Part 1: The problem of the local maxima in leadership

Reading Time: 2 min 30 seconds

The greatest skill you learn at business school is thinking from the 10,000 foot perspective. You learn systems thinking and figure out how to disrupt a system by making it more efficient. Elon Musk did this for Space X by reducing the cost of a node in the system. Venmo increased the speed of a path in the system by making inter person money transfer easy. The root of all disruptive technologies lies in this line of thought.

Elon Music affirmed this in his interview with Chris Anderson.

"I tend to approach things from a physics framework. And physics teaches you to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. So I said, OK, let’s look at the first principles. What is a rocket made of? Aerospace-grade aluminum alloys, plus some titanium, copper, and carbon fiber. And then I asked, what is the value of those materials on the commodity market? It turned out that the materials cost of a rocket was around 2 percent of the typical price—which is a crazy ratio for a large mechanical product."

Data Science leaders of today face a critical challenge. Data Science leaders need to understand the details. This could the model choice or the deep learning architecture . Their success also depends on the understanding of the broad business strategy. AI is successful only when you use it to solve a systems inefficiency. In essence, you need to be very detailed, operate in the world of specifics and simultaneously step up and think about the big picture. The failure to balance this bi-modal thinking leads to sub-optimal data science implementations.

Let me give you an interesting example. Last week, I attended a very cool research presentation. A group of researchers built an optimization algorithm to help famers decide what combination of seeds to sow. It aimed to solve a fundamental problem facing humanity - food shortage. Obviously, the research has won the praise from both academia and commercial companies. The farmers could use this simple simulation to maximize their farm's yield for the year.

As I was listening to the presentation, I couldn't help but think about the problem of crop rotation. Crop choice has a long term effect on soil fertility. A great yield in the current year may not correlate to ongoing results, year after year. This is foundation of the principle of crop rotation

Let us imagine the case where the data scientist does a fantastic job of optimizing the objective function - the yield for the current year. It would function so well in the short term but fail over the long term. In fact, it might worsen the food shortage problem. This imaginary situation manifests itself in a number of scenarios. You can trade off margin for revenue in pricing or coerce a customer to buy by inundating them with marketing.

A Data Science leader can get easily sucked into the details of the problem, forget about the fundamental issue with the problem statement and ultimately lead the team toward the development of a sub-optimal solution. 

This is the celebrated issue of the local maxima.Seth Godin has written about this issue from the perspective of perseverance. The same logic can be applied toward a data science problem as well. Moving from a local maxima to a global maxima requires traversing through a scary period. You have to let go of a "known" and "working" solution and instead persevere to find a better one. It automatically requires the tradeoff between implementation time and long term success. 

Does your organization successfully apply this perspective?

INTRAPRENUERs - Learn to market your org like Rapha!

Intrapreneurs are individuals that use entrepreneurial thinking to create change or launch new ventures within existing organizations.They are the most valuable asset to any company.

If you are an  intrapreneur, welcome! This article is for you.

I am going to focus on intraprenuers who lead service departments. Companies these days are driven to move fast. Service leaders, with oversubscribed teams, have little time to think long term. By this time they start to, the brand value of his department has diminished and competition (consulting or automation) has taken over.

They struggle to create an enduring brand  for their department that resonates with the company. Let’s take an inspirational case study in marketing and see how it can be implemented within an organization.

I love cycling and and hence…….. Rapha!!


"The joy is in the suffering. Only a cyclist would understand what that joy is." Image Credits: Pixabay

Rapha was started by two guys who saw the emergence of cycling and wanted to be the force that changed a niche sport into a platform for a global lifestyle brand. Fast forward a few years to now, Rapha is a global luxury cycling apparel brand that sponsors and designs clothing for  leading teams like Sky and Canyon racing. So why were they successful?

Lesson 1: From the beginning, Rapha was clear about their values

  • Quality

  • Performance

  • Design

  • History

Rapha's brand is built on the mantra of "glory through suffering" - which only cyclists relate to. They have a very focused audience and build stories around that audience. Their website is unconventionally a ".cc" (cycling club) and not a conventional  ".com". Their actually physical stores are called Rapha cycling clubs and feature bike rentals and coffee shops which all are part of a single membership fee.

Lesson 2: Rapha knows its audience well.

Rapha’s marketing (through Rapha Films) reflects true stories about common people riding a bike. Rapha clothing - in the film is starkly not in focus at all. The inspiring message is delivered with stunning creativity.

Lesson 3: Rapha focuses on delivering an inspiring message - not showcase the product.

My favorite Rapha Campaign is the thrivor campaign.

Justin McLean, a cyclist was diagnosed with cancer at an age of 40,  in the prime of his corporate global strategy career. He had "no plan B". He had to win the fight against cancer. He hatched a plan with his friends to travel to Corsica and ride the trails there - once he was able to beat cancer.

Rapha saw Justin's post go viral online and stood behind him by telling his story in true Rapha marketing style - Rapha Films. Rapha supported Justin's non profit, Thrivor, by designing a special edition cycling cap. The film brings the main theme of cycling to the audience, inspiring them in a true unobtrusive style.  See the film below!

Lesson 4: Find inspirational stories in your organization related to your service. Make it known.

Video Credits: Rapha Films


  • Decide your department’s key values.

  • Choose specific audiences to please.

  • Understand the  audience well and use design thinking to create products/services

  • Conduct "road shows", showcase inspirational stories of people who leveraged your department to do great things.

In short , treat your department as a startup. Build an enduring vision and market like Rapha - authentic, focused and inspirational.


5 steps to building a "persona"

Who am I? 

This is a question that has haunted philosophers for ages and multiple schools of thought, religion and intellect have failed in finding a consistent answer to this questions. 

Fortunately, this is an easier question to answer when some boundaries are placed. For example, at work, the answer is simple: 

You are who others perceive you to be.

In my perspective, people evaluate you on a five parameters:

1. Dressing 

2. Communication

3. Work style 

4. Work Ethic 

5. Intellect 

Defining yourself in these parameters are simple steps towards being known for a "persona" - something that is yours and yours only. Depending on how you are perceived already, the fact that this persona sustains for a very long time can be both good or bad. 


Work is Theater

"One of the hardest-won lessons of being a professional is that work is, ultimately, a form of theater"

People often look up at the quote and deem it with a negative connotation. However, I have found it to be one of the true and positive statements I have heard about work in a long time. 

We come to work with our "Principles" and feel everyone needs to adhere to what is "right". Unfortunately, we fail to realize everyone has their own little "principle bags" and more often than not, they collide with our own "principles". 

I use principles in quotes because they are not principles. They are merely certain rules we have imposed on ourselves so as to work efficiently. They are completely different from ethics. I do believe that if a workplace collides with your ethics, you should move on. However, if it collides with your "principles", you should probably introspect before taking a call. 

Anyways, I ramble. Back to the theatrical aspects of work....

Think of a play you saw where the actors were not dressed to the play, no speaking like you expect the story to be told. Would you like it? Now think about is work different? 

More often than not you are working on a storyline - be that a checkout process for a website or a customer service event. How would you like the protagonist in that story to live and breathe?

What if we lived our work lives intentionally and thought a little deeper about the character and role we play at work? Would we perform better? 

Let me know your thoughts! 

EPS - the secret to doing better!

You're connected to the office 24*7. You are doing all you can to make sure you're involved in everything thats going on with your teams. You are engaged with your people and making sure they are keeping up their morale. Everyone is working hard towards their goals and you know your team is doing a great job...and so are you. 

Sounds like you're doing all you can to make sure you are a great manager. Yet, it seems like you're not making any forward progress in terms of goals achieved. So what next. 

Here is one thing I have been trying to experiment with that hopefully might help folks out there. 

Since we live in the world of acronyms, let me add one more to the list out there- EPS 

EPS stands for Execution, project/program management and strategy. 

The problem that i dealt with was the simple issue that a leader or manager is expected to do all three elements of the EPS which sometimes is overwhelming. The recognition that EPS is a central element to any managerial job is probably the first step towards solving the problem. 

Why is EPS so important? 

Strategy requires being removed from your day to day for a certain extent while execution is centrally tactical. Project management on the other hand is a whole different dimension where you are trying to make sure you are traversing the distance between day to day and your strategic goals. 

Do you see why this makes things complicated.So whats the solution?

Actually I have found a sea of difference just by making sure i do not do more than one of the three at a given time. Lets face it, multi-tasking is not good. period. The sooner we accept it, the better. 

When we try to mix strategy with execution, we end up trying to work within two different frames of reference, resulting in mental fatigue and substandard results. 

The easy route is to actually make sure you focus on strategy, understand the present situation, conduct a gap analysis and record the gap onto a project plan with milestones. 

The second step is to actually have team members take owner ship of execution and project management while you focus back on the strategy. You do not need another management layer to do this. With the advent of technology, anyone can do a good job of managing projects. So can your team! Trust them - They can do it. 





# Personal Leadership

What is the first image that comes to your mind when you consider a leader ?

  • Fiery speeches and oratorial antics that drive his team of people to action 
  • Strategy and planning like a general would do for war 
  • Strong relationship with the immediate team/front line leaders 

These are just some of the first things that might come to mind. While I had some of the same images in my mind too, I was blown away when I understood the whole concept of personal leadership. Hence this post to share it with all of you. 

So, what is personal leadership?

Personal leadership is a sort of “inner” leadership that helps build leadership presence, skills, beliefs, principles and knowledge. At its core, it helps build the foundation upon which effective public leadership ( actually leading the people) can be built on. 

More logically, it is built upon the following aspects. 

A. Developing one’s technical knowhow and skill

         1. knowledge of the work that the team does 
         2. knowledge of individual psychology 
         3. knowledge of group psychology 
         4. time management 

B. Cultivating the right attitude toward other people.

            1. interdependence 
            2. appreciation 
            3. caring 
            4. service 
            5. balance 

C. Working on psychological self-mastery.

  1. Self awareness 
  2. Flexible command of ones mind 
  3. Letting go of limiting beliefs such as those that may stem from a bad conversation with a team member 
  4. Strong values 
  5. Authenticity in presence and in service of the team

Looking at the list one might say its a lot. Yes, it is quite a bit to practice. However, there are simple and small steps that we can start with. In the next post, Ill share some of the simple small steps I have taken in this direction. 

Happy Leading in the meanwhile!