Srinivas Venkatram

Founder & Lead Researcher, Illumine

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Author: Srinivas V (page 1 of 5)

How to create great value for customer AND meaning for self?– The shift from “Resolving a problem” to “Dissolving a problem”

The shift from “resolving a problem” to “dissolving a problem” is more than a shift in the way we think, it is also a way to create far greater value for the customer, and create far greater meaning for oneself.

To elaborate: The impact of such a shift on customer orientation in an organization is deep.

There are two kinds of customer problems – structural and behavioral. Behavior customer problems are dissolved by changing the way people think, not the way people act. Structural customer problems are dissolved by redesigning the way we engage with customers. Thus a commitment to dissolving customer problems will mean transformation of the organization and the way it does business.

As long as you are resolving the same problem every day, it becomes routinized. But when you dissolve the problem completely your creativity is called into action.

The challenge of making a problem never occur again is a deeper problem than to say “I will handle it for today”. That is where all the excitement starts. All the scientific and creative joy comes. And, all the fulfillment comes.

If I am dissolving a problem, I am never submerged with work. I become immersed in work.

This dissolving of problems is a very fundamental building block for meaning-making at work. Even before one is able to see the joy in someone else’s face (customer fulfillment), one can experience it by immersing oneself in work.

The idea of service

Exploring Swami Vivekananda’s Ideas:

Go from village to village, do good to humanity and to the world at large. Go to hell yourself to buy salvation for others… ‘when death is so certain, it is better to die for a good cause’.

– Swami Vivekananda (CW, Vol. 7, Conversations and Dialogues, From the Diary of a Disciple (Shri Sharat Chandra Chakravarty, B.A.), XII)

What is the purpose of life? Any man who thoughtfully evaluates this question will discover that it is well-nigh impossible to answer this question meaningfully as long as one remains convinced that this short life – 70 years or more – the Indian average – is the be all and end-all of existence.

Such a life – devoid of purpose – other than merely eating, sleeping, gaining a little, losing a little – with its short lived joys and sorrows – cannot be the sustenance of any great thought or work.

On the other hand – a view of life that assumes man to be on an infinite, evolutionary journey from the Centre back to the Centre – is one that invests every act with significance, every role with profundity, every word with meaning.

It is from this standpoint – that man is a continuously growing, evolving, being who is constantly seeking, often without realizing it, a higher state with purer attributes and greater capabilities to do universal good – that we must understand the idea of service.

Service then becomes an instrument of personal growth, an instrument that will enable man to continuously decide between two fundamental choices – the good of oneself and good of all.

This choice – me or All – is the central question that must be answered in our quest for the Infinite. If it is me, then, here I am, condemned to continual transactions with the rest of the universe – restricted at every stage by forces that will prove to us how small and limited any one being is.

On the other hand, if it is All, then I am ready at every stage, to stand up and declare, do not fight this petty being, do not restrict this finite being, for this being is ready, at every stage, to be offered at the Altar of Universal Good.

Suddenly, this limited human body, carries within itself an unlimited idea – the idea of Universal Good – and there are, from now on, no more restrictions – no, mind you, mental restrictions, no emotional restrictions, no artificial restrictions laid down by a mind that calculates the profit or loss of each venture, each undertaking.

There will still be physical restrictions, of the world, that will exist, but they are not obstructions which cannot be surmounted with a good fight.

Such a human being, unrestricted within, ready always to be offered for Universal Happiness, is a veritable powerhouse. All of this human being’s diverse energies are now directed and focused on the single idea of Universal Good. And from this focus will flow tremendous sincerity, clarity of thought, and most important, honesty of purpose.

This honesty of purpose, in turn, will sweep away most of the weapons that the physical world uses to bind a human being – wealth, power, fame, the prospects of comfort, the feelings of achievement.

The human being is now truly powerful, and the world truly powerless.

It is this human being that must go out and rouse this nation. Fight in its schools, its hospitals, its fields, and its villages. It is this human being that Swami Vivekananda asks for and to whom he exhorts, “Stop not till the goal is reached”.

Meaning: the energy of self-perpetuation

  1. Meaning can be expressed in joy, delight, laughter, loving-devotion to an ideal.
  2. Meaning can be generated through the very act of expression. In the doing is the learning.
  3. Meaning needs no past, no future except the anticipation of greater fulfillment.
  4. Meaning is the root-cause of all personal action.
  5. Meaning means that life is worth living – for oneself, for others, for a collective larger than oneself.
  6. Meaning is the outcome of faith and love.
  7. Meaning is of the nature of love itself and has it roots in faith and self-esteem.
  8. Faith and self-esteem are themselves rooted in the ego – individual, collective, or universal.
  9. To seek meaning is to seek life.
    To lose meaning is to lose life itself.
  10. What is meaning?
    Meaning is the energy of self perpetuation.
  11. When this self perpetuation is individual limited and deeply contexted, it leads to a grasping, wanting society.
  12. When this self perpetuation is collective, bonded and rooted in a shared purpose, it leads to powerful contribution.
  13. When this self perpetuation transcends the collective, becomes unbounded and free, it becomes capable of pure love of existence itself.
  14. The journey from the individual to the universal is called evolutionary purpose.
  15. The generation of greater and greater meaning through the living of this evolutionary purpose is called fulfillment.

Invoking Excellence – Mapping the dynamic of excellence that can be embedded in a collective/organization

The Challenge of Excellence

In almost every community that the Illumine Lab has worked with or visited, there has been one common problem, one theme, that has run through all developmental efforts: the challenge of excellence.

A company seeks to introduce Quality Programs, people ask, “Why”?

A leader wants her team to learn more and adapt to new technologies, people silently resist it.

A government seeks to lay out an exciting vision of global leadership, people (in their minds!) wonder, “Is it possible?”

In other words, people are finding it difficult to relate abstract ‘good ideas’ like excellence, quality, faith, growth, achievement with the day-to-day personal and professional concerns that constitute their lives.

On deeper thought, it can be seen that the same issues underlie the problems faced by three distinct groups of people –

firstly, those who are seeking to build superior institutions;

secondly, those who are seeking to compete better; and,

thirdly, those who are simply trying to question and challenge the status quo in their individual areas of endeavour.

What is the Bridge between Excellence and one’s own life?

It appears that the bridge cannot be ‘external motivation’, but is ‘internal motivation’.

Put another way, one becomes excellent because one chooses to be excellent.

When one chooses to be excellent, the result is an interest in all things associated with excellence.

When do Individuals Choose Excellence in their Lives?

When they see the relationship between ‘quality of output’ and ‘significance of life’.

When they recognize the meaning of ‘performance’.

And, when they come to recognize that learning and growing is an end in itself.

What then is the ‘Trigger’ that Enables Individuals to Embark on this Cycle of Growth and Excellence?

The trigger appears to be an encounter with quality.

When individuals come face to face with people or situations or events where the value of great performance, of raw professional competence, of true meaningful effort becomes obvious to them.

This encounter could be with role models or aspirational figures, with people who are known to have excelled, or even with powerful books or films.

The important thing is the encounter.

But the encounter is not enough.

What is also needed is reflection, (the availability of conceptual models and frameworks of learning that allow these encounters to be truly assimilated).

Equally important is the necessity of practice.

The opportunity to test and refine one’s own understanding within the warp and weft of real world action.

Put another way, there must be at least one or more ‘zone of excellence’ in one’s life where one is willing to make the choices and sacrifices needed to encounter and realize excellence.

Finally, what is also needed is role models.

A group of people who are willing to provide the moorings for the emotional and self-esteem related changes that such a journey involves – the enabling environment.

Putting these four elements together – the encounters, the tools and models, the opportunities for translating these ideas into action, and the enabling environment of role models – constitutes the ingredients of excellence in human systems.

The positive dynamic of Excellence

How excellence is invoked

The four elements – the presence of encounters, the opportunities and models for reflection, the availability of ‘zone(s) of excellence’ (as manifest in lived practice), and, the presence of an enabling psycho-social environment in the form of role models and culture – are seen to be mutually reinforcing if we seek sustainable growth in human excellence both in ourselves and in our people.

Expansion of personality The metric of growth for a knowledge worker

In a world equalized by competencies, what is the metric of growth for a Knowledge Worker?
In knowledge work, there is no ‘growth’. The logic of knowledge work is that there are no hierarchies. The world is flat. Therefore a knowledge worker’s growth lies in the expansion of his personality. There is no other way a knowledge worker can be ‘evaluated’.

By the expansion of personality, you command respect. In the old world, respect was demanded. In the new world, it can only be commanded. And you will lift yourself by yourself. Otherwise any amount of a ‘crown’ won’t command respect. The personality – that is what will distinguish you in the world.

The dimensions of ‘more or less’ of something will not command respect. All that is the ornamentation on the tusk of an elephant – only for show. But first the tusk has to be ready, and the tusk is expansion.

How does expansion come?
How does it come? Can you buy it? Can you ‘make-up’ and get it? No. It will be built if your heart expands, if your head expands, if your thoughts expand. The main thing is the expansion of the personality. The gold will come. Afterwards. And adorn the tusk.

Success in the world of knowledge will only come through the personality. It is the heart-center of success. Therefore that is the point of Grace. If your personality is expanding, you know that God’s Grace is there.

Grace is when He puts you in the ‘position’ to command that ‘role’ which He wants to give you. Not only does He give you, but makes you deserve it. You get it royally right.

Rebuilding India – 1 What should be our philosophy of change?


We are on the threshold of a great opportunity. We, as a nation, are becoming self-conscious of our power, our capacity for greatness, our untapped potential both in terms of people and resources.



How are we to realize this great opportunity? How do we convert this dream into a reality? That is the question facing us as a nation today.

Why is this a question, in the first place? Why must we worry whether our dreams will be converted into a reality?

The reason is because we have in the past seen similar, if smaller, visions but have, in the final analysis, failed to mobilize ourselves as a people, as a national collective to realize this vision.



Why the failure to mobilize? There are two reasons commonly presented.

One, that we are a diverse nation, with a wide range of economic and social needs, from the tribals of Bastar, to the urban and elite of South Mumbai.

Two, that we are a democracy, due to which any action however worthy and well intentioned, is capable of, and does get, blocked by numerous contrary interests.

Both these arguments that we are diverse and a large and complex democracy means that all solutions are necessarily consensual, “diluted” and delayed by the time they become acceptable.

In short, we are far too complex as a nation to “mobilize” meaningfully and purposefully to realize our own vision.



But what does change really mean? What or who must change for the nation to change? Usually, four units of transformation are talked about wherever change is discussed. These are shown in the pyramid below:

Four Levels of Transformation

Four Levels of Transformation

Let us elaborate on all four

  • At the political level, change will mean a more honest, committed political class that is willing to go beyond the narrowest possible self-interest in which they operate.
  • At the institutional level, change will mean rebuilding institutional purpose as the driving force for change.
  • At the individual level, change means rebuilding the sense of citizenship and responsibility – beyond self.
  • At the community level, change means acceptance of the evolutionary potential of change rather than a blind rejection of the new in favor of an older way of doing things.

All four types of change have to take place simultaneously – across a nation of one billion plus individuals, across thousands of communities, across several hundred institutions, and across a political system that has been systematically corroded over decades – for real change to take place.



Is there an alternative way of bringing out a quantum change that does not envisage directly engaging with the inertial forces in the country? Is it possible, instead to identify what are the drivers of evolution – the evolutionary catalysts in our nation? Can we strengthen these evolutionary catalysts so that the rate of change increases? Is it possible to awaken this nation to its highest potential instead of prodding a sleepy giant to changing his very nature?

Rebuilding India – 2 Can we create design leaders focused on meeting human outcomes?


Society will be transformed if and only if three things happen:

First, a shift from achievement to citizenship: achievement is basically self-centered while citizenship is centered on the welfare of society as a whole.

Second, citizenship itself has to be understood as a space or landscape in which one can make a lifetime’s journey of 30-40 years (even over several lifetimes).

Third, each one of us needs to takes up the responsibility for meeting human outcomes – for ourselves and for others, and not just material outcomes.



The essence of citizenship is human outcomes, while the essence of achievement is material outcomes.

Once one has to meet outcomes, it cannot be through a process. One needs to take responsibility. I have to design a way to meet your outcomes.

Human outcomes can be met at several levels – at the level of an individual, at the level of a collective / community, or for society as a whole.

  1. Meeting outcomes at the level of an individual means taking responsibility for the growth of the individual.
  2. Meeting outcomes at the level of a collective means finding out a way in which that collective becomes self-sustaining – it becomes a design collective.
  3. Meeting outcomes for society means finding ways to create several change makers / design leaders, who will each transform numerous design collectives. And it also means being able enable all these design leaders to go out and do it.



If one’s focus is working at a societal level, then one needs to be able to create several design leaders who are tied together by an ideal, but free to use their own intellect, their own priorities and their own thinking.

What they share is only a shared ideal for the welfare of the country. Beyond that each person is free to find his/her own strategy for growth.


The Joy of Excellence

Each individual has infinite possibilities. Out of these infinite possibilities we choose to develop one, two, or a few possibilities.

Whatever possibilities we choose, the next question that we ask ourselves is “how far or how much can I develop these possibilities?”

There are two kinds of excellence


Two Kinds of Excellence

Two Kinds of Excellence

A study of all those possibilities tells us that we can develop our possibilities in the following way –

We can develop our possibilities

We can develop our possibilities

EXPLORE means to learn the value of the subject

ENGAGE means to go deep into the subject

EXCEL means to achieve mastery

SUSTAINED EXCELLENCE means to continue to grow and develop oneself.