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Once upon a conference room...

An excerpt from 'Sportivity', a new book about getting more creative.

Ram Shankar, the management trainee, sat transfixed as the match looked like it was approaching a decisive phase.

A few minutes earlier, he had furtively glanced into the conference room. Finding it unoccupied, with a large screen TV and a lonely remote lying idle, apparently waiting to be employed in some soul fulfilling manner, he had quickly assumed control of the environment.

With a few deft flicks of the wrist, his work folder was upon the table and the remote had tuned into the right sports channel. His legs had automatically found themselves elevated onto the chair in front of him, always his preferred position when watching sport.

This promised a few moments of bliss, away from the chaos of the working day. Mostly this was also respite from his oppressive boss Vikas.

Once upon a conference room...

Vinay Kanchan's Sportivity - back and front cover

Ram was just on the cusp of sport induced nirvana, when his arch nemesis popped his head in.

“There you are Chief.”

Ram’s legs quickly slid down from the chair in front of him. It was a centuries old reflex transmitted through the DNA of all subordinates, when caught ‘off the job’ by their bosses.

Vikas paused and adjusted his tie, using his reflection in Ram’s glasses. How Ram used to hate that ritual of his.

“Weren’t you supposed to be working on the big presentation?” asked Vikas, in his typically condescending attitude.

Ram was about to retort. But thought he would give it a moment’s silence, just to see which way the ball would swing next.

“I guess the company is paying you to watch matches,” continued Vikas with increasing glee. He enjoyed rubbing Ram’s face in the dirt. His opinion was the boy needed bucket loads of face wash anyway.

“Hmm” Ram replied with surprising calmness.

He touched his chin in a manner which made his IQ score jump a few points. He kept the match playing on television, but slightly lowered the volume. His one eye still expertly following the proceedings.

Vikas was taken aback by Ram’s reaction. Just a few weeks ago, Ram would have jumped out of his chair when Vikas entered, faster than Mary Kom latching onto an opponent whose guard had dropped.

And yet now, there was a sense of composure around him. This rankled Vikas more than a perennially double faulting player, irritates his hapless doubles partner.

“Well, what do you have to say?” queried the slightly miffed Vikas.

Ram drew in a deep breath and confidently met Vikas’s gaze.

“I was working on some ideas just when you came in. Actually was using the match as a stimulus, to come up with something really interesting.”

That stumped Vikas, in more than the cricketing sense of the term. ‘Sounds beyond the boy’ he thought to himself. ‘Maybe he is bluffing. It might make for a little fun to catch him at that.’

Vikas’s sported his best Darth Vader smile (come on, Vader is a will, there’s a way-or a smile at least). He leaned forward slightly aggressively and said...

“Sock it to me...”

Ram really had to restrain himself physically. The invitation was too great.

Then collecting himself, he replied with perfect poise.

“I analyzed why Ronaldo and Messi keep scoring so many goals. There are many reasons. But one is also because they constantly put themselves in positions to score all the time. Even bad misses don’t faze them. In fact the more they miss, the more likely they are to score soon.”

Ram paused letting the impact of his words sink in. Vikas shrugged.

“So? How is that relevant to our presentation to client?”

“We recommend they constantly and quickly keep testing the waters with new prototypes. Sure some might fail, but somewhere along the line they might also discover a winning idea. It’s all about being willing to speculate and experiment in a controlled manner.”

Vikas was stunned by this. Slowly he sat down, arms folded.

“Continue”

Ram tried his best to hide his growing sense of elation. To accentuate his coolness he casually opened his notepad and doodled on the page for a bit. Then he spoke.

“Think of how batsmen like AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli, use every conceivable angle presented by the crease to score. That dovetails into a strategic suggestion we make to the client; about taking a ‘360 degree view’-not only of all their product applications, but also of the market. They might discover uses they had turned their backs to. In the same vein they might uncover consumer segments they had previously not spotted before. Apparently that’s how Viagra came to be.”

Vikas was mildly excited hearing the name of the wonder drug. However, he was not going to let Ram get away after erecting two good points.

“Hmm. But that seems to be from another sport. How many are you watching?”

“One must keep constantly flipping between several to come up with true inspiration. It is all about treading lightly with your mind across diverse pitches”

Ram marveled at his own ability to mouth those words, even he had not expected that to come through, sounding so lofty.

Vikas was perplexed. To say he was not expecting those kinds of counters was putting it mildly.

Still, in his typical ‘boss dousing enthusiastic flames’ avatar, he queried.

“They always like three recommendations. You don’t have a third.”

It was a vintage, wicked, boss maneuver, which leant heavily on the banalities of age old bureaucracy.

Ram was on to that weak second serve in a flash.

“Now that you served that up; I reflected on how Novak Djokovic, before he became world number one, and even sometimes after that, used to be great at mimicking the physical quirks of other top players. I always thought there was a deeper lesson in that. In order to rise to the top, one must really know the competition. Literally be able to walk in their shoes. I think our client really needs to deeply understand and appreciate the strengths of the leaders in their market. To the extent they can embrace and replicate the same. That will truly set them on an upward path.”

Vikas has left groping thin air post that. He stood up slowly, like a man who has just heard the judges declare that he had lost the bout by a knockout.

He groggily made his way to the door, turned around smiling, but now rather weakly and asked...

“That means you might be copying a lot of my key skills and attributes eh? Doesn’t it Chief?”

“Well, hmm...” went Ram, smiling back at his previous tormentor. “I do try and learn a lot.”

Vikas left closing the door behind him.

“A lot about what not to do” Ram finished his remark, to the deafening applause of a silent, empty room.

He grinned to himself, like he had never done before over the past six months.

He had just stood his ground and had managed to beat back the ‘boss challenge’, for the very first time.

And it felt strangely empowering.

He rambled through his folder on the table, and pulled out his copy of ‘Sportivity’. He gazed at the book with fondness, browsed through it briefly, and then put if back in the vault of his folder.

Life would be good hereon. He felt a strange craving for tea.

But that would be a whole different book.

(Vinay Kanchan is a creative thinking trainer and the author of 'Lessons from the Playground' and 'The Madness Starts at 9'.)