Author: Sam Kurien
•11:19 AM
Niel Pasricha author of  NYT bestseller 'The Happiness Equation' proposes nine secrets of happiness in his favorite book. I disdain or at least am suspicious of step by step program or book titles that deal with life in purely quantitative process oriented levels. They usually start with seven steps and four disciplines etc., but this one is an excellent read because of its simplicity, and the amount of research Niel has put in.  The sub-title of his book surmises the equation as "want nothing + do anything = have everything" is an interesting, eye-catching adage with some truth embedded in it. Actually, I am "The Lord is my Shepherd, and I shall not be in want."   To "want nothing" and to be "not be in want"  are two different things. To want nothing is a misleading idea, a false positive, a half visible diorama.  The idea of not being in want is entirely operating from another place, a place of abundance. Discussion of this idea is for another day, and this is not the objective of this post. My interest in decision theories attracted me to framework Niel proposes in his book. It's about uncluttering your brain for
reminded of Psalm 23 which begins with

If you mapped your daily/weekly or monthly activities in a four by four quadrant with "time" on one axis and "importance" on the other, this would start making sense. The decision framework here is from "low to high" in the order of time taken for an activity and how significant it is for you.  It gives you a framework to unclutter your brain.

If you are paying bills or you have x number of monthly repeating activities which take a small chunk of time and are low in importance - then automate those decisions and free your brain.  From my perspective, the inference here is in our pursuit for control and heightening the uncertainty variables eventually steals your time and keeps your mind captive.

The author proposes the effectuate actions are those that are important, like having family dinners, family time, attending parent-teacher meetings; however these are not decisions where the brain needs to be deliberately engaged. The idea here is to get it done and enjoy "being."

Things like checking email, reading time blocks (for me), managing calendars, meetings may involve a lot of time and may not be critical, but the idea here is to regulate these as habits.  For me, it is making rules, making time blocks and aggressively sticking to them. I am not saying you should not be flexible but deviating from the time blocks should not be the norm.

The activities or decisions that fall under the "debate" quadrant is where the brain needs to suspend, take as much time as necessary or possible to make those decisions. These are highly important and time-consuming for you and those involved. Examples can be like buying a house, starting a new program, project, hiring the right person. A good indicator is cost and impact ratios involved if they are high your brain needs to be in this space. As Niel puts it: deep thinking, questioning and wondering.  From this, I take away what big ideas and decisions can I act or influence so that we move towards doing the "Right thing."

Thinking in this framework positively helps in not only narrowing your focus but freeing your brain from the clutter.


Dr. Sam Kurien
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Author: Sam Kurien
•10:34 AM
Read an interesting article from John Shapiro professor at Northwestern Kellog on how dashboards can mislead executives and I cannot agree more. To be honest, I love visualization of data and have pushed my data architects and report writers to give me snapshots of various measures but how often the rich data didn't mean anything as it did not align with organizational goals. Even more, what information is important to me is not necessarily relevant to other executives in the organization.  Data analytics visualized on dashboards typically describe existing measures on past phenomena, some better ones predict future events and past data and the best one prescribe a course of corrective or strategic actions.

Shapiro talks about three types of traps executives can fall for:

1. The Context Trap:  We equate empirical data to the objective. I have blatantly used the cliche "numbers don't lie." But this belief can be dangerous because we can track wrong measures or metrics and make wrong conclusions. An example in the article the author shares was when tracking sales leads or touchpoints without correlating data points that show actual and expected we are unable to make intelligent contextual decisions.

2. The Causality Trap: When data is displayed in groupings on a dashboard managers interpret it as causative when there may not be one. A sound knowledge of statistics is needed for critical thinkers who are managers and executives to not equate correlation to causality. Statistical tests calculate correlations between variables and there are tests like Granger causality or convergent cross mapping techniques that verify the hypothesis of causal relationships in correlational data.

3. The Importance Trap:  Dashboards are built on assumptions made by data or IT architects, or sometimes using deployed dashboard software that has pre-defined measures. This does not necessarily mean that the data views of the dashboard align with the goals and the business model of the companies. Hence context of people involved in frontlines, articulation, and alignment of business strategy are important inputs for defining the lead and lag measures.


Sam Kurien

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Author: Sam Kurien
•8:52 PM
I am starting a practice. Hopefully, it will hold up to record every week 10 things in my readings and watchings that I never knew about. Kind of like "wow" it's good to know this or something like the lines of thinking that "it's a neat reason or is fascinating how this came together, and now I understand in my mental models how it all fits together." So here we go:

1. The first typewriter was first called the "The writing Harpsichord."

2. Cerebral spinal fluid in the brain is responsible for cleaning waste from brain cells. And there are no lymphatic vessels in the brain (who knew :)). The brain's ingenious system of cleaning - creator's design.

3. Benjamin Rich's definition of 'white opia.' His TED talk is humorous and brings home the message racism can exist even without racists.

4. 10 nations have more that 15000 or more nuclear weapons. This stockpile has to be dismantled and converted to use nuclear power.  When Russians and American decided to cooperate and work together many of these weapons were decommissioned and powered bulbs in America.

5. Howe seemingly unwanted inventions done in fun or no particular purpose can become building blocks for significant future breakthroughs. Case example: Flute made from bones.

6. The first musical box was made by three brothers in Baghdad that led French inventor Jacques Vucanson to carry the same idea into weaving patterns of colors in a power loom using cylinders.

7. The French inventors inspired Charles Babbage to build the programmable punched cards.

8. Interesting scripts and apps in Kali Linux

9. How fake news is not only a major problem in news media and social media outlets it is precisely following the business models designed for them to search out sensationalized content, publish and capitalize on short-term returns.

10.  Eric Whitacre's projects virtual choir 1.0 and 2.0 is breathtakingly moving bringing people from cultures in one beautiful symphony. Worth listening will move your soul!

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Author: Sam Kurien
•5:54 PM
The last decade has seen substantial changes in the HR landscape. As a consultant, you get to see organizations trying to wrestle with the ideas of placing HR correctly for alignment reasons or sometimes plainly not knowing what to do with HR professionals. Some senior executives will attempt to keep it as a separate department or sometimes as a function of Operations or as a  function of Executive or even explode it to call it something like 'HR services.' Some  attempt with hybrid
Approaches where HR may be reduced as policy police agent where all its other primary functions are outsourced to internal departments who may or may not have the necessary time or expertise to do everything HR is supposed to do.  I am fascinated by all this as the most important resource of any organization is human resources, yet HR is almost viewed as a sidelined activity necessary to please the law and comply with regulations. Even in mature organizations development and training are segregated from HR as if they are non-relative functions. Even when HR offers developmental or training activities, it is considered one more thing for the employees to do so the checklist can be completed.  With globalization as bigger companies acquire smaller ones or strategically merging to keep control of their verticals or for obvious reasons to increase their market shares and gain strategic advantage in the marketplace has heightened complexities of HR functions and roles. 
There are tons of articles written on this subject, but I want to record five key things along with challenges HR professionals need to be aware of. All these ideas come from an article I read last year from a journal. This is my best attempt to recall and summarize in a succinct way.  HR practitioners at a high level during M& A from the acquiring company should be very involved in these activities. 
  1. Creation of new policies to guide the new organization.
  2. Retention of key employees.
  3. Employee selection and downsizing.
  4. Development of compensation strategies.
  5. Creation of a comprehensive employee benefits program.
Some challenges HR practitioners will face during an M& A can be the following: 
  1. Proactively avoiding legal issues that may be violated by federal or state anti-discrimination laws and the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN)
  2. Participation in defense lawsuits that may be brought forward because of the M& A
  3. Aligning HR function between two entities to achieve the strategic HR objectives of the acquiring company in a non-threatening manner.  This will include alignment of workforce strategies and business objectives. A company may also choose to learn and leave the culture and HR practices of the acquired company alone. 
  4. Ethical dilemmas that may be involved in eliminating the HR function in the new structure or positions of co-workers within the HR function.
  5. Attempting to maintain internal status quo and 
  6. Communicating transparently and promptly to upper management, stakeholders, and people in both organizations especially the one being acquired.
  7. In Communicating: knowing about appropriate levels of disclosures and level of confidentiality has to be stewarded and shepherded and can be challenging in itself. 
  8. Dealing with realities of layoffs, redundant or superfluous employees in combined new entity
  9. Devising new culture and managing cultural transitions. 
HR's involvement have defined roles or activities that need to happen before, after and post-merger & acquisition activity. 
Before the transaction HR needs to be involved in the following: 
  • Reviewing of the legal documents
  • Assessments of employees fit, culture, employment contracts, policies, legal exposures
  • Evaluation of employee benefits and programs
  • Awareness and settling of discrimination cases 
  • Providing reports on suitability of acquisition
After the transaction HR needs to be involved in the following:

  • Retention of key employees before competition snatches them or before they leave because of transitional confusion
  • Creation of new policies or adoption/adaption of existing ones and embracing of the main things that acquired company employees need to know. 
  • Employee selection assessments and downsizing of redundant workers, migrant worker legal paperwork assessment, 
  • Development and communication of compensation strategies 
  • Development of employee benefits programs. 

Some of the post-acquisition activities go in parallel with after acquisition phases these can be summarized as:

  • Managing the cultural fit, educating what are the non-negotiables and what can be left as it is 
  • Leading HR technology change initiatives and absorbing existing employee data marts from existing HR systems 
  • Scaling HR functions seamlessly across the new entity 
  • Communicating and training of global issues, culture, process changes and eliminating inefficiencies. 

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Author: Sam Kurien
•1:01 PM
Last year at Global leadership summit I heard Erin Myer professor at INSEAD, Paris talking about her book 'The Culture Map'. I recommend it highly as the read is rich in data points analyzed by professor Myer's research on implicit and explicit communication;  and how different cultures
communicate and understand the same things differently. For Global leaders understanding these nuances of high context and low context, cultures is an important skill to have when they are leading cross-cultural global teams.

In a summarized  HBR article 'When the culture doesn't translate'  Erin gives 5 approaches a global leader should be aware of when managing cross-culture communications. These are:

1. Identify the dimensions of difference
2. Give everyone a voice
3. Protect your most creative units
4. Train everyone in key norms.
5. Be heterogenous everywhere.

Communication breakdowns can be avoided as we plan for international cultures. Asian cultures like Thai's and Indians make decisions by consensus compared to their American counterparts. I have experienced this as well though being Asian my work life has primarily been in the west and it's easy for me to talk out loud, interject and speak up on an agenda that was just given an hour ago. The Thai's, on the other hand, would be flustered as they didn't get time to prepare or discuss in between themselves before the meeting. Some other examples she cites are when Google tried to impose its culture in the Google France office where negative criticism during appraisals is expected so a form that cited 10 good things you did well do not necessarily work; or a French company like L'Oreal in its own cultural context of communication ambiguity is expected within their creative teams but the same ensures for confusion to its American teams.

Erin suggests for global managers to be effective making sure the agenda is sent beforehand, assigning someone to recap the discussions and put it in writing and checking in every 10 minutes during an international call if everyone is on the same page are helpful things one can do to increase collaboration and understanding. A follow-up email summarizing the meeting, decisions made and timelines are very helpful for creating accountability horizontally and vertically.

Power distances, gender, and age gaps are variables that add noise in distant cultural communications for them to go haywire and create misconceptions which in turns lowers productivity and leaves project and program objectives incomplete. So training everyone to adopt some of the local norms and implementing non-negotiable organizational norms goes a long way in cross-cultural collaboration to become successful.


Dr. Sam Kurien

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Author: Sam Kurien
•10:42 PM

Recently read an article by Heidi Grant who listed 9 things successful people do differently. Though I will not elaborate all details of each of the points here, I will summarize and list for my benefit and comment on what I took away from this.  She suggests successful people do things differently when they define goals and they do this by being extremely specific.  For me, personally a goal that reads "study and read good books" is vague, however "read 50 books in 2017" is a very specific goal.

Secondly, successful people seize the moment to act on their defined specific goals. Grabbing opportunities through techniques like time blocking for me have been extremely helpful. This is easier said than done but disciplined application will turn this practice into delight; however awareness that time does slip away, or the urgent will always take precedence should keep you on guard in protecting your most valuable asset 'time'.  The "whirlwind" as the authors of 4DX would say will always compete for your wildly important goals. Thirdly, knowing "how far you have left to go" is important to people who do things differently. This effectively means measuring and tracking your progress. At a given time knowing where you are at and how far your end goal lies is a conscious exercise one must practice to keep your momentum moving forward.

The others in the list of 9 things she includes had grit, building one's willpower muscle, being a realistic optimist, focussing on getting better rather than being good, and knowing your limitations and not tempting fate.  Of the latter list what spoke to me most was of being the "realistic optimist" which means when you are setting goals, infuse a lot of positive energy, motivation, pep talk yourself that will help you sustain the needed focus and energy for the arduous journey ahead.  This means while setting goals intentionally being willing to narrow them down. Elizabeth Grace Sunders suggests coming to a congruence between your inner desires and your external pressures.  I found the three questions  she suggests helpful in thinking this through  when you set your  professional developmental goals for the year:

  1. If I could accomplish just one major professional development goal in 2017 what would it be?
  2. Is my motivation to pursue that purpose intrinsic, something coming from within because it is personally satisfying and valuable, or is it extrinsic, something that I feel would please other people?
  3. When I think about working on this goal, do I get excited about the process as well as the outcome? 
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Author: Sam Kurien
•10:11 PM
I like the attempt made by Bloom's student Lorin Anderson on the revised taxonomy however I still like Benjamin Bloom's original usage of the word 'Creating'  rather than evaluating when a learner reaches level 6. Knowledge/information and understanding are essential building blocks at level 1 and 2 however at the highest level a student who demonstrates to create something new has reached or surpassed the current body of knowledge giving him or her the unique ability to add something new. Creating reflects that sentiment more appropriately. We are born to be creators and have the creative ability built into our DNA. All learning, understanding, and body of knowledge are moving towards that idea or innate need for us to create. This differentiates us from other species.  The student has reached a level where their new contribution either adds, expands and more appropriately to say creatively helps practitioners the ability to apply their newly found gifts.  Here is a diagram that compares the 1956 version and the 21 century evolved version of Bloom's famous framework visual.

I like the verbs used in the cognitive domain to describe level 6 however one word CREATE I think captures the essence of it all in its ultimate form. For your information here are the measurable verbs.

Level VI: The student will be able to: Assemble, Appraise, Argue, Assess, Choose, Compare, Conclude, Cons&&idea, Construct, Contrast, Convince, Create, Critique, Decide, Defend, Determine, Discriminate, Develop, Estimate, Evaluate, Explain, Formulate, Grade, Judge, Justify, Measure, Predict, Rank, Rate, Recommend, Revise, Score, Select, Standardize, Summarize, Support, Test, Validate, Verify, Write.
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Author: Sam Kurien
•7:40 PM
There has been a fascinating powerpoint that went viral crafted by Patty McCord the then chief talent officer and Reed Hastings CEO of Netflix about the innovative HR practices that they came up with while building a new culture at Netflix.   Here is the embedded link to the power point and it is worth sliding through to the end.

Things I learned from the related article in HBR I want to summarize because of the lack of time today but wanted to get this entry in for today,

1. Hire, Reward, and Tolerate Only Fully Formed Adults
2. Tell the truth about performance
3. Managers Own the Job of Creating Great Teams
4. Leaders Own the Job of Creating the Company Culture
5. Good Talent Managers Think Like Businesspeople and Innovators First, and Like HR People Last

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Author: Sam Kurien
•4:01 PM
I won a book last year at the leadership summit called "The 4 disciplines of execution" and have been reading it since and am almost done. I recommend it highly if you are managing teams and working towards your wildly important goals. Some key takeaways that I would like to share:

1. Focus on the wildly important
2. Act on the lead measures
3. Keep a compelling scorecard
4. Create a cadence of Accountability

The whirlwind as described by Chris and Sean the authors of the book is your day to day stuff that will keep you and your team from the wildly important goals. In my personal opinion as the authors suggest for organizations it is extremely difficult to define one or two goals. Either the list is too long and hardly any of the change or cultural dials can be moved, or goals get added along the way that deviate your energies from what was defined as the most important.

Leaders often focus on lag measures. Lag measure is already a past metric and is used if a particular goal has been achieved or not. It usually measures the result. The lead measure is or needs to be predictive and influence-able. Lead measures are indicators of whether the lag measure will be achievable or not. If you do not measure how will you move the rock (lag measure).  How do you choose the right levers to achieve leverage?  Finding the right leverage and critical points or processes to push are perhaps the toughest and intriguing challenges leaders finds themselves in.

The 4DX principle as the authors acronym for the disciplines states a compelling scoreboard is very important after the lead measures have been identified. When the team and individuals keep score the game is played very differently.  They state "to drive execution you need a players' scoreboard that has  a few simple graphs on it indicating: Here's where we need to be and here's where we are right now. In five seconds or less we can determine we are winning or losing?" Engagement drives results - when a person feels her or she is winning it is a powerful driver.

Finally create a cadence (I like that word) of accountability. In regular meetings ask "What are the one or two most important things I can do this week to impact the lead measures?".  These meetings are WIG sessions that avoid discussions on the whirlwind tasks and keeps the focus on goals and projected oriented initiatives.  Patrick Lencioni in his book The Three Signs of a Miserable Job describes three reasons individuals disengage: anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement.  The book talks about top notch car designers who were passionate to work in a dream automobile design team.  All of them got to be on this team and the only one thing they wanted with their lives was designing cars; yet the level of engagement at this automobile firm and this team was the lowest.  All three of Lencioni's observations were visible first the designer's original work changed so much the product originator was forgotten (anonymity). Secondly the product gets released years after the designers worked on it (irrelevance) and thirdly the evaluation of performance were extremely subjective (immeasurment).

Structure and creativity together produce engagement as eminent brain scientist Dr. Edward Hallowell discovered, true to what John Lasetter at Pixar once said in his context "When disciplines of individuals in a team who bring art and engineering meet magic happens" .  Creating accountability structures that yield engagement and true commitment produce extraordinary results.

More observations to come...good book... worth reading!!

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Author: Sam Kurien
•7:07 PM
Road Testing Your Business Case Before Presentation

I have been writing business cases for a couple of years. I have found a compelling business case helps you as a visionary provide a case for senior management, stakeholders and peers to see the "why" as to how this project/program is an important component of growth. It will endeavor to answer the performance measures or the change & it's management needed to move your organization forward. It also helps you to credibly show how this project or program fits into the big picture of  strategic initiatives of the organization. So, the advise is after you have laid out your draft call some key players to a pow- wow session to give you insights into your initiative. Send them a rough draft and sufficient time to read through your case. Welcome their criticisms before and after you meet because on presentation day you have allies and supporters when the tough questions are fielded at you. During presentation use the feedback you got as credibility points and give your peers and seniors honor and appreciation in having helped you draft your case.

Simple practices like this help you push forward your business case.


Sam Kurien
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Author: Sam Kurien
•6:25 AM

I like the TED talk recently given by Hetain Patel. A artist and a linguist who joined Yuyu Rau a dancer who brought a new perspective for me in delivery of an astounding idea. The talk first of all was very refreshing to see how two people from  two very different cultures (a British Indian Gujarati and a Chinese) came together to deliver this.  I love this kind of confluence. Its heart warming to see how cultures around the world are melding...even if its at a slow pace it is so cool to see this happening especially when excellence is produced. Apart from that the content of the talk was also invigorating to the fact that we learn from imitating in the context and assemblage and convergence of culture  language, heroes and identities that we surround ourselves or grow in. This begins from childhood and goes well into adulthood; in fact it may be a quest in finding our own identity. If you haven't watched it on TED here's the embedded video.  Enjoy!


Sam Kurien
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Author: Sam Kurien
•5:55 AM
From my journal entry on 09/01/2013
The story of Henry Humidor is an interesting introduction to the world of reasoning re-written here from the "The Little Blue Thinking Book" by Brandon Royal  who adapted it from a story that appeared in New York Times.

Henry Humidor purchased a box of very rare, very expensive cigars and insured them, among other
things, against fire.  Within a month, having smoked his entire stockpile of cigars, he filed a claim against the insurance company. In his claim, Henry stated the cigars were lost "in a series of small fires". The insurance company refused to pay citing the obvious reason: He had consumed the cigars in the normal fashion.

Henry sued and won!

In delivering the ruling, the judge agreed that the claim was frivolous. He stated the man nevertheless held a policy from the company in which it had warranted that the cigars were insurable and also guaranteed that it would insure against fire, without adequately defining what is considered to be an "unacceptable fire" and was obligated to pay the claim. Rather than endure a lengthy costly appeals process the insurance company accepted the ruling and paid Henry $15,000 for the rare cigars he lost in the fires....


After Henry cashed in the check, the insurance company had him arrested on 24 counts of arson! With his own insurance claim and testimony from the previous case used against him; Henry Humidor was convicted of intentionally setting fire to his insured property and was sentenced to 24 months in jail and $24,000 fine.
Welcome to the wonderful world of reasoning :)

Classical reasoning states there are four mindsets - Realist, Idealist, Analyst and Synthesist. Practicality and emotion in varying degrees in people will categorize them into either one of them strongly. Of course this can even go back and forth in varying degrees based on circumstances. At least this is my observational
opinion. However a good thinker should use each mindset in creative ways. Holistic integrative thinking merging analysis with right brain imagination will help you be that "Good thinker". Sadly the place I grew up in (India) didn't allow for this kind of thinking in the classroom especially when there are 50 to 60 in each class. The United States seems to be following suit in process based learning in public, charter and private schools this is sad indeed. I believe as we are so prone to process oriented linear thinking we want everything to be standardized, its easy if its in a box and that is what our fast food culture demands. We however have to step back and think and re-think. Yesterday on my other blog I wrote about understanding stating the example of Lincoln who convulsed for not understanding the meaning of the word "demonstrate". I want to end by quoting Solomon in the proverbs : "In all this my son gain "understanding" and it will go well with you." (paraphrase mine).

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