Insights from Nasscom Leadership Forum – global citizenship, the old, the new, cross-generation and nostalgia

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Any well-thought out conference in India is always interesting because of the complexity of the country, the broad demographics, social impact, multiple revenue opportunities from both exports and at the bottom of the pyramid. The time and money spent at NLF in Mumbai was well worth it.

A mind-boggling range of topics were discussed in the sessions – from outsourcing market dynamics, emerging technologies, social networking paradigms, cloud computing, the start-up scene in India, bridging India’s gap between the haves and the have-nots, contributing to India’s infrastructure and homeland security and enabling a work-force that spans three generations.

Takeaways from some of the sessions I attended…

Marshall Goldsmith – Renowned executive coach
Marshall Goldsmith’s session on “Leadership partnership and engagement in your organization” was conducted in an interactive master-class format with approx 200 attendees. Key insights from Marshall – “It is a great myth that if people understand, they will do…. Leadership is a contact sport… Mojo, the positive spirit toward what one is doing, starts from the inside and radiates to the outside.” Marshall and I spent some time together where he shared his wisdom on publishing and coaching.

Kumaramangalam Birla – Chairman, Aditya Birla Group
As one who inherited the mantle to lead the Group at age 28, Kumaramangalam Birla was uniquely qualified to speak from real-life experience on the opportunity to harness experiences of multiple generations in an organization. I was very impressed by his demeanor, well-grounded views, genuine respect for people of the world and people across generations. He shared how Company values are non-negotiable and the common binding aspect across all generations in the organization. His insights on millenials was impressive – “they are global citizens, open-minded and more adaptive, used to diversity, remain contemporary, very connected, self-seeking, want to give back, ethical, sociable, happy to work with very little face-time, respect others based on value they bring to the table and not seniority, tend to be task oriented, may not necessarily see things wholistically.” He also shared that he spends nearly 40% of his time on people topics and tracks 100 people for succession planning on 3 leadership attributes – i) performance ii) value adherence iii) demonstrated leadership on strategic initiatives. He is a big believer in coaching leadership.

Rajendra Pawar – Chairman and Co-Founder, NIIT
Nassom introduced a new type of small-group interactive session called Gurukul to hear from founders and entrepreneurs. Being an entrepreneur myself, I was keen to learn more about this format and possibly contribute in the future as a mentor. I attended Rajendra Pawar’s session where he shared his self-discipline and experience in building NIIT. He spoke about the“the break-through moment” – how to identify it, how to nurture it, how to train oneself to learn to seek it and how to enable multiple moments to manifest in order to be able to connect the dots. From the book, “Flow”, he shared – “each of us has flow and we need to figure it out.” An interesting personal insight from him was that his best moments occured at approx at 4AM in the morning, before dawn. We learnt a bit about his new project to create an eco-friendly university on barren desert land en-route Delhi to Jaipur.

Deepak Malhotra – Harvard University
Deepak’s session on “Solving the Trust problem… when negotiations get ugly” provided a psychological perspective and derivations from gaming experiments on trust building. He shared lessons learned from negotiations between owners and players in the National Hockey League in USA, where each side started with extreme positions suspecting that the other side was planning to gain the upper hand. As the negotiations progressed, mediators for players got visibility into the profits and revenues from the club owners and the negotiators for the owners learnt about the apprehensions and desires of the players. Eventually, as each side got visibility to the “whole pie”, their positions converged. The biggest takeaway was, “understand the script from the other side.” I was able to relate to his thoughts from my business negotiations in yester-years with global customers – multi-year master contract negotiations required conversations at the human level to understand each other’s positions, in order to build trust and create win-win situations.

Nandan Nilekani – Chairman, UIDAI project
It was nice to see Nandan Nilekani take time from his duties as Cabinet member do a Gurukul session for a small group. He spoke of the evolution of Infosys from startup to a global company, and the importance of leveraging tipping points (in their case, the Y2K opportunity and the govt role in supporting exports). We learnt that the UIDAI project is probably the largest implementation of Hadoop, known for its open-systems architecture to support big-data analysis on inexpensive distributed machines. On a lighter note, when someone asked, “what’s the difference between the Social Security system in the US and the UID initiative in India?”, Nandan remarked, “UID is Social Security 2.0”. I thought that one liner said it all!

Pranav Mistry – the “sixth-sense guy”
This whiz-kid from MIT dazzled everyone with demos on how to leverage information in the cloud and a user interface using Tele-touch to drag and drop across devices. Sparsh is a clever play on image recognition, IP addressable devices (a future lamp and a door can be addressable and remotely controlled by looking at an object with a mobile phone camera). He demonstrated Sixth Sense, a wearable user interface to control with gestures.

Several other takeaways -
The conference had representation from Bollywood (Shekar Kapoor, Abhishek Bacchan on social networking and how millenials think), Hollywood (Darcy Antonellis of Warner Brothers – “movies will soon be distributed online on Facebook!”), era of Hyper-specialization (CP Gurnani from Mahindra, Ganesh Ayyar from Symphony, Krishnakumar Natarajan from Mindtree), the crisis of confidence in the polity (Mukesh Aghi from Steria, Chandrasekaran from TCS, Rajiv Bajaj from Bajaj Auto).

Teamwork -
Every conference that I have attended in India amazes me with the attention to details, the richness of the content and the team work to pull it off. I have remarked this in a previous blog and I say it again here – “why can we not emulate within society and in organizations, the team work that senior leaders exhibit when they work together ?”

Evenings – India’s richness on display -
While we spent the day exploring a variety of complex topics, the cultural events in the evenings and dinners reminded all of us that India offers the world a unique cultural combination of tradition (folk, classical dances), adaptation of the new (rap and fusion) and nostalgia of the old (including palm-readers, bangle makers and pot makers using a traditional wheel).
On a lighter note…
I was amused and delighted to see young IT professionals stretch their palm to ask the palm-reader, “when I am going to get married?”
As the saying goes, “sometimes, time stands-still in India!”


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