Dr. Srikumar Rao is the author of Are You Ready to Succeed: Unconventional Strategies to Achieving Personal Mastery in Business and in Life. In the syllabus for the course that he teaches at Columbia University, which is called Creativity and Personal Mastery, there is this quote from Victor Franko:
"Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued. It must ensue as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a course greater than oneself."
What a great introduction to a man who teaches what it takes to be truly successful to achieve personal mastery. Dr. Rao is the Louis and Johanna Vorzimer Professor of Marketing at Long Island University, and is an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School.
His course, Creativity and Personal Mastery, is one of the highest rated courses at Columbia and has been written up in major media including the New York Times, Fortune, and Business Week among others.
Dr. Rao has consulted with companies like RCA, Reuters, CitiCorp, GTE, Pan Am, and Diners Club. He's an expert on marketing strategy and has taught in corporate programs in companies like Verizon, Northrop Grumman, Simple Technologies, General Instruments, as well as executive programs of the Columbia Business School.
In the past he was a senior consultant to the Continental group in Mergers and Acquisitions where he helped target medium-sized companies with sales in the range of 50 to 250 million dollars as potential takeover candidates. He also served as special assistant to the President of Warner Communications, Inc.
He's been a contributing editor for Forbes magazine and writes regularly about the impact of technology on business prophecies.
He covers innovative implementation of cutting-edge technology and he evaluates the strategic implications of such deployment. He also writes for magazines like Inc., Business 2.0, Hemispheres, Beyond Computing and Training, and was a contributing editor for both Financial World and Success magazines.
CHRIS ATTWOOD: Dr. Rao received his Ph.D. in Marketing from the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University. It's a great honor and privilege to have him with us this evening. Dr. Rao, thank you so much for joining us.
DR. RAO: My pleasure, Chris. I'm delighted to be here with you today.
CHRIS ATTWOOD: It is my pleasure and great honor and privilege to introduce to all of you my co-host for tonight's interview who will be conducting the interview with Dr. Rao.
Many of you know Jay Abraham, who has become a legend in the field of marketing. He has helped over 10,000 businesses achieve extraordinary results where he's added over seven billion dollars in revenue to those companies and was called by Forbes magazine one of the five top executive coaches in the country.
Jay, thank you so much for joining us, it is such a pleasure.
JAY ABRAHAM: This is a great privilege because I personally have known Dr. Rao for many years. I think the message and the thinking that he brings to bear is so critically relevant to anybody's life, business, career, and relationship that anything I can do to help everybody grasp the validity of contribution that resides in his thinking and his book, it's my great pleasure.
What I'm going to try to do in the approximate hour we've got is to be your advocate. I'm going to ask Dr. Rao, who I'm going to call Sri because he's a friend of mine, and that is his abbreviated first name. I've had to do conferences where we've had international buzz, but we're getting some buzz here. I hope it's not my line.
I'm going to ask him questions and he's going to answer. I may advocate and dig in deeper for everybody listening. I hope you'll get some great things out of it.
Sri, the first thing, because Chris, his colleagues, and all the readers and subscribers to Healthy Wealthy nWise, their overriding interest is passion. Passion of purpose, passion of effort, passion of experiencing life, passion of getting so much fulfillment and enrichment, not just denominated financially, but in all forms out of whatever it is you do and whoever you do it with, for, or through.
I'd like you to share with everybody the things which are most important to you, how your passions have led you to your work and to creating this book, why you were driven and obsessed to do it, and what your goal was in it. Can you sort of elaborate a little bit?
DR. RAO: Certainly I can, Jay. Before I begin, let me tell you how glad I am that it's you who is interviewing me, because I have gained so much from reading your work. In fact, I can tell your listeners that in the early part, when I was doing my Ph.D. in Marketing from Columbia, I think I got more from some of your manuals than I did from my course work.
JAY ABRAHAM: That's very flattering, thank you.
DR. RAO: My pleasure, Jay. I think it's particularly appropriate. Going back, I have high academy credentials. I have a Ph.D. from Columbia Business School. I was very successful in the corporate world working for companies like Warner Communications and Continental Group. But while I was very successful, there was something lacking. I was doing stuff because it paid well. I was doing stuff because other people thought it was important.
But as far as I personally was concerned, there wasn't much there. It was a job. Over time I started to grow very disappointed. In fact, there was a time when I could have sworn the entire world consisted of two sets of people, those who hated their jobs, and those who disliked their jobs. And I was kind of shuffling between them.
Afterwards, when I went into academe, it got to be too much. I said if this is all there is to it, it's not worth it. I basically took a year off. I'd always been doing a lot of reading, spiritual, autobiographical, mystical, biography, things like that, and it took me to a different space.
I started wondering, is there any relevance to all of this stuff which takes me to such a wonderful space? Is it relevant to be "real world"? So I came up with my course, offered it, and it did well. I offered it again, and it did better. I moved it to Columbia Business School, and after a couple of years it really exploded. Now it has become internationally known.
Doing that I discovered my own passion, and now this is what I do, period. This is not a course I teach; it's a life work and a calling.
JAY ABRAHAM: I like that. But I think that I'm going to usurp you. I think that you have an empathic respect for people of all kinds, and you feel maybe inordinately gifted with the ability to help them be, do, and see more than they do now. If you're like me, Sri, you can't let them not do it. You have to insinuate yourself, so to speak, in their lives, because you can open up windows.
Let me ask the next question. You're an accomplished author, you're a distinguished professor, and you're a leading authority. Tell us the story of how your career began. You sort of gave us this point, but how did it begin, and where do you see your new career? Because now you're sort of bifurcated. You have your Dr. Rao the Marketing Professor and also Dr. Rao the Emancipator of Passion and Purpose. It's sort of interesting. Do you want to discuss that a little bit?
DR. RAO: Certainly! Actually, Jay, the two which seemed disparate at one time are actually merging. I started off originally in physics. Though I was pretty good in physics my professors did a very good job of killing off all interest in that. Then I went in to do my MBA, and that was primarily because that assured me a "good income". I did my Ph.D. because I wanted to come to the States, although I wasn't particularly interested in doing it. All my life, in the early stages, I was pretty much drifting.
Then when I started working on this course it became a life. As I mentioned to you, this is not just a course, it's a life work and a calling. I discovered that there are a whole host of people, the majority of people use probably only a fraction of their potential. It's like an 8-cylinder car, but you're only using 1-cylinder to move around. And that is such a tremendous waste!
As I started teaching this course I could literally see people come alive at the thought of what their life could be. Whoops, are we getting a lot of buzz on the line?
JAY ABRAHAM: We are. I don't know if that's emanating from you. I don't think it's from me, and I don't know if it's from Chris. Right now we're not, so now we're clear.
DR. RAO: We'll stay with that, and if it does happen again I'll move to another land line which is close by.
Then I discovered that I really enjoy helping people discover that they're using only a fraction of their potential, and their life could be so much richer if they use more of it. Now I'm at the stage where it is my goal to help people discover that if they wake up in the morning and they are not radiantly alive, if the blood doesn't sing at the thought of being who they are and doing what they do, then they're wasting their life. And life is far, far, far too short and precious to waste.
The beauty is that every one of us can utilize a significantly higher percentage of our capabilities than we are. I've come up with a methodology which has been proven many times over on how people can do that. That is the main theme of my work now.
JAY ABRAHAM: The subtitle of your book, Unconventional Strategies for Achieving Personal Mastery in Business and Life. I want to get into another question, but it just stimulates me to integrate this concept of passion.
You talk about it and Chris talks about it. Stephen Covey is a very good friend of mine. His book, The Eighth Habit, is focused totally on finding your love or your passion, this concept of bliss, and making business not a drudgery or a chore, but a glorious and exhilarating process that you can't even differentiate from your other pleasures.
Tell me a little bit about why your strategies are so unconventional and how they integrate this concept of passion, bliss, and purpose together. Then I'm going to ask you a different question that ties into that.
DR. RAO: First of all, here's one of the things that I discovered, and here's something that I communicate to my students. Every time I do that it completely bolts them off.
I work with MBA students and the executives at some of the top business schools in the world. Invariably they have the notion, "I'm in a dead end job" or "I'm in a job where I'm progressing, but I don't really like it." The notion is, "Out there somewhere is the ideal job for me."
They define their ideal job in terms of how much money they are going to make or how much money it pays, the kind of persons they interact with, the kind of tasks that they do. And somehow if all of this came together then they would be happy, and they would completely enjoy life.
I disagree with them on that notion. I tell them if that ideal job was there and they were put into it, in six months you would be as miserable as you are now. The first key thing to realize is passion is not outside in the job, it's inside in you.
When you ignite that passion in you and start moving towards it, it's wonderful how the universe arranges itself so the outside starts falling into line with who you are.
JAY ABRAHAM: That's very powerful. Related to that, we have a quote that is pretty powerful. Chris is very fond of this, and I like it too. The former CEO of Honeywell, Larry Bossity, said "It's a competitive imperative – it's mandatory, there's no option – to love what you do. Only by loving what you do will you actually do more and do it better than the person sitting next to you, or the competitor doing it against your company. If you don't, well, then, we'll have to find someone else who does."
Do you believe it's critical for people today to discover what they love doing, and do you think most of them know how to do it on their own?
DR. RAO: It is absolutely critical for people to love what they are doing. It used to be that people worked a 40-hour week. There's no such thing as a 40-hour week any more. Most people I know work at least 50 hours. It's quite common for people in various professions, such as investment banking, to work 75 or more hours.
When you're spending that much of your life working on something, if you do not love it, you're in the equivalent of new-age hell.
Kahlil Gibran put it best, "Work is love made visible." When that is in your life you will achieve a degree of fulfillment which is unbelievable. So it is absolutely critical that you find what you love, and you do what you love.
JAY ABRAHAM: The syllabus for your course at Columbia says that one of the course objectives, the primary objective actually, is to help participants discover their purpose in life; the grand design that gives meaning to all your activities, to help you find that to which you can enthusiastically devote the rest of your life.
How in the world can you do that in a college course, and even more amazingly, how can you summarize and introduce that in the confines of a 200-page book? I know the answer, but I'm the advocate for the listener.
DR. RAO: Thank you, Jay. The short answer to your question is, I can't do that. The only person who can do that is you, the reader. But what I do in my course and what I try to do in my book is the following:
I lay out the vision of an ideal life. In my book the ideal life is one where you wake up in the morning with a deep sense of purpose; when you find that everything you do is compliment with your values.
When you are completely alive, when what you are doing is of benefit to a greater society and you move with the unshakeable conviction that what you are doing is your unique purpose in life. When you have that then you are living a fulfilled life, and that is my vision.
Virtually everybody, when I describe and articulate that, says "Yes, that is where I want to be." Virtually everybody also recognizes that where they are is some very considerable distance from that. But, and this is why my course is so successful, I encourage them to hold on to that vision. There are exercises that I take them through which probably demonstrates to them that yes, that vision is attainable. What I enjoin upon them is to not settle for anything less.
Too often in life we make compromises. "This is really what I want to do, but I can't make money on that, I have a family to support, I've got financial obligations. So let me put all that aside as a pipe dream and I'm going to go and become an accountant or an investment banker or whatever."
I ask them to think about this as a challenge. It's their challenge to figure out how they can incorporate that which makes them passionate into that which they are presently doing, and so transform themselves. My basic thesis is that's your ideal job, the one that I describe does not exist. It has to be crafted together, it has to be built in bits and pieces and assembled somewhat like a jigsaw puzzle. What I do is I give them a blueprint. This is how you go about doing it.
It could take a long time, perhaps decades. The interesting thing is that as you start along that path you will get enough success soon enough to know that you are in the right direction. That is an invaluable gift.
JAY ABRAHAM: You're talking also about this concept of the journey and the process. One of the most interesting activities in my life, and I've shared this with you – I'm laughing because I've spent about a half a million dollars on therapy over my life. Everybody listening, a half a million dollars is for you, okay?
DR. RAO: Okay.
JAY ABRAHAM: Everybody is obsessed in life with an end product. They want to be the most successful, the most handsome, and the most beautiful wife, husband, body, children, and highest achievers. If they achieve that they are waiting for the heavens to open, the angels to blare, and for euphoria to prevail, and it never happens.
In my opinion, the true secret to life is the process. You're just evolving every day and it's a really glorious adventure. Don't you think?
DR. RAO: Absolutely! There's one other part to it also, Jay. In my book I talk about something called the "other" centered universe. That's a very important concept. Most of the time we live our life in what I call a "me" centered universe. In a "me" centered universe, what we're always doing is we're looking at everything and interpreting every event from the prospective of "What is its impact on me?"
If our spouse gets a great job offer we say, "Gee, how is it going to affect our relationship?" If our daughter comes back with tattoos and piercings in inappropriate places we say, "Oh, what are my friends going to think of my parenting?" It's always "me", how is it going to impact "me"?
Most of us live in that virtually all of the time. One of the things that all of us should know is that when we live primarily in a "me" centered universe, we are going to have considerably more than our share of frustration, anguish, disappointment, and all the rest of that. It comes with the territory.
All of what you say is true, but one of the imperatives, if you want to live a fulfilled life, is to at least some of the time get out the "me" centered universe. What I advocate very strongly, and this has been proven by countless persons who have tried it, is when what you're doing is deliberately aligned so that it provides benefits and greater good to a larger society, then not only is your degree of success greater, but you will be far, far more fulfilled.
In your own words, Jay, you sometimes talk about falling in love with a customer rather than falling in love with your own brilliance. That is one application of this principle.
JAY ABRAHAM: Very good! The most important qualities you would say somebody must possess to discover their true passion and purpose in life is getting out of their own way, right?
DR. RAO: That's basically correct. What you basically need first of all is persistence. In other words, you have to decide that you are not going to settle for anything less. You are going to live a life as described, and if you're not there yet, you're going to go right ahead until you find it.
The second part of it, and it's kind of allied, is awareness. Most of us are very unaware. There are things which move us and we kind of say, "That's a pipe dream, ignore it." We don't really know what we're thinking, and we've done such a good job of snubbing these subtle impulses that come and give us direction. We're so very adept at snuffing out intuition that eventually we don't have it at all.
If you are aware, and there is a process by which we can do that, then we will learn that we can trust our intuition. Let me give you an example.
How many times in life do we say at work, or we observe someone and we kind of feel good about it, "Yes, this is something that's nice." We'd like to do more about it. But then life intrudes, so we forget about it. "I don't have the time to do it; someday I will get around to doing it."
That's a big mistake. Those subtle nudges are your inner self telling you what is right for you. Every time you have such an impulse the first thing you do is acknowledge it by noting it down.
After you note it down, go back and re-visit and recapture the feeling you had. Then try and arrange your life so there are more and more occasions where you do the kind of things that bring about those feelings in you. As you start acknowledging those feelings, as you start acting on them, you will find that they come more and more often and more of your life is filled with, "Boy, what a wonderful day this is" as opposed to "I really don't want to get up in the morning."
JAY ABRAHAM: That's good, I like that. If anybody reads your course syllabus it would appear that a great deal of your style is almost abstract in your teaching style. You don't appear to give your students clear prescriptions. They have to make all the decisions themselves. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
You indicated earlier it's not you doing it for me; it's me doing it for myself. That's obviously an extension of that. Do you want to embellish and expound a little bit on that?
DR. RAO: To begin with, I can't give a prescription because there are so many varied people who come with different life experiences, different expectations, totally different value systems and mental models, and all the rest of it. You never have one prescription which would fit everyone.
JAY ABRAHAM: Even though everyone wants that.
DR. RAO: They all want the same thing, but there are different ways of getting it. I actually have an analogy which I give them. It's like you're locked in a room and many of us, perhaps the majority of us, don't even recognize that we're locked in a room because we've never tried the door. It's only when you try the door and you can't get out that you realize you're locked in.
What I say is, what I give you is a knapsack of tools. In that knapsack there are all kinds of stuff. There's a lock pick for those who like finesse and want to pick the lock and walk out. There are explosives for people with a violent temperament who want to blast through the walls and get out. There are tunneling implements for those who want to go underground and dig their way out. There is a hacksaw for people who want to cut through the bars and leave. There are a whole bunch of things like that.
What I basically give is a set of tools. I organize my program and all the exercises are in the book in such a way that you work with one of these tools for a week, or two weeks at a time. That is enough time to show you how powerful these tools are, but it's not enough time to master them.
As you learn how powerful these tools are and as you work with different tools, you will find that some are more appropriate to your situation and temperament than others. Those are the ones you will do more work on. Those are the ones that you will adopt and make modifications to fit your particular circumstances.
When there are such a wide number of tools and when people are so different, I can't say, "This is it." What I can say, and what I do, is, "Try it!" If it works for you in your life now then adopt it, and we will modify it so it becomes better for your unique set of circumstances.
And if it doesn't, drop it and move on to the next one. Don't waste time criticizing, judging, or condemning it because at some later stage in your life you might find this is exactly what you need. But if it doesn't work for you now, move on to the next one.