Three Highfliers & a President – Part 2
The presidential revelation…
Sometimes I wonder whether our romantic fascination with success stories masks the underlying truth. Be it the MTV Youth Icon 2008 (Sarathbabu) or the Rajiv Gandhi Women Achiever 2009 (Krishna Patil) or the Bombay Entrepreneur of the Year 2007 (Revathi Roy)—when on stage, each of them has earned the pedestal and we listeners hook onto every inspiring word that escapes their lips. Who really cares if any renegade blogger chooses to question their credentials? Unless, of course, the blogger himself is a success story; then the audience may consider switching its listening loyalties. I am not naïve on the readership of my blog: the primary attraction for visitors is ‘the writer’s good fortune of being the CEO of a successful software company’! A learned audience will do well to remember that the words of wisdom from the climbers of success ladders should always be taken with a pinch of salt. The only exception belongs to the inspirers who never climbed the ladder of success! For, there are a few who have stood so tall, that it was the ladder of success that came climbing to them. So when an ex-President who never aspired for our country’s highest office decides to open his mouth, it’s time to hush up…
My pair of ears was amongst the hundreds of privileged ones who had come to listen (and not just hear) Dr. APJ Kalam. I am sharing here only an excerpt that is relevant to our blog. At one point in his talk, APJ illustrated the achievements of ten great personalities (from Thomas Edison to Wright Brothers, from Mother Teresa to CV Raman etc.). He stated that the primary reason behind their accomplishments was their “unique” personality. He implored the youth to strive for the same uniqueness as they pursue their aspirations. Unfortunately, he went on to add, while most of us want to be “unique”, the world constantly keeps reminding us from our childhood that we are not! Take our parents and teachers —the children are forever being compared with other talented neighbor’s kids or class students. And that slowly kills the child’s spirit of growing up as a unique person. Thankfully, APJ shared a way out: three mantras, which if practiced, can reignite the uniqueness within us and propel us to reach great heights. And these three mantras are: 1) Aim High; 2) Pursue Knowledge; 3) Hard Work & Perseverance.
Sounds too simple, doesn’t it? It’s almost an anticlimax for those who were so eagerly awaiting APJ’s grand eye-opener ! What is so unique about these three sets of words? Haven’t we heard similar motivational phrases a zillion times earlier in different forums? My thoughts echoed these same sentiments when I first heard them too. But in line with my obsessive compulsive disorder (), I couldn’t help tossing and turning over APJ’s words later in the night, applying their relevance to the confusing case study at hand. Fortunately, when I woke up, my mind was as clear as the fresh morning breeze.
Cornered: Acting when cornered is a survival instinct of humans; an achiever deserves only a whispering applause for such an accomplishment. The fact is that our society is abundant with achievers who scaled astonishing heights without being cornered. Easy test—take our country’s Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, Anand Mahindra and more, then measure their progress from the day they took over reins. You see, it’s not the generic survival trait that sets our trio apart. For if such were the case, then today when all three have already achieved what they originally set out for and are no longer cornered, how do we explain their accelerating pace? Why does Revathi want to expand her cab services to 40 cities? Why does Sarathbabu want to employ 15000 more people? And why Krishna does want to scale seven summits in one year? That’s because our threesome lives by APJ’s first principle: Aim High! While I am not as courageous to declare—quoting APJ’s exact words—“Low aim is a crime!”, I do believe that people with high aims are ‘givers’ to the society, while the low-aim ones are ‘takers’. So if we dream of fixing this disparate world, then simple math will expose that our planet needs more givers than takers.
Support: I feel having a strong emotional support is equivalent of listening to great music while driving; it makes the travel stress-free and enjoyable. However, it doesn’t help in reaching our destination any safer or faster. Take the Western world for instance, the society has a higher density of divorces and broken homes coupled with a thinner emotive ecosystem (compared to the Eastern culture), then how come North America is a hotbed of some of the greatest thought leaders of our times? Reason—when it comes to going places, instead of music in the air, what we need are the wheels on the ground! And those wheels are Knowledge, the most essential accessory to maneuver the path to success. Revathi’s plying the road as a cab driver for ten months, Krishna’s intensive NIM coaching, Sarathbabu’s exposure to hundreds of suggestions and complaints as a mess secretary —indeed, it was this pursuit of knowledge that made all three a “subject matter expert” in their chosen field. Interestingly, the knowledge tree never peaks out, no matter how high we climb. It is no surprise, therefore, that we usually catch high achievers in roll-up-the-sleeves gears, rather than in suits behind the desks.
Passion is a lovely word when used in the right context. The problem arises when we get intoxicated with its power and end up stretching the applicability. The passion of driving fancy rally cars on scenic routes has nothing in common with a fiat taxi plying in the suffocating Mumbai traffic. A desperate kid selling idlis in slums is not picking any nuances of running a complex catering business. And there is a mountain of a difference between vacationing on a hill station and conquering Mt. Everest! Original passion about our chosen direction is nice to have, but not a prerequisite. Why look far, take our APJ only. A life-long Scientist who made a seamless switch to President’s role, then went on to become a best-selling Author (Ignited Minds), and now at 82 the Motivator in him travels extensively to spread his message! The right terminology to explain such multi-faceted passion is Hard Work and Perseverance. If we go googling, we will discover that four years after her Mt. Everest conquest, one of the seven summits remains elusive for Krishna. Revathi found herself edged out of the very company she founded (For-She) as she now labors with scaling her new venture (Viira). I had the privilege of dining with Sarathbabu where I learned about his exit from corporate catering business because of procurement politics and his present transition struggle to low-cost restaurant business. Evolving continuously through a disruptive landscape—that’s ‘hard work & perseverance’ personified by our trio!
Sure, for onlookers like me – Passion, Support, and Cornered are important catalysts visible to the naked eye. But when it comes to identification of the primary particles, it takes India’s best nuclear scientist to reveal the fusion material of dust clouds—Aim High, Pursue Knowledge, and Work Hard/Perseverance. The funny thing is, even with the abundant presence of these atomic building blocks, there is no guarantee of chain fusion reaction due to the chaotic nature of external influences. It’s entirely plausible that no star-birth will be witnessed, and the dust clouds will just disperse after a while. At some point in future, the world may downgrade the trio triumphs: Krishna for compromising her key academic years for what some may see as a meaningless quest; Revathi for pursuing an unsustainable business idea in the male bastion; and Sarathbabu for rejecting a lucrative campus offer in favor of his risky bravado. For that’s how success equations are, they seem to operate on probabilistic principles of quantum mechanics. The presence of positive particles can only increase the ‘probability’ of success, but not guarantee it! No different than how lower portions do not ensure failure! Every now and then, don’t we all come across a successful person who is lacking in all three of APJ’s particles? But then, such a person is like a slot player on the casino floor who just hit a jackpot. Just because the winner is now rolling with money, it doesn’t mean that he knows how to play slot machines any smarter than all others on the floor.
Unfortunately, such ‘probabilistic’ theories don’t excite an audience, and therefore, motivational speakers delve more on ‘guaranteed’ recipes of success, while downplaying the risks. Perhaps that’s the reason we never hear of a motivational speaker who was a big loser! If our odds somehow never worked out in spite of our brilliant attempts, nobody really gives a hoot for our brilliance. You see, our society is used to measuring people on ‘results’, and not on the ‘approach’. Only a select few are able to appreciate that even if our trio eventually tumbles, nobody can take away their pride of belonging to that elite club comprising those who can look back some day and claim “It’s better to have tried and lost, than never to have tried at all”! With these parting salutations to our three highfliers and the President, it’s time to wrap up this blog with one final reflection: Which of APJ’s three revelations is the most enlightening one a) Aim High; b) Pursuit of Knowledge; or c) Hard Work/Perseverance?