Fundamental Skills for Budding Professionals

[Dr Vikas and Dr Preeti Shirodkar asked me to write foreword to their book which will be published soon. This is an honour bestowed on me! Here is the full text of the Foreword, published with the consent of the authors.]
A major customer of my entrepreneur friend called him over for a meeting and explained that he had just one year in which to practice ‘just-in-time,’ upgrade his quality drastically and also cut cost by 10%. All this meant a complete overhaul of all management practices, being followed by the company, which employed more than five hundred persons; and he did it successfully. What was the key factor in ensuring this success, what was the learning, I asked him, really curious to know. His answer surprised me, till I realised how obvious the truth, it brought forth, was. While explaining how his company underwent a radical transformation, he said: “It is all about engaging people in meaningful conversations”. Obvious and true and yet a realisation that is so rare!

All in all my entrepreneur-friend pointed out the importance of acquiring critical skills, which is the subject of this book.

The problem my entrepreneur-friend faced, in fact, reminded me of the two kinds of problems, which Peter Senge referred to, in his book – The Fifth Discipline. We face two kinds of problems – Convergent and Divergent. A convergent problem has only one right answer [Which is the shortest route to reach office from home?], but a divergent problem has more than one right answer. Imagine asking a group of managers ‘how to improve the market share of product ‘x’ by ‘y’?’ You may try this at home too; ask your wife and children ‘Where shall we go for vacation this summer?’ or ‘Which smart phone should I buy now?’ You will find many answers, being put on the table, all of them right and as if that were not enough, you would realise that they advocate their answer, as the only right answer!

If we wish to be successful, in our personal and professional life, we have an uphill task – that of influencing people every day, for big and small decisions. It is here that professional skills [actually why not call them ‘life skills?’] come into play and determine our success.

The interesting aspect of professional skills is that we keep learning them and from them, throughout our life; in that sense none of us can claim to be an expert. We can only increase our level of proficiency. Professional life becomes increasingly challenging, as one rises in the hierarchy. The CEO has to influence people, who matter the most, without any authority over them, when he deals with Government officials, Customers, Technical Experts and the like. [You will also appreciate that in our personal life too, we require higher order skills, as we grow older – managing an adolescent son calls for different and higher order skills than managing a toddler.]

This aspect of lifelong learning reminds me of what physicists call ‘negentropy.’ We may understand it as the reverse of entropy. While a man ages and his eye sight weakens, he accumulates a lot of insights! His faculty of hearing weakens, but he increasingly practises ‘empathetic listening.’ So too, while our health deteriorates, we become ‘healthier’ psychologically. A story goes that when Lord Yama, the Lord of Death, met an old man to claim him, the old man said, “Don’t take me away, I have just realised how to lead life skilfully!”

In fact, we have a choice to make – do we wish to learn professional skills by accident or consciously – not learning them is not an available option. It is precisely here that this book helps us. This also brings us to the next issue – ‘how do we learn?’ While we do not learn any skill only by reading a book, we learn because a book triggers reflection on its messages and on our experiences. The twenty-seven chapters and the innumerable insights presented in this book will help students and professionals at all stages of their career.

Over and above this, the last chapter on ‘Professional and Personal Values’ underscores the need to practise them knowingly; as ‘People must know what you stand for and they must also know what you don’t stand for.’ This gives one a distinct character, a persona. We must not sleep walk through life, we must live it consciously. Learning professional skills, like managing our emotions, managing conflicts and practising them, in daily life, at one’s workplace [and yes, at home too!] and finally testing them on the anvil of our personal and professional values, to draw insights is finally what shapes the character of a person and makes him/her successful.

This book guides us in that journey. The author duo is best qualified in this task because they have practised it first and then written about it. In evidence, I produce their profiles given elsewhere in this book!

I thank them for bringing their insights to us, and, dear reader, proudly place this book in your hands, hoping it will prove the base for your success story.

Vivek S Patwardhan