[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

So you want to be a top performer?

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

After a long hiatus with my writing, I took advantage of the winter storm lockout this weekend to write a blog and posted in LinkedIn!

“Who wants to be a top performer rated as “exceeding expectations” and “outstanding talent”?” on @LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/who-wants-top-performer-rated-exceeding-expectations-krishnamachary

If you are in any corporate environment, you might find it useful. Please check out and share!

Khan way of Transforming Learning

Friday, April 1st, 2011

Listen, you want a glimpse of the future of education? How about Bill Gates vouching for it?

Even If you already know of Khan Academy, still take a few minutes to watch this latest TED Presentation. If you are patient enough, Bill Gates will join Sal Khan on stage around the 18th minute.

I stumbled upon Khan Academy last year, and since that time, he has gone from “somebody” to “the man”. His vision is rather unbelievable – educate the world for free on every topic! His story and rise to limelight is a worth a short film.

This story has been inspiring to me in many fronts. For one, he is making things happen for real. When million others are simply dreaming or talking about just ideas, he is out changing the face of learning, still one day or one video at a time. The realization of his vision in just the last few months is really commendable. They have create an innovative software to facilitate a non-invasive, individualized learning – augmented by the thousands of tutoring videos. Not only that, behind the screen, the software captures tremendous data for the teachers & tutors to evaluate a student’s performance and to have a constructive, thoughtful discussion for further learning and improvement. The best of today’s teachers are manually collating these type of data which takes away the time from focusing on their only goal of positively influencing the development of the students.

When most innovators are behind the startup wagon with a hope of making it big in an IPO, Sal is running this as a non-profit, a social enterprise as I like to think of it. I am certain money is never going to be an issue – even if Gates and Google don’t care for them, scores of philanthropists will line up to write a check for some who is truly impacting the lives of so many people across the world.

Let’s not forget, next to the gift of life, the second best gift to give anyone is education. If he can do that in a simple, easy way that anyone across the globe can use – I salute he is indeed “the man”.

Khan Academy already has a pilot program with Los Altos school district that is showing great promise. Now that he has assembled a fantastic team (I wish I could be part of this team and their mission!!), they are all set to fundamentally transform the way learning will happen in classrooms. No other company, including Microsoft, has been able to introduce this type of transformation. Which is likely why Bill Gates is backing Sal’s vision, besides using it himself to teach math to her daughter.

We need all the other dreamers to take Khan Academy truly global across languages and villages on a mission to educate the masses. Any takers from India?

For the love of bullet trains and bonsai trees

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Much about the Japan’s earth quake and tsunami is being recorded and seen. Given the proliferation of cameras, this event is perhaps as close to real for rest of the world as can be experienced virtually. The tenacious Japanese will quickly recover or recreate the property damages, but nothing can compensate for the precious lives lost in one of Nature’s worst outrage.

In the middle of all the oohs, aahs and wows, there is also wide recognition of both Japan’s preparedness, as well as it’s disaster relief efforts. Anything man-made is “no more than a dust in the hands of Nature” so we may never perfectly design a building or a city or a relief operation, but the Japanese have absolutely demonstrated what superior engineering, thoughtful planning, religious preparation and most importantly, careful execution, by authorities as well as citizens, can do to minimize loss. We don’t have to make a big deal out of it at the moment, but given the scale of nature’s double whammy we must soon recognize that it is Japan’s design prowess, strict adherence to engineering codes, and earthquake drills that saved more lives than what eventually will have been lost. Obviously, the rest of world got a wake up call and has been keenly watching to learn from every second of Japan’s experience.

Calmness in Chaos

Personally, my siblings and I have long been admirers of Japanese for their culture, work ethic and determination. Growing up in southern India, we lived in a very old house with toilets detached from the house out in the backyard and so we had to walk a bit to answer nature’s calls. No offense, we actually named our toilet as, you might guess, “Japan!”. We used to yell “I am going to Japan!!!” before we ran through the back door. That was a silly-but-serious way for the siblings to keep the fascinating Japan accessible to ourselves.

Call it luck or destiny, my brother-in-law was a scientist in Japan (incidentally researching earthquake resistance of specialized concrete) and so my sister moved to Tsukuba shortly after they got married. Later, my parents too had a chance to visit Japan. All of them have nothing but admiration for this great country, its heritage and its people. No country is without shortcomings but what I heard again and again was Japanese were hallmarks for politeness, discipline, sincerity and mutual respect for fellow humans and nature.

A few days after the earth quake, I stumbled upon a personal blog written by a non-Japanese guy living somewhere in Japan. He had shared his first-hand perspectives of the post-earthquake events having experienced Japan and its culture more closely than average foreigner. Knowing that my family would better relate to this guy’s observations, I shared the article with them and my brother-in-law had this to say in response…

The preparedness of Japanese has always kept me mesmerized. Right from controlling air planes to picking up rags, these people do a perfect job. Guess, God must have put hard disks and artificial intelligence in them rather than neurons and tissues.

The other day i was talking to one of the Indians friends in Tokyo inquiring about their welfare. She told that the Japanese were simply adorable during such an havoc. It seems, they still greeted each other the same way and was ready to help this Indian friend of mine as if it was another normal day.

My dad responded with a beautiful poem written by 12-year old Rohith, who lives next door to my parents in Coimbatore…

Hit by tsunamis and earth quakes
Nuclear meltdowns and flooded lakes
Japan has suffered more than what it takes
To bring the earth down.

This is our little prayer
Its not much but it is larger
Than the ignorant layer
Of people who don’t care

Oh God! please save those people
Survival of the feeblest of the feeble
All the dead , they should be able
To reach heaven without fail.

To restore it to the ultimate peace
From the bullet trains to the bonsai trees
And to bring it all in one piece
You have to help them god, to make it through

I am not at all surprised that there has been no looting or public unrest in Japan. The Japanese hold their culture to highest levels of integrity – more so during times of disasters. I see no point in comparing them with other citizens across the world who looted their own cities amidst natural or man-made disasters. Many countries have similar values but only in Japan every citizen takes their cultural values to their heart and souls.

I join Rohit in wishing the Japanese further strength and resilience to “restore to its ultimate peace, everything from the bullet trains to the bonsai trees”

Benjamin Zander’s art of possibility

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Last week, I was reading a book by Alan Fine, “You already know How to be great” and in it Alan writes about Benjamin Zander‘s method of “Giving an A” to all his music students right at the beginning of the semester in exchange for just one home work: Write a letter that begins with “Dear Mr. Zander, I got my A because…”.

I have not heard of Benjamin Zander before but I was hooked. The clock had just crossed midnight and it was awfully quiet, yet I couldn’t help but try to learn a bit more about him. Soon, I grabbed my headset to watch on my phone his great TED Presentation.

What got me hooked was not so much the idea of “Giving an A” or Mr. Zander’s flamboyant stage presence at TED, but it was the contents of an actual letter from one of his students, a young Korean flutist,…

Dear Mr. Zander, my teacher,

I got an A because I worked hard and thought deeply about myself as a student in your class-and the result was truly magnificent. I have become a whole different person. I used to be negative about nearly everything, before even trying. Now I’m much happier than I used to be. Around one year ago I couldn’t accept my mistakes. I got mad at myself after every mistake I made. But now I actually enjoy my mistakes and I really learned a lot from those mistakes. There is more depth in my playing than there used to be. At first, I only played the notes, but now I’ve discovered something about the real meaning of all those compositions. Now I play with more fantasy. I’ve also discovered my own worth. I’ve discovered that I’m a special person because I saw that I can do anything if I believe in myself. Thank you for your lectures and classes because they made me understand how important I am and the true reason why I make music.

This kid really made it sound too simple but this exercise in imagination is hard. I need to imagine myself in the future, and then look back at my own life and further imagine what I learned, how I changed, what I achieved etc. While I need to do this exercise lot more thoroughly, I am already imagining the moments when I speak at TED.  When that possibility materializes, Benjamin Zander will be my role model!

If everything is invented, why not do it right? Source: royblumenthal

I recently wrote about Running our own race in life. I said, Every life is a story unfolding – a story you create, whether that story is told, written or read by others doesn’t matter. What matters is we live our life the best we can.

What Zander’s suggests is for all of us to open up to imagining the perfect story of our own life. Not just imagine it, but Write it. See it.

Believe in what you imagined, after that, it’s a matter of living the endless possibilities.

Nominating Babar Ali for Youth Social Entrepreneurship

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Some of my readers know my interests in Social Enterprises. Ashoka is one of the organizations that inspires me and to my luck, I had one chance to meet with Mr. Bill Drayton, Ashoka’s Founder.

Ashoka is now looking for 10 youngsters from across the world to go on a TED-style stage (TEDx) to talk – and inspire the masses – about how they are changing in the world. The Staples Youth Social Entrepreneurship Competition is open for nominations.

On my part, I had nominated Babar Ali – who BBC called the youngest headmaster in the world. I stubmled upon his story in BBC a while ago and boy, he did touch my heart. When I came across Ashoka’s nomination request for young, inspiring entrepreneurs, Babar Ali immediately came to my mind.

Babar Ali's students Source:BBC

He may not have had a huge impact in Ashoka’s scheme of things, but his heroism and leadership is exactly what Ashoka is looking for. Imagine how many kids and adults across the world he could inspire if he gets 18 minutes on a world stage, in Washington DC, to tell his story about how he runs a evening school for poor children – while going to a government public school himself during the day. He teaches at night what he learns in the day. About 800 kids around his village are now able to learn and get educated, who otherwise stay at home to take care of siblings or or work during the day to feed their family. You can read more about Babar Ali in the detailed BBC report by Damian Grammaticas.

I would super excited if Ashoka picks up him! I have no idea who this boy is but I hope he will be too.

Article of DHAN Foundation

Monday, January 11th, 2010

My next article for ThinkChangeIndia on DHAN is online. I had not heard of DHAN before and it was edifying experience to research and write about them. For over two decades, they have been doing some phenomenal grassroots work, getting thousands of people out of poverty. I had the pleasure of interviewing some of the senior staff there, including the head, Mr. Vasimalai and I must say it was an eye opening few hours worth of discussion. The extended version of the article and recording of the interviews is available for anyone who might be interested (email s k c h a r y @ y a h o o . c o m)

Obama’s nation

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

Today, America lives up to its true identity. All barriers were broken and the audacity of hope of a young African American has persisted. A new true hero is installed at the highest office of the super power.


A historical moment indeed.

However, the real battle begins today. Success today will diminish if Obama doesn’t help raise this nation out of its chaos soon. Will this be a Obama nation?

Meeting the education problem head-on

Friday, October 31st, 2008

This coversations network podcast speech by Wendy Kopp is inspiring. This is yet another proof that all great things start with a moment of thought. An undergraduate thesis idea is becoming a national movement that is on a march to change the face of American education. Teach of America, the brain child of Wendy, is already a powerful movement impacting many American schools. At least, 10% of graduating college students sign up with Teach for America (ToA) to volunteer their first two years after college to teach in under-privileged schools. With ToA Alumini now at influential government and private positions, Wendy believes the large-scale impact is just beginning! Though it started off as a dent in the educational inequality issue, scaling this program each year is now a key aspect of realizing nationwide, systemic and lasting impact.

Listen to her talk for more : http://sic.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail3646.html

Aspen Ideas Festival

Monday, August 4th, 2008

“Imagine some of the most inspired and provocative thinkers, writers, artists, business people, teachers, and other leaders drawn from myriad fields and from across the country and around the world – all gathered in a single place, ready to teach, speak, lead, question and answer – all interacting with an audience of thoughtful people who have stepped back from their day-to-day routines to delve deeply into a world of ideas, thought and discussion”

Thats a blurb from Aspen ideas festival, hosted by the Aspen Institute. They bring the likes of Bill Clinton, Thomas Friedman and host of other leading thinkers to share their perspectives in a serene Aspen mountain side.

A week of thought-provoking, meaningful and fun conversations – all available online for folks who couldn’t be there in Aspen.

Change needs understanding first

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

At work, we are going through a change. A big change in the way we will operate, that will lead the way to how we will be doing business in the coming years. Operational efficiency is the goal.

As I experience this “change” from my vantage point, I realize that it lacks widespread commitment and sense of urgency. The folks up in the organizational chain are likely doing the right things in many ways, but their own perceptions of what is happening is not the same as that of an associate’s (in the trenches) perception of what is actually happening. That is a fundamental issue in change management and it leads to stagnation sooner or later.

While some elements of the change has been communicated, it is unclear if its well understood and “seen” by all. Two critical aspects of change management in large organizations is commitment and belief from everyone (ok, mostly everyone). Commitment and belief in the change itself, happens only if everyone understands what they are committing to. Understanding is not the same as communicating!!! Understanding happens in multiple dimensions and scales. Reading a memo or listening to a CFO speak are just two, necessary but not sufficient, aspects! Some elements (consistent with memo and speeches) of the change must be “felt” in an associates’ day to day work in order to reinforce what they read and hear. This has to be a visible/sensible change in their local team and/or operating environment. If a big enterprise-level change doesn’t impact (even small impact helps!) an assocaite’s daily activity, its hard to get that person’s commitment, to begin with. An uncommitted associate usually infests the folks around him, so there is peripheral damage as well.

A sense of urgency is a broad term but, in my mind, speaks to three critical questions fundamentally. Why should we change now, instead of say next year or 5 years from now? This reminds me of Matsushita story. When Matsushita started his visionary institute for government and management, he explained his vision was to help Japanese politics become less corrupt and more visionary. When a skeptical reporter asked how long that would take, he said, “about four hundred years…which is why it is so important we start today!”. So, any operational change, especially in a fortune 50, is a slow and painful process. But we better start now so we make progress right away.

The second question around sense of urgency would be “Alrite, I am starting now, whats next?”. This leads to short-term wins. While change is a long-term process (at least few years), short-term milestones, directly tied to long-term vision is key to keep the masses running. Nobody wants to keep cutting the trees for years without frequent assurance that they are in the right forest! So, tell them we are moving towards the final goal, one step at a time. A short-term visible and tangible win, every 6 months, seen and acknowledged by everyone, is a key.

The last question is “Alrite, I know we had this short-term goal, but I feel I am out of touch, when are we meeting again to talk about all of this?”. This leads to “frequency” of all forms of communications around change. Usually, the sense of urgency wades off in a few months. This happens due to the illusion at the senior leadership level that everyone is on board and so things are moving as they should. While in reality, lower level people’s commitment is lost over time. So a constant reminder, every other week, if not, every week, about the change, why the change and how we are changing and how fast and stable the “train” is moving, will keep the sense of urgency strong and sustainable!

Reading “Small Giants”

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

small giants I am in the middle of reading Small Giants. This is a great find and I am so glad I stumbled upon this book. A part of me wants to be an entrepreneur badly. I really want to be in the media business producing content for children’s education and entertainment and I always search for how other successful entrepreneurs started from scratch. Small Giants not only talks about that but also talks about the principles these small private companies live by to stay small but stay great social citizens!

The book profiles a bunch of small companies and their entrepreneurs (some of them great leaders too) and how they started off and how they either resisted the temptation to grow and remained successful or gave up to the growth syndrome only to learn the lessons the hard way. Its a good read if you aspire to have your business one day. It will be of immense use to know what you will go through, once you become successful, which you will, if only after a failure or two. Good Luck!

Rahman’s commitment to improve the world

Friday, June 13th, 2008

“Commitment to improve the world” is the reason world economic forum awards a select few from around the world with “Young Global Leader” award. The 2008 list is an long one with representation from many countries.

Whats more fascinating to me is that Allah Rakha Rahman, the man most Indians admire, is one among the young leaders recognized. Other notables in the list include Sabeer Bhatia and the Google founders.

Cory Booker’s saga

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Not often we encounter truly inspiring stories of men in public service. That too behind our own backyard? Such is a story of Cory Booker, City of Newark’s Mayor. Newark City, as I know it, is where chances of one getting shot is (was) pretty good, and for someone with my demographic profile has no real business to be in Newark anyway. This month’s Esquire has a very detailed and inspiring article about Cory Booker, the “renaissances” mayor of Newark. In many ways, he is waging a war. A war for social justice with lot more meaning and impact than the war for oil in Iraq. His story touches the core of my heart because he is doing what I would like to do, but never had the courage or commitment to follow through.

Cory has written in Esquire before and one of his own inspirations is Mrs. Virginia Jones. When Cory first met her and shared his desire to help the Newark community, she had told him “…So many people want to help, but few are committed. People live life with intentions. Well, the road to hell is paved with them. Are you committed?”. Ah! I felt a nail being sent through my head! “Road to hell is paved with good intentions”, how true! Just as many millions of people, I have a lot of good intentions, but I know my commitments aren’t good enough yet.

Booker tells of another lesson Mrs.Jones taught him, “Boy, you need to learn something. The world you see outside of you is a reflection of what you have inside of you. If you’re one of those people who see problems, darkness, and despair, that’s all there’s ever going to be. But if you’re one of those people who see hope, opportunity, love, and even the face of God, then you can help me…”. There goes the second nail, right through the head to the bottom of my heart! Words of true wisdom from Mrs.Jones!

We need more Cory Bookers and Mrs. Jones in this world. I am exceedingly confident (results are already proving!) Cory would turn Newark around and I am sure that is going to happen right in front of my eyes as I watch it from 35 miles away.

I am going to sleep tonite with two nails hurting deep down. I must commit to move from being inspired to doing inspiring things. Where is the cory in me?

Leading smart

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

Rajesh Setty who writes an interesting blog at “Life Beyond Code” has offered some tips in an article titled “Leading smart IT professionals”. It is pretty good though in some cases uncoventional. However, I think there is nothing IT (as in information technology) about his tips. It can be applied to leading any type of people albeit smart.

A quick and brief listing of his tips in my own words (just so I will remember them even better!) :

Always ask, first, for suggestions and solutions to problems before you offer yours. If you happen to work with smart people, one of them will likely suggest what you might have in your mind. That is almost always better for the team.

Always encourage successful failures. A failure is always better than never attempting. After all, we can only learn from failures. Make your team and working style a safe place for your people to not just take up risk but be able to gracefully fail and learn from them. Encourage them to share their experiences; A failed experience is the greatest asset when making a second attempt.

Introduce healthy changes in regular intervals. Even if the type of work is reasonably unpredictable on a daily-basis, human mind is infinitely capable of adjusting to such jobs. Give people, new roles and responsibilities every now and then. If you are doing the same thing for more than 2-3 years, your “marginal learning” from it may be less.

Understand that everyone wants to grow. No matter how experienced and how young someone is, everyone aspires to grow as soon as they can. Thats the nature of any aggressive smart employee. Understand their expectations and help them set reasonable short-term and long-term goals. Always align them (some if not all) to your team’s goals. Reward every accomplishment. A reward need not be in $$$, a strong appreciation in front a group, especially with senior management, will probably go longer than a small cheque could. Of course, $$$ should come into the picture sooner than they ask!

Engage in conversations and activities outside of work. In 21st century work culture, people likely spend most part of their active day at work and with colleagues. Indeed, work can take some fun and bit of other things too. Avoid setting monotonous routines such as regular friday team lunches or Monday bowling nights! Go beyond what most leaders do. Be creative and let your team understand that you will always bring some cheer when they badly need it.

I like this quote on leadership (more quotes)

“The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind in others the conviction and will to carry on.” – Walter Lippman

This will happen when you make each one of them feel as leaders themselves.