Saturday, March 17, 2007


(Speech delivered at the valedictory function of Manfest 2006 on 22.1.2006 at IIM Lucknow)

In early 1980's Tom Peters and Robert Waterman wrote a book titled ‘In Search of Excellence'. It went on to become international best seller. It is a book that should not only be read by business managers but by everyone. The book talks about lessons from America's best run companies: the companies that had made America the global torch bearer. The authors pose a question as to how these companies got the way that they are and then say that:
‘A strong leader ... have had a lot to do with making the company excellent in the first place. ...
The excellent companies seem to have developed cultures that have incorporated the values and practices of the great leaders. ... the real role of the chief executive is to manage the values of the organization.'
But what makes a person a strong leader, a torch-bearer? What are the qualities of a person, who crosses barriers; leaves footprints; scales new heights? Let me talk about some of them.

1. Fun is the spice of life; do what you enjoy: or find pleasure in your workFeynman (center) with Robert Oppenheimer (right) relaxing at a Los Alamos social function during the Manhattan Project.
Image via Wikipedia
Feynman was to second half of the last century what Einstein was to the first part of the same: the most famous scientist. Feynman, after finishing his graduation from MIT, moved on to Princeton for PhD and then to nuclear laboratory at Los Almos for developing atom bomb during the Second World War. After the war, he had some offers but went to Cornell. The reason was simple. It was where Bethe worked. They had got along well at Los Almos. One day he was in the university Cafeteria when one of the students, who was fooling around, threw a plate into the air, spinning it like a Frisbee. It had red medallion of Cornell on it. The plate wobbled and spun. The medallion went round at a different rate from the wobble. Intrigued, Feynman went out to calculate the relationship between the spin and the wobble, which was 2:1. It came out of a complicated equation. When people asked him why he did it, he said, “for fun. It has no importance.” But he was wrong. He was stuck with a problem about the spin of electrons. The equation with which Feynman played with while calculating the wobble of the plate was relevant to the problem of electron’s spin. He again started looking into his old problem with new insight. This contributed to his theory, which won him the Nobel Prize (Surely you’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard Feynman and Ralph Leighton; Richard Feynman - A life in Science by John Gribbin and Mary Gribbin; published by Penguin Books).

2 . Innovators see things as anyone else but the difference lies in their thinking
Akio Morita along with Ibuka was co-founder of 'Sony' and changed the image of 'Made in Japan': from notation of cheep imitation to one associated with the world quality. One day, Morita saw Ibuka with a portable stereo tape recorder and a pair of head phones. When he was asked Ibuka as to why he was doing it, he answered that he liked to listen to music but didn't want to disturb anyone else. But he also remarked that it was difficult as the music system was too big. Morita remembered that his children after entering the home would rush to their rooms to listen to music. And he also remembered seeing many Japanese carrying heavy music players on their shoulders. This scenario stuck with him and he played with the idea of making small music system that can be carried anywhere.

The Sony used to market a small cassette tape recorder called pressman. Morita called his engineers and asked them to strip out the recording circuit as well as the speakers from it and asked them to make a very light headphone to listen to the music. No one thought it to be a good idea. His engineers, sales men were pessimistic: who will buy, if it does not have recording capability? It is only when Morita took personal responsibility for the project that it was pursued. This is how the walkman came to the market. It went on to become most successful selling item of all times. Sony had sold more than 20 million pieces of different models of walkman by the time the book 'Made in Japan' (an autobiography of Morita) was published in middle of 80's.

3. Originality, intuition, and confidence are hallmarks of a leader: they together lead to innovation
In 1913 Godfrey Harold Hardy was 36 years of age and was an established mathematician. He belonged to the field of pure mathematics. He was already a Fellow of the Royal Society and was with the Cambridge University. His name appeared not only in every Mathematical Journal of that time but also in the journal of Medicine. He had propounded Hardy-Weinberg law, which states, ‘Dominant traits will not take over and recessive traits will not die out’. His future was secure and life fixed. Then he received one letter from India, by someone called Srinivas Ramanujan. The letter was as follows:
I beg to introduce myself as a clerk in the Accounts Department... I have no University education... I have not trodden through the conventional regular course... but I am striking out a new path myself. I have made special investigation... and the results... are termed as startling by local mathematicians’.
And then he rattled off some of his results. Hardy had never seen anything of this kind. It is then as Hardy would say later, ‘The romantic incident of my life began'.

Hardy was once asked what his greatest discovery was. ‘Ramanujan’ he firmly answered. At another time he said, ‘I did not invent him. Like other great men he invented himself.’ In the end of his life when Hardy would give explanation for irrelevance of pure mathematicians to a common man's need in ‘A mathematician's apology’, classic and still remembered for its mesmerising hold on readers, he would console himself. ‘I have done one thing... (that pompous people) have never done... (It) is to have collaborated with... Ramanujan on something like equal terms.’

Ramanujan was original. He proved many theorem that were already proved but in his own way as he never read them formally; he in fact rediscovered them.

Ramanujan was intuitive. Many of his theorem were not proved and Hardy later said that he spent rest of his life proving or disproving them.

Ramanujan was confident. He came from an ordinary background; he had not studied Mathematics in the conventional way, yet was confident of his work. It is for this, that he wrote,
'I am striking a new path for myself.'
It was the confidence that impelled him to write that fateful letter to Hardy.

Ramanujan fell ill and was admitted in a hospital in London. Hardy would visit him there on weekends. On one of his visits Hardy noticed the Taxi number 1729. On reaching the Hospital he wondered if it was a dull number and being multiple of thirteen (13x133) could be a bad omen. Pat came the reply from Ramanujam, ‘
No, it is a very interesting number. It is the smallest number, which can be expressed as the sum of two cubes in two different ways. 1729 is equal to 123 +13 and 103+93’.
How Ramnujn could do it? Some insights are here. The book 'The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan' by Robert Kanigel, Published by Rupa & Company is also worth reading.

Indian judiciary has shown the way in the field of Public Interest Litigation, Judicial Activism, and Judicial Independence. It has charted new course for the world to follow but there is one area where we lag behind - court management. Judges are expert in solving disputes among the different parties: but have not been successful in,
  • Managing pending cases.
  • Fixing a time frame for deciding a dispute.
I wish in future there will be greater cooperation between the Business Schools and Indian judiciary to improve court management.

With this, I wish all of you good luck; be a torch bearer to make India – the torch bearer - of the world. And do you remember the song sung by Shanker Mahdevan, performed in characteristic style of Salman Khan:
सुनो गौर से दुनिया वालो,
बुरी नज़र न हम पर डालो ।
चाहे जितना जोर लगालो,
सबसे आगे होंगे हिन्दुस्तानी ।
We together will be able to change the second last word of the song - from होंगे हैं।

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