Work Hacks Wednesday: Role Model The Behaviour You’d Like to Receive

If you would like nice behaviour, be nice.

If you would like empathy, be empathetic.

Reciprocity is amongst the strongest human traits.

And even the strength of reciprocity does not guarantee that we get back all the good vibes that we give. But like everything else in life, it’s all about maximizing our chances..

An observation: Many tend to do this until they reach a position of power.

‘Anyone can survive adversity. To test a man, give them power.’

Research has revealed that we are all culpable of falling short of our own standards. The best way to avoid this is to frequently remind ourselves of our own culpability and fallibility.

Let this morning’s note be a reminder for all of us. Have a great day!

Wasting Time

It makes a lot of sense to waste time because we want to. Downtime is important. It’s great to chill out every once in a while and do nothing – just because we can.

It makes no sense to waste time because we are stuck (and frustrated..) or have nothing else to do. Stuck in a queue or in-between meeting? Pop on an audio book, catch up on the news or blogs you read. There are no excuses.

Wasting time when we don’t want to because we don’t know what to do in this day and age is criminal. It could be argued that all we need is a list.

In the final reckoning, how we spent our time is all that will remain of us. There’s a lot of good to be done. And much less time than required to do it in.

Let’s get a move on, then and start making those lists…now. There’s not a moment to be wasted.

The Age of Mental Toil

Until recently (in age of the earth terms), our survival as human beings depended a lot on our physical strength. The ability to physically toil on a field for harvest or to fight in gruelling circumstances was often directly proportional to our wealth and success.

In the last 50 odd years, this has changed. We are now in the age of mental toil. There have been many a news article and blog post detailing ideas to beat stress. The popularity of “Stress clinics”  and “stress doctors” is on the up.

Can you imagine telling a farmer in the 5th century that he would need to go to a “muscle doctor” to improve his strength? He’d probably laugh and tell you that what he really needed to do is spend hours lifting irons and working even harder on the field so he gets used to it.

Many of the solutions to mental toil suggested are in similar vein – short term balm on wounds. If we really need to be capable of dealing with it, we need to work our mental muscles a heck of a lot more and make them stronger. We need to expand our perspectives by reading more, traveling more, meeting people that share interesting ideas. We also need to learn to get organized enough so we spend our time focusing on what matters and curb decision fatigue. Unlike our farmer ancestors, we have thousands of options on what to do with our time. They paralyze us.

All of this is hard mental work and requires a mind that’s open enough to experience the world and hold conflicting ideas together.

It’s far easier to complain about stress, of course. It’s always hard to open our minds before opening our mouths..

On Entity Theory Anxiety

This week’s book learning is from ‘9 Things Successful People Do Differently’ by Heidi Halvorson.

Last week, we looked at two types of explanations for performance and excellence – entity theory i.e. abilities are fixed and incremental theory i.e. abilities are fluid. To test the effect of this beliefs on anxiety levels, researchers tested a group of college students on difficult reasoning problems. At the end, everyone was told they were in the 61st percentile. This was followed by a lesson on problem solving, and a 2nd set of problems.

This time, some students were told nothing changed in their performance while some were told they were in the 91st percentile. And it was observed that entity theorists in the 91st percentile had a significant spike in their anxiety levels!

In the 3rd and final set of problems, it was found that the entity theorists who were told they didn’t improve much did much better.

Researchers came away with a very interesting insight – when we don’t expect to improve, improvement actually comes with a significant spike in anxiety which, in turn, kills performance.


Do you believe your musical ability is fixed?

Image source

Okay. It’s clear that it’s best for our own blood pressure to approach new tasks with an incremental i.e. “I will get better if I practice view”.

Does this now mean we can be the best in the world at whatever we want?

The answer based on this research seems to be Yes, with a huge caveat. You should be willing to put in 10,000 hours of practice, with most of it being deliberate practice. And you should also have started at an ideal age.

That said, it seems clear that we all have the ability to be really good at anything we attempt as long as we believe it is possible and put in the hours of deliberate practice..

Here’s to incremental theory + deliberate practice this week!

Staying With Problems

We all wrestle with problems of varying shapes and sizes every day of our lives. We all have our ways of approaching these problems.

It is not uncommon to face problems that seem unsolvable at first. That’s just life. These problems stretch our thinking, enable us to question our assumptions and ask meaningful questions. I would argue that the more “stretch” problems you have, the better it is. Stretch”, not panic is the way to go.

Two elements are vital to problem solving – imagination and persistence. Imagination is a direct result of two things – what we’ve been exposed to in the real world and how much we allow ourselves to dream (this might involve resisting or disregarding conventional institutions that exist to prevent any kind of dreaming). So, if you read, travel and experience life while also making sure you give yourself the leeway to dream, you will likely have a fertile imagination.

The mistake we make is to assume that imagination is a function of intelligence and that problem solving begins and ends with intelligence, and thus, imagination. Intelligence helps. But, it’s not everything. Besides, intelligence in art is not always the same as intelligence in math.

The piece that always tends to be ignored is persistence. Einstein once quipped “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

It’s a thought that inspires me to no end. And it serves as a nice reminder to cut the excuses, the whining and the moaning, and to do just that – stay with problems longer.

We could do much worse than learn a thing or two from the great man..

How You Make People Feel

Seth Godin had a fantastic post yesterday about the only purpose of customer service. He states a point that companies often forget – customer service is all about the “feeling” customers walk away with. If you screw up on that regard, your customer service is a failure.

I was thinking about feelings the other day in context to people. There are times when you meet some impressive people who seem to do all the right things but leave you feeling something is amiss. They behave well, they follow up, (all those things that would be part of the human behaviour rule book) and yet, you’re not sure if you’d like to go down and share a coffee with them.

I tend to be reminded of that quote. At the end of the day, people hardly ever remember what you said or did, but they definitely remember how you made them feel.

What I find interesting is that how we make others feel about themselves is generally a reflection of how we feel about ourselves.

Un-sequenced and Messy

Like most man made creations, education attempts to makes us believe in the sequential. You are sitting one day on your desk, thinking about a cool concept and voila! a great idea strikes, you think about it, make a lean business plan, make a product, secure funding if required and you’re on your way to being successful.

Or that you meet your spouse-to-be, fall in love at first sight at the “right time”, go on a few dates, ask him/her out, live in and then go on to live happily ever after.

Many more examples exist, like study hard, get a great job and live happily ever after.

Sequential and straight forward. Follow the process and you’ll get there. Perhaps it’s the influence of the industrial age and this love for a defined process that led to this.

The reality, as anybody who has started up a business, fallen in love or gotten a great job will tell you, is anything but this. Maybe you get lucky with one of these and actually end up having a simple sequential process but the norm is un-sequenced and really messy.

So, as much as you might love your agendas and schedules, it’s worthwhile remembering that getting to the essence of a conversation in a meeting between people often goes beyond the time allocated. That’s okay. Things aren’t perfect. Your better half doesn’t generally fall in love with you on schedule. Neither does your kid want to pee when you make that pee stop on the highway. It’s messy. It’s chaotic.

And it makes me marvel at the fact that as imperfect as the parts may be, we still have moments when life, the collection of these parts, is perfect.

Isn’t that a wonder?

Work Hacks Wednesdays: The Art and Science of Resume Writing

I did lots of resume review back in university. I learnt how to do it thanks to a whole bunch of seminars I was lucky to conduct and attend. And I had lots of opportunities to hone this skill thanks to all the hiring we did as a start-up. It’s one of those things where I know I can add value. That’s why I had offered resume review in my “offer of help” post and, unsurprisingly, one of the requests was indeed to review a resume.

First, the resume is a great document. Yes, there is talk that the resume is going extinct and all that thanks to project portfolios. While that is true for many a job, I think the resume is here to stay. It’s the simplest way to perform a first round evaluation of any candidate in the non-creative fields.

There’s both art and science to a resume. I will begin with the easy part, the science, and outline 8 principles that help improve any resume.

1. Figure out your one line pitch. What are you trying to demonstrate? An example of a 1 line pitch is – “I am a business student who is excellent at analytics”. This sounds really cruel, but I would make sure this pitch easily pops out. You can be something very specific, anything, but not everything. Don’t try to be superman. Focus on 2-3 spikes and make sure they get highlighted.

Why be so easy to categorize? Read this Seth post for inspiration,

2. Stick to standard format. I think some things are standard for a reason. Stick, as far as possible, to the standard buckets – Education, Work Experience etc. I would not venture beyond Arial (personally) as a font and size 10 or 11 both work well.

If you are a student – put your Education section on top and if you are working, your work experience section. Let’s not debate these things.

Many try to differentiate themselves by tinkering around with the basics. Don’t. Fit in first. And then stand out. Fit in with your format. Stand out with your achievements.

3. Find a role model resume and build yours using tables on Microsoft Word. I refer people to this resume. I don’t necessarily like everything about it but I am a fan of the overall layout and structure.

4. Achievements and action verbs.  The resume is about highlighting achievements. That’s why every verb in a resume is an “-ed” verb. Unless you want to fill up space, don’t go on about what you did – focus it on what you accomplished!

Being 1st is an accomplishment. Participating is generally not. Focus hard on the impact and the achievement.

5. Quantify your impact – make sure there are lots of numbers. Now that we have established it’s all about achievements, attempt to quantify everything. If you created a new cool program to optimise something, that’s great. Tell us what you saved.

State the impact of what you did VERY clearly. Similarly, you won a prestigious competition. Sure, but how many participated? How difficult was it to get in? Quantify everything.

6. Target your resume. If you are applying to different industries, target your resume. Make it specific. Make it relevant. Make it easy for your recruiter to understand.

7. 1 Lead Board of Director and 14 versions. Most good results are the result of a great process. Make sure you find a team of dedicated reviewers (3-4) who will look at your resume properly. I made this mistake a couple of years ago when doing my own resume. I thought I could edit my own. But, I just couldn’t. The mistakes didn’t seem to stand out as easily!

Find a small team that will look at it from different points of view, but make sure there is one person (i.e. your lead of board of director) leading it in terms of overall structure and direction. Else, you generally end up confused.

Finally, if you have less than 14 versions of your first resume, beware.

8. Interests matter. Make sure you have one line in your resume about your interests. The resume is so much about those hard skills that it is often easy to forget that there is a human on the other end of it. Remind people that you are a normal person and hopefully, have something fun written in there that your recruiter would like to discuss in an interview.

Key Note: At the end of the day, the resume is only a document highlighting your accomplishments. The team of reviewers will only be useful if there actually are accomplishments to highlight. And there’s no way to say this nicely – but if there are big gaps in your resume, focus more on filling them rather than “air brushing.”

That is the easy part – the science. The art of writing a great resume is difficult to detail. The principles involved here are simple – a great resume looks fantastic (yes, aesthetics and design) and answers the critical question – “why you?”.

The art is the difference between a very good resume and a great resume. I know for a fact that I haven’t mastered this art yet. I can add value with the science but I tend to stumble on to the art every once a while. Maybe this will become clear to me after 10,000 hours? :-)

Finally, I was given a great tip by someone close to me to review my resume every year, whether or not I am applying for jobs. It helps to think about what you really did in a year, what impact you made at your work place. This is because, very often, it’s too late to do anything by the time you approach submitting your resume. Great tip.

I hope this post helps you if you are working on your resume. Look forward to questions in the comments. This is a much longer morning post than usual. Please excuse all typos!

Be The Person You Want To Meet

There was a nice picture making the rounds a few days ago. A boy asks his mother how he would find the perfect wife. The mother replies “Become the perfect husband and the perfect wife will find you.”

There’s an exceeding amount of noise out there. Cut out the crap. Focus really hard on being the class act you want to meet. Yes, actually focus. No multi tasking allowed. 

If things are not working well, focus on the simple things – read 30 minutes every day, exercise 20 minutes, call home, eat healthy, listen to good music.

We are at our best when we focus on what we can control. Whether great stuff follows or not, happiness comes our way.

And one might argue there are few things that matter as much..

Anaka Narayanan, Designer & owner of Brass Tacks, Real Leader Interview 28

Dhanya: I visited Brass Tacks when I was in Chennai, India last February. It was a cosy store with friendly store managers who let me take my route and helped only when I asked for it. I take immense liking to such stores, it being a rarity in Chennai. I have mostly encountered only pushy store managers who suggest every possible design in the store even if it’s not what I am looking for.
Following that memorable experience I found the Brass Tacks page on Facebook and started following them. I noticed how Anaka Narayanan, the designer and owner of the Brass Tacks clothing line gave importance to her team. I noticed how she did not hesitate to share the spot light with them! That quality urged me to talk to her under the Real Leader pretence! It turned out to be a lovely 20 minutes.
The interview was close to my heart because Anaka does what I hope to do in a couple of years myself. A small clothing line that makes well styled clothes rich in Indian textiles and makes its customers happy.
About Anaka Narayanan
An appreciation for textiles is in Anaka’s blood. In the year she was born, her mother co-founded a textile and garment business, and Anaka grew up surrounded by the texture, scent, and colours of natural fabrics. Balancing her love for traditional crafts with a desire for practical foundations, Anaka decided to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Economics in the United States. After college, she worked at an economic analysis firm in New York. Throughout this time she nurtured her dream of working with textiles in India and networked with people who were in the fashion and textile industry. Finally, towards the end of her second year in consulting, she decided to quit her job and take the plunge into the world of textiles and fashion.
Dhanya: What’s your story? From where you grew up till when Brass Tacks happened?
Anaka: I grew up in Chennai. I went to school here till my tenth standard and later went to a boarding school near Pune for my high school. I took a year off between high school and college, travelling and exploring the country. I worked with a couple of non-profits and indulged in a lot of theatre and volunteer work. After that stint, I went to the states to study economics. I took up a job at an economic analysis firm in New York and worked in that position for two years.
During those two years though I was thinking about Brass Tacks and about my clothing line here in Chennai. One day I decided that I needed to do it right away! I was very impatient to begin, now that I think about it. I think impatience has been my shortcoming while it is also something that drives me! I had the support of my parents, which was very helpful. They told me that it would be a lot of hard work but if it’s what I wanted to do they would be there! I moved back to Chennai in 2006 and started Brass Tacks in early 2007.
Dhanya: What is the story of Brass Tacks?
Anaka: My mum and her partners started a saree retail business when she was pregnant with me. I don’t know how she decided to have a family and start a business at the same time! I am the youngest of three and she decided that raising three kids was not challenging enough.
Growing up I was never told to learn anything about her business. I was never even taught about the textiles – what was cotton, kalamkarior ikat. However, my mum did bring a lot of her work home. Sometimes when I finished school early I would be at her office working on my schoolwork. I think I was surrounded by textiles the whole time. And I can say that her taste and sense has influenced mine.
I never really thought about it until I was in college and working in New York. It was the first time I was living off my earnings and loving my share of shopping! I found that I gravitated towards strong silhouettes, sharp tailored and well-cut clothes. Every time I would see a dress or a jacket that had a great drape, I would imagine it in an ikat fabric or an ajrak fabric. I would think of a natural textile that would look good in the same cut. That’s when I started to think about this idea.
It was a lot of personal longing as well. I longed to see clothes that were made out of these Indian textiles. I wanted to see well-styled fashion-forward versions of the existing Indian clothes. Then again, I had lived outside Chennai for 6 years I wondered if someone thought of this already in the mean time. I came back to Chennai for one of my vacations and scouted around for a bit. I was sure I’d find someone.
However, I found there were two ends of the spectrum. There were brands like Fabindia that provided good value for money but were not necessarily fashion forward. Then there were the high-end labels, which were fashionable but not necessarily well cut or affordable. I saw this huge void in between that was waiting to be filled! I am not trying to create clothes that are going to be the next fashion trend; I am not trying to create red carpet clothes. I am simply trying to create clothes with good quality fabrics and strong silhouettes. Every garment that we make has to be shapely. That’s really what Brass Tacks is about. My aesthetic sense is surely influenced by my mother’s taste in handloom textiles and sarees. While that is more of a personal connection, our companies are completely different.
Dhanya: Is Brass Tacks in other cities as well?
Anaka: My own store is in Chennai, but I retail through other stores in Bombay and Bangalore. We also have an online store!
Dhanya: What about your inspiration for your work? Why do you wake up everyday and go to your workshop..
Anaka: I think part of it is the impatience to get the idea out, part of it is because it’s my own business.I am not sure if I would be this excited if I was working for somebody else. It’s your own business and it’s your own baby. You are always emotionally tied to it. You are always striving for perfection even if you are not there. It’s always a work in progress. You always want to make it better. You want to see if you can create a system that’s foolproof with respect to administration and operations. You want to see if you can link in people who love creating.
Outside the Brass Tacks picture, with textiles there is so much going on in India as well. I participated in a garment exhibition in Coimbatore a couple of weeks ago. It was such a cool experience. I got to meet other designers from all over the country and they are all doing such interesting work. Last week we had the World Craft Council’s golden jubilee celebrations here in Chennai. They had their summit and exhibitions in town. There was so much stimulation and inspiring ideas there. To have all of that around you it’s pretty easy to find inspiration! The energy to run to your workshop and create is just there.
There are so many people who are in the same industry and doing this under harsh conditions. For an urban designer with access to simple infrastructure that we take for granted like an air-conditioned office, good roads and Internet it’s a lot easier.
Dhanya: How does a typical workday pan out?
Anaka: I usually spend the first couple of hours working from home. I am a morning person and when I wake-up my mind is clear. I also find it conducive to concentrate especially when I need to work alone. Even though I have my own space at work it’s really hard to get uninterrupted time. So I usually do most of my creative work and design planning in the morning. I try not to answer too many e-mails or take phone calls during that time.
I go to the workshop after that and spend my time there. A lot of it is actually trouble-shooting, anybody who runs a business will tell you that. A lot of the time is spent solving problems and guiding people. I spend a lot of time talking to my production manager about the schedule and status of the different products. I spend time with my pattern maker viewing the next set of styles. I go through the samples and give them feedback.
I come back to the city after that. I drop by at the shop depending on how much time I have left – it might be just ten minutes or a couple of hours. That’s my schedule from Monday to Friday. I spend all my Saturday time at the store. That’s when most of our customers drop-by and I think it’s important to get first hand feedback from them. I also think it important for them to see the designer and understand my take on the brand.I used to spend a lot of Sunday time doing creative work but I have taken a break from that now. I don’t work on Sundays anymore.
Dhanya: I have seen you giving importance to your team. They are part of the system and they do help you put everything together..
Anaka: They really are a crucial part of the organisation. I was telling you how anyone running their business would tell you that they spend time troubleshooting. When so much of your business depends on people and people skills, you spend a lot of time putting the perfect team together. Be it hiring people, training people or figuring out ways to retain people.
Sometimes I think to myself ‘Wow I have people who joined Brass Tacks five years ago and who are still with me’. They are key people whom I can depend on. These are people I can call up in the morning and say ‘I can’t make it to the workshop today can you run the show for me’. I know that it’s in good hands and that I can trust them. I am so grateful for that.
It really is true what I say on Facebook – that they make it happen. I can sketch and order fabric but who’s going to make it a reality? The Facebook thing is also a celebration of the cool team I have. They understand my short temper, they understand my high standards and my pickiness with small details. They also understand that that’s what makes Brass Tacks what it is.To have a team like that even if it’s small is really precious. And these are fun people too. I thought it would be nice for the customers to see the people behind the brand!
Dhanya: What are some of the learnings that have stood out so far? You have been at this for more than 5 years now..
Anaka: When I started a business people always told me it would be hard work. I think hard work is actually an abstract word. At least it is for me after running a business for so long. Hard work to me means there is going to be a lot of time spent with it – I personally never had a problem with that. The hard part is the kind of work you have to do. The sort of problems you face with when you run a business are relentless. It could be a tailor issue today and a sales issue tomorrow and a rent issue the third day. It’s really hard to cope with that side of running a business.
I always try to stick to a few things that make me happy and give me a breather from all the tension. I find these things giving me energy and motivation to work despite all the things that need my attention. You need them to remove you from work and give you a time-out. It might be as simple as sleeping enough or watching a movie or making time for friends. It helps me get perspective and not get cynical about everything. I think that’s something I made a mistake with in the first couple of years. I always said I was too busy.
Time with people is so important because I work so much in isolation. Even though I work with a team of people they are working for me as well. I miss out on the peer-to-peer interaction and networking.
Dhanya: If there is one piece of advice or a couple of things that you want to share with the readers, what would it be?
Anaka: Like I said, finding the time to do a few things that you enjoy so that you continue to keep standards high, constantly push for improvement, motivate your staff. And that can be really hard.
When you have bills to pay and you have expenses coming in, you still have to go to work everyday and smile and motivate everybody else. They can let you know that they are down, but you can’t let everyone know that you are down.
You choose to do what you love doing and people are naturally good at what they love doing. However, It’s naïve to say that every single day of my life I want to do only that. I actually don’t spend that much time designing. It probably constitutes 20% of my time. The rest of the time goes in management, operations, marketing and scaling the business. My one piece of advice would be to motivate your team to keep standards high but in order to be able to do that you should also be able to stick to a few things outside work.
Thank you for sharing your passion with us Anaka! We love entrepreneurs who respect their people.
Real Leaders Team,
Dhanya, Eb and yours truly..