A WORD OF EXPERT ADVICE: HOW TO COPE WITH THE CRISIS BRAVERY, HONESTY AND SINCERITY FOR BUSINESS CHANGES
A leader who is uncomfortable discussing himself and has to be pried open but we managed to get some of his time, his focus and an opportunity where he shared his body of work, the creative process as well as the inspiration behind it.
Ravinder (Ravi) Pal Singh is a Harvard Alumni, Award Winning Technologist, Rescue Pilot and Angel Investor with several Patents. He is an Inventor, Engineer and Technologist. Ravi is a highly sought out global speaker, leadership expert and storyteller whose body of work, mostly 1st in the world, is making a difference within acute constraints of culture and cash, mostly via commodity technology. He is regarded as amongst the world’s top Robotics Engineers and number in Asia as an expert in Artificial Intelligence.
Ravi’s latest invention is arguably the world's most affordable ventilator and the catalyst for that passion, in his own words is that - “Fear of human contact is not sustainable for civilization. Everyone has to contribute to overcome this fatigue and fatality of fear”.
Ravi has been kind and generous enough to share with us his experiences and wisdom on entrepreneurship and innovation. In the excerpt below, Ravi conveys how businesses and entrepreneurs can cope with the repercussions of the pandemic.
In conversation with Ravinder Pal Singh, Inventor | Engineer | Technologist
So tell us why it is so difficult to get time from you? Why are you reluctant to discuss your successes and failures?
The impact of relevant intentions is all that matters. Successes and failures are overrated and frankly the thought and consumption takes away the most precious breaths from our soul. There is no consistency in human behavior or in the actions that require the approval of others. Even if one is blessed and lucky, there will be always at least two opposing views. Looking inwards to discover peace and consistent bliss is the easiest method, at least for a lazy person like me. COVID has taught us to stay in eternal happiness with a spotless mind. Social capital is the only meaningful asset, if any. With regard to the first part of your question, I am an introvert who loves to talk about the things I have built, about the individuals who have co-created them with me, and the overall journey. I find my body of work and the journey to be more fascinating than specifically myself or any other attributes related to me.
The Corona Virus (Covid-19) has almost impacted everything. How do you perceive these impacts?
These are still early days of ambiguity. It's a constant tussle between certainty versus uncertainty. I'm certain that human perseverance will fix this current dance of death and suffering; it's just a matter of time. With the above certainty, some uncertain truths will emerge. Firstly, the cost of life should not come at the price of lifestyle. Intent for compassion has to translate into actual actions by everyone and everywhere and every day. Disparity and imbalance take resources away from most people to live a basic life, so a minority can afford an expensive (lavish) lifestyle, and this is no longer sustainable. Compassion should be inclusive towards #nature i.e. soil, air and other beings (birds, animals, reptiles etc.). Secondly, till now, the world has been driven by collaboration of conflict (potential of war) and/or economics (fiscal prudence), which should be changed towards collaboration to survive i.e. health (priority). Healthcare infrastructures across countries need to be revisited and global uniformity has to be established. The asymptomatic nature of the COVID-19 virus will ensure that healthcare can’t be separated from mainstream economics and world trade; in-fact, it should be the central driver. Thirdly, how we design our lives – places we live, places we work, places we interact - should all change. The glorification of creating mega cities is no longer sustainable. In fact, the history of the demise of past civilizations has a commonality of four factors - Epidemic plus Population movements plus Pressure which mega cities put on rural communities plus climate change. There is still merit in non-political Gandhian theories based on –
a) Decentralization and Micro Markets
b) Rural development (ideal cluster of villages)
c) Self-sufficiency while living harmoniously with nature
d) Greater equity or "distributive justice via creating institutions than just (only) profit driven businesses
Given what you have stated above and in the ambiguous environment of the COVID pandemic, how will leadership be decisive?
Meaningful leadership is all about –
1) Situational awareness and selflessness along with
2) Decisiveness and Discipline. Fortunately for me, these two sets of virtues are the core of my DNA as a rescue pilot and are mandatory for any emergency rescue mission. People in corporate life and leadership may find it difficult to believe, that in all my meetings during COVID as a frontline rescue worker:
a) No single subject is discussed more than once
b) No meeting is more than 20 minutes
c) Each and every meeting ends with clear decisions and anyone and everyone contributes, with absolute discipline and mutual respect (equal). Each person involved knows the drill and agrees to a roadmap and to backup plans. Everyone is perfectly prepared with the minutest detail. There is no need for a motivational speech. No need to explain the purpose. The leaders are doers and the doers are leaders. Each one is a specialist but can also be a backup for others both as a doer and as a leader. Once the mission is over, there is no time or energy for self-introspection or judging anyone or anything. That’s why I refuse to talk about corporate life, especially its success and failures, as it’s more often than not, overstated and sometimes with a not so transparent agenda. Also, the word leader or leadership with several prefixes and suffixes is used so frequently in corporate and
business matters that it is often rendered meaningless.
Lockdown has been a common phenomenon during Covid 19. How do you think it has impacted companies?
For most companies, the first, most visible effect of the COVID-19 lockdown has been the challenge to their operating and business models. Several components came into question. From how and where employees worked, to how they engaged with customers, to which products were most competitive and which ones could be quickly adapted. Weaknesses in deep rooted thinking were exposed, companies that thrived on hardcore practices were pushed to become nibble and agile, while organizations that were too nimble, were forced to be disciplined.
Most organizations witnessed a faster pace of decision making as the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown evolved. Under immense pressure to set up an operating infrastructure very quickly to allow hundreds and thousands of employees to work from home, many organizations gave up traditional processes and normal bureaucracy and instead solved issues for faster outcomes. Priorities became clearer, and there was razor-sharp focus on what needed to be done in the short term, as many organizations were forced into survival mode. Technology driven organizations managed to outperform. Since this magazine focuses on Technology and CIOs, this was one such occasion where the role of a CIO and her/his organization were critical and pivotal. Infrastructure Engineers, Developers and Cyber and Infosec security experts became Digital Warriors. Most worked tirelessly day and night so that continuity continued to exist irrespective of the constraints of lockdown. They are the true unsung heroes of the corporate world today.
Most organizations have witnessed a faster pace of decision making as the realities of the covid-19 pandemic lockdown have evolved
On that note, what lessons can companies and their leaders learn for the future?
The truth hurts but it is still the truth. One thing is clear, the COVID lockdown has exposed several flaws especially great versus good i.e. great government, great domains, great companies etc. versus good. Good is not good enough. Everyone needs to learn. Irrespective of the status of the lockdown, the speed of change will continue. Companies will have to use this momentum and fully embrace agile strategy and the resultant operating shift of:
a) learn fast and reflect continuously - Companies need to reflect systematically on what they have learned, assess what practices worked and what didn’t work during the pandemic, and decide which of those they want to embed sustainably. The key is to not only look at what actually worked but to also identify the gaps and fix them. CEOs need to strategize in their heads and act swiftly like quarterbacks in American football. CIOs need to lead the thinktank components and paint the next normal, i.e. the future operating model.
b) commitment over corporate politics – Intelligent companies will change their structures, flatten their decision making and recognize the eternal truth that in times to come, only unbiased and merit based organizations have a chance to survive and achieve greatness. In the last decade of corporate culture, perception and politics played a pivotal role in most companies. This perception and networking driven culture needs transformation into a high performance and outcome driven culture for organizations to survive and thrive.
c) technology being the driver and not only the enabler. CEOs with myopic thinking of survival from quarter to quarter will struggle to lead their respective organizations. Reluctant CIOs who are non-technologists and who lack intrapreneurship will not survive in great companies.
While COVID and its impact has been cruel and painful, it has clearly demonstrated that following easily available technologies and how they have helped various governments, institutions and companies.
a) Since most decision making leaders belong to a minority age group, the majority have never appreciated, acknowledged or understood that a language has appeared between machines and humans (young demography). Governments who were able to utilize this to learn the needs of their citizens and improve their citizen services as well as understand the impact of the pandemic, were able to manage and control the fatality of this deadly virus better. Organizations, who were able to understand the intentions of customers and thus their buying needs, were able to acquire new customers and retain loyalty. Hence, their businesses actually grew. In one way, I feel liberated when a few years back I made a prediction that a universal language will appear for a global harmonious society composed of humans, avatars, surrogates, robotics etc. Nano, neuro and quantum technologies will define zero intelligence and will be a dominant factor in defining the next stage of nature and redefining the shape of life, and hence society.
b) Inter and intra industry rivalries and subsequent triviality were exposed during COVID. Industries and domains that did not believe in ease of trade and transparency will struggle to come back. No single company will be spared, as the overall industry and domain will continue to struggle. Distributed computing with consensus based algorithms will act as critical levers to rejuvenate domains and all companies ranging from healthcare, aviation, manufacturing and agriculture
c) While fear of contact has rejuvenated an interest in Industrial 4.0, it will be prudent to advise that investments in contactless technologies and robotics should have a short and mid-term view with transforming productivity, increasing efficiency and improving products and services while minimizing operating costs. Economic growth will be delivered via industrial growth which will come through lateral thinking of youth, progress in pure sciences and computational engineering and continuous reduction in the cost of cloud computing.
Lastly, tell us more about your recent invention? What has inspired you? Why is it required and how it will help during COVID?
The inspiration for my latest invention came from my own experiences at the frontline and due to the current situation. The world faces a severe and acute public health emergency due to the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic. COVID-19 can require patients to be on ventilators for significant periods of time, meaning a hospital can only accommodate a finite number of patientsat once. It’s estimated that, of all the Covid-19 cases occurring worldwide, about 10% of patients need ventilators. Ventilator shortages are a crucial reality as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to worsen globally. There are not enough ventilators available in hospitals as of now for all the potential patients who may be struck by the virus. An influential report from the Imperial College London, estimates that 30% of COVID-19 hospitalised patients are likely to require mechanical ventilation. The only way to avoid overwhelming intensive care units, it says, is with a mandatory lockdown that reduces social contact by 75%. Furthermore, ventilators are expensive pieces of machinery to maintain, store and operate. They also require ongoing monitoring by health-care professionals.
To solve the above situation, I decided to invent an affordable ventilator for all, with a minimalistic design, for easy use by everyone and at a fast scale for mass production so governments around the world can encourage existing industrial setups and start-ups to manufacture them locally and save lives.
Any messages or advice for investors, entrepreneurs or CEOs?
Reducing cycle time to discover and invent is now a reality. It's high time that access to capital and a go-to market becomes simpler and faster. This will be key to not only finding solutions for COVID-19 but to return the world’s economy back to normalcy and once again, growth.
In conclusion, you have been on the frontlines. What’s your personal experience and how has it changed you?
I have seen death and from a close proximity. I have seen the fear of death and its fatigue. So personal wealth or the lifestyle that it can purchase is not important any longer and neither is the self-esteem which comes via a designation or hierarchical position, both professionally or socially. The reason to work and produce outcomes is purer and closer to my heart, hence there is a fierce sense of freedom, which is fueling my imagination, to create a meaningful body of work. Compassion oriented design and architecture forms the core of my inventions.