Speech given by Azim Premzi to the Business students of IIM
Distinguished Director and faculty of IIM- Kolkata, Guests, and my young friends I am very happy to be with you this afternoon. Indian Institute of Management – Calcutta is one the earliest management colleges of higher learning to be set up in the country. The pioneering spirit continues even after IIM-C has transformed itself into a world class institution. In your two years here, you must have experienced the enormous change in your own understanding of business and management. Graduation is not the end but the beginning of learning and change. I have found that people who succeed most in their careers are those who can constantly transform themselves. Transformation is not so much a process, as a deep seated desire to change ourselves and our environment. Based on my own experience, I would like to share with you my thoughts on how to make continuous transformation possible. I hope you find them useful.
You should dare to dream, define what you stand for, never lose your zest and curiosity, always strive for excellence, build self confidence, learn to work in teams, take care of yourself, preserve, have a broader social vision and finally never let success go to your head”.
First, you have got to have a dream. Dreams are very powerful internal motivators. Great achievements are created twice – First in the mind and then in a concrete form. The most exhilarating part of being young is the ability to dream. As one grows, one may realize that not all of them are achievable. But never turn cynical. Aging is not adding on years. It is parting with one’s dreams. Use your experience to reshape your dreams and adapt them to changing reality but do not stop dreaming. I cannot think of a single transformation or achievement, individual or social that did not begin with a dream. Dreams not only help us in seeing things before they happen, but they also give us the passion and energy to make them happen.
Second, stay on course even if you stumble. When everything seems to go wrong, you can either give up or you can let misfortune transform you into something stronger. The difference between great achievement and mediocrity is not extraordinary talent or intelligence, but perseverance. In fact, dreams and perseverance make a winning combination. In 1972, a chartered plane, carrying a Rugby team crashed in the Andes. After a week long futile search, the rescue team gave up thinking that all of them must be dead. The passengers after waiting for many days to be rescued decided to help themselves since apparently nobody else was going to do it. Two of them volunteered to cross the mountains by foot to reach the green valleys of Chile and bring back help. It was a walk of more than 50 miles. But they did it and came back to rescue their fellow passengers who managed to survive in the mountain 70 days after the crash. The core of heroism lies in the ability to walk that extra mile. As long as you can do that, you will never be defeated.
Third, do not be afraid to admit your ignorance. While it is important to project what we are good at, we must be equally candid about areas we do not know enough about. The seeds of learning were sown by the great great philosopher Socrates who said “All I know is that I don’t know.” Today, knowledge is multiplying at such a rapid rate that it is impossible for anyone to know everything. But if we can develop an index system by which we at least know with whom or where the knowledge is available, we have achieved quite a bit! And there will still be areas which we will be unable to tap. The important thing is not to hide behind a false front. People will respect you for your honesty, if not your wisdom.
Fourth, think about what you will take on next rather than about what you may be letting go. Too many people are so enamored by the legacy of success in their current roles that they are afraid to look further. This can lead to inertia. If we linger too long on past success, we will miss out on the opportunities that lie ahead of us. We must learn to look at change as an exciting adventure rather than a disruption. New avenues for learning always lie just beyond the shade of our comfort zone.
Fifth, contribute in every situation. The only way to keep learning is by contributing. You do not have to be the leader every time. When a formation of birds flies over long distances, each bird takes its turn in leading. This ensures that no bird gets too tired and yet the formation keeps moving at a certain pace. Every person is important. It doesn’t matter whether you play the violin, the flute or the drums; you are still part of the orchestra. Leadership is not about exercising power as much as it is about contributing. This will happen when you realize that leadership is not a privilege but a responsibility.
Sixth, pursue excellence in whatever you do. Excellence cannot be forced through a process nor guaranteed by a certificate. It comes from an all consuming passion to do one’s best. It needs an eye for the smallest of details. When differences become small, it is the small things that make the difference.
Seventh, while you must take your careers seriously, do not take yourself too seriously. You have to laugh and find humor everyday. This will help you to keep issues in their perspective. Being cheerful is an attitude. Not only will it help you to reduce your own stress, but a positive attitude is contagious. It can do a lot to elevate the moods of people around you and recharge you to take one more shot at the problems facing you.
Eighth, we must always know what we are really good at. Rather than trying to be everything to everyone, we must focus on areas where our talents truly lie. A talent can be defined as that skill which we not only enjoy learning but which we can also learn rapidly. We need to work at honing our talent and smoothening the rough edges. But exceptional performance usually comes from doing what comes naturally to us.
Ninth, always welcome feedback even if it comes in the guise of criticism. I remember the story of a boy who dreamt of becoming an artist but was frustrated because whenever he showed his painting, the teacher would look at it with a frown and find some fault with it. The student improved on his work continuously and he thought he would one day hear a word of appreciation from his teacher. But it never happened.
Finally, in disgust, he bought a painting from an accomplished artist, touched it up with fresh paint and showed it to his teacher. To his amazement, the teacher smiled and said, “now this is really good work. Congratulations.” Feeling guilty, the student confessed that it was not really his painting. The teacher looked at him silently and then said, “Till now, I thought you wanted to paint a great picture. But I realize now that you do not want any more corrections, which means that the last painting you did was the best you will ever do. Remember you have set these limits to your talent, not me.” Criticism may actually be an __expression of faith in us rather than a put down. We must learn to take it constructively because it will show us what more we can learn. Finally, always play to win. Winning is not about making the other person lose. It is about stretching yourself to your own limits. Once so stretched, you will realize the true extent of your potential.