Giving Yourself a Chance

A friend of mine has been a Liverpool football club fan since the 1980’s. (He must have been stereotyped as a “glory hunter” in those days :-)). He remembers the glory days very clearly. And he has been watching the current season with nervous trepidation. Liverpool have not yet won a game this season but he feels they have finally got a young manager (Brendan Rodgers) who has the potential to restore Liverpool to the glory days.

Even if they’ve been playing good football, Liverpool haven’t clicked yet and he is wary of a knee jerk reaction from the owner and the fans.

“It took Sir Alex Ferguson 4 years to win a trophy! Look at what he’s done in the subsequent 20 years at Manchester United. Can you imagine how many more could have done so much more with a little bit of patience? We’ve got to give him a chance.” – he said passionately.

Absolutely right. Longevity is a beautiful thing. It is a true test of resilience and character. And we are often denied the chance to demonstrate this by an impatient family member, boss or friend. Or so we say.

Perhaps we should learn to give ourselves a chance, first?


People or Behaviour?

Events or Ideas?

Small talk or Insight?

Past or Future?

What are you going to talk about today?

What’s on our mind is often in our mouths.

Perhaps, the question should then be – What are you going to think about today?

Journeying Through Failure

Success is good for us. It builds our confidence and makes us feel good. Failure, on the other hand, can be tough on our mind and spirit.

The funny thing about success, however, is that success would be impossible without failure. In fact, the bigger the success, it is likely that we have experienced more failures on the way.

I was reflecting on this on a day when it seemed like everything I tried didn’t seem to work. Life tends to be a breeze on a good day as it all seems to just work, and flow. On a bad day, however, it’s stop-start. You build momentum only to lose it real quick. Vibes of frustration seem to be all over the air around you.

Success tests our character. It tests how far we let increased power affect our normal behaviour.

Failure, on the other hand, tests our appetite for life. It tests our resilience. It makes us humble. And it is what makes day-to-day life the challenge that it is. And perhaps, most importantly, it teaches us to be less judgmental and more patient with ourselves. And I would be very surprised if such a person is overly judgmental and impatient with others..

If this is all true, it leads us to the conclusion that failure is what makes us humble, and human, and journeying through it is an essential part of this life. It is to be appreciated and celebrated because the nature of failure will never change. Our reaction to it, however, is a different matter.

Work Hacks Wednesdays: Figure out if you are an Introvert or an Extravert

Fact #1: Introversion and extraversion are amongst the most misunderstood concepts about human behavior.

Fact #2: Social skills and personality are not what these are about. Introversion and extraversion are all about where we get energy from.

Fact #3: There is no such thing as a 100% introvert/extravert. We are all somewhere in the spectrum and in the rare case where the split is 50-50, the resulting type is an “ambivert”

How-to?: There are many means to determine this. The Quiet Quiz is a quick solution. If you like digging into the theory, Isabel Briggs Myers’ original work ‘Gifts Differing’ is a must read. Warning: It is a very dense book. There are numerous other derivative books out there.

What does this mean for me?: I think it means three things.

First, a proper understanding of where you get an energy from will help you make many a decision. For example, when I was in my first project, it was very common for the rest of the team (pretty close knit as we were in a remote location) to go out for dinner together. I just couldn’t do it. I wanted to go home and just be by myself.. and I had no idea why. I remember wondering if there was something wrong with me as people had always told me I was an extravert.

Luckily, I had a very inspirational wiser friend who helped me with this and explained why I likely behaved the way I did. And that’s helped me take all sorts of decisions on a day-to-day basis. I can only do few social interactions every weekend, for example, and not feel completely drained.

Second, it will help you explain yourself to others. I know this doesn’t sound great. But, it helps a lot. You could find yourself in a similar position e.g. invited to after work drinks every evening that you desperately want to avoid. I have explained this to people many a time and they have always understood. Of course, it doesn’t mean you cut interaction but I guess we all know that.

Thirdly, your behaviour will begin to make sense to you. And that’s valuable.

Accepting Help

The Late Stephen Covey had a nice analogy for growth – he said we moved from dependence (the baby phase) to independence (the teenage phase) to interdependence (the adult phase).

One of the characteristics of the teenage phase is feeling uncomfortable when accepting help. I guess we like being safe in the knowledge that we can do it ‘by ourselves’. I have certainly had my fair share of that. I have never hesitated taking help but I do know I used to find it stressful during these years. I wanted to find a way to repay the person helping me.. NOW.

I have learnt over time that accepting help is a part of growing up. Every time I have encountered a major barrier, I have found a whole host of people way ahead in years and wisdom ready to lend their hands. I often have never known why. They must have their reasons. As a result, every time I have looked around, I have somehow found someone without whom undertaking the task would be impossible. Sometimes the help is from an expected source. And yet, sometimes, it is from an unexpected one.

I am currently experiencing a LOT of much needed help from an unexpected source to get me across the line on a certain project. There is no way I can repay the help or even express my gratitude. But, I guess growing up has taught me that there will be numerous opportunities for me to repay at least a part of this and better still, to pay it forward..

Sourabh Sharma, CEO & Co-founder of, Real Leader Interview #27

EB:I designed a Milaap’s logo back in 2010. Anoj, a co-founder of Milaap is my senior from National University of Singapore (NUS) and that’s how I got into the job. Milaap has been close to my heart since!
A couple of my friends got together and raised about $2500 for education in India through Milaap, using their graduation from NUS as the apt excuse. I was also a part of this initiative. I have always known Sourabh as the co-founder of Milaap and this exercise was the handle for meeting him! I was instantly inspired by his passion for his work and saw a Real Leader Interview at hand. 

Sourabh agreed to talk to me and here is his story!
About Sourabh Sharma
Sourabh is the old man on Milaap’s team; besides business development, he looks into their online marketing strategy. A second time entrepreneur, Sourabh, brings experience. He sold his previous startup MicroAppli, a media sharing mobile application company to OnMobile Global (BSE: 532944) where he defined product strategy and was responsible for revenues in excess of 1 million USD.
Sourabh graduated with honors in Computer Science from NUS. When not labouring, he likes to run. He has covered over 200Kilometres with 10 half-marathons and one full marathon in Singapore in 2010 alone.
Sourabh is passionate about mass market activation for convenience in lifestyle. Milaap for him is an extension of this passion, an opportunity to involve the masses in bringing convenience to the poor with every loan made.
EB: Can you tell us about yourself..
Sourabh: I am Sourabh, one of the founders of Milaap. Milaap is a crowd-funding platform for financing loans to poor. This loan is to give them access to things like clean drinking water, sanitation, training which helps them to get a job as well as providing capital to entrepreneurs who are doing small businesses and micro enterprises.
I studied at National University of Singapore and graduated a long time ago. I worked on my first start up that is a regular tech start up. It was for sharing photos and videos on mobiles. It was much before the entire app store and iPhone economy kicked in. Our app did not do that well, so we did a distress sale to one of the companies. I worked with them for around 3 years.
After that I realized it was time to start up again. And this time I wanted to do something that impacted a lot more people and in a more deeper, meaningful way than just a software for sharing photos. I have always been interested in bringing together a lot of people to create something meaningful!
Milaap really brings these two passions together. On one side, anyone around the world can make a loan to help a poor person and at the same time every loan made will mean that someone is being drastically impacted. I think that really helps me to define why we are doing this and why I am making this my career.
EB: Where do you see Milaap in the next few years?
Sourabh:When we started out with Milaap, I wanted to completely disrupt how people did good – from the way it is being done today. Some people do it for guilt-riddance or as a personal thing. They do not like to talk about their work. I wanted to change that and the way money was being used. That is what we are trying to do with Milaap!
100% of the money is being given to the beneficiaries. You can even choose whom you give your money to. You can see how the re-payments are coming in. You can see how their life is being impacted. That’s where I see Milaap going – changing the way people do good. I want to make the process pervasive and make it an everyday activity. I want to make it part of the everyday rituals of eating, drinking, working and partying. People should be doing good and giving back to the community. If that can be achieved I’ll be really happy!
EB: What is your inspiration everyday? What drives you?
Sourabh:The primary motivation or meaning for my existence is in whether I create a difference in people’s lives and not just my own. Milaap helps me do that on an everyday basis. Sometimes our everyday operations bog us down, but once in a while you get this really nice e-mail from a lender who gave a loan. He would write about how happy he was for discovering Milaap, about how he always wanted to do this and that it was his dream to do it, about how he was glad to see someone else living his dream. That provides all the energy and motivation to keep doing this better.
EB: What are your biggest learnings on this journey so far?
Sourabh:The start-up journey teaches great many lessons. The chances of failure are so high – the only way to get it right is by doing more and more of it and learning from your mistakes. That way your success rate increases progressively. There are so many things you learn by being an entrepreneur. You need to take the form of a sponge. It does not matter what your current skill set is, you just absorb whatever needs to be done to grow your company and for its betterment. That is one of the biggest qualities an entrepreneur should possess.
Another learning is about expectation management – You tend expect a lot from the world. When you are dealing with a large organization there are different people and different issues at stake. Putting all of that together and making the machine move is an art. You also need to keep your team motivated. You need to know how to bridge the gap in passion between you as a founder and the rest of the team. You need to go beyond extrinsic motivation from compensations and bonuses to intrinsic motivation. When you see that, you see real work and results.
EB: Do you keep any productivity routines?
Sourabh:I still struggle with being super-productive! I do have one routine to clear up my mind and to be most creative. I run. That helps me clear the air and detoxify my mind. That’s something I do a lot.
Eb: What would be your message to aspiring leaders?
Sourabh: One of the things I have heard from people is, ‘I always wanted to start-up but I just don’t know how to go about it’. Be it financial or risks excuses, I think it is over rated.I think risk and safety are over-rated. By that I mean putting your bets on one thing that will happen next is over rated. I think you need to enjoy the moment and live in it. Be it a small hobby project or be it a trip or be it starting a company as well. I don’t think you should sit and wait. I think you should take the plunge. And not think about what will happen if this or that does not work out.  Life in the end is about experiences. Each experience makes your life richer and richer. That is so much more important than anything else!
Thank  you for sharing your thoughts, Sourabh! We respect your work and we are in awe of the change you are creating in the lives of many people.
Dhanya, Eb and yours truly.. 

On Reading Body Language II

This week’s book learning is from ‘What Every Body is Saying’ by Joe Navarro.

After last week’s two principles that highlighted that our legs are the most honest parts of our body and that covering any part of our body is a lymbic reaction that betrays our discomfort, we look at the next 2 key principles..

1. Gravity defying behaviour = Happiness: Picture a happy person jumping with her arms up in the air and a sad person walking with his head down. The principle here is that ANY gravity defying behaviour is a sign of happiness. At work, jumping up and down may not be viewed positively so people respond by walking about jumping on the balls of their feet, for example.

E.g. 1: A hug is a gravity defying gesture as we throw our arms out

E.g. 2: Dancing is another easy example – people jumping up and down with their hands in the air! (see picture)

E.g. 3: Notice how a guilty or sad person has drooping shoulders and head down

2. Any posture which is not easy to get out of = Comfort: Given we are built for survival, we naturally take up positions that make it easy for ‘flight’ when we are uncomfortable. This is why we always stand erect, alert and with our ‘guard up’ in front of a boss who scares us and why we always get up and straighten our postures from a comfortable position when someone unknown walks into the room.

E.g. 1: If you see someone standing with his or her ankles crossed, it is a sign of great comfort as it is a position that is very difficult to get out of

E.g. 2: Spreading and constriction are sure signs of comfort and discomfort for the same reason. Sprawling on a sofa = spread out and comfortable!

Image by David DeSilva

These principles, of course, translate everywhere. An easy place to test our ability to read body language is to look around in our next meeting. Look out of spreading, constriction, gravity defying gestures etc. For example, putting both hands on the back of the head (described as the Cobra posture as it looks like a Cobra ready to strike) is a sign of high confidence and comfort!

Here’s to looking out for these principles in meetings this week!


It’s a beautiful day here in London and I’m amidst all the Saturday chores. The sort of day when you feel like motoring on and getting things done..

A conversation this morning sparked some reminiscing about the ‘old days’. In particular, it was the mention of my Grandmom describing the years I grew up to a friend who had visited home. My Grandmom was remembering weekends which typically meant a house full of kids playing and running in for food when we were 9 and 10 year olds and then kids who ‘hung out’ for till late (read: 9pm) when we were in our early teens.

A big part of growing up hanging out in our old home, No.87 in AC block in Anna Nagar in Chennai or simply ‘AC-87’. AC-87 was the first real hub and formed a vital part of the years I spent growing up in Chennai from when I was 9 years old to when I turned 17 and left home for university.

I have SO many memories from those days that it’s very hard to pick out a few that stood out. Till we were about 12 years old, AC-87 was where the action was. We played cricket on the road outside home, chatted around for long hours in the verandah and then stormed into the dinner table for food. Somehow, my Grandmom always had food ready for us when we were hungry! And of course, we were almost always around for the big festivals – Holi, Diwali etc.

As we became teenagers, eating at home wasn’t cool anymore so we used to play outside home and then head to a place called ‘Dal Roti’ for cheap Pani Puris and Samosas. And as we grew, the action gradually shifted away from home to larger fields where we could play cricket in big groups. There was, however a period, in our 10th standard when we couldn’t go to fields to play and suddenly, home was the place to be. Whether it was 2 on 2 football with a softball in the car park or cricket in the car park during the board exam period, there was always an immense amount of noise.

This period was hilarious since were energetic teenagers who weren’t allowed to play much given it was an ‘important exam’. So, we always got together for about 1 and a half hours in the evening to play cricket and this was an outlet for all our energy (Read: Lots of yelling). And I still remember my Grandad complaining that he used to be woken up from his afternoon nap by my friend Bittu’s and my voice as we loudest of the lot!

And then, of course, we grew up and almost all our hanging out was outside home. Now, AC-87 was the place where we typically said the goodbye. Again, it was just lounging in the chairs in the verandah that did it as we didn’t all have to enter home sweaty and smelly!

And thus, we grew up. A year or so later, in my 12th standard, we said goodbye for what had been our family home for 25 odd years and moved to a flat, our current home. Saying goodbye was very tough.. it still makes me sigh. Our new home, however, didn’t waste any time in becoming the new hang out place and this lasted for a year before a bunch of us headed out to university. We still kept it up, meeting during the summer and for the annual new year bash that is tradition. But, slowly, the group was getting smaller and smaller. Now, we are all spread across different continents studying and working and we all barely get to meet. But, thanks to technology, we are of course well in touch with a Whatsapp group keeping a big part of this group connected.

While the distance does exist, all the times we spent together growing up means that it’s always always special when we get together. We all have friends like that, friends with whom we can just pick up from where we left of.. and in my case, it’s the gang I grew up with from the days at AC-87..


That’s the hang out verandah where we’ve all sat for hours. And that’s Grandmom in the car park. The more I think of it, I think it was my Grandmom who was a big part of the secret sauce of what made our home the unofficial official hang out place. She was always welcoming and always ready with food (what other way to young boys’ hearts!)..

I requested my Mom to dig out a few photos of home and in short notice, she managed to find a couple. These are from a long time ago. I know there are a few more lying around but she made a nice comment that we had more photos of monuments from around the world than our old home. These were also not the days of digital and phone cameras..


Clearly, a very long time ago.. :-)

I wish we had photos of all us just hanging out but I don’t think we do. That said, I’m going to tag some of these guys I spoke about in this post and let’s see if we have a couple of them in the comments.. :-)

Fun Friday: Charlotte and Jonathan

I realize I am a few months late on this but I stumbled onto a now-famous video of Charlotte and Jonathan on YouTube day before yesterday. Britain’s Got Talent/America’s Got Talent often produce some really inspiring videos with the typical underdog going on to make a big wave and a big impression.

Susan Boyle was the most famous of them all, of course. I vividly remember being very inspired by the Susan Boyle video myself and it inspiring me to play a part in co-creating Sparkz, our university’s version of Britain’s Got Talent.

The video about Charlotte and Jonathan, however, was not impressive because they unexpectedly blew the judges away. The big moment in this video comes at 5:30. Jonathan has so far said Charlotte has been his close friend and someone who has helped him with his size related confidence issues. All of a sudden, after this performance, the tables are turned when Simon Cowell points out that he’s probably better off going on in the competition without her because he worries she might hold his talent back.

‘If you want to test a man, don’t give him adversity. Give him power.’

Jonathan went on to make a decision of character, that Cowell validated in the semi final. It’s a very touching moment, one that brought tears to my eyes..

Happy Friday everyone!