Recently, India’s erstwhile opener, Navjot Singh Sidhu, was asked to deliver an address on ‘courage’. Never one to shy away from public speaking, Sidhu delivered a speech that enthused, enthralled, and enraptured the audience. In a 50 minute speech, Sidhu chose to outline the quality of courage with excellent examples chosen from his cricketing career. This is perhaps one of the best speeches ever delivered about courage, what it means, and most importantly, what it takes. It fits right into the genre of cricket and management and so I have chosen to write about it here. The links to the actual videos are included below (on youtube), but I present here some of the key take-aways from the speech. These lessons are as applicable in life as in the corporate world:
Competing with yourself: Sidhu chooses to open his speech with the apt example of the great all-rounder Kapil Dev caught in a tight situation. After taking 9 wickets in a test match at Ahmedabad, the all rounder is being felicitated across the country. In the ongoing scheme of things, a press conference is called for, and Kapil is requested to address it. Knowing very well that the queen’s language is one of Kapil’s weak points, Sidhu offers his senior colleague the alternative of instead watching a movie. However, Kapil rejects this option and courageously ventures forth to the press conference. There he is continuously asked why India cannot produce another all rounder like him. To much mirth, Kapil lets loose the following gem:
“My mother is 62 and my father is dead. There cannot be another Kapil Dev” (!!)
While the assertion appears to be amusing, the quality to be appreciated is courage. In spite of knowing that he would be uncomfortable tackling the questions thrown at him in the press conference, Kapil rejected the easier choice (going for a movie and skipping the press conference), and chose to take the difficult option head on. No wonder Kapil had a long and successful career as one of the world’s greatest all-rounders. He chose to compete with himself, not shy away due to the fear of the negative opinion of others.
Corporations and individuals, too, should learn to compete with themselves. So what if your firm trails the industry? Is it still twice the size that it was when it started off, not a long while ago? Compete with your own position, not that of the industry leaders . Google is a good example. It has always been a firm that has competed with itself, creating its own space where none existed before. The results have been astonishing, with a firm that started out only about 12 years ago, now being considered a serious competitors to the industry behemoth (Microsoft).
Never giving up, never giving in: Another incident that Sidhu recounts is one involving Sachin Tendulkar. During the Pakistan tour of 1990, Tendulkar was making his debut for India as a young 16 year old. During the 4th test match, on a green top, India was in trouble at 22/5 when Tendulkar walked in to bat. The first delivery he faced was a quick bouncer from Waqar Younis, which Tendulkar tried to hook. Unfortunately, the ball took the inside edge of the bat and hit Tendulkar squarely on the nose. Tendulkar fell down, his nose a bloody heap. The physiotherapist of the Indian team rushed out, offering Tendulkar medicine, and probably, rest. However, Tendulkar declined the option, displaying his resolve with the words “Main khelega” (Hindi for ‘I will play’). The next delivery from Waqar was dispatched to the ropes faster than the bowler could blink. This set Sidhu (who was cowering at the prospect of facing the Pakistani quicks thus far) thinking: if a 16 year old boy could display such resolve and determination in the face of arguably the world’s fiercest fast bowlers, then surely he, a ~30 year old experienced hand, could too. Tendulkar and Sidhu took the reins from there, with Tendulkar remaining unbeaten on 57 and Sidhu on 97, setting what was then a new record. The quality to be admired here is resolve, and faith in oneself. There is no need for me to recount further where the same Tendulkar’s resolve and determination have taken him, 21 years later.
In corporate life, companies that persevere, taking on tough conditions rather than buckling under them, prosper. Apple is a good example. With falling revenues and stock price in the late 1990s, Apple was considered a has-been. Steve Jobs revitalized it through the introduction of the i-pod. In 2010, Apple overtook Microsoft as the biggest tech company. Steve Jobs did not buckle under tough conditions, he used them as a motivator.
Practicing till you meet the goal: Sidhu also talks about a personal incident from his younger days, when he was yet to play for India. He once happened to find his father, who was otherwise quite a jovial person, crying, reading a newspaper report. After his father left, hiding the newspaper below a pillow, Sidhu took the newspaper out and read the report which had made his father so disconsolate. The report, carried in the Indian Express, and written by Rajan Bala (one of India’ foremost cricket columnists), described Sidhu as a ‘strokeless wonder’. Soon after, Sidhu’s name was not included even in the list of 55 probables selected for the Indian team (probably because of the report). At this point, Sidhu took the resolve that he would not rest until he made it to the national cricket team. He followed this resolve up by instituting a punishing regimen, consisting of 6 hours of cricket practice every day. Each day, Sidhu would practice hitting no less than 300 sixers! The relentless practice would make his hands bleed, but he would continue regardless, having special gloves made which would soak the blood. His philosophy was:
“Better prevent and prepare than repent and repair.”
He would also use his pocket money to pay youngsters, who would bowl at him in his backyard from a distance of only 15 meters. The shorter distance made their deliveries quicker, and simulated real international bowling for Sidhu. During the second year of this regimen, Sidhu’ father, who had been his inspiration, died. Even the monumental loss failed to shake Sidhu’s determination, and he ended up with fifties in four of the five matches he played for India in the 1987 World Cup, realizing his own and his father’s dream of playing for the country. Sidhu’s moment of triumph was complete when the same newspaper and the same writer who had described him as ‘a strokeless wonder’ carried a photo of his father and him, and hailed Sidhu’s fantastic turnaround into an accomplished batsman. Practice requires faith in yourself, and faith requires courage. Sidhu’s courage enabled him to realize his dream of playing for the country.
In the corporate world, being ready and prepared for the next opportunity is invaluable. In the 1980s and 1990s, Microsoft was able to seize on the potential of a graphical user interface based operating system (Windows). Windows was far from perfect when it first came out, but Microsoft kept working hard at subsequent versions till it struck gold with the introduction of Windows 3.1, which became a bestseller and propelled Microsoft to great success. Although it has taken a beating from industry rivals Apple and Google of late, Microsoft still continues to rule the operating system market, with a greater than 90% market share.
You can’t cross a chasm in two small steps: India and Pakistan have always been considered fierce cricket rivals. In 1987, during a match against Pakistan, Sidhu (who had now morphed into a renowned hitter of sixes) was dismissed trying to hit a Pakistani spinner out of the ground. He was met midway during his walk back to the pavilion by his coach, who chided him on his rash choice of shot. Sidhu’s coach told him, in no uncertain terms, that international cricket is about playing slowly, taking singles, and hitting the ball around the ground. Attempting to hit sixes was clearly not the way to play here. Sidhu took this advice to heart, until the day of the 1987 World Cup match against Australia. Australia had set India a stiff target of 271, and Sidhu, batting at number 3, was trying to pinch singles off the Australian bowling. This strategy was proving to be really unsuccessful, and the fact that Sidhu’s batting partner (Srikanth) was consistently refusing singles did not help either. That is when Sidhu decided to muster up courage, take matters in his own hands, and throw his coach’s advice of caution to the wind. Starting off with a six, he finished with a a fine 73 off just 79 deliveries. India eventually lost that match by a solitary run, but a new star was born. The key take-away is that sometimes difficult tasks cannot be accomplished through meek, incremental steps. Bold, decisive, and sweeping action is called for. Sidhu’s courage, once again, enabled him to unlock the abilities hidden within him.
Sometimes, companies too need bold initiatives as they can no longer depend on incremental improvements to existing products. When Apple decided to introduce the iPod in 2001, it veered away from its business of manufacturing computer hardware, and bet big on becoming a digital media company instead. Back then, media players were rare, and committing resources for this market was a gamble on Apple’s part. Apple, though, realized that it could hope to grow revenues considerably through incremental changes to its hardware and software products. It made the courageous leap to the iPod, and later to the iPhone. By 2010, the iPhone, a product that Apple could not even have imagined producing 10 years ago, accounting for 40% of its revenues.
Courage, therefore, is a quality that is indispensable – in sport, as much as in life and business. Sidhu exemplifies this quality very well, using it to transform himself from a strokeless wonder to an accomplished batsman, from a shy speaker to a seasoned orator, and from a low-key individual to a powerful member of India’s parliament. Along the way, many people (including Sir Geoffrey Boycott – see the videos below) had many things to say. Sidhu, however, wasn’t listening – he was achieving.