Lessons for success shared by Azim Premji

Date June 5, 2008

I just made a post on a lesson from the Infosys Chief Mentor, Shri. Narayana Murthy about . Here comes another email from Shri. Azim Premji, Chairman and CEO, Wipro where he shares about what he learned from gaining success.

Azim Premji

Dear Wiproite,

My own successes and setbacks along the way have taught me some lessons. I wish to share them with you and hope you will find them useful.

Lesson #1: Be careful to ask what you want. You may get it.

What this means is that do not ask too little either of yourself or the others around you. What you ask is what you get. When I look back at the time when I joined Wipro, I was 21. If you ask me whether I thought that Wipro would grow so by someday, the honest answer is that I did not. But neither did I think it would not. We constantly stretched ourselves to higher and higher targets. Sometimes, it seemed possible, sometimes fanciful and sometimes plain insane. But we never stopped raising limits. And we got a lot more than what we bargained for.

Lesson # 2: Respond, don’t react

Always be aware of your emotions and learn to manage them. There is a huge difference between people who react impulsively and those who can disengage themselves and then respond at will. By choosing to respond differently, we can prevent another person from controlling our behaviour. I remember a small story that illustrates this well. There was once a newspaper vendor who had a rude Customer. Every morning, the Customer would walk by, refuse to return the greeting, grab the paper off the shelf and throw the money at the vendor. The vendor would pick up the money, smile politely and say, “Thank you, Sir.” One day, the vendor’s assistant asked him, “Why are you always so polite with him when he is so rude to you? Why don’t you throw the newspaper at him when he comes back tomorrow?” The vendor smiled and replied, “He can’t help being rude and I can’t help being polite. Why should I let his rude behaviour dictate mine?

Lesson # 3: Intuitions are important for making decisions

It is important to realize that our intuition is a very important part of decision making. Many things are recorded by our subconscious. Use both sides of the brain. Even that is not enough. Some decisions need the use of the heart as well. When you use your mind and heart together, you may get a completely new and creative answer.

Lesson # 4: Learn to work in teams

The challenges ahead are so complex that no individual will be able to face them alone. While most of our education is focused in individual strength, teaming with others is equally important. You cannot fire a missile from a canoe. Unless you build a strong network of people with complimentary skills, you will be restricted by your own limitations. Globalisation has brought people of different origins, different upbringing and different cultures together. Ability to become an integral part of a cross-cultural team will be a must for your success.

Lesson #5: Never lose your zest and curiosity

All the available knowledge in the world is accelerating at a phenomenal rate. The whole world’s codified knowledge base (all documented information in library books and electronic files) doubled every 30 years in the early 20th century. By the 1970s, the world’s knowledge base doubled every seven years. Information researchers predict that by the year 2010, the world’s codified knowledge will double every 11 hours. Remaining on top of what you need to know will become one of the greatest challenges for you. The natural zest and curiosity for learning is one of the greatest drivers for keeping updated on knowledge. A child’s curiosity is insatiable because every new object is a thing of wonder and mystery. The same zest is needed to keep learning new things. I personally spend at least 10 hours every week on reading. If I do not do that, I will find myself quickly outdated.

Lesson # 6: Put yourself first

This does not mean being selfish. Nor does it mean that you must become so full of yourself that that you become vain or arrogant. It means developing your self confidence. It means, developing an inner faith in yourself that is not shaken by external events. It requires perseverance. It shows up in the ability to rebound from a setback with double enthusiasm and energy. I came across a recent Harvard Business review which describes this very effectively : “No one can truly define success and failure for us- only we can define that for ourselves. No one can take away our dignity unless we surrender it. No one can take away our hope and pride unless we relinquish them. No one can steal our creativity, imagination and skills unless we stop thinking. No one can stop us from rebounding unless we give up.” And there is no way we can take care of others, unless we take care of ourselves.

Lesson # 7: Have a broader social vision

While there is every reason to be excited about the future, we must not forget that we will face many challenges as well. By 2015, we will have 829 million strong workforce. That will make India home to 18% of global working-age population. The key challenge is to transform that into a globally competitive work-force. This will not be an easy task. Despite all the rapid economic expansion seen in recent years, job growth in India still trails the rise in working-age population. It is important that gains are spread across this spectrum, so that the divide between the employed and the under-employed, is minimised. Education is a crucial enabler that can make this growth as equitable as possible.

Lesson # 8: Play to win

Playing to win is not the same as playing dirty. It is not about winning all the time or winning at any cost. Playing to win is having the intensity to stretch to the maximum and bringing our best foot forward. Winning means focusing on the game. The score board tells you where you are going, but don’t concentrate too much on it. If you can focus on the ball, the scores will move by themselves. I recently came across this story that I thought I would share with you A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university professor. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life. Offering his guests coffee, the professor went into the kitchen. He returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups: porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal- some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite – and asked them to help themselves to coffee. When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: “If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, you were more concerned about comparing your cups but what you really wanted was coffee. Yet you spent all your time eyeing each other’s cups. Now if life is coffee, then the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to contain Life, but cannot really change the quality of Life. Sometimes, by over concentrating on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee.”

I wish you all every success in your career and your life.

Azim Premji

Also taking a closer look by enlarging this below article in the image, are his perspectives on success and effective learning with teenagers. A speech that he made at the Shaping Young Minds interactive workshop organized jointly by the All India Management Association and the Bombay Management Association.

8 Lessons

One Response to “Lessons for success shared by Azim Premji”

  1. Joe Issac said:

    i liked this article.

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