Learning to live and living to learn
One must learn to manage oneself well before one can manage others well, says R Gopalakrishnan, executive director, Tata Sons
Actress Zohra Sehgal is 92. She says the secrets of her success are "a one-hour physical workout and those explicit scenes in novels." Actor Dev Anand is 80 and confesses that he does not smoke or drink, and believes that the way to be perennially young is to look ahead with excitement, and be alive all the time. Ustad Bismillah Khan is 87 and feels that "music is an ocean and I have barely reached the shore after so many decades. My search is incomplete and that's what keeps me going." Kathak dancer Sitara Devi is 79 and asserts, "I do riyaaz every single day. I am still learning to dance, now Bharata Natyam style."
I wish to share some lessons that I have learnt about staying young and zestful. I do so not merely from the perspective of my experiences so far, but also knowing that several "inexperiences" await me in the future. Sharing may help, it may even be interesting.
It pays to have a practical attitude about the role of your body. It is not the most essential thing about you, but it is the vehicle which carries what is essential. If you were given a car and told that it would be the only one for the rest of your life, you would take care of it in a certain way. Your body is the only one you'll ever have and you have to work hard to make it run longer and better.
The mind is a bit like a garden. If it isn't fed and cultivated, weeds will take it over. Just like your body would not be in good shape if it was fed only ice-cream, potato chips and hamburgers, you cannot feed your mind only with television, soap operas and Bollywood movies. Indulge your mind in the adventures it has been trained to undertake, do not waste it — read, think, write, do what turns you on in mental calisthenics.
The day has 24 hours for you, and so also for those you work with. Be respectful of your own time, and even more so, of other people's time. Diary and time management is a serious weakness of many top people and the higher the executive, the more deleterious are the effects of poor time management.
So, lesson number one is to manage yourself since nobody else can manage your body, your mind or your time.
Manage your conscience
We can make it so. By remembering throughout life what Gandhiji once said to beware of : politics without principles, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, education without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity and worship without sacrifice.
It is essential to live a life with conscience. That is my second lesson.
Manage your happiness
Sir Thomas Lipton said, "There is no greater fun than hard work." You excel in fields that you truly enjoy, you feel happy when you feel stretched to your full potential. Success is only a by-product, not the aim of the act of working.
Life is hard… and not always fair
My wife has been my Zorba!
Direction is more important than distance
Despite one's best attempts, there will be ups and downs. It is relationships and friendships that enable a person to navigate the choppy waters that the ship of life will encounter. When I was young, there was a memorable film by Frank Capra, starring James Stewart and Dona Reed, and named It's a Wonderful Life. It is about a man who is about to commit suicide because he thinks he is a failure. An angel is sent to rescue him. The bottom line of the film is that 'No man is a failure who has friends'.
Successful people think and radiate success
The world will not devote itself to making us happy. We have to form an attitude which enables us to adapt to the world, to think with an open mind and constructively. I learnt that success means doing the best we can with what we have. Success is in the doing, not the getting. Success is in the trying, not the triumph!
Seek out grassroots-level experience
After studying physics and engineering, at an HLL interview for computer traineeship, I was asked whether I would consider marketing instead of computers. I responded negatively. After a couple of comfortable weeks in the swanky head office, I was given a train ticket to Nasik. Would I please meet Mr. Kelkar to whom I would be attached for the next two months? He would teach me to work as a salesman in his territory, which included staying in Kopargaon, Pimpalgaon and other small towns.
I was most upset. In a town called Ozhar, I was moving around from shop to shop with a bullock cart full of soaps and a salesman's folder in my hand. Imagine my embarrassment when an IIT friend appeared in front of me. I could have died a thousand deaths. After this leveling experience, I was less embarrassed to work as a despatch clerk in the company depot and an invoice clerk in the accounts department. Several years later, I realised the value of such grassroots-level experience. It is fantastic. I would advise young people to seek out nail-dirtying, collar-soiling, shoe-wearing tasks. That is how you learn about organisations, about the true nature of work, and the dignity of the many tasks that go into building great enterprises.
The lesson is seek out grassroots experiences early in your career.
Learn to listen
Doug Ivester lasted only 28 months as CEO of Coke after having developed a successful career for several decades in the same company. Why? His critics thought he did not listen, that he was not sensitive to some important issues like minorities, the adulteration case in Belgium and so on. Eckard Pfeiffer of Compaq was fired by his board. Why? For surrounding himself with yes-men and ignoring those who would speak truths to him.
As a trainee at Hindustan Lever, we would be invited by chairman Prakash Tandon for lunch occasionally. It was a terrifying occasion. One of my trainee colleagues was bright, exuberant and garrulous. The chairman once gently admonished him, "Young man, as you progress in your career, will you promise me that you will listen more than you talk?"
The lesson is to avoid the congenital disability of not listening. Let us all learn to listen.
Deserve before you desire
At one stage of my career, I was appointed as the brand manager for Lifebuoy and Pears soap, the company's most popular-priced and most premium soaps. And what was a brand manager? It is a mini-businessman responsible for the production, sales and profits of the brand, accountable for its long-term growth, etc. I had read those statements, I believed them and here I was, at 27, "in charge of everything". But very soon, I found I could not move a pin without checking with my seniors. I expressed my frustration to the marketing director and gently asked whether I could not be given total charge. He smiled benignly and said, "The perception and reality are both right. You will get total charge when you know more about the brand than anyone else in this company — about its formulation, the raw materials, the production costs, the consumer's perception, the distribution and so on. How long do you think that it will take?"
"Maybe, 10 years," I replied, "and I don't expect to be the Lifebuoy and Pears Brand Manager for so long!" And then suddenly, the lesson was clear. I was desiring total control, long before I deserved it. This happens to us all the time — in terms of responsibilities, in terms of postings and promotions, it happens all the time that there is a gap between our perception of what we deserve and the reality of what we get.
It helps to deserve before we desire.
When you are older, you can and should be different from my generation. Ours is a great and wonderful country, and realising her true potential in the global arena depends ever so much on the quality and persistence of our young people. Good luck in your journey, my young friends, and God be with you and our beloved Nation.More Speakers' Forum articles: