10 habits of highly successful people in a digital workplace

Everyone can see who you really are.
Everyone can see who you really are.
Image: Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee
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Here’s the interesting thing about life beyond 2015: Technology is making humankind more human.

Since information is so freely available, there is no point being anybody but you to the external world any more (warts and all).

And this has a fundamental impact on our work life. I have 10 values to offer today, which work for me. Here’s my list:

1. Impact, not transaction

A teller sits at a bank window and transacts the day away. He will do this for all his life and retire with a pension. Even if you are satisfied with such a career—automation will take it away. Now, your growth and success will not depend on the number of hours you spend in office, but the impact your decisions have on the company.

You need to think out-of-the-box and adapt every day.

2. Death of workplace 


Hierarchy will no longer drive reporting structures. Only originality and values will matter.

I remember hearing American management expert Gary Hamel once narrate the story of US polymer manufacturing firm, W.L. Gore. “When I visited W.L. Gore,” said Gary, “I found no one had any designations printed on their visiting card. I asked them, how do I spot a leader ?” They scratched their heads, thought for a while—and finally an employee said: “If someone calls a meeting and people turn up—you know you have a leader.”

3. Run the race against yourself

Many of my team members speak about their dissatisfaction that someone else got a promotion, pay hike or some form of recognition they did not get. Interestingly, the only people who get hurt by these comparisons are the individuals who make them.

4. Knowledge and skills are irrelevant without insight

Two stories have always fascinated me from the Indian market. One was the story of S.M. Dutta, former chairman of Hindustan Lever. During a visit to a remote village, he was told by the women there that they could not buy shampoo bottles as their usage was infrequent. Instead, it would be more convenient for them if they could buy shampoo for each consumption. The shampoo sachet blew the category open.

The second is the story of M.M. Kothari, a cycle salesman in Lucknow. He observed customers queuing for paan in shops and thought there could be a more convenient way. So Pan Parag was born, and Kothari built a large company as a consequence.

The interesting thing was—in the first instance a man as knowledgeable and skilled as Dutta was able to generate breakthrough only by being in a small village. In the second instance, a gentleman with no formal knowledge or training was able to create a business breakthrough because he was in the market.

The truth is simple: breakthrough cannot be created sitting in ivory towers. It is a function of insight, and this can only happen by being closest to wherever the action is in your business.

5. Earn a seat at the table

As work life gets more challenging, a lot of people simplify their own existence by doing lower-value activities. This is especially true for people in support functions like human resources, communications, administration etc. Such people then discover they are not really respected by more business aligned people—and therefore do not really command much influence. The lack of influence then starts bothering them, and they do not achieve fulfillment in work life.

When I speak to such people, I ask a basic question: Would you rather have a seat at the table of business, or are you satisfied being a waiter? The responses I get are largely around: “Because of my job, you don’t really expect me to understand the business?”

Whenever I hear this I think of Stephen Hawking. No disability could be worse. And there is no table in the world he cannot sit at. If you use your mind well, influence will follow.

6. Think affirmative

As producers we are exposed to all we do. As consumers we are exposed to only things that cut through the noise. Herein lies the mystery of perception: “I think I’m damn good. Why doesn’t she?” You must realize that what you do is not good enough to cut through the clutter. And remember, in today’s world there is truly a huge amount of information clutter.

As a marketer, I always think about something called affirmative action. Any marketing task has an audience. Affirmative action is when that audience begins to realize that you are marketing to them. There is no fun in action till it turns affirmative—yet many of us think that action is good enough. Think Affirmative, think outside in.

7. Leadership is the art of self-redundancy

A colleague asked me this question once: “Krishnan, I have spent years picking up these skills. What happens to the time I spent if others learn it easily ?”

My answer was simple: “If others do not learn this skill, how will the organisation allow you to grow?”

The simple truth is you will only grow if you teach. Remember, to reach the next step, you have to vacate the one you are currently on. And you can only vacate it if you can pull someone else up. For those who master this art, growth will be rapid and effortless in the new world.

8. Push the envelope

Michael Phelps, Sergei Bubka, Sachin Tendulkar and even Aamir Khan. These are people we celebrate for pushing the envelope even after it has been pushed beyond limits. They set impossible records. They do not sit on laurels of the past and that’s why the world loves them.

To be a superstar in any circle, however small, you need to break through the walls of past achievement.

The new world unfortunately has a short memory span. The past will not guarantee the future.

9. Detail, detail and detail

Everything you do today can potentially go very well—or very wrong in the blink of an eye. Witness Uber. That’s why it is wise to look at every project we do in as much detail as possible. Use mind maps, think through scenarios, anticipate every possible outcome and plan to maximize benefit, while minimizing risks.

10. Be yourself

In your work life, usually the real you is left outside the office, like a coat hung on a stand. Somebody else sits in your chair and does stuff, then wears the coat again and goes home. I can attribute this Jekyll and Hyde problem to fear. Fear of hierarchy, organization peers, the fear of subordinates, etc.

This won’t work in the new world. Since our digital identity is so freely available, there is no way we can pretend to be someone else in our professional lives.

There was this sequence in the Bollywood film 3 Idiots where Sharman Joshi answers questions in a job interview with unbelievable honesty. He finally lands the job. That scene is actually a new world truth.

You will succeed at work because of who you are, not who you think you should be.

A version of this post first appeared on LinkedIn. We welcome your comments at