How to go faster than you can?

  Speed is a key skill in today's fast-moving and forever-changing world. However, most companies are not designed for speed - instead they are designed for efficiency as they typically need to cover a long distance. They end up wasting a lot of time in simply waiting for decisions, or some critical resources, or approvals from management, and so on. On the other hand, startups are designed for speed and don't (need to) care (so) much for efficiency, because they must perform on a very short runway. They have a limited amount of time and money, and while they still have the funds to keep them going, they must make the best of it and keep experimenting till they discover repeatable, scaleable and sustainable way to make money.  Speed is important to make the kill today, and if we survive to…
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Medici, Goa and a bit of Chindogu!

Last weekend, I was at The Goa Project, an annual pilgrimage for some 240+ oddballs from all over India, and some even taking a long-haul flight to get to Goa. Yes…“oddballs”…that’s the best I can describe a bunch of super enthusiastic, high-energy, talented, multi-faceted, young at heart and spirit (both, literally and metaphorically!), and daring and raring to go folks who all descended at Bay15 – after all, you have to be an oddball to spend your time, effort and money to come all the way to Goa and not spend the time at the beach or going to Tito’s, but talking to people who are equally unique, and probably as crazy as you! You can’t be at TGP with any expectations! You can’t possibly anticipate who you are gonna meet – someone blending poetry with analytics, or someone installing…
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Building Credibility in Four Easy Steps

In the old world of hierarchical organizational structures, the "seniority" of the role pretty much decided how much "power" the role-holder commanded. The notion of power was not just metaphorical, it was even literal! The power of the person often dictated how far their ideas - no matter how dumb they might be - would fly, and how much resistance would they likely attract on the way. To that end, it was like the horsepower that fueled organization decisions, or key changes - senior folks simply had more horsepower than the lesser mortals. In such a Dilbertesque world, needless to say, it didn't matter much if the boss really knew the stuff - the fact that he was the boss was mostly enough to get things done. The power was in the role, and not necessarily in the role-holder. However,…
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Not another diaper-selling app please!

This is the golden age of entrepreneurship, and I think humanity is fortunate that so many bright people have decided to solve some really hard problems of our times. Even when we know that history - and statistics - are not on their side and that more than 90% of the will eventually fail, their efforts need to be saluted, for they are giving up a cushy comfortable job and the opportunity to be with their friends and family or generally pursue their hobbies and interest, and instead have chosen to purse the hard path of experimentation, failures, more failures, frustration, many more hopefully some light at the end of the day! When all apps start to lookalike, you know that innovation is all dead! However, a good number of us are getting it totally wrong. (more…)
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Learning to Lead Without Authority

In 2007, I experienced a career-altering moment. After being in the general manager role for Sniffer's India R&D center (subsequently acquired by NetScout) for four years, my new SVP of Engineering asked me if I would accept being a functional manager for my current direct reports. As a good company man, I consulted with all involved leaders and my direct reports, and enthusiastically said yes, while, to be honest, not completely grasping the importance of the opportunity. What started off as an innocuous query from my leader soon became a chance to explore and grow myself as an individual contributor at a deeper leadership level - what I now refer to as an "Individual Leader" - someone who doesn't need a hierarchy, department or budget to make an organizational impact. An individual contributor operating at organizational leadership level is like…
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How fast you can change?

In my talks, I often ask a trick question - what is the most important part in a bicycle and a formula one racing car? I get all kinds of answers - wheels, engine, chasis, tyres, steering, even the No doubt, they are all right answers. However, my favorite right answer is the brakes! Why? Because they make us go faster!  (more…)
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Stop ‘teaching’ students about entrepreneurship…!

Last weekend, I was at one of the youngest IIMs - IIM Udaipur to be a mentor at their annual event Prarambh where students and young entrepreneurs slog for 32 non-stop hours to build a 'startup'. No, not just a cool code hack but a (near-real) startup. The event ends with the teams pitching to real VCs. And who knows what can happen Looking at the organizations and sponsors associated with the event, I was keen to get there. Clearly, for a young institution hosting its second annual event, getting such an impressive list of supports was never an easy task. (more…)
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Want best impact? Change yourself!

A lot of us want to create an impact, especially the ones that comes in B-I-G font size. Change the world. Stop global warming. Establish world peace. Find cancer cure. Stop wars. Leave a legacy that lasts forever. We want to conquer the world with our ideas, our creation, our accomplishments. And we want to do it in style. After all, we want to make it BIG! So, we join various causes, we become volunteer and even take up leadership positions in such volunteer organizations without having any understanding of what is needed, and whether we are up to it. I often meet people who claim to help others by organizing various forums, teaching others on how to solve their problems or matchmaking investors with entrepreneurs, and so on. What I find strange is that most of them have themselves…
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What 16months of stay at Antarctica taught me?

It's been twenty years since I went to the magnificent seventh continent (which, ironically, became the first continent that I visited, apart from Asia, where I was born and grew up). I just have to close my eye for a few seconds, and I am still able to teleport myself back to majestic and pristine Antarctica, and the Indian station Maitri which was my home for 16 months during 1993-95. The sailing through equatorial waters, roaring forties, furious fifties and screaming sixties, endless parties on the ship, breaking through the pack ice on our icebreaker ship MV Stefan Krasheninikov, surviving in the summer camp on bare necessities of life, seeing the mesmerising Aurora Australis for the first time, firefighting the whole night to save our station, winter-over with its cold and darkness for two months, fun and parties with neighboring Russians,…
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Is your talent adorning the restroom?

On my recent visit to a wonderful new luxury hotel in town, I found it very interesting that an artist's work was commissioned right outside the restroom (pic below). Is your talent adorning the restroom? It seemed, at least to me, that the only reason that painter, or rather her talent, was of any particular importance to the hotel designers was if she could paint something that fitted the small wall that welcomed people to the restroom. They obviously couldn't find anything 'standard' like a piece of Italian marble or some nice tiles to go on that wall. This being a top-end hotel, they must have selected the very best talent they could get (or their money could buy). And then they took her work and put it next to the restroom. Along with her name right next to it.…
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Why do you pay people? No, really?

(Originally published on LinkedIn at ) Ask this question to cross-section of professionals across functions and experience levels, and you are bound to get millions of answers. Some of them might look like these: For their knowledge, skills and abilities To do the job! For their efforts For their time Because the law says we must pay them! Else they won't work So our competitors can't poach them So they stay committed So they don't make noise Because I am worth it! and so (more…)
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Four things I learnt as a volunteer…

(Published on LinkedIn at and on Medium / @tathagatvarma) I have been a passionate volunteer since last 20+ years. During this time, I have had wonderful opportunities of volunteering with global organizations such as IEEE,ACM, PMI and various Agile community groups like AgileIndia, while also had opportunities to volunteer with small, but not unimportant, causes, such as my apartment association and my community social. Why, I even volunteered to spend 16 months in icy continent of Antarctica — something no one in their right senses would ever do! (and here is the TEDx talk I delivered on it.) A volunteer is all about the cause, and never for the applause! (more…)
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Week 1 of my Lean Consulting Startup

(Originally published on LinkedIn at ) TL;DR: I started my consulting startup earlier this week after seven years of groundwork in a Lean Startup fashion. Here's the story that led to week one. Seven years ago, I decided I am going to have my own coaching and consulting company some day. I knew what interested me, and I knew that I was a natural 'teacher' (last three generations of teachers in my family was a reasonable hypothesis that I could do it!) and I will want to do it, but I was not sure of several things, most notably: (more…)
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