The World Seems Unsafe Tonight

Ma, my tears go unnoticed
My cries, unheard
My dignity, hurt
I’m sorry you brought me into a world
That doesn’t even pretend to care
Ma, can I climb into
Your womb for a while?
The world seems rather unsafe tonight
I’m tired, Ma. I’m tired
Of fighting,
Of struggling,
Of begging the world
To for once, be kind
Please let me climb into
You womb, just for a little while
The world seems just so unsafe tonight
I feel like I’m being punished
For a mistake I never made
I flee like a wounded animal
Only to find a spot that’s safe
But alas they find and hunt me
However hard I try
Ma, I promise I’ll only
Stay in your womb for a while
But please do let me
The world seems
Very unsafe tonight
(On account of India being declared the most unsafe country in the world for women)

6 months of America, the journey so far.

And its been 6 months now that I’ve lived in America.

It feels like just yesterday that I got here, excited, wary, nervous, slightly hesitant, all at once. And within the blink of an eye, it’s almost 6 months down. And as I sit down to pen my thoughts, an entire wave of self-reflection and self-realization hits me, because I look back at the version of me that came here with stars and dreams in her eyes, and almost admire at how she’s grown and evolved with time. And even more so, at how the journey so far hasn’t felt forced, rather almost natural, as if it were planned this way.

There’s quite a few cultural adjustments I know I’ve made, mostly subconsciously. I now easily smile at strangers, ask them how they’re doing, and sometimes even pick up random conversation, an act that might raise eyebrows in my country. My British-English trained eyes have finally learned to accept C-O-L-O-R as an acceptable way to spell ‘colour’. I’ve learned to dress according to the weather forecast and not my mood. I’ve experienced Thanksgiving, and Black Friday, and Superbowl, and all the hype that come with it. And I’ve been witness to the election frenzy, and the frenetic build-up and aftermath. I proudly retain some of my idiosyncrasies though. For instance, I still ask for water without ice at restaurants, for I cannot fathom how someone would enjoy the taste of ice-cold water when it’s freezing outside. I

I almost celebrated when I realized I could navigate my way around a decent portion of Chicago without Google Maps, for it told me that I no longer was a stranger here. And I know that I’m have creating memories of my time here, ones that I shall take with me wherever I go. Of places, people, experiences. Of moving along the graph from visitor to resident. Of the experience of the home away from home. So much has happened that I’m ever grateful for, and I know that so much will happen that I’m excited about.

There’s a lot I know I’ve come to love about America. Its user-friendliness. Its vibrancy. And its overall acceptance of individualism, one that allows you to be who you’d like to be. And while I don’t know how long I’ll stay here, I do know that however long I do, I when I finally do leave, I’ll leave a part of my heart here.

 

The power of Thanks, and Giving.

America and me are all set to be friends this year. We think we like each other. In the last few months that I’ve gotten to call this country home, there are quite a few things I’ve come to appreciate. The open environment, an acceptance of individualism, and a free-spirited, yet resilient mindset that this part of the world seems to hold dear.

And last night, I was fortunate enough to witness and be part of the much eagerly looked forward to the American ritual of Thanksgiving. Festival, spirit, tradition- call it whatever you might, I’m not even sure what the history behind it all is. What I do know and understand, is that it’s a time of year that celebrates emotions that we tend to forget, thanks to perils of everyday life – togetherness, gratitude and sharing. Gratitude for all that we have – the material things and the intangible relationships, memories and feelings. Togetherness of our near and dear kin. And of course, the spirit of giving, and sharing – love, time and happiness with each other.

I know that an entire opposition party to this might argue that you don’t need one calendar day in the year to celebrate these, but I would say that even if on one day, we can consider ourselves fully blessed, content, and truly thankful for all life has bestowed on us, without being stressed, anxious or worried about our future, or unhappy about what we haven’t been given, and regretful about things we should and could have done, then it is an achievement in the true sense. Positivity, festivity, and finding cheer and rejoicing even when its gloomy, and dark and uncertain, maybe that’s what there is to celebrate.

And on that note, even though I’m a day late, Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Creativity Vs Efficiency

“What is more important – Creativity, or Efficiency”?

I recently got asked this question at a job interview.

I responded without even thinking twice.

Creativity.

To which the next obvious question was , “How come”?

I would say it was one of those impulsive answers, in situations when you don’t really have time to list down the pros and cons of the two options you’ve been given. But then that is the best thing about such impulsive answers. You don’t answer what you think sounds good, rather, you answer what comes to you instantly.

In my case, I said creativity matters more than efficiency, for one simple reason. First and foremost, let’s define creativity. As Google says, Creativity is the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.And rightly said so. In the 21st century, creativity, specifically in the business & start-up world,  isn’t just synonymous to being artistic. Rather, I’d say the term innovative is much closer. Creativity implies how well you come up with new fixes, hacks, solutions to old problems. How you visualize answers to questions which have gone unanswered, even unobserved. Creativity isn’t just the mouthpiece of the painter, the dancer or the writer, but equally so of every agile, logical and solution-driven individual, especially where the problem-solver angle is concerned.

A classic case that comes to my mind is that of Uber. As an idea- it seems pretty simple. A tech-driven aggregator for on-demand taxis. Yet, an uncomplicated idea that revolutionized taxi travel across the globe.  But if it really was so easy, why didn’t we all think of it? A similar case with AirBnb. A platform to allow people to rent out their homes, when they’re vacant, and make some money on the side, another opportunity few people recognized. And why didn’t we observe it, when the problems at hand weren’t exactly hidden, but visible for everyone to actively notice?

The answer is simple – creativity.

The way I see it, the founders of these groundbreaking startups (and many more like them), saw the big-picture problem, and using their imaginative minds, backed with solid reasoning, logic and research,  came up with solution in the form of a business idea. And then, to make it all succeed, introduced efficiency into the process. Efficiency, which when mentioned in business context denotes, organization, orderliness, planning, regulation and orderliness. In my eyes, Efficiency is the key driver of the process without which moving ahead is impossible. Creativity, however, is the initiator. The solution-driver. The idea-generator The newer, different path to what may be possibly be the same destination. It may sound like a chicken-and-egg situation, but I’d say that creativity precedes efficiency, as the starter of the cycle of change.

Additionally, makes creativity so special is that at least today, unlike efficiency, it can’t be automated. Creativity still remains a premium quality of the human brain. And fortunately, for creative individuals, there’s never been a better time to add value to business processes. As design -thinkers. As storytellers. As content-creators. And lots more. Creative, wandering, out-of-the-box thinking minds, not always bound my logic, analysis and reason. And something tells me that this appreciation of human creativity only just started.

Business Lessons Daddy taught me

My father is a first-generation entrepreneur, drop-dead passionate about his work. He built an entire company from scratch. And he didn’t go to B-school. But I learnt some of the most invaluable lessons of entrepreneurship and business from him.
Growing up, I always wondered what it took to build a successful business, and how so many successful entrepreneurs built corporations from ideas without what may be considered as ‘business-specific knowledge’, and how the summa cum laudes at the Harvards and Whartons ended up working for them. To a slightly immature me, it seemed almost unfair, how graduates from stellar academic institutions had bosses less qualified or educated than them. Until I realized that successful business-building took more than knowledge. 
Over the years, analyzing the journeys and testimonials of successful entrepreneurs, I’ve realized that irrespective of geography, era, industry and product, there exist certain underlying qualities of every entrepreneur, including my father, that share common ground. Passion, a vision, fierce resilience and tenacity, and added to that a zeal and enthusiasm for their work, have indeed always been common ingredients of the entrepreneurial diet. The entrepreneurs are ‘dreamers’ and the ones they employ are the ‘dream-realizers’. In the end, they’re both equally important, but as the starter of the cycle, I wouldn’t shy away from giving the entrepreneur a little extra credit. 
What I learnt from my dad, are practices, principles and tenets I know I’ll take with me to the grave. 
  1. Vision. Vision. Vision. – Vision isn’t just a one-line sentence that goes down on paper, as a formal company statement. It’s that one single thing that turns ideas into corporations. A brave, daring, sometimes even seemingly unachievable vision. Dream big, work hard, do big. Like the say, well begun is half done. 
  2. Have an eye for detail – An obsession with perfection.  Always have high standards, and do everything within your might to achieve them. Never settle for sub-standardness.
  3. Solving a customer’s pain point – Treat this as your business motto, and everything in your business gets engineered towards making your customer a happier person. Exactly how it should be. Your business must always be to serve your customers first, your second, and external stakeholders, such as media and investors last.
  4. Focus on betterment – Product, process, people. Also focus on creating a better version of what you have. While there always will be eternal competition you’ll have to fight, in the end, the biggest competition will always be with yourself. 
  5. There’s no such think as too much homework – Always be prepared. You may have people running your enterprise for you, but in the end, you are who they’ll always look up to. Put in a little time regularly going beyond the fringe – whether its studying industry trends, networking with key people from the industry, or even digging deeper into your own business and identifying ways to increase internal efficiency. A little goes a long way.
  6. Leadership –  Your business is the ship, and you’re the captain. There is absolutely no substitute for good leadership.  Your people, if well led, can be your most powerful resource. 
  7. Agility – We live in disruptive times. And it isn’t difficult for redundancy to creep in. You need to stay on your toes, instead of getting too comfortable on the boss chair. Reverse engineering, and reinventing the wheel, aren’t just options, they’re necessary for your business to keep up with changing times. And if you’re still not convinced, there are enough companies as examples that went out of business because they did’t adapt their product, service or overall business model. 
  8. Relationships and people management – The core of building a successful business, according to my father. A successful business is one where every transaction creates a win-win situation for everyone in the picture – employees, customers and owners. Strong relationship management is what leads to longevity in business. 
  9. Have a sense of gratitude  – Success isn’t an island, and it doesn’t happen in isolation. You might be the one to have reached the top of the ladder, but there’ll always be innumerable people who’ll have played a role in taking you there. 
  10. Stay grounded Never, ever let failure go to your heart, and success, to your head. Success, particularly in this arena, should always be accompanied with humility, not arrogance. 
Business, particularly entrepreneurship  isn’t easy, but isn’t exactly rocket science either. And if my non-B school Daddy could you do, I’m sure you can, too!  

She Thought, and so she did.

She was a rebel, always had been,

A woman of her own mind, a free spirit,

For within the depths of her heart & soul,

Lay many dreams nurtured & kindled.

She believed she could bring change,

She knew she’d tread her own path

And within the realms of the physical world,

She believed that she’d find her own place.

The world laughed when she told them of her dreams,

Reminded her of her vices,

Discouraged, Exploited, even humiliated her.

But alas, they failed miserably

For within her softness, lay nerves of steel.

Every wall they created, she climbed over

Every glass ceiling they made, she broke away

To them she never spoke a word,

But with all she did, nor could they.

She stood above them all,

An example, an inspiration, a story of all her wins,

And when someone asked her where she found the strength,

She smiled and said ‘It comes from within’.

They’ll come and tell you’ll never do it

They’ll try to break you all apart

But the one thing that always must stay lit, ‘

Is the flame of hope, within the heart.”

Who exactly is an ‘entrepreneur’?

I was born to a first-generation entrepreneur, with my father having started multiple ventures, failed in a few, succeeding in most. I belong natively to the ‘baniya’ community – a population typically known for their shrewd business & trading prowess, having given the country, even the world, some much-revered business personalities. And as a 21st century millennial, I was fortunate to have had hands-on experience of the dynamic start-up movement in India, having worked with one myself. And after all of this, when I got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, it didn’t really come across as a surprise.

And so began my journey to understand what entrepreneurship was all about. Once I began to unravel the term ‘entrepreneurship’, I was surprised, even overwelmed by the various interpretations of what the word represents. Technically speaking, the Oxford dictionary describes entrepreneurship as the practice of setting up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.

So then, does anyone who starts a business become an entrepreneur? I’d have to say I disagree.

Because in my eyes, you can be an entrepreneur even if you don’t have a business. Yes, while in the general sense an entrepreneur has come to mean someone who is involved with the ownership, management and execution of business-led enterprises, in the larger sense, an entrepreneur isn’t just a person. Rather, entrepreneurship is a thought, attitude, and personality much before it becomes a company.

If you’re driven by the thought of taking an initiative because it means a lot of money, then you’re a businessman, not an entrepreneur. Not to say that financial gains aren’t a motivation behind choosing to become an entrepreneur, but if that’s the only driving force, then I’m not sure you’re on the right track. For one of the key rewards of entrepreneurship is being able to bring to life an idea that’s disruptive enough to break through the clutter, and acceptable enough to find its place. Which is why I’d say the primary step towards entrepreneurship is the thought of an idea that you believe is likely to work.

Time and again, I meet people with brilliant ideas, which if put into execution through the ideal combination of strategy and a well chalked out plan, are likely to find their ground. But the reason such ideas never see the light of day, is because the person didn’t think it would work. Or he was unwilling to take the risk involved. He had the idea, but lacked the entrepreneurial attitude.

And there of course are people who’ve got the idea, and  the attitude, but can’t sell their idea to their close kin, to the right people, or  the market. Because they couldn’t get people to believe in them. If you’re getting people to put their time, effort and money on your idea, you’re indirectly getting them to invest in you. Which is why there’s absolutely no way you can escape the personality part of being an entrepreneur.

And coming back to what I said about the link between entrepreneurship and business, I strongly believe that while we do end up correlating the two, the two can in reality be very far apart. For a businessman is someone who driven by the money, the entrepreneur, by the idea. An entrepreneur can be a businessman, and a businessman can be an entrepreneur, but when it comes to being an entrepreneur, you can be one, anywhere, in any situation. For it all takes to start is a thought, an idea and a belief.