foods business started on the simple dynamics of per capita consumption. Same calculations are used by other consumer organisations in Pakistan. It’s commerce, core capitalism and fulfilment of apparent needs. Nothing wrong with that, but not my game. Why take this role at all? It amounted to two things :-
A) Its about Pakistaniat. Recreate the progressive Pakistan of the 60’s, to make us seem worthwhile again. Also to do something for rural area prosperity and emancipation of people.
B) Run an organisation in Cyrus the Great mould. A people’s organisation. Here people will carve their own destiny, they will belong and have ownership. There is no London or New York to report to. This is just us. We have freedom to think and freedom to do, because this is ours. If we fail, the CEO shall be answerable, as long as it is shown that due diligence was practiced and their was no malafide intent.
In the end this ownership drives the company. It ends up growing at huge CAGRs. It ends up winning international and local awards. In the end it also becomes very profitable. Because profit is a by-product of engagement of employees. The commercial purpose is achieved, but it’s culturally done in a human way and people are still happy.
In summary
An entity is created (NewCo)
A Vision is carved out.
A Value system is instituted to cater for the workings of a free, feeling and adventurous organisation. NewCo must hold a moral high ground.
The HR strategy is based on above Vision and Values. NewCo needs risk takers; flag flyers; people with heart; people not so interested in normality, but wanting iconic things.
Put them together and make them buy into the Vision.
CEO personally must live the daily aspect of Values. He has to walk the talk.
Out of this comes a common purpose. In this common purpose there is belief.
Out of this belief comes passion. Passion leads to ownership, diligence and hard work.
In achieving all the above, a team is formed. When team dynamics come into play, We are on a roll. The team will propel each other towards the target. Any target is now achievable. Every now and then, senior management will have to give direction, nudge, cajole, pamper a bit; but the cart will goimage rollicking along on its own now.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Storyteller

imageThe other Sunday, I had the privilege of attending a Toffee TV enactment of storytelling at a local theater, where the audience was mainly children from the ages of five onwards. It was a great exhibition of storytelling, maintaining interest of the little ones, with great delivery, a bit of theater and lots of warmth. Simultaneously, there were messages during the story of love, caring, righteousness and community responsibility. The story of Kaala bhoot was a direct message to the kids, on the environmental hazards of the plastic bag.
This enactment started a train of thoughts, on the art of storytelling and how it is enmeshed in man’s history. I felt that man has now moved beyond stories and is living a life bereft of the charm of stories. However, when I browsed the internet I realized it’s much more complex than that.
The storyteller has been around since the dawn of man. Imagine it! Some deep dark place, without modern day lighting, the stars shine brightly and huddled together, are clans of hunters. They are raw predators with ingenuity as their weapon and essentially living a nomadic existence. When threatened they move on, as also occurs when the game has disappeared from the locality. Huddled together at night in this darkness around a small fire, standing in front of them is a long haired animated member of the clan. He is telling the story of their forefathers, who came after many years march from the barren mountains to these forests. The storytellers language is still basic, but he compensates for it with bodily action and gestures.
In whatever way man communicated, it was the forte of a few to pass on messages. Invariably these messages took the form of stories. Down the ages the stories continued. In some cases powerful story tellers influenced history. Blind Homer some 3200 years ago, carved out stories – maybe based on reality. These stories of Homer, the Iliad and Odyssey are the longest lasting stories of humanity. They were taken by subsequent generations, embellished with ornaments, eventually reduced to paper and then transported three millennium to us in present day literature form. Along the way, these stories affected Greek society and culture, became part of the fabric of living, and through the inventions and advancements which subsequently occurred, became a small part of ourselves today. 
There are many other stories which have shaped us. Like ‘The Arabian Nights’, stories entwined in our eastern culture. Or stories based on reality, offering whispers of experience. The Quran used this means of passing on teaching. As did the Bible. The Quranic stories, parables as Allah calls them, have influenced a billion and half Muslims of the world. We have grown up with the events of Hazrat Ibrahim and his son Hazrat Ismail, the stories of Luqman, Khizr, Hazrat Musa and Zulqarnain, and the dramatic lessons from Hazrat Yousuf, a great tale of survival and triumph of righteousness. We have also heard the frightening ones, like Noah, Shoaib, Lot, Aad and Thamud, serving as great warnings of events beyond human capacity, which have shaped our thinking. Clearly, Allah knows his creation and has used the best way to disseminate messages and therefore leave a lasting impression. Hence, storytelling is inherent within us and is our best case scenario of learning.
So, then to the disappearing storyteller! He is not visible  anymore. In our childhood grandparents must have borne this role. We all have our individual stories. Mine are the exploits of Shaikh Chilli and I see now that it was not just fun and love, but also deep rooted corrective messages. On reflection, it came to me that the storyteller is still here in existence.
In today’s time the storyteller survives, only his form has changed. He is in the movies, best sellers, on TV and radio. He is a politician or an artist relating their thoughts. So the Humsafar drama which gripped so many – I confess I never watched it, just heard about it – is just another form of storytelling. There are stories on the internet also. Of necessity, the medium has changed, as our lives have changed. But the essential story from whoever is the same. A message delivered in a most powerful way, for one to disseminate and pass on through the generations.  Sometimes these storytellers are artists through paintings or animation and then there is the ever present politician or leader. He too winds stories, which then brings support, he leads and his performance too is a story, which is delivered in history books to later generations.
Just to show you that not much has changed, let me remind you of some powerful imagery just enacted in the last 30 years which depict the same scenes, as at the dawn of the humans. The same group huddled together across a fire and the storyteller telling his story. Hark back to the movie MacKenna’s Gold and the lit fire and blind Adam telling the story of the hidden valley of gold. Or the third of the Star Wars movies, in the Return of the Jedi, C-3PO holding his audience spellbound, as they huddled across a fire, while he related the evil story of the Emperor and Darth Vader.
No the fascinating storyteller is alive and well and continues his good work of changing society, while entertaining us simultaneously. Maybe in the bargain, scaring us at times also!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Our friend Ramiz

A perennial back bencher throughout life, it was a bit of trauma  when I ended up in the front row of a cramped classroom, with the teachers desk only a yard plus away. Coupled with that, this kid sat next to me, who was a trial and a half. He never stopped being incredibly happy. 

In the junior school of Karachi Grammar School, in those years, we had these old 1930s benches (1930s because it had carved on it, X loves Y, 193x), with two attached desks cobbled to the bench. Effectively, you shared one long desk with the person next to you and that happened to be ‘the happy individual’. Ramiz Allawala from then on, for almost fifty years, remained a happy part of my existence.

So this was Junior School and through that year, it did not matter if the tests were tough, or the results bad, or Pakistan lost in hockey or cricket. Ramiz was always happy! He just laughed and smiled at everything and had no other mood swings. Even for under tens like us (who were generally optimistic and with few hang ups) this was a difficult one to handle. I must have stared at him hundreds of times and considered how to take that smile off his lips. But, I am so glad to say, that I did not succeed then, or in the ensuing years.        

Yes, there was one occasion when I saw him serious, but that was not my doing. It was a particular showdown with our Principal, in our last year at school. Both Ramiz and myself were House Captains and we had been summoned and given a set down. Surprisingly, Ramiz was vocal during that meeting and it showed a particular fighting quality in him, which  resurfaced at various times in his life.   

We came back to Pakistan in the 1980s, after our studies, as did most of our class (this was usual in those days). It was a great bonding period for us friends. Early careers, unmarried and fairly care-free. It was around this time that Ramiz showed another part of his personality about which we were totally unaware. He started speaking and spoke about things, which never in a thousand years we could imagine floated in that happy brain. He spoke about spirituality, about sincerity, about doing the right things and more importantly about how to make life happen.

Over the years Ramiz reached out to thousands. Some for free, some as part of his new profession. He became articulate and respected, inspired other people, helped change lives, but still never lost his grassroots or his happiness. We saw less of him, as he traveled and eventually settled abroad, but whenever we met, it was like sitting on that desk and bench in school almost fifty years ago. That connect with ground reality, what we were and where we came from never left us. It was always an emotional experience meeting him, sadly only once in a while.

When our childhood friend Ramiz Allawala arrived back home at Jinnah Terminal, a dozen of us went to receive him. It was no ordinary homecomIng. He had bravely chosen to walk away from a one year fight with late stage colon cancer. His decision to come home to family and friends was a decision of faith and love. It was a decision which said there are more important things in life than mere existence. Love, friendship, loyalty and home are perennial and count for more. A wish to be buried in your soil is a strong attraction for us humans. To see a man supremely fit (he used to do tens of laps of the pool regularly) at almost half his size, shrunken, eyes glassy and cheeks sunken in was a shock and emotions and tears flowed freely. But, we are glad that Ramiz got his final wish to die with all of us and to celebrate a life which in passing was wonderful, warm, giving and happy. 

When you have known someone that long, his death is like a part of the self is afflicted.

There are so many of you out there who interacted with him and benefitted from his time, words and sincerity. It is time to return that hard work of a well spent life.  Send some gratitude back towards him.

Please pray that Allah (swt) grant him maghfirat and Jannah. Ameen.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Reality or Entertainment ?

                                          *The picture is from Wylio a free picture site

I have never been a fan of wrestling. It does not feel like sport. Humongous people, obviously very fit and primed, put up an act. This entertains huge numbers worldwide with nuances of an entertainment industry act.        

When you step into a WWE arena, all the facets of entertainment are visible. There is a theme targeted at an audience. The bulls eye has been well researched and the organisers know what makes their audience (in the arena and at home) tick. Typically there will be a villain (or villains); he will be vocal and obvious. No one can miss this villain and some direct their hate at him. There will be a good guy also. He will be a softer personality. Some people will love him. Interestingly, a fair portion of the audience will identify with the villain.    

It does not stop there. The referee will be a put up job.  Whenever the villain will do something  wrong (which is quite frequently) the referee will not be able to catch him at it. So the establishment and regulator will fail at their job. All this will create the story of the downtrodden good guy; nothing is going for him, in fact everyone and everything seem to be against them. They have created an 'alternative reality' scenario. You just have to look around in the arena or at home at the television audience. The intensity on their faces, the anger and the vocal nature of their reactions tell a different story. This is real for them!  Their reactions might be frustrations from real life or maybe a getaway cocoon, but it is 'real' for them.  

If you go onto forums which discuss Star Trek, Star Wars, X-Men or the Avengers, there is the same intense anger and arguments. The facts of the movie and what has happened are different for audiences and they are fighting over them. You want to say 'Hey, this is fiction, it's not the real world'. But you dare not, because in that environment you will be trolled out of the forum.   

Now does that not look like the 'alternative facts', 'the fake news' loaded elections of the USA or the Brexit referendum in UK and in recent days the French elections? Fillon is now facing alternative facts and his popularity is dropping in France (Marie le Pen is waiting in the wings).   

In 1931, Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World and spoke about just such a scenario in democracies. Huxley wrote that freedom will become so extreme, that trivia will prevail over reality, truth will be drowned out in a scream of trivial facts, too much information will make people passive to information, narcissism shall prevail, people will stop reading books due to a lack of depth and actors will act out life in a caricature. 

I recently read this article on Huxley in the Guardian, comparing it to George Orwell's 1984. The apocalyptic forecast of Huxley fitted our present scenario better than Orwell.  

That started me thinking on how the population ripened into this mindset in the first place? I think we have been conditioned over half a century of more and more extreme fiction enacted by our entertainment industry. Somewhere the shades of reality and fiction have overlapped and we get this present day scenario. Play acting fitting into the realty of life and so, alternative facts for different people. Once you get to believe what you want, despite facts proving another scenario, then it is all real. You can belong to your own world, construct it and let the like-minded live in it. Then, there are no limitations to this world and all I can say is 'Allah help us humans'.