AIWATT: Learning from the book "Triggers"by Marshall Goldsmith

AIWATT is the acronym for a very significant piece of learning from the book, "Triggers" by Marshall Goldsmith. This is the fifth article in the series of six. As usual, the crux of the message is taken and is discussed in detail, with specific references to real-world observations, experiences and the work of Indian organizations.


AIWATT is the acronym for the first five words of a very important message from the book "Triggers" by Marshall Goldsmith.

Am I willing
at this time,
to make the investment required
to make a positive difference
on this topic? ( pages 162-163).

It is very simple. Take the first word of the first five words and we get AIWATT.

The author goes on to further elaborate the learning.

"Am I willing implies that we are exercising volition -- taking responsibility-- rather than surfing along the waves of inertia that otherwise rule our day. We keep asking " Do I really want to do this?"

"At this time reminds us that we are operating in the present"

"To make the investment required reminds us that responding to others is work, an expenditure of time, energy and opportunity".

"To make a positive difference places the emphasis on the kinder, gentler side of our nature. It's a reminder that we can help create a better us or a better world. If we are accomplishing one or the other, why are we getting involved?"

"On this topic focuses on the matter on hand".

Let us take all the five important threads of learning and discuss the same with reference to a) individual experiences b) documented organizational experiences c) significant social work and social change d) the near future challenges and current imperatives and e) engaging all our collective consciousness for meaningful change.

Individual experiences

This is a very important part of learning. This starts off by recognizing several things. For example, let us take the fourth point. We need to ask, a) how can I make an individual difference to the world ) how can I include others in whatever I seek to do?

It is very simple, once again. Once we begin with a very specific change, things will start moving. For example, if we had a rather nasty habit of gossiping about others, giving it up answers the first question. Constructively engaging every single person at work is another important part of this process. Once we do this, we will effectively have answers to the second question too.

For example, a superb manager in a heavy chemical organization called the DCW Limited, at its plant in South Tamil Nadu, near Tuticorin, would automatically put his hands around every single worker and praise him for whatever little work that he had done out of the way. For example, coming up with the simplest of suggestions in the Quality Circle Meeting. He would do this very publicly. He would religiously praise all people and he did not play favorites. He was so highly respected in the plant. When his son was admitted for a small ailment in the nearby hospital, the entire lot of over seventy-five workmen from the production unit turned up for help.

This manager had become a role model for other young managers. Every single day, he would involve himself in problem-solving on the shop floor. If any workman was injured, he would follow up on the treatment and also visit the house of the workman. He was very much aware of all urgent tasks on hand. He was in effect following AIWATT in its true letter and spirit.

Cut to even an under-employed graduate. Even when his or her task is mere survival, we do find several exceptions. For instance, there was this telecaller who knew only Tamil. She would introduce herself, and very politely ask " Sir, is this the right time to talk to you?". When this author said that he was packing off to Chennai, she went all out of the way to remind him that the EMU trains were very badly delayed. She prodded him to watch the TV news and there was the detail of some derailment.

What did she do special? She had called upon an earlier occasion to know some details where this author stays normally. She then asked him if he was starting from there. She also told him that her friend was caught up somewhere in some station and the railway authorities had told her that it would take up to three hours to set right things. This humble telecaller had made a huge difference to this author's vital travel plans. She was following AIWATT even without ever reading any book or knowing English. Hundreds of thousands of such people work as telecallers work for a pittance of just around Rs.8000/ per month. Most of them are from farmer families. For them, the salary is the bread and butter. He took a bus and reached the destination rather late, but reach he did. Humble souls whom we often think as disturbances often are very good people. This telecaller had someone give her business, only because she seemed the genuine kind.

Yes, in whatever we do, we can indeed make a difference, if we try.

Documented organizational experiences

Years ago, when Mr. V. Krishnamurthy was charged with the responsibility of turning around SAIL, which was a sick organization, he did not right away invest in advanced technology. This is very costly and it does take too much time, as the Government has to approve such expenditure.

Instead, he turned to his own people. He met thousands of workmen to identify what ailed the organization. Even this was a new experience for the workmen and the trade unions. They had never seen any CEO approach them in that fashion. He had several workshops with all employees and he personally attended all workshops.

What he had subsequently done with the findings is a case study that is still discussed in the leading B schools of our country. He translated the document, " Priorities for action" and ensured that each of the 2.5 hundred thousand employees got to read it. And act on it.

Very strict discipline was imposed. The workmen saw a near culture emerging. They cooperated with him. The sequence of events led the organization to the path of profits in no time.

When crucial decisions are made, it is often observed that the leader goes into the minutest of detail and then takes the plunge. No compromises on quality at all. Sam Pitroda, for example, was able to lay the foundation for the modern telecommunication revolution during the times of the late Rajiv Gandhi.

He was empowered. He made a culture where young minds would work round the clock. This superb leader did what he was asked to. Mr. Vimal, a bank officer, was aghast at what he saw. Very unhygienic conditions in most parts of Chennai. He started a voluntary organization called Exonora. He involved several hundreds of volunteers. These people worked alongside the Chennai Corporation. To this day, this organization has done splendid work in most parts of Tamil Nadu.

Yes, we can indeed make a big difference. When M.K. Stalin was the Chennai Mayor, he thought futuristically. Quite apart from sitting idle, he brought about a revolution. Several flyovers were built some twenty years ago. His successor, one Mr. Subramaniam, did wonders too. Any intelligent observer would notice that the relative ease of traffic in Chennai, is only due to these flyovers. These flyovers act as good supplements to the recently completed phase I of the metro service. For example, at just Rs.50/-, one can just walk into the superb Chennai Central metro and reach Vadapalani, a hugely populated area where one does find the best temple and often have personal work. Even an Ola auto would be more costly and time-consuming. The travel time by Chennai Metro is just thirty minutes. It should be noted that the metro was initiated by the same DMK Government.

Hence, we do have several examples of this kind, where individuals and organizations and even the Government have joined together to make the world a far better place to live in. It is real AIWATT at work.

Significant social work and social change

Some months ago, the entire Chennai population mourned the death of a doctor who would charge just rupees ten from each of his patients. This would be just sufficient for him to survive. The late sage of the Kanchi Kamoti Mutt, motivated one doctor from Mayiuladuthurai ( a fairly big town, some six hours by car from Chennai), to do service to the poor by charging less. Even today, this doctor charges just rupees ten.

ITC has co-opted the competence of farmers and has taught them modern technologies for growing the variety of trees that it requires for its paperboard division. This is done through a buyback arrangement. This is another example of AIWATT working wonders for social change. The WIPRO Foundation is spending thousands of crores to improve elementary education in Andhra Pradesh and in Karnataka, where it is working alongside the respective State Governments.

Several socially minded IT professionals are flocking to the old age homes to spend time with the inmates on Sundays. They have also silently organized some funds to treat the old people. This has been reported from so many South Indian cities. One learns that it is now becoming a Pan India phenomenon as well.

In Udaipur, the rainwater harvesting practices have recharged the groundwater and solved the problem. In Coimbatore city, hundreds of lakes have been saved through social action, and the voluntary organization called "Siruthuli" is very much active in this respect. Even today, there are so many pockets where the water problem has solved through intelligent water conservation methods.

The missionary zeal with which the Indian Railways has accorded importance to safety and also supported the manufacture of the super T18 train is another example of superb "at this time" and "on this topic" focus. Social change is also connected with advanced technology and it is in the fitness of things that we continue to manufacture trains that somewhat change the time taken to reach a particular destination.

The "Swach Bharat" campaign of the Government of India is another example of good social change. The provision of toilets in hundreds of villages is another example of big-time social change.

We need to understand the larger context of these social changes and encourage them with all our heart and spirit.

The near future challenges and current imperatives

The near future challenges will obviously be at various levels. Chief among them is our ability to give our children the space to grow naturally in an environment of rapid change. This is absolutely essential, given the imperatives of change that is happening all around us. It is increasingly becoming evident, for example, that the "exposure" of students in the urban and metro areas is so good. Whereas this is not so good or not at all good in other places.

The ability to foresee this change and act accordingly is a big challenge now and in the near future. The preparation for this change is going to be the current imperative. Weaning away the youth from the bad effects of all social media, with appropriate checks and balances are going to be a big challenge for teachers. This is an area where one can easily make a positive difference. However, the challenges are too many and need to take up one by one.

The need to focus and address the massive air pollution problem in the cities by proving huge green cover is another aspect of "on this topic" imperative. If we do give good importance to this big issue and address it far better than what we have been doing so far, we will have really made a good start and a big social change as well.

The list of future challenges is so huge. It is a never-ending list.

The Supreme Court had to oblige the Government of India and Tamil Nadu when over five hundred thousand people converged on the prestigious Marina Beach to protest against the ban on "Jallikattu" which is a sport of taming a wild bull in many parts of Tamil Nadu. At stake was not just the sport. It was called "Tamil pride". It is ridiculous to argue that one has right over cultural matters.

Such a big "on the topic" agitation became the global issue. Similarly, the entire nation needs to act as one when it comes to managing terrorism. We have already lost thousands of lives to endless and meaningless terrorism. Yet, it is only when we stand up as a nation against such a heinous act, we can put an end to it.

Similarly, efforts to revive agriculture in whatever form needs to be encouraged. We just cannot sacrifice our food security in the name of industrialization. This is one aspect that should engage all our collective consciousness.


The aforesaid discussion is only indicative. Marshall Goldsmith's AIWATT is a super reminder of what constructive personal change can mean to us and to the wider society at large.

We need to understand the wider context of the social changes and then act accordingly. The context of the five vital points is relevant to our times. It will always be relevant at all times.

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