Official Blog of Center10 Consulting

On Writing A Book & Learning to Love My Inner Skeptic

on Monday, February 13, 2017
The Career Catapult hits the shelves on March 20th, 2017!!
(See more here, and pre-order on Amazon.)

Writing a book is exhausting - not just the actual effort of putting words on paper, but the mental tussle as I wrote each word. Quelling the inner skeptic has always been a tough job for me. "Is this new? Does this story really need to be told? Is it helpful?"

Guess what? I love my inner skeptic. Especially when it harped on the "keep it helpful" part of it's rhetoric. The book is a working document - it's something that is set up to help the reader (or listener) take concrete actions to build habits that are meant to strengthen career possibilities.
Dig Deep
Illustration by Srushti Hebbar
The best way to engage with a slightly exhausting inner skeptic? Acknowledge that voice, invite it out to speak at the beginning of a writing session, note down what it's saying, and make sure to answer it. In my case, I captured it on a post-it that remained stuck on my computer all those months - "New, Needs to be told, Helpful".

Towards the tail-end of the process, as I tried to finish the book before starting on my new job, I know I'd have loved to slow down and push the writing further. But when the luxury of leaning back had disappeared, the simple triple exhortation helped me get the essentials down on the page. Thanks, little voice!!

Apart from my inner skeptic, here are the people who helped me get there!

Dedicated to 
My father, whose vision and work ethic is, and always will be, a key motivator 
My mother, whose steel backbone and determination is part of my core 
Sree, Durga and Krishna who surround me every day with sheer joy 
Jalal uncle, who taught me the special magic of the shooting sport 
TP and Lekha who have been like an added set of parents to me 
My siblings, who taught me to keep my chin up, always 
And a special thanks to the global community of TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs), Ray and Steph, who supported my research efforts immensely

How Audio Giant Harman Broke Down Silos to Spark Innovation

on Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Noted turnaround specialist Dinesh Paliwal is transforming Harman International, an audio solutions company behind such iconic brands as Harman/Kardon, JBL and others. As Harman’s chairman, president and CEO, his mission in the digital age has been to transform the company from a founder-run, top-down culture to one that is customer-centric and driven by innovation. Paliwal has instituted major changes, including breaking down silos, adopting elements of a startup culture and setting up internal crowdsourcing — all with a relentless focus on reinventing the business. Innovation, he says, is not just about breakthrough scientific ideas. It’s about processes, too, such as making customer service better and running projects more efficiently in a new way.
recently interviewed Paliwal  on behalf of Knowledge@Wharton to talk about Harman’s transformation. What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
This interview appeared in K@W on June 14, 2016. You'll see me showing up as "Knowledge@wharton."

Knowledge@Wharton: Tell us a bit about Harman. When you came in, this was a very different company. You have really made a transformation happen. So talk to us a little bit about what it was, where it is today and where you see it going.
Dinesh Paliwal: In the past eight years, Harman has totally changed. I joined the company eight-and-a-half years ago and it had excellent brands like Harman/Kardon, JBL and many others. However, innovation had completely stalled, and there was nothing happening. We had about 1,700 patents, but they were also getting dated and there was nothing new coming out. You cannot [rest] on your laurels. After a while, those patents and brands [become less] relevant. To keep our business relevant and also to understand where the technology was going, we needed to do something. We were known as an audio company. I still get introduced as the CEO of Harman Kardon, which is not correct. We are Harman. Audio is only $3 billion out of the $7 billion of the company’s revenue.
So what did we do? I said the first thing we need to do is to create a structure where people can talk. I always believed if you cannot collaborate around your ideas, you cannot create. That means communication has to be, first and foremost, the platform. We had nothing but silos. Each brand was a company. They were so silo-driven that they had no standard email exchange. Different business cards, different email service. It was like the United Nations — the countries didn’t talk. United of nothing.
The first thing we said was destroy the silos. Put [everyone on] one unified email and communication network. I started writing letters to every employee, every week: a company-wide letter to bring them up to speed on what we were doing. I told them how bad certain things were. I also gave them respect for the company’s legacy. The No. 1 thing I said was this: if we don’t innovate, you can cut costs and live for another two or three years, but you will die because cost [reduction as a strategy] has a limit. In the end, it’s innovation [that will propel us forward].

From Personal Pain, The Motivation For Business Innovation…. Aetna’s CEO Mark Bertolini, on remaking the healthcare system

on Tuesday, January 26, 2016
From Personal Pain, The Motivation For Business Innovation….
Aetna’s CEO Mark Bertolini, on remaking the healthcare system

I had the chance to connect with Mark Bertolini at the WOBI World Business Conference in New York City and get his insights on how he is driving change in the industry.
The conversation was published in two parts in the Knowledge@Wharton website. See Part I & Part II here.


Roopa: So I am here today with Mark Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna which is now poised to be the biggest healthcare company in the U.S..

Mark Bertolini: Well, it depends on -- yeah, but we'll be close.

Roopa: Well, you're close.

Bertolini: We'll be big.

Roopa: You will be very big.

Bertolini: We'll be a Fortune 20 and a FTSE 30 company. So yeah.

Roopa: Fantastic. It's a nice place to start from.

Bertolini: It is.

Roopa: So you've been called many thing including "Healthcare's Mr. Fix-it."

Bertolini: Sure.

Roopa: And how do wear that mantle given that you've been in this healthcare economy for a while now? You've seen it from your perspective in the trauma care center when you were working there and now you're a CEO. How is it evolving?

Bertolini: Yeah. Well, I think, you know, through all of my experiences, in a level one trauma center as an EMT, Emergency Department Coordinator and, working in the hospital industry, working in the early days of managed care back in the 80's and then my own personal experiences with my son and myself in the healthcare system -- I realized that it wasn't getting any better. And actually in the late 80's and early 90's I had a set of these acetates. Remember when we used to have overhead projectors with acetates?

Roopa: Right.

Bertolini: And I pulled them out and I was talking about the stuff back then and it's nice to see, you know, almost 25 years later we're finally getting around to it and I think the issue is that we define health the wrong way and it became incredibly apparently to me when my son battled with cancer for quite some time and when I had my ski injury where I broke my neck the system wanted to fix the medical issue but wasn't at all concerned about the individual they put back into society. And so for me it was my pain and my limitations, my physical limitations trying to get my life back which you never really do. For my son, you know, it was his whole journey for a year-and-a-half, two years with cancer and then, you know, I gave him a kidney in 2007. It was just this whole journey where they just wanted to get rid of the cancer and once the cancer was gone they were done with him.

Roopa: Right.

Bertolini: And so I came to this conclusion that were a whole lot of things wrong with that but probably the most important thing was -- what do we define as success? And success is really healthy individuals are productive, productive individuals are economically, culturally, socially and spiritually viable and viable people are happy. And if we can do that individual by individual and community by community we'd have a much better world. And so how do we a design a system around that is really the point, right?

Roopa: Right. And how does that change how you think of Aetna's products and services?

Bertolini: So one of the things -- when I put my son into hospice in July 2003, July of 2002 -- July 15, 2002 -- I had to admit he was going to die in six months and he couldn't get curative services anymore. And when I got out and he was home and he graduated from hospice and today, you know, he's 30 and a productive human being in society, I was working at Aetna and I went to -- I was working with Jack Rowe and I said to Jack, "You know, we should change the way our end of life care program works. And let's waive the requirement that you have to admit you're going to die and let's allow people to get curative services while they're in hospice." And when we did that, we did a study for two years with self-funded customers because we weren't sure what -- we weren't sure if it was going to be a run on the bank and what we found was that instead of 25 percent of the people dying at home, 75 percent of the people died at home and we saw an 89 percent reduction in inpatient bed days and we saw 75 percent reduction in costs. And the families and the feedback we got on the program was, "This is incredible."

The Brave Insider - A Fit Counterpart To The Honest Outsider

on Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Note: This article was published in the "Get Ahead" section of Rediff.com (September 29, 2015)

Last year, I wrote a piece on the Transformative Role Of The Honest Outsider - and one of the examples I cited was that of Dr Bennet Omalu, a brilliant forensic pathologist who first identified the traumatic brain condition that is commonplace among American football players, CTE. He was reviled and mocked, but prevailed. His story is now being told in the upcoming movie, Concussion...and he's played by Will Smith. I can't wait to see the dramatic rendition of this remarkable human, who persevered in telling the truth, for the wellbeing of the players at large.

I was reminded of that post this morning.

I almost fell of the elliptical machine in the gym - I was watching Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha and was struck by the scene where General Yamagata goes on a tirade at his liege  the powerful warlord Lord Shingen Takeda. Here was a general who truly respected his master - who comes into the abode and takes a deep bow. However, when he hears Takeda go off on a tangential rant about another group that left the battlefield out of fatigue, he gets truly riled up.

"How old are you, sire? 53, as I remember. But here you are, acting like a 5 year old. People gather and disperse, following their interests. That is not surprising. But then I find you like this! with such narrow min, you must not dream of rulership. Go back to your own domain. You are a mountain monkey. You should be gathering nuts in the mountains of Kai.
Or you can remember what we are trying to do here."



The startled warlord Takeda first grimaces, grins and finally bows down to the General's heart-felt rant. Here is his advisor, cutting through the nonsense to remind him what he is trying to do.

When discussing the honest outsider, I mentioned that there were some best practices for being a good honest outsider, and also for being the insider who hears and uses the insights that the outsider brings to the table. 

  • Be true to the vision and ultimate goal - make sure your intent is true
  • Don't be afraid to speak your mind - while I haven't ever used the "mountain monkey" analogy, I've often found myself using the "rather than this, be that" exhortation
  • Be aware of context and space - if you were to watch the movie on Netflix, you'll see how General Yamagata comes in and is clearly deferential, then lets rip when he hears Warlord Takeda's shortsighted complaints, goes into his rant...and then resets as soon as the warlord smiles and gets back to the true business at hand. All this occurs in a closed room. You know that this particular conversation would never have occurred in the presence of any other person. This is about two people who can be extremely candid with each other.
  • Use your emotion well. My own vedanta guru would say, "Anger should be like a hand-kerchief. Take it out of your pocket, use it, and then return it to your pocket." As soon as Takeda shows he's listening, you see Yamagata relax and get back to talking in a reasonable voice. It's almost like the rant never happened. A laser-precise cut!
If you're a leader, reflect on those you have around you who could (for the right reason) call you a mountain monkey. Then take them out to a meal and thank them!

The Magic Of A Moment

on Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Photo credit: Collage from various sources

Today, I was reminded of the magic of a moment. A New York Minute - a second which can shift perspectives - the golden moment, if you will.
It's the second day of jury summons - to those of you who haven't experienced this American civic duty, it's an interesting milieu of slight irritations, frustrations and adults behaving very well and not so well as we wait to see if we'll be placed on juries (about 200 of us across 3 galleries). The court houses have made the experience as comfortable as they can, though - there's wifi, snack dispensers, three types of spaces for different types of work and rest, etc.
Having rushed downtown to get to the courts, I logged on and started a search for some trends analysis... and saw the new Google logo. As the usual commentary came flooding in "what's the change about, anyway? I miss the old one, etc.", I suddenly put on the mental brakes, took a deep breath, closed my eyes and reopened them. I looked at the new logo like I was seeing the Google page for the very first time. This time I LOVED it - the clean lines almost reached out and pulled me in. 
I couldn't help but wonder whether we change consultants and strategists might be able to find ways to get change-resistant partners to do this more often. While there's a lot for these folks to hang on to and a lot that keeps them invested in the old way of doing things (the status quo), having them take a personal moment to stop and reflect from a clean slate. "What if this is the first time you were using our services? What if this was the first time you heard about this company? What if this was your orientation day?..." Would they like the new idea/new company/ new vision that was being proposed?
Over lunch, I was again reminded about the magic of a moment when I read Atul Gawande's Postscript piece on Oliver Sacks in the New Yorker. The fabulous author writes about how he had initially dabbled in writing, but a chance encounter with the great Sacks, who remembered one of Gawande's old articles resulted in a eureka moment for him. "I do remember the shift in me that came from our brief conversation....because Sacks seemed to be holding my work to a higher standard, I realized that I needed to as well."
How magical a moment can be - let's harness them for the insights that can spring from each one.

Building Your Online Brand & Voice

on Thursday, August 20, 2015
We were honored to be invited to contribute to the newly launched Tory Burch Foundation's site - as expert advisors for entrepreneurs growing their businesses.Here's the article on the site.

As an entrepreneur, in many ways you’re selling the idea of you, not just your products and services. Your clients aren’t buying from a big corporate brand, so they need to get a sense of you – what you represent, your values and your beliefs. They want to know that they can do business with you. Making sure you represent that story and voice on all your online spaces can be the difference between excellence and confusion.

As in all cases, it’s about the what, but also the how.
Just like in real life, active networking is a key strategy to building a core personal and business brand. It does mean stretching yourself, as in real life, to take action and in some cases to push yourself into taking that extra step. There are, among us, the gregarious, externally oriented folks who are energized by the prospect of meeting new people and engaging with old contacts. For those of us who may be a little uncomfortable with networking, you may find yourself better motivated by giving yourself specific goals to that networking effort. Consider all your online platforms – your website, blog, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter – as tools for appropriate networking. In each case, you set forth a personable and engaging personality, listen to those who engage with you on each platform and respond effectively. By the way, you don’t have to do all of them! Find the ones that make the most sense for your industry and your workflow-and your life-flow.
Just like in real life, active networking is a key strategy to building a core personal and business brand.
What does it mean to establish and display a consistent and authentic online personality? It starts with knowing what you would like to stand for. In Roopa’s case, as she developed her online brand, she set out to be thoughtful about innovation, leadership, strategy and business culture. She is also a coach, so her efforts often drive her to help her clients get to the answer themselves, not just telling them the answer. Her consulting hinges on having a nuanced understanding of all of these organizational drivers. In addition, her real-life and online personality melded – her intent is to be helpful and thoughtful. So her online voice is personified by her asking a thoughtful question about interesting phenomena she sees or articles she finds. Spend some time on her blog or Twitter feed and you’ll see what we mean.
Also recognize that this effort will take some time and discipline. In Sree’s case, this means a strategic use of a series of tools – Hootsuite, Crowdbooster, SocialFlow – and he likes to remind people that his tweets can take three-six minutes to craft. Getting 140 characters to truly represent your best thinking is not a trivial task. If you can, try and schedule a set time on your calendar, maybe even a 30-minute block first thing in the morning, to set up a Hootsuite (or Buffer) feed that will automatically post throughout the day – setting up your insights to hit your different networks at appropriate times during the work day.
Experiment and take chances – there are many free platforms out there for you. Find out where the right customer groups and eyeballs live for your specific business. For example, if yours is a fun product that is publicly used, maybe an Instagram and Pinterest feed that shows your product being used in fun and funky ways. If it’s about thought leadership, marshall the resources of LinkedIn, join the right groups where your thinking will be seen and recognized for its expertise. Watch the take-up of your work and then refine your use of the platform to put your best personality and assets forward.
Now take that big next step – let your physical and virtual worlds collide. Find those people you meet in routine and professional events, online. Engage with them, watch them, be supportive of them. Then draw the insights you see online into real life.
Always remember, online platforms are not just broadcast platforms – they are listening posts. Be expansive, listen to the topics that charge you up, and that are relevant. Sree recommends obsessing about “followees” as much as followers, because they will serve up extremely rare nuggets of information. In the end it’s not who follows you on social that matters – it’s who follows who follows you. Find and connect with influencers in your field.
Some concrete steps for you to take:
  1. Identify your brand drivers: What do you and what do you want to stand for?
  2. Recognize your voice: Be clear on how you want to sound online – thoughtful? irreverent? provocative? helpful? It doesn’t matter which – it should just be authentic to you or who you think your brand would be.
  3. Be clear on your goal: Are you selling or influencing? Both are important, but branding is about the latter, not the former.
  4. Experiment with platforms: test platforms on a trial basis to see what suits your target customers and influencers
  5. Choose a few paid tools that can make your work easier, including Crowdbooster, Hootsuite, SocialFlow (depending on your budget).
  6. Remember it’s about a suite of platforms: Things change online, and you shouldn’t be dependent on one platform. More importantly, each platform has its strengths, so make sure to use them well.
  7. Study Sree’s social media tips, which he’s been posting on Twitter with #LearnSocMedia and collecting at http://bit.ly/sreesocmedia
  8. Have fun: See Sree’s Social Media Success Formula

Sree Social Media Success

Try Something New: The Follow The Lights Strategy

on Wednesday, July 8, 2015
When I first moved to New York City sixteen years ago, I knew no one in the city apart from colleagues at the consulting firm I was recruited into. They were a fun crew, and weekday evenings were pretty well taken care of - between late evenings at work and team dinners. The weekends were a little more of a challenge.

Of course, New York has no dearth of activities and programs. It's really more about making the choice of what to do among the myriad opportunities.

Bottling Serendipity:

That's when I came up with a strategy that I continue to this day when I am in an unfamiliar city or find myself at a loose end. It's a way of capturing serendipity.

I'd take the subway to a neighborhood I'd wanted to explore. Getting out the subway station, I'd walk to the nearest traffic lights and then let the algorithm of the lights guide me. I'd take whichever green light came up, turning to make sure I wan't waiting at any point. Inevitably, I'd find a museum, art gallery, park, show, place to eat, or some hidden gem that would eat up the rest of my day. In a couple of weeks, I felt like I know Manhattan - Harlem, Soho, UES, Central Park, UWS, Brooklyn. I've done this in Paris, Istanbul, London...never regretted it!

It often reminded me of the meandering route I take with the Sunday Newspapers. Rather than finishing a section, i find myself following the "Turn to page..." approach to guide my reading. Once I move to a new section and finish the story, I move to the next article in that section. Lots of fun. Works online too, I'm sure.

Try this - whether it's walking round a city or life in general, trying something new because it's presented to you serendipitously can be a fun way to mix up your routine and open yourself up to new ways to thinking and being. Bon Chance!!

Middle East: Innovation For The Grass Roots

on Monday, July 6, 2015
This article was published in Knowledge@Wharton on July 2, 2015

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of traveling in the UAE to visit family. I happened to also have the opportunity to delve into the nature of entrepreneurship, especially the work of women entrepreneurs in the region. I had the chance to meet and talk to a series of startup founders, and below is an article about one of the innovators I met while there.

There tends to be a rather uni-dimensional view of women in the Arab peninsula. It’s not quite one of a hard-charging innovator and business leader. However, that’s certainly a dimension that needs to be added to the global picture of the Arab woman. In 2014, Knowledge@Wharton published a ground-breaking book on just such women. A chance trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in January provided me the opportunity to meet another tranche of these trailblazers – the women entrepreneurs who have used global digital platforms to drive transformational enterprise of their own. In many ways, the internet has empowered women in ways that go beyond education and the ability to organize socially – they are recruiting, developing products, communicating across global markets, fundraising and delivering services in ways that transcend conventional barriers. Without an exception, these are business leaders who also aspire to social impact – as individuals as well as for societies around them.

One of the young digital entrepreneurs who melds a social impetus into her commercial vision is LouLou Khazen.

Below is the article that ran in Knowledge@Wharton.
The Internet has empowered many Arab women entrepreneurs to transcend educational and other conventional barriers — they are recruiting, developing products, communicating across global markets, fundraising and delivering new services in growing numbers.

Chia puddings and steamed chicken....

on Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A second into opening the Fresh Direct box, I knew something was off. I've NEVER ordered sweet potatoes, steamed chicken, or chia pudding...! For that awful second, I thought I'd had some kind of psychotic break...and then the delivery guy rang the bell and apologized for the snafu....

It did get me thinking, though. That split second of absolute incomprehension had been followed by a real sense of curiosity about Andre C (the person who the mis-delivered box was meant for). Here was someone who made almost diametrically different choices - not better or worse, just different. Yes, when we talk about choices, we tend to talk about differences in decisions as somehow better or worse. 

How different would Andre's decisions be about savings, health, holidays? How about investing in new ideas? How often have we been in situations where decision-makers can't quite bring themselves to invest in a new idea, because they don't see the relevance of the idea or product.... Next time I run into that situation, I'll be sending them a box of miscellaneous products from Fresh Direct, just to jump-start their curiosity!

Salon Chez Nous: Ben Parr's Captivology

on Monday, March 2, 2015
After a hiatus, the Salons Chez Roopa and Sree has started up again in 2015. We've enjoyed hosting some of the amazing thinkers, artists and writers in our network, and are happy that the first salon of 2015 showcased Ben Parr, who has his fantastic new book coming out on March 3rd.
Ben's book Captivology: The Science of Capturing People's Attention is a treasure-trove of research and insights from his years of capturing your attention.

Ben's years as the editor of Mashable helped him hone his methods and insights, and he's bottled them for those of us who need to draw and retain attention for our ideas, work, messages and hopes!
Ben interviewed more than fifty researchers, business and cultural leaders including Sheryl Sandberg, Steven Soderbergh, Jeff Weiner, Shigeru Miyamoto of Nintendo, Reddit's Alexis Ohanian, and others. From highlighting the best colors to grab attention (red if you are a woman hitchhiker, any bright color if you are a male, and a red border around your photo if you want to be picked from a mass of resumes), as well as tactics (harnessing the human mind's need to solve mysteries, for example.) I know I'm currently thinking through Center10's colors - very orange right now. Ben's research shows that while blue suggests competence, orange suggests the opposite. Watch this space!!
Consider buying Ben's book - you may qualify for some of his cool perks!