No Duty is More Pressing than that of Gratitude: My Regret of Missing the Chance to Thank Prof. Sathya

I’d like to relate an incident that reiterated the value of human relationships and genuine outreach.

Guruswamy Sathyanarayanan, Lehigh University and Indian Institute of Science

Prof. Guruswamy Sathyanarayanan was a Fulbright scholar at the Indian Institute of Science, where I worked as a research assistant in the year 1999. “Sathya,” as he was fondly known, was a visiting professor from Lehigh University, Bethlehem PA.

Upon our acquaintance, I had observed that Sathya seemed stressed out from his work and had struggled to get his computer programs to run. I had offered to help him with computer programming and research on manufacturing processes. Our interaction had quickly evolved into a bond of mentorship. He was not particularly joyful, but was always genial and inquisitive. Over coffee breaks, we had many an interesting conversation about the relevance of Eastern Philosophy in the modern world.

At that time, I was applying for graduate school in the United States. Sathya had advised me on the schools to which I should apply based on my specific interests, the nuances of the application process, and the many components of the applications. On a particular day when my applications were due to be dispatched, he had me revise my personal essay repeatedly until he felt it was succinct enough to reflect my academic ideas and interests. When I thanked Sathya, he asked me to thank him only after receiving an admission and to keep him updated on my applications.

Three months later in March 2000, one late night, I received a call from a prestigious school. The school had admitted me to its graduate program with a 100% tuition waiver and a generous stipend for research in my area of choice, a precursor to 3D Printing. I was extremely delighted, but did not call Sathya because it was late at night.

The next morning, I learnt that Sathya had died the previous night of sudden heart attack. When I visited his home that afternoon, Sathya’s wife informed me that he had complained of uneasiness after a heated debate with a fellow-researcher on the progress of their research work. Sathya’s death came as a shock to me since he was only 47 years old and had a six-year old son.

I profusely regret not having called Sathya on that fateful night to express my gratitude for his mentorship of my application process. I am given to wonder if my success could have cheered him after his tense conversation with the research colleague—I’ll never know.

I never thanked Sathya in person, but I dedicated my master’s thesis to his memory.

Thesis Dedication: To the memory of my mentor and a great friend, Dr. Guruswamy Sathyanarayanan, Lehigh University

Call to Action: Practice Gratitude

There’s plenty of anecdotal and empirical evidence that practicing gratitude can considerably increase our sense of social well-being and happiness, yet we fail to acknowledge our blessings and thank people who’ve made a difference in our lives.

“The learned have prescribed penance for the murderer of a pious man, a drunkard, a thief or for one who has violated a solemn vow. But there is no pardon for the ungrateful,” asserts the Panchatantra, a collection of animal fables from ancient India.

Dear readers, there is no excuse for not conveying your feelings to your loved ones today. There is no excuse for not expressing your gratitude and appreciation today. There is no excuse for not taking a few minutes of your time to check-in on somebody who has influenced your life with his or her gift of kindness.

NOW is the time to appreciate the people who have helped you. This is your opportunity to do it—RIGHT NOW, while there is time.

Feed the Right Wolf: An American Indian Parable on Cultivating the Right Attitudes

The two wolves inside us

A traditional American Indian story features a young Cherokee boy who once became annoyed that another boy had done him some injustice. After returning home, the young boy expressed his frustration to his grandfather.

The old Cherokee chief said to his grandson, “I too, at times, have felt a great hatred for those who have taken so much with no sorrow for what they do.

“Hatred wears you down, and hatred does not hurt your enemy. Hatred is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these emotions many times.

“It’s as though a fight is continuously going on inside me. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.

“One wolf is good and does no harm. He is filled with joy, humility, and kindness. He lives in harmony with everyone around and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so and in the right way.

“The other wolf is full of anger, envy, regret, greed, and self-pity. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone all the time and for no reason. When blinded by his anger and hatred, he does not have a sound mind. It is helpless anger, because his anger will change nothing.

“It is hard to live with these two wolves inside me. These two wolves are constantly fighting to control my spirit.

“Young man, the same fight is going on inside you and inside every other person on this earth.”

The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win inside you, grandpa?”

The old Cherokee chief smiled and replied, “The one I feed.”

Dear readers, which wolf inside are you feeding?

The Right attitudes beget the right attitudes.

Humility is a Mark of the Great


Humility is a Life-long Pursuit

“Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honor is humility.”
* The Holy Bible (Proverbs 18:12)

We live in a world that misconstrues the virtue of humility as a sign of meekness, timidity, lack of resolve, and, in general, a personal and leadership inadequacy. Could anything be more imprudent?

As the following narratives of great people will illustrate, humility is the bona fide characteristic of the truly accomplished and well-adjusted people. These great men and women live the life of modesty, unpretentiousness, and supreme confidence. They do not bear a sense of self-superiority and pride.

The Humility of Dr. Albert Einstein

“Einstein taught the greatest humility of all: that we are but a speck in an unfathomable large universe.”
* Time magazine, recognizing Albert Einstein as the Person of the Century

Albert Einstein, Theoretical Physicist, Philosopher Author Sometime in the ’50s, Don Merwin, a producer of the ‘This I Believe’ radio program, visited Albert Einstein‘s home in Princeton, New Jersey. He was to record Einstein speak his essay, “An Ideal of Service to Our Fellow Man” for the program. Don Merwin later recalled his experience: “I started setting up [the bulky tape recorder], and Dr. Einstein, who was a very amiable man, was chatting with me and expressed curiosity about tape-recording, which was fairly new in those days. He said, ‘How does it work?’ I started explaining the electronics of it, the way that the recording heads imprinted a signal on the moving tape. All of a sudden, I froze up. I said, ‘I am lecturing to Albert Einstein on physics!'” [Source: Allison, Jay, et al. (editors) “This I Believe: the Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women.”]

The Humility of Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna

M. Balamuralikrishna and Gangubai Hangal, celebrated Indian Classical vocalists Look at this 2007 picture from Deccan Herald, via Churumuri. Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna, the 79-year old celebrated Indian Classical vocalist, expresses deep reverence and seeks the blessings of the 96-year old Dr. Gangubai Hangal, another legendary vocalist.

The Humility of Sri Veerendra Heggade

Veerendra Heggade, guardian of the Dharmasthala temple How about this 2009 picture from Karnataka News (via Churumuri?) Sri Veerendra Heggade, the widely respected guardian of a prominent temple in South India, holds an umbrella to shield from sun blaze the chairman of a culture convention at a parade in the latter’s honor.

The Humility of Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker, the 'Father of Modern Management' I have read of many an instance of the humility of Peter Drucker, the most influential management philosopher of the modern era. Here are two anecdotes:

  • Executive-education student Cathy Taylor remembers Peter Drucker conscientiously writing down autograph seekers’ names on a napkin to get the spelling correct before he made the formal inscription.
  • Forbes magazine publisher Rich Karlgaard remembers Peter Drucker “apologizing for taking so long to answer the doorbell at his modest home in Claremont, California. He said he was still adapting to his new artificial knees.”

Call for Action: Try to Practice Humility

Humility is simply the absence of pride. Humility and modesty are the marks of a genuine individual. However, practicing humility is often easier said than done. Deplorably, our society and world of work characterizes humility as significantly antithetical to the impression of the intelligent professional and competent leader. It is rather easy to succumb to the temptation to enhance our ego.

Hard as it may be, try to practice humility whenever an opportunity arises. Here are few remainders to bear in mind.

Don’t Let Perfect be the Enemy of Done

Don't let 'Perfect' be the enemy of 'Done'

Google’s Marissa Mayer on Perfection

In an interview with the Fast Company magazine, Marissa Mayer, Vice President of search products and user experience at Google, compares two product launch strategies:

Some [programmers] like to code for months or even years, and hope they will have built the perfect product. That’s castle building. Companies work this way, too. Apple is great at it. If you get it right and you’ve built just the perfect thing, you get this worldwide ‘Wow!’ The problem is, if you get it wrong, you get a thud, a thud in which you’ve spent, like, five years and 100 people on something the market doesn’t want.

Marissa Mayer, Google's Vice President for search products and user experience Others prefer to have something working at the end of the day, something to refine and improve the next day. That’s what we do: our ‘launch early and often’ strategy. The hardest part about indoctrinating people into our culture is when engineers show me a prototype and I’m like, “Great, let’s go!” They’ll say, “Oh, no, it’s not ready.” … They want to castle-build and do all these other features and make it all perfect. I tell them … to launch it early on Google Labs and then iterate, learning what the market wants–and make it great. The beauty of experimenting in this way is that you never get too far from what the market wants.

By releasing new products and features before they are completely refined, as ‘beta’ releases, Google and other technology companies can gain significant advantages over the competition. The products can be marketed earlier and initial users can identify problems with unfinished products and suggest new product features. A case in point: Google’s popular ‘Gmail’ or ‘Google Mail’ application has remained ‘beta’ since April 2004.

The approach of releasing ‘half-baked’ products is limited to certain industries and products. And, for sure, these ‘beta’-products are expected to include all the critical functional features expected of the product. Airlines will not fly a new aircraft that has not yet passed comprehensive tests and regulatory certification.

‘Perfect’ Is Often THE Enemy of ‘Done’

When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target.
George Fisher

Fighting perfection to get things done On our personal and professional initiatives, we tend to wait for the perfect time, the perfect team, or the perfect conditions. The end-result is that we never get started on the initiative. If we do start and then aspire for a perfect design, we may never get done.

Some of us, yours truly included, are chronic perfectionists. We tend to be excessively self-critical and demanding of ourselves. Our struggle for perfection habitually turns into an endless quest for making ‘better’ a ‘little better.’ Any state of perfection ceases to exist when we question the perfection–when we ask how perfect the perfection is.

Make ‘Perfect Enough’ the New Perfect

We need to accept the prospect of compromises to our goals and aspirations. We need to acknowledge that our expectations are often excessive and uncalled for. When we develop a ‘good enough’ or ‘perfect enough’ mindset, we realize that imperfection is, after all, a negotiable outcome. There will always be a chance to improve.

Credits: Marissa Mayer’s photo courtesy of Google

The Waiter Rule: A Window to Personality

'The Waiter Rule,' Interpersonal Skills - How you treat a waiter can predict a lot about character

Window to An Individual’s Personality

This article in USA Today says that how one treats a waiter can predict a lot about the person’s character.

The article quotes Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson and Sara Lee CEO Brenda Barnes.

A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person. Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with. Be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles.

How executives treat waiters probably demonstrates how they treat their actual employees. Sitting in the chair of CEO makes me no better of a person than the forklift operator in our plant. If you treat the waiter, or a subordinate, like garbage, guess what? Are they going to give it their all? I don’t think so.

“The Waiter Rule”

'The Waiter Rule,' Interpersonal Skills -- How you treat a waiter can predict a lot about character We presume each person’s influence is a function of his/her rank or title. Consequently, we may fail to treat everybody as we wish to be treated.

All of us, especially the ones from the service and hospitality industries, have our favourite stories of people who treated us with dignity: perhaps a manager who remembers her employees’ kids’ names or a fellow-passenger who helped us handle luggage on a flight. We also have our tales of people being indifferent in various contexts: perhaps a new secretary who got yelled at for mistakes by an executive-on-fast-track.

Fundamentally, the ‘Waiter Rule’ indicates that how we treat seemingly insignificant people, whether on a date or a job interview, can provide pointers to our personality and priorities.

Call for Action

Contemplate the following:

  • 'The Waiter Rule:' how you treat a waiter can predict a lot about character, Consider your own experiences when you were touched by others–their thoughtfulness or consideration. How did you return their kindness? Additionally, think about circumstances when you felt disrespected or discouraged. How did you react?
  • Now, reflect on how you treat people: your loved ones, your staff and colleagues, ushers, store attendants, and the rest of the people you interact with everyday. Do you accept who they are and accommodate their concerns? Are you generous? Do you treat them as people or as a means to an end? How can you change?