Have a happy Diwali

India’s DIWALI festival is one of the most joyous times to be in the country – lots of family and community gatherings, lamps lit in windows, and of course firecrackers going off day and night.

Diwali is, I think, the only festival that occurs in the whole of India.

Diwali20166Also known as Deepavali, a Sanskrit word meaning “rows of lighted lamps”, it is one of the most popular Hindu festivals celebrated across South Asia. But it is also celebrated by Jains and Sikhs.

Known as “the festival of lights”, it celebrates the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.

In my home city of Melbourne, Australia, DIWALI is big and celebrations take over the city centre’s Federation Square.

Happy Diwali – to all in the world, happiness in light, good and knowledge.

World’s tallest statue to be inaugurated today in India by PM Modi

The world’s tallest statue – the ‘Statue of Unity’ to honour Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel – will be inaugurated today by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Sardar Patel, who was one of the founding fathers of the Republic of India, and became the first Deputy PM, has been credited for his role in uniting independent-divided India in 1947.


Here are the top 10 interesting facts about the project:

  1. The project was announced by PM Narendra Modi in 2010 when he was the chief minister of the state of Gujarat. He had laid the foundation stone in 2013.
  2. The statute is 182-metres tall and is built with 25,000 tonnes of iron and 90, 000 tonnes of cement.
  3. The height of the statue will be more than double the Statue of Liberty, which stands tall at 93-metres off the coast of New York City and four times that of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.
  4. The project involves a walkway, the four-lane approach highway, and the Shrestha Bharat Bhavan which is a three-star lodging facility with 52 rooms.
  5. The Statue of Unity is built on Sadhu Island in the Narmada river, approximately 3.2 km away from the Sardar Sarovar Dam.
  6. The world’s tallest statue will be able to withstand wind velocity up to 60 m/sec, vibration and earthquakes.
  7. The statue will have a viewing gallery at 153 m, which can accommodate up to 200 visitors and will offer an expansive view of the dam and environs.
  8. As the Sardar is known as the ‘Iron Man of India’, iron was collected from across the length and breadth of the country.
  9. The time for construction was fixed at 42 months and no escalation on labour, fuel, and material was allowed.
  10. There is a three-story base that comprises a memorial garden and a large Exhibit hall developed as an edutainment attraction.


Handling the two big cultural divides between India and the west

People often ask me “what are the main cultural differences between India and the west?”  That is, the differences that lead to misunderstanding and failure to do long term business.

For me, there are two major causes leading to a breakdown in trade and business discussions.

The first is what the researchers call Universalism vs Particularism. Universalism exists in the west – people believe you can discover what is true and good and can apply it as a general rule. Particularism is the culture of India – relationships are more important and unique situations more important, so each situation is considered on its merits.multicult

This difference is sometimes referred to as the “absolutism” of the west (things are absolutely good or bad, right or wrong etc) compared to the “relativism” of India (things are never wholly good or bad, it depends, relationship is more central).

Universalism is the culture of USA, England, Australia and Particularism is the culture of India, China and Thailand.

When it comes to agreements and contracts you can see this difference cause divisions – the west believes what is written down is permanent, fixed, never to be changed, while India and China realise that life is constantly changing, and variations might be needed.

Never give up

The second major cause of breakdown is that India is a “collective” culture, while the west is increasingly individual.

You will find in most Indian companies that decision making is a collective operation, even at Director level. Whereas in the west, a Director or Manager of a division has their yearly budget and puts a program to the board, and then gets on with it largely uninterrupted, your Indian counterpart involves the collective in almost every decision – even where the yearly budget and program are already set.

This also shows up in work styles – a western manager will set the task and assist, then largely stay out of things – whereas both sides in India will want moment by moment contact. For companies involved in the west and east, the western managers find this demand for constant feedback and contact very challenging.

Individualism is the culture in the USA, Canada and Australia while Collectivism is the culture of India, Japan and China.

I am not suggesting that one culture is “better” than the other – they are simply different, and it is important we know the difference. That way, we can adapt our behavior and succeed across cultures. Given that India has around 600 million people below the age of 25 (what a market!) we will all be better off if we can adapt and succeed together.


University students out of step with employers on what employers really want in new hires

A NEW survey has revealed the skills that employers value and how different they are to what university graduates think are important. The QS Global Employer Survey 2018 has highlighted the misconceptions students have about what skills employers want and the areas where there is a graduate skills gap.

For the report released last month, more than 11,000 employers were surveyed around the world and their answers were compared to responses from 16,000 prospective students.


A key finding is that students relatively overvalue the importance of creativity and leadership skills, and undervalue the importance of flexibility/adaptability and teamwork.

The development of soft skills, such as team-playing and resilience, had become almost as important as the technical skills and knowledge acquired during a degree. What are known as “enterprise skills” such as problem solving, communication, teamwork and digital literacy, were in demand.SwinJune

The skills employers ranked as the most important for graduates:

  1. Problem solving
  2. Teamwork
  3. Communication
  4. Adaptability
  5. Data analysis
  6. Resilience
  7. Organisation
  8. Technical skills
  9. Creativity
  10. Leadership
  11. Language
  12. Commercial awareness

The skills students thought were the most important:

  1. Creativity
  2. Organisation
  3. Problem solving
  4. Leadership
  5. Teamwork
  6. Communication
  7. Resilience
  8. Commercial awareness
  9. Adaptability
  10. Technical skills
  11. Language
  12. Data analysis

India Students

The biggest difference between the two answers was for creativity, which students placed as the most important skill but employers ranked ninth among their priorities.

This was followed by data analysis, which employers ranked highly as the fifth most important skill but students ranked 12th.

Students were also confused by leadership, which they ranked as fourth most important, but employers rated as 10th.

Employers also rated adaptability highly, in fourth place but students put this in ninth place.

The only skill to feature on the top three for both employers and students was problem solving.

The report suggests students around the world underestimate how much employers value flexibility/adaptability and analytical skills, as well as resilience. They wrongly assume creativity, leadership and organisational skills are more important.

Our Employability Skills Master Class helps students align with what employers want, and builds in the skills to thrive in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.



More on why you should be careful when you hear “yes” in India

I have written before around my question – Is India the world’s most polite country?

Everybody says “yes” in India. Nobody ever says “no”. It’s amazing. You arrive on your first trade mission, seeking new markets, and every meeting is a wild success – great friendship, much laughter, the response of “yes” to everything you ask. After day one you are exhilarated – how lucky am I to meet the right people? Day two is the same – “yes”. Days three, four and five provide more “yeses”.


Then you go home, report on your extraordinary success and close relations with Indians and wait for things to happen. You might wait a long time.

What is happening here? Indian culture values relationship above all else. By contrast, western culture puts truth and fact above relationship – willingly risking relationship in these instances. This is perhaps the biggest difference between India and the west.

In India, everyone you meet instantly has a “relationship” with you and it is their duty to help. Indians cannot say “no” without giving deep offense. The nearest they come to a “no” is “I will try”. So, “yes” they can import your product, “yes”, they would be a good agent, “yes”, they know how to take you to market.


Is this “yes” just telling lies? Have you been deliberately deceived? If someone did this in the west, with our cultural background, their response of “yes” would indeed be an offensive lie.

But consider my experience of being lost in Colaba in southern Mumbai – I love to wander around this fabulous part of the city. Getting lost is a regular experience for me. The first time, I asked a young man if he knew the way to my hotel. He immediately instructed me – “Go straight ahead, turn right then left and you will surely find it”. How wonderful, I am saved. But 100 metres later it does not feel right. I ask another, who sends me back and he actually knows the way to my hotel. The first person simply did the very best he could in the relationship at that time.

So next time someone in India says “yes”, just remember you are in the world’s most polite country. Otherwise, like me, you might get lost.


The Himalayas can show us a key difference between India and the west

Do Indians have a different world view and culture to the west? Of course, each country or region of the world has their own culture and differences exist – understanding and adapting to difference is one key to succeeding across cultures.

This simple statement about the Himalayas might help you see the difference.

If the Himalayas were located in the west, people would flock there for bungy jumping, extreme ski sessions, jumping out of planes and other extreme sports. For India, the Himalayas have been a location of contemplation, monasteries, thought and mindfulness.


I saw a similar point made using the example of Alexander the Great. The west admires Alexander as a person of action, conquest, growth and acquisition – while a hero in India could be a guru sitting in contemplation under a tree.himalayaMy point is simple – when we understand cultural differences we can then adapt our behavior and communication while remaining true to our own culture.


Cultural generalisations can be helpful but remember they are just generalisations – there will be exceptions and culture is riddled with paradox. Many westerners are great contemplatives, while Indian history has many action heroes.

7 tips – how Indians can communicate better with Americans and Aussies

Communicating across cultures is the key to future success as the world gets smaller. The trouble is – people from different countries who speak English imagine that they all think the same. They do not. Americans speak English but think American. Australians speak English but think Australian.

Here is how to prepare for better communication with Americans (and many Aussies):


What’s the point— In America time is money and everyone is in a hurry. India’s “indirect” style of communication does not work well, it is too slow for them. You have to be good at PITCHING, using around 75 words which really grab their attention (or as Americans would say, “cut to the chase”).

Sports speak is the way to go— Americans and Aussies love sport (different ones). This shows up in their language and you should follow too – observe how they use “home run”, “slam dunk”. “stepping up to the plate” and many more – then use these yourself to make better connections.


Be much more informal— Americans and Aussies tend to be informal, and everyone can have a say regardless of status. This is generally not the case in India. Just because Americans and Aussies might dress casually or sound informal and relaxed, don’t think they are not deadly serious about doing business. It is not easy for most Indians but using first names soon after meeting is the norm (and not adding “Sir”).

You will be interrupted— Americans and Aussies love fast paced rapid fire conversations, with everyone jumping in to have a say – both are egalitarian cultures and even very junior people are encouraged to speak up. Interruptions are not seen as rude, rather they can see this as signs that things are going well. Silence on the other hand is never a good sign.


Present actively and immediately— Start with the finish – presentations that build slowly to a conclusion drive Americans mad.  Americans and Aussies want to be engaged and entertained. Dry powerpoint presentations about your company will not make connection. An active presentation that shows how you can solve a problem, add value or team up will attract and keep attention.


Make your presentations even faster— you can quickly bore Americans and Aussies – especially in America business is done at great speed. People feel time poor, stretched and become impatient. So – cut your message to the absolute essence, and you will succeed.

Silence is a warning sign— America does everything loud, and the Aussies are following. There is sound everywhere, TV’s are on, radio, computers, music all happening at once. Americans feel uncomfortable in silences and long pauses.

We’ve helped many Indian organisations communicate better with the west – and in every case it has been turn the presentation around, start with the problem and how you can add value. Any presentation beginning with “Let me outline the history of our company” is a recipe for failure in the west.



Finding the right words, the right you and making friends

Effective business leaders have the art of using the right words at the right time.

I like a combination of my grandmother and the Buddha for inspiration.

Grandma used to put it this way: “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing.” This is a wise caution against being too critical of others. She would have liked this quote from the Buddha: “If you know anything that’s hurtful and untrue, don’t say it. If you know anything that’s helpful and untrue, don’t say it. If you know anything that is hurtful and true, don’t say it. If you know anything that is helpful and true, find the right time.”

This becomes an effective restraint against communication mistakes, but how can we project ourselves and connect with others?


By changing the way you see yourself, and changing the way others see you, your personal brand and real leadership can develop and inspire others.

The first big change is to accept that in a modern world it is not enough to be very good at what you do – whether your skill is a profession, science, IT, engineering, health, a trade, finance or consulting. In addition to being the best at what you do, you have to have an impact on those you serve and this comes down to improving your communication and leadership. In that way, you create a positive personal brand.

You can improve communication by studying how business communicates, but also making big advances if we combine this with the wisdom of the ages, with the thoughts of great thinkers and spiritual leaders.

One of the barriers is that we make assumptions about people that often turn out wrong. If we assume a person is not interested in us, we become tongue tied or stay away – it is the assumption that is the barrier.

There is an alternative and I could find no better source than this quote from His Holiness the Dalai Lama: “Wherever I meet people, I always have the feeling that I am encountering another human being, just like myself. I find it is much easier to communicate with others on that level. If we emphasise specific characteristics, like I am Tibetan or I am Buddhist, then there are differences. But those things are secondary. If we can leave the differences aside, I think we can easily communicate, exchange ideas and share experiences.” This is a great soft skills lesson.HHDL quote

This western and eastern thought process was so beautifully developed by a western nun and great author in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Pema Chodron, who said: “When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And, you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.”

But this attitude needs to be combined with some of the communication lessons from corporate communication, showing how we can be more successful making new friends and lead by:

·      Listening to people

·      Speaking in ways they understand

·      Not being scared of being different

·      Creating something interesting to do

·      Making relationships fun

I know you can do it.

5 essentials to building business with India

There are 5 steps we should take to grow our trade ties with India.

Adopt a patient long term view

Focus on relationships

See beyond the politeness

Adapt to indirect communications

Realise that language and thinking are different

If we can adopt a caring, humble and inquisitive approach – learning cultural dexterity – we will build the relationships which are the key to success.


“The Pitch” – the next big thing for Indian students

What reality are students facing on graduation? Employers are impatient and demanding in job interviews, often starting with a blunt “Why should I hire you instead of all these other people?” and ending quickly if the answer is not convincing. This is particularly the case in India where almost half of the population is under 25.

On top of this, students who want to move into startups and new businesses will find financiers and advisors similarly impatient.

The reality for student graduates is they are entering a fast-moving world that demands to be convinced, right now. Can they do the convincing?

Repeated studies by employer groups suggest students are not at all convincing, not articulate, inexperienced in teamwork and show little leadership aptitude. How could they be, when most universities do not teach these skills?

Can we solve this problem? Can we create a generation of graduates who are job ready, who can hit the ground running?

The answer is “yes”, and the key to this is not so much the old fashioned soft skills training programs but it is found in the exciting world of “pitching”.

In the last quarter of 2017, several parties combined to conduct an Indian Student Employability Pilot Program in Melbourne. These included Australia India Business Council, ISANA International Education Association and my company EastWest Academy Pty Ltd.

The objective was to test whether a short intervention could add significant value to the students in terms of: Presentation skills (pitching); Interview techniques; Linked In profiles; CV’s.

The program included three group sessions plus interaction via WhatsApp, email and personal contact. To add real zest and motivation, the final session was an opportunity for the students to pitch to the board of ISANA International Education Association – a challenging but exciting prospect to convince influential leaders.

By focusing our intervention on a rapid program of developing a dynamic “pitch” for the forthcoming board meeting, the students had a clear goal, timeline and motivation.

Outcomes were exciting to experience. The pitches were competitive, with much improved clarity and pacing, slower speech and clear transmission of information. What was really exciting was the students quickly learned that any claim they make needs to be supported by proof – generally one additional sentence.

In addition, the presentation to the board was interactive and showed a good ability to handle tricky questions and effective use a two-part answer – if the question is about weakness, outline what that might be and then state what steps you have taken to improve. Or if about strengths, again, outline what that might be and then show proof of when you used that strength.

The key to this success was the excitement around “the pitch” – this is what the students wanted, they saw it could work for them and they put energy and skill into making high impact pitches. They are ready for the future.Never give up