Learning Cycles: Career lessons from the book Catalyst by Chandramouli Venkatesan

This is the second in the series of lessons from "Catalyst" a good book on Career Planning by Chandramouli Venkatesan. In this article, certain lessons, in the form of quotes are taken from the book and further illustrated in terms of real-world examples from Corporate India, as well as experience-based learning.


In his book on "Catalyst", Mr. Chandramouli Venkatesan has given very useful tips. These provide enough food for thought and are very relevant in today's time when the jobs are scarce and only those who are multi-skilled and effective multi-taskers can succeed. Those who do regular jobs with the same output are very likely to be sacked. Hence, further thoughts on what the author calls as "Learning Cycles" are very essential for Career Success and can mean a lot in terms of effective action plans in this regard.

The author, calls for getting more out of any learning cycle. "Successful people seem to get more out of the learning cycles they participate in than less successful people." Catalyzing the experience from the learning experience would depend on the four things that successful people do.

The TMRR model, that is, the Time, Measure, Review and Reflect model, of Mr. Venkatesan, is a simple but effective model for career success. The earlier article by the author of this article had discussed this concept in some detail and had explained how an HR executive, charged with the mandate of time office management can as well do a lot of value addition. The article is the first in the series of four articles and bears reference to the TMRR Model Concept in the same book.

According to Mr. Venkatesan, the four things are a) Reflection, the vital variable in the TMRR model b) Be at your best c) Broaden the Lens and d) Be the Thought leader.


This is quite simple. It simply means asking two vital questions, at the end of the day: i) What did I do today? b) What all could I have done better?
Quite obviously, this includes the mistakes you do at home too. For example, in the evening, even if you are very tired, and when your wife offers you a cup of coffee, if you take the coffee on the right hand and still immerse yourself in the reading of the newspaper, you are sure to face the music. Your wife is likely to feel insulted and would start a quarrel with you. When the quarrel goes into another topic on which you already had a difference of opinion, you are almost finished. You would be very tired. Now, at the end of the day, your "reflection' will merely point to what you should not have done: your behavior when you received the coffee from your wife. There are chances that you will be disturbed the next day too if the fight had gone on for hours. ( as if often does).

Similarly, if we make sincere attempts, this reflection can help us to behave better, feel more positive and more energized, if only we try to get to the root of any behavior of ours in particular contexts.

Be at your best

Take this quote for serious deliberation. "Successful people seem to realize that major learning cycles represent a fantastic opportunity to gain experience and drive a steep jump in real individual growth" (page 36). What is the learning cycle? A learning cycle is an opportunity, that occurs in our work lives, where we have significant learning, that will come our way if we go the extra mile by understanding various aspects of the events, as they present themselves. This could be a merger or an acquisition, or it could be a cultural change in terms of some new HR system that is being introduced. For instance, the 360-degree appraisal, where the Management is so keen on eliciting the opinion of different stakeholders. This is a big change and it has to be very carefully planned. There is a great deal of communication that has to take place, explaining the objectives, the secrecy, and such other things. Preparing the ground for change is a complicated exercise that may extend to over two months. During this process, you will have learned too many things. This is exactly what Mr. Venkatesan is talking about.

Broaden the Lens

Once again, a quote from the author says it all. "What successful people seem to do in a major learning cycle is realize that it has a high potential for driving their real individual growth and broaden their engagement beyond the scope of their role and expertise. They make an effort to engage holistically with that initiative. They also broaden their TMRR to beyond their lens. The question they ask themselves is, "What could I have done better to make the project succeed holistically?" ( page 37).

Let us illustrate the aforesaid point through a real-life example. In one of the TVS group companies, which is basically a foundry, a very young engineer always showed promise by asking too many questions and staying far beyond normal working hours. He clocked a minimum of 12 hours. He caught the imagination of General Manager, who utilized his services for the first-ever ISO 9000 certification. This young man was sent for the lead auditor training. He wrote the ISO manual almost single-handedly and went on to make a big impression when he voluntarily trained all supervisors. The Management promptly promoted him as an Asst, Manager. After the certification came, he was promoted as Deputy Manager and was transferred as the Management Representative in the UK. Within two years, he was already Senior Manager. This is exactly what the author of the book calls as broaden the lens. Successful shop floor engineers get things done even in their absence. Even if they are sick at home, work gets done. How? It is very simple. They empower and encourage their subordinates to learn and are never threatened by any subordinate who would even be smarter than them. They are the real leaders.

Decades ago, Coca Cola wanted an advertisement that would bring them big sales. The advertisement had to be a sensation. Charged with this mandate, Mr. Prasoon Joshi, went on to create one of India's most memorable advertisements with possibly the best memory recall even today. The famous tagline was "Thanda MatLab coca-cola", which had Amir Khan, the famous Hindi actor as the brand ambassador, and it was beautifully done in a rural environment. The setting was perfect. It was in the lovely town of Pollachi ( 50 kilometers from Coimbatore city) that this advertisement was shot. It made Prasoon Joshi a national and then a global icon. However, as he would himself go on record, it was hard work all the way and the entire thing was based on extra-ordinary research. Sales of Coca Cola zoomed to over 400 percent in two years, as per some reports. The success of Prasoon Joshi can be attributes to the fact that he had indeed broadened his lens at that point in time. An advertisement can reach the masses only if it's tagline is very memorable. This particular advertisement had such a superb memory recall. Everything in advertising is done only after a good deal of research and thought. It is very obvious that the advertisement had both.

Be the Thought leader

According to the author, "the fourth thing that successful people seem to do in major learning cycles is to understand that project leadership is different from product leadership. One way to maximize the learning value of a major learning cycle is to try and contribute at the thought leadership level to the project." Mr. Sivakumar, now the national head of the E-choupal initiative at ITC, had a presentation ready to make to the late Mr. Deweshwar, the giant CEO of the organization. The latter gave him a patient hearing and full support to implement it in a small way.

Basically, ITC had wanted to make farmers as their own customers for a range of products, by co-opting the competence of the farmers. While planning the entire thing, E-choupal had invested in creating IT infrastructure in the villages, where the middlemen are also part of the process of getting good prices for their agricultural produce. The experiment was a roaring success and is still a big case-study in many B schools.

You can yourself be a good thought leader. For example, even without any background in SAP, when the Top Management wanted to get an opinion of what the final output should look like in HR, one smart executive merely said that all details about PF, medical leave, casual leave, gratuity and so on, should be available to any employee, whose website should be protected through a password. This was done and the need to go to the Personnel Department and check for any detail was totally eliminated.

The chances of becoming thought leaders are there at every step in any organization. It is up to us to optimize these chances for catalyzing the learning opportunities to the maximum extent possible.


Learning cycles can be effective catalysts for our career growth if we follow the steps very carefully and try to make a big difference in our careers. How we do it is entirely in our hands.

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