Monday, April 15, 2013

Epiphany of the Day – The Importance of Differentiation

There are mainly two ways to take the advantage in a competitive market:

1. Offer a better solution

2. Offer a differentiated solution

This simple theoretical model could prove very valuable not just to companies, but to each and every one of us in our daily lives as well. In this instance, reading this little nugget triggered off a thought in me about my constant endeavors to write a meaningful blog.

A question I've been pondering for a long time, is how to compete with the thousands of blogs already out there that command wide readership? A big chunk of the answer quietly came to me from this know-bite: to be successful and command good readership, this blog will have to do two things, and do them consistently:

1. Provide good content (my habit of voracious reading and the years of field-experience in learning would be quite helpful here), and

2. Provide the reader a differentiated experience (which would mean offering the reader a strong and consistent style of blogging that could sound out over time as my own, 'different' style).

Viewed from this lens, this critical question of 'how to really make a difference with this blog' quickly breaks itself down from being a 'monolithic writer's block' into an open-ended series of quick actionable to-dos which, in this case, inspired me to write this little piece for the blog after a significant hiatus.

Now, the purpose and framework for this blog seems to be coming together quite nicely, and hopefully some good ideas can be expected to flow from this blog in the days to come.

An interesting question at this point, though: how do you see this 'better/differentiated' model helping you break through some of the mental blocks that you've been struggling with?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Message in a Bottle

I had struggled.

For years, I had grappled with the thought of starting a serious, meaningful blog.

Each time I tried, my mind would be inundated with questions: Why write a blog? To what purpose? Who would read it? Would it amount to empty self-aggrandisement? Was the trouble of maintaining a regular blog worth the benefits?

And I could sense the fear within. As much as a blog is a brilliant platform to showcase one's thinking and understanding, it also just as surely exposes one's limitations – the chinks in one's armor. Was I willing to risk such exposure in front of my colleagues, peers and seniors?

This time around, the imperative to start a blog had ostensibly been to expand my sphere of influence within the organization – but somehow, again, the keyboard just wouldn't sizzle.

And deeper down, resided another, more sinister thought. For any new habit to truly take hold, I knew, it had to necessarily resonate clearly in the psyche. There had to be that sparkling stream of authenticity that ran from deep within the soul, straight to the new idea. In other words, there had to be a deeper reason why I wanted to write a blog – a bigger 'cause' as it were, that my efforts might contribute toward; something that would make them worthwhile. And this 'deeper reason' to start a blog was proving elusive to find.

Yet, despite my repeated misgivings, the thought of writing a blog had resurfaced each time, remaining submerged just long enough for the misgivings to die down. I'd asked friends for their opinions on the topic; I'd read posts by other writers on why they had taken up blogging; I'd tried repeatedly – and futilely – to compose my first proper blog post. And yet, after each failure, there was that familiar thought again: why not write a blog?

The nudge I needed finally came from a conversation with a friend and colleague, Vibhuti Raghuvanshi. Why a blog, I asked her yesterday, having pulled her into a training room for an informal chat on the subject. What were her thoughts about why people wrote blogs? Did she write a blog? Why, or why not?

Vibhuti then gave me an example of a video link that I'd shared once on an on-line forum years ago. The video had been of Randy Pausch's 'Last Lecture' at CMU, before he succumbed to cancer. It had deeply touched, moved and inspired me at the time, and my intention in sharing it had been to simply pass on the inspiration to whoever else might need it. Vibhuti had chanced upon my post, and had been so inspired by the video that she had proceeded to talk to a large number of people about it, and share it in her own presentations to students and others. In other words, a random act of altruism through my hand had essentially led to a cascading waterfall of transformation for a large number of people that I had never met.

And then an allegory hit home.

Just a few days prior, I'd been holidaying with my family at the Vivanta in Trivandrum, in a sort of semi-annual family ritual. Sitting by the poolside, my wife and children had ribbed me in a good-natured way about my inability to swim. And I had attempted a half-excuse - if only to wriggle out of an uncomfortable spot - that I could certainly float, if not swim. So naturally, I had been called upon to demonstrate my prowess at that skill.

As I had made the attempt, I remembered how difficult it had been to let go of the pool edge and simply trust the water to hold me. Fear of consequence is a powerful motivator. It lies hidden until challenged, and then unleashes a force so potent that we rarely stray beyond the beaten paths marked out in front of us in life. But this self-preservative instinct also tends to tamp down initiative and risk-taking ability, which are the only real source of strength and progress in an ever-changing world.

And so it had been with blogging and me. A million questions – "Why blog? About what? Who's going to be interested in what I have to say?" and others, it appeared, had basically been my psyche's defense reaction in response to a fear of being 'exposed in public'. What was even more ironic, was that I've been in the public speaking industry for more than a decade, having delivered thousands of sessions and worked with tens of thousands of people. Logic dictated that I should have overcome such fear years ago. And yet, quite clearly, there it still was.

To return to the swimming pool allegory, all it required was the courage to slowly lift up one's feet, trust the water, and give the edge a gentle push. But that courage had to come from a conviction deep within, that the risk was somehow worth it – that in my case, writing a blog was somehow going to make a difference, to someone.

And then it came – the epiphany. I realized that sharing for me had always been an important value. I constantly share things on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn that I find interesting, insightful or simply funny, hardly pausing to worry about the impact it may have on my personal brand on these forums. Just like the protagonist in a poignant scene in that wonderful movie 'Life of Pi', I constantly throw bottles out into the ocean with little messages in them. The only difference is, Pi Patel's messages were of the 'SOS, please help me' variety, whereas mine usually speak of all the wondrous things that life has kindly afforded me, and that I would like to share with everyone else. And as long as I aim to 'express rather than impress', the magic seems to work.

In other words, what I needed to make this blog happen, was exactly what I had needed on every previous occasion that I had needed to make change happen: to reconnect with my authenticity, and to let go of the fear of failure, by welcoming in its place the opportunity for feedback and growth. Like Peter Pan jumping off a cliff, I had to simply feel genuinely happy and excited deep inside, and look forward.

And so, I took the plunge.

Now here I am, writing another message to put into another bottle. Only this time, the message is simple: a call to anyone who's reading this post, to start a blog. I think it's probably fine even if someone wrote just one blog entry so that the light of their experience may illuminate the life of others, however briefly. I think it's fine even if the language isn't perfect, or if you can't publish regularly, or if you will need help to polish your blog entries. The simple act of sharing is, in and of itself, its own reward.

Personally, I plan to use the many interesting conversations that I regularly have with my colleagues and friends as the fodder for blog posts.

And I suspect that there is gold in there, just begging to be found – and shared.