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Author: Ravi Raman

Andy Scantland On Being Your Best At Work [Podcast Ep. #16]

Andy Scantland, Executive and Leadership Coach, joins me to discuss how to elevate your performance and be your best at work. Andy has coached leaders in the technology, hospitality, communications, financial, education, and development industries. His goal is to drive improved organizational effectiveness through individual and team performance improvement, increased engagement, and values-driven leadership.

Listen to the podcast as we discuss:
Why Andy left a promising career to pursue coaching full-time
How to be your best at work by leveraging your strengths
The single biggest factor for improving team performance
…and much more!

Connect with Andy and his coaching practice at Upside Partners.

Embracing Uncertainty When Every Part Of You Wants Certitude

“Freedom from the known is the essence of intelligence.”

– J. Krishnamurti

How much of your life is a quest for certainty?

Most people are driven by a deep-rooted striving for the reliable, predictable and certain. What if, instead, life was all about expanding your capacity to embrace uncertainty instead of striving for predictability?

This seems like a much better way of living. Life is inherently uncertain. Don’t believe me? Try to predict what you will be thinking in the next 10 minutes or what you will be doing at this time next week!

So much of what happens only makes sense in the rear view mirror.

    • Sitting at the computer terminal at the Lakeside School, how much did Paul and Bill really know about where their hobby would lead
    • Following a chance encounter at Stanford, what did Sergey and Larry expect about their futures? Did they have a SMART Goal??? 🙂
    • Dropping out of college to explore the nature of conscious (i.e., to travel, meditate and take a lot of psychedelics…), did Sam ever imagine the possibility of packing auditoriums around the world, becoming an intellectual rock-star of sorts?

As you look at the current state of your career and life, how much could you have predicted, even just a few years ago? Probably not much.

Why then, are we (and most humans I know) so fixated on being precise about outcomes?

Expectations vs reality

I’m continually amazed and sometimes startled, at the gap between expectations and reality. Sometimes better, sometimes worse, sometimes different and occasionally the same (rarely, but occasionally) – fixation on outcomes, goals, and future-states is a curious natural mode of the mind.

I say ”curious” because we strive for certainty in the future (“certainty” is a cornerstone of human needs psychology), but the world is inherently uncertain. We all can dream and envision. Yet, we all know that our vision is nothing compared to reality.

The same idea applies to work and life. I spent my entire career building visions and plans for new technology products. Yet, even in the midst of helping large teams of engineers rally around a common goal, I knew that the real purpose of any vision or plan was as much to get people working and collaborating together from a common intent, as it was actually to deliver every feature included in the plan.

It’s not that the plans didn’t matter, it’s that the purpose of planning was different than most people thought!

The only thing I could predict about my planning efforts was that things would not go as planned! I also knew that if smart people were working well together, great things would happen.

As a Professional Coach, I now see how fixation on outcomes (without understanding the uncertain nature of the world) is a significant source of stress and can cause us to overlook the innate creative capacity of the mind.

So much cool stuff comes from the “unknown.” As any leader in a growth company will tell you, innovation is the most valuable thing a company does. Innovation is born from uncertainty. A great book, The Click Moment, goes into this theme in detail from a business and innovation standpoint.

Why fight it the uncertain nature of the world? To me, it seems much better to move along with how life actually works than to pretend we can be its master and commander. More importantly, how can we be more comfortable with uncertainty?

The method-less way

To explore this question I recently turned to an interesting book, one of J. Krishnamurti’s works (transcribed from his talks by an editor), Freedom from the Known. Reading J.K. is both frustrating and enlightening. He shoots straight to the heart of what causes psychological suffering – painting a picture of the issues and a promise of how life can be different (and dare I say “better”) with a richer understanding of how the mind (and our reality) works.

Yet, Krishnamurti offers no tools, techniques or methods; emphasizing the utter futility of trying to pierce the veil of thought with more illusory thinking. Not unlike the challenge of understanding the mind as illustrated by Alan Watts (here’s me paraphrasing): “..we are faced with the predicament of trying to pull ourselves up with our own bootstraps. In doing so, we are more likely to end up on our fanny than anything else…”

For someone, such as myself, so interested in understanding the mind and how to cultivate a more productive relationship with it, this is both frustrating, but also fascinating. Not unlike a movie with a cliff-hanger, it creates a sense of interest and curiosity that wouldn’t be present without such an instruction-less finality.

Just like a child tossed into a pool without a life jacket will be more likely to learn how to stay afloat and swim properly….

Without a clear how-to guide for controlling and transcending the mind, we are left with the only thing we ever really have, the results of direct and personal experience at the moment. Without a tool to apply or new habit to build, the mind naturally turns inward, looking and searching for a deeper insight or truth.

I see the incredible value of such an open exploration.

What can we do about it?

However, there are a couple things we can “do.”

First, we can make a choice. We can decide that understanding the truth about how the mind works is of crucial importance no matter what the goal – be that living a great life or being outstanding at work.

Second, we can allow the process to happen naturally and organically. A starting point is to turn our attention away from external life hacks, how-to-guides and trademarked methods for self-discovery; and turn our attention inward, to what we see about the nature of the mind, and what lurks beyond it.

We can start looking for what is really true and what is not. We can yearn more for what we learn from our experience than what a pundit has to say about his or her own experience.

Through experience, we can start to understand that we all live in a world of our thoughts, not the world as it is. We can know this to be a fact, and with this deep understanding, start playing in the world (creating, building, enjoying…and yes – even setting goals!) with a sense of freedom and “okay-ness” that isn’t possible when we approach life from a “goal-achievement-at-all-costs” mindset or in following someone else’s strategy for living and working.

Conclusion

So many of the amazing things I’ve experienced in life were only predictable in hindsight. I’m glad life seems to work well that way, and that something is calling the shots beyond my own thoughts, plans, and schemes.

Heck, I never would have predictive I’d be a Coach, even a few years ago!

As a Coach for leaders and professionals in the Tech Industry, I also see the tremendous value in having a thought partner to work with on this journey into the unknown. Specifically, working with a coach who is willing to allow the time and space for a client to sit with the “unknown” and allow the mind to generate insights naturally about how to live well and do great work.

If you are interested in exploring how coaching can help you in your journey forward, click here to learn more.

The Power of Simplicity as a Catalyst For Growth [Podcast Ep. #15]

Being simple isn’t easy, it’s often harder, at least in the beginning. The benefits, however, are worth the initial effort. In this podcast, I share a simple concept that might change how you think about your business, your health, your relationships and living your life in general. This idea is all about going way beyond Pareto’s “80/20 Rule” and seeing that in life, we can get MUCH MORE out of less.

 

Beyond The Pareto Principle: The Simple Way To Get Much More Out Of Life

I want to share a simple idea that might change how you think about your business, your health, your relationships and living your life in general.

This idea will be tricky to implement, but the results will speak for themselves. Not to set expectations too high 🙂, but I believe that the idea I’m going to share with you really does have something to it. It’s all about getting more out of less.

It’s not a new idea. Some people have referred to it as The Pareto Principle, aka the “80/20 rule.” It states that most of the outputs in life are generated from a minority of inputs. This is generalized to imply that 80% of the results tend to come from 20% of the activities.

When you think about simplification and productivity, what do you think about? Most people think about trimming the fat, reducing the slack and doing just as good, with less effort/activity/input.

Achieving such an outcome would be a great result, wouldn’t it?

For example, if you work 40 hours a week and you get a certain result, imagine if you worked 30 hours a week and got the same result, or even a slightly lesser result, but saved a bunch of effort. That would be a good thing, right?

What if you could do even better?

What if you could, by doing less work, not only achieve the same outcome but a much better one, by doing far less than you thought? That’s the idea I want to talk about today. The idea of getting more out of less. Pareto’s Principle taken to an extreme.

To help get your mind around this concept, I would like to share a few examples of how this idea plays out in life already, from the worlds of finance, business and nature. Through these examples you will see that this idea has a lot of truth to it. If you look closely at any aspect of life: less is more!

Be wealthier by trading less

Let’s start by looking at wealth and finance. The game of wealth building is really set up to reward people who can figure out how to get a better return on their money.

The best and brightest people are spending tremendous energy figuring out ways to make more money by actively trading, taking bigger risks and even going as far as building computer systems from the ground up to shave microseconds off trade times.

So, what do the wealth building games people are playing show us?

There have been numerous studies, looking at the performance differences between actively and passively managed funds. The verdict is clear. Passively managed funds have higher returns, despite the lack of effort that goes into managing them. In any given year, 83 to 95% of active money managers fail to beat their benchmarks in any given year.

Think of all that wasted effort and money!

The passive index funds, on the other hand, just invest in a pre-defined selection of stocks. Rebalancing happens periodically, and that’s it. Simple and effective!

Sure, investing in funds isn’t the only way to build wealth, but it provides a striking example of how less is more. It’s worth paying attention to.

It’s how I invest my money.

Grow a business faster by working less

Next, let’s look at the world of business.

I recently got paddleboards for my family. With the boards, we got a free book by the company founder, Stephan Aarstol, called The Five Hour Workday. The premise of the book is NOT that we should be lazy. The founder of the company is a savvy entrepreneur who knows how to work hard.

Taking out our paddleboards in Dillon, CO.

However, Stephan Aarstol saw a better way to get results in business, and it had nothing to do with working harder. It had everything to do with working smarter. He saw that when his team members were happy and living great lives, they were more creative, productive and insightful at work.

He performed an experiment and for three months, switched his entire company to a 5-hour workday, 5 days a week, for the same pay as working a full 40 hours week. In fact, he increased their pay, by offering his staff a cut of company profits.

What happened?

Optimists would think that the experiment would have resulted in a consistent level of business growth, despite the fewer hours worked. This would equate to getting the same outputs from fewer inputs. Not a bad result.

Doubters would think that result was a drop in business, though perhaps not as much as one would expect. This would equate to getting fewer outputs for far fewer inputs. Again, not a bad result if you really care about giving employees back time in their days. However, this isn’t sustainable for a growth-oriented business.

However, what happened was that the business absolutely took off. Employees were super happy. That part should be obvious. What wasn’t obvious, was that customers were also incredibly satisfied with their purchases and customer service.

Customers told their friends about their awesome paddleboards and the great company behind them. The business was booming, in spite of the fewer hours worked! This would equate to getting vastly more output from fewer inputs.

Over the years since the book was published, the company changed their work schedule again, going back to an 8-hour workday during the off-season, and sticking to a 5-hour work day during the peak summer months. This is a far cry from the 60-plus hour weeks that are common at other growth-oriented companies.

Why the change back to a 40-hour workweek?

According to Aarstol:

A weird thing happened—productivity was fine and we actually grew revenues—but the five-hour workday failed us in a completely unexpected way. People were feeling less connected to the company. When you’re working only 25 hours a week, other parts of your life become bigger and more important.

Especially in the startup world, people actually like going to work and feeling attached to or even consumed by their jobs. So now we’ve switched back to an eight-hour day for most of the year. We do five-hour days in the summer, during our busiest time of year, from June through September. The time pressure makes us figure out how to be more productive.

Tower Paddleboards is not the only company changing the world of work. Basecamp, an innovative software company (formerly called 37 Signals) is famous for railing on the “work hard to get ahead” mentality of tech companies, proudly adopting a flexible work schedule capped at 40 hours a week, with Friday’s off all summer long.

The lazy person’s guide to bountiful gardening

Are you into gardening or permaculture?

I don’t have a green thumb, but my mom does!

I grew up working in our large garden on my most weekends and evenings during the growing season. For some reason, I’ve never picked up the skill, but one thing I’ve learned is that micromanaging plants is a surefire way to kill them!

I recall a conversation several years ago with my mom, after attempting to grow a vegetable garden in the backyard of my newly purchased home. I was complaining that my kale, carrots, and potatoes wouldn’t grow. My succulents were wilting. What was my issue? My mom gave me some great advice, water them occasionally and don’t do anything else. Let them be.

It turns out there was a lot of wisdom in that tip. I was over-watering and stepping all over the raised beds. I was getting in the way of nature doing what it does best, grow stuff.

Can we grow more by doing less?

In the world of permaculture, there is a movement of people taking up lazy gardening. Lazy gardening is all about getting more out of less. By being smart about positioning plants as part of a natural ecosystem; less watering, fertilizing, mulching and weeding is needed for a garden to thrive.

Don’t believe me? Look at what this guy is able to grow in a relatively small vacant lot in the middle of an urban area in the UK.

Conclusion

I don’t have time to talk about all aspects of life and how the principle of getting more out of less can apply.

However, it’s clear that there is something powerful about allowing a few vital inputs to do their magic, and not smothering a good thing with a ton of extra activity that will just get in the way of life doing what it does best, GROW!

I hope this topic has inspired you to think way beyond Pareto’s Principle. You don’t need to settle for just getting most of the benefits from a few inputs. You can aspire to get far more out of the few things you put into a project.

I also hope that you are inspired to think about how you can simplify some aspects of your life, for the sake of allowing growth to occur in a more natural and abundant way.

Here are a few questions to guide your journey to simplifying your life and embracing a “getting more from less” attitude:

  1. What area of your life would benefit from more abundance with less effort?
  2. What are you doing right now in this area of your life? Think about the inputs/actions taking place. Even if you aren’t doing anything in this area, doing “nothing” is still something!
  3. What few activities/inputs seem to be producing good results?
  4. What few activities/inputs are worth focusing more time and energy on?
  5. What other activities/inputs are not fruitful and worth letting go of? 

Please leave a comment down below this post with your answer to Question #1!

Here’s Why Making A Radical Career Change Is So Darn Tough [Podcast Ep. #14]

In this episode, your host (Ravi Raman) shares his thoughts about why making a radical career change is so darn tough. Expanding on the ideas in this blog post, Ravi goes into what it’s like to “swim against the current” and make a career change later in life. He also describes three “safe havens” that tend to pull people back towards their old ways and old jobs. When we become aware of these safe havens – it can be easier to resist their pull.

Here’s Why Making A Radical Career Change Is So Darn Tough

Is there anything as hard as trying to navigate a radical career change?

From the time we are barely walking, we are being groomed to land a fruitful career. School, internships and part-time jobs are all designed to prepare us for what we will one day call “our career.”

This doesn’t pose a problem unless you decide one day that your career is no longer the right one.

Swimming against the current

There is no built-in social structure to facilitate major changes in career direction. Doing so requires a willingness to go against the grain, to not buy into the concerns of family and friends, and the capacity to work through powerful emotions that seem to pull you back to the secure job you once knew.

The other day a coaching client reached out with this exact concern.

He hired me to make a transition towards a different kind of life.

His previous career was that of a corporate ladder-climber. He was wildly successful. However, he was burned out and hungry for a better experience of work and life.

The goal was to craft a job based on his skills and interests; a solopreneur lifestyle that yielded income, joy, and a clear sense contribution. A full lifestyle redesign.

This was his decision and came out through several long coaching conversations and the client’s introspection after having a few months away from work to decompress.

The problem

A few months into his lifestyle design project, he got cold feet.

He worried that he was pursuing the wrong goal, that what he really wanted was to get back on the corporate “fast-track.“ The solution seemed to be, “let me just figure out how to run along the corporate fast-track while enjoying it and not getting stressed.”

My response was:

“Just relax and don’t jump to conclusions. See how it feels when you are actively working on your new business and creating a new lifestyle. If you have recurring and deep-rooted insights that you should return to your previous career, by all means, listen to those signals.

On the other hand, you might discover that the impulse to throw out the baby (your dream) with the bathwater (your past experience and future expectations) is just that, an impulse.”

Not every impulse requires a response.

This impulse, to rush back to the safer confines of the familiar life, is a common experience for anyone who is seeking to design their ideal lifestyle and vocation. Such re-imagination is bound to kick up a lot of emotional muck, including a healthy dose of insecurity (along with fear, guilt and yes, even boredom).

What happens when you get insecure?

Whenever I get insecure, I want to get a solid grip on the familiar, the safe and the secure (duh!). Just like when I was a kid learning how to swim, I would lunge towards the life-preserver impulsively. Eventually, I learned to ignore this impulse and trust my arms and legs to keep me afloat.

When my client got insecure (and redesigning one’s life will tend to do that) he wanted to retreat to the safe confines of the career environment he knew all too well, even though that environment was full of stress and no longer fit his values.

It was an impulsive move and a natural one. We all want to be safe and safety can be found through any number of places.

Three common safe havens are:

  1. Financial security.
  2. Recognition.
  3. Familiar environments.

My client was feeling a tremendous impulse to run back to his previous career, as it fulfilled all three of these safe havens.

It’s worth exploring these safe havens, as they aren’t nearly as “safe” as you would think.

Financial Security

Money matters. Though the specific amount you require to be happy is probably far less than you think.

When you get insecure, you will become money conscious and price sensitive. If you are looking to transition your career, and start feeling anxious, the salary prospects (and certainty of income) of a familiar job can loom large.

A sure-thing corporate salary will start to feel much better than the uncertainty of a new venture.

You will find yourself being pulled back into the orbit of your past line of work.

Recognition

Recognition is just as important as money.

I learned this first hand as a manager in the high tech industry. While my team members all appreciated bonuses, I was amazed by the degree to which top performers cared even more about being sincerely recognized and valued for their work.

When we feel insecure, we gravitate towards environments where we feel appreciated and have confidence in our ability to perform.

This recognition can be found in the safe confines of a previous line of work.

Familiar Environments

Familiar environments are boring unless you are feeling nervous. Then, they become safe havens.

It’s in a familiar environment that you know the rules and how to play the game. It’s like having a home court advantage.

If you are feeling insecure about a career transition, you are going to feel like you should stick to familiar people, places and things. This can be a real monkey wrench for anyone trying to redesign their lifestyle.

What can we do about it?

Radically changing your career and lifestyle is hard. I’ve done it and still work through occasional (though increasingly rare) hunger pangs of a secure income, familiar environment and built-in recognition that comes from seeing the rungs I’ve climbed on the corporate ladder.

It’s also tough to figure out what you want, to look at the hazy mist of the future and plot a course into the unknown.

It’s even more challenging to make it happen.

The first step, however, is to strive for internal clarity.

Figure out your answer to the “what” questions. It’s a crucial starting point.

What do you want your life to be like? What career has meaning for you? What impact do you wish to make on the world? What learning curves are you excited to climb? Etc.

If you don’t know the answers. Relax, you are in good company.

All you can ever do is take your best guess based on how you feel in the moment.

Find a quiet environment and a calm inner space from which to explore your answers to these questions.

Then, as the mind is fickle and tends to forget, write down your answers so you can reference your thoughts the next time you feel nervous about how things are going for you.

Remind yourself of the life you are creating, why it matters to you and how you can serve the world as a result. Passion alone isn’t enough. We need a deeper purpose and meaning to our work and lives.

The good thing about insecurity is that while it’s the trigger for wanting to give up on a dream, it’s a fickle emotion that flees at the very moment you get busy working on something that matters to you.

So let’s get to work.

Gregg Levoy On Discovering And Following Your Passion For Work And Life [Podcast Ep. #13]

Gregg Levoy joins me to discuss the art of discovering and following one’s passion for life and work. Greg is a journalist, writer, and coach who has helped people all over the world to find their calling and design their work and lifestyle around it. In particular, we discuss the big ideas featured in his book, Vital Signs. This book is one of the few I give a “five out of five stars” rating. It’s a very entertaining and engaging look at the role of passion and purpose in life.

Listen to the podcast as we discuss:

  • What our obsession with Zombies tells us about the state of the American workforce!
  • What passion really is….and it’s connection to suffering.
  • Why it matters that we are fully engaged at work and in life.
  • Why Cal Newport is mistaken, following your passion is NOT terrible advice!
  • What to do if you feel stuck at work.

…and much more!

Check out Gregg’s Website for helpful links, articles, and videos on the art of discovering your calling and cultivating a meaningful and passionate life.

Get the book:
Vital Signs: Discovering and Sustaining Your Passion for Life

Listen with Apple iTunes

Listen with Google Play

Here’s An Easier Way To Solve Your Business And Career Problems

The nature of imagination and the creative insights that smuggle within its flow; is a mystery. Ideas seem to pop up out of the ether. Almost always, thoughts are utter nonsense. Sometimes, that needle pops out of the haystack, and an innocent idea has an “oh my God” quality to it. Lots of noise. Little signal. The good news is, we only need a tiny bit of signal to create breakthroughs and solve world-class problems, so long as we are paying attention.

Read more

How To Climb Learning Curves Quickly With Deliberate Learning

“We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”

~ John Dewey, Education Reformer and Psychologist

It’s never been easier to learn. There are MOOCs, meetups, professional organizations and thousands of non-fiction books per month being published. Not to mention all the blogs and podcasts and YouTube videos coming online every day.

We are awash in information, and yet, it seems like we are getting further and further from understanding the things that really matter and digesting the content we are eating. We are sitting at an endless buffet of knowledge and getting heartburn in the process. If only they made Tums for knowledge overload! As a way to cope with the onslaught of new material, a common reaction is to stop consuming so much information, and instead, to move into action mode. Start doing stuff instead of just learning about stuff.

“Don’t consume, create! Don’t think, do!”

This makes common sense. If I want to get better at hammering a nail, I should hammer lots of nails. If I want to get better at writing, I should write a lot. If I want to be a better coach, I should get more coaching hours under my belt. If I want to improve my running ability, I should log those miles.

At work, learning by doing implies that the best way to learn is by identifying something you want to perform better at and selecting projects that employ the use of those skills. It all makes common sense. I do learn better when I am engaged in work, as opposed to just thinking about what is to be done.

The Missing Link

However, learning by doing overlooks a critical aspect of how we are built to learn. And yes, we are built to learn. We wouldn’t have gone from living in caves to flying around in metal tubes in the sky if we weren’t.

We learn reasonably well by doing something time and time again. We don’t, however, become excellent at a task through brute force repetition alone. If I hammer a thousand nails, I might get good at hammering, but I also might get good at shanking the metal and dinging the wood. If I run a thousand miles training for a marathon, I might improve my endurance, but I might just as well engrain an atrocious running form into my body.

Repetition, without reflection, will end badly.

Case Study: Wipro’s Experiment

I stumbled upon a research paper, “Making Experience Count: The Role of Reflection In Individual Learning” while plunging down a rabbit hole on the Internet. I was trying to understand how we learn most effectively. This paper illustrates just how vital reflection is to the learning process. It struck a chord, in part, because it hits on something so simple, but often overlooked, when it comes to how we learn at work (or in any other aspect of life for that matter). The authors contrast the effectiveness of Experiential Learning (learning by doing) with Deliberate Learning (learning by doing with built-in time for thinking and reflection on what’s being done).

One of the experiments cited by the authors was a field study at Wipro, a large business-process outsourcing company. In the study, a group of customer support agents-in-training were assigned to one of two groups: (1) reflection or (2) practice. Both groups went through the same training program, with one key difference. The reflection cohort was instructed to spend the last 15 minutes of their days articulating the main lessons they learned during the day. The practice cohort didn’t reflect, and instead spent the final 15 minutes of their day continuing with other training activities.

At the conclusion of the training period, all trainees were given a knowledge assessment. The cohort that was given 15-minutes to reflect on their lessons learned each day scored 23% higher than the control group. Even more interesting, after graduating from the training program and put into customer service roles, the reflection cohort was found to demonstrate a 19% higher likelihood of getting a “top-rating” by customers.

I can’t think of an easier way to boost performance by a large margin!

Conclusion

One study doesn’t make a rule of law. However, this idea seems to have legs in other domains. As a coach, it is common knowledge that a powerful question to ask clients in concluding a coaching session is one that prompts reflection on insights gleaned and lessons learned.

Personally, I use journaling as a way to reflect on learning from day-to-day. My typical journal entry will include a brain-dump of (1) What happened today? (2) What did I learn? (3) What’s next (based on the lessons learned)?

Most of us work in fields where learning is vital to our relevance on the job. How can we maximize our potential and learning aptitude? It’s clear that learning by doing is only part of the picture. The consolidation and integration of whatever we learn is a vital part of the process. It doesn’t have to take a bunch of effort. 15-minutes seems to do the trick.

The aforementioned study sums things up well:

“Together, our results reveal deliberation to be a powerful mechanism behind learning, confirming the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey” “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”