Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Career lessons from the Big Bs career

Amitabh Bachchan is your hero. As a freshly minted MBA, if there is one person in the country you have to learn from, it is Amitabh Bachchan. The man, once dismissed as too tall for the industry and who was famously rejected from AIR because of his voice turned out to be an icon of Indian cinema.

What has that got to do with your career? Plenty.

Amitabh did not have an easy ride up to where he was. His first movie was a flop. He struggled to fit into the chocolate boy image - a rage in those days. And he was offered a chance in a movie that was a non chocolate boy story - it was an action hero story which none of the chocolate boys wanted. Hindi movie till then, never really had had an action hero story at all. And the movie went onto become a career blockbuster. All his purported weaknesses - height, voice became an asset overnight. ...

And then he created a genre for himself (by accident or otherwise). The angry young man. And as he grew older, he decided to play his age. Till then, actors rarely aged (most still refuse - playing lover boys in their mid 40s). And he changed the game once again. He formed a company (again, a trendsetter), failed till bankruptcy and was staring down the barrel. Did he give up or hit the bottle or kill himself (like quite a few before him)? No. He had one movie at that time and a chance to move into TV. He took that chance with both hands. Ditto here. He reinvented himself as the times were changing and that recasting of himself gave him a new lease of life in his primary pursuit.

Till the time he moved into TV, no TV star worth his name (leave alone somebody of his stature) had ever done TV. But the moment, Amitabh arrived on TV, he found his shows had better TRPs than cricket matches. And of course, the youth brigade followed him on TV and fell flat on their face for the most part. How much fun happens when you are a leader and a trendsetter!

By then, the man had moved on. He was a brand ambassador for many brands. He began playing parts in movies that nobody could believe he could have played. And then he began to experiment with his roles. He delivers voice-overs to corporate campaigns, social initiatives and even projects where people ask for his help. Does he deliver a hit each time? No. Do the hits really matter for him? No. Is he still relevant in the industry. Yes. Is he enjoying himself? Absolutely. And is he working hard?

Of course, even at 65 years of age. And some of his best roles and successes and critical acclaim has come here...

What are our lessons from a career perspective?

Many of us chase the "next big thing" or "try to follow the trend". Not too many of us attempt to break it. There is great joy in breaking the trend. From chocolate boy to action hero was a trend that defined the industry for 20 years, until a movie staring someone in 1987 (a lad by the name of Aamir Khan) broke the trend. Over the course of your career, you will find this happen many times. A lot of people you know today were not trained for IT, but the companies found that these guys had the talent and the domain that was required for pitching for clients. And IT? They learnt it. And today you have entire courses training your for IT. Who is to say that this is the trend for tomorrow? And in any case somebody has to pick up and figure out what can be done with an emerging technology or idea and that can come from anyone who has an open mind.

Second. Throughout your career you will have to reinvent yourself. Sometimes for the company, sometimes for the boss, sometimes because times demand so, but right at the core, something cannot change. That's your passion for the job and your skills. And most of the other things are wrappers or our own preconceived notions etc. And it is important that these wrappers change. If you don't adapt, the job market will give you the go by very soon or you will find yourself in stereotyped roles.

Third, diversify. Under the umbrella of a company, try everything that comes your way - this is a far less risky way of learning new things than having to change a job for doing so and then learning that it does not work. One of my colleagues had a simple measure to try out anything - if it resulted in a learning he would do it. And that meant that as a finance person he often found himself sitting in focus groups, pilot studies and what not all across the organization. And of course, when he got around to heading the finance department of a company, his diverse experience made him that much more open to newer ideas.

Fourth, identify your strengths. This is difficult and important.

Fifth, take everything that is thrown at you, especially when you are new in your career (or when you are established in your company) Often in a job this happens - you are expected to play a lot of roles without a clear benefit in any single one of them. If you are committed to the company, it is a great idea to do everything that is thrown at you. Success happens as a byproduct in these ventures and your commitment and enthusiasm get you brownie points as well.

It is important to take up small opportunities alongside your main vocation (either in your company or outside). You never know which of them could be the 'next big thing' - and by doing this you are not chasing the 'next big thing' but creating it. That distinction is important...

A lot of times, there is merit in taking up that project when all others all around are rejecting it. You could say it was desperation, but it does not matter in the end if you win.

And as far as learnings go, there is much to learnt from the way stars like Amitabh manage their careers as much as cricketers like Virendra Sehwag bat (believe me- there is a ton to learn from him!).

(An edited version of this was published in Advancedge, Jan 10)


Kavi said...

Extremely well structured and well put !

Flyaway Mind said...

truly enlightening

mathew said...

excellent post!!