Shana Kad: Interview V – RealAcad Mondays

This week, on RealAcad Mondays, we have an interview with Shana Kad, a very inspiring life coach thanks to RealAcader Cecile El Moghazy. A bit about Cecile before we begin – I had the good fortune of spending a week with Cecile at my RealAcad in Stanford this year.Cecile is a very talented and smart person living in Dubai with her husband and working with the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund ADIA. She hails from Luxembourg and identifies herself as half French and half German. She previously worked with McKinsey & Co. and studied at HEC, Paris with a CEMS Masters. Cecile is an avid traveler and has traveled to 65 countries and speaks 6 languages. She is tons of fun and a great person to have around. And I’m confident we will have Cecile interviewed for RealAcad Mondays in the weeks to come. :)

Cecile’s description of her first meet with Shana is as follows.

“I met Shana as a potential client. I was asking myself questions about my future, my career, and the meaning in my life. Shana immediately impressed me with her radiating positive energy. Every sentence, every word is meant to cheer you up, make you understand there are no limits to what you can achieve except the limits you develop yourself through your ‘self-defeating” thoughts. Her work includes several Neuro-Linguistic Programming tools . Shana coaches working professionals looking for a greater meaning in their career, but also teenagers and mothers struggling to balance their work/ family life. All in all, Shana is a truly inspiring person for me because she gave up her well-paid corporate career to invest herself fully into her passion, i.e. helping people having a fuller, happier life.”

About Shana:

Shana is from the UK and came to live in Dubai more than 3 years ago. Through NLP life coaching, Shana helps people change their lives, perceptions and relationships – giving focus where none existed. She says, “Neuro-Linguistic Programming focuses on re-training your mind to interpret things in a positive manner and to ‘think’ differently day-to-day. It addresses the unconscious mind and helps people perceive situations, behaviors and emotions in a new way, and understand the direct control and effect these perceptions have on their lives”

Shana used to work at IBM where she managed a team of more than 30 women. She coached them and was able to make a real difference to their lives. The tragic loss of her sister to cancer made her question her own life and the legacy she would leave for her children. She sought out training to qualify as an NLP Master Life Coach and knew instantly that this was her life’s calling. She set up her own company, Life Effective Coaching, and now runs one-on-one coaching as well as Group Inspiring Workshops, on topics such as careers, relationships, emotional problems, depression, body image, addiction and anger management.

Over to Cecile’s questions..

What drives you/ inspires you? 

What really inspires me and drives me is that feeling of unlimited choice and making every day, every minute count.  To know my life’s purpose and my passion works to help others be all that they can be. I am inspired by the change I see in my clients, when they simply focus on what they WANT and move towards of life of meaning. I am inspired by the subtle miracles of our own thoughts each day that lead us to greatness and truth.

What has been the most defining moment of your life so far?

The most defining moment of my life is when I stood up for what I believed in without fear of failure or ridicule. The day I stepped out of my comfort zone of a well paid job and my 9-5 safe routine. The day I took charge of my life and decided to live my passion of coaching others to live there life’s purpose and embrace fun and growth. I decided I wanted to leave a legacy for my children that kept them inspired years from now. I decided I wanted to make a positive and sustainable difference.

What advice would you have for future leaders?

Work from your heart, learn from others and never be afraid to ask for help. Model excellence and walk your talk.  Turn Anxiety into Faith and Fear into Excitement, as life holds much adventure, if you care to take part.

I love Shana’s crisp and meaningful answers and I’d like to say a big Thank You to Shana on behalf of RealAcad and the ALearningaDay community for making time for us.

And of course, Thanks Cecile. Wishing everyone a great week!

More on RealAcad Mondays..

On Jefferson County, Not Yet and No Failure Zones

This week’s book learning is part of the ongoing series of inspiring learnings from ‘Switch‘ by Dan and Chip Heath.

In 1995, Molly Howard, a longtime special education teacher was entrusted with running the Jefferson County High School. The challenges were easily described – 80% of the school’s students lived in poverty, the teachers had a near-defeatist attitude and the students from the rural south area of Augusta, Louisville, Georgia had accepted a culture of failure.

Howard acted quickly making many necessary changes in the tutorial, counseling and assessment systems. But, her most distinctive change was to the grading system. The new grading system at Jefferson was A, B, C, and NY. And ‘NY’ stood for “Not Yet.”

In one stroke, Howard had eliminated failure and created a ‘No Failure Zone’. “We define up front to the kids what’s an A, B and C,” said Howard. “If they do substandard work, the teacher would say, ‘Not yet.’ That gives them the mindset: My teacher thinks I can do better. It changes their expectations.”

The school was reborn. Students and teachers became more engaged, the school’s graduation rate increased dramatically, and student test scores went up to the point that remedial courses were eliminated.

In 2008, Howard was chosen as the nationwide Principal of the Year, out of 48,000 principals, by the US National Association of Secondary Schools.

How inspiring is that? Every time I find myself coming up short these days, I find myself telling myself ‘Not yet’. Incredibly powerful.

How wonderful a place would the world be if we all used ‘Not yet’ instead of beating ourselves/others up for failure and sub par performance?

Here’s to creating no failure zones for ourselves, and others around us this week! Have a great week all!

The LSE ‘Killer Presentation’ Workshop

I was at the London School of Economics on Thursday morning to spend time with around 40 very talented students from LSE, King’s College London and Cass Business School who were all competing for the LSE’s annual business plan competition. They were at LSE for 3 days competing on a variety of challenges and one of their non competitive events was a workshop I conducted on behalf of RealAcad.

Regulars here will recognize the title. I’d done a similar workshop 3 months ago at my alma mater, NUS. As a result, I saved myself some time in the preparation as I was comfortable about the content. Over time, I’ve learnt that the best workshops are where I do as less talking as I can get by with. And this workshop was modeled on the same philosophy. And hence, the takeaways of such a workshop are very dependent on the participants. And, as it is the case with such an experience, I had a multitude of learnings to share.

First things first though. I’d like to ensure all the relevant links are available.

Short Version of Slides: Up on This is a very short version and hopefully, conveys the essence of the flow.

Photos: The photos are up on bEPIC’s Facebook Page

Video: The entire workshop is up on video. Part 1 is I trust you’ll find the rest of the parts in the related videos/by clicking on the bEPIC channel. There are 9 parts – Very roughly, the parts are as follows –
1-3: Activity
4-5: Core part of the workshop. We had 14 people present. (We did not video the break outs in between)
6: My content
7-9:   More content and closure .

Overall, the workshop was rated an 8.7/10. And some of the feedback would be part of my learnings. I decided to post this a few days later so as to have a complete list of links (photo, video etc) and also to have some time to reflect on my biggest takeaways.

Also, to acknowledge credit where it is due – Fantastic work by the LSE bEPIC team led by Imla and PK, who were fantastic throughout. They were very responsive in the preparation phase, very good on the day and excellent in the post workshop follow up.

Over to my big learnings –

– Google form preparation. Prior to the workshop, participants received a link to this form. I find it critical to understand their expectations from a workshop. This is massively helpful as it helps me tailor my message.

Love the new format. I am really liking this new format of workshops where I have the participants involved for the most part. The rough split for this one was 30 mins activity, 1 hour participants content, 15 mins my content and 15 mins closure. Not too bad.

In war, I’ve found that plans are useless but planning is necessary. I remembered this quote as there were many things that went different from plan. For example, the activity was designed for 15 minutes but since we still didn’t get it, I didn’t feel it right to stop. The other surprise was to have 14 folks volunteer for self introductions. Last time I did this, I barely had 10 (which was the ideal number). And here again, I decided to go ahead with all 14 as I didn’t want to deny an eager participant the opportunity.

Practicing what I preach. It’s easy to discuss great presentations. It’s hard to learn how to prepare for one. And one of the essential requirements in approaching a ‘killer’ presentation is being thorough. This was the mental battle I fought as we were on the clapping game activity.

I was running behind time but I decided to persist. What crossed my mind then was that the key factor in
approach is being thorough and if we were to skate over the lessons from the activity in the interest of time, then I would be practicing something very different from what I preached. In retrospect, I think it was the right choice to make.

Embrace everyone, especially those that do not conform. I had a very enthusiastic young friend at the workshop who was bent on making himself heard. And, it was a learning process to channel his natural enthusiasm for the workshop. In this case, I decided to embrace him as my best friend i.e. person I picked out most often during the workshop. :)

And he did a fantastic job and energized us repeatedly with his energy. I’m glad for that.

Contrasts between NUS and LSE. I had some interesting observations here. The overall rating for the workshop was almost identical. But, the feedback differed
In my previous workshop, a lot of the discomfort was caused by the air conditioning which I didn’t notice thanks to my attire. In this, however, it turned out to be being seated on the floor. I noticed a lot of discomfort among participants and their feedback told me as such as well.
I made this choice as the setting is ideal for working on flip charts and adding a bit of variety but I was part pained and part amused to see 18-22 year olds in such pain. I’m not sure if it’s a cultural thing i.e. sitting on the floor.

The other big difference was the energy. I struggled to get 10 volunteers at NUS while here, I had 14 the moment I asked the question. I felt a higher level of energy all through. And interestingly, I came out of the workshop feeling more energized than drained, in spirit.

Both of these are observations and I don’t know what to make of it. I’m eager to hear of any insights on these in the comments..

– Giving it 110%. At the end of the day, it was about what happens on the day and it’s only your effort that you can control. I think it came out alright. I’ve never been able to score above an 8.8/10 in a workshop of this nature and I’m glad this turned out to be at the higher end.

I like seeing the feedback right after the workshop as it’s nice getting a pulse of how people felt. I realize I still get that knot in my stomach when I see a rating of 6/10 right after giving it my all for 2 hours.. but I’ve learnt to accept that people have very different learning styles and it’s hard to cater to all.

That’s work in progress. And, with every attempt, I hope get better. :)

Finally, I just wanted to say Thank You to everyone involved – the LSE team, the fantastic group of students and to RealAcad. 
I learnt a lot from the experience and I hope everyone involved did too. Looking forward to your comments. :)

Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Celebrate them, do.

Death changes us in more ways than we can imagine – just like adversity does. Having lost 2 close relatives young, it has shaped me. There is a longer post here somewhere. I find that my view on death has changed gradually over the many years spent trying to make sense of it.

I’m beginning to see most things in life as a Yoda quote these days and there’s one from Yoda that I find myself appreciating a lot.

“Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.”

I would make a small addition to what I see as a key part of that note.

Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Celebrate them, do. 

I believe in celebrating positive memories. And today, I thought I’d celebrate a special one.

Today is a special day. Today was the birthday of my late uncle (ammavan) who left us 13 years ago way before his time.

And, for a moment, we will go back in time. The day is the 18th day of the 3rd month of the year in the year 1989 when yours truly finally showed up on this planet after putting my mom through no small amount of pain. It’s a bit of consolation that I was a pain even before I showed up. At least I know now that I’m just carrying on what I started doing unconsciously before I got here..

As you would imagine, that was a big day for the family and everybody was at the hospital. A few hours after the delivery, people were slowly being allowed into the room to see the baby. They had to enter in groups and so my dad and grandparents entered first. They all rushed to see the newly born. They were all excited and it was happiness all around.

My ammavan i.e. mom’s younger brother entered the room after the first group of visitors. He, however, walked straight to Mom and spent time with her first, giving her a hug and making sure she was alright. Only after making sure she was alright did he turn to see the latest addition to the household.

Mom reflects on how much this meant to her every time we talk about ammavan.

And it is one of those stories I never get bored of listening to.

I think there’s a lesson in there for all of us. 

Using Analytical Intelligence

We all have native intelligence. That’s a fact. We also have different kinds of intelligence. That’s also a fact. Some of us are smarter about music, some others about dance etc.

All of us have a part of our brain that is analytical. Again, some of us are more analytical than the rest. This plays a huge role in the most common means of measuring intelligence – Intelligence Quotient or IQ. Analytical intelligence is conventionally equated to being smart.

This is how the world works. I’ve come to accept it.

I have a problem with a consequence of this though.

Thanks to our ability to identify logical/analytical intelligence with smartness, smart folks are encouraged to poke holes in theories as they grow up. The smart guys in class are out to make the teacher look stupid, to make their fellow classmates look inadequate, to use their thinking ability to find logical flaws and criticize everything they come across. Nothing is good enough. Why, even the great Steve Jobs made ‘This is shit’  fashionable.

The smart folks grow up and become parents who also teach their kids to be smart by criticizing them, teaching them to get tougher about criticism and criticize others. Naturally, as they grow up, their kids are taught to ask themselves the ‘what am I doing wrong’ question the moment they are pulled up. Why wouldn’t they? Every time they try, they’re told in diplomatic tones that what they do is crap anyway. It’s safer to not do anything. And it’s cool to criticize.

When these smart folk were growing up, they were so smart that most others couldn’t keep up. And others around them who did stuff were the morons. They were made to feel cool when they made someone around them feel inadequate, when they pointed out a 100 flaws in what the others around them were doing. They were happy to sit back and criticize.

But, of course, they are smart. That’s what smart folks do, isn’t it? They can spot weaknesses faster than you can talk and point them out to you critically.

Now, let’s flip this around for a moment.

What if we changed this?

What if we started looking for stuff that works instead of everything else that doesn’t work?

What if we defined smartness by the ability to identify and encourage strengths and display of strengths?

What if we defined intelligence in our head as the ability to create, to make?

What if we defined smartness by the ability to ask ourselves the ‘What am I doing right?’, ‘What can I learn?’ questions instead of the traditional ‘What am I doing wrong?’ question?

What if we encouraged those who were out there trying, and making stuff? Instead of laughing at their initiative or sending them emails pointing out a 100 flaws in what they did. Or spend time building on what they have done by helping them?

What if we used our intelligence to focus on strengths? Instead of weaknesses and flaws.

And most importantly, what if we spent all our energy encouraging the Eagle to fly instead of pointing out that it can’t walk, swim, talk, act or dance?

What would the world be like then?

A better place, I think.

Ah. But I catch you thinking that this is wistful. That this will never happen. I can almost feel you slouching in your chair as you read this because you feel this is idealistic stuff that’s good to read once a while and that the world will not change, ever.

But it will.

It has to change in our minds first.

Yours and mine.

And I’m working on it. I’ve screwed up many many times on this exact issue in the past. More times than I can count even.

And you know what I find? It’s hard work to play with my own wiring.

But, I’ve also learnt that it can be done.

And.. I’m sure it’ll be worth it. If not immediately for those around me, at least for my kids.

We have got to believe.. that it’ll be worth it.

Let’s change the way we use our intelligence… because we can.  


Of late, I’ve been getting a fair few requests for donations for various good causes.

These are often friends, friends of friends and elders who I know well.

All of them represent good causes.

But, the problem here is obvious of course. I already set aside a portion of my salary for this reason. And I don’t plan on any additional donations at least for the time being.

Having said that, it doesn’t feel nice having to disappoint/ignore people who I know pretty well. While I’m saying ‘no’ only to the idea of giving to another cause, I’m just hoping it doesn’t get misinterpreted. It’s not fun on this side. It’s unlikely to be too much on the other side as well.

It’s turning out to be a bit of a struggle.

I guess I’m missing what Master Shifu would call inner peace on this matter.

It’s also taking some getting used to. I couldn’t help looking back at my student days and envying the lack of such money related problems. Nobody dared ask me for extra cash as a debt ridden student. Having enough for myself was a big enough deal.

Ah. To be young and carefree.

Now that I say that, I remember walking around as a student feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders. Wonder what that was all about.. 

Files on Dropbox

Recently, I just migrated all my files onto Dropbox. Well, almost all, I still keep my music outside of it and a few other larger file chunks. It’s been part of my setup over the past few months and as a result, I’ve stopped doing monthly back ups and the like.

However, like most things, I’d almost forgotten about it.

I’m doing a workshop today at LSE on ‘Approaching Killer Presentations’. Regulars would recognize this from a workshop I’d done at my alma mater at NUS 2 months ago.

And I was just getting my presentation folder ready and getting the small details in place day before yesterday when all of a sudden, a thought crossed my mind – ‘What if something bad happened to my laptop? I don’t have any back ups on any of my external devices.’

‘Crap’ I said for a second, in panic.

That’s when I remembered that all my files were backed up on Dropbox and I could access this anywhere I wanted. I was thinking of back ups out of habit.

I heaved a sigh of relief. And I was reminded of the importance of services that allow us to sleep well at night. This is definitely one of them.

My Outlook doesn’t this yet. While I could argue that all my emails are backed up on Gmail anyway, I’m hoping Outlook will do it too. I love Outlook too much to switch. Bring on the abuse. ;-)

Stopping Censorship

You might have noticed the black block on the logo that says ‘Stop Censorship.’

There are a couple of bills being discussed in the US government that have been causing a huge uproar across the tech world. We’ve been having these discussions on AVC every day.

It took a while before I understood the furore. And this video is what enabled the understanding.. It’s a useful 4 minute watch.

Essentially, we have large media company’s that are working on lobbying the government to police the internet and sue smaller companies for showing copyrighted content. 
Today, as a result, I’m dedicating my post to the American Censorship Day. 
The world of the internet is so connected that anything that impacts the US is likely to impact everyone of us. Besides, practically, every web service I use also has it’s origins and operations in the US. 
So, this one’s for the Davids taking on the Goliath (i.e. the big media lobbyists in Hollywood). I did mention in my biases that I would always side with the entrepreneurs and this one, as a result, was right up my alley. 
One of the better lines I heard in the discussion was ‘The internet is like water: Try to grab it and it slips through your fingers’

Let’s hope the congress remembers that. :) 


I’ve been learning a thing or two about dependability observing Seth Godin’s and Fred Wilson’s blogs.

Not only do they blog every day, but they blog at a certain time every day.

Godin puts in his post by about 6am New York and Fred typically has his done by 730am.

As a result, I am never disappointed when I open my Google Reader around 1130am here. Their posts are always there. There is the occasional switch when they travel but, for the most part, there is an unerring dependability.

And I realize that that’s pretty critical for a community hangout place. Imagine showing up at your daily bar/coffee shop to find out it is closed. That wouldn’t work so well, would it?

Dependability matters.

I was writing the other day to framily (more on this to follow…) and I found myself remembering the quote –

‘Often we spend all our time thinking how we can change situations instead of letting them change us.’

Engaging with the best-in-class bloggers has truly had an incredible effect on me. And I’m beginning to see, finally, the simple things they do that enables them to build and sustain a following. And that following matters for their own learning experience as well. This is most applicable in Fred’s case. Because, in Fred’s blog, a big part of the attraction is that the comments are often better than the post. Engaging there is engaging with a living, breathing community who love the dialogue and debate.

I’ve already felt the power in a couple of posts here (examples here and here) where the comments have been much better than the post itself. Imagine what it would be to have 500 regulars at this coffee shop sharing their own incredible transformative experiences and every day learnings. How inspiring would be that be! ‘Inspiration delivered’ could well become the new tag line once that begins to happen. :-)

Keeping a post a day has taken a lot of discipline learning over time. By now, I’m confident of my ability to show up every day. Regularity, as a result, exists. But consistent regularity doesn’t. Not yet, at least.

Those two words are probably the key.

Not yet.

We’ll get there.