Establishing Trust – Story from the Ramayana


A few days back, I was conducting a training session on Inter-personal Effectiveness and we got down to discussing the importance of self disclosure and feedback in building long term relationships. Of course, each of these requires something very basic – establishing trust.

Trust has been the backbone of successful communication for all eternity. Consider the Ramayana – Hanuman’s first meeting with Sita in Ashoka Vatika after she was abducted. Establishing trust with Sita was crucial for any communication to even begin. Hanuman knew that he would not be taken at face value so he had to establish his authenticity. He first started talking about Shri Ram – a subject dear to Sita. Hanuman praised Sri Ram and gave details of Lakshman to gain acceptance with Sita. Sita softened towards him and started paying attention – but she still had her doubts. He then went on to describe her abduction in detail to her – information that a rakshak would not have had. And finally he used his trump card – the ring given to him by Shri Ram.

Innumerable business lessons can be drawn from this simple episode

  1. To establish trust, discuss a subject close to the other party’s heart. Wait and watch his response. Has he become more open to sharing or listening or is he still closed?
  2. Share information and proceed the conversation only once the other party gets interested and (maybe) concerned.  You don’t want to give offence, so proceed with caution.
  3. Finally, show your best card when you have won the other party’s trust completely. Offering everything right away may be viewed as interference or desperation or worse, a lie. Wait for credibility to be established.

Unravelling Creativity – Part 1

Torrents of creativity

The other day at one of our meetings, we were talking about how a lot of companies are redefining their competency framework to include an element of creativity/ innovation in it. A lot of training programs have suddenly sprung up which claim to be developing ‘creative skills’. However, as I study creativity/ innovation more and more, I realise that at least in the Indian context, developing creativity is less of a learning journey and more of an unlearning journey.

We all know that our brain consists of two hemispheres. Each has a different function – logical ability, mathematical ability and linguistic ability are all left brain activities whereas emotional intelligence, spatial intelligence and visual ability are right brain activities. From our very childhood, the Indian learning curriculum focuses much more heavily on logical and mathematical ability. Lately, there has been some focus on linguistic intelligence also. As such, the way we are trained since our childhood, our left brain tends to dominate in all our thinking processes.

Creativity, on the other hand is a whole brain activity. It consists of first, redesigning the problem at hand and converting it into various forms to arrive at multiple solutions. For instance, consider the following problem –

Jack and Jill are lying dead on the floor of a room. There’s a window in the room. There is a little water and some broken glass around the two dead bodies. No wounds, no blood, no evident signs of injury. How did Jack and Jill die?

The standard left brain response to the problem would be to examine the evidence one-by-one, ask a series of logical questions to arrive at the solution. The creative (whole-brain) response would be to first use all our faculties to redesign the problem from the very beginning. Who are Jack and Jill would be the first question – and in that question itself lies the answer – Jack and Jill are fishes!

Having said that the more dominant side of a standard Indian is the left side, we look at a product/ process/ concept with a dominant mental pattern which relies heavily on the data available for the senses to see/feel/hear etc. This does have its advantages if the problem is straight forward – we do not tend to re-invent the wheel and our response time is faster. However, in the absence of such structured data we tend to get lost as our ability to think differently has been supressed for a very long time (since we started our schooling).

As such, learning creative thinking skills for most of us really is more about unlearning some of the habits that we have picked up since we were kids – excessive reliance on data, being drawn to structure and repetition and ‘logical’ problem solving.

Do you think India is ripe for entrepreneurship?


All studies have shown that globally, it is entrepreneurs who create wealth and employment. In the US, startups create 70% of all new employment. In India, over the next ten years, we need to create 110 million new jobs to take advantage of the demographic dividend. Only entrepreneurs can do that. But does India have the right environment yet to foster entrepreneurship?

Honing Our Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills

The image shows a huge Bengal Tiger standing in a bamboo forest. Your mission is to look for “The Hidden Tiger” in the image below.

bengal tiger

Its been a while since I have been trying to create a training game on ‘Critical Thinking and Problem Solving’. When I started, it actually looked easy – infact, that’s one of the reasons I chose this topic (You think through and solve problems everyday – whats the big deal!). But as I dig deeper, I realise how complex and layered this skill is. And getting one program or one game to take care of the intricate web of learnings is really a challenge.

I guess we’d all agree that everyone needs critical thinking and problem solving– be it a vegetable vendor deciding which street to sell on which day and at what price, or a little baby crawling and trying to reach a toy out of the many sprawled on the floor in front of him, or a forex trader deciding when to exit the dollar or the yen. Yet, it is one of the most ignored and under-emphasised skill sets that gets developed in us. Typically, we are a bunch of traditional problem solvers – using past data to solve current problems. Infact, in a lot of cases, we do not spend time understanding the problem and simply go ahead and “solve the symptoms”.

After having struggled with this concept for long enough, I believe that critical thinking based problem solving involves at least the following inter-related skill sets

  1. Clarity of thought (to look at the big picture and segregate the problem from its symptoms)
  2. Creativity (to go beyond the obvious but not losing sight of the problem itself)
  3. Poise (not getting overwhelmed by the problem or its ramifications)
  4. Analytics (breaking down data and identifying not-so-obvious trends)

Look at the seemingly simple problem I posed to you at the beginning of this post. The mission was to look for ‘The Hidden Tiger’. Solving this problem needed all the skills mentioned above –

  1. Clarity to understand the problem and not be coloured by the perception that ‘The Hidden Tiger’ was necessarily the image of a tiger
  2. Creativity to look for non-traditional solutions (step 1 too needed elements of creativity thus reinforcing my point about the skills being inter-related)
  3. Poise to not give up too soon
  4. Analytics (the data is in the form of this picture and there is basic analytics required to break the pic into parts to look for the hidden tiger)

Each one of the aforementioned skills are complicated enough themselves. Its but obvious that developing oneself as a ‘critical thinker’ requires a pretty deep learning journey interspersed with a lot of practice. The good part though is that this is one skills which once learnt is not easily forgotten!

Reflections 2013

2014 journey

2013 has been one of the most critical year in our lives at Catalyst. Looking back, I feel proud and satisfied at the way the firm has shaped up. If I were to look the key highlights of the year, I would point out the following

  1. Getting a great team in place – This year saw the addition of two critical people in the core Catalyst team – Ranita and Rashmi. Further, we got associated with some really great trainers and assessors (Madhur, Upasana, Shivani, Kaveri etc to name a few) and each one of them have brought something new and exciting for us to learn. One of the most important ingredient of the way we work at Catalyst now is fun and that’s thanks to the people we work with. We have got a great team of talented and passionate people in place and while we work seriously, we also seriously have fun!  Its great working with a team that’s as committed to every idea as we ourselves are.
  2. Delivering some really outstanding projects across industries – Be it designing the competency framework and delivering great ADCs for the insurance industry or delivering some sales effectiveness linked training for the frontline sales team at a retail giant or delivering a customised pan-India sales training programme for a pharma major or a one-of-its-kind TNA linked training for a real-estate player, we have delivered some good work which has received a lot of applause from our clients and given us many new learnings along the way.
  3. Arming ourselves with great new ammunition for the coming years –We have invested serious time and resources on up-skilling each one of us. Formally, we have added many new certifications to out kitty and are now equipped to take on many more challenging projects – we have added the MBTI (from Anahat), ADDIE (from Vyaktitva), ADC (from TV Rao Learning Systems), BEI (from Anahat) and digital marketing (from Digital Vidya). Informally, we have conducted many internal downloads on a host of topics ranging from Hogan Assessments to Lominger leadership framework to increase our own exposure to HR tools. We can now confidently claim to be an evolving learning organization.

While 2013 has been a year that we are very proud of, we are cognizant of the fact that the journey ahead  is long and challenging. We realise that 2014 would be a game changer for Catalyst. We specifically look forward to the following in the coming year

  1. Getting laser sharp strategic focus around who we want to evolve as
  2. Becoming long term strategic learning partners for our clients
  3. Keeping a strong eye on top line as well as bottom line to turn profitable

Thanks to all our clients (current and would-be’s), our vendors (content designers, website developers, video developers and the like) and the multiple people we work with (assessors, trainers, content designers and everyone) who have worked with us through this year and would be working with us for the many years to come. We look forward to a journey filled with quality work and great learnings! Happy new year 2014!