Thursday, October 28, 2004

Step on a landmine

This is "The Landmine Test of Priorities," created after being inspired by a friend (Thanks, Sahar!).

After you have read the article below, do this: Imagine that you have stepped on a landmine. If you remove your foot, you die. If you don't, the landmine will automatically blow in a minute. Now time yourself for ONE MINUTE, and no more than just that, and put down a list of your priorities. In your mind, or on paper.

Let your mind be free of constraints when you take this exercise. Remember, you are on a landmine, and there is no past or future!

After one minute, you are BLOWN. Look at your list of priorities now. What matters most to you?

It's so easy to lose sense of what matters most. It's so hard to know, at times, what we really want. This thing that's called "setting priorities" in more formal words can be pretty tough.

But I've found a way to solve this issue. Simple: I Imagine that I have a foot on a land mine. Then I make a list of what really, really matters.

In the movie Behind Enemy Lines there is a scene where a soldier steps over a landmine and realizes it that very second. He stares at it with horror and disbelief. In the next few moments, he begs his companion to help him and is cruelly refused. (Of course, hardly anything could be done.) He eventually shoots himself to spare himself the agony of waiting for death alone in that silent, big jungle where the landmine was hidden.

A moment's observation can be worth a lifetime of learning. Life is pretty much like this jungle full of secret possibilities and hidden dangers, especially these days when we can't tell where the landmine of death is planted. This death itself can come in the form of actual physical death - or end of relationships, careers, buildings, and people around us. The death of anything that matters.

Death is a moment of truth. I wondered about the soldier who may have had a few minutes to think about his life. In the movie, he was a "bad guy" soldier - if he were good, at least like the central character in American Beauty, we could get a little insight in his last few thoughts.

Anyhow. Whenever I have a decision of importance to make, from keeping a friendship to switching career, I put a mental foot on an imaginary landmine. It quickly tells me what I really, really want and won't regret having done or achieved were I to go in the next few moments.


What did you think? Have you taken the Landmine Test yet? In the comments area below, you may post your own Landmine List of Priorities, and share with others. Try now!

The Religious Corporate Leader

Since the beginning of time, "faith" or "religion" has been employed by Man to make sense of chaos - to bring the Unknown in to the realm of Understanding. This is still the prevalent practice in many societies - but strengely enough, the big bad world of business seems to be insulated from all this. Religion for corporate leaders? Hard to believe!

But this may change.

Can the corporate leader today be religious, and make sense of chaos? How can a system of faith create a manifesto for corporate Leadership? Can religion and business be reconciled? Why were some of the greatest men of faith involved with business?

On I have proposed a manifesto that answers these questions. If you vote for the manifesto here by clicking the "Yes, write this manifesto" button, you can get to learn how religion may influence corporate leaders of today.

For a related blog entry, read this.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

New day, new business

When a business has outgrown the potential of its original big idea, throw it out. Do something new. Get another original big idea.
It hurts common business sense - but it is good business sense for the new economy.

Women have had a way with this kind of a strategy that embraces change. Each new fashion cycle, they'd clean up the closet, and take out the old clothes. In charitable societies, these clothes go to the lesser privileged. Sometimes they go to friends and relatives who aren't ahead on the curve of style. Everyone's better off in the deal.

The ladies no longer have to carry an old fashion image. They've utilized the "returns" of each old dress - it's given them basic cover, and it's earned them admiration when it was the right fashionable thing. Now the otherwise "left behind" people can catch up with the reasonably contemporary (sometimes adding a frill here and there to come to par with the latest) - while the fashionable ladies move ahead to adopt the latest on the ramp.

When your business is getting older, and there's a new curve to ride on to, shed off the old. Divest, split, give away. Let the rest of the world catch up and grow. Get a move on!

Friday, October 15, 2004


Seth Godin and his team of interns created ChangeThis – an engine to publish and distribute manifestos for change. Tom Peters, Seth Godin, and Al Gore are some of the publishers on the site. Anyone can submit the proposal for writing a manifesto, which is then voted on by general visitors to the site. The popular proposals are offered to be turned into manifestos, available for free download and distribution through the site.


Tom Peters – the “guru of change management” – is one of my favorite business readers. His writing helped me believe in not having a long-term career plan and that it was OK for a regular MBA to not worry about career paths. There are no such things as vertical career progression plans anymore! The entrepreneur in me also loves his ideas about business; and core competencies that do not last forever. That’s the new rule of the game. More of Tom Peters and what he believes in the This I Believe! - Tom's 60 TIBs manifesto.


Seth Godin also reinforced my belief in doing less – which is actually the direct opposite of the life philosophy I started with: do everything (and worry about not having accomplished at all!). I learnt through the school of hard knocks what Seth Godin puts succinctly in the Do Less manifesto.


I seriously suggest you pay this site a visit, and let your friends know about it. Share the knowledge, and your friends will thank you. ALSO: if you have something to share, write a change manifesto proposal! Great fun!


Info from the site:

ChangeThis was built in the summer of 2004 by Amit Gupta, Catherine Hickey, Noah Weiss, Phoebe Espiritu and Michelle Sriwongtong. You can read their bios in this blog entry. The original idea behind ChangeThis came from Seth Godin. You can read about him on his website. To find out more, please download our ChangeThis manifesto.



What Strategists Can Learn From Sartre

“In an existential world that may be insecure, setting strategy must become an existential exercise.”

Thus reads the intro to this article from This is a highly recommended reading for the corporate leader who tries to make certainty in a world of chaos.



Strategy & Competition, Winter 2003
By James Ogilvy (
In an uncertain world where competitive advantage is insecure, setting strategy must become an existential exercise.
Read on...


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Excerpt from this article:


Five Principles of Existential Strategy

Finitude. You can’t be all things to all people. If you’re not saying “no” to some possibilities, then you’re not acting strategically.

Being-Toward-Death. No one is too big to fail, to die, to go bankrupt. Gliding on momentum can lead to a crash.

Care. Define your interests more precisely than ROI or return to shareholders. If you don’t know where you stand, you’ll fall for anything.

Thrownness. You have a past; you have experiences and core competencies. Know them, use them, and don’t forget them.

Authenticity. Don’t be bound by your past. Feel free to reinvent yourself and your company for an uncertain future.


Don’t fail to read and pass on! Here’s the link again:


Happy reading!

Strategy - Charting Paths - Destiny

The analogy of destiny has a very intriguing relevance to career charting.


Every employee in a well-organized corporation has a “career path.” In an intern of today, a corporation like Reckitt Benckiser or Proctor & Gamble, for instance, would see a brand manager of tomorrow. This is partly known to the intern, but not completely certain. In fact, even the management or the human resource function would not give the intern the next step forward until the intern realizes some of the goals needed to let her/ him go forward.


And although every person who joins such a corporation knows all about the corporation’s corporate philosophy and what it is that will help them rise through the corporate ladder – they still may not be able to do it. There may be lack of courage, faith, belief. The attitude or personality may not match.


The course is there. The career path is there. And the instructions on how to go ahead each step of the way are clear. Yet how many actually realize this career path? Some may not even have been meant for this fate, but another. They may never go forward, but on another path.


Similarly, I believe, Allah sees in us a potential, and promises us certain results if we take certain actions. We all know this. How many of us do this?


The analogy of destiny is also very relevant to business strategy. Taking certain right actions at each point of decision lead to right results. Making mistakes or doing uncertain things leads to uncertain decisions at each point, and aggregate towards a chaos as we go up… but let’s leave that for “mathematics & business.”


… This is just one example. There are many more instances in which the philosophy if Islam directly outlines a corporate or personal professional philosophy.






I attended an interesting speaking session on “Islam – How to Incorporate Islamic Teachings in the Corporate Life” this week.


It was mostly about good things to do: Such as being patient in times of trouble, and being grateful in times of abundance; courtesy and politeness to people; believing in fate, but striving to make it happen…. And it spoke of bad practices: Belittling others, deceit, etc.


It was great, but it stopped just short of translating the teachings in a corporate context.


Let’s focus on “fate” – which raised the most questions. If all is Maktub, or “written,” what’s the point in striving or even praying?


One answer that the speaker gave was: Our vision is different from that of Allah. So whereas we see that our fate “changes” in answer to our prayers and strife, it was actually to be so by God, who sees all eternity.


This is an interesting remark. I only feel it’s partly true. I am certain that some part of our fate remains up to us to change and realize. For most people, fate is like a carpet that unfurls. The Designer knows the design, but people see only as much of it reveals. For others – and I have no idea what their numbers are – fate is “interactive.”


It is like a video game. There is a set of parameters: the players, the equipment, the routes and maps – but within these constrictions lies an infinite number of possibilities for players. There is also a set way in which the game ends, but where one player is at “time up!” and how much s/he’s achieved by that time depends on how the game was played.


Note: The lecture was by Nadeem Mustufa Khan, Director General & Chief Executive Officer of Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi.  

Friday, October 08, 2004

NEXT> on Career ~2

Career success strategy
So that's a fat lot of thinking we've done about change down there. Nothing highly original about that, except it's good when someone tells us what we already know. Good when someone articulates our thoughts for us.

I love the word "articulate," because this is what I do in my mind when meta-thinking: I articulate the thought to understand it, until it becomes clear and visual. But I digress.

Career structuring: IKEA style
My career success strategy #1&only is to treat my career skills as I would treat a piece of IKEA shelf.

  • Career skills are modular.
  • Mix, and match to make interesting new, useful, functional combinations
  • Discard or stash away the old and un-useful
  • Get small new "pieces" (career skills) as need arises. Retrain yourself, refresh your education.
Step-by-step modular career design:

1. List your various career or professional skills. There are various ways of looking at them: education wise, skill set inventory wise (I type, design logos, make crystal jewelry, etc.), and a variety of other ways such as by a "passion rank". Just get an unstructured laundry list.

(1b. Smile! Doesn't this make you feel surprised and a little better already?!)

2. Try bundling the laundry list together by combining the tiniest together to form "chunks." Some lesser important things can be combined with relevant umbrella skills. As in, MS Word can come under MS Office.

3. Visually break them apart, and combine them to form interesting combinations. You can do it in the head, and you can better do that on paper. For instance, I put my love for strategy and media and entrepreneurship together to choose a job in the media sector where I work close to new initiatives and analyze & suggest strategy.

4. But I've jumped the gun! I first visualized clearly on how may I bundle my interests and skills together. Parallel to that, it's useful to read the market and see where it's going. Visionary reports often appear in Time, Newsweek - you don't even have to go as far as the Economist and HBR unless you wish. Back in 2000, I read in Time that showbiz, law, and media are some of the next big growth areas of the new millennium. That was it!

4b. Prepare your little report on "where the world is going to" in the opinion of PEST leaders - the global leaders in the fields of politics, economics, society/culture, and technology.

4c. Match your relevant skill module with it. Be ready to anticipate change and re-design your module.

The trick is to pick the winning combination so that you don't have to change too often, and you get paid and are rewarded. For this, choose the most likely market of the future. Is it real estate, or is it electronic media? If both are good, which makes you more passionate? Which requires least level of extra learning and yields more rewards? Do the maths:

  • Extra learning required divided by how long will that learning be useful
  • hours input/comfort output
  • money spent/money earned


Lesson for today: remember the term modular career.


Make it your mantra.

Pass this on to your friends who may need this insight. Click the email button below. Someone may use some help!

Thursday, October 07, 2004

NEXT> on Career ~1

Is it just me, or do you also feel that these days, every 1.75th person you meet is unhappy with their career/ job? Actually at times, I went through the very same feelings. Typically, these are feelings of:

  • Inadequacy
  • Mismatch with job: you're either smarter than your job, or it's too demanding
  • Bad fit: your heart used to be somewhere else. Worse, it's fleeing back there
  • other forms of job insecurity

I've seen a lot of people having to jump ship. Which is not bad at all, until we start calling it "having to jump ship."

The worst thing is, we think it's us. Something outside in the world has changed due to some of our misdoings, and the resultant (unwelcome) change is our punishment.

"It's my fault," thinks the guilty heart.

But I think differently.


Consider this a goold old "who moved my cheese" lecture with a bit of a solace for over-thinking hearts. Your cheese is not moved by you. It's moved by PEST.

In business studies, the external change factors are analyzed by the PEST model: political, economic, social/ cultural, and technological change. The fact is, technology today is shaping a new world everyday. Not only is there rapid evolution of directly-used technology (such as computers), but also indirectly-used technology that creates faster technology (such as computer chips). And the development is taking place in many places, often not interrelated at all.

The market thus is constantly surprised. It's in a flux.

The second big change is in the social/cultural factor. I think that owes largely to electronic media that has lapsed most territorial and technological boundaries. Take the simple example of dress. Each week, you can be surprised how the liberals are experimenting with conservative and traditional dressing, and how the die-hard nationalists adopt a completely alien style just because its everywhere on TV. And they think it's everywhere in their real world too.

The political situation the world over is in rouge hands, and there's nothing more to it than a slower or quick realization of this.

And so we're left with economics, that usually is the result of the former three.

The net effect is a hugely variable, instable, chaotic environment that will never stabilize in foreseeable future. It is NOT affected by any one person or entity, nor even the most seemingly powerful.

And that's the NEXT> fact of the moment.

My favorite companies:

These to-die-for companies are on top of my love-list:

  • Google
  • IKEA
  • Yahoo!
  • Microsoft (a ten-things-i-hate-about-you kind of relationship!)

Hmmm. Certainly, there are a couple of others that are failing my top-of-the-mind test right now.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


NEXT>byRamla is about the future. A future that's turning in to present faster than most can anticipate. Before we know what's hit us, the next big idea is already a thing of the past for someone else. And we're left to find and explore the next new road not yet taken.

The winning strategy, however, is to make one's own road.

But why is the future that important?

It is because the future is imposed on us from forces beyond the control of any one large entity in the world today. The sources of power are re-defined rapidly, and power is being redistributed. At times, we don't even have a plan for what's coming next - only a prediction at best. The sources of change of power are technology, and society. And most of the citizens of the world do not even have an idea of where's change coming from, what form will it take, and how it impacts them.

NEXT>byRamla is about predicting these, and suggesting how can we make use of this knowledge.

About Me, Ramla:
My preferred identity is of a philosopher who borrows from a variety of disciplines to make human life better. This also defines my life mission.

When I am less serious, I work as an executive advisor and manager in a South-East Asian production/ broadcast organization. It is an interesting and exciting place to be in, since we have a BBC-like portfolio of news, entertainment, and factual programming. At this place, we are also growing in to youth and music, plus several future initiatives which are based on a keen sense of where the world is going to. That allows us to position in the right place at the right time.

It couldn't have got better for me, since I enjoy reading patterns and predicting a future based on what is, and what should be.

: }

All for now. Until NEXT> time...