Sunday, May 26, 2013

Managing Your Career Path - Commencement Speech by Ramkumar Narayanan at Graduation Ceremony of Institute of Product Leadership

Last night I attended the graduation ceremony of a friend from Institute of Product Leadership, Bangalore. The event was attended by interesting set of people and got to meet many people active in Bangalore Entrepreneurial and Startup space. The highlight of the event was commencement speech given by Mr. Ramkumar Narayanan, GM eBay Product Development Center, Gurgaon.

The speech was on the learnings from his career spanning 25 yrs in auto and tech industry - starting off as an Engineer, taking first steps as Entrepreneur, his eventful career at Microsoft dabbling with technology, product management, then to Yahoo! and currently as GM of Product Development Center, eBay India.

Wonderfully the speech was not philosophical and deep as these kinds of speech tend to get, rather it was presented beautifully in 8 simple digestible points. The speech immediately struck a chord with me as I could relate to each of the points he presented. I have time and again come back to each of the points he mentioned, just that nobody presented it to me it in its entirety. I feel lucky to be present there and thankful to him for taking an effort, doing a deep retrospection of his wonderful career and sharing the learnings with everyone.

The slides of his commencement speech can be found on Slideshare.

He shared many of his experience pertaining to each of his points. Some of the things that I remember from his speech are -

Rich Experiences

Always look out for opportunities to gain rich experience. It can be either through meeting people, participating in social and community events or having conversation with strangers. Always be eager to learn from these encounters and be proactive in breaking the ice and striking the conversations.


Always be curious. We are very curious as a child, but tend to loose this skill as we grow up. He shared his experience that as a child he used to take apart household items or toy games given to him wondering how it worked. That curiosity might have led him to choose engineering and later a career in auto-industry wondering how it worked and how to make it work even better.

Build Depth

Keep Learning Constantly. This was one of the points that struck a chord immediately. While choosing a domain name for my blog, I brainstormed on one thing I want to be identified as, and it was being a constant learner. After completing college, I have made a point to learn a new programming language, skill or domain every year.

The passion with which Mr. Ramkumar was talking about it was inspiring, it made me feel like making an immediate connection. Unlike other people from his generation, I was looking at someone who is constantly in touch with field of education. He was well aware of changing scenarios in education, of how colleges are not restricted to the closed walls, and how Stanford is leading a revolution by putting all its course content available online for anyone interested.

Execution with Precision

Don't just restrict yourself to theory, or keep analyzing the problem go out in the field and try it out, learn from experience, iterate and try again. Be persistent.

Embrace Diversity

Every person is different, and there is an opportunity to learn from this difference. The diversity can be seniority, gender, intellectual, thinking ideology, cultural etc. Embrace diversity and don't see everything from the same frame of reference.

Communicate Effectively

In the first 10 years of his career, he admitted he was a shy and geeky engineer and avoided having to go and present in front of large group of people. Later on as a founder and entrepreneur, acquiring this skill became a necessity and question of survival.

Ramkumar super emphasized on gaining this skill early on in the career and marked it as super important. Learning to present and communicate effectively using the new age media is very critical for people in any role and not just for entrepreneurs and founders. Some of the tips he shared was to deliberately put yourself in uncomfortable position by signing up for talks and then using that as motivation prepare rigorously on the subject as well as presentation skill.

On a side note, I loved his slide deck. Each of the background in the slide relates subtly to the point he presented, and all his images were clicked by him during family vacations. That tells a lot about following what he preaches, in form of being expert at photography, doing research, retrospection and preparing hard for presentation and in the end communicating it clearly.

Leave a Legacy

Always think of the question - How will people remember you ? What will you be proud of when you look back ? 
Rather than think about these questions very late, think about it now and work towards making a fitting answer.

Take time for Yourself

Don't neglect your children, spouse, parents and family in the hustle bustle of busy life. Always make a point to give appropriate priority to family. Once children grow up, they are never going to be of same age again and the time lost is not going to come back. Apart from making time for loved ones, don't forget to make some time for yourself.

It was wonderful of Ramkumar to share his experience with us all, I hope doing my part by spreading what I learned.

Monday, May 20, 2013

My First RSA Animate Style Video

Finally I got an opportunity to create the RSA Animate style video. This has been a long pending on my creative things to do list. The video was an assignment for Crash Course on Creativity by Here is the final video -


Helpful tips if you are planning to create a similar video -
  1. Read this blog post. It is a very detailed blog post on how to go about creating the RSA style videos.
  2. Now some of my experience. First I was trying to create a very high end video using transition, black and white image effects and what not. Soon I realized even creating a simple video was taking a long time and all I had was one day to finish it. So I chucked the awesomeness effects and stick with the basics.
  3. All the images were clicked and provided by my teammates.
  4. I jumped on creating a story line. It was pretty straightforward, introduction -> about -> idea 1 -> idea 2 -> idea 3 -> idea 4 -> credits. I used sticky cards to mark the flow and also wrote the anecdotes and jokes I wanted to share in that shot. I set aside the props required for particular idea handy before starting the recording.
  5. Finding the right place to shoot was a challenge. I tried out couple of places but the placement of camera and whiteboard in a place sufficiently lit always had this reflection of artificial source of light.

    Since I was shooting in the office, I had many options where to setup my scene. In the end I chose one near to the window with diffused natural light coming from the back side (bottom portion in the video) and artificial fluorescent light coming from the front (top side of video) without causing a reflection on the white board.
  6. I used the camera on my mobile (Nexus One) to shoot. I used blue tack and some office equipments to strap it above the white board. I was worried about the quality of video since my mobile camera is not that great. But I guess since the camera was stable and fixed most of the time, the video came out nice.
  7. Doing the rehearsal without recording on helped a lot. That way I was able to quickly experiment with different approaches of how to present the idea.
  8. I started recording the welcome screen scene. Soon I realized making a complete successful shot was difficult. So instead of restarting recording I used to abruptly end my attempt, wipe off the board and start over. I thought of taking care of chopping off unnecessary scene while doing editing and it worked out very well.
  9. I learned the geography of East Asia as part of assignment :). Also perfected my spelling of Philippines in the process. It has single 'l' and double 'p', I used to write it other way around.
  10. After working on the welcome scene and the first idea, I gained a lot of momentum. After that shooting for the rest of the 3 ideas didn't take much time.
  11. iMovie is such a marvel for editing movies. Taking the right shots and sequencing was simple and straightforward.
  12. One thing I found missing in iMovie was while playing the movie you don't have a timer which shows the current running time. Just for that I had to export the movie and run it in VLC.
  13. Other thing was there was no way to merge two scenes. You can only increase the speed for a scene and thus for increasing the speed of the whole movie, I had to do it separately for each scene.
  14. First I tried it 4x speed, and exported the movie to give a voice over. I found it to be very fast. Then I went back and made it 3x. That worked out very well. The overall movie length was reduced from 12 mins to around 4 mins.
  15. For voice over, I first exported the movie. The I used Audacity to record my voice. It was a bit tricky to do. It was difficult to sync the voice over and the scene being played. More so since it was so tightly linked to what was being written on shown in the movie. I tried many approaches like - doing it in sync with the scene, having a slight delay in voice over, doing it scene by scene.
  16. While doing voice recording, I purposely kept the sound on of the original recording. This sound was mostly the noise made while writing on the whiteboard and some background noise. Combined it gave a good overall effect when paired up with the video.
  17. Doing in sync with the scene was difficult since you were not able to keep up with what is happening and what was going to happen next. Especially so for a 3x speed. In the end having a slight manual delay worked well. 
  18. I chopped off the delay in Audacity, exported it as mp3 and imported in the iTunes playlist. iMovie directly picks up tracks from iTunes thus it was a easier approach than importing the media directly in iMovie. In the end, the whole voice over thing surprisingly worked out very well. I am sure in future if I again have to do it, I don't hope to have it work out so smoothly.
In the end it was a wonderful experience with an satisfying outcome. Hope to have more opportunities to work on assignments like these. In the end, thanks to my team mates as well for putting in so much effort to come up with brilliant ideas.


Friday, May 17, 2013

Gamification at Work - How to Make Employees Submit Timesheet on Time ?

A couple of days back I was talking to a colleague who had also done the Gamification course on Coursera about applying some concepts learned from there to change the behavior at work. One of the most obvious behavior change we urgently require is to have everyone submit their Timesheet on time.

As a Consultancy, we earn money by charging our clients for the services we provide. The invoice cannot be created unless everyone on a project submits their timesheet. The invoice takes weeks to process adding a strain on the company finances. This whole process is jammed even if a single consultant misses submitting his timesheet.

Sadly, that conversation ended there hoping that one of us will get back with a concrete idea. But luckily we were not the only one brainstorming on this. Today I received an email that takes a new approach to tackle this issue. Here is the communication flyer of the approach -

This is such a brilliant idea. Few of the observations are -
  1. Disciplinary approach doesn't work out in all scenarios. As an employee you are expected to submit timesheet on time, but I haven't seen it being effective. 
  2. I know other organizations where these activities are tracked and matters at time of annual review. I think this sort of approach based on fear demotivates employees in long run. Dan Pink talks against this approach in his book Drive -
    Carrots & Sticks are so last Century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose.
  3. An added monetary reward to all employees for submitting timesheet is going to be too costly.
  4. An individual award to someone who has been very punctual about timesheet would create competition as well as won't have mass effect. Majority would loose motivation since reward is only for a handful of people.
  5. This approach rather than making filling timesheet an individual activity, it makes it a group activity. 
  6. Also it adds a purpose to the whole activity. A fund for doing social good would appeal to more individuals than a fund for employee outings.
  7. Some people are more enthusiastic about the reward for social good. They will be able to champion the cause in their local group/project.
  8. In the end, if this actually makes people more disciplined about submitting timesheet, there are manifold savings, a part of which management would be more than happy to share.
Thanks to everyone who came up with such a simple idea with so great potential. I would keep tabs to see if it actually changes the behavior and results in a positive outcome. Cheers.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Team Unleashing Creativity - Rescue Bubble Gum

As part of the Stanford Venture's Open Course A Crash Course on Creativity, my team Unleashing Creativity produced the first assignment. The assignment was about using Bubble Gum to do something unconventional and creative.

Shell and I were more active for this assignment, with the drawings done by me and the video music and everything else done by her. I am so excited to share the completed assignment, so I will post the details and learnings doing it later.