The Sixth Element

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It is déjà vu time. Around a year ago, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of congratulatory messages that I received on LinkedIn upon completion of 5 years in my current role as CEO of Anand and Anand. I went into a bit of introspection upon reaching the milestone and penned down my thoughts on 5 Change Management Lessons Learnt from 5 Years as CEO.

And now, for the déjà vu element. I complete six years and the congratulatory messages are still overwhelming. In some cases, by the very people who have argued very passionately a few posts ago about why one should not stick around for more than a few years. However, before I digress into a series of counter-arguments, let me get back to the déjà vu theme.

I got into introspection mode and prodded my neurons to jog a bit harder to try and match up to so many people who felt that there was something worthwhile in celebrating my sixth organization anniversary. So, here is my ensemble of six elements that have been guiding me in the past year and will remain highly relevant in the times to come:

1.      Making AI Real : Nothing Artificial About It

Over the years, we have seen several buzz words trending only to fade away into history after some time. The time taken from a buzzword becoming a panacea for all that ails the world to the trendy catchword becoming oblivious is becoming shorter. However, if one scratches the surface, even though buzzwords elbow each other out very frequently, the underlying principles and direction changes only once in a while.

The exciting world of Artificial Intelligence (AI) replete with buzzing words such as ML (Machine Learning), Deep Learning, Neural Network, Data Science, Data Engineer, etc. is no different.

One only has to arouse the innate natural curiosity to unravel the mystery by looking at the Big Picture. Speaking from personal experience, I come from an academic background that does not include specialization in either Maths & Statistics or Engineering or Computer Science and Programming; probably the most common traits in people working in the Data Science field.

Still, I have learned the ropes of Artificial Intelligence ab-initio over the last couple of years. The skills that I have acquired obviously can’t be compared with professionals working in this space. However, the application of these skills combined with my domain knowledge has created unique value. Our initiatives in the field of Predictive Analytics based on Machine Learning have been listed amongst the top innovations in Asia Pacific by Financial Times Innovative Lawyers in 2017. As is typical of most impactful innovations, it did not involve doctoral research or scientific inventions but rather cross pollinating ideas across diverse fields in a relatively new context.

In order to leverage the power of AI, you have to unveil the enigmatic clouds that shroud the underlying technology or buzzword. At the risk of over-simplification, once you unravel the magic under the hood of AI and its various cousins, you realize that it is nothing but probability, patterns and logic applied to various problems.

Once the veil is lifted, there is nothing artificial about AI and the magic is reduced to 1’s and 0’s. Even if you are not the skilled magician yourself, at least you are in a position to understand how the pieces fit together. This is when you can extract value from Big Data.

Coming back from Big Data to the Big Picture and tracing the underlying patterns, one finds that the bar for entry into the corporate world has been continuously raised from literacy to computer literacy to proficiency with basic office applications. It is not inconceivable that the ability to understand and work alongside AI based machines will be par for the course.

It’s time to get up close and real with Artificial Intelligence!


2.      NLP : I Know Bot You Wrote Last Summer

One of the by-products of my AI journey has been the introspection of how we interact with language, text and documents. Two realizations quickly hit home and egged me on:

  • We are living in the Information Age and information around us is exploding at a frenetic pace. Most of the data around us resides in unstructured form and in a typical corporate environment in text form. However, most tools used to process information are geared towards numerical or quantitative data.
  • The tools available to process text data are rudimentary in nature and the focus continues to be packaging text into a document, rather than processing text itself.

Before we proceed any further, let me explain what I mean by text processing. Firstly, what I do not mean is document processing – think of all features and functionality of MS Word and similar packages. Text processing can be understood as the equivalent of undertaking mathematical and statistical operations on numbers. The objects on which operations are to be applied could be words, sentences, paragraphs or documents. The operations could include meaning similarity, phonetic similarity, trend analysis and even subtraction based on meaning. The X-ray feature on Kindle is a good example to start thinking on these lines, although the range of useful operations possible is mind-numbingly large.

The advances in the field of Natural Language Processing (NLP) have been striking and their absence from any mainstream application is even more baffling. In the quest for a resolution to these mysteries, I created KnowBOT, a tool utilizing NLP and Machine Learning under the hood to provide significant enhancements to the text processing experience. It even helped us in robotic discovery and gradually found its way into the evaluation model for our internship competition organized by Careers360. The tool helped us in the journey of narrowing down almost 6,000 contestants to 21 worthy winners.

The power of NLP techniques and tools such as KnowBOT is only limited by the power of one’s imagination. Our journey with KnowBOT has traversed several diverse fields and our robotic text processing tool has helped us with discovery, automation, evaluation and even decision-making. The joy from this journey has increased, in no small measure, with the recognition of KnowBOT amongst the most innovative projects in Asia Pacific by Financial Times in the Business of Law in 2017.

If you have already struggled and made the transition from Artificial to Real intelligence, adoption of NLP will follow, but ‘Naturally’.

3.      Three Things That Matter : Communicate, Communicate and …you guess the third

In my post last year I emphasized the need to follow a bespoke approach to change management, depending on the environmental factors. The series of disruptive innovations sweeping our world have led to a change in the nature of change itself! This calls for a differentiated approach to managing and driving change and more importantly, making change a continuous process, rather than a one time initiative.

In order to make this dream a reality in the organizational context, it is important that change is driven from within the concerned individual. The changes that come from self-realization and a modification of one’s belief systems is far more lasting than superficial change management programs.

There is no better tool than communication to help spark a series of transformational changes across the target audience. It is pertinent to note that the intended communication is not targeted at one set of changes for one person with one set of experiences and beliefs. Consequently, it is critical that the communication program embraces diversity in all aspects. Messages need to be textual and visual, prose and graphic, traditional and contemporary; as this helps reach all parts of the workforce.

However, the key element of communication that can drive change from within is experiential. I have tried to build an element of engagement and experiential learning in most of the programs, including communication programs. For instance, instead of diving straight into the concepts, I take participants in my sessions and workshops through small exercises that help in the journey of self-realization.

Regular communication can be made more fun by interweaving stories, videos, infographics and creating a buzz. If the communication program is able to change one’s attitude towards change from trepidation to excitement, I think the fun has just begun!

4.      Gaming the system? Now let’s gamify it

Extending the theme of fun, let’s talk about games. They are an integral part of our society and we do not even realize when we graduate from playing simple childhood games to gaming the educational system. The gamer in us moves on to gaming the job market and mitigating the gap between academia and the real world. Gaming becomes an annual ritual for most employees at the dreaded annual performance meeting and many listed companies regularly try to game their performance vis-à-vis the market’s expectations.

To cut a long winded story short, if gaming the system is part of our psyche, why not gamify our environment and encourage people to learn through a game-like environment. With this underlying thought process, I have created a few games to drive home certain messages. Most recently, on the occasion of World IP Day, we created “IP Man”, our take on hangman, to add a layer of fun to exploration of intellectual property for our firm’s members. Discovery of fun facts and trivia related to IPR during the gaming experience might appear accidental, but isn’t that part of the game design?


5.      Reboot Skills and Knowledge : If you can’t beat them, join them

One common theme that cuts across most of the above elements is the need to reboot one’s skills and knowledge to ensure that they are relevant in the current environmental context. I had written a post last year for the Human Capital magazine on the Rise of Autodidacts in the Knowledge Economy.

We are living in a volatile uncertain complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world that needs us to respond continuously to the dynamic environmental variables. One such ever-changing element is technology. While conducting a session on leveraging Technology along with Valerie Bowles at the ALFMC (Asia Law Firm Management Congress), I had very interesting conversations that revealed the finer aspects of changing (or not changing) with the times.

If there is one habit that will stand you in good stead in these turbulent times of destructive creativity, it is the habit of periodic version upgrades. Obviously, I am not talking about your phone or computer’s software but about your own ‘operating system’ consisting of your skills, beliefs, perceptions and knowledge. Once in a while, you can look at installing apps to your own operating system, by adding skill-sets or knowledge-sets that you may find useful.

6.      An Inter-connected World : Look Beyond Boundaries

I had the privilege of representing the corporate world’s perspective on the gap between our expectations and the quality of students churned by our educational system at the Indian Legal Education Conclave. The event, also showcased on India Today TV, received widespread recognition as an initiative to bring various stakeholders together on a common platform for a meaningful discourse.

As I interacted with stakeholders from all cross sections across the length and breadth of the country, I feel that it may not be sufficient to look at change within the individual or organizational context. We live in an inter-connected world and we need to look at the experiences, mindsets and needs of a wide spectrum of stakeholders.

In case you are thinking of self-interest before helping to make the world a better place, please do bear in mind that the most impactful changes come from inter-disciplinary collaborations. The more diverse your own set of experiences, the greater will be your ability to Connect the Dots.

Connecting the Six Dots

I have shared six diverse elements from my recent experiences on completion of six years as CEO of Anand and Anand. You may have chosen to read, like and share (thanks in advance and apologies for the shameless plug) but it will be oh so wonderful, if you can connect the dots across the super six of your own system.

After all, six is the maximum that you can get, whether on a cricket field or the dice. On a lighter note, if you are yearning for more, read my thoughts on Lucky 7.

If you are looking for more thoughts, especially around the future, here are 7 things I wrote about on completion of 7 years as CEO of Anand and Anand. And, then there are lessons that I discovered on introspecting about 8 years that I have spent in this role, which I call Eightrospections.

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