Hey there, podcast listeners, welcome to Unleashed, the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top-tier independent management consultants. I’m your host, Will Bachman.
Our guest today is Dr. Srikumar Rao who has had a big influence on my life through his course Creativity and Personal Mastery which was one of the most popular courses ever at Columbia Business School. It’s the only course I’ve ever heard of that has its own alumni community and organizes its own retreats. On this episode, Srikumar describes some of the exercises from his course that you can do at home. How to define your ideal job, how to cultivate a sense of gratitude and how you can benefit from that, how to reverse the traditional approach to networking to create incredibly powerful and lasting relationships.
Srikumar is now an independent professional himself, he left the academic world and tenure to set up his own practice of teaching this course, giving keynote speeches, and coaching executives. If this show interests you, I’d encourage you to check out his books. He’s got two books out, Are You Ready to Succeed? Unconventional Strategies for Achieving Personal Mastery in Business and Life. And that is a fantastic book, highly mirrors his course as I took it. He’s got another one out, Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated and Successful No Matter What. And he tells me on episode today he’s got a third book coming out this year which I’m sure will be awesome.
If you like those books, I’d encourage you to think about taking his course. You can learn about that course, go to his website theraoinstitute.com. On there if you go to programs, you can download a 95-page syllabus, that’s right, 95 pages, and half of that is a list of recommended reading. I’ve been working on that list for the last 13 years myself, it’s a great list to explore.
I had a great time talking to Srikumar today, he’s always such an element and such a pleasure to speak with. It was a lot of fun for me, I hope you enjoy it as well.
Srikumar, I wanted to welcome you to the show. I am so thrilled to have you on. You have been such an important influence in my life. As you know, I took your course at Columbia Business School back in 2003 and I’ve gone on to read like every book in the recommended reading, and your course has continued to influence me to this day. So I’m really thrilled to have you here today.
Srikumar Rao: Thank you, Will, it’s my pleasure to be there. Boy, has it been 14 years?
Will Bachman: It’s been a long time.
Srikumar Rao: Time flies, doesn’t it?
Will Bachman: It does. Why don’t we start, Srikumar, by … You taught a pretty unconventional course, Creativity and Personal Mastery in a MBA program. Maybe we could start by telling listeners a little bit about that course and how it came about and what you’re hoping to accomplish with it.
Srikumar Rao: Certainly. Let me give you some background as to how the course came about. I came to do my PhD at Columbia Business School, and then I went to the corporate America, and initially I was hugely successful. My career took off like rocket, but I basically got burnt with corporate politics, so I figured I’d go into academia where there is no politics. That is a very naive view of the world, and by the time I found out how alive and well politics is in academia, I’d already made the transition.
Before I had a period when basically I stagnated in the sense of not accomplishing much by way of quote “success” unquote, and all my peers who were way behind me caught up and went beyond. In the meantime, I got married, so I had a wife, children. As you know, universities are fine as bastions of freedom and so on, but the finances don’t work very well. So I woke up one morning feeling really sorry for myself and saying, “What the hell happened? I had such brilliant education, such a stellar early career, and here I am stagnating in the middle of nowhere.” So feeling really sorry for myself, it was a pity a party of one.
Now all my life I’d been doing a lot of reading, mystic biographies, spiritual auto-biography, and that would take me to a real nice place, and then I came back to the real world, and it sucked. I remember thinking, “If all this is useful only if you’re sitting quietly thinking peaceful thoughts but not when you came to the hurly-burly, then it’s pretty useless.” But somehow I knew that wasn’t true. I knew that this was very valuable. In fact, maybe even the only thing that was really valuable. I just couldn’t figure out how to make use of it. So one day, I got an idea which is why don’t I create a course which will take the teachings of the world’s great masters, strip them of religious, cultural and other connotations, and adapt them so that they’re acceptable to intelligent people in a post-industrial society. And the thought of doing something like that made me come alive.
I realized initially that I felt a little bit like a fraud because I was going to create a course to help people make use of these teachings, and I hadn’t figured out how to do that. But I thought, my intentions are good and why don’t we get started and we’ll muddle our way through and learn together.
So I offered that course, it did well. I modified it and offered it again, it did better. I moved it to Columbia Business School in 1999, and after a couple of years it exploded. By the time you took the course Will, my course was the only one at Columbia Business School which was a university-wide draw. I had students from law school, from the school of international public affairs, from business school, from the graduate school of arts and sciences, from journalism, teachers’ college, all over the place. And it’s spread by word of mouth. So I’ve taught it in London Business School, at Kellogg, at Berkeley, and I believe it’s the only such program to have its own alumni association. So it’s progressed considerably since those days. But it was and remains a personal quest. I’m doing it because this is my life path, this is my purpose. Of course, it’s also how I make my living, but it is very much a calling.
Will Bachman: I want to highlight that it is the only course that I’ve even taken that has its own alumni association and a very active one. It organizes retreats for alums of your course and has a pretty active listserv. I should also mention your books, you’ve published Are You Ready to Succeed? Unconventional Strategies for Achieving Personal Mastery in Business and Life, and also Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated and Successful No Matter What. Those two books cover a lot of the themes from your courses. Maybe for listeners who haven’t read those books or taken your course, could you kind of talk through some of the key takeaways that you’re hoping your students will learn in your course?
Srikumar Rao: Absolutely, I’ll cover that. And just for information I am actually working on a third book which I hope to finish sometime this year. Quite likely it will be a third book, but I’ll put it out in phases so it might actually be a couple of ebooks plus the full book, and I hope that that’ll happen this year. So there are several takeaways, Will. The first one is happiness is a choice. We are about as happy in life as we decide we are going to be. Though it is a choice and we make that choice, most of us are not aware that it is a choice and it’s a choice that we made because my contention is that the world we live in is not real. In other words, we think that we are living in the world and stuff happens to us and that’s why we are the way we are, but in reality stuff is always happening and we view whatever happens through the lens of the mental chatter we entertain and the mental models we hold, so tell me if you’d like to elaborate on either one of these, and therefore we think the world is a particular way.
The basic teaching of CPM is your world is a construct. You made it, and you made it with your mental chatter and mental models, and if you don’t like any part of it, the good news is that you can deconstruct the parts of it that are not working and build it up again. This is something that’s a lifelong process. You’re going to keep doing that over and over and over again. That’s I would say one of the principle takeaways from CPM.
Will Bachman: Srikumar, one of the mental models that you taught or that I just maybe picked up in your course was that some beliefs, it doesn’t necessarily matter if they are true or not, but you should try them out to see if they work, right?
Srikumar Rao: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Will Bachman: One of those being if you can really define very clearly exactly what you want, somehow the universe begins to conspire to help deliver that to you.
Srikumar Rao: Absolutely.
Will Bachman: So for someone who’s a very rational thinker you might discard that and say that’s kind of magical thinking, but you can say, “Well, let me see if that works.” I got to say, you did an exercise in your course, that maybe I’d love you to elaborate on, which was to write your ideal job description and in a lot of detail. I did that in your course, and I ended up doing something pretty much like what I wrote 14 years ago, being an independent professional, having a real rich network of folks and doing work that I love. I’m not sure if there was necessarily cause and effect, but it did turn out that kind of writing it down was helpful. Could you talk a little bit about that ideal job description exercise?
Srikumar Rao: Certainly. And while I do that, I’d also like to share with you that you’re not alone in that. I regularly get emails from persons who’ve taken that and say, “Oh my god, professor Rao, I resisted doing the ideal job exercise, but now that I’ve done it, I now find that I am in it or a variation of it which I would never have believed possible.” In fact, some have actually gone back to read what they wrote then, and they’re astonished that it has come to be.
Basically what happens is when you achieve clarity in your head and along with that clarity there is also an emotional commitment to it, you’ll find that you take one step and it’s as if the universe takes 10 steps to helping you meet what you want. Now, there are people who are uncomfortable with that as a concept, but they’re comfortable with, if I decide that this is what I want to do and I have that imprinted in my mind as it is, then I become more aware of all of the things that I could be doing or all of the opportunities which come my way which could lead me in that direction, and they feel comfortable with that. It doesn’t matter which way you look at it, but when you achieve that internal clarity, and with that internal clarity you also have the emotional commitment, you’ll be surprised at how serendipitous opportunities come up which will enable you to actually live the life that you design.
Will Bachman: Yes. So could you describe a little bit exactly what that ideal job description ought to look like? That was a real helpful exercise for me. It’s not just sort of a two-liner, but if a listener wants to do this exercise, what would they do?
Srikumar Rao: Certainly. Basically what I encourage people to do is visualize X years down the road, five years is a good starting point, what they would like their life to be? And that has many different dimensions. What exactly are you doing and what is the benefit that you are conveying to people and the world by doing what you do? And I invite them to visualize it in great detail. Where do you work? How much do you travel? What kind of office do you have? Who are the people you interact with? What kind of person is your boss? Things of that nature. And also visualize the feeling inside you as you do what you do. Are there frustrations in your life? What are these frustrations? Do you have a family? How does what you’re doing affect your family? What would you like your role to be as a husband or wife, as a parent? And basically imagine it in as great detail as you can.
For many people, perhaps for most people, it seems as though they’re indulging in creative fiction, and that’s just fine. But I would like persons who do this exercise to get into the stage where the writing happens spontaneously and fast. So in a sense, it’s not that they are trying to create their ideal life, it is flowing through them on to the paper and flowing effortlessly. That’s when it really really really starts to work. You might have to go through three or four drafts or maybe even more before it gets to the stage where it doesn’t feel like creative fiction but feels like something that is coming through you and not from you. And when that happens, that’s when you’ll find the pieces from the outside world start fitting together to lead you in that direction. So my advice for everyone who takes the program is do this periodically, do it maybe once a quarter at least, but put some thought and energy into it because it will pay you back and it’ll pay you back in spades.
Will Bachman: Yeah, that’s been such a powerful exercise for me. You had a whole series of exercises. Another one was around gratitude and cultivating gratitude. You had some really specific exercise around that. Could you describe that exercise and talk about why you think that’s important and the kind of benefits you’ve seen your students have from that gratitude type work?
Srikumar Rao: Certainly. Before I do that, let me give a little bit of background. The mix of persons who attend my course has changed somewhat since I’m no longer teaching at business schools, and the mix tends towards more entrepreneurs and more senior executives. And virtually everybody has something in his or her life that is troubling them. One of the things that I observed, and when I share it with them they readily acknowledge that this is true, is that we spend a disproportionate amount of energy focusing on the two, three or four things that are wrong in our lives, more precisely on the two, three or four things that we have arbitrarily decided is wrong in our lives, and we completely ignore the 50, 60 or 200 things which are actually pretty damn good about our lives.
Now, all of the people who attend my programs and my guess is, the vast majority of the people who are going to listen to this podcast are incredibly, incredibly privileged they’re likely to be in certainly in the top 5% and probably the top 1% of the world’s population. They don’t have to give thought to whether they’re going to have lunch tomorrow, they don’t have to give thought about whether I have a bed to sleep in, a roof over our head, whether they can go from place A to place B with reasonable certainty of not getting blown up. As you’re well aware, if you look at the newspapers, all of this is a very big deal in a large chunk of the world today. But we totally ignore that and take all of that for granted and we focus unremittingly and resentfully on minor things, the problems I’m having with my boss or why didn’t I get the salary raise that I expected or why is my carrier … a whole bunch of other things.
I propose that people flip it around. Genuinely be grateful for the stuff in your life that so many others would willingly change places with you for. Now, this is not an intellectual exercise and most of the persons who take my program are type A individuals who live in their heads. So if you’re a type A person who lives in his head odds, are you will start thinking and making checklists. Good health, check. Roof over head, check. Bed to sleep in, check. Food to eat, check. You can’t do that. This is an experiential exercise. This is something that you have to feel as opposed to something that you think. And if you are a Type A individual as I said who lives in his head, then you have to work around with it so that you’re actually experiencing the feeling rather than thinking it. But if you try, then you’ll find that you will make the click.
What I recommend people doing is do this last thing at night before you go to bed. In the morning, instead of going immediately to the space of, “Oh my god, there’s so much to do and I don’t have enough time to do it all,” go back and recreate that feeling of gratitude in your head. As you go through life at various points stop and let that feeling of gratitude well up. This is one of those exercises, the more you do, the easier it becomes and the more things you find to be grateful about. Eventually what I would like is for everyone to be in a default emotional domain of appreciation and gratitude. When you do, your entire experience of life changes.
Will Bachman: So there’s kind of the daily cultivation of gratitude. Then I think one exercise that I remember is you had us kind of write a letter to a particular individual that had meant a lot to us, and then go and actually take that letter and read it to the person in person. Tell me about some responses that students have had to that exercise or doing that?
Srikumar Rao: Oh my god, you wouldn’t believe the responses I’ve got. The full exercise basically is, think of a person who really had an impact on your life, a positive impact on your life, and then visualizing that person write a letter to that person. What I typically advocate is after you’ve written out that letter, laminate the entire letter. I think only one or two persons in all the years that I have been teaching the program have actually followed the suggestion to laminate the letter. More simply do write it and the second part of it is read it out to that person. Tell a person, “Hey, listen, I want to read something out to you. Please don’t interrupt. No conversation, just listen.” I would recommend doing it in person, but if you can’t do it in person, over the phone is fine. After you’ve done that, just leave that letter and go away.
I would say it’s probably about half to two thirds of the persons picked a parent. I can’t tell you the number of emails I’ve gotten to the effect of, “Thank you for giving my son or giving my daughter back to me.” My current teaching assistant, her father passed away a couple of weeks ago. She did that exercise after I recommended it to her and said he was so grateful and he kept that letter with him and read it multiple times. I did it to my own mother and she was so enormously, enormously appreciative and grateful. I never got to do it to my father because unfortunately he developed Alzheimer’s and he was gone before I could do that. I really regret that I didn’t do it earlier for him. It’s a hugely powerful exercise. More important, though it does have a profound effect upon the person to whom you give it or to whom you dedicate it, it also has a profound impact on you.
Will Bachman: We think those people important to us kind of know it, but doing that kind of really discreet exercise sounds like such a transformative experience.
Srikumar Rao: And we take it for granted all the time. Can I share another powerful exercise to you?
Will Bachman: Of course.
Srikumar Rao: This is one I’ve done many times in CPM but I did not do it for your class at Columbia. This actually goes back to Shakespeare who I have a profound admiration for and one of my favorite plays which is Julius Caesar. So if you remember the sequence, the conspirators murdered Julius Caesar, and the intention was that they would rule Rome together after that. They hadn’t figured in two things that happened. One was Mark Antony delivering his famous friends, Romans, countrymen speech and the other was Octavian Caesar rounding up with legion and coming after them.
So the conspirators scattered, and they were finally defeated at the Battle of Philippi, but just before the battle Cassius comes up to Brutus to ask him for his help on something. Brutus, you must remember, was already regretting his role in the murder because when Caesar said et tu Brute, it really struck home. So when Brutus declined Cassius’ request and Cassius is leaving Brutus says, “And whether we shall meet again, I know not. Therefore our everlasting fear will take. Forever and forever farewell Cassius. If we should meet again, why we shall smile. If not, why then this parting was well made.”
Now think about that as a blueprint, if you will, for living life. Every time you go out in the morning, you leave your partner and children behind. Is there any guarantee that you will ever see them again? What if you have that consciousness? What happens to all of the petty resentments, the irritations, the niggling doubts and worries and all of that that are in your head, what happens to all of them? You have a heightened level of consciousness when you bear in mind that this may very well be the last meeting. It makes life very intense.
Now, few of us are capable of maintaining that level of consciousness all the time, but all of us are capable of doing it some of the time. I recommend doing that the next time you have an interaction with someone who’s close to you, a parent, a sibling, a spouse. Just look at them. Give gratitude to the fact that this person is in your life, what this person meant to you and what would you feel like if you never saw that person again, and have that in. You’ll find that it completely changes the nature of your interaction, and it changes you.
Will Bachman: A lot of independent professionals, part of the whole business is to develop new relationships and new connections. A lot of people think about, okay, how do I go about networking? I think you had a sort of a flipped approach. I remember a networking exercise that we did that sort of turns that on its head a little bit where we … Well, it’d be probably better if you describe it. Can you talk a little bit about the networking exercise that you had us do and some of the impact that that’s had on the students who have done it?
Srikumar Rao: Absolutely. Let me also give you some background on how that exercise came to be. As I mentioned, I did my PhD at Columbia Business School. In my very first week at Columbia Business School, we had a lecture from some bigshot, I forget whether it was the dean at school or the coordinator of the doctoral program or somebody like that. One third of the lecture was how wonderful Columbia Business School was. Another third of the lecture was how wonderful we each were because we’ve gotten admitted to this wonderful school. And a final third of the lecture was now that we establish the school’s wonderful and you’re wonderful, don’t blow your time here, network, network, network, network, network. I felt uneasy with that, and I graduated from Columbia Business School with a network of zero. Not a single person with whom I retained contact. I even lost touch with my dissertation adviser after a few months.
I would say that on average maybe about 70% to 80% of the persons who take CPM feel uncomfortable with the idea of networking. And this is fine because the very notion behind the idea of networking is self-serving. It is, boy, I need to know people who potentially could help me in some way or perhaps advance my career. So let me hook up and get to know people who will help me somewhere down the line. And it’s wonderful if I can spot in advance somebody who isn’t yet in a position of prominence, but will be, and I’m going to make relationships with that person now so someday that person can help me. So it’s self-serving at its core. Even the thought, “I don’t have a network and I want to have a network,” is self-serving. People feel uncomfortable being self-serving.
So I have a different take on networking. Don’t try to build a network. Don’t try to create or form one. The best way to create a network is allow it to spring up around you rather than try to create it. In order to do that, forget all about creating a network. Instead look at who are the people who have impressed you. You run into them all the time. you run into them because you observe them and the company that you work with or a trade association, so speeches they gave, you read about them in articles, you see them on television. Make a note to use. Most of the time when we get impressed with someone, we remain inspired for an hour, a day, and then life goes on.
So I maintain that every time you come across someone whose work inspires you, that’s the universe giving you a tap on the shoulder. So don’t ignore it. Write it down. Who’s the person? How did you learn about this person? What does this person do and what feelings does it evoke in you? If you start doing that, you’ll rapidly have a list of several people who have that impact on you. Then reach out to those persons. Reach out to that person with a sincere email or letter saying, “Hey, this is how I learned about you, this is what you do, and this is how it inspires me.” But don’t stop there. Come up with a specific offer of help. Here is what I would like to do to help you. And the reason you reach out to those persons with a specific offer of help is if your offer is accepted, and of course I don’t have to say that you shouldn’t make this offer unless you’re fully committed to delivering if your offer is accepted, is because if you do that, then you will in some way make the world a better place and that will make you feel better. That’s the principle reason why you reach out.
So what I advocate is do this on a regular basis. Reach out at least once a week to somebody. If you do that on a regular basis, some of your offers are going to be picked up, and when you deliver on the help that you promised, you will find that you effortlessly forged connections and they are very very deep connections. If you do this regularly for a year or two years, you’ll find that a wonderful network of deep long-lasting relationships have sprung up around you.
Will Bachman: Can you think of any examples, Srikumar, that students have related back to you that came out of that exercise?
Srikumar Rao: For me personally?
Will Bachman: Or that students have experienced.
Srikumar Rao: I can give you both. I have an incredible number of people who’ve taken CPM and every day practically I get a letter saying, “Dear Dr. Rao, thank you so much for what you did. It has completely transformed my life.” This morning, for example, I got a letter from someone who took CPM and says, “I was a basket case when I took CPM and my life is so much better. I’m more at ease and because I’m more at ease, I met somebody and the relationship is progressing beautifully. I think that he might very well be my soul mate.”
But then she’d also been trying … She tried to introduce me to a major firm which is known for looking after its workers and having a different take on the relationship between employee and company, and that introduction didn’t go anywhere. She told me today that the person who was their head of Learning and Development and Human Resources, they combined those into a single position, is actually leaving and a very good friend of hers is going to be assuming that role within a month or so. She said, “I know him very well, and this is the absolutely perfect time to bring CPM to his notice again. I’ve been talking to him about it for at least two and a half, three years. He is ready, able and willing. So just let him fit into the new role and we will start again.” Completely unsolicited, came out of the blue. Things like that happen to me all the time.
Will Bachman: Yeah. Some of your alums are obviously in corporate roles, but it seems like an extraordinary number ended up doing something entrepreneurial, either as a consultant or a coach or setting up a firm. A lot became independent professionals, and you’re in touch with many of them, particularly through the alumni organization and listserv that you run. Could you talk about the kind of counsel that you provide to your former students who have gone off to set themselves up as an independent professional? What are some of the challenges that they face, or what are some of the tips that you provide to them?
Srikumar Rao: The challenges that they face are pretty much what any person in business faces which is how do I grow my business? How do I constantly come across people who could benefit from my service? The marketing, sales and other functions. The counsel that I do is don’t really think of growing your business. Yeah, you have to grow your business, you have to make a profit, but don’t really think about that. Think instead in terms of what is the overwhelming benefit that you can produce? How will their life improve as a result of that? And go one step further and say, “How will the world be a better place as a result of the services that you provide them?” And really focus on that. Can you help your client become the best that he or she is capable of becoming?
When you focus relentlessly on that, you’ll kind of find that growing your business takes care of itself. And go deeper. I’ll give you an example. One of my biggest clients was a financial services company, and they had hundreds of financial representatives all over the United States but primarily on the eastern seaboard. The CEO is a huge fan of my work, and he encouraged all of his reps to take that. They used to basically talk in terms of finances, here’s how much money you have and what kind of lifestyle do you want to maintain and let’s make sure the money doesn’t run out in your lifetime.
I started encouraging them to think deeply. Who are you, what do you stand for? What are your values? What makes you happy? Money is nothing but energy. It enables things to happen. How would you like to use this energy? And many of them felt very uncomfortable with the thought of asking people, their clients, what makes you happy? Well, after taking my program they felt more comfortable with that and they started talking in terms of how do you design your life as opposed to let’s simply manage your money. They found out that the clients related to them better, they got more referrals, and they felt better about what they were doing.
Will Bachman: So what are some of the tips that you think from your course that independent professionals can put in place? You talked about one, thinking about not so much about your own benefit, but how can you do a better thing for the world. Srikumar, what other tips from your class that you think … from Creativity and Personal Mastery, do you think are particularly useful for independent professionals as they seek to define their impact, as they think to raise the visibility to find clients that will benefit from their services? What are some of the practices that you think are most helpful for independent professionals?
Srikumar Rao: Here is a very powerful one, Will. Most of us set goals for ourselves, and then we become obsessed with whether or not we’ve met goals. They’re at all levels. Your goal might be I want to lose 20 pounds. Your goal might be I want to pick up one new client a week. It doesn’t matter what it is. We set something up, and then we say, “Okay, what do I have to do in order to accomplish that?” But typically what we do is we’re so obsessed with the goal that we live our lives according to I set a goal, I met it, life’s a blast. Or I set a goal for myself, I did not succeed, life sucks. So we live on a sinusoidal curve oscillating between elation and despair, and we tend to spend more time at the despair end of the spectrum. It’s a pretty lousy way to live life.
There is an alternative which is very simple, very few people are actually doing it, but when I point it out to them, they recognize the simplicity. If you do it, it will work a miracle in your life, and that’s the following. Goals are very important, but the importance of goals is that they set direction. Once the direction has been set, forget about the goals. Don’t obsess about them. Now, we all know that outcomes are beyond our control. If you look back at your own life, I’m sure that there are many instances you can easily recall where you said you were going to do something and for factors which were completely beyond your control it didn’t happen. So if you live your life according to whether you met your goals or not, then what you’re doing is you’re focusing on the destination and completely missing the journey. In reality, the journey is the only thing you have.
So what I advocate is the following. Set a goal, and the reason you set a goal is it establishes direction. Once the direction has been established, forget about the goal and put all of your emotional energies into what are the activities that you can undertake which will help you reach your goal and pour your emotional energy into that. As you do that, two things happen. Number one, you actually begin to enjoy the journey and the journey is the only thing you have. And second, when you detach from the outcome, the probability that you will actually achieve the outcome you wanted increases dramatically.
It’s a little bit like if you’re in a negotiation you’re never in a stronger position than when you’re genuinely prepared to walk away. Works pretty much the same way in life. By all means, have a vision, try desperately hard to achieve that vision, but recognize there are many factors which could intrude which will prevent that and be okay with that. And as you do that, you’ll find that A, you’re really enjoying life and B, the likelihood of you achieving what you set out to do improves immeasurably. So invest in the process, do not invest in the outcome.
Will Bachman: Process not outcome.
Srikumar Rao: Exactly. By the way I have a TED talk which covers this, so you might want to include a link in that with your podcast or encourage your listeners to look it up.
Will Bachman: I will right now. So we’ll include a link and then I think it’s also available if you go to Ted.com and search for Srikumar Rao.
Srikumar Rao: Yes, just go to Ted.com, put my name, Srikumar Rao, and it’ll pop up.
Will Bachman: It is a great TED talk. I have seen it more than once. Srikumar, one of the things that I really liked about your course was the list of recommended reading which I continued to work on years after graduating. So two-part question. One is, is that list available somewhere online on your website, and-
Srikumar Rao: Yes. Yes, it is available online. It is the back end of my syllabus, and I’m in the process of revising my syllabus, and the new syllabus will also be online. It’s been updated since the time that you took it, that was 14 years ago so many newer books are there. It is available to anyone. All they’ve got to do is go to my website, theraoinstitute.com, and I forget where it is, either under programs, so someone, they’ll find the syllabus for the program, and when they click on that, they can access it.
Will Bachman: Fantastic. It’s a pretty long list. Any books that you’d recommend people start with? People who are independent professionals and figuring out how do I deal with kind of the ups and downs in this lifestyle, the feast or famine, any particular books that maybe are top of mind today that you’re recommending?
Srikumar Rao: Yeah, actually, if somebody is in that situation I would strongly recommend that they get a copy of my book, Happiness at Work and go through because it talks specifically about that. How do you mood swings? How do you live your life so that you are extremely successful but not prone to depression or all of the things that … niggling worries that happen in life and particularly in entrepreneurial life. So I specifically cover that. Also, if any of your listeners go to inc.com and put down my name and entrepreneurial terror, both a video and a piece that I’ve written are going to pop up, and that specifically addresses the situation that many entrepreneurs face which is get up in the middle of the night and feeling clammy and sweaty and deathly scared, oh my god, what have I got myself into. It’s a phenomenon I think every entrepreneur one time or the other experiences but very few talk about it, but I’ve addressed that head-on in my Inc article and talk. So anyone can go to inc.com and look it up.
Apart from that there is a book which doesn’t address that topic specifically, but it talks about range of things which frame a worldview. If you follow through and implement that, it’ll certainly help solve this problem, and that’s a book called the Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, and I recommend that very highly.
Will Bachman: Awesome. Let’s turn for a minute to your own practice. So you were a comfortable business school professor, and you chucked it away to set up your own, your practice, taking your course around the world. Could you talk a little bit about your practice today and what you’re offering, how do you develop new clients? Just give us an overview of what you’re doing today.
Srikumar Rao: Certainly. So what happens is I have a range of things that I do. I deliver keynotes, which could be 60 to 90 minute talks. I’m actually delivering one this coming Tuesday at the Harvard Business Club of New York. I deliver half-day, one-day two-day workshops. I have the live CPM program which is currently structured so that it’s three modules of two and a half days separated by about a month, and in between is when you do exercises which are both individual and group. I also have just launched an online version of CPM. We’ve beta tested it, and it went well, and we are making some changes and doing a second beta test of that. My assistant is recruiting for that right now.
So those are the things that I do. Primarily persons who come to that come by referral for a live program. It’s not at all unusual for people to come from Europe or the Middle East or South America to New York just to do the program. In most cases they read the syllabus, and someone whom they know very well has said, “Listen, you really need to do this program. It is for real.” So the principle way I get it is by word-of-mouth and referrals, and of course some people have heard me in my public talks and they like what I had to say and they come on.
The online program primarily coming from people who have signed up to hear from me because of the writing that I do on various forums, like Inc, Huffington Post, Forbes, et cetera, et cetera. I have not been doing a particularly good job of marketing, and to remedy that I’ve just, when I say just I mean within the past month, hired someone who’s going to be my point person on using advertising in social media. So talk to me in another three months, and I’ll tell you how it’s working out.
Will Bachman: What led you to kind of leave the academic life and leave business school? You had taught, in addition to Columbia, at some other very fine business schools. I think, what, London School of Economics maybe and some-
Srikumar Rao: Yeah, I taught at London Business School. I taught at Columbia. I taught at Kellogg. I taught it Berkeley. Number of reasons why I left business school. First of all, my course became immensely popular, and it also got a lot of publicity. It was written up all over the place. It was in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, Businessweek, Time magazine, Financial Times, London Times, Guardian, Daily Telegraph. Every major business publication in North America or the UK featured it at one time or the other. So tremendous amount of publicity. But I found that I was very constrained when I was teaching it at business school.
First of all, as I mentioned, there’s a lot of politics in all business schools, but the second thing I was constrained to their academic semester. I was constrained in terms of the people who could be admitted to my program, constrained in terms of the hours that I had or the teaching arrangements that I wanted. I found, hey, it’s much better for me to be on my own, plus it’s financially better for me as well. So for all of those excellent reasons I left. I actually gave up a tenured position at a major university. I was teaching at Long Island University, and I was not only a tenured professor, but I was one of only two people at that university who had a chair. I was in leave of absence from Long Island University when I was teaching at Columbia, Kellogg and so on.
When my leave of absence expired, I tried to renew it, but the dean told me that he would not renew my leave of absence. So I said, “Fine, I’ll come back and teach, and I’d like to teach Creativity and Personal Mastery. So why don’t I do two sections, and I’ll teach one on something else.” And he said, “No, we don’t want you to teach creativity and personal mastery. We want you to teach marketing.” It took me roughly 15 seconds to hand in my resignation at that point. So this is, as I said, this is a life work, this is a calling, this is what I do, and there’s no way I was going to go back and teach consumer behavior or marketing research or all the other stuff that I used to do before. And it worked out.
This bears to what we talked about in the earlier part of our conversation which is when you have clarity and you take a step in that direction, the universe will take ten steps towards you. Increasingly what is happening is that both individuals and companies who resonate with what I do are finding out about me, reaching out and all kinds of alliances are happening, which are happening organically. In other words, I’m not going out and seeking them, they just appear. It does occur to me that perhaps more of them would come to fruition if I did take some proactive steps, and I’m in the process of taking those proactive steps. It’s exciting just to see the possibilities.
Will Bachman: Well, it’s awesome to hear that it’s growing. I got to say, for anyone who’s listening and thinking about, “Wow, that sounds interesting,” I definitely recommend Srikumar’s course. I found it hugely helpful in kind of helping to crystallize and clarify my path, and I know a lot of other alums of the course have as well. So that’s fantastic to hear. One thing, Srikumar, you mentioned early in our conversation today that when you decided to develop this course, you felt that you were like a fraud, like who am I to do it? And that’s one kind of thing that you talk about in your course a little bit is that you often feel like a fraud starting something, but you got to ask yourself, “If not me, then who?” And, “I may not be qualified, but I feel the calling to do it. If not now, when?”
Srikumar Rao: Exactly correct. There’s one other thing. What is your intent behind it? The intent behind it is, hey, I have something or an idea which would be of immense service to a big population, and the intent is to be of service, go for it.
Will Bachman: So Srikumar, if we were going to close and give you a chance here to provide a message on a billboard for every listener to see on their way home or on their way to work, what would your short and snappy message be for a billboard reminder?
Srikumar Rao: Who you’re being is much more important than what you are doing.
Will Bachman: So on that, who are you’re being is much more important than what you are doing-
Srikumar Rao: Correct.
Will Bachman: … I will be thinking about that today. Srikumar, this was a great conversation. I can’t thank you enough. We only covered a fraction, I’d love to have you back on the show for part two.
Srikumar Rao: Not a problem, will, let’s see what the … In fact, it’s funny you mentioned that because I did a podcast for Live Happy which is both a magazine and a website. So if any if you listeners want they can go to livehappy.com, put my name in, and the podcast will come up. Shortly after I did that they got back and said we received such overwhelming feedback from your podcast that we’d like to do another one. So we did. So both podcasts are on their website, and if any of your listeners want, they can go and look them up. So I would be delighted to be a guest on your show again.
Will Bachman: Thanks a lot. Srikumar, this was fantastic. It’s always great to speak with you. Thank you so much for joining.
Srikumar Rao: My pleasure, Will. You have a terrific day.
Will Bachman: Thanks for listening to this episode of Unleashed, the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top-tier independent management consultants. The mission of Umbrex is to create opportunities for independent management consultants to meet, share lessons learned and collaborate. I’d love to get your feedback and hear any questions that you’d like to see us answer on this show. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s U-M-B-R-E-X.com.
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