This is an interview with Prof. Srikumar Rao conducted for the acclaimed documentary “Innovation: Where Creativity And Technology Meet.” In this interview Prof. Rao talks about the secret of happiness, problems with goal setting, creativity and how it tie into our lives.
About the Documentary
The documentary Innovation: Where Creativity and Technology Meet talks about the three great forces Creativity, Innovation, and Technology. This movie takes viewers on a worldwide journey to see how great achievers, past and present, use these forces to thrive in a hyper-connected and hyper-competitive world.
Tony Hsieh, Chip Conley, Ben Zander, Salman Khan, Marshall Goldsmith, Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Prof. Raj Raghunathan, Prof. Srikumar Rao and many more..
Bio of Prof.Srikumar Rao
Prof. Srikumar Rao is an executive coach, author and former business school professor. He is the creator of the world-renowned “Creativity and Personal Mastery”(CPM) course, which he has been teaching since 1994. This course has been attended by executives from Mircosoft, Google, Amazon, IBM and many others. It is so renowned that it remains the only business school course with it’s own alumni association. Prof. Rao is also a world renowned author with his books “Are You Ready to Succeed: Unconventional Strategies for Achieving Personal Mastery in Business and Life” and “Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated and Successful-No Matter What” being international bestsellers. His work has been featured in Forbes, where he is also a contributing editor, Inc.com and many other leading platforms. He is the founder of the Rao Institute which is dedicated to teaching people how to find radiant purpose in their personal and professional lives.
How do you define success?
I define success differently from most people. I do not define success in terms of possession, money or reputation. Here’s how I define success. When you wake up in the morning, does your blood sing at the thought of being who you are and doing what you do? As you go through the day, do you have a deep sense of meaning and purpose? Do you come radiantly alive? Do you feel that the universe has been so bountiful and it has blessed with you an abundance of good fortune that you feel truly grateful for? If that describes your life, then you are a success.
How do you define happiness?
In our society, we talk about happiness in a very casual cavalier fashion. We talk about little things making us happy. ‘I saw a movie that I really liked, so I am happy’ or ‘I went to a restaurant and had a great meal so I am happy’. Those are things that give you momentary flashes of pleasure, but that’s not what I talk about when I refer to happiness. When I talk about happiness, I mean that there is a very deep sense in you that you are okay. That you are fundamentally okay, that you have always been okay and you will always be okay. In fact, you cannot not be okay. No matter what is going on in your life, there is a deep knowledge that a very deep level that you are fine and always will be fine.
That is very difficult for most people to grasp. You are in the human condition and as long as you are in the human condition, stuff will happen to you. There will be ups and downs. When stuff happens to you, you will do whatever it is that you have to. You will deal with it, but even as you deal with, you have the knowledge that underneath all of this you are fine, you have always been fine and you always will be fine. That is the anchor I would like people to have.
Why are you against goal setting?
Lets talk about goal setting. One of the problems we have in society is that from a very young age we are thought to be goal oriented. It begins early. You have to do well in school because if you do well in school you will get into a top college. If you get into a top college and do well, you will get a good job. If you get a good job, things will happen in your life. All of these things are in some sense is “If this happens, then I will be happy.” I don’t have to tell you that actions are within your control, but the outcome is not within your control. Any goal that you focus on is an outcome.
Why do you advocate focusing on actions rather than outcomes and goals?
Look upon your life, go back ten years and think about something that happened which when it happened, you said ‘this is a bad thing’. Can you recollect any such incident where that happened and with the wisdom of hindsight, you can look back and say, ‘it was not such a bad thing after all; maybe it was actually a good thing?’ Most people can, so what this means is that when something happens to you, you never really know whether it was a good thing, a bad thing or a neutral thing. So, why should you label things that happen to you as ‘bad’? If something happens and you label it as bad, you will almost certainly experience it as bad. But if you don’t label it as bad, you are suddenly aware of all kinds of possibilities that are opened up and some of those could be phenomenal.
What I advice people is, when something happens to you, use the label ‘good thing’ as often as you can and do not use the label ‘bad thing’. Simply say that this happened, but don’t label it as a bad thing. This has particular implications for goals because a goal is an outcome and if you look at your life, you will see you have a lot of control over your actions, not complete control but a lot of control. But you have no direct control on outcomes. Can you think of some situation where you tried your level best for an outcome and despite your best effort, it did not happen? If you focus on the outcome what happens is you live your life according to “Here is the goal I wanted to achieve, life is great!” or “Here is the goal that I wanted to achieve but I failed, life is terrible.”
As I already pointed out, outcomes are not within your control. Frequently, you want to achieve something and you don’t succeed. If you are fixated on your goals, you have set yourself up for a life in which you are constantly going to be frustrated. It is not a very pleasant place to be in, but that is how most of us live our lives. We have a goal, set out to achieve it and when we don’t achieve it, we are devastated. It does not have to be so. By definition, outcomes are outside of our control many times for no reason that we don’t have anything to do with.
There is an alternative, which is far more effective. Do not focus on your goals, focus on the process and your actions. Wherever you are, you have a vision for what you want to be the world to be like. You may have some personal goals like getting promoted or having a bigger house. You are part of the world, so it is okay to craft your goal. The important thing is to focus on goals only to the extent where they give you direction. Once the direction has been established, forget about the goals and don’t give it another thought. Think instead about the actions you have to take to accomplish that goal and put every fiber of intensity you possess into your actions. When you do that, you will find that the process of working towards a goal is itself pleasurable. The work itself blesses you and if you achieve your goal, great. If you don’t achieve your goal, still great. It is a far better way to live your life.
Here is the really funny paradoxical thing. When you really don’t focus on the outcome, then paradoxically, the probability that you will actually reach your goal increases dramatically. A very good example of that is John Wooden. He was the basketball coach at UCLA and the first person to reach the Basketball Hall of Fame both as a coach and as a player. When he was starting with a new team, he would invariably tell them, “It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose. What matters is when the game is over and you look in the mirror, did you do the best that you were capable of. If you did the best that you were capable of, the score doesn’t matter. If you did the best that you were capable of, I think you will find the score to your liking.”
That is a perfect illustration of focusing on the process, not on the goal. This is actually tied very closely to the concept of happiness, because we tend to live our life on the basis of ‘Here is a goal, if I achieve it, I will be happy’. But when you start focusing on the action, you don’t need something to happen in order for you to be happy. So then, everyday for no reason you will find wellbeing creaming up unbidden inside you. Every day is a blast and you experience great joy on a day-to-day basis. Nothing has to happen for you to be happy, that becomes your joyful state.
Far too often we live our life on the “If then…” principle. The “If then…” principle says, “If this happens, then I will be happy.” If I get promoted, if my son gets into a top college, if I get a bigger house, if this happens, then I will be happy. The funny thing is that the “If then…” model is itself flawed. But we don’t recognize that the model is flawed, we spend all our time to change what goes on the if-side of the equation. “I thought I needed to be a millionaire to be happy, but now I realize that was an error and I need to be a billionaire to be happy.”
You try it and that doesn’t do it either. The ‘If then’ model is in itself flawed, but what we do is we keep changing what goes on the ‘if’ side rather than recognizing that the model is flawed. Happiness is your innate nature. You cannot not be happy. But because we believe so strongly in the “If then…” model, we have effectively learned to be unhappy. When you focus on the process and let go of attachment to the outcome, you will find that you don’t have to do anything or get anything to be happy. Happiness just comes up, it envelops you.
What is creativity?
Lets talk about how a person can be creative. Most often, people define themselves as uncreative. This is a fundamental error because I don’t believe that creativity comes from a set of techniques that you learn. I believe that when a person is passionate about something, when he has a vision that is much bigger than he is and in some way this vision brings a greater good to a greater community, he automatically becomes creative.
My advice to become more creative is to find something that you are so passionate about that you would do anything to achieve it. This has to be a cause bigger than you are and which brings some good to a greater community. Then you don’t have to think about being creative. Creativity will flower inside you in ways that you can’t even imagine. At that point, if you read up on some techniques for creativity like brainstorming or synaptic mapping, it works.
How does creativity tie into a person’s career?
When people initially go through my program, they are very goal oriented and they define their success and happiness in terms of the achievement of their goals. However, as they go through and think about the concepts I teach them, they recognize that they are fulfilled human beings and they don’t need to wait for something in order to be happy. They realize that they can be happy now. As they do that, they recognize that their happiness is independent to achieving a particular goal and every day becomes joyous. Once again, this is paradoxical and so many people have discovered it for themselves. They achieve far higher levels of career progress when they don’t particularly care whether they reach a particular milestone. It comes almost organically and effortlessly when they are not striving for it.
Bio of Host Satheesh Gopalan
Satheesh Gopalan is an entrepreneur and philanthropist driven to uplift humanity by unleashing creativity and embracing innovation. He is a graduate of Telfer School of business in Ottawa, Canada, and a certified management consultant. Satheesh also attended positive psychology program at University of Pennsylvania and Creativity and Personal Mastery (CPM) program in NY.
Satheesh Gopalan had interviewed many rock star entrepreneurs, professors, and leadership thinkers for his film. Marshall Goldsmith, Phil Libin, Tony Hsieh, Chip Conley, Prof. Srikumar Rao, Benjamin Zander, K.B. Chandrasekhar, Dr. A.K. Pradeep, N.R. Murthy, Kris Gopalakrishnan, Vivek Wadhwa, Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Sonjay Lyubomirsky, Michael Gelb, Robin Sharma, Dr. Shabbir Amanullah are just a few prominent names in the list.
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