Step by Step – Ferociously


“Do you think Oz could give me courage?” asked the Cowardly Lion.
“Just as easily as he could give me brains,” said the Scarecrow.
“Or give me a heart”, said the Tin Woodsman.
“Or send me back to Kansas,” said Dorothy.
“Then, if you don’t mind, I’ll go with you,” said the Lion, “for my life is simply unbearable without a bit of courage.”
                                            – The Wizard of Oz.

Recently I was fortunate to be given a chance to take our ship on a voyage from Singapore to TEMA (Ghana). The voyage was planned for 24 days and the longest I ever had. Like two men looking out from prison bars, one saw the mud while other saw stars, some of our crew saw this voyage through the eyes of fear and acted like a sheep waiting to be prodded by their shepherd, whereas others saw it through the eyes of opportunities. Well, I must say that these long voyages are not everyone’s cup of tea, in which some would succumb to the ordeal whereas some can find fulfillment and enjoyment.

“The erect and the fallen are but one man standing in twilight between the night of his Pigmy self and the day of his God Self.”

In any case, the course was charted and our voyage started on 19th December 2020. During this pandemic, where most of our office guys working from home were avoiding the social life, we on the other hand to make the voyage more fulfilling were finding ways to get more socialized. As we progressed, we celebrated Christmas, New Year, some crew birthdays and made the best use of spare time we had . On deck, the deck hands mastered all deck operations and enjoyed fixing day to day breakdowns and making the ship more seaworthy than ever before. Twice we crossed equator, crossed tropic of Capricorn and sighted dolphins too.

Drills and training were carried out but this time the person in charge was not an officer, rather the chance to head was given to cadets and ratings. Every opportunity was en-cashed to assist our crew to grow as a person and as a better seafarer. Prior commencing our voyage the vessel had called North Chinese ports where the icy winds howled and now in hot Summers of Africa working on deck, crew found themselves having dry sauna. At times we encountered heavy seas which slowed us down and then we had our good times too. Nevertheless, of all the adversity faced, looking out from our port holes we saw the sea – the real blue sea and we made a joyous bounding with the same waters on which we have sailed many times before.

Our voyage was like the tortoise who kept moving forward, slow and steady and finally on 12th January 2021, as TEMA port came over the horizon, we finally won our race. A long voyage which eventually ended up successfully. Though no physical awards were given on completion but for all on board the rewards were rich as the voyage proved to be an excellent teacher. A teacher who taught us that adversity can be transformed to an enjoyable challenge. Voyage that taught us that in the start we might not have all the answers but as we muster our courage and progress, with one bite at a time the elephant can indeed be eaten and with Step by Step – Ferociously we can surely win any of our voyages.

“The hidden well spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea; and the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.” – Kahlil Gibran

Team Productivity : Horses Vs Goats

Recently we faced a critical situation onboard for which an immediate answer was required. A meeting was called looking for all possible answers and we did find the required answer. However, on reflection I noticed that every time, when I am looking for answers the inputs given are only from the vital few. Doesn’t matter how much time and efforts are given from my end to motivate all the crew on board, it was these limited few who always have the best answers. Amazed, I shared my reflection with our chief engineer who on carefully listening shared with me an old parable:

There once lived a scorpion and a frog. The scorpion wanted to cross the pond, but, being a scorpion, he couldn’t swim.
So he scuttled up to the frog and asked, “Please Mr. Frog, can you carry me across the pond on your back?”
“I would,” replied the frog. “but under the circumstances, I must refuse. You might sting me as I swim across.”
“But why would I do that?” asked the scorpion. “It’s not in my interests to sting you, because you will die and then I will drown.”
Although the frog knew how lethal scorpions were, the logic proved quite persuasive. Perhaps, felt the frog, in this one instance the scorpion would keep his tail in check. So the frog agreed. The scorpion climbed onto his back, and together they set off across the pond. Just as they reached the middle of the pond, the scorpion twitched his tail and stung the frog.
Mortally wounded, the frog cried out, “Why did you sting me?”It is not in your interest to sting me, because now I will die and you will drown.”
“I know,” replied the scorpion as he sank into the pond. “But I am a scorpion. I have to sting you. It’s in my nature.”

We all have goats and horses in every team but when the ball is dropped we need horses who willfully will dive in to lift the ball up and can bail us out. In my chase to convert goats to horses, I was counting what can be counted, forgetting that not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts. The scientist who developed the Saturn 5 rocket that launched the first Apollo Mission to the moon said, “You want a valve that doesn’t leak and you try everything possible to develop one. But the real world provides you with a leaky valve. You have to determine how much leaking you can tolerate.” It’s the horses who are the fuel of our future and we have to ensure that this fuel shouldn’t leak and for the goats we have to see how much leakage can we tolerate. Listening to the goats too much i had wasted my time enough. But not any more. Now it’s time for me to listen to the horses and listen to the horses I will…

Preparation to Win is a Prerequisite to Win

Few days back when I was playing a game of chess with my wife, I found myself in a salvation position. At the start I was not on the verge of death but as the game progressed my condition got worse. Like an alcoholic who wants another drink no matter what the consequences, I jumped from one desperate move to another and fired every shot I could but still I fell. I thought I was playing rationally but my moves indicated the opposite. The game lasted for less than an hour but it made me wonder why at times when we should keep our calm we tend to lose it more? Why when we should behave rationally we behave irrationally?

Going ahead I must say that I am not alone is this mad race of irrationalism. Jan 2007, Washington post ran a social experiment in which they asked one of the best violinists in the world, Joshua Bell to play as an incognito busker at a metro station in Washington D.C. Having agreed, Bell played for about 45 minutes, in which he played some of the best he could but to his surprise out of 1097 people that passed by only 7 actually stopped and listened to any length of time. 7 out of 1097 is not even 1% that behaved rationally the day Bell played.

Though it was painful for me to be in a game where every move was draining me out mentally but it was a game of success too. A game which on reflection taught me the benefits of slowing down. Many times instead of firing all the shots we have got, just by taking a few deep breaths might take us on a totally different course. Bird’s eye view might help us to see everything from the top but sometimes what is required is a worm’s eye view which will help us to deal with one problem at a time.

Rome was not built in a day, goes the saying. Preparing my base from irrationalism to rationalism will take some time but I am ready to invest in it. Preparation to Win is indeed a prerequisite to win. What about you? Are you willing to invest?

The Dog That Didn’t Bark

“Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them” – Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Officers A and Z joined our ship and during their sign-on meeting both promised to deliver the best they could during their tenure. Their tenure completed fast and in the end, for officer A the day never came what he initially promised, the work he promised remained nowhere but inside of him and he signed off empty. On the opposite end, officer Z kept his promises and delivered what he initially promised. Both officers had good Intentions when they joined but in the run – to act and deliver is a different story altogether.

Luckily, on being asked about the secret ingredients of his par performance, officer Z revealed the following two secrets :

A) Being Watched – Officer Z always used to carry the photograph of the person he loves the most – his MOTHER. Whatever he does he does keeping in mind that his mother is always watching him. With his mother by his side and as an observer the officer delivered nothing but his best.

B) Being Curious – Officer Z was also found to be always curious which he learned from his toddler. This curiosity of his, helped him to explore new ideas and in the process helped him to grow and learn. Like Walt Disney once said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things because we are curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Ways can be many but walking the walk and delivering our best is not everyone’s cup of tea. When promises are made we define ourselves seeing our good intentions, forgetting that the vital component of success is not intentions but ACTION. And as we progress we forget to weed out our own garden and the work we promised remains nowhere but inside of us and then with our lame excuse we are ready to hold others accountable for our failures.

One wise man once said, “The richest place in the world is the graveyard.” Because it’s a place buried with all good intentions and dreams that were not acted upon. Don’t take your good intentions to your graveyard. Dig through the rubble and get your gold.

Comfort and greatness can’t be pursued at the same time. Ways can be many but the time to act is now. Some is not a number and Soon is not a time, so not someday and not some time but NOW. After all it’s your promises, your dreams and your good intentions. It’s your fight and it’s your duty to make it right.

Freedom or Banana : Choice is Yours

“Before you attempt to set things right, make sure you see things right.” – Blaine Lee Pardoe

Vessel was enroute from Port Said, Egypt to Izmir, Turkey when it encountered some engine troubles. Engineers called up the bridge to stop the vessel and vessel was stopped – adrift in the East Mediterranean Sea. Berthing window in Izmir was confirmed and the schedule was a bit tight. Considering the time constraint all engine hands were mustered and troubleshooting started. Within 30 minutes the problem was rectified and the vessel was back on her voyage. However, during the repair operations one of the engineers got an injury but luckily the injury was a first aid case and was healed by minor dressings.

No one likes an Injury and despite the fact that “SAFETY FIRST” is our mantra, somehow during the rush to repair – Safety First lost it’s priority and was no where first. When things are going smooth, the likelihood of having an accident can be very much under appreciated and we tend to forget that there can be many slips between the cup and the lips. Many times our case is similar to a monkey who smells a banana and slides his hand inside the coconut, later on realizing that it was nothing but a trap. His tunnel vision can focus only on banana which compromises his freedom. Question is how the idea of freedom can be introduced again in the tunnel where the only thing that smells is banana?

Yale University, Year 1965, psychologist Howard Leventhal gave booklets to his students explaining the dangers of Tetanus and the importance of inoculation to see how many of them will go for the shots. To his shock and despite giving relevant information only 3% of his students got inoculated. Later on he gave them a map of the health center, times when shots were available and asked them the time they would visit and which route they would take to get the shot. The percentage of students who got the shot suddenly raised to 28%. Students were busy in what they thought was important but by asking them their plans Howard inserted tetanus inoculation in their tunnels.

People carry umbrellas only when they see the clouds. Readiness of the umbrellas without the presence of the clouds is what we have to prepare ourselves for. Transiting dense traffic areas like Dover and Singapore strait, the presence of Captain is essential on the command center of the ship(bridge). As a Captain I know exactly when the vessel will transit the strait but then again doing a premortem of the situation I always request the duty officer to call me beforehand. “Prevention is better than cure,” goes an old saying and the answer to ensure this is to introduce ways by which important things which might be missed can be reminded to us. Ways can be many but the idea is to introduce the missing part back where it belongs. Safety first should always be first. If there are chances where it can be second then there should be constant reminders to ensure that safety comes first and first only.

I know none of the above will act like a magic pill that can drop down the number of accidents on board. The problem is deep and sometimes the monkey does not like to exchange his banana for his freedom.But, understanding the psychology of the problem is more important than the problem itself. But if you are not a monkey and are looking for a way out of the tunnel vision then start doing the premortem of the situation, seeking out in advance what might go wrong. Once the culprit is known then the rest is to take it out of the picture. An apple a day keeps the doctor away is known to all but introducing a way to eat it daily is what we have to look for.

“Banana or Freedom”, “Safety or Injury” – The Choice is yours. After all, you are the captain of your ship.

Perspective

Two boys were raised by an alcoholic father. One grew up to be an alcoholic and when asked what happened he said “I watched my father.” The other grew up and never drank in his life. When he was asked what happened he said, “I watched my father”. Two boys, same dad but different perspective.

Now read the following sentence:
A WOMAN WITHOUT HER MAN IS NOTHING.
Some of you will read this sentence as:
A WOMAN, WITHOUT HER MAN, IS NOTHING
Whereas some of you will read it as:
A WOMAN: WITHOUT HER, MAN IS NOTHING.
What about this one:
GOD IS NOWHERE.
What you pronounced the above…
GOD IS NOW HERE
Or
GOD IS NO WHERE.

Yet again, different people – different perspective but how you see the world will make your world too. Recently while looking down from a high rise building in Bengaluru, completely changed my perspective of the city. Though the people and the traffic were same, but the perspective was different. Same goes to all our problems. They can appear big or small, all depends how we see them and what our perspective is. ‘To one whose feet are shod, the whole world is covered with leather.’ We don’t have to cover the whole world with leather, just wearing our shoes can we walk wherever we like.

Dale Carnegie in his early Thirties decided to spend his life writing novels. He spent two years living cheaply in Europe and came with a book which he called ‘The Blizzard’. Then to his surprise his agent told him that he is not gifted nor talented for fiction. But instead of losing hope he just put a stop loss order on his worries and went forward from there to make a new start in nonfiction books. Glad he made that decision and look how successful and how far he went on writing nonfiction books. It’s all our perspective on how we see our loss. Either we will learn from them and make a fresh start, or we can do nothing at all and keep on crying for our fate. Later in his book ‘How to Stop Worrying and start Living’ he compared Napoleon and Helen Keller giving a perfect example of perspective. Carnegie wrote that Napoleon had everything men usually crave – glory, power, riches – yet, at St. Helena he said: “I have never known six happy days in my life”; while Helen Keller – blind, deaf and dumb, declared: “I have found life so beautiful.” Carnegie said if half a century of living has taught me anything at all, it has taught me that “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” We always must look up, only then can we see a rainbow.

In 1919 Walt Disney was fired from one of his first animation jobs at the Kansas City Star Newspaper because according to the editor Disney lacked imagination and had no good ideas. Later Disney acquired Laugh – O – Gram an animation studio which he later drove into bankruptcy. But putting his failures in right perspective Disney moved to California and began the Disney Brothers Studio, eventually creating Disneyland and winning 22 Academy Awards. Bill Gates first company was Traf – O – Data. Their product was a device which could read traffic tapes and process the data. But their very first demo failed because the machine didn’t work. His partner, Paull Allen, said: ‘Even though Traf-O-Data wasn’t a roaring success, it was seminal in preparing us to make Microsoft’s first product a couple of years later’. Only when their failure was taken in right perspective did Microsoft become the largest computer software company in the world. The best way of shifting our perspective is to see the big picture. For example, going to gym every day is boring but if we see the big picture of why we are going to gym i.e. to be more fit and appealing then we will find going to gym every day is not boring. Always see the big picture, our ultimate goal.

Economist Robert W. Babson in his true story as given in Dale Carnegie’s book ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ suggested to Read History Books to get a viewpoint of the past and to see how trivial our troubles are in terms of eternity. He said ” The world has always been in the throes of agony, that civilisation has always been tottering on the brink. The pages of history fairly shriek with tragic tales of war, famine, poverty, pestilence, and man’s inhumanity to man. After reading history for an hour, I realise that bad as conditions are now, they are infinitely better than they used to be. This enables me to see and face my present troubles in their proper perspective as well as to realise that the world as a whole is constantly growing better.”

The best story about perspective is given in “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions” by John C Maxwell involves a General and a young lieutenant on a train in England after World War II. The only seats available to them were across from a beautiful young woman and her grandmother. After they had been riding a while, the train went through a tunnel where everyone was in total darkness for about ten seconds. In the silence the four passengers heard two things: A kiss and A slap.

Everyone had their own perceptions as to what had happened.

The young lady thought to herself, “I’m flattered that the lieutenant kissed me, but I’m terribly embarrassed that Grandmother hit him!”

The grandmother thought, “I’m aggravated that he kissed my granddaughter, but I’m proud she had the courage to defend her honour!”

The General thought, “My lieutenant showed a lot of guts in kissing that girl, but why did she slap me by mistake?”

The lieutenant was the only one on the train who really knew what had happened. In those moments of darkness, he had the opportunity to both kiss a pretty girl and slap a General.

Let me end up this blog by asking you yet another question.
How many straight lines are there in a perfect circle?
Without revealing the answer, I will let your perspective answer it for you.

The Artist Who Hears Colour

Cyborg Artist : Neil Harbisson

For every ailment under the sun.
There is a remedy, or there is none.
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it.
– Mother Goose Rhymes.

Neil Harbisson is an artist from Britain who was born completely colour blind. His black and white life changed when he decided to have an antenna surgically implanted into his skull that enabled him to “hear” colour. The microchip converts light waves into sound waves and then sends vibrations to Neil which he can feel in his bones. Each colour represents a different vibration which the artist had to memorize in the initial period.

Now he identifies each colour with a musical note – even the ones we can’t see. You see – where there is a will there’s a way. An old saying but believing in it, Neil can hear colours. Not only living his dreams but to help others in the year 2010 Neil founded the Cyborg Foundation that helps others to permanently implant technology into their bodies.

Khalil Gibran was right when he said, “Though in winter you deny your spring, yet spring, reposing within you, smiles in her drowsiness and is not offended.”

When a baby giraffe is born, he falls from a height of about 8 feet from the mother’s womb. Then the mother giraffe instead of lifting the baby up, lifts her leg and kicks the baby giraffe and keeps on kicking the new-born until the baby stands on its feet. She teaches her new-born the very first lesson that no matter how hard you fall, always pick yourself up and stand tall. Mother Giraffe knows that lion loves giraffe meat and unless the baby giraffe learns how to stand, there is no chance of his survival.

Difficult roads, they say, often lead to beautiful destination. So please, stop playing victim and start trying to see all the opportunities our problems can bring to us. Only when we push through the problems can we ultimately achieve what is meaningful in life. Ray Dalio in his book Principles said, “Problems are like wood thrown into a locomotive engine, because burning them up – i.e., inventing and implementing solutions – propels us forward. Problems are typically manifestations of root causes, so they provide clues for getting better. Most of the movement toward excellence comes from eliminating problems by getting at their root causes and making the changes that pay off repeatedly in the future. So, finding problems should get you excited because you have found an opportunity to get better.”

It’s not what happens to us really matters rather then what happens inside us that really matters. Acceptance of something is positive. Non acceptance on the other end is negative. I firmly believe the words of Author M. Scott Peck which he said in his book The Road Less Travelled “This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it has been accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

Let’s accept our difficult life and put our best efforts to make lemonade from the most bitter of lemons that comes our way.

He That Seeketh – Findeth

“The owl whose night bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.” We all see our world as per our own perspective which is a direct result of our life experiences, our values and our physiological state. We see what our perspective allows us to see but to say that our perspective is the only reality might not only be wrong but will limit us to see the bigger picture.

The only best way of shifting our perspective is to see the big picture and this book is an attempt to help readers to see one, so that they can turn lemonade from the most bitter of lemons that comes their way.

During this transit when we dive into dark waters and find our way out is where we learn the most but the most meaningful teachings life has to offer. We don’t need a new horizon , but we do need a new pair of eyes to see the existing horizon.

“For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” – (Matthew 7:7-8)

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08HHSDHJH/ref=cm_sw_r_wa_awdb_t1_tfZCFbGMX8HB9

Academic Success or Real Life Success?

Very often we buy that our formal education and academic qualifications equal success but lately we realise that it has nothing to do with real life success. A clear example of this is my Class-1, Certificate of Competency which is my license to command merchant ships on international voyages. However, this license allows me to command a ship but teaches nothing on dealing daily challenges faced on board ships.

During my school and college days I was emphasized to focus more on the subjects in which I was doing poor. It was my teachers perception that focusing on the subjects in which I was performing poor can enhance my academic success. I can’t say how much I improved but surely gauging them led me to more confusion and frustration. Luckily that’s not the case in real life where gauging strength zone leads to much success and fulfilment.

Being Captain of a merchant ship I have a strong sense on my abilities to navigate a ship. However, if you ask me to perform duties of a chief engineer than I will be nothing but a total disaster. This reminded me of an old joke told by my chief engineer which goes as below:

The Captain and the Chief Engineer were in the galley revisiting an old argument:
The Chief: “Your job is too easy, all you do is pick a point on the chart and set your compass to it”

No Way” said the captain. “Your job is way easier. Those engines are just a larger version of an outboard motor!

So each men decided to switch jobs for a while to settle the argument….
About an hour latter beads of sweat are running down the Captain’s brow
as he struggles to keep the plant online.

After about 20min the Captain hears a small bang and sends the 3rd to investigate.
An alarm goes off and he sends the 2nd.
Then he sees an oiler running past with a wrench…so he sends the 1st.

A few more minutes pass and BANG the lights go out.

Discouraged and now seemingly adrift he heads to the bridge to admit defeat. “I am so sorry chief, I lost the plant. Your job is much harder than I ever thought”. “That’s OK….” replies the Chief Engineer “we ran aground!”

With my Chief

Luckily on board, myself and my chief understand our talents and use them in the right arena.

A monkey does not exchange a portion of his banana for another’s nuts. We all have seeds of success within us and it’s our responsibility to blossom that seed to success. I pray it comes easy for you and you are well prepared for it otherwise there is one more way and that will be from school of hard knocks. Sooner or later we eventually will learn. But sooner the better….

Who Is Listening?

You have played by the rules. Did what everyone else did and delivered what was expected out of you. Despite all your moves to play safe, specially at this hour of pandemic, you found yourself to be a nobody or in plain words – Invisible. An invisible person to whom no-one is lending his ears and you ended up where you started and remained unheard and a nobody.

During my school days I remember, trying out your uniqueness was a way straight to principal’s office. So, what we did? Like the Owl whose night bound eyes can’t unveil the mystery of light, we did what was expected out of us and  like every duck quacking we also started to quack and quacked we all did in harmony. Alas!!! By remaining in the good books of our teachers, quacking and by doing nothing special we remained nothing but invisible.

Growing up, playing on the field, sailing and delivering goods across continents – I learned. However, the lessons learned was not in Sync with what was taught in the school. I learned that you don’t have to defy gravity but uniqueness of buoyancy and a bit of courage is all is needed to get the job done. I learned that playing it safe is not at all safe but the utmost risk we can take in our life is by playing safe. Ships are safest in a port but that’s not what ships are built for.

The British explorer George Mallory, who died exploring Mt. Everest was once asked why he waned to climb it and he simply replied, “Because, it’s there.” Yes Corona Virus is out there but this pandemic when everyone else is playing out safe, gives you more chance to standout and to be remarkable. Here is your chance to navigate through the clutter and come out with your uniqueness. A uniqueness that makes you – YOU.

Everyone out there is waiting to hear your uniqueness. But remember not a quack from quackers but a unique ROAR that can be heard miles and miles away. A wise man once said, “Journey of a thousand mile begins with a single step.” Here’s your chance to take that step…..

“Let us also produce some bold act of our own—and join the ranks of the most emulated.”

—Seneca, Moral Letters, 98.13b