Exult! Solutions

Undefining Evolution

A Culturally Sensitive Approach to Engage Contemporary Corporate India

by Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions

This article is based on the paper published in this link (the paper was originally presented at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok in 2013 at a Peace Conference).

Introduction

As someone who runs a consulting firm (Exult! Solutions) that works in the area of organizational transformation, learning & development and peacebuilding, my analysis of the topic labelled above is from the professional perspective. It concerns a rather protracted, fuzzy conflict that professionals in the roles of consultants or employees in the fields of OD, HRM, L&D and related areas have to regularly contend with.

Core Issue

Corporate India, in current times, is a melting pot of the East and the West. In 1991, the Indian economy was liberalised, opening it up not only economically and financially, but also culturally. Multinational corporations came in; a lot of Indian companies went on to become multinationals. In the subsequent process of assimilation into the global economy, the Indian workforce had to adopt attitudes to work that are productive, but not traditionally familiar.

The Background

Now, to understand the social conflict caused by this economic shift, we need to understand the persona that is India. Let us use a mythological paradigm here to explain the prevailing culture. As children, a lot of us grow up listening to stories and reading them. As adults, those stories may not have a conscious impact, but given that they stay in the social structure, they always have an unconscious impact.

India as a society has been hugely influenced by the Hindu and the Buddhist philosophies, both of which happen to contain multi-life beliefs; i.e., they talk about reincarnation. One of the stories that demonstrates a dominant belief about competition and achievement is the story of King Bharat, whom India is also named after. The epic Mahabharat also comes from this name. Bharat wanted to conquer the world. And according to the story, he eventually did. At the end of the conquest, he went to the peak of Mount Meru, the mystical mountain, to hoist his flag there, to say, ‘I came here first, since I was the first one to conquer the world.’ But when he went up to the peak, he saw thousands of flags already hoisted there – each one claiming ‘I came here first!’

Against this backdrop of infinity, Bharat felt insignificant. This myth explains a core belief about ambition in Indian society, where time is not seen as a linear concept, but as a cyclical one. The general belief is that while one must strive to evolve, one must also be humbled by the fact that one person’s effort is merely a drop in the ocean in the huge collective world. There will always be someone before you and after you, to surpass what you have done. And if you do not get it right the first time, there is always another lifetime.

The Contrast

Now, juxtapose this with the stories that Alexander the Great grew up with. He grew up with Homer’s Iliad, with the heroics of Achilles, the bravery of Jason. The lessons here were about securing victory. He was told, that you have but one life, and to create value in it, you must win and achieve. And then when you die, you cross the river Styx and you will be welcomed into Elysium, the heaven of the heroes. The denominator of the achievements of a life is therefore, one.

Indians also say there’s a river you cross at the end of your life. It is called Vaitarni. But you do not cross it once. You go to and fro, endlessly. The denominator of the value of achievements is therefore, infinity.

The Result

So now you have contemporary India: The ground reality is highly diverse, chaotic, non-linear, ambiguous – and people who are rooted in Indianness are comfortable with it. But with the reality of globalisation comes the consequent need for structured thought processes and actions.

The blend of the two beliefs is a space of cultural conflict.

Analysis

In the paper mentioned at the beginning of this article, I have spoken at length about the statistical cultural parameters based on the work on Geert Hofstede. A quick summation of that is that India collectively is a country with a high power distance – there is a tendency to believe in seniority and hierarchy over merit. It is largely collectivist; so conformity is important. It is masculine, which means free expression of thoughts and emotions is not very high – hence assertive communication is low. Uncertainly avoidance is low – which means people are ok with ambiguity, with lack of documentation and processes. Finally, there is a high level of long term orientation, so there is a lot of resistance to change.

Consequence

When we juxtapose the cultural parameters with modern economic and business needs, we have a situation where the workplace is very different from home, for the average Indian. Families are divided because the lifestyles of its members are hugely varied. There is an obvious generation gap at work in terms of attitudes and thinking, resulting in insecurity and lack of cooperation.

Challenges

The challenges to professionals working in India in the area of Organizational Development or Strategy in general include the fact that they need to be extremely culturally and emotionally sensitive in their corporate engagements. Very importantly, they need to be cognizant of the social impact of behavioural changes that business needs call for.

Recommendations

My recommendations to professionals currently working in India includes four main points:

  • Enable shift of organizational culture using methods based on social constructionism, such as Appreciative Inquiry, instead of traditional problem solving methods that can be judgmental and end up labelling people instead of dealing with a situation.
  • Build learning organizations by gradually instituting systems that document organizational assets, including knowledge.
  • Draw upon the local wisdom. Use local folklore, mythology and epics to draw lessons on strategy and management rather than blindly importing foreign theories and frameworks. This will ensure that there is less resistance and the older people will feel more engaged and valued as a part of the conversation.
  • Create advocacy groups for these practices in business networking forums that promote inclusion. Wilfully work on policies that promote peace and minimise conflict.

Conclusion

Conflict is bound to be present in the corporate world since economies are based on competition. It is important that gradually, we transmute conflict into collaboration. Peace is not the absence of conflict. It is the willingness to address conflicts through peaceful means.

(Rukmini Iyer is the Director of Exult! Solutions. She has worked extensively around Asia in the areas of organization transformation, training and peacebuilding. She actively practices Non-Violent Communication, NLP and Appreciative Inquiry and is a trained expert in conflict resolution. Know more about Exult! Solutions at http://www.exult-solutions.com)

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October 19, 2015 Posted by | Authored by Rukmini Iyer | , | Leave a comment

A Concept Note on Training Need Analysis

Methods of TNA

Training Need Analysis (TNA) is the systematic process of determining and ordering training goals, measuring training needs and deciding on priorities for training action. We identify a gap as a training need when there is a difference between the actual and required human performance in some specific areas of operations and where improved training is the most economical way of eliminating the difference.

Not every performance gap qualifies as a training need. The gaps could be due to:

  • Business environment: Where the changes in the business, such as recession or retrenchment lead to lower performance
  • Motivational needs: Which is caused due to lack of morale in employees or inaccurate recruitment
  • Work environment issues: When the work environment does not facilitate performance owing to factors such as inadequate resources, poor leadership, adverse policies, etc.

Benefits of TNA

Here are the benefits of doing a systematic TNA:

  • It demonstrates the organizational focus on p
  • It clearly identifies the routes to close organizational performance g
  • Through involvement, it builds internal commitment to achieve organizational targets.
  • It throws light on non-training issues, thus falsifying the assumption that training can fix all performance gaps, and in the process saving costs for the organization.

Common methods of TNA

Competency based assessments

These involve identifying competencies relevant to the roles in question through multiple methods including reference to the key result areas, interview with the incumbents, job diaries, focus groups, etc. After identifying the key competencies that enable the person to do well in a role, there are the following steps:

  • Create the competency dictionary that describes every competency and the observable levels of performance therein
  • Develop an assessment process to check for presence of the identified competencies (through assessment centre, online assessments, hybrid assessments, etc.)
  • Run the competency assessment process
  • Map the results to the competency dictionary and identify the gaps between demonstrated performance and desired performance
  • Outline the training needs based on the gaps derived through the assessment process

Advantage of this process is that it is a scientific method to approach TNA and gives credible performance-oriented results. The online or hybrid model of assessments also makes it feasible in terms of time.

360-degree feedback

These is a powerful way of deriving training needs based on a system of comprehensive feedback. Every person whose training needs have to be derived is identified and a feedback mechanism is designed to capture responses about functional and behavioural performance. A comprehensive 360 degree feedback would include responses from a person’s superior, peer, subordinate, customer (internal/external) and any other person directly affected by the incumbent’s performance at work.

These responses are compiled and viewed in the context of the person’s role and career path in the organisation, after which training gaps are identified. An interview with the person is also a part of the process to understand if there is a gap between the self-image and the perceptions of the person by others. This gap can be corrected through coaching and dialogue.

This approach is advantageous because it gives a balanced view and a fair analysis of every person and can lead to correction of conflicts, if any, within teams. If this is being implemented for a large group, it can be relatively time-consuming. People will also need to be educated on the scope of feedback using the 360-degree approach.

Performance management system

A popular way of deriving TNA is through the performance management system. During appraisals, the performance gaps can be identified through discussions between the supervisors and subordinates. It is possible to integrate a questionnaire focussed on training needs in the appraisal process, which gives a structure to the discussion and ensures that both subjective and objective inputs are captured.

This method is widely used since it is logistically feasible and does not consume too much time. However, depending upon the relationship between the supervisors and subordinates, the data captured may sometimes be too subjective. Also, the training needs gathered through this process may not necessarily align with the growth needs of the organisation since it may include personal aspirations of the people involved.

TNA questionnaires

This method is useful if the organisation is clear about the general areas of training needs. For example, if everyone in the organisation needs to undergo training on core competencies, this method is useful to identify the levels of needs. TNA questionnaires can be designed to capture data about what employees think are their learning needs, how these trainings or other interventions can improve their performance on the job and benefit the organisation.

TNA questionnaires work well if the questions are focussed on a particular area or competency. If the questionnaire is too broad-based and allows respondents to think of learning needs in any area, then the responses are likely to be extremely varied and hence not very helpful to derive specific needs.

SWOT Analysis

This method is an alternative when an organisation does have a competency framework in place. The L&D department or a consultant can facilitate a SWOT analysis of a team/department/unit that has performance issues and help to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats related to that area. The leaders can then focus on areas of weaknesses and threats and develop learning interventions to mitigate them.

Johari Window

This tool can be used for TNA when a small group of people (team/department) have a performance issue. The facilitator can ask the group to look at the team/department as a person and then use the Johari Window as a tool to identify the areas of strengths and improvements. The blind spots in the Window can also point towards human capital readiness in the organisation.

(Rukmini Iyer is the Director of Exult! Solutions. She has worked extensively around Asia in the areas of organization transformation and training. She actively practices Non-Violent Communication, NLP and Appreciative Inquiry and is a trained expert in conflict resolution. Know more about Exult! Solutions at http://www.exult-solutions.com)

May 12, 2015 Posted by | Authored by Rukmini Iyer, Knowledge sharing | | Leave a comment

Cultivating Innovation

Innovation is one of the most commonly encouraged competencies in corporations these days. It is challenging to develop because it entails absolute participation and willingness of the learner, who has to or wants to develop the competency. It cannot be enforced through a policy or a process.

One of the most common comments I come across while coaching/training on innovation is “I am not creative, so innovation is difficult for me.” While I believe each one of us is creative and only need to open up to it, that is a discussion for another day.

Creativity versus Innovation

For the moment, let me clarify what I mean by the two terms. Creativity operates in a boundary-free context while innovation has a defined context. To expand, creativity is like painting on a blank canvas; there are no rules or regulations about how the canvas needs to get painted. Creativity is the way children are, in their natural state. A child can be in a playroom and play doctor, believing all the while that he is in a hospital. There is no pressure to create anything specific, no deliverables and usually, no economic impact.

In the corporate context, innovation has a defined context. The context could be about the existing products/services, competition, upcoming launches, etc. So when a company expects employees to be innovative, they expect ideas that have not been used so far. Thus, innovation begins with a capacity for ideation.

Of course, a lot of corporate innovations have happened by accident (such as the creation of post-it notes, Ivory soap, etc.). And sometimes, creativity plays a role too. That does not mean all of us cannot be innovative.

The Problem Solving Process

Regardless of who we are, all of us engage in problem solving. A child needs to solve mathematical problems at school. A homemaker needs to maintain a clean, efficient house. A professional needs to cater to customers’ issues. A businessperson needs to manage cash-flow. A beggar needs to feed his hungry stomach. Typically, the process we follow is this:

Problem solving process

While this is an efficient process, the results thus generated are often guided by habit and judgments. In the process of generating solutions using the limited knowledge we have, we usually fall prey to repetitive patterns of thoughts and opinions, not allowing for presence and originality.

Turning on the Innovation Switch

Innovation requires inquiry into ideas, not advocacy of positions. In other words, we need to drop existing or pre-conceived notions and a fixation for immediate solutions, if we aspire for innovation. It does not mean innovation takes a huge amount of time, but it can be a quick only if we change our habitual pattern of thoughts.

Compared to problem solving, the innovation process has one key additional step. It can be illustrated thus:

Insights process

The key to innovation is insight – reasons that help us understand the real need in question. The process of gaining insights requires us to momentarily stop generating solutions and simply dwell in the existing situation. The beauty of this process is that it stops us from engaging with habitual patterns of thought and allows us to explore newer layers of the situation at hand, leading to the real need that mandates a response.

Tools for Innovation

Here are a couple of ways in which we can gain insights into a situation:

5-Why Analysis

The 5-Why analysis is an iterative questioning technique used to explore cause and effect relationships in a given situation, till a point that you arrive at the root cause of the problem. It was developed by Sakichi Toyoda and used originally in the Toyota Motor Corporation. Here is an example:

5-why

As we can see, while traditional problem solving offers a quick-fix, such solutions are not sustainable. Innovation allows us a newer, richer perspective that generates sustainable alternatives. It rattles us out of the belief that there can only be one way of dealing with a certain problem, just because that way has been in use for a long time.

SCAMPER

This technique was created by Bob Eberle and is derived from Alex Osborn’s famed Checklist. SCAMPER is an acronym for Substitute – Combine – Adapt – Modify – Put to another use – Eliminate – Reverse/Rearrange. Here is an example using this technique:

scamper

So here we have innovation supplying us with multiple alternatives instead of a routine solution that will not be effective.

Allowing Innovation

Cultivating the competency and culture of innovation requires that we allow innovation. This means, we conscious pause between a problem and a solution and really explore the possibilities, much the way a child explores his/her environment without any pre-conceived notions. So does that mean innovation is time-consuming? No. Practical implementation of the tools of innovation such as the ones mentioned in this article take barely a few minutes. However, consistent innovation needs a commitment to allow the child in us to play from time to time. Now that’s a fun proposition, is it not?

(Rukmini Iyer is the Director of Exult! Solutions. She has worked extensively around Asia in the areas of organization development and training. She actively practices Non-Violent Communication, NLP and Appreciative Inquiry and is a trained expert in conflict resolution.)

January 20, 2015 Posted by | Authored by Rukmini Iyer, Knowledge sharing | Leave a comment

Positive thinking begins with positive feelings

– Rukmini Iyer

(published at http://rukmini.blogspot.com/)

While we’re inundated with advice (“why don’t you start thinking positively…”), suggestions (“try to be positive to achieve your goals…”), even warnings (“beware of negative thoughts, they often manifest easily…”) on positive thinking, very often, we struggle with the output. In fact, more often than not, we struggle with the input. So here are some musings on the concept of thought energy and its manifestations.

First things first, there’s no point in denying thoughts, even if they are so-called negative. The idea behind the human form is experience – energy experiencing itself, God experiencing God – and so all aspects of experience need to be embraced regardless of how we label it in the human realm. Judgements are the prerogative of the human social form. Where we come from, there is no judgement. Energy simply is. Where we come from is the space that propels our lungs to breathe. Where we come from is the force that makes our knees go weak when we fall in love. Where we come from is the power that senses the presence of those that are not physically present with us.

So one might argue, if the negative does not exist, why would we have a label for it? The labels are tool for us to understand feelings that offer different types of experiences. And so acts, thoughts and feelings that lend us a pleasant experience (pleasing to the human body and intelligence, primarily) are termed positive. The ones that make us feel uncomfortable are labelled negative. The presence of negative helps us understand the positive.

At a practical level, when we talk of using ‘positive’ thoughts for creating our lives, what we mean is we want to create experiences that we individually and collectively deem pleasant. So can we simply begin by using affirmations, thoughts, visualisations, etc. to the effect? That may be one part of the process. But remember, all these are created by that impish thing between our ears called the brain, that can intelligently help us cheat ourselves. So sometimes, we may not really believe in an outcome, or think it’s too unrealistic, and yet mentally rattle off affirmations and hope it comes true. Of course it does not. Because the wishes we chant are not in alignment with our true intent.

Intent is the womb of creation. It is the space that nurtures our thoughts. It is the bridge between energy and non-energy. It is the highway that leads us to ourselves, to God. Therefore, positive thought has to begin with positive intent. Else, the womb of creation simply rejects the foetus of thought. If the thought does not match the intent, the foetus cannot attach itself to the womb and therefore the outcome is aborted, no matter how much we try to feed the foetus using the brain as a mother.

How then, do we mind our intent? For intent is that fleeting moment when thought is born. We are barely aware of it. But we have checks and balances to know if the intent and thought are in alignment. Given that we are aware of our thoughts, let us use that as the instrument. When thought is in alignment with intent, there is no effort required to remind ourselves of it. The thought naturally transmutes itself into the measures required at the physical or mental level to manifest it into reality. There is no internal struggle. We do not need to push ourselves into doing anything.

When the thought is not the same as intent, we need to constantly remind ourselves of what we need to think. At a practical level, we feel unmotivated, lazy or uncomfortable and keep needing to convince ourselves to do what we need to, in order to fructify the thought. If this happens, it is time to stop pretending that we really intend what we are working towards.

Then the next question is, what do we do if this happens in the context of things that are socially desirable? For example, when we use ‘positive thinking’ to score well in an examination, or to get a promotion, or to get married? Our social conditioning may dictate that these are supposedly desirable, but do respect your existence as an individual. If the purpose of life was to live as a communal machine, we would be born physically linked to each other.  The universe is not flawed in its design. The fact that we are born as physically distinct individuals asserts that we need to use individuality as a tool for communal benefit. The cutting of the umbilical cord at birth is symbolic of the fact that we’re linked to others in spirit, but the moment we come into worldly existence, it is time to joyously express the distinct aspect of the One that we are. We gain these experiences separately, and then eventually merge back into the One, enriching the common pool of awareness.

So it does not matter whether what we want is desirable by our family or friends or well-wishers. Each of us is an inextricable part of the One, and we intrinsically know what we are here for. That’s why we have instinct, for it helps us access what we already know. Let instinct guide us to shape our intent. Then the thoughts and the actions that follow will naturally create value for self and others, regardless of the social judgements that may be passed against them. May our trust in our existence and its purpose be the beacon that leads us into creation.


July 2, 2011 Posted by | Authored by Rukmini Iyer | , , , , | Leave a comment

Leading with Responsibility: Exploring the Importance of Soft Skills in a Project Team

Here’s a link to a technical paper authored by Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions for the Project Management International Conference, 2010. We look forward to your views on info@exult-solutions.com

Leading with Responsibility: Exploring the Importance of Soft Skills in a Project Team

 

March 8, 2011 Posted by | Authored by Rukmini Iyer | , | Leave a comment

Penny for your thoughts!

– Rukmini Iyer

From the ancient philosopher Hermes to the modern film-maker Rhonda Byrne, several successful people have propounded that our thoughts are as important as our deeds. And that is because our thoughts are deeds in the making!

As children we are exhorted by our parents and teachers to imbibe good habits. These habits are usually practical in nature, ranging from keeping our rooms clean to finishing homework on time to brushing twice a day. We are told that these habits have an impact on our personalities and on how socially acceptable we are. Since the repercussions of these habits are obvious on our social lives and physical health, we usually do not question their importance.

But is that all there is to habits? For if it were only physical habits that were important, it would have been easy to create a society full of fairly disciplined, successful people. Here’s where thoughts make their grand entry. Habits refer to pattern of behaviour acquired through frequent repetition. Behaviour could be physical or mental. Therefore, mental habits are as important as physical ones.

For example, do you, before eating at a road-side joint, pray fervently that you should not get an upset stomach and end up with exactly that? Or do you dread that appraisal meeting with your boss so much that you have a splitting headache before it? If so, it’s time to watch your mental habits.

“I realized I kept thinking and calculating about many small things and events, often unnecessary, and became very critical,” confesses World Chess Federation rated player, coach and arbiter Hrishikesh Salvekar. His professional habits filtered into his thought process and he did not realize it for years, till it started affecting his social interactions. He explains, “Chess is an individual game directly related to using one’s intellect. Even when there are team events, it is the individual performance that matters. So your ego tends to develop without your conscious knowledge.”

Similarly, a lot of us who are in professions or activities that place a premium on certain skills find that those skills tend to impact our lives, often in a negative manner. Mental habits formed for coping with one’s profession such as strategizing, attention to detail, convincing people, etc. become so ingrained in our system that we tend to apply them in all spheres of life, whether they are relevant or not. And it is here that they can be detrimental.

For they not only affect our social relationships, but also our health. A host of psychosomatic ailments including stress, high blood pressure, headaches, etc. are caused when a physical illness or weakness combines with unhealthy mental patterns. Every thought pattern has an impact on our bodily fluids and functions and negative patterns weaken the body so that it becomes more vulnerable to diseases. Here’s a look at the effects of some of our mental habits on our organs, and the illnesses that we consequently expose ourselves to:

Detrimental mental habits and probable impact on health

Mental habits Area of impact Possible ailments
Suppressing anger and emotions such as frustration, rage, etc. Liver and kidneys Hyper-acidity
Undue anxiety about performance and situations in life Heart Stress, high blood pressure
Excessive fear of things beyond one’s control Joints Arthritis, joint pain
Feeling rejected and harbouring low self –esteem Brain Fever

It is important to note that ailments may be caused by purely physical reasons, too. But mental habits help them anchor to the body more easily. For example, the thought of fear instinctively makes us tighten our muscles and makes the joints stiff; this is a primordial reaction known to us since the Stone Age, when our body was the only means of our defence. Now, when we harbour fear for a long time, the body naturally goes into a stiff mode, and if coupled with a life-style that renders itself to joint-pains, leads to ailments such as chronic pains and arthritis. Simply put, unhealthy mental habits prepare a breeding ground in our body for illnesses.

So it is possible to change mental habits? The answer is Yes! Here’s how you can start:

Identify your mental habits

Observe your thought processes and reactions for a week and list the patterns that emerge. You may wish to enlist the perceptions of people that are close to you, in this process. Jagruti Gala, an educator who works with children in the area of holistic learning and conducts workshops on ‘Habits of the Mind’, shares her experience, “My mind resisted mundane work and ideas that I could not ‘enjoy’. But I realized that these activities are also crucial to take life forward and therefore I need to do them well.” In her case, Gala ensured that she arrested her habit well before it caused stress.

Chart a course of action

Once you have identified the mental habits that you wish to change, decide what you would wish to replace the negative habits with. And yes, it is possible to do this at any stage in life. “Healthy habits of the mind are very crucial to develop – they are the aim of all learning, the ultimate outcome. The earlier we start the better,” asserts Gala.

For example, if you have a habit of being critical about people, attempt to replace it with empathy. The next time a subordinate presents a report that you think is below par, instead of voicing your criticism, offer help. Ask him/her what inputs from your side could help the person do better. In this manner, you become more solution-oriented and constructive.

Set targets

It is a proven psychological truth that any behaviour practised for 21 days at a stretch becomes a habit. Set target dates and identify potential situations where you can demonstrate your new mental habits. Make it a point to journal those situations and your response to them. Do not lose heart if it is difficult to change your reflexes early on. Slowly, as the success stories in your journal increase, you will realize that Nike is true, after all – Impossible is nothing!

Tips and tricks

“I discovered that being focussed on the present moment without having the mind wander into the past or the future breaks its habit of generating useless thoughts. This helps to calm and focus the mind and my creativity, peace and positivity increases,” shares Gala.

Productive mental habits

  • Be open to new ideas – List all the things you did for the first time in life and were successful. Remind yourself of these success stories whenever you feel fear or anxiety. And you’ll feel that knot in your stomach loosening itself!
  • Give constructive feedback – Avoid holding back critical feedback, for it will stay lodged in your system if you do not express it. But learn to express it in a solution-oriented manner, where you shift the focus of your thoughts from being critical of a person to getting better results. You’ll not only regulate your own blood pressure, but also save others from stress.
  • Promote self-awareness – Be aware of your body. A dull pain or throb could give you timely clues about what to change in your life, before it becomes a full-blown disease. Remember, your body is the vehicle of your thoughts and it certainly knows what it carries.
  • Be accountable for your actions – Avoid being judgmental. It is perfectly human to go wrong at times. Rather than avoiding responsibility for one’s actions and rejecting an aspect of oneself in the process, own up your mistakes with the same flair with which you take credit for your success. Respect yourself for who you are, for that is the foundation of who you want to be.
  • Stay focussed on the present moment – Effective mental habits are all about being in the here and the now. Being aware of the present moment and of yourself in the present moment helps you make decisions that are pertinent and true to the reality. This helps you avoid reflexes that are pattern-bound and not always relevant.

So the next time you get frustrated or sad, remember, you can recreate the situation by simply shifting your habitual thoughts. The universal is mental – you are your imagination. Think healthy!

December 9, 2010 Posted by | Authored by Rukmini Iyer | , , | Leave a comment

Lessons from ‘The Dolphin’

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions

I recently read the book ‘The Dolphin – Story of a Dreamer‘ by Sergio F. Bambaren. It’s a pithy, beautiful tale of a dolphin (on the lines of ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ by Richard Bach) and I feel compelled to share the lessons from it. Here are a few extracts from the book that summarise its message:

– There comes a time in life when there is nothing else to do but to go your own way. A time to follow your dreams. A time to raise the sails of your own beliefs.

– Falling into the deepest desperation gives you the chance to find your true nature. Just as dreams come alive when you least expect them to, so will the answers to questions you cannot unfold. Let your instinct build a trail of wisdom, and let your fears be diminished by hope.

– Most of us are not prepared to overcome our failures, and because of this we are not able to fulfill our gifts. It is easy to stand for something that does not carry a risk.

– May be part of loving is learning to let go, knowing when to say good-bye… not letting our feelings get in the way of what will probably, in the end, be better for the ones we care for.

– Discovering new worlds will not only bring you happiness and wisdom, but also sadness and fear. How could you value happiness without knowing what sadness is? How could you achieve wisdom without facing your own fears? In the end, the great challenge in life is to overcome the limits within yourself, pushing them to places you would never have dreamed they could go.

– Perhaps dreams are made of lots of hard work. Perhaps if we try to cut corners, we lose track of the reason we started dreaming and at the end we find that the dream no longer belongs to us. Perhaps if we just follow the wisdom from our heart, then time will make sure we get to our destiny.

– Never forget: When you’re just about to give up, when you feel that life has been too hard on you, remember who you are. Remember your dream.

– There are some things you cannot see with your eyes. You have to see them with your heart, and that is the hard part of it. For instance, if you find the spirit of the youngster inside of you, with your memories and his dreams, you two will walk together, trying to find a way through this adventure called life. Always trying to make the best of it. And your heart will never become tired or old…

– Decisions are a way of defining ourselves. They are the way to give life and meaning to words, to dreams. They are the way to let what we are… be what we want to be.

– Where you are headed, there are no trails, no paths, just your own instinct. You have followed the omens, and have finally arrived. And now, you have to take the great leap into the unknown and find out for yourself: who is wrong, who is right and who you are.

– Some things will always be stronger than time and distance. Deeper than languages and ways. Like following your dreams, and learning to be yourself. Sharing with others the magic you have found…

June 8, 2010 Posted by | Authored by Rukmini Iyer, Knowledge sharing | , | 1 Comment

How to throw a great party

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at Rediff.com)

The season screams ‘PARTY!’ and we obey. Whether you are a party animal or not, it’s difficult to resist the mood of the month. While it’s definitely convenient to chill out at a do someone else has organised, you don’t need to be a pro to organise a party yourself.

With most resorts and retreats being overbooked in the festive season, it is a good idea to cosy up at your own pad with a group of close pals. All it takes is a little preparation for you and your guests to have a gala time.

Here’s the lowdown on the things you need to keep in mind.

Pick your guests carefully

“As a host, you definitely do not want to be caught in the ravages of a cold war or heated arguments,” warns Sai Jadhav, a media professional. “Choose your guests in a way that there are no clashes, expressed or otherwise, at your party.”

If your guests are to leave with pleasant memories, you need to invite people who will get along reasonably well. Keep a check on the number of guests as well; your party has to be manageable and within your budget.

Choose your theme

With a group of close friends or family, a theme may not be necessary. But, if you have invited a diverse group of people, you might want to have a theme party. A theme usually requires people to dress in a certain manner and serves as a good icebreaker among strangers. However, you will need to back it with suitable ambience.

“Wacky themes can be fun, but do not go over the top. Be considerate about your guests’ profile as well as the ambience and weather. For example, if you fancy a Hawaiian theme, remember people may not be comfortable wearing bermudas and sarongs in the middle of the winter,” cautions Binu David, a senior executive with a top Mumbai hotel.

Stock your bar

“Alcohol should cater to the tastes of the guests, not that of the host,” says Binu. “You may be a whisky lover, but your guests might prefer other drinks. Buy a good mix. Also stock soft drinks and juices for people who do not wish to have alcohol.”

You may not have the time or inclination to mix and serve the drinks during a party, so arrange for someone to handle the bar. If it is a small gathering, you could request one of your friends in advance to help you. For a bigger party, professional bartenders are available for a fee.

Decide on the menu

“My worst memories are of parties where I’ve danced to my heart’s content, chatted a lot with friends, then come back home hungry to hunt for food in the refrigerator. Why? Because the food available was only Chinese, which I shy away from,” recalls Sai. “When you organise a party, have at least two types of cuisines, preferably one Indian, so that everyone has something to eat.”

Gone are the days when a party at home would mean that the guests would expect the hostess to display her culinary skills. If you are not a good cook, simply order food from a good restaurant or caterer. As a host, you ought to spend quality time with your guests rather than supervise the kitchen. Of course, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian preferences should be taken into account.

Music

Whether you want to have a dance party or not, it is always a good idea to have some music playing. If it is simply a huddle of friends, you could have some soft instrumental music playing in the background to create a warm, relaxing atmosphere.

If you need to arrange for dance numbers, make sure you know the preferences of most, if not all, of your guests. Have enough space cleared to be used as the dance floor.

Arrange for your guests’ comfort

“Simple gestures, such as ample, comfortable seating arrangement, regular supply of water, drinks and nibbles go a long way in telling your guests you care,” says Binu.

Hygiene is important. The restrooms should be cleaned and replenished with toilet rolls, soaps and paper towels before the party begins. Have a first-aid box and simple medicines such as paracetamol handy, in case any of your guests need it.

Manners matter

No matter how well you know your guests, when you are the host, you have certain responsibilities. “The worst thing a host can do is to get drunk,” remarks Binu. It is indeed a faux pas for a host to get high when s/he is expected to take care of the others.

It also creates a bad impression if you are not ready in time. It can be embarrassing if your guests start arriving while you are still laying the table cloth with your hair still in curlers. Start preparing well in advance so that you can enjoy the party along with your guests.

Greet each guest personally and introduce people who do not know each other. Think up some fun games you could have if the party gets a little dull.

At the end of the day, having a party is all about having fun, and letting your guests know you care. A little effort is all it takes to make sure both your guests and you have a wonderful time.

May 31, 2010 Posted by | Authored by Rukmini Iyer | , | Leave a comment

Planning to party? Brush up your manners

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at Rediff.com)

“Where’s the party tonight?”

It’s a good question, particularly since the party season is now in full swing.

Some of us may be absolute party animals, while others prefer to be occasional guests. Irrespective of what our party quotient is, however, our etiquette quotient needs to be up to the mark.

Even the most innocuous slip-ups on the party circuit tend to be talked about, and laughed about. Here are a few tips you need to keep in mind if you plan to let your hair down.

The do’s

Theme

Always know what the party is all about. If you are not very close to the host(ess), (s)he may avoid telling you it is a birthday or an anniversary, simply to save you the bother of getting a gift. However, it can be embarrassing to enter a hall with a huge birthday cake and a pile of gifts brought by more well-informed guests.

Giftiquette

Do carry some gift to any party – be it a formal sit-down dinner, a buffet or a luncheon. It could be some flowers or chocolates, or wine for more formal occasions. If you travel often, you could buy trinkets from various places that could be presented as thoughtful gifts. Remember, a gift is not meant to proclaim your status or identity – it is simply a gesture to say ‘Thanks, I had a lovely time!’

Food preferences

If you have certain preferences for food due to medical or other reasons, please inform the hosts in advance when you accept the invitation.

Introductions

If you are talking to a group of friends or acquaintances, make sure everyone in the group knows each other. If not, go ahead and give an interesting introduction. For example, “Hey Mark, meet Neena. Neena was my classmate in college and she’s a fabulous painter! Neena, Mark’s my colleague and he’s an avid trekker.” Always introduce the junior (in terms of age/ status/ fame) to the senior.

If you do not understand how to pronounce a person’s name, it is perfectly fine to ask them. Saying “I’m not sure if I got your name right. Is it …?” is better than mispronouncing someone’s name all evening.

On the other hand, if you have a name that is slightly long and could be difficult for others to pronounce, you could save them from awkwardness by offering alternatives.

Party enthusiast PN Thailambal, an academic specialist with a reputed educational institution in Mumbai, says, “People often fumble with my name since it is rather unusual. So, during introductions, I tell them they can call me Thai. It makes conversations a lot easier.”

Dress code

If it’s a theme party, do stick to the dress code. You could ask the host for help in understanding the theme better, if need be.

Seating

At a sit down dinner, wait for the hostess to indicate where you should sit. It is likely she has arranged the seating so that there is a good mix of people at each table.

Talking of seating, Thailambal recalls, “Once, at a party, there was this middle-aged lady in a saree trying to park on a bar stool. It was quite a sight – it was too high for her to comfortably climb onto. While the onlookers tried hard to turn away with bemused smiles, I must say it was rather embarrassing for the lady.”

Do not venture onto an uncomfortable seat that does not go with your physique and dress.

Eatiquette

If you are getting up for another helping of dessert, coffee or wine, do ask the people around you if you could get something for them as well.

It would be wise to stick to few glasses/ pegs of alcohol, instead of going overboard and getting sick. Not only do you make the situation uncomfortable for your hosts, you also risk being talked for a long time because of behaviour you probably don’t even remember.

Compliments

Accept compliments graciously with a simple ‘Thank you!’. You can return the compliment if you find a genuine reason for it.

Goodbyes

If you need to leave early for some reason, inform the hosts and leave as unobtrusively as possible so that you do not disturb the mood of the party.

Do call/ SMS/ email the hosts later to tell them you had a wonderful time. Thank them for their hospitality.

The don’ts

Giftiquette

While little gifts are always appreciated, make sure they are not personal in nature. Avoid items of clothing, deodorants, etc, especially if you do not know the hosts well.

Of course, this rule does not apply for birthday parties.

For a house-warming party, you could ask the hostess (if you know her well) casually while you accept the invitation, “I’d love to get something for you that you really need. Would you prefer something for the kitchen or the hall?” The hostess would appreciate your gesture rather than end up with five table lamps and seven wall clocks.

Eatiquette

Never heap your plate at a buffet. You can always go in for a second helping if need be. Take small bites of food; do not stuff your mouth with it.

You would do well to have some fruit or a light sandwich before a party so that you are not ravenous before the meal.

Also, if you are not comfortable with a fork, chopsticks or tongs, ask the servers for alternatives.

Anita D’souza, assistant manager – training, with a leading company, says, “I can recall quite a few instances where pieces of food have flown off plates and landed on someone else. If one is not used to the given cutlery, it is perfectly fine to ask for a spoon or even eat neatly with your fingers rather than embarrass yourself and those around you.”

Conversations

Conversations at a party should be light and casual. Avoid personal questions about relationships, money, salary, etc. Questions about handicaps and injuries are a big no-no. Even if the scars are from a much talked about accident, the person may not want to stir unpleasant memories by telling you an oft-repeated tale.

Never ask about the price or designer label of a dress or accessory. At the same time, do not brag about your own labels even if you are complimented about it.

Goodbyes

Never leave a party without informing the hosts. They may have certain plans for which your presence may be important.

If you are the host/ hostess…

  • Ensure you are at the door to greet and welcome everyone. It lends a personal touch to the party and you can make a mental note of who’s arrived and who has not.
  • Right from the time the first guest walks in, make sure there is some food to nibble on and some drinks to sip. Some people may be walking in after a long working day and would really appreciate something to snack on as they wait for your elaborate main course.
  • Provide for enough serviettes, paper napkins and toothpicks. They should be kept at an accessible place, visible to everyone.
  • If it is a buffet or a cocktail party, clear the used plates and glasses regularly so that you always have ample supply of cutlery. It’ll avoid clutter at the tables and ensure you have less washing to do at the end of the day.
  • The entrance area and the restrooms should be lighted well. If any of your guests require special seating or other arrangements, do arrange for it beforehand. The guests would appreciate your sensitivity.
  • Any children’s party should have ample lighting, clear, open space and toys. Keep a first aid box handy.

 

So there, all set to party?

May 31, 2010 Posted by | Authored by Rukmini Iyer | , | 1 Comment

Heading for freezing temperatures? Read this…

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at Rediff.com)

Cold places are often not the top choice for a holiday in winter.

Most folks are more tempted to go to a sunny beach or the lush greenery of the hills.

Does taking a holiday in the snowy mountains or to a spot facing a chilly winter sound interesting? Or does it daunt you?

Anandita Jain, a medical professional agrees, “Very cold winters can have a depressing effect on people. Lack of colour in the nature around us, the absence of energising heat and less sunlight can give you the blues. But travelling to a cold place can be great fun if one is mentally prepared. Especially if you have company. A little preparation is all it takes to enjoy a cold destination.”

The winter has already set in and many of us may be packing our bags to leave for colder locales. Do you know what kind of weather to expect? Or how your body will react to a change of climate? Preparation is essential for a pleasant holiday.

The preparation

“Read up about the place you are going to,” advises Jain. “If possible, talk to people who have been there before or to travel agents who know the place well. When you are familiar with the place, its culture and food, you will look forward to your trip. You become excited about the little things that make the place special. Then, the cold weather is not a deterrent.”

For people with fragile health, a health check is advisable before the trip. Discuss the itinerary with your doctor, especially if it involves strenuous activities such as trekking or a visit to a high altitude area. Pack a first aid kit and medicines the doctor may advise you to keep handy. Paracetamol and medicines for a cold and cough would be useful.

If you are travelling with children, carrying honey and brandy is a good idea. Honey soothes a sore throat, while brandy can infuse warmth.

If you plan to try and climb a mountains, prepare your body for it well in advance. A few weeks before you travel, begin a regular exercise routine to strengthen yourself. Elderly people should try to go for long walks, if they are unable to attempt more strenuous exercises. If you go to a gym, ask your personal trainer to suggest exercises that will enhance your stamina.

Buy shoes that are suitable for the terrain you plan to visit. The shoes need to cover your feet completely and absorb the strain of the surface. You might need a pair that gives you a good grip if you plan to climb the hills. High boots are required for areas that are prone to heavy snowfall.

Are you headed to an extremely cold place? Buy thermal innerwear – readily available these days – for better protection.

Tips from the experienced

Dr Meenakshi Shivram, who has travelled extensively around the world, has some useful tips for the uninitiated:

~ Buy suitable clothes that cover you and keep you warm. Many stores stock woollens these days, so it should not be difficult to find them. Instead of shawls, buy jackets or overcoats since they are less cumbersome. They are handy for  walking, climbing or even riding horses.

~ Wear good shoes and at least two pairs of socks. Wear cotton socks first – these feel are comfortable next to your skin – and woollen socks over them. Since your feet are nearest to the surface, they can get cold and numb easily. It is important to keep them warm so you can have a firm grip while walking or trekking.

~ Wear layers of clothes to protect yourself. Just one thick sweater is not enough. The body is not used to the high altitudes and low temperatures. Do not expect it to adapt without keeping it warm and comfortable.

~ Always plug your ears against cold winds. A lot of trendy options are available if you don’t prefer the good old monkey cap. Any store that stocks woollens would also have headgear options.

~ Drink lots of water. We often forget to do so when the weather is cold. Physical activity dehydrates you. The air is dry and your skin needs hydration as well. So always carry water with you.

~ To energise yourself, carry a lot of dry fruits, chocolates and other sweets like chikki, especially during treks. These mini snacks quickly energise you because they digest quickly and are absorbed.

~ Most important: prepare your mind for the trip. The temperatures will be low and you will not be accustomed to it. But these places are extremely beautiful and serene; a trip there can be spiritually exhilarating if you are mentally set to enjoy it. Simply surrender to Nature and soak in the beauty around. And you will be rejuvenated.

May 31, 2010 Posted by | Authored by Rukmini Iyer | | Leave a comment

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