Three Pillars

In February, I was invited to preside over an event conducted for Undergraduate Students who were completing their management studies. I was asked to address a gathering of over 300 students. It was my first time addressing a gathering and I did not want to bore them about specifics of managing a business. Instead, I wanted to share with them the knowledge that has helped me support and run a business for 15 years. Here’s a transcript of the speech.

Thank you!

That’s the first thing I’d like to say – for having me here and for allowing me to be a part of this event!

I did some hard thinking about what I wanted to say, but it all came down to what it is that I strongly feel about life in general and running a business – that was the best I could share.

There’s nothing here that hasn’t already been said before, but I’m going to go on and say it anyway!

Be grateful and mindful – David Foster Wallace quoted a simple little parable – There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?” That’s how the world works – you take a lot of things for granted. Here are few things that make it to this list – turning your tap on every time, going to sleep, opening your refrigerator, taking your next breath. They all seem so minute, so effortless. Think about this – you’ve gotten some soap into your eyes, you turn the tap on only to find that it’s dry. Or, you go to sleep, and a loved one doesn’t wake up in the morning. After a tiring day, you’re hungry, and you open your refrigerator to find an empty one staring back at you or suddenly you’re not able to take your next breath. That’s how life works – some moments will hurt you when you least expect them to. Set aside a few moments to be thankful, and to be grateful for all the luxuries in life that you have and for all the pain that you do not have. 

Be curious, ask questions, and learn – Some of our most memorable moments in life are a result of being curious, asking a question or making a gigantic mistake. I remember when a customer approached us and wanted to coat/ cover some of the transformers that we’d already supplied to prevent them from getting corroded. These were transformers for a naval application which would expose them to vagaries of nature – humidity and extreme heat in this case. We kept looking at this from a transformer point of view. After considerable discussions, we made headway albeit an expensive one wherein it was decided that some compounds would be imported and applied on the transformer. This wasn’t a tested method either. I wasn’t happy with it; yes we were going to make money, but then that isn’t why we exist. We’re here to solve problems. We needed to rethink this. The fundamental problem was this – we just had to prevent corrosion of parts, and it had to be a reliable approach. Curiosity piqued me; I asked myself a basic question – how to stop any part from corroding? It hit me from nowhere, and I asked them – What are you painting ships with? The solution to the problem was in the question. Use the same thing on the transformer! So sometimes, going back to the very basic questions help. I may have sounded a bit foolish asking a simple question, but we did manage to find a solution and save a lot of money. Most of the times, people focus on the answers, but sometimes the best answers are a product of the best questions.

Be honest – These two words speak enough. I do not have any anecdote, or event in my life to tell you about this – when you talk about the truth you only need to talk about one thing; but, when you start with a lie, then you end up writing a whole book about it. You will always need a lie to cover another one, and soon you’re having a mountain of lies that you cannot hide anymore.

These three things that have kept me going for the last fifteen years, and I hope they serve as a guide in your lives too. 

I’d like to conclude with a few lines from Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”, which I’m sure many of you would have heard earlier –

“Do not gentle into that good night, 

Old age should burn and rave at the close of day, 

Rage, rage against the dying of the light”.

Thank you everyone, and I’m sure the best is yet to come for all of us!

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