Here's the outline of a talk on Quality and Cricket delivered at Infosys, Hyderabad recently.
"Without further ado, let us look at quality from a cricketing perspective. Let me
also try and connect quality to two mindsets – of champions and leaders.
The Search for
As captains and selectors, we are
constantly searching for quality players. Who are these quality players? How do
we recognize quality players? We look at certain attributes that the player
exemplifies as a quality cricketer.
They turn in consistently high performances
above the class average, raise the bar each time (i.e. they work harder than the
They deliver in all conditions, are mentally
tough, tougher the challenge, tougher they get and create a wow factor (i.e. adapt and self-correct
faster which indicates they have some process orientation)
They create big impact and turn in match winning
performances, you give them one chance and they nail it (i.e. – they take
ownership to make an impact for the team)
In the current Indian side, a Virat Kohli qualifies for that
surely. All others are still trying. And it’s not to say that quality
cricketers are the most talented cricketers. They are two completely different
things. For me a Rohit Sharma could be far more talented, but then when I look
at quality players, I’d pick Virat Kohli going by their career graphs in the
past few years.
Now great quality at play is something we all admire. When
it comes to our work we see quality differently. I know, because I worked too.
Quality at work seemed to be all about rules, perfectionists and stuff like
that (self-righteous, you-should-do-that kind of a thing, boring). It was boring
to fall in line, to be told you’re not good enough even if delivered what was
expected. Okay we didn’t bring down the heavens with our performance but we did
enough didn’t we seems to be the attitude.
There’s a paradox here. We admire the quality of champions
(wow how can they do that, what commitment, league of their own etc). But we do
not want their qualities pushed on us. Imposed on us rather.
But seriously, can we be like them? Do we have what it takes to be quality people?
Between Them and Us – The Mindset
What is it about someone like a Kohli or a Tendulkar
that sets them apart? Is it ‘talent’? Or is it application? To me, quality is
all about a mindset. The champion’s mindset that wants to get better each time.
The mindset that sets harder and higher targets each time. It is a mindset that is uncompromising,
it prepares fully, it plugs all leakages. It needs you to deliver against all
odds. To do it right the first time. To do it NOW and not postpone at all. To do it with your current preparation.
It’s not a capability issue at all. It’s a mindset issue.
Let me give you an example. My own. When I, a bowler who
batted at no 8 for Osmania University Cricket team in the league, scored 158 runs after promising my skipper that I would somehow get 128
runs – the number of runs that I had given away while bowling. To get 128 I had
to get it right the first time, eliminate all errors, use only my existing skill and come good first attempt.
To cut a long story short, I got 158.
We won a match we were not likely to win. High performance, high impact.
What I Did Right –
What You Can Do Too
What I did right in that story was this.
First I decided that I could make an impact if I wanted to,
within my role. I expanded my role far bigger than anyone expected from me.
This taking up ownership of that impact was the point of inflection when real
creativity came into existence. You could look at how you could expand your
role to help make a critical impact for your team. You could come alive.
Second, I committed to my team what I wanted to deliver. A
clear deliverable of 128 was my commitment. I promised them that. Aloud and openly in the dressing room. To do that I requested that I open the batting. After that, it was my
problem to get that score.
Then, I found a way to do it. These two, the decision and the commitment to deliver, were critical.
If you decide on a clear goal to achieve, and commit to it and put it
out, you will find a way. Put yourself in that predicament.
Third, was the way itself. I was not in a state of can-I-do-it. I was in a I-have-to-do-it-at-any-cost state of mind.
I was already at the finish line walking back to see where the glitches were to
avoid them. So mentally preparing, visualizing the entire knock, mentally removing
loose ends, firming up the framework in which I will play flawless cricket,
knowing my limitations and playing within them was the first part of the way. Once I
could see it all clearly in my mind, once every run scored with zero error in my mind, I removed physical
challenges – equipment, clothes, exhaustion, heat etc and planned for that. I planned
for all contingencies before I went in the next morning. I made one mistake at 28 and was let off, then the
second at 158 when I was dismissed. I did not achieve my target of playing 90 overs, but I overachieved
the 128 by 30 runs.
If it can be done once, it can be done again.
It is clear that it is not a skill issue. Whatever I had was
enough to get 158. I only needed to apply it well. To make less, or no mistakes. It is a mindset issue. Do we badly want
to do it is the question.
What is quality then –
What a Kohli Does
Do it right the first time – a factor of superior preparation, deliberate
practice, planning, execution
Adapt to all conditions and recover quickly - Process
orientation, helps to self correct quickly, enables a mindset that looks to
find a pattern
Higher and newer level of performances – High volumes,
not easily satisfied, pushing boundaries
Match winning ability - Big impact, desire to
take ownership for performances that create clear impact
Kohli does better than others more consistently because he utilizes
what he has better than most. He tries to understand the process and adapts
faster. He knows his game and can self-correct quickly. Once in, he is
difficult to dislodge. Kohli shows the quality mindset – he will make few
errors which means he will make you pay if you let him settle down or give him
It is so with all quality players. They
Make less number of errors
They do not repeat mistakes
They recover fast
The Way - How Do We
Go About It
Quality players are about expertise. A desire to be the best. The path then is to adopt a mindset that aspires for
expertise. Many of you have heard the 10,000 hour rule to expertise. If
anything, I like the number. And the fact that you need to put in purposeful
and consistent effort to get to expertise. If you look at the article on expertise by Eric
Andersson there seem to be 3 aspects to expertise
Expertise leads to performances consistently
superior to peers
Expertise produces concrete results (impact, win
The process can be replicated in a lab i.e.
repeated (process orientation)
The more you delve into this area of quality as an attitude
the more you find that it’s about the mindset and understanding the context. Teams,
companies are constantly trying to create champion mindsets, champion teams.
Let us understand this mindset a bit better.
Wonderful Book – The Mindset
Let me quickly run you through this wonderful book by Dr. Carol
Dweck’s on Mindsets. It is a book that can change our lives. She classifies
mindsets into two major ones – the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. Most
of us have both and if we adopt the growth mindset consciously, it helps us to
deal with making less errors, improving quality etc without thinking that effort and learning are below us. In a nutshell Fixed mindset people are non-learners, who believe that
they are born with an innate talent that will see them through everything (without
knowing the process really and putting in purposeful work). Growth mindset
people are learners and put everything down to learning, effort and constant
growth. Some key attributes of these mindsets are these.
Fixed mindset – Intelligence is fixed, sees effort as
useless, talent is everything, take easier challenges, have desire to look
smart. Give up easily, get defensive, hide shortcomings, ignore useful negative
feedback or criticism, envy others success, stop growing, achieve less than
Growth mindset – intelligence is not fixed and the more you
use it the better it gets, desire to learn, embrace challenges, persist in the
face of setbacks, see effort is key to mastery, learn from criticism, find
lessons and inspiration in others success.
The Key Word - Responsibility
Quality or the champion’s mindset that accepts only high
quality may appear like hard and boring work but it really is about how much
responsibility we are willing to take for our team. For our roles.
Quality is about the part of us which is capable of doing a better job. It is a desire to participate in the process. To own. To contribute.
Responsibility is the key word – it is the essence of all the other words
we throw about – ownership, leadership, quality, champion, growth, delivery,
Interestingly this attitude seeps into leadership
forms too. I believe we all need champions, we all need to behave like leaders
to make the change we want to see. Real leaders who do the right things, who
grow everyone around. My theory on leadership is a bit like this.
Insecure leaders – no responsibility, power
Personal leaders – no power, take full responsibility
to make an impact within their role
Secure leaders – genuine power, grows people all
around and creates long term impact
In the end our society needs personal leaders, secure
leaders, who will grow more secure leaders. We cannot be run by insecure
leaders which I fear is where we are now. We need quality leaders and to get
there we need to adopt the quality mindset. Anyone can do it now without any further preparation – decide, commit and you will find
the way to deliver higher quality.