Saturday, January 24, 2015

Davos, a state of mind

I wrote the following thoughts on our internal Infosys portal, and felt it is worth sharing with the wider world...


Davos is a small town in Switzerland, but, for a few days in January, during the World Economic Forum’s gathering, it transforms into a large state of mind.  I’ve been here with our amazing, inspired, Infosys team, meeting with clients, partners, world leaders, thought leaders and other leaders and visionaries.  Beyond the learnings and the dealings, there are the journeys Davos puts you on.  It is easy to get lost here, in more ways than one.  In the maze of routes and security gates that connect the various venues.  But also in the plethora of thoughts, visions, roadmaps, forecasts, warnings and other articulations, for these are to be found all around, aplenty.  I’ve been absorbing much of this, over the last 3 days, and every once in a while have also been adding to the mix, answering the questions of curious journalists, and in other venues.  It is somewhat surreal; there is a lot of human warmth in the freezing alpine cold, a very curious and spontaneous blend of diversity, of thought, of personalities, of ego, and of humanity in general.  The atmosphere, in many ways, drowns out the content.  And all you remember, to paraphrase Maya Angelou, is how you felt.  As I look back on the last 3 days, I feel good, about the future of the world, the future of our company.  For sure much doomsday prognostication was to be found, and real threats analyzed, but by and large, as I get ready to visit a great client and partner of ours, at 11PM, I find myself with a distinct feeling of comfort, that the road ahead of us is ours to carve, ours to shape, that while there are great big factors and forces that can influence our world and forces that can shape our contexts, that the stage has been set for us to do our thing, and that if we do it, the greatness to follow is ours to achieve.  That the times ahead are calling on us to be bold, to be decisive, to be determined, not to sway in the winds driven by others, but in building the great futures that our clients seek and that we deserve.  So in that sense Davos has been a great mirror, a great echo chamber, one where you travel far to reach, and get lost in the brilliance of humanity, only to find that which you always knew, but perhaps had lost the courage to believe…

I leave here as a world citizen, a proud Infoscion, ready to, together with you, all of us together, to build the future of our predictions, the future of our aspirations, a more human future.  And that, underneath the layers, of snow and of words, is what I've found this town to be all about.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Rain Drops in Tokyo

Gray and rainy day in Tokyo.  Rain drops making their way down the window; a very beautiful, reflective, humbling dance.  Puts things in perspective, as we go about our daily busy-nesses and try to find our own ways to be thankful on this thanksgiving wknd...
As I sit here, busy with important, yet mundane, matters, and try to find a balance between reflecting and living in the moment, between living in the here and now, and in the nows down the horizons of time, the flow of some of the drops down my window made me write this.

In the moment
With its momentum
The rain drop slides down the window
Purposeful, making its way to its potential
Does it know it is the rain?

And then the 5-7-5 spirit of the Haiku, led to this...

In the moment, raindrop slides
With its momentum, purposefully down the window
Does it know it's rain?

-- Vishal, Nov 29, 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Phool Inder Sikka

Phool Rani, Nov 1940 - Sep 2014.

My mother and me, circa 1971. 

Mother, Wife, Mother-In-Law, Grandmother, Sister, Daughter, Friend.
Delhiite, Gujarati, Californian.
School Teacher, Life's Teacher, Warrior, Rebel, Pioneer, Avid Traveler, Adventurer, Foodie, Curiousity Hound, Brilliant, Larger-than-life, Bon Vivant, Encourager, Comfort-giver, Pacifier, Confidant, Guidepost...
The first, and the strongest pillar in our lives.

R.I.P. Mama.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Our Second Third

It’s been a month since I started as the CEO of Infosys.  An intense and rewarding journey.  And journey is a key word here: I've been on the road a lot.  And perhaps that is fitting, especially when charting a new course, because the thinking of it happens on planes, trains and automobiles heading in all kinds of directions.

Late in the evening of my very first day, I found myself in our university in Mysore, addressing ~13k of our fired up, screaming, trainees in the amphitheater of our magnificent campus.  And that campus, which I’d heard so much about over the years, was far beyond my expectations.  Its beauty, its attention to detail, its magnitude, and its sheer awesomeness, is something to behold.  Almost 350 acres, lush green, massive use of renewable energy, and just a great example of sustainability and smart city innovation.  And the university itself is an extraordinary institution.  We can train ~16k resident students concurrently with a world-class team of educators. Truly exemplifying the spirit of a company that is founded on education, on learning.  As my mom used to say, when we can learn anything, we can do anything.  And nowhere is that simple truth more evident than in our Mysore campus, where you get the palpable feeling that the young trainees, on their way to great companies in the world to do great work, can do anything, because they can learn anything.  It became clear to me that revitalizing our learning core must be a key focus for us going forward.

And last week I was in Lodz, Poland, where one of our largest BPO team works from.  Part of an enterprise that endeavors to run nothing less than the mission-critical business processes of some of the largest companies in the world.  Our team collectively processes hundreds of Billions of dollars in trade on behalf of our clients, just the procurement processes oversee more than 1% of the world's business trade!  But what amazed me the most was our team there.  Their passion, desire to improve, their creativity, was amazing, and infectious.  The way Business Process Outsourcing has come to be, what I refer to as yesterday's BPO, is not so relevant to businesses anymore.  We can do better.  We must do better.  And at Lodz one can see how automation, intelligence technologies, collaboration technologies, design-thinking, and a culture of continuous improvement both radical and incremental, will completely rethink BPO, into something far more exciting and relevant.  One that is focused on innovation, on a deep understanding of how business is done, and on amplifying our teams with technology and automation and AI techniques, so they can deliver amazing business value and solutions, not merely augmenting them in a dreary downward spiral of cost.  It was exhilarating.

And in between these two experiences, there was:
- Connect 2014 in Las Vegas, where our worldwide sales team as well as many partners were gathered.  It was great to be with this fired up team, sharing strategy and roadmap, opportunities and concerns, and to just understand and learn and connect.
- Tons of hanging out with Infoscions across the board, learning the company's culture and fabric (and the bounty of TLAs that Infoscions seem to rattle off fluently).  I've been reading about our products, analysts reports, our processes, many many examples of code and experiences, and also the 2700+ concrete ideas that were submitted by Infoscions as part of Murmuration. 
- An offsite of 3 great days with our entire leadership team, in the august environs of my alma mater Stanford, thinking thru things, fighting thru issues old and new, small and big, mundane and sublime, as well as hanging out at the doing a great embrace of design thinking, sitting down with startup companies and listening to many friends from the industry and the valley, talking about the road ahead for us.
- And more than 20 enlightening sessions with clients and partners.

What all of this has made clear, more than ever before, is that the world around us is being transformed in a fundamental way with software, with computing and communication technologies.  As bits reshape and pervade the atoms all around us, connecting us and the world around us, most businesses find themselves in a struggle to survive, to transform themselves and to be relevant in the times to come.  And in this struggle sits the great opportunity for us, the great opportunity of our times.  Every client I talk to, invariably has two distinct sets of priorities:
1. Renewing their existing systems and landscapes and activities.  Opening up their existing systems, to the benefits of cloud computing and other technologies, opening them up to the pervasive connectedness around us, whether of mobility, or connected systems and sensors, or analytics and complex data science techniques for business improvements and also achieving operational efficiencies in their existing operations.
2. Building completely new systems to help their businesses grow in new ways, in "being digital" as Nicholas Negroponte presaged 20 years ago.  New intelligent systems and applications, built on new platforms, in new unprecedented areas of business, where software is making its way for the very first time, and where previous generation systems simply can't be transformed or bent into.  And these systems must be built in completely new ways, with new economics, even sometimes with new business models.

This dichotomy of Renew and New, is the basis for our clients' future.  And it must be ours too.  In many ways it is a timeless dichotomy.  Alan Kay (and Arthur Koestler) called it the pink plane and the blue plane.  Our clients must transform themselves with this dual priority.  And so must we.  Our transformation must enable, and follow from, that of our clients.  And to enable all of this, we have to invest in our future, in deep employee engagement and massive two-way communication, in research and technology and learning new ways, new hows and new whats, and especially in education.  Our team and I are working thru all these matters.  I am looking forward to starting to share elements of our road ahead beginning in mid-October.  But for now it is clear that our work ahead will be driven by
- our grounding in education,
- while continually improving and optimizing our existing business areas with better processes and better automation/intelligence in all walks of our business, and
- in embracing and practicing design-thinking and innovation to help us and our clients explore their great new frontiers.
I look fwd to sharing more on our road ahead starting in mid-october.

On this labor day, as I get ready to get on another flight, I am surprised, and inspired, by the parallel between the journey of India and that of Infosys.  Infosys is 33 years old, and I’ve referred to our road ahead as a journey for the next 33 years, the next third of a century, our second third.  A couple of weeks ago India celebrated her Independence Day, her 67 years of independence.  For half of that journey, my company has been around, as a leader, a pioneer.  And as I look to its, and India’s, next 33 years, which will culminate in India’s 100 years as an independent nation, I find myself thinking about the great human potential that is yet to be fulfilled.  The great amplification that we can bring to ourselves, and to others, with our education, our learnings, our skills, our products and services, our culture.  How the transformation of our company, can be, and must be, an enabling transformation of all of our clients with great, purposeful technology.  And I find myself full of hope, expectations, anxiety, excitement, like a traveler at the beginning of a great journey, a rewarding one, full of great experiences and challenges, great fun and accomplishments, and contributions, a journey that enriches and empowers us all.

-- V

Friday, July 4, 2014

Transitions and Anchors

The last 8 weeks have been surreal, a blur.  From running all of SAP's products to being appointed the next CEO of Infosys, I've been through two extraordinary transitions within a period of time that feels like an instant.  And at the same time, these two transitions happened amid the backdrop of much bigger transitions, and transformations, that organizations go through, from companies to countries.  Transformations they must go through, to survive, to continue to be relevant, when the circumstances and contexts around them change dramatically.  Companies around the world, including mine, are going through these transitions, driven to a large extent by software and computing technology.  And as I write this over the fourth of July weekend here in the US, my country of citizenship, I join more than 300 million citizens in taking the time to celebrate independence and big transformative ideas, such as individual freedom, democracy and a constitution to guide a nation.  And at the same time, my maternal homeland India has just seen a great transition of its own, and more than a billion citizens find themselves hopeful and looking ahead to a great transformation under a new transformative leadership.  So I've found myself reflecting on both my own transitions and those of large organizations, and thought this summer weekend is a good time to write some of these thoughts down.

I was at SAP for 12 years.  More than a quarter of my life.  And we did a lot.  It was a great ride, a great wave.  After the news of my resignation and my sudden departure from SAP came out, there was at first the shock of the abruptness with which all this happened.  But such is the nature of waves.  A great  ride one moment and gone the next.  This was followed by an incredible outpouring of support from thousands of friends and colleagues, more than four thousand of them, deeply heartfelt emotions, and show of support, that made this transition so memorable and the 12 year journey so worthwhile.  It reminded me that we are defined not only by the work we do, but also by the deep and lasting relationships that we build during our journeys.

Among the tons of calls that I received in the aftermath of the news, there was one that was going to be very significant in shaping, in bringing about, another transition, both in my life and in that of a large company's.  This was from a recruiter leading the CEO search for Infosys, a pioneering Indian IT company. Within a couple of weeks I found myself  being swept by another massive wave.  The iconic nature of Infosys, especially in India, made it impossible to delay the decision any longer, and I was announced as the next CEO of Infosys on June 12, scarcely 6 weeks after leaving SAP.  As I write this, I am looking forward to taking the leadership responsibility on Aug 1, and looking forward to a great transition that must follow my little transition.  A great transition and its set of challenges and opportunities, that await my new company, as well as every company in our industry, and indeed as software reshapes the world around us, every company in the world.

Transitions at large companies are in many ways similar to personal ones.  Perhaps this is not surprising.  Doug Engelbart had compared organizations to organisms.  Companies, after all, are us.  No more, and no less, than us, the people within them.  So a transformation of a company, is really about the transformation of the people within, and around it, transformation of the contexts we form, the processes we have, and of the things we do.  So when I see the debate underway among Harvard professors about the Innovator's Dilemma, and when I look back on what we achieved at SAP, my fundamental conclusion is that there is no innovator's dilemma. There is only a desire, a willingness, a courage, to change.  To learn.  To understand new ways of working and being relevant.  The idea that there is some kind of a rule blocking an organization's ability to deal with disruption, makes no sense to me.  That these disruptors came and disrupted us and there was nothing we could do about it, is simply nonsense.  Disruption is not an excuse, a fait accompli, it is simply an opportunity to learn new skills and to develop new products and services, and processes and economics.  An opportunity to renew ourselves and our organizations.  And it comes down to having anchors that help us guide through such a change.  Anchors in these cases tend to be the deeply rooted principles, experiences, values and ideas/visions that companies are built upon.  Competencies and processes follow from these, and then the products and services delivered, and the relationships, the economics, etc. emerge.  But the grounding, the anchors, determine how the organization transitions.

Many people have asked me about how I dealt with such a large transition so quickly? I reflected on it, and realized that we too have our personal anchors that help manage these.  Our perceptions are relative.  In that, our ability to understand reality is based on observing and measuring change.  From our sight to our hearing, and even in deep silence, when our senses are asleep, our measures are all relative.  And so it is that we seek our solace in our anchors.  We measure how far we've drifted, or how far others have drifted from us, with reference to our anchors.  And I found myself in the comfort of my own anchors.  From my alma mater, to true friends who shared a deep sense of personal connection and roots and expressed their concern and pain and brought support.  Some long-time teachers whose wisdom, and clarity, was very welcome, to some newly acquired relationships, guardians of principle and regulation, who became friends and whose strength carried us forward.  To family who showed that blood is thicker than water, and to the spirituality that one finds solace in, within and without.  And then there is my wife, my V.  My companion, my compass, my anchor.  Her singular support, strength, dedication, selflessness and passion, have reminded me of what unquestioned support is all about, what love means and makes us do.  I can best evoke what John Nash said in his Nobel prize winning speech in 1994:
"...And I have made the most important discovery of my career, the most important discovery of my life: It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logic or reasons can be found.
I’m only here tonight because of you.
You are the reason I am.
You are all my reasons.
Thank you."
Thank you V.

We often hear that with the right values within us and the right support beside us, we can deal with any transition.  But when we think about it, we realize that with these two elements guiding us, transitions don't even matter.  And perhaps that is the constancy that we seek, amid the chaos and the noise and the change.  The constancy of the stillness and purpose that is within us, the constancy of the love, support & strength that we derive from the relationships right next to us.  Great transitions happen because of the purposeful work done by everyone in an organization.  And purposeful work comes from unwavering purpose within us, and from the strength of the purposeful relationships all around us.  As we celebrate our independence, we, both as organisms, as well as the organizations that we form, owe our deepest gratitude to our anchor points.  The relationships, the lessons and the principles, that have kept us from going adrift, and provided us with the direction, the purpose, in our journeys...

-- Vishal Sikka

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Words and Wisdom...

Many of you have asked me about an article published in E3 that talks about me and other leaders of our company in a callous and unrestrained manner.  Since this is about our work, and today is labor day, I thought it appropriate to say a few words on this matter.

I joined SAP about 12 years ago.  I've spent more than a quarter of my life here, learning from colleagues working in every location and function, but also from our leaders, especially Hasso as well as Henning. I have worked with mostly a new generation of SAP, my friends and colleagues, some also mentioned in the article.  When I first came to SAP, I used to wander the hallways, bridges and corners of our buildings in Walldorf, trying to understand our roots, our fabric, our purpose. During this time, I sought inspiration from one of my favorite books: Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha.  

Siddhartha is an extraordinary combination of the cultures of Germany and my native India, and a deep inspiration to an entire generation of Americans, the very 3 cultures that have shaped who I am.  Towards the end of his book, when the two main characters Siddhartha and Govinda, now old men, speak about wisdom and knowledge, Mr. Hesse wrote something profound in the voice of Siddhartha:

"...Wissen kann man mitteilen, Weisheit aber nicht.  Man kann sie finden, man kann sie leben, man kann von ihr getragen werden, man kann mit ihr Wunder tun, aber sagen und lehren kann man nicht. ...eine Wahrheit läßt sich immer nur aussprechen und in Worte hüllen, wenn sie einseitig ist.  Einseitig ist alles, was mit Gedanken gedacht und mit Worten gesagt werden kann, alles einseitig, alles halb, alles entbehrt der Ganzheit, des Runden, der Einheit."

In English: “Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it. …A truth can only be expressed and enveloped in words if it is one-sided. Everything that is thought and expressed in words is one-sided, only half the truth.”

Our words, including mine here, are at best half-truths to you the reader.  But sometimes words are worse than half-truths, far worse. They are the fabrications of a gossip-monger. This article is one such example, as are others like it lately.  It is without attribution, quotes, or review by the people it speaks about and whose ambitions, motives and inner-most values it describes, without ever having asked them about these, nor understood.  As such, it represents a reality that does not exist, except perhaps in the fanciful imagination of a writer. It is governed by base motivations one can only speculate upon, perhaps under even baser influences. What makes it truly irresponsible is that it is articulated to the world under the guise of a legitimate publication - a gross abuse of journalistic duties.

Our metrics, our means of perceiving reality, are inevitably relative.  Our perspectives, our points of view, shape who we are.  Great collections of diverse points of view create rich syntheses of knowledge that enrich us all.  This, as Hermann Hesse so eloquently articulated, can become the basis for our personal wisdom.  This wisdom is then our connection to an absolute truth.  No matter how long or how short our journeys, how broad or narrow our reach, or how big or small our jobs and titles, our wisdom is uniquely personal to us.  But, perspectives are only valuable when they are honest, and grounded in reality.  Spoken from the heart.  Seen through the eyes of an innocent four year old.  This is what Design Thinking teaches us.  This is what Hasso has taught me.  This is what Einstein discovered.  This is what enlightened the Buddha, and what Herr Hesse invoked in his masterpiece.

Everything else is just talk, words disturbing the air around us, for a short fleeting while...

-- Vishal

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Delhi: Memories, Objects and Change

Dec 22, 2013

Delhi, India.  I shouldn't say Delhi.  I should say Dilli.  I found myself here with a few free hours today, out of an *incredibly* hectic week.  So I went by some old spots, Bengali market, Hanuman Mandir, Connaught Place, Lajpat Nagar, ....  The brain is immediately drawn to the sights, so different now, yet still familiar.  The colors, the haze, the crowds, the structures, the spaces.  And beyond the sights, the sounds, the tastes, and, especially, the smells.  The smoky, dusty, musky air.  The fragrances of flowers being sold and foods being cooked, and the foul smells of garbage.  All mixed into an unforgettable reminder of the ephemeral present, that is also, yet, timeless.  More than any other sense, the smell takes you back.  But back where?  I remember being here 30 years ago, shortly after Delhi had seen a great renewal, in preparation of the Asian games in 1982.  The structures are still there, but they are different.  There is Talkatora stadium.  There is RML hospital.  Wow, Bangla Sahib is so different now.  My mom used to go to these places.  This is her Dilli.  And of the rest of us.  I guess most of it is from memory, perhaps the rest is my imagination?  But it isn't only the structures that are different.  It is also us.  We change.  Indeed when we think about it, change is all there is.  The constancy of the twirl, the great movement, both human and beyond, that I see around me, was in that sense also there 30 years ago, just as it is today, and yet it is different.  What is it?  Is it an activity?  Is it nature continually transforming the objects around us in a kind of eternal dance?

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that while we think of the world in terms of objects, things, entities, etc. indeed all these are temporary constructs.  Activities, and their change, seems to be all that is going on around us.  And everything that comes across as objects, I believe, is simply a set of activities in progress that our senses "snapshot" into an object, temporarily, ephemerally, persisting/materializing it in our memories, as though it is a fixed, permanent thing.  Even though it isn't.  Our societies, even our languages, seem to be geared towards "things", not "activities", geared towards particles and objects, not waves and processes.  THe plate of chili chow mein in front of me, seems to be an object, but in fact is something that was flour and water and a bunch of other things that came together into an activity for a short period of time and then disappeared.  It is just a temporary materialization of something we observe and experience.  SOmething that exists only for a moment, and in our senses.

I get the distinct sense that we must improve our ability to articulate actions, activities, processes, and think in these terms more so than in terms of objects, and to think of objects as transient materializations of activities.  And as I think of this, my thoughts drift off to computing.  Us computer scientists, and IT practitioners, are horrible, and horribly primitive, at articulating actions, activities, processes.  Even in purer object-oriented languages, most of the code seems to be about articulating actions.  Whether it is software actions, like "book me a flight to London" or "balance my checkbook" or "repair a customer's credit" or whatever, or more "concrete" actions like commands to a robot to "go to Vishal's office with a cup of tea".  Our ability to articulate actions succinctly and precisely, being able to extend, compose, project on or decompose actions is extremely primitive.  We are still in the dark ages in this regard, and we must improve.  This is one of my endeavors with the work on River and much more needs to be done here.

But all that is for a different day.  Today is about Dilli.  And to head out with some friends on a last evening here for this trip, to observe, and participate in, some activities, to make some memories, in a memorable place.  For Delhi is more than memorable, it is a permanent memory.

-- Vishal