Subscribe to QAspire feed
Insights and Sketchnotes on Leadership, Learning and Change!
Updated: 1 hour 37 min ago

A Round Up of Insights for Turbulent Times

Tue, 03/24/2020 - 05:43

Black swan events like Corona Virus pandemic leaves us scrambling to respond effectively. While individually, we cannot control what happens out there, we can always choose our response to it. And the most effective response in these times, fortunately, is to simply distance physically, slow down, stay put and use the down time to reflect on what truly matters.

Collectively, we have a choice to put forward the best of humanity and prepare for the new normal in terms of how we deal with uncertainty that follows the pandemic, how we lead our lives, serve others and transact with each other.

While the extent and impact of this pandemic is still unfolding as I write this, I wanted to share some meta-insights from my learning network on how to recollect ourselves in the face of a global human tragedy. Here we go:

Otto Scharmer on the conversation we need to have now

So why do we keep ourselves busy with stuff that is not essential?

If we let go of everything that is not essential — what’s left? It’s another great question (or “mantram”) to meditate on. Whatever the answer is that emerges for you from this contemplation, keep it in your heart.

What if we used this disruption as an opportunity to let go of everything that isn’t essential in our life, in our work, and in our institutional routines? How might we reimagine how we live and work together? How might we reimagine the basic structures of our civilization? Which effectively means: how can we reimagine our economic, our democratic, and our learning systems in ways that bridge the ecological, the social, and the spiritual divides of our time?

These are great questions to ponder upon as we face a new reality ahead of us. One thing is clear: global issues like natural disasters, climate change and pandemics know no boundaries at a time when we are more connected than ever before. On the other end of this outbreak, we need to come out wiser, stronger and hopefully, simpler.

A Word from the CEO: Leading in a Crisis

There’s nothing like a crisis or a complex problem to accelerate learning. This is learning agility to the “Nth” degree—applying past lessons to new and unfamiliar situations. It really is knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.

Crisis situations are crucibles of leadership. Korn Ferry’s CEO Gary Burnison offers six steps for leadership in these critical times with focus on bottoms-up leadership that includes and involves people.

Coronavirus Is Serious, But Panic Is Optional – Margo Aaron

Making money isn’t evil. What’s evil is emotionally exploiting people in order to do it. Which is precisely what these headlines are doing.

You can fill your brain with information without feeling terror, panic, worry, or fear.

The media has failed in its responsibilities to the public, but you don’t have to fail in your responsibilities as a citizen. Do not let fear hijack your brain.

Coronavirus is serious, but panic, worry, and terror are optional.

Choose a better option.

In times like these, it’s vital to also distance yourself from the misinformation being spread about the pandemic numbers, forecasts, possible cures, alternative medicines and home remedies. We need more scientific temperament to consume information from authentic sources, stay aware and take necessary precautions without panicking. Bottom line? Don’t let fear hijack your brain.

The Most Important Skill Nobody Taught You

When you surround yourself with moments of solitude and stillness, you become intimately familiar with your environment in a way that forced stimulation doesn’t allow. The world becomes richer, the layers start to peel back, and you see things for what they really are, in all their wholeness, in all their contradictions, and in all their unfamiliarity.

At a time when a lot of people are either in quarantine or self-isolation mode, it is important to recognize the value of solitude as a conducive space for reflection and creativity. It is only when we slow down that we can notice the richness of our being and truly observe the world around (and within) us.

Lent and Self-Quarantine – Dr. Setu Vora

If we show the courage to do the right things guided by science (truth), art (beauty), and spirit (goodness) we will overcome this and other threats in the future.

This thought from Dr. Vora really struck the chord. He further says, “Temptations corrupts three human abilities: to think, wish and feel which are inside the mind, soul and heart.”

The Raw and the Cooked – Simon Terry

Today you have the simple choice. You will be raw in your experience of this threatening world. Forgive yourself for the rawness, the pain, the regret and the loss. They are real. Give yourself also the time to reach out, to care for others, to share stories and to embrace the culture and community within which we live. Others need help more than ever now. Your contact and concern could be the most important gesture in their life today.

Prescriptions for “Social Distancing” are everywhere. This post from Simon urges us to embrace the rawness of this threatening experience and give yourself the time to reach out, connect and share with community while you exercise physical distancing. 

Image via: Kenneth Mikkelsen

Categories: Blogs

8 Key Lessons Learned on Being Social (Offline and Online)

Tue, 03/10/2020 - 14:30

We have always been social beings. “The other” has always been an important part of how we look at our own selves. Apart from the family, we need people to collaborate with, to be friends with, to do exciting work with and to share our highs and lows. Being social is one of our intrinsic needs. The extent to which we become social depends can vary depending on the individual.

And all social media tools are built to tap into this intrinsic need to connect with others. Backed by years of research in behavioral psychology, these social tools are designed to be addictive. Same goes for offline social engagements where vanity, social signaling and peer pressure can drag you down.

There are some key rules I have learned about being social and they apply to being social – online as well as offline.

  • Be social, but protect your boundaries. Too much of social involvement can stress us out. Having boundaries (and right filters) on when, with whom, how much and what you interact about is critical to protect your creative and reflective space.
  • Do the work first, signal later. Because social signaling does not substitute real accomplishments. While signaling makes you look good, it does not necessarily make you any better. You get better by doing something everyday, learning along the way, raising the bar and making meaningful contributions in a context. Social signaling can only be an amplifier.
  • Social only amplifies what is. If you are authentic, it comes through. If you are faking something, it shows up too. When being social, we have a choice to be more of who we are – or fake being like others to comply with community expectations. And the latter is a sure shot way I know towards mediocrity.
  • Being authentic works, always. Social engagements (online or offline) are an opportunity to put ourselves out there. The most interesting people I know share insights that flows through the lens of their own real experiences. They share their process and work-in-progress. They add a lot of their personality and context into what and how they share. They use that to weave a nuanced conversation.
  • Know your “why”. Life is to short for being social just for the sake of it. It is an opportunity to shape the culture, initiate critical conversations and make something happen. It is important to know what few topics you truly care for, what change would you like to see and what objectives you are trying to accomplish beforehand. As As Zig Ziglar so rightly said, “Don’t become a wandering generality. Be a meaningful specific.”
  • Communities are powerful. Being social enables you to create or participate in communities of like minded people. When your ability to collaborate with others, learn from them is combined with your intent to share and contribute, community can feed you with valuable learning, diverse insights and interesting opportunities.
  • Remember, its a two-way conversation. Conversations are the currency of being social. Imagine what happens to others when you meet them at a party and only bombard them with information about you! Empathy and listening is vital to converse with others in a context where insights and ideas flow both ways. 
  • Aim for contributions, not just metrics. Many people brag about being “influencers”, having thousands of followers or attending tens of conferences a year. But I strongly feel that real influence is a by-product of making meaningful contributions. Real thought leadership creates change, challenges the existing beliefs and shapes a conversation worth having.

Your turn:

What lessons have you learned about being social – online and offline? Please do share.


Here is a quick sketchnote summary of the post.

Categories: Blogs

Leadership Mindsets for a New World

Sun, 02/16/2020 - 19:30

For organizations to be truly effective, leadership can not be confined to the top boxes of the organization chart. When leadership is not a role but a behavior that people practice across the organization, then organizations are better placed to navigate the complexities surrounding us.

In my experience, this involves:

a) creating an ecosystem of “emergent leadership where people are not afraid to raise their hand and take initiative when the right opportunity to solve important problem aligns with their unique skills. This comes from creating a psychologically safe environment, trusting people for their competencies, enabling their learning through experimentation (and navigating through ambiguity) and building an ecosystem of high performance.

b) aligning people managers/leads at all levels to a collective mindset of leadership. This happens through an ongoing conversation on leadership in a community, experience sharing, valuing leadership behaviors and enabling people through one to one coaching on the job.

c) leaders working really hard at becoming better role models of leadership behaviors that they wish to see around them. This does not happen automatically, but through constant learning of new leadership paradigms, applying them to work, reflecting upon the lessons learned, sharing that learning with others and making visible change in their leadership behaviors through all this to deliver the outcomes.

In this context, I read MIT Sloan Management Review article titled “Leadership Mindsets for the New Economy” by Douglas A. Ready with great interest. It underlines the importance of having right leadership mindsets to navigate ambiguity, create customer value, developing people, building strong working relationships (network) and learning through combination of curiosity and experimentation.

Here is an excerpt:

We surveyed more than 4,000 managers and executives from more than 120 countries and conducted interviews with dozens of C-level executives, with the objective of understanding how a changing world and a changing world of work is influencing what it means to be a great leader. One of the most striking findings from this ongoing research initiative is that both the survey respondents and those interviewed believe that their leaders lack the mindset needed to bring about the strategic and cultural changes required to lead in the new economy.

And here is a sketchnote summary of the key leadership mindsets:

Read Related Articles at QAspire:
Categories: Blogs

Thoughts on Virality

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 22:46

Yesterday was one of those days when my sketch note went viral. Anand Mahindra, Chairman of Mahindra Group shared my sketchnote on Ikigai. With more than 7.4 million followers, Anand is one of the most social CEO’s in India apart from being one of the most respectable figures in business in India.

Anand’s tweet soon gathered a lot of media attention and national news/media houses NDTV, India Today, News18, Livemint, Republic News, MensXP and TimesNow jumped on the bandwagon to report what Anand had shared. Some of them also went on to explain the concept.

After initial euphoria subsided, I got thinking about virality of content. Why does something go viral and what does it mean?

I feel that anything going viral is a wave that rises and then subsides. While virality of content enables visibility and reach, it also subjects your work to a larger public scrutiny, which is fine as long as the scrutiny is constructive.

What makes content go viral?

I understood that there are a few common things behind content that goes viral for the right reasons:

1) There is a lot of serendipity and luck involved. The content gets shared across social media platforms till it reaches someone really influential who blogs/tweets about it and then it catches public attention.

2) Accessibility and Simplicity plays a big role. The easier something is to understand and share (e.g. images/videos/memes), the more it gets shared.

3) Content that appeals or talks to a larger mass at a generic level is more likely to get shared more. Relevance of content to larger group of people increases likelihood of it being shared more widely.

4) Quality is important element of things that go viral. What talks to people beyond the message itself is the amount of care you put in creating and attention to small details.

I strongly feel that content going positively viral is only an interesting by-product – a milestone along the journey. But you don’t create and do the work keeping external motivators in the view.

In the long run, what matters truly is your passion towards what you do, the consistency of creating useful stuff and enjoying the process while you do it.

When we create for joy we find in creating without any expectation, it reflects in the work. Virality is simply a by-product.

Categories: Blogs

Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life (Book Review)

Mon, 01/13/2020 - 05:08

Ikigai is the Japanese art of living. I am a fan of Japanese way of thinking whether it is related to how they led the quality movement or how they exercise their craftsman spirit in day to day life. I had heard and read about Ikigai and wanted to dive deeper into the underlying philosophy because I feel that finding our Ikigai – our reason for being – is vital for us to be better human beings and hence leaders.

I therefore picked up the book Ikigai – The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life hoping to find ways to discover our calling, our reason for being, raison d’être.

My Review of the Book

I feel that while the book covers a lot of good content, it lacks depth. In less than 200 pages, the authors try to cover many things like ageing, food, yoga, tai chi, stress management, concept of flow state, stories about centenarians from Okinawa in Japan, resilience, meditation and antifragility. Reading about so many different things tied to the core concept of Ikigai without going into depth can only lead to basic awareness. So, the book is good for beginners who are exposed to these topics for the first time. I would personally prefer a more nuanced conversation around the topic rather than cursory information on many related topics.

What I liked though was the stories and quotes from centenarians of Ogimi region which is one of the blue zones that boasts of highest life expectancy in the world.

Key Highlights

“essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”

“Our ikigai is different for all of us, but one thing we have in common is that we are all searching for meaning.”

“Life is not a problem to be solved. Just remember to have something that keeps you busy doing what you love while being surrounded by the people who love you.”

“The happiest people are not the ones who achieve the most. They are the ones who spend more time than others in a state of flow.”

“Being in a hurry is inversely proportional to quality of life. As the old saying goes, ‘Walk slowly and you’ll go far.’ When we leave urgency behind, life and time take on new meaning.​”

“the people who live the longest have two dispositional traits in common: a positive attitude and a high degree of emotional awareness. In other words, those who face challenges with a positive outlook and are able to manage their emotions are already well on their way toward longevity.”

“In order to achieve this optimal experience, we have to focus on increasing the time we spend on activities that bring us to this state of flow, rather than allowing ourselves to get caught up in activities that offer immediate pleasure.”

“Our ability to turn routine tasks into moments of microflow, into something we enjoy, is key to our being happy, since we all have to do such tasks.”

“Artists know how important it is to protect their space, control their environment, and be free of distractions”

“There is a passion inside you, a unique talent that gives meaning to your days and drives you to share the best of yourself until the very end. If you don’t know what your ikigai is yet, as Viktor Frankl says, your mission is to discover it.”

10 Rules of Ikigai

One thing I liked the most was the summary of book in form of 10 Rules of Ikigai. It summarizes the overall approach to living a good life. Finding your Ikigai is a lifelong journey of understanding yourself better, doing things that you love, putting your gifts to significant use and learning along the way.

Here is a sketchnote summary of 10 Rules of Ikigai:

Related Posts at QAspire

Categories: Blogs

In 100 Words: Three Questions to Lead the Self

Sat, 01/11/2020 - 06:05

A priest was confronted by a soldier while he was walking down a road in pre-revolutionary Russia. The soldier, aiming his rifle at the priest, called out,

“Who are you?

Where are you going?

Why are you going there?”

Unfazed, the priest calmly replied, “How much do they pay you?” Somewhat surprised, the soldier responded, “Twenty-five kopecks a month.”

The priest paused, and in a deeply thoughtful manner said, “I have a proposal for you. I’ll pay you fifty kopecks each month if you stop me here every day and challenge me to respond to those same three questions.”

Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables and Posts

Categories: Blogs

Looking back at 2019

Tue, 12/24/2019 - 07:30
On Transitions – Outside and Within

Life is all about transitions, big and small. Everything within and around us is in a constant state of flux, but we only see the changes that are explicit.

Internal transitions precede external transitions in life and careers. Our thinking, emotions, needs, wants and deep internal motivations shift all the time as a result of our life stage, our journey so far and changing circumstances. But just because these are deeply internal shifts, they are too gradual and subtle to notice. And that means, we continue to navigate our way trying to meet/respond to the needs of external world (outside-in).

2019 for me was a year of being more self-aware, cultivating stillness, paying more attention to the changing landscape within the self, mapping my internal world, reassessing my motivations and aligning my external world accordingly (inside-out).

“Success means using your knowledge and experience to satisfy yourself. Significance means using your knowledge and experience to change the lives of others.” – Bob Buford

In personal life, this theme of transitions resulted into continued focus on holistic health including physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social well-being. The journey of internal exploration continues.

Enabling People and Culture For High-Performance

After I took charge as a Country Head at Basware India, I have dedicated myself to build the country organization as a strategic asset with focusing on people, culture, leadership, capabilities and operational excellence. Amidst a constantly evolving business context and many challenging situations at work, it has been a blessing to work with committed colleagues who are passionate about making things happen with a right mindset. Basware has been a great playground that challenges and inspires in equal measure – providing space and opportunities to lead from the front and build ecosystems of engagement, growth and high-performance.

“It’s not what you achieve, it’s what you overcome. That’s what defines your career.” —Carlton Fisk

QAspire Blog – 13 Years and Counting

Blogging used to be the original social network and I have been blogging here consistently for over 13 years with hundreds of posts, sketch notes, stories and resources that bring tens of thousands of readers each month. This blog and I have evolved together – and this has been a platform for me to learn, think clearly and share insights through posts and sketchnotes.

“That’s what I consider true generosity: You give your all and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing.” —Simone de Beauvoir

While this year was also slow on posting frequency, I wrote following key posts with sketchnotes.

My hope for 2020 is more frequent sharing of not just curated ideas but my own insights and lessons.

Sketchnote Project – Going Far and Wide

I started my year 2019 with a TEDx talk on the topic  “3 L’s of Self-Directed Learning”.  My entire presentation was a sketch note that evolved as talk progressed. I later posted the sketch note on this blog as well.

Throughout the year, my visual insights were featured at so many places including several events in US, Reykjavik, Buenos Aires, Sri Lanka, India and Germany.  Thank God, these events were attended by at least one person who was aware about my work and that’s how I came to know about it.

I find so much joy when visual notes I create become social objects of sharing, conversation and connection. I am immensely grateful for the privilege of being able to do that.

More at: IdeasDrawn

Visual Thinking Workshops

In 2019, I also advanced my pursuit of helping others think visually to ideate, understand and communicate. I helped close to 100 people in different workshop formats (online and offline) and it was fascinating to see people reconnect with their visual superpower and put pencil to paper.

Find more at: IdeasDrawn Visual Thinking Workshop


I consider all recognitions as by-products of the pursuit and once in a while, when you think of them, they only encourage the pursuit.

For the sixth consecutive year, I was fortunate to be ranked amongst Top SHRM Indian HR Influencers in May 2019.

Each year, being featured on Kurt Harden’s list of 25 Blogs Guaranteed to Make You Smarter  is always an honor since I find company of amazing and inspiring thinkers/bloggers like Michael Wade and Nicholas Bate amongst others who I  respect so much.


I am grateful to all the readers of this blog, people who share my work on social media, podcasters who initiate awesome conversations, fellow bloggers who share their knowledge so generously, people who use my work and people who support it. If I start writing their names here, the list may go on forever.

The spirit of internet, as we know it, is the spirit of collective learning, of raising the bar, of doing the work that matters and bring possibilities to life.

Here’s wishing you a glorious 2020 full of possibilities.

Categories: Blogs

Being a Self-Aware Leader: Tasha Eurich

Tue, 12/10/2019 - 22:12

I created a series of sketch notes for Tiffani Bova’s “What’s Next” podcast where she meets brilliant people to discuss customer experience, growth and innovation. Tiffani Bova is a Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. I will post sketchnote versions of selected podcast episodes that enlightened me. Tiffani is also the author of a WSJ bestseller book “Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business

“Knowledge workers must, effectively, be their own chief executive officers. It is up to you to carve out your place, to know when to change course, and to keep yourself engaged and productive during a work life that may span some 50 years. To do those things well, you’ll need to cultivate a deep understanding of yourself – not only what your strengths and weaknesses are but also how you learn, how you work with others, what your values are, and where you can make the greatest contribution. Because only when you operate from strengths can you achieve true excellence.” – Peter Drucker, Managing Oneself

As human beings, we evolve and change continuously. Over a period of time, our interests, world view, ways of working, speed of thinking, approach to learning changes. This combined with longer careers, rise in independent workers (gig workers) and disruptive changes only means that professionals have to take charge of their own careers and constantly map the changing self with a changing world to stay relevant.

In this conversation with Tiffani Bova at WhatsNext podcast, Tasha Eurich outlines two kinds of self-awareness. Internal self-awareness (insight) is about knowing who we truly are, our values and what we value. External self-awareness (outsight) is about  knowing how other people see us.

In a world where people are so busy responding to external expectations and go with the flow, it takes courage to peep within, develop insight about self, build outsight and find ways to do a more meaningful contribution.

Do enjoy the full conversation and here is the sketchnote summary of key insights from the podcast that I enjoyed.

Other Sketchnotes I created for WhatsNext Podcast:

Categories: Blogs