Look forward, Reason back

Yesterday morning, I had a 7 am coffee meeting with a high energy entrepreneur who shared his growth dreams for his company. Not a start up, they had been around almost a decade and had a wonderful brand and reputation in their niche market. His challenge was to translate that reputation into a new growth trajectory. He had his BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) in place. However in the year I have known him, he was merely inching forward towards the achievement of his goal.

Have you the same experience? You know clearly where you want to go – but seem to be making very slow progress? You have been spinning like a top all year and yet have not achieved the goals you set for yourself.

Screen Shot 2018-11-12 at 11.40.17 am

Over a lovely cup of freshly brewed south Indian coffee and sitting in my back yard in the gentle morning sun, we explored the situation further.

Exploring the situation: 

We reflected – is it because the “market” is bad. Is it because the team I have put together, while it looks wonderful on paper, is not delivering on the ground? Do I have the right products or services? Are the experiences we are delivering to customers not matching up to the promises we have been making?

Are the rapid changes in customer expectations catching us flat-footed? Are the premises and belief systems on how to run or grow our business blind siding us? How have more successful businesses managed to negotiate similar challenges?


By the end of the conversation, we decided that while looking forward into the future, it was very important to reason back to actions that must be taken today to convert that future into reality.

What this decision means – Actions:

Today morning, reflecting on the conversation, I thought it important to elaborate what “looking forward – reasoning back to action” really means. This is what large organizations who have learnt to scale and stay sustainable have learnt:

  1. We look forward – and have a vision for the future – and set boundaries and priorities, so all the energy in the organization is focussed on realising its ambitions. This means, knowing what we will say yes to and even more importantly all the things we will just say no to. This is because the world is full of interesting, shiny new things to play with – but may not create the results you have decided to create.
  2. We look forward – and decide on which customer need we will focus on – and then reason back to build the capabilities which will deliver on that need. We do not take on board that interesting person we met at that networking meeting or that charismatic leader who just retired or resigned from that Fortune 500 company, if they can not contribute to achieving our vision. We build those relationships for the future – yes. But our core team is structured to deliver the results we have decided on.
  3. We look forward and around – and scan the environment, to understand which competitor is winning those projects we bid for and why. We reason back to evaluate our products, services, customer experiences, policies, pricing and plan how to acquire and keep our customers. 
  4. We look forward to anticipate inflection points in our business – and reason back to the changes and course corrections we may have to continuously make – to stay the course.

Four simple ways to create the results we want. The trick is to make those decisions, commit to it and take those actions on a daily basis.

Think about it and do reach out at 91-8197291755 if you need any help in this reflection and action process for your own business.  I enjoy using design thinking tools and processes when working with teams and coaching as a process when working with individuals.



Have you had the experience where you were thinking about something the previous night and had googled it or watched a YouTube video to learn more,  and your friend has written a post about it on Facebook or blogged about it the next day morning.

Or a friend sends you an article, you read it and suggest how you can take those ideas forward in your business – and he says “oh, that was exactly what I was thinking too”.

In the pre-internet age, when two friends or colleagues came up with the same thought or idea we would have said stuff like “we are on the same wave length” or more deprecatingly (!) “great minds think alike” or even more flippantly “ESP”.

What we show amazement at is how connected our minds seem to be. It may in reality just be that we know each other really well. We may have a lot in common, so the discussion proceeds in predictable directions. We may have been working otgether for so long that we are reading the same books and articles and watching the same videos or even have the same belief systems. My question in recent times has been, is the “connected” world enhancing these trends.

Can digital technology replicate the connected mind and continuously amaze us? Does it also freak us out as much as when we said “ESP” with rounded eyes at how uncanny we found it when people around us could “read our minds” or say exactly what we are thinking.

Such experiences have become common for us “netizens”. When that advertisement for a hotel in Shimla pops up, we know it is because some algorithm somewhere has tracked our air ticket to Delhi or Chandigarh which we have received in our inbox along with the cab booking to Shimla. Surely the hotels we will see as available for booking will be very different, than those that appear on the smart phone of some one who has taken the bus to Shimla from Ludhiana.

If we log in to Amazon, the books our friends have been reading, pop up as recommendations in our account.

We know that there is an overwhelming amount of information available with a few clicks on a key board or the first few characters on google search. Yet, more and more, digital businesses are putting a choice architecture in place, personalised for each of us, based on an understanding of our choice patterns and preferences. LinkedIn tells us that liking a post will ensure that similar posts are more visible to us, even though a large number of people in our network may be posting on a lot of other equally interesting things. The word for creating this kind of choice architecture is “nudges”

Deep research has gone into the principles of designing these “nudges” to help us make “choices”.  The book Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein of course was trying to help us create self-nudges to help us make better choices around health, financial freedom and happiness. The principles remain the same – whether we use it for business or personal life. So for example, if we want to make sure we do not miss our exercise routines, they suggest putting our walking shoes next to our bed, so as we wake up in the morning we slip our feet into those shoes and then our feet will automatically take us out of the house for the walk. That is a “nudge” towards the habits you want to create for yourself.

So much study has now gone into “nudging” customers, clients, employees and gig workers in the platform economy, towards certain “preferred actions and behaviours” that we can abstract it into clear principles.

Six principles you can use to create nudges

Small and seemingly insignificant tweaks can significantly change the way people react, interact with or behave in particular situations. When these small tweaks are very powerful, they are called nudges. What makes these nudges powerful? They use six basic strategies.

These strategies can be used for the good of the user, or for a business selling to the user. The ethical choice is of course when the strategy helps the user choose the best options for themselves and the business benefits because it is able to provide people with what they want.

Smart Defaults: When there are clear best options, you make those options the default selections. A good example of this could be a mail which says unless you opt out, we will continue to renew your health insurance. The reader then just clicks or unclicks a box to take a decision to stay or leave.

A terrible way to use this is to say the same thing, but make it really difficult for people to opt out of a spamming subscription list or service, by the simple device of making people go through six levels of pop ups to “opt out” till they give up in frustration. This is a method adopted by a lot of the large businesses in the internet economy. So they will abide by the letter of the “privacy” laws now being put in place across the world after the Facebook senate hearings and yet make it so difficult for people to figure out how to change their privacy settings and opt out of email subscriptions, that they just give up in frustration.

Clear Feedback: If you are using fitbits or other health tracking devices the app gives you quick and clear tracking information letting you know how well you are moving towards your goals. This is a good use of the principle of “clear feedback” as it nudges you towards completing/ achieving your goals. These nudges become even more powerful when a simple visual is shown – like a smiley or a crown when you achieve your goals. Clear objective impersonal feedback of this kind helps individuals and teams keep their eye on the ball and stay motivated.

Aligned incentives: You make sure that you  incentivise behaviour or choices you want people to make and do not set up incentive conflict. For example, the latest news is, the top fifteen most polluted cities are in India.  As long as polluting the environment is the most cost-effective way to dispose industrial waste this reality is not going to change. A good way to change this, could simply be to impose higher taxation slabs on polluting businesses. When it becomes more expensive to pollute than to set up non-polluting waste disposal systems, we set up an incentive system for more environment friendly behavior.

Structured Choices: Simplify and structure choices to facilitate decision making when there is an over-whelming number of choices available. This is what Amazon and Netflix do to help their customers choose.

Error mitigation: Knowing that people will make certain mistakes while using the product or service and building in nudges to help them pause and take a different set of actions. Like when a message pops up every time you try to close a file – saying “do you want to save the latest changes to this file”. This stops us from losing hours of work, just because the manager called us in for a meeting and in that moment of urgency we closed the file without saving our work.

Good mappings: Helps map actions and results easily without confusion. Like the simple mechanism of writing push or pull next to door handles and not leave it to users to figure it out each time with some heavy pushing and pulling.

Can you think of ways in which you will use these principles to create choice architectures to move your customers or employees towards “preferred” choices, actions, decisions or behaviors?

A Leader’s Call to Action

The leader’s challenge

How do you translate your ideas and thoughts into action on the ground?

Many of our “leadership actions” are based on the “stories” we have read of “mythical, heroic, larger than life” people

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 9.58.28 am
A leader’s Sisyphean task

We hope that the books, movies and YouTube videos about successful CEOs and what they do – starting with Jack Welch, winding our way past Sam Walton, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, Zuckerberg, Indra Nooyi and most recently Satya Nadella – will help us decode the secrets of leadership success.

A moment of reflection quickly brings the realisation that no leader has achieved greatness by just reading inspirational stories. 

On the other hand, it is the actions that leaders take to change their own behaviours and the behaviour and environment in their teams and organisations that creates success.

How do we move to action? Obviously this requires more commitment. It is easier to read inspirational books and listen to motivational speeches and feel good about our efforts to become better leaders. It also makes us complacent as we feel we have done our bit. This approach of course stops us short from taking real actions on the ground.

Let us briefly touch upon three distinctly different approaches to move to successful action.

1. Curiosity

“Curiosity” is a valuable leadership trait – making you more social, human and…..effective. It leads to more informed decisions.

How can the “stories” of the “ordinary” people around you – your customers and employees inform better leadership decisions? Can we do this systematically? It goes beyond talking to the handful of people we are comfortable with and who just cross our path during the course of work.  This is important to eliminate “conformation bias” and helps us come to terms with reality.

2. Priming

The art of priming – presenting the right information, including physical cues at the point of behaviour/ action has a huge impact in creating the desired actions. Extensive social science research, most famously by Dan Ariely, Marc Meredith, Chen-Bo Zhong, Francesca Gino, Max Bazerman, Nicholas Christakis and a host of others clearly points out that this is an important part of moving to sustained action.

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 10.42.05 am

The actions you choose could be

  • something personal like exercising (priming would lead you to place your walking or gym shoes next to your bed and wear it the moment you wake up in the morning),
  • to actions that lead to team success (prime to acknowledge the contributions of team members the moment you see it, leading to high levels of engagement)
  • or organisational values like acting more ethically (get everybody to sign an honour code).

Deciding the specific actions, having a way to observe and measure the actions helps us change our behaviour patterns.

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 10.38.12 am

3. Changing the social environment

Who we interact with regularly, profoundly influences our actions. It is important to understand that we are the company we keep. 

Successful change at the individual, team and organisation level highlights the importance of

  • peer support and pressure, 
  • providing sponsors or mentors to help maintain accountability, encourage progress, and acknowledge small improvements.

Is there an action you want to take? Do you want to call your team to action?

When you want the help of a coach to use these behavioural strategies Call or Whatsapp me on 8197291755 or write to me at usharaghunath@gmail.com




Sonder – the realisation that everyone has a story

I intensely understand and believe in how unique and rich every human being is. This has generated a tremendous curiosity in me to understand every person I meet a little more deeply. I have therefore chosen to do work where I regularly meet a lot of new people in large groups when I run #business #leadership development programs, as also in deep personal conversations, through my #consulting and #coaching practice. I love understanding and working with the emotions which create human behaviour and action.

And then last week, I was introduced to the word “Sonder” by a dear friend and reader Anil Reddy. He said that the picture in my previous post reminded him of the word. So this post is dedicated to all of you, who have out of curiosity and interest come to read it.

In the process of exploring this new word, I hit a really rich vein, I had not been aware of before. The work of #Koenig, who has spent a couple of decades giving new names to emotions that currently lack words.

The word Sonder was created by John Koenig, to describe the realization that “each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness.”

“An epic story that continues invisibly around us like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that we’ll never know existed, in which we might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”

As we return from work every evening, we go through the peak hour traffic – and in every bike, car and bus are other human beings experiencing life deeply. Do we notice? Do we realise that? Do we spend a moment wondering about their story?


To understand Sonder. To feel it. It could be part of our #EI journey

Emotional intelligence begins with being aware of our emotions and feelings and being able to name them.

At a personal level – naming the emotion is important because it helps us manage our emotions, navigate our relationships at work and home and achieve positive results.

At the organizational level, it is one of the fundamental skills of being an effective leader. It is the most critical component of building a positive company culture and leading a global, diverse workforce. Being aware of our own emotions. Being equally aware of other people’s experiences and emotions. Knowing that they are the central character in their own story, as much as we believe we are the central character in our world.

This kind of awareness and understanding helps us generate and tap into the enthusiasm, confidence, optimism, cooperation and trust of people we work with. It encourages us to be agile in our decision making.

In these times of disruptive change, we need to be intentional about upping our emotional intelligence. Identify and name those emotions swirling inside and around us. Sonder – understanding that every human being around us leads a rich and vivid life.

Feel free to call, message or whatsapp me on 91-8197291755 if you want to work on your #EI












The wind beneath my wings

Welcome to uplift.net.in.

We have all heard of this very famous phrase “the wind beneath my wings” from the equally famous song by Gary Morris.

This blog post is to pay homage to all the people in my life who have been the “wind beneath my wings” – and I meet them everyday.

The ones who smile warmly at me. The ones with a kind word. Those who look at me with understanding. The ones with the large, listening ears. The ones who refuse to judge me and allow me to learn and bloom and grow. The ones with the large heart. The ones filled with a feeling of abundance and keen to share generously. Those who have believed that I have something to offer to the world – and showed me how to do it. Those who taught me to value myself and never sell myself short.

The big dreamers, who smile knowingly and encouragingly at me.  The courageous ones, who follow their dreams and put in the hard work to make them real – providing inspiration to everyone.

The ones with the sharp mind, who question my premises and want me to validate my hypothesis and test my beliefs. The observant ones, who point out to me what I have missed, so I am not blind-sided. The detail oriented ones, who hold me accountable for the quality of my work. The hard working friends who put my nose to the grind stone to ensure execution.

The men and women who have taught me how to make friends and influence people – by truly understanding the spirit of give and take. That this spirit of reciprocity is what makes the world go around.

In this season of celebration, as we bring in the New Year, I welcome you to this blog. It is time to give back. To be the wind beneath your wings. As you seek the support and strength you need to fulfil your dreams in life. You have 12 new chapters, 365 new days waiting for you this year.

You can call, message or whatsapp me on 91-8197291755

With love and best wishes


You can listen to the original song here. Gary Morris Wind beneath my wings