I was so pleased with myself when (I was requested) to give the keynote lecture for this (IIM Bangalore) alumni conclave until I saw the alumni list. My mind suddenly froze up like the icebergs in Iceland where I have just shot my latest song, and I thought, “What will I say to all these wonderfully wise people?” For a second I contemplated sending a stunt double but then I read a joke about the wisdom of all you amazing achievers from IIM. The joke made it clear to me that all of you are extremely wise, but your wisdom is of a different kind from us lesser mortals. It went something like this….it was about a kid who claimed he was too good for the standard 1 that he was in and should be promoted to the fourth standard. He was marched to the principals office and for gender equality reasons, obviously the principal was a lady. She thought the kid should be given a fair chance, as ladies are always fair and said she would ask him a few questions and if he answered them right…he will be promoted to the fourth standard. Her first question to him was…
- What does a cow have four of that I have only two of? Boy after a moment…Legs.
- What is in your pants that you have but I do not have. Boy…pockets.
- What does a lady do sitting down a man does standing up and a dog does with his one leg raised. Boy…shake hands.
- What starts with F and ends with K is a four letter word and if you don’t get it, you have to use your hand….boy confidently…A Fork.
The principal looks at the teacher and tells him, send him to the IIM…he will fit in there just perfect.
That gave me some confidence to stand before you all. Maybe in your quest for knowledge you all might have overlooked some very basic and simple truths…so here I am…to widen your sphere on how normal mortals would have answered those questions. I am no guru in creative leadership so please bear me with a some compassion and patience and do excuse my humour.
The essence of creativity is the ability to channelize imagination into expression and build from it something new and possibly ingenious. Whether it is an art form or a scientific invention or discovering a new way of doing the same old thing…it begins in the mind. A mind that does not function within the framework of boundaries but constantly searches beyond them is a mind that is able to create anew. The cornerstone of leadership, I believe, is nothing more than cultivating the discipline and courage to nurture and sustain such a mind while constantly calling the bluff of the illusory limits imposed by life.
See I am fifty. An age where you most likely are making retirement plans not romantic plans. But here I am still coochie cooing girls my children’s age. And no they don’t look up to me, actually they can’t because they are all taller than me, they treat me as their age/equal having been put in the position of someone who is a romantic hero, I have cultivated a belief that I can love them back as beautifully as any man can age notwithstanding. With respect dignity and put in my own experiences of life, which younger heroes wont have. Though I must admit girls having a bit of a father fixation, comes in handy with my endeavours.
Leaders are able to assimilate experience in order to reframe the world around themselves on their own terms. They use the very structure of life to dismantle it. They are not afraid to question, to imagine, to dream and to believe. They are also not afraid to act even if their actions might not result in success.
There is an old song I always turn to, when I am faced with adversity. Being a public figure most of my actions and intentions are questioned, reviewed and sometimes loved and sometimes even distorted. Ranging from praising my sexiness to questioning my sexuality, I get it all. But whenever I feel thwarted I think of this song…Hum to ACT karega. Duniya se nahi darega. Chahye ye zamaana kahe humko deewana kahe hum toh ACT karega.
Many books have been written on leadership skills, on methods and models for it but in my view, it really isn’t all that complicated. To be able to dream unencumbered, to imagine and hang on to a boundless mind filled with ideas so that you never stop renewing yourself and the world around you whether it is your inner world, your consciousness or your outer world that encompasses your profession and your relationships is essential to leadership. But dreaming is not enough, its also important to be able to dismantle the old, the frameworks that are laid out before you, the ideas that you yourself cling to, the ones that hold you back and prevent you from growing. It is by disassembling your fears of failing, of losing (not just things, but people and positions), and most of all- of change that you can be truly creative not just in the things you choose to do, but in the way you view your part in the world you inhabit.
I meet many successful people in the world of business and I often find that while their ideas are very clear, the way they speak of them is oddly dispassionate. The madness and passion are missing. I get the sad impression that business often becomes numerical: about millions and targets or it ends up being so goal driven that there is a stark loss of inspiration from it. I think the emphasis on organizational goals and efficiency has clouded the poetry of creating. Perhaps because of the artistic basis of the work I do, it is difficult for me to relate to this starkness. I feel it lacks life. Creation cannot be a managerial concept/notion, no matter how good the idea is, it has to be an “imaginerial” conception. To lead means to inspire, and you cannot inspire people mechanically or through numericals (with all due respect…unless they are stock brokers or bankers!!). Inspiration is an emotional construct. To make people believe in anything, whether it is a product, a story, an idea, or you: you need to connect their ability to imagine and dream with your own.
You cannot create within a box with unbending walls. It is an open process, one that is welcoming and wild. To abandon that inclusive wildness for a narrowly defined goal is illusory. I have never set one- truly. I have never set out to earn a particular amount, to count the crores at the box office or to compare my worth with anyone else’s. In fact I would go as far as saying that quantifiable goals are indeed illusions. The only reality is hard work.
Diligence is imperative to both creativity and leadership. Making the mistake of thinking that your dreams will take flight without you having to flap madly at those wings to get up into the sky is plain silly. In my experience, its great to delegate, but there’s no short cut to working hard. To know and to understand what you are doing, to be open to learning about it and from it, every single moment requires diligence. It requires work. If you want to excel at something there shouldn’t be a single person around you who can claim to be more familiar with its mechanics than you are. Its non negotiable to strive and to be familiar with your trade. Life remains ordinary if you are unable to sustain the capacity to work hard on your dreams. If you aren’t determined to get there- you wont. And this is a paradoxical thing because I’ve heard many people say that you need to know where you’re going to be determined about reaching there but it hasn’t been the case with me. I never knew my destination, I can’t even claim to know it today…Now that I am on the cover of Forbes India, is that where I wanted to be as a businessman. My IPL team has won the championship and its profitable, is that the dream I had for a sporting franchise venture. I have a film running in a cinema hall for the last twenty years…should that be the attempt in terms of achievement for my next film. No I don’t think so. I believe goals actually limit our ambitions and desire. I don’t mean that don’t have goals, but call them milestones…think of them as a passing moment of excellence and keep on striving harder for a place which cannot be defined or confined by names or numbers. I have never set goals but I have truly never done a single thing that I wasn’t determined to do the best. I had no idea where it would take me for the most part of it, but I had the idea that I would do whatever it was with a determination that would scare everyone else away.
No matter how hard we work, however, leadership implies being prepared for disaster. And it will come. If it doesn’t hit you like a tsunami washing away your house and home…it’ll show up some other way, as failure maybe, or then by taking away something (or someone) you loved and believed in… so what are you going to do about it? You can cry and wallow. I do that often and I am not ashamed to admit it. I do that in a special corner reserved for tears in my huge golden bathroom. Somewhere between the Jacuzzi and the steam room, I sit on the floor and shed huge tears of self pity, persecution and how the world doesn’t understand my genius and effort….but then I take a hot and cold shower and walk out wearing my limited edition cologne… ready to embrace disaster. So a bit of wallowing and crying is ok… but the thing to understand is that if you learn how to welcome disaster you overcome it. So what if everything gets turned on its head, change your perspective- do a hand stand- don’t sit there staring at the ruins, start getting bits of you together and rebuilding yourself. That’s what leadership is about after all. Besides a “perfect life” is a farce. God isn’t making utopian ad films and screening them on the clouds to sell it’s USP to you. It’s a man made idea and we’re buying into it all the time. Actually, there is nothing more beautiful than the imperfection of life. Creativity is about taking this imperfection and translating into something beauteous. In my trade, life serves as a fertile ground for innovation and ideas. We use its imperfection every moment. In fact there is really nothing that allows us to create better or to live better than trouble so why not embrace it and embrace ourselves too in the bargain. And while we are embracing, lets embrace destiny too ( in my case I will embrace Kajol, Madhuri and Alia also, which unfortunately doesn’t come in your perks package whichever company you join or create…ha ha) because Destiny isn’t what it’s rolled out to be either.
Accidents happen (I am a living proof of an accidental movie star/entrepreneur/speaker at an IIM gathering. I wanted to be a sportsman. Represent India hopefully as a hockey or a cricket player. Suddenly I hurt my back. Didn’t have the resources to get the best treatment. Joined a theater group to fill in time and overcome my sadness of not being able to play at a professional level. Father died and we were evicted from our rented house. Mother went looking for a smaller place and the dealer’s father in law was making a series, called Fauji. My mother sent me to him and he cast me as Abhimanyu Rai in the serial. Things went ballistic from there. I got film offers and one thing led to another, and I became a movie star. By the way we never took the house from the dealer, Mr. Dhawan who actually got me on the road to stardom. And my mother didn’t live long enough to see my work either). I realize now that hurting my back wasn’t an accident, being here speaking to you all is the larger happier accident. So Destiny plays a part for sure and no one can teach us either how to find it or how to chase it. Just like disaster, it will come your way but if you don’t have the courage to ride its wave when it does, it’ll toss you right back on the beach and all you’ll get to see is the sunset of a tired and weary life (plus your backside will be sore!). So I would advise keeping your eyes open for life’s magic and not turning away from it citing practicality and good reason. There isn’t one. Be brave enough to face your destiny, to sacrifice for it and compromise for it if you have to. It will always be worth it. To imagine that you know better than life is the silliest (and possibly the most costly) mistake one can ever make.
To conclude, I’d like to borrow from my latest endeavour of creativity- Dilwale and say that unless you live by the heart, unless you are Dilwale, none of this will truly translate into the splendour that life is capable of unfolding before you. The mind is the seed of creativity but the heart is the soil. That seed cannot grow without an open heart. To be able to love, to give, to share, to nurture, to take others along on your journey with as much goodwill for them as you have for yourself is the basis of all creative endeavour, of all real success, of all happiness and of true leadership. If you close up your heart to the world, if you choose to live your life on parameters that let you forget how to love, you will dishonor life and disallow it from honouring you. There is no greater creativity in life or leadership than the ability to touch each moment that you are living with the beauty of living it by your heart, to give back to life the fullness that it has had the generosity to give to you.
And that joke I cracked about the little kid…giving all abnormal answers to basic questions….was just a joke. I really think all of you from IIM are very sexy and cool. Actually I must admit it’s really next to impossible to find such a combination of smart and sexy in so many people together. It’s an honour to be amidst you, and talk with you, for it does get lonely just talking to myself in the corner of my golden bathroom.
This is an excerpt from the speech delivered by Shah Rukh Khan very recently at IIM Bangalore.