Tag Archives: executive education

Dancing on the banks of the Pearl River

The AMPGS China module was held in May at Guangzhou. The sessions are held at the Lignan college campus of the Sun Yat Sen University- a campus in which teaching in English is a long tradition dating back to 1924. The elegant green campus is on the bank of the Pearl river and after intensive class sessions on each day it feels good to go for a stroll along the well maintained promenade on the banks of the Pearl river. The water of the great river is clear and looks unpolluted even though it is close to the end of its journey to the sea.


Immediately after one steps out of the campus gates,   the air is filled with music- with soft, drawn out melodious tones of popular Chinese songs. Quite a few of the beloved Hindi movie melodies of the fifties are close if not drawn from Chinese tunes. I am not an expert in music matters, however.

What struck me was the large number of people- men, women of all ages who sway and dance to the songs. These groups of dancers don’t appear to be professionals in dancing.blog2.2They could just be regular people, office employees, shop keepers, students, even retired men and women and so on for whom this is the evening relaxation. I have not seen anything like this in India or elsewhere during my travels

However, make no mistakes about the work habits of the Pearl river bank citizenry. The Pearl River Delta (PRD) is the fastest growing region of the fastest growing economy of the World. The PRD economic zone contains nine cities including Guangzhou and Shenzen with Hong Kong closeby. Historically China’s economic transformation was initiated in Shenzen in 1980. The region accounts for almost 30% of China’s exports. The two banks of the river have different industry profiles. East bank focuses on electronics and IT products while the west bank is known for household appliance products. Apple products like iPhones and iPads are assembled in Shenzen in the largest electronics assembly plants in the World. In fact it would be difficult to imagine any other place in the world where factories with more than more than 100,000 people work consistently with high degree of discipline and productivity with very few problems.

In fact China has a large number of success stories – extraordinary feats of engineering execution.blog2.3 The largest high speed bullet train network is the most recent. Guangzhou is the third biggest city in China, behind Shanghai and Beijing. But its central business district is more impressive than many cities in the West. The infrastructure in China makes much of USA or Europe seem old and rickety. This brings up a question: Are there characteristics or cultural aspects of Chinese people which enable and facilitate high performance organizations ?

One aspect which much of management teaching in MBA schools generally misses out on is the importance of the cultural and historical background of organizations. It is tacitly assumed that business school learning in terms of strategies and best practices can work out wherever it is well implemented. Nothing can be more misleading. I would not elaborate on culture theories here. In terms of dimensions of culture, China rates very high in collective orientation. People like to define themselves largely in terms of their social groups. This means they work together harmoniously in groups better than people in many other cultures. What the dance groups show is that this extends to off hours also. People do not want to stay at home and watch TV or play individual centered competitive games. They are happier joining groups swaying to gentle melodies. The dance on the banks Pearl river perhaps helps understand a bit more as to why the Pearl river delta has developed into the World’s largest manufacturing cluster. That is only a thought. Send me your comments or even better, join me on the next visit to the lovely banks of the Pearl river to discuss and understand the nature of high performance organizations.

Jogging in California

UCLA AMPGS module at UCLA was completed last week.  It feels good to walk in the UCLA campus.  It is surely one of the loveliest campuses in the World. One hears about the great breakthroughs in science and technology which happened here- TCP/IP which gave rise to the internet or detection of AIDs and so on.   UCLA faculty, students and alumni have won 13 Nobel prizes and 250 Olympic medals.

It is a good place to ask the question “What characterizes creative and innovative environments?” This is a billion dollar question which every organization in the world worth its salt is exploring,  I  will  not attempt an  answer here.  I will pen my own thoughts a bit later. Let me refer to a wonderful article I have come across on the topic.  Late Prof Sumantra Ghoshal wrote about the “smell of the place” sometime back. Ghoshal talks about a walk in spring in the forest of Fontainebleau close to Insead business school where he taught. Even if you started out for a leisurely walk, the air feels so pure, cool and energizing that you feel like jogging.  The contrasting experience is when Ghoshal goes over to Kolkata in summer. The hot and humid feeling saps energies and vitality. Organizational environments Ghoshal says have  a similar influence.

Some environments are empowering. They encourage the best in everyone. While others can be demotivating. Organizational environments in which employees are stressed by constraints and  control and are constantly reminded of contractual obligations are demotivating. On the other hand, organizations which encourage stretch and self discipline, trust their staff and support them bring out the best.  If you compare UCLA with most of Universities in India, you cannot but agree with Prof Ghoshal.

There are of course constraining and controlling organizations in the US. Are there energizing environments in hot and humid India?  Also this is good advice for high tech organizations that  need learning abilities to survive and innovation to grow. Does this hold for traditional highly structured organizations like airlines and railways?  Can Governments provide enlivening workplaces?  I would be glad to hear from you.

(For a good summary of Prof Sumantra Ghoshal’s  work please see http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/handy/ghoshal.pdf.  There are videos of  Prof Ghoshal ‘s   brief talk on this topic at the World Economic Forum on YouTube)

Getting back to AMPGS sessions, we had outstanding UCLA faculty teach for several days, which made for an intensive learning experience as always. (list of themes appears elsewhere on the AMPGS website).  We also had a very interesting visit to a design center -RKS designs Inc where the well-known product designer  Mr. Ravi Sawhney himself gave us a presentation on concepts of  strategic design, his product design philosophy and methods.  Ravi Sawhney’s early work on touch screen interfaces has been  described in the book “Predictable Magic” by Deepa Prahlad and published by Wharton Business School Press.

The class then dispersed to their own destinations in US or elsewhere. I flew north to the Silicon Valley for an immersive experience of a different kind.








NLP Edge to Leadership: is there such a thing and does it really work?

NLP is one of the most popular techniques in applied psychology available today and many practitioners swear by its efficacy in leading people to success in any sphere of life they choose to apply it in. So just what is NLP and how can it help leaders shape the future of their organizations?

NLP cannot be defined merely as a form of applied psychology however, for this would not do it complete justice. There are as many definitions of NLP as there are people. To quote Amanda Vicker, co-author of Teach Yourself NLP,  “Some say it is a user manual  for the brain, others say it’s an attitude and a methodology that leaves behind a trail of techniques or even that it’s a way of modeling excellence in human behavior.

NLP is all of these things and more but what really counts is how people use it to achieve more and feel fulfilled in their personal and professional lives. When you link all the words up, you have Neuro-Linguistic Programming which is essentially concerned with the processes by which we create an internal representation of the external ‘reality’ through the language of our neurology.”

NLP and Leadership

One of the specialties of NLP is its potential to transform the way leaders operate by offering absolute clarity over what  one wants.  The more clarity one achieves over what one wants, the more likely they are to achieve it. NLP differs from most run of the mill goal setting techniques in that it uses something called a well-formed outcome. It emphasizes the difference between a goal and an outcome in a subtle, yet critical way. A goal is a desire for something in particular, whereas an outcome is what  comes to us as a result of our actions. One of the key reasons why goals don’t eventuate or fructify is because they were ill-formed to begin with. According to NLP these goals are not stated specifically enough and have unforeseen effects that keep them from truly flourishing.


NLP has a set of ingredients essential for success known as ‘well-formedness’ conditions. Leaders are most likely to be successful in the roles by avoiding problems and achieving the results they want by using these inputs.

Good leaders are aware of what gets their people going, hence communicating company goals and getting people hooked in is likely to create unity and alignment.

As Amanda Vickers elegantly puts it, “Like a cox with a crew of rowers, the leader takes responsibility for the teams safety and not only directs and controls activity but also coaches and motivates his team. “ To put it simply, communication from the leader that lacks passion and punch is not going to get the desired response from the team. On the other hand, they might buy-in to what they hear if the message is conveyed with conviction. Still, it is not energy and enthusiasm alone that begets the co-operation of the team. The leader would have to walk his talk in full measure: words and deeds have to match, if the team has to be willing to meet their leader half-way.  In NLP parlance this is called congruence and is of utmost importance for those who lead with NLP, to fine-tune.


The first thing to get a grip on when leading a group of people is where the group is at and what their aspirations are. This important first step is called pacing and it is for every good leader to put into practice. In other words, you pace others by meeting them where they are in their map of the outside world.  By getting to know what keeps them ticking and what their experience of working for the company is about, the leader can created a forum for trust to emerge. “Only once a leader has established trust can he start to lead.

 In effect then, moving people from the current state to the desired state is what leading with NLP is all about. Values, then are key in this process , because they act as the guiding force behind getting the right outcome.

According to Judith deLozier, one the first students of the founder of NLP, “NLP allows us to define effective leadership from different perceptual positions as well as define the differences between a leader, leadership and leading. Being in a formal role of leadership does not necessarily mean that the person in the role has the capabilities, skill of the degree of influence to guide a group of organizations through the maze of change. Leaders are people who are committed to creating something better and commit their heartbeats in service to something larger than themselves.”

Contributed by,

Mahesh Krshnan, Nanditha Prasad Ram