Official Blog of Center10 Consulting

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 (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
  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!

The REAL Moneyball?

on Wednesday, February 4, 2015
This post was posted in Umbel originally

Data helps your favorite pitcher, so why not empower your employees?

The 2011 movie Moneyball got us all hot and bothered about the use of data to drive breakout performance for a baseball team. I’m still waiting for Moneyball 2 – where a visionary leader uses data to change the effectiveness of his company. Something tells me I’ll be waiting a long time.

What’s good for the Oakland Athletics is good for you too!

Of course, sports data is worlds apart from organizational data. There’s transparency, for one thing. A lot of what a sportsperson does is on display and can be tracked closely. Secondly, there is a clear alignment of interests – the sportsperson, their coach, the team and franchise all want the ultimate win.

So, tracking input metrics (basic ability, training hours, type of training, etc.) and output metrics (goals, passes, speed, shots on goal, etc.) are watched, parsed, correlated and shared. And then there is the environmental data (location, morale, fan support, weather) etc., many of which can and are endlessly parsed to predict future possibilities.

As a sports-obsessed country, we’ve been primed and educated in the language of sports analytics. I’ve now worked in and advised at least 20 companies and institutions – global behemoths, nonprofits, and startups. It’s never too much of a reach to get to external metrics – for innovation, for example, I like to track what percentage of revenue is driven by new products launched in the last five years as an indicator of ideas brought to market effectively.

However, once I try to get into input metrics – the percentage of concepts that make it to market vs. the total generated and progressed for review – things get murkier. For one, there is less of a discipline in the early stages of ideation monitoring, and secondly, there is less energy and leadership time spent on it. The dollars and the shiny new toy is so much more fun to contemplate than the hard work that goes into getting there.

Yet, innovation metrics are worlds ahead of people management metrics.

Why aren’t you using your data?

It’s a rare company that truly mines leadership and management metrics. Companies have made a science of reviewing revenue and Cost Of Goods. SAP and various ERP systems can tell you exactly how many widgets and man hours go into the last car/headphone/jar of grape jelly produced. How about the quality of management that went into crafting those products and services? A plethora of information exists on what makes for good management and great teams.
It’s often not too much of a stretch to identify the exemplary employees and managers in an organization – but rarely do we take a data-focused approach to understanding and using those insights. For example, it’s not a stretch for us to posit that managers who have high retention rates, larger percentages of team members promoted relative to others, higher revenue and productivity metrics, higher diversity, greater throughput of ideas, more invitations to advice on cross-functional and cross-company issues are possibly doing the right thing. You can easily see how all of these metrics can be captured and surfaced – wouldn’t it be useful for each employee to know where they stand against the exemplars?

Arm your people with their data.

We’re good about giving our 11-year olds a sense of where they stand against their peers in their proficiency at various subjects, as well as tracking key input metrics like class participation. Isn’t it only fair that we provide that kind of transparency to managers in our organizations, given how much of an impact they have on the bottom line. We’ve known the key drivers for a while. For example, in the 1998 study of Sears by Rucci, Qirn and Quinn, they found that when employee satisfaction improved by 5%, customer satisfaction improved by 1.3%, which led to a .05% improvement in revenue. At $50 billion annual revenue for Sears at that time, that came to an extra $250 million in sales. A 2014 study by Harter and Beck has shown that 4 people practices related to managers – selecting managers who are engagement oriented, the manager’s ability to hiring for skills, feedback to their teams on strengths, interest in people management – can drive up to a 59% increase in revenue for the team, ergo the company.

What’s stopping you now? Get beyond it.

With that kind of impact possible, why haven’t companies stepped up to the plate? They engage in once-a-year polls, of course. But how about using the great analytic tools we now use on consumers, internally? If a company can truly create a trusted relationship with managers, where the focus of such tracking is on development, rather than being punitive, perhaps we can use email tracking, sentiment tracking, feedback loops, etc. to better capture and understand their effectiveness. I’m not talking about the kind of radical transparency that can sometimes drive vulnerability – take’s salary transparency or Ray Dalio’s principles – this is more about giving your employees, managers and leaders useful and current data about their own skills, practices and abilities, so that they can strive towards excellence and impact.

There’s a lot of $$ at stake here – let’s take your best marketing analytics people and focus them on your managers for a quarter. You’ll be surprised how much change you can drive!

Get the monkey off your back with little experiments

on Wednesday, January 21, 2015
A Capuchin On My Back...At Florida's Jungle Adventure
While I loved the capuchin monkey I met at Jungle Island in Miami (pictured here), my goal in 2015 is to get every other monkey off my back.
As you go into 2015, is it worth thinking through what your "monkeys" might be? I mean those issues, habits, untried ideas that sit on your shoulder, weighing you down.
5 things to do now:
  • Give yourself permission: To reflect for 15 minutes - this may be when you're out on a jog, meditating, having a quiet soak in the bath...wherever you can separate yourself from the flow of external ideas and information.
  • Listen to yourself: Now let your mind do its thing - watch the parade of thoughts that flow through your mind.
  • Capture them: Once you are back to your desk, make a like of all the ideas and issues that reared their head - things undone, experiences not tried, conversations not had, etc. Some technology tools you could try: is a simple extension on Chrome that will keep track of your list, then there are cross-platform apps like Wunderlist and Todoist. These can keep them fresh and front of mind for you.
  • Plan: Here's a short set of options to manage your list - Do, Delegate, Experiment.
    • Do it now!! Many of your "monkeys" can just be acted on - for example that short email introduction you can provide but that you've put aside in the search for the perfect framing. Remember, the perfect is the enemy of the good.
    • If you know there are issues that someone else could address, or opportunities someone else might act on for you, go ahead and delegate.
    • Finally, there are those "monkeys" where there isn't a simple action. This is where you might want to start making small bets and experimenting - see my earlier post to plan some small experiments.
  • Act, at the right pace: Make a rational timetable for acting on the list. Be ambitious, but also be kind - to yourself! This is about continuously increasing your effectiveness and your peace of mind, so don't let the list be a monkey - just a guide and tool to help you along.