The Business Times

Growth in an era of disruption

Haresh Khoobchandani
Published Sat, Sep 17, 2022 · 09:00 AM

TRAVELLING can open your mind in ways we can never imagine, especially if you have the ability to do it when younger. I never expected what would unfold through the passage of time when I started my working life with my first job as a flight steward with Singapore Airlines.

It was such an amazing experience to have been able to travel the world at the young age of 21 – not just travel the world, but experience people, culture, and different ways of living and work in different settings. It provided me with a perspective that was contrasting to the environment and viewpoints I had growing up and being educated in Singapore. The travel and exposure broadened my mind, got the creative juices flowing, and forced me to ask questions I’d never thought of before or had the courage to. It got me to challenge my paradigm of thought, and to put on a different lens as to how I could see life.

It was a great experience – yet not one I wanted to pursue as a career.

Leaving Singapore Airlines was hard, but not that hard. It was hard because it paid well and afforded me a nice lifestyle at a very young age; not hard because, very quickly, I knew that it wasn’t the kind of long-term career I wanted.

I quit the job; took a big pay cut and ventured out on my own. I started discovering what I wanted by closing the doors to what I didn’t want. The rest, as they say, is history.

The journey from flight steward to a senior executive in the technology space has been one filled with choices made (known and unknown), strokes of serendipitous moments and a never-ending passage of discovery of who I was. It was painful. It was funny. It was scary. It was inspiring. But most of all, it was a realisation that growth must be a choice.


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Self-discovery was at the heart of my journey. Blind spots I didn’t see were brought to light, albeit painfully sometimes. Humility was an experience of life. Recognising that you don’t know everything and that you can learn from people older and wiser, as well as those younger and equally wise. There were moments of highs, lows, and fear. There were choices to be made in those moments – choices of taking action and inaction, each with an impact and consequences. As I grew, I learnt to recognise those moments and what they meant to me. It was the trinity of moments, choices made and self-awareness where growth happened in many a scenario.

Each one of us has an ‘inner genius’ (what some call potential). I prefer to call it an inner genius – unique to each of us and, once discovered, harnessed and proactively nurtured, will allow us to become a better version of ourselves today than we were yesterday.

But we can’t discover that genius if we don’t discover who we are – not just from our own perspectives of ourselves, but from the viewpoints of others. The lens from outside looking in shines light on how we show up in various scenarios, the attitudes we display, the guards we put up, and our behaviours. In short, a light that shines insight into what our inhibitors are and what potentially are our growth drivers.

Growing as a leader at a time that saw information, knowledge and power being democratised was challenging. It required adaptation from an old world system of control and hierarchy to a new world where it required learning to listen, how to better influence, manage ongoing change, work across cultures, deal with transparency, and a complex myriad of forces that are at work at any one point in time.

Change was always there, but technology-led disruption fundamentally changed the rate of change at a pace never seen before. It had an impact not just on businesses, but also on people. Businesses had to respond by transforming how they get organised, how they adapt their strategies more frequently, and how they come up with new business models in line with emerging trends. Some made it and others didn’t. The role of a leader evolved; I believe it is one of the toughest jobs around today. Applying old-style leadership methods to a new world, a new demographic of employees, and a very fast-growing connected global platform simply wouldn’t work any longer.

While businesses responded to the disruption, many individuals too had to do the same – a tough task for many. As humans, we are just not naturally built to welcome change, take risks, and be comfortable with failure. While the challenge for businesses was huge, the challenge for individuals was equally complex and an imperative that every person must face and ask: If we all know the world is changing, what are we doing proactively to own our personal transformation, so that we can ride the waves of change ahead of us more gracefully?

That’s the question I believe we must all answer for ourselves. Disruption – whether it stems from technology, a pandemic, war, or any other force – will require more than just traditional skills to manage. A fundamental shift in mindset is required for us to adapt, apply and thrive in an era of disruption. Regardless of age, race, language or culture, thriving and enabling growth in the era of disruption is the opportunity ahead of us.

Disruption – whether it stems from technology, a pandemic, war, or any other force – will require more than just traditional skills to manage. PHOTO: PIXABAY

Growing over the years meant not just learning, but also unlearning. It meant having the willingness to be challenged by others, regardless of age and hierarchy. It meant learning to work, collaborate and partner with others from across the globe with different backgrounds. It meant learning to have a radically open mind steeped in humility – humility to take on a better perspective from what you know and to change your mind, and a radically open mind fuelled by a curiosity to learn and do things better, differently, or perhaps even to stop doing certain things altogether.

Growth has never been linear. We understand it intellectually but, emotionally, it is always hard to deal with. A lateral move or accepting a lower salary in a new role or industry is not something easy to embrace.

But I learnt that growth is a long game. In the long game, it all works out. But that requires a fundamental mindset shift – to embrace an opportunity to enable your growth so that the dividends can compound over time. It was never about being smart, but more about managing emotions. Emotions can get in the way of long-term growth and how we enable it.

Fast-forward to where we are today, and it’s been an amazing ride – one that I am filled with enormous gratitude for what was and what wasn’t. I was raised by an entire village of people, folks I got to work with and work for, and others whom I observed from afar. Just like the African philosophy of Ubuntu postulates, I am because you are.

But the journey continues. Learning about growth in this era has been a true awakening. The famous historian Yuval Noah Harari summed it well: “One thing you need to learn is how to change all the time. Previously, life was divided into roughly 2 parts – one part is you learn things, and the other is you use what you learnt. This is no longer relevant. You won’t have the luxury of a stable identity and a stable profession that will form the stable basis for your life. You will never be able to stop learning. You will need to learn again and again to reinvent who you are even as you get older. You will have to adapt to constant change … the challenge is how to cope with change and do it all the time.”

This is the opportunity we have in front of us: to see change and disruption as a catalyst for new possibilities that we can nurture, create and contribute to in making the world a better place and enabling each one of us to thrive in this ever evolving universe. Ultimately, growth is our choice.

The writer is vice-president, sales, Asia-Pacific at Autodesk, and the author of Growth by Choice: Make Space for the Better You. The book, published by Write Editions, has been launched in support of The Business Times Budding Artists Fund.

Growth by Choice: Make Space for the Better You by Haresh Khoobchandani is now available at all major bookstores. PHOTO: WRITE EDITIONS

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