“What comes from the people must go back to the people many-many times over” ~ JRD Tata

I was in class XII when JRD Tata passed away at a ripe old age of 89, on this day in 1993. He was the only businessman I had read a bit about and admired so intuitively. Perhaps, it was his philosophy of sharing, represented so beautifully in this statement (above) he made while talking about how Tata’s would conduct their business in different regions around the world.

Logo of Srijan

This quote had stayed with me as i set about forming the core values of Srijan Technologies Pvt Ltd in 2002. It was this statement perhaps, which led to define Srijan’s key values – “Sharing“, “Growth“, “Integrity“, “Freedom“, “Enthusiasm and Joy“. The metaphor of a tree, as Srijan’s logo, the choice of the colours, and the free flowing brushstrokes were meant to represent these core values, which i imagined this company to imbibe, and build itself upon.

As I look back, I think this statement by JRD Tata, defined the “business purpose” of Srijan. I imagined this company to be run like a co-operative, which would create wealth for everyone involved in it. And this sort of defined how I ran the company, “expecting” people to see this vision, reach a buy-in, and join me in this, sort of, mission to create a collaboratively run company.

Many people and books came into my life which further shaped my thinking, and slowly, ‘transparency in finances’ seeped into our DNA. Srijan was finding its niche in the open source world, and the philosophy of participative

“Built to Last” by Jim Collins was a sort of vindication that Srijan with its “business purpose” and “core values” defined decently well, was on the right track. Together these form the “core ideology”. It is the “core ideology” that distinguished great companies from others. Even if not well articulated, there exists a “core ideology” at Srijan, which finds representation as “intent” and action in our day-to-day functioning.

Srijan does not, however,  have any “Big Hairy Audacious Goal(s)” (BHAG), which was sighted as another key factor in what separated “successful” companies from “great” companies that altered the world’s economics and history. BHAGs were often represented in Mission (or/and Vision) statements of these successful and great companies.

This is what i missed sorely at Srijan. Yet, i get put off by mission statements like “To be among the top 10 Indian IT companies”. They seemed shallow and bereft of all values, but one – money. Such mission statements sound similar to the famous case of Jim Clark, Netscape’s founder, who kept shifting his goals of satisfaction, from becoming a post-tax Billionaire, to being as rich as Larry Ellison, and then to, “even if for a moment”, becoming the richest person on Earth.

Srijan from the outset, was imagined to be more meaningful in its business purpose. This was an extension of what i imagined my life to be about – more ‘meaningful’ and ‘purposeful’. This sense of purpose led me to work real hard, take home absurdly low salaries (for about 3 years lesser than what i was earning in my last job), and postpone my current needs of “material well being”, to some future “overall well being”, where my “life” seemed meaningful.

Someone recently told me, that i was not aggressive enough in setting the grandness of my vision for Srijan. And that the foundation was not right.

I disagree. It is my grandness of vision, of “sharing with the people what comes from the people” which drives me every day; and even if it is inspired by JRD Tata, i adopted and “owned” it “as mine”, to live and operate from everyday. Srijan necessarily will not remain an IT services company. I would like to see it expand into Healthcare, Agriculture, Food, Education, Renewable Energy, and many more meaningful areas which would help enhance the well-being of people of this planet. If the purpose, is big enough to drive the Tata’s, it can be big enough to drive Srijan forward as well.

Yet, I know the grandness of this vision, has not led to tremendous monetary success; and this slow growth at Srijan has been used as a stick often, by many people to beat me with, during several town-hall meetings. I accept this criticism, and do strongly agree that something is missing.

“Companies need to renew themselves, perhaps, through BHAGs in order to remain exciting places to work”, observes Jim Collins. In order for us to take the next leap, and we seem to be in somewhat a sweet spot to do so, at the moment, we need to define some big goals for ourselves. This is clear to me. Yet, I’m unsure why “i” must define these.

Finding our BHAG or Mission was the reason, why we had an offsite – to understand each other, understand and share our dreams (perhaps in the process allow some reserved people to start articulating their dreams, and even – start dreaming), identify any shared goals, and perhaps get all of us to create a Mission statement “together”. Isn’t this after all a core ideology of Srijan? Unfortunately, we could not complete the process, at the offsite.

But should the Mission not be mine?

I would like to turn to ThoughtWorks, for some answers. Roy Singham, its Chairman, believes “communities of talented, driven, and principled people could move mountains”. It was formed in 1993, and has grown to roughly 1000 people in 16 years. This can be treated as very slow growth as well, by all IT companies’ growth standards. I believe, the growth of any company which is based on democratic and equitable values, would naturally be limited by its ability to garner together enthused, energetic and principled people who can carry forward both the “core ideology” and the “mission” of the company.

Srijan Technologies is beginning to arrive at that sweet spot, where retaining and getting such people together is becoming a bit easier. This as a result of a lot of people including in its leadership, buying-in to the core ideology, joining in, staying on, and in the process helping build it further.

Surely we need a Mission or a BHAG. My invitation is to invite all the people at Srijan, and those who are considering joining us, to come forward and help create one, and then live it every day, till we get there. And once we do, we create a new BHAG.

I’d like to end this article with this excerpt from Jim Collins’ article titled “Built to Flip”:

“If the new economy is to regain its soul, we need to ask ourselves some tough questions: Are we committed to doing our work with unadulterated excellence, no matter how arduous the task or how long the road? Is our work likely to make a contribution that we can be proud of? Does our work provide us with a sense of purpose and meaning that goes beyond just making money?

If we cannot answer yes to those questions, then we’re failing, no matter how much money we make. But if we can answer yes, then we’re likely not only to attain financial success but also to gain that rarest of all achievements: a life that works.”

I make myself available to ‘judgement’!