Coming Home

Greetings.  After 11 days in India and 26 hours traveling home I've just returned filled with new insights, new perspectives, and a million images of a remarkable journey.  I've also returned with many new friends from the companies, schools, cities, and villages I visited along the way.  And, with a better understanding of how business is done, the history and practice of Hinduism, the simple magic of the annual celebration called Holi, the challenge of educating 1.1 billion people, the importance of cows, the beauty of cricket and the passion that most Indians have for this sport, the art of Indian cooking, the caste system, and the problems of overcrowding and overcoming the intense poverty that is around almost every corner.  

Modern India presents a striking contrast between rich and poor, educated and uneducated, possibilities and despair.  And it will take me a while to figure it all out and see if I can make a difference in some small way.  

But isn't that what travel is all about?  And we only start to make sense of what we've learned when we come home to the place we understand best.  Our north star in a world filled with great potential and great difficulties.

As for the most memorable moments in my trip, I've written about several during my time away and I'll plan to share others in the weeks and months ahead.  But I would be remiss if I didn't share a picture from my celebration of Holi–a very special holiday in which people come out into the streets to cover each other with brightly-colored paint.  And, for a day at least, to come together as equals.  Now if we can only figure out how to make that happen the other 364 days of the year.  It's something I wrote about last year but didn't imagine that I would have the chance to participate just a year later (see "Finding Wisdom in Colors").


We win in business and in life when we challenge ourselves to visit and learn from other people and places.  And when we return to discover more fully the brilliance of where we've been and the genius of home.


Getting Past the First Bite

Greetings.  The four-hour drive back to Faizabad from Varanasi is a fascinating journey through the Northern Indian countryside and a wide variety of cities and towns that are filled with energy, commerce, unusual traffic, countless railroad crossings, and cows.  More cows than I've ever seen before.  And as result, the road is also lined with the most artistic and (at times) fragrant mounds of cow dung imaginable…formed into small "towers" of drying prairie pizzas.  Towers that are such a significant part of the landscape that they beg the simple question:  "What the heck do you use this stuff for?"  A question I had answered in my mind by assuming that they were used as an inexpensive and decidedly renewable form of energy by folks with limited resources.  But, in fact, the real answer was a bit more interesting (and tasty) because this gift from the gods–remember that cows are gods here in India–is used for cooking food.  And upon learning this I asked my host to "tell me more" as curiosity quickly got the best of me.

"Local people have used cow dung as a special way to grill their food for many years," she noted and continued by asking if I would like to have dinner prepared this way tonight.  "That sounds great," I thought aloud, then paused to wonder what exactly I'd gotten myself into.  "Perfect," she replied, "we'll build a dung grill in the backyard this evening where we can make one of my favorite dishes, and you can even watch the process if you'd like."  Now before I mention that you should not try this at home without the strict supervision of a professional, let me add that one of the responsibilities of an innovation consultant is go where no man or woman has gone before.  And that includes cuisine.

But back to our story…

So tonight when the very special fire was built I watched closely as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and some whole wheat rolls were careful placed inside the burning pieces of dung and roasted to perfection.  Yes, you heard it right.  Carefully placed into the middle of a burning pile of cow dung…not way above the pile on some fancy grill you might buy at Lowe's.  Then I watched as they were removed by hand, peeled, and combined with spices and fresh chilis to create a tomato chutney and a mashed potato and eggplant entree that was shockingly delicious.  I say "shockingly" because it was a bit of shock to put the first bite in my mouth under the watchful eye of Manjula who has enjoyed this unique dish since childhood.  And because I had relatively low expectations for this very thoughtful dinner.  Now I'm not suggesting that this meal is likely to become my favorite food, but I'd gladly eat it again if given the chance.  And I'd venture to guess that most of you would enjoy it too…if you could get past the first bite.  And isn't that what innovation and change are really all about–getting past the first bite?

Dung pile

We win in business and in life when we find interesting answers to obvious questions.  And when we are willing to spice up the world for those we have the privilege to serve.  Maybe it's time for you to offer something really different for "dinner."


Notes from India

Greetings.  During the past week in India I've seen a million pictures worth taking and been stirred to think about many things in new ways.  That's one of the joys of traveling to a place that is very different from home.  And while I'll look forward to sharing some detailed experiences later in the week when I have access to a better internet connection–including the celebration of the Indian holiday of Holi in the city of Faizabad over the weekend–let me at least offer a few fun notes before I head out along the Ganges River to explore the ancient Hindu city of Varanasi.

First, cows are everywhere.  Cows that people own and cows that simply wander around the countryside and the cities.  Even the largest cities.  Cows resting in a park or grazing on the median strip of major roads.  Cows wandering through crowded markets or crossing busy intersections.  Cows strolling through 300 year-old Hindu temples.  And because they are sacred even the craziest of drivers is careful to avoid hurting then.  Which raises the question:  "What could you do to have such an honored position in the lives of your customers?"

Second, many people have told me that historically India was a place where people lived for today.  They woke up and thought about what they would do that morning without thinking about the future, and this approach to life offered a great sense of calm and contentment.  While this is beginning to change, it does suggest asking:  "What would you do differently in your company or organization if you were focused entirely on making each day perfect–one day at a time?"

Third, many people from this part of India bring their loved ones to Varanasi to be cremated when they die.  And it is believed that people who die and are cremated in this sacred city automatically go to heaven.  In fact, cremations occur here 24/7, 365 days a year…which begs the question (at least to me):  "What could your company or organization offer its customers 'nonstop' if it wanted to take them to a higher place?"

Cheers for now!