Viewing the world through a different lens

R Gopalakrishnan, (Gopal to friends) is a reputed distinguished leader who spends his early mornings doing what he loves most - pondering and writing. An inspiring speaker and thinker he loves to connect stand-alone dots to weave distinctive and masterful narratives.

While his anecdotes are derived from management and business, the themes he focusses on are inspired from nature, psychology and common sense. Gopalakrishnan has authored several bestselling books and delivered over 100 keynote speeches globally. In this interview with Swetha Amit, he talks about the inspiration behind his new book SIX LENSES: Vignettes of Success, Career and Relationships and how he learnt to look at the world through new lenses.

SIX LENSES: Vignettes of Success, Career and Relationships is an interesting take on viewing the world through a different lens. What was the inspiration behind this book?
What inspired this book was my observation of how different people look at the same event or episode in a different manner and derive different messages out of it. In fact I have narrated as to how my siblings and I viewed our childhood days in a completely different way. It's an interesting phenomenon to see how several individuals insist on what they see as being the only truth and even get upset when a third person challenges that truth.

I have often wondered as to what causes people to look at things in their own unique manner. The idea of lenses came up from the fact that when we all go to opticians to check our eyesight, the same chart is displayed and yet each of us comes out with our own prescription. What happens in life is similar. Each person looks at the world depending on their prescription and how their lenses are set. The difference is that we can adjust it accordingly and change the way we view the world, which is the core message of my book.

Many people tend to write on famous personalities. You chose to write stories on what you call PLUs or "people like us", which is unique. How did you manage to find these PLUs whose stories would inspire others?
My purpose wasn't exactly to inspire others. You see there are two aspects while reading about the lives of other people. One is inspiration and the other is instruction. 

Stories of renowned personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela tend to inspire people as they appear like perfect parables without any vices. However stories of PLUs or "people like us", tend to be instructional and relatable. These are people who are willing to express their ambiguities and confusion about their lives and how they overcame such hurdles.  It makes you feel that there are people like us and we tend to learn better from such people who have undergone similar experiences.

Besides there are several books on celebrities but not many on PLUs. I wanted readers to draw lessons out the lives of these PLUs and hence decided to write about them and make it sort of instructional.

A part of SIX Lenses explores the certain nuances that surround the perception that people have of success. What is your view of success?
I have a simple view of success. When you look at yourself in the mirror and feel that you are a lovely person who has accomplished something, feel happy and contented, then I would define that as success. Unfortunately most of us tend to view success as how other people see it. We use other people's lenses to define our achievements and targets, which is not the right thing to do.

Perceptions from childhood tend to shape our thoughts and behaviour towards certain things and people. Would you attribute these early preconceived notions as the reason for the increasing intolerance that is brewing in our country today?
Personally, I don't think there is more intolerance today than there was, say about 20 years ago. Intolerance has always existed. It's just that the medium through which we learn about such events has increased, be it the internet or social media, etc.

Any incident that occurs during your childhood does influence you initially. We are all born with a clean slate and therefore everything that happens to us is bound to leave a mark of some sort. However how each person shapes up post any kind of an experience, is different and unique. For instance a traumatic experience during childhood can have an adverse effect by converting such beings into brutal criminals. Or, it can have an entirely opposite effect by turning them into good-hearted messiahs.

Life is all about 'psyching' other people to a certain belief, sometimes in a good or a bad way.  I don't think there is any intolerance as such. It's just a point of view and people are psyched into a certain kind of thinking from childhood towards some things. 

India is heterogeneous and diversified, which is our strength.  Yet,  at the same time it's a weakness as it brings in certain prejudices and biases which mar our thought process and behaviour.  How do you think we can treat this more as our strength to benefit us in the long run, especially while working with people from different walks of lives?
Yes, in India, the great strength has indeed been its diversity and it's been so for a long time. With regards to the certain biases, it depends on the lenses that people use to look at others. If you read a book by Gillian Tett called The Silo Effect, she says that every person grows up with certain inputs from the environment and because the world is complicated, you tend to classify, events and people into certain categories. In the process you create some archetypes in your head.  

If 100 people are put in a room together, it is inevitable that each person will come with a different viewpoint. If you listen to others' points of view with an open mind, it will help you to shift your lenses and look at the world in a different light. Say, for instance, you develop a certain impression about people based on the way they talk or their accent; yet when you spend more time with them, you find that they are actually nice and therefore the shifting of the lenses happens through numerous interactions. Therefore, in order to capitalise diversity as our strength, we need to listen with an open mind without having it fixated with certain norms and learn to shift our lenses.

You have talked about authenticity referring to mythological characters like Bhishma, Karna and Lord Ram, where each of them despite possessing their virtuous qualities, failed to exhibit them at certain important instances. Drawing parallels to the corporate world, can an individual actually exhibit 100-per cent authenticity while dealing with subordinates or handling transactions?
Well, I can be hundred-per cent authentic to myself but it may not necessarily come across in the same manner to the person who I am dealing with. For instance, if I make a statement about something that I feel strongly about, I am being authentic to myself as it's my genuine view on that particular topic. However, if my statement hurts another individual, then I am not being authentic to them. So, it depends on how you look at it. In Lord Ram's case, he was being hundred-per cent authentic to himself when he asked his wife to go through the purity test. However, from Sita's point of view he wasn't displaying authenticity as she felt he was doubting her purity.

So in my opinion there is nothing as hundred-per cent authenticity.  It's just an illusion. All of us have to learn to be authentic in an acceptable manner. If decency requires, I don't necessarily voice my views about a particular community, even though deep down I may feel a certain way. I may be unauthentic to myself but in the long run it's acceptable. I would sum it up and say that people who are authentically unauthentic are the ones who are most successful.

You have said how the presence of trust in a relationship is a great energiser. In the corporate world which is known to be cut-throat with stiff competition, how does one foster this trust with colleagues and co-workers?
This is definitely a challenge as our minds have been brainwashed into this stream of thought which says that if you display too much trust too soon, you will face nothing but grief. Therefore we have all consciously planned to be distrustful of others as we fear being taken for a ride.

According to me, just like authenticity, trust is not what we think it is. It's just one of those lenses through which you see it. The reality is that when you have chosen not to trust a particular person then the other person will not reciprocate either. They will develop lack of trust towards you as well.  You need to choose whom to trust.

Trust is knowing when not to trust.  Being distrusting of trust in a particular way is what builds trust. Though it's a play of words and sounds complicated, it communicates a lot.

Your book talks about viewing people and circumstances from another perspective altogether. Has penning down this book changed the way you look at the world?
Yes, absolutely. Actually I don't know whether penning this book down made me view the world differently or whether I viewed the world differently and hence penned this book down. There's a bit of circularity to it. I believe that you can change your whole life by just shifting or changing your lenses.

Sometimes, it may still give you the same picture in which case you need to change your circumstance.

What are your plans? What can we expect next from you?
Well, when I retire I will be making four offerings which are deduced as mind works. It's termed as 'WAST' i.e. "Waste" without the alphabet 'E'.

'W'  - I will continue to write, so you will see some books from me. 'A'  - Advising companies or people; 'T' - Teaching which I do quite often; 'S' - Speaking which I do as well quite frequently. So, hopefully all this should keep me occupied post my retirement.

(See: Excerpt from SIX LENSES: Vignettes of Success, Career and Relationships)