From Janitors to Jargon: Navigating the Big Four with an Unlikely Tool

đź‘€ I’m about to tell you how I used my ‘humanity compass’ to navigate the wild jungles of consulting, where power suits meet PowerPoint slides, and where it’s easier to get lost in the jargon than to find a free meeting room!

Ever tried striking up a conversation with a security guard on a bustling Tuesday morning? As counterintuitive as it sounds, that’s where my day used to begin at one of the Big Four consulting firms (pre-pandemic stuff, folks).

Yes, you heard it right—I converse, not merely exchange a rushed, mumbled greeting. And not with the high-flying senior partners or the client relationship gurus, but with Mike, the security guard, the ladies at reception, the people working in the print shop, and so on.

The corporate world often fosters a peculiar kind of tunnel vision. Picture this: employees, each a cog in this grand machinery, bustling about like purposeful ants, eyes glued to screens or focused straight ahead, ears tuned into a symphony of productivity—keyboards clicking and the constant hum of ambitious conversations.

In this orchestrated chaos, they tend to cocoon themselves in their professional bubbles, letting their gazes glaze over the world outside their immediate tasks. It’s an ironic ballet of hundreds of people in one shared space, each seemingly oblivious to the other’s presence.

The security guard’s greeting, the janitor’s nod, the friendly smile of a colleague from a different department—each one often overlooked in the rush of deadlines and targets. There’s a palpable disconnect, a silent wall erected by unacknowledged presences and unreturned greetings. This veil of indifference, though invisible, can be as tangible as the glass walls of their meeting rooms.

“Paul knows everyone!” 👋🏼

In this whirlwind of a consulting world, where roles are as distinct as chalk and cheese, and hierarchy is as visible as the neon ‘Exit’ signs, my interactions are fueled by something less obvious but more potent—humanity.

Did I mention awkwardness as a byproduct?

The roots of this ethos trace back to my hometown, Chandigarh—a city that has perfected the art of living life in the slow lane. Here, my journalist father and schoolteacher mother introduced me to a timeless principle: every human deserves respect.

It’s an approach I’ve taken from the serene bylanes of Chandigarh to the high-powered boardrooms in Toronto, treating everyone as a human first and a job title second. At times, the irony of fancy titles is that they create walls. Not on my watch!

Channelling my inner Atticus Finch (thanks, Harper Lee!), I’ve discovered you never really understand a person until you consider things from their point of view. So, whether it’s the night shift janitor or the senior partners, I approach each interaction with curiosity and an equal dose of respect.

Does it make a difference?

You bet it does! It’s like sprinkling a bit of Dale Carnegie charm into each interaction, resulting in relationships as robust as a well-brewed cup of chai. Think Chris Gardner from “The Pursuit of Happyness”—from homelessness to owning a brokerage firm while preserving his humanity. Now that’s a journey worth emulating!

So, if you’re ready to dodge those status-quos and disrupt the usual, here’s your how-to guide for putting ‘human’ at the forefront of your life:

Humanity Before Hierarchy: The CEO or the janitor? Both are humans first. Remember, folks, roles don’t define people; their humanity does.

Listen and Empathize: Channel your inner Dale Carnegie and view the world from others’ shoes. You’ll be amazed at the wisdom you unearth and the connections you cultivate.

Promote Open Communication: Create an environment where everyone feels valued and heard regardless of status. That’s where respect flourishes, my friends!

Lead by Example: As clichéd as it may sound, actions DO speak louder than words. So, demonstrate respect and kindness, and inspire others to follow suit.

In summary, I didn’t just survive the corporate world; I seasoned it with my unique flavour. My philosophy is simple: see the human first, the role second. And that, my friends, is how I discovered that respect isn’t just the secret ingredient for building strong relationships—it’s the spice that enriches life.

So, ready to tear down those invisible hierarchies and embrace our shared humanity? As you’ll soon discover, respect has the power to spin the most compelling tales—even in the most unlikely corners of the corporate world.

Also, the gossip is next level!


The Chacha Chaudhary Guide to Leadership

TLDR; Navigating the business world is a bit like being the characters from Chacha Chaudhary comics. There’s Chacha, the small old man with a red turban known for his intelligence. Then there’s Sabu, his loyal friend from Jupiter, who is as strong as he is tall, often saying, “Sabu ko jab gussa aata hai, to kahin jwalamukhi phatata hai.” (Whenever Sabu gets angry, a volcano erupts at some distant place.) In leadership terms, Chacha is your sonar and radar — your ability to navigate and perceive — while Sabu is your altimeter, guiding you to scale the right altitude.

“Chacha Chaudhary ka dimaag computer se bhi tez chalta hai.”
(Chacha Chaudhary’s brain works faster than a computer.)

If you’re familiar with this phrase, then I’m pretty sure you’ve enjoyed the fun-filled and enlightening Indian comic series.

Before Batman or Superman, there was Sabu.

Drawing inspiration from this comic gem created by Pran, let’s navigate the tricky terrains of leadership, where Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu are your trusty companions.

Have you ever been so engrossed in the minute details, like Sabu stomping on problems with his colossal power (reactive), that you miss the broader landscape?

Or, have you been like Chacha, navigating the way forward (proactive) but forgetting to deal with the ground-level chaos? If you’re smiling knowingly, you’re in the same intergalactic spaceship as most leaders out there.

But why should you bother to balance the Chacha approach with the Sabu style? Pran was onto something.

The simple answer is: to avoid being stuck in a cycle of firefighting or losing sight of strategic goals. As the comic book business sage, Peter Drucker, would probably have said if he were a part of the Chacha universe, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

Your Altimeter: Sabu represents altitude

“Sabu ko jab gussa aata hai, to kahin jwalamukhi phatata hai.” (Whenever Sabu gets angry, a volcano erupts at some distant place.)

Just like Sabu, ready to flex his muscles to solve immediate problems, micro-leadership is all about the here and now. It’s working in the business, tackling issues as they arise, and ensuring the smooth running of day-to-day operations — present value.

This present focus is critical. It keeps your business ship sailing, it’s the rocket fuel for your enterprise. But being Sabu all the time, you might end up stomping around so much that you lose sight of the broader universe.

Your Radar and Sonar: Chacha represents navigation

“Chacha Chaudhary apne gyaan aur samajhdaari ka sahi istemaal karte huye apne dushmanon ko shaant kar dete hain.”
(Chacha Chaudhary, using his knowledge and wisdom, pacifies his enemies.)

On the other side, we have Chacha, our beloved elder, always planning, strategizing, and looking at the broader picture. This is akin to macro-leadership, where you work on the business, focusing on future growth and industry shifts — future value.

This futuristic vision, like Chacha’s quick-witted problem-solving, sets the course of your spaceship. But remember, being Chacha all the time, you might forget about the Sabu-tasks, the immediate issues that need your attention.

Your Tactical Squad: Billoo, Pinky, and Rocket represent boots on the ground

So, how can you balance the Sabu approach and the Chacha style? Here’s your tactical team: Billoo, Pinky, and Rocket (the dog, of course).

Billoo — Self-Awareness:
Just as Billoo knows his love for cricket and knack for mischief, understand your natural inclinations. Are you a Sabu or a Chacha? Recognize your strengths, and work on your weaknesses.

Pinky — Time Management:
Pinky, always organized with her daily tasks, teaches us the importance of time management. Allocate specific time slots for the Sabu tasks and the Chacha strategies.

Rocket — Delegation and Trust:
Just like the gang trusts Rocket for his loyalty and capabilities, trust your team. Delegate tasks and empower them to handle some Sabu tasks while you focus on the Chacha strategies.
Tingu Master and Raka: Regular Reviews and Continuous Learning

Tingu Master, the eternal student, and Raka, the immortal villain who always learns from his mistakes, highlight the importance of regular reviews and continuous learning. Always be willing to evaluate and adjust your approach, and never stop learning.

Remember, both Sabu and Chacha are crucial for your business. You’re not just a leader for today but also a guide for the future. So, please put on your turban, flex your muscles, and let’s navigate this Chacha Chaudhary leadership universe together.

“Buddhi gyani ka muqaddar hoti hai, shakti balwan ki naseeb hoti hai.” (Wisdom is the destiny of the intelligent, power is the fortune of the strong.)


The Hustle of Indian Street Hawkers: Lessons in Productized Services

Growing up in a bustling neighbourhood of Chandigarh, India, the cacophony of street hawkers was the soundtrack of my childhood. The kaleidoscope of their wares — balloons in riotous colours, meticulously stacked fruits, basic groceries, tinkling ice cream carts, whimsical toys, and the ‘bartan-wala’ with his assortment of cleaning products — was a daily carnival that meandered through the streets.


Fast forward to my life in Canada, and I find myself in the throes of discussions on productized services, thanks to trendy Twitter threads that caught my attention. Suddenly, nostalgia intermingles with a newfound realization: those street hawkers pioneered productizing services before it became a business buzzword.

Take, for instance, the ‘sabzi-wala’ (vegetable vendor) who’d adapted his cart into a mobile fresh-produce store. His pre-packaged bundles of daily cooking essentials (onions, tomatoes, and greens) at a fixed price were a boon for homemakers. 

There was no debate or time-consuming selection process — grab, pay, and go. There was an early example of streamlining services and understanding customer needs to facilitate sales — the quintessence of productized service.

The ice cream cart parked at my school canteen is another example, with its limited but much-loved flavours. It heralded the sheer joy of simplicity and consistency – you knew exactly what to expect.

“Bhaiya, paise baad me le jaana!” or loosely translated, buy now, pay later.

One of my most endearing memories of the ice cream vendor is his generous credit system. There were days when I, a kid with empty pockets but eyes full of longing, would approach his cart. 

Without missing a beat, he would hand me my favourite flavour, assuring me I could pay him later. This was my first encounter with the ‘buy now, pay later’ model, a popular financing solution in e-commerce. 

With his simple ledger and trust in his customers, the ice cream vendor unknowingly pioneered this business model. His understanding of his customers’ needs and his flexibility in payment options won him loyal customers and ensured a steady business. It’s a lesson in customer trust and flexibility that many modern businesses can learn from bringing reliability and efficiency to service and joy to the consumer. 

In today’s age, we pay premiums for subscriptions that curate and streamline choices for us. The ice cream vendor had nailed this concept decades ago.

And then there was the ‘bartan-wala,’ the roving household goods seller. His carefully categorized assortment of cleaning products was the epitome of targeted marketing. He knew his audience and their daily chores and provided solutions on the go. 

Contemporary businesses now use sophisticated algorithms and CRM software to achieve what he did with keen observation and instinct.

In my article “Twadka,” published on my blog, I had envisioned a scenario where local service providers in India, like the ‘sabzi-wala,’ ‘dhobi,’ and ‘safari-wali,’ would use social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to connect with their customers. I called these service providers’ Twelpers’ – a portmanteau of Twitter and helpers.

The ‘Twelper’ concept also included community-based groups on social media platforms, where customers could share reviews and recommendations about these service providers. This is akin to the customer feedback and review systems many online businesses rely on today.

In retrospect, the ‘Twelpers’ concept predicted how traditional services could be modernized and productized using technology. It was a testament to the fact that the principles of productized services — standardization, predictability, and customer-centricity — can be applied to any service, whether it’s a high-tech online business or a humble street hawker.

These hawkers were not just sellers but grassroots entrepreneurs who instinctively grasped the crux of productized services. They understood the power of consistency, the value of customer-centric solutions, and the art of targeted marketing.

As the world gets entangled in the jargon of productized services, a glance back at the humble street hawkers of my Indian neighbourhood reveals that the essence of this concept is timeless and universal. In their ingenuity lies a masterclass for today’s entrepreneurs.