Define your North Star.
‘Experiment in your 20s be adventurous and experiment and use these experiences to build your flywheel and compliment your IQ with EQ.’

Kumar Mangalam Birla, chairman of the Aditya Birla group and the the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, addressed the graduating class of 2021 at the IIMA’s 56th annual convocation ceremony.

In the event held virtually on May 8, 2021, the billionaire businessman shared some of his key life learnings and advised students to have clarity about where they fit in, to take risks and experiment and to use these experiences to build one’s flywheel while complimenting IQ with EQ.

Presenting four key takeaways from the tycoon’s inspiring speech:

1. Define Your North Star

The pandemic and the last 12 months have again shone a spotlight on not just the role of governments, but of societies, companies, and individuals in creating better outcomes for all of us.

This is a period of short forecast horizons and amplified ups and downs. And therefore, a more important time than ever to define your principles and set your heading.

Where do you fit in, and what do you want to be known for? Now is a good time to mull over and define the answer.

2. Experiment in Your 20s

While your North Star is clearly in your sights, in the short term, the 20s should be the discovery phase of your next chapter.

As a wise businessman once said, ‘Risk taking is inherently failure-prone, otherwise it would be called sure-thing-taking.’

I feel that too many management graduates enter the corporate world with a ‘This is what I want to do’ attitude.

When I say experiment, I don’t necessarily mean start your own business or company.

Rather, work in a factory, work in a different country, work in diverse sectors, work across unfamiliar functions.

The opportunity cost of experimenting rises sharply as you grow in your career.

So, start early and experiment. Be impulsive. But temper your impulsiveness with creativity and positivity.

Be thoughtful of what you want to focus on and what is the common thread that strings together your experiments and experiences. Which brings me to my next connected point.

3. Build Your Personal Flywheel

It was legendary artist Vincent Van Gogh who had remarked that ‘Great things do not just happen by impulse but are a succession of small things linked together.’

Your personal flywheel is nothing but your own set of cumulating personal experiences.

Think about experiences as units of learning.

The more units you can accumulate in a year the more valuable you become. The sooner you start accumulating, the more you accumulate as you go along, as the power of compounding kicks in.

Remember, your ability to learn is elastic by nature.

Units of learning should guide your career choices. If you are ever wrestling with a career choice, the defining factor should be the units of learning.

Always, make a choice that accelerates your own learning curve and improves your understanding of the world.

Let me illustrate this point on building a flywheel and experimenting, using the example of an unconventional entrepreneur.

At the age of 20, he opened the first record shop and turned a millionaire in three years.

He went from running a small record shop to starting up a record label to launching music megastores.

In his early 30s, when a flight he was set to board got cancelled, he hired a plane, sold tickets, and filled it up with fellow stranded passengers.

This experience set in motion the idea for his successful airline business. Aviation was the fount on which his current conglomerate is built, spanning diverse sectors from travel, transport, entertainment, media, and telecoms.

His name is Richard Branson. He was always restlessly entrepreneurial, something that you too can be, even within the boundaries of an organization.

Remember, you don’t have to be a start-up entrepreneur to turbo charge your flywheel.

4. Add Emotion to IQ

I know all of you have burnt the midnight oil over the last two years solving complicated business problems

The reality is that you can’t build businesses with spreadsheets.

The most detailed business plans this year unraveled in the face of factory workers falling sick.

Supply chains came unstuck as the migrant labour silently powering them retreated to their communities. Therefore, don’t get unidimensional in the way you think.

You need to add other dimensions to your thinking, most importantly, of empathy and humility.

I don’t see IQ and EQ as binary qualities, but rather as complementary traits that make a personality wholesome.

The irony, perhaps, is that even AI is now starting to hold up a mirror to ourselves.

Microsoft’s Socio chatbot- Xiaoice boasts of having both IQ and EQ. It has social skills and understanding of human emotions. It writes music, sings, paints, and has a fine arts degree.

Xiaoice has had a 29-hour conversation with a human being! In total it has had over 30 billion conversations with 100 million friends.

Just pause and think about it, a chatbot is learning social and cognitive skills to build EQ.

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