Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Talk on ‘Quality and Cricket’ at Infosys Limited

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 Quality Cricketers
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 others)
·         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.

Quality and Work
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?

The Difference 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 a chance.

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 matches)
·         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.

Carol Dweck’s 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 their potential

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, commitment etc.

Quality and Leadership
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. 

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