A few years ago, former CEO of Citibank Malaysia, Sanjeev Nanavathy told me about the importance of DEEP WORK. As an accomplished coach, he emphasised for the need to develop the ability to focus without distraction on a task that is cognitively demanding. He probably mentioned it as he noticed me flipping on to my I phone every now and then to check my WhatsApp messages. On a trip to my alma mater, Federation University, Ballarat, Australia, I noticed several posters around the campus on the help available if one was addicted to the mobile phone or social media. Never understood the significance of those posters until a few days ago when I had a chance to read DEEP WORK.
Deep Work is defined as a skill that allows you to master complicated information and do a great job in less time. It provides a sense of fulfilment very much similar to craftmanship. This skill seems to have been lost in a world of emails, social media and WhatsApp messages. Professor Cal Newport, the author of DEEP WORK presents a rigorous training regimen, presented as a series of four “rules,” for transforming one’s mind and habits to support this skill. He articulates the need for DEEP WORK as opposed to shallow work. DEEP WORK is defined as an indispensable guide to anyone seeking focused success in a distracted world. Cal Newport outlines the DEEP WORK rules for focussed success in a digital world in his book.
It is past midnight and I am busy finishing reading the key chapters from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s Hit Refresh autobiography. Unsure if it is my inability to sleep or the long workday that is keeping me awake. With a decision to get off social media effective Jan 1st of this year, my writing is restricted to my website. Without doubt, the reading on Cultural Renaissance fromKnow it Alls to Learn it Alls from his book is impressive, prompting me to write again tonight.
The Microsoft CEO talks about a new cultural mindset of growth within the company which is one of starting to listen more, learn more and talk less. The growth mindset he talks about starts with the CEO where the C stands for culture – listening, learning and harnessing individual passions and talents to the company’s mission. It is one of dynamic learning. It is a journey, Interestingly, this was the subject I talked with key members of our Senior team, this afternoon.
Satya takes great pains to explain that culture is a vague term and one has to work carefully to define what one wants from culture and hence the need to measure everything and take a pulse check of the company. Jim Collins in his book Good to Great talked about the having the right people on the bus. Culture is deliberate work and there is a need to articulate specific ideas about what the culture should become. It requires drastic, concrete actions to get the members’ attention and push them out of their familiar comfort zones. It requires disciplined thinking and disciplined action.
Exercising a growth mindset, he explains, can happen in three ways:
Obsession with the customer
Respecting diversity and Inclusion
Acknowledging and behaving as one company
When we are united by a single shared vision, we get out of our comfort zones and do what is best for the customer. In moving towards a growth mindset, he articulates the need to move away from a fixed mindset. The way to do this is through individual empowerment where each must recognise that we often underestimate what each one can do to make things happen and overestimate what others need to do for us to make things happen.
He refers to an article in the Harvard Business Review that points out that less than 10% of leaders invest time in developing high potential among their team members. The way forward to a growth mindset is to focus on developing high potential. It is about inspiring people not draining them with negative energy. I have had this amazing feeling of being tired when I am with some people and completely rejuvenated and enthusiastic with some. A growth mindset, Satya explains, is not about complaining about others – I don’t have this, or I don’t have that, I did not get this or that. The days of whining are over. He says leaders have to shape leaders – ‘your job is to find rose petals in a field of shit.’
He says there are plenty of constraints and obstacles but leaders in a growth mindset culture are champions who make things happen. My son often points out that we need to make things happen as we figure out the change process to get us to the desired state. It is not a sequential process but a dynamic one.
Finally, he outlines three leadership principles for a growth mindset:
Bring clarity to those you work with
Generate energy and inspire people across the organisation
Find a way to deliver success.
Satya Nadella concludes the chapter nicely when he says ‘reasoned judgement and inner convictions are what I expect from myself and others. Make the call but do not expect consensus. Remember we need strong partnerships.’
The chapter left me wondering how much more we have to learn and how much more we as an organisation need to do to shape the industry and be an organisation of choice. But then did he not say that it is a journey and continuous and dynamic learning.