Zero To One – How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Start Loving Joka

I have wondered at times what were the motivations behind the adoption of the number 0. What was going through the minds of the mathematicians in ancient India, when they were cooped up around a cup of masala chai (or maybe sura) in their hutments when someone came up with the brilliant idea of an entity that was to revolutionize the world. I wonder what was their interpretation of the number, a self-contained entity that means nothing by itself but does wonders when placed with other integers.

However, over a period, the civilizations around the world came up with an entirely different, non-mathematical interpretation of zero. Zero, which was created as a supplement to add great value to an integer, was soon associated with nothingness. With the advent of electronics and Boolean algebra, zero took another interpretation, that of False. All failures were soon associated with the number too.

If your favorite cricketer failed to score runs, then he was a zero. When your own child failed to score marks, s/he was a zero too. There was a certain casteless, genderless, faceless equality that zero have with everything negative. During my past professional career too, I saw many useful discussions go waste, resulting in a zero. Saw lack of vision in decision making resulting in an inadequate response to client’s problems, and eventually a zero. The general chaos that prevailed within the board rooms at times made my senior manager quote Dr. Strangelove quite often, “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

The great mathematicians of the lore would be turning in their graves thinking about what we have done to the great zero through our inactions. Sitting in meeting rooms, amidst the chaos and confusion, I often used to think about what would be the best ways to turn these zeros around, turn our discussions more meaningful, have a positive outcome. How to turn around the zero into its antithesis, the one.

Unlike Zero, One has had a very good life, a joyful one coming from being associated with positivity. Like all of us, I too wanted to do a course correction, become the person I set out to be. So much of these thoughts centered around finding a way to bring out a change in my surroundings got me thinking, what is it that’s wrong? Is it how businesses are performed these days, or is it my perception of it? What do I do to become a better agent of change?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes once said, ”Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”. After a series of eliminations, I arrived at my truth. I felt a very strong urge to reboot. Go back to school and unlearn whatever I had accumulated over the years. Start afresh, uncover new grounds, change the only thing that I could, me. From among various options available, I chose the one I believed agreed with my life’s philosophy the most. Choosing Joka was almost organic, a naturally obvious choice, an extension of my thought process and something I wished to do for a very long time (Remind me to tell you about the run up to Joka some other day) and so I decided to go with my gut. Coming down to Joka, in this beautiful campus, replete with nature’s choicest offerings, a place of immeasurable tranquility and bliss has been a rewarding experience. The environs help you clear your mind and gives you a fresh perspective to any problem in hand. I felt rejuvenated and ready to face the world even before the inauguration. I felt invincible, powerful and confident. Alas, this feeling didn’t last very long and changed as soon as the term started.

Very soon I learned how difficult my transition to one was going to be. We as a group got branded as “toothless tigers” who have lost their killer instincts, in one of the very first classes. The vast resources at our disposal and enormous reading material quickly showered down the audacity I had built up during my initial days. I am still trying to come to terms with the amount of unlearning needed to become what I started out to be. For example, one of the skills that my stint at my previous job taught me was to become a good people manager. “The ability to receive emotions is critical to be a good manager”, so was I told during my leadership training, it was hardly a
surprise that I scored very high in Expressed Control for Affection in FIRO-B after coming to Joka. However, my jubilations turned to remorse as soon as the professor explained that a high score doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a great manager, and I would need to recalibrate to move towards a more “average” score. How do I do that? How do I go about emoting less? That’s one of the many things that I need to unlearn. So basically it’s not only the skills but the behaviour that would need a change as well.

I am finally beginning to understand the mammoth task that lies ahead. I am proud that I chose a road less travelled, no doubt this path is filled with obstacles and challenges, it is going to give me innumerable sleepless nights in days to come, but my first two weeks at Joka has made me realise one thing, this is the biggest challenge I have taken till date. It’s immaterial whether I succeed at the end of my journey or not, but I am going to face myself, my older self, at every step of the way.

Whether I come out victorious depends on how well I tackle the old me, how well I rediscover myself. So finally, have I become the one I set out to be? Definitely not, but the process has begun. I am not a one yet but I am definitely not the zero I was. I am somewhere in between and I am happy that I am here.

PGPEX IIM Calcutta

PGPEX is IIM Calcutta's One Year Residential Program for Executives gives mid-career professionals the ideal platform to augment their existing skill sets as they endeavor to armor themselves for senior and top management roles in the industry. The program, since its inception in 2006, has spawned alumni who have demonstrated excellence in the leadership positions that they have occupied in their organizations.