Meet Your Neighbors: Prasad Kaipa
By bayareadesi team on 03 May 2011
Prasad Kaipa is Executive Director, Emeritus. He has advised CEOs and coached Executive Teams in the areas of Innovation, Business Transformation, Decision Making, Strategic Thinking and Personal Mastery. Some of his clients include HP, CISCO, Disney, Adobe, Apple, Xerox, Boeing, Mastek, BAE Systems Mastek and Navteq. Dr. Kaipa is a visiting faculty at the Indian School of Business and part-time faculty at the Saybrook Graduate School. Get to know Prasad as he talks to our team on all things bay.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How long you have been in Bay Area?
I was born in Anantapur, India in 1956 in a low middle class brahmin family in Andhra Pradesh. My parents insisted that I learn Sanskrit while growing up. So ended up doing regular school in addition to going to a Sanskrit teacher till I graduated from college. Am eldest of 6 kids and was a handful trouble maker while growing up. Did a ph.d. in physics from IIT Madras and only during masters and ph.d. that I began to focus and pay attention to academics. In that respect, I am a really late bloomer, I guess.
I am married to Dr. Vinoda ( a physician who is not currently working) and have two children – Pravin, 24 and doing his masters in education in UCLA. Vidya, 20 and is junior in UC Berkeley.
I have been in the bay area since 1987. I came here to work with Apple. Before that, I was in University of Utah for about 6 years – first as a research associate in the physics department and then as a professor and co-director of a research laboratory in the medical school in San Lake City, Utah.
Presently, I have two roles – one consulting/coaching role and the second is research/teaching role. In the first one, I do executive education programs for companies in the areas of innovation, transformational leadership etc and some of my clients are companies like Oracle, HP, Johnson and Johnson etc. in US, Maersk Shipping in Europe, State Bank of India, Polaris in India. I also do one-on-one coaching for C level executives.
In the second role, I research topics like mindsets and how they operate, Indian models of innovation (like Jugaad, affordable innovation) and leadership (like spiritual leadership, wisdom leadership) and design thinking etc and write articles, books and blogs (last year, with my collaborators from Cambridge University, I wrote about a dozen blogs in HBR.org and a couple of op-eds in Business Week, Economic Times etc.).
What inspired you to become a Researcher?
I have always been curious and got into trouble because of my incessant questioning. I found that finding something new about things that everybody takes for granted is exciting, time consuming and really revealing for me. Of course, I moved from hard sciences research to social sciences research and primarily I act and then reflect to see whether my future actions cane be modified. And then I speak about what I learned and try to teach it to others and write about it.
From researcher, strategic advisor to CEOs, an author and now an educator, you have done it all. How has been your journey so far?
My journey has been serendipitous and sometimes pretty painful. It has been difficult to change fields completely from one to another but I followed my gut instinct sometimes, intuition some other times. But explaining it to others like my family members, taking them along with me is one major challenge. Then communicating it to potential customers and getting contracts to put the food on the table has been the second challenge. Finally, to integrate what I have been learning from sciences, business, consulting, research into human behavior, spirituality, neurology – has been a slow and difficult process. I can see the connections and make observations and come up with ways to influence my clients through workshops and coaching but writing about it has been challenging. So I try out things and see what works and apply it to a large number of people and then draw up on my learnings to write about them…
What’s your take on globalization? And what should organizations (future leaders) do develop global mindset?
Globalization has been with us for a long time though now it affects us in multiple dimensions – jobs, quality, availability, competition, variety, cost – all at the same time. In other words, globalization brought complexity to a boil. I think of 5 ways it affects organizations – I call them DIVAS – diversity, inter-connectivity, velocity, ambiguity and scarcity (of resources).
To develop a global mindset, strangely, leaders to pay attention to what is going on locally as much as what is going on globally. It is like having bi-focal lenses. Leaders have to pay a lot of attention to diversity as it can be a gift and the curse at the same time. In addition, you have to do more with less resources and distributed resources – innovate with scarce resources. That is how Jugaad in India works. Then you have to innovate faster than the competition and once you come up with a product, release it and get to work on the next version of the product or another product that can cannibalize your own product – otherwise, your competitor could eat your breakfast. Then you have to learn to deal with ambiguity – one year strategic plans, top down strategies and multi-year projects are only starting point. Anything and everything can change quickly and repeatedly – are you prepared and are your people prepared – that is what makes a difference.
What are the top tips for the entrepreneurs who are starting out?
Learn to collaborate well. It is a difficult but most important skill because you have to have a good team to make your company successful no matter how smart you are.
Learn to think through action. Try it out with test customers and real customers and improvise. Don’t spent too much time in the labs but work with customers to iteratively come up with what works.
Remember that your plan before you get the funds is to appeal to VCs. Then your plan should change so that it appeals to customers. Then your plan should appeal to analysts and shareholders… In other words, people are more important than your plans and some times your projects. They all change – be flexible and resilient.
These days, you can do many micro releases for mobile phones without much money. See what you can do quickly, cheaply and with high quality. Any thing you don’t have to do, outsource it.
Networking is not what you think it is. You have to invest time to know the others and find a way to add value to them. Then they will add value to you.
Don’t lose your passion and commitment to people. Ultimately you create a winning team – think of movie making. Each movie has a project team and some of the members work on multiple projects and make them successful. Entrepreneurship is just like that.
You have launched a new course “Igniting the Genius Within” at ISB, what makes it unique and what will be the key learnings?
This course has been offered to about 150 CEOs and senior executives through executive education in four day format. I tried to take the lessons and customize it for students in a ten 2 hour sessions combining with lot of academic readings and assignments and projects. 60 students took it and for me the outcome was mixed. I found that students have hard time introspecting and more interested in getting good grades without doing too much work. I am trying to see how to bring academic rigor and deeper self awareness and will make some changes for the next year.
The course teaches people that transformational leadership is about developing others as leaders and in that process you become a better leader. When you move from self- centered perspective to other centered perspective, your ability to become successful multiplies. The key lessons for students are: you are the CEO of your life. You are stuck with your company called life and you can give up control and you can have a good team but to make it successful, you have to work at it continuously. You have access to whatever you want but what you do with it is not predetermined. It is iterative process. Transformation comes out of crisis or high aspiration and most people don’t know how to deal with either so they continue to have the same experience repeated many times (have you seen Groundhog Day?). Being authentic and being ethical could be differentiating factors for you and help you build your brand but it is not easy. Finally, your communication happens through your actions more than your words. So align your actions with words and your thoughts and your effectiveness as a leader goes up significantly. Focus on others and become centered – then your success comes much more easily..
Has being an “Indian” affected you in either good or bad way in achieving your goals?
Both ways. In the beginning, I was exotic (when I came to Salt Lake City in 1981 and there were not many Indians. Then I was strange Indian when I moved from one field to another. Then I was crazy Indian for a while -- I tried to integrate my Indian spirituality with user interface design and learning design in apple. Then I was Indian Guru for some time and I was not ready. Now I am doing right thing at the right time integrating lessons from India in US and vice versa. It took 30 years of pain for me to be at the right place doing right thing!
I came to US with $20 in my pocket and now I have a house and am putting two kids through college and making a comfortable living after changing three careers. How can I complain?
Do you feel being in the Silicon Valley accelerated your career goals?
I do feel that being in Silicon Valley accelerated my career goals. I should say though first I focused on being ‘smart’ and not very wise. Now I am being foolish to explore what it means to develop wise leaders!
Do you continue to enjoy your culture & heritage here in the bay area? If so what are some of your favorite things to do?
Yes, I do. I love working with people to understand who they are and help them see the richness and heritage that they bring. For many Indians, grounding in spirituality is rather weak. For me it is fun to sit with people, explore where they are and what they want to do in life and connect them to their roots and use Indian mythology and spirituality to help them find solutions…
I am also a avid photographer and love to take photographs of flowers & nature. I use to sell photos but since two years I got inspired by Charityfocus.org, Indians who are doing phenomenal work in charity and decided to give away my photos. For example, if you get a photo print in poster size and you think it is worth $500, you donate that money to charity that you like and do let me know. (To see some of Kaipa's photos Click Here)
What does future holds for you?
For a long time, I have been a visionary and integrator. For the first time, I am seeing myself as grounded and staying with writing, coaching and teaching for next several years on the same topics and themes that I have been working for past 20+ years. It is not the ideas that make a difference, but how you live them, how you execute them and how you teach them and those are what I am paying attention now and in the near future.
If you had one piece of advice for South Asians, what would it be?
Find ways to be more appreciative and grateful instead of being critical and judgmental whatever situation you are in. What you appreciate appreciates. It is universal law.
How can people learn more about you & stay connected to you in future
Kaipagroup.com, selfcorp.com, prasadkaipa.com, mithya.com - these websites have several articles, newsletters and books that are available for free for readers. A few of my talks in ISB and other places are on YouTube. Just Google my name and pick and choose what you want to read, watch or listen to.
To read some articles of authored by Prasad Kaipa, Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu and Simone Ahuja on Globalization / Entrepreneurship check out
http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/06/ibm_just_released_its_global.html -- leadership in the age of scarcity
http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/11/the_new_arithmetic_of_collabor.html -- new arithmetic of collaboration
http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/09/see_innovation_opportunities_w.html -- globalization and innovation opportunities
http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/07/how_reframers_are_unleashing_a.html -- how reframers are unleashing innovation