Graduate Management News
Effective Practices

Achieving Personal Mastery Starts With Our Approach to Life

For those of us married to our Blackberries and to-do lists, Srikumar S. Rao, MBA, PhD, suggests a different approach to living up to our full potential. The creator of the course “Creativity and Personal Mastery” and author of Are You Ready To Succeed? Unconventional Strategies for Achieving Personal Mastery in Business and Life, Rao believes personal mastery comes from recognizing and managing the mental models through which we approach life. Consulting with business schools and corporations, Rao helps individuals find their true purpose and unleash their creativity—a process that improves both personal satisfaction and productivity. Rao will share some of his insights as a keynote speaker at the 2009 GMAC European Conference, Selecting for Success, October 13-14, 2009, at the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. We recently caught up with him for a brief interview.

Q: Based on your experience and approach, what are some of the principles for achieving personal mastery?

A: The biggest principle is that a lot of people are going through life under the impression that they are the victim of circumstances. In other words, here they are, nice people going through life full of good intentions, and stuff happens. "Stuff" can be anything—bad economic conditions, bad colleagues, toxic bosses, unsettled home situations, any number of things like that. And people say, "All of that happened to me."

My take on this is completely different. Nothing actually happens to you. You are in complete control of the circumstances of your life. You don't realize that you are in complete control, but you really are. How you experience life depends largely on the mental models that you have. A key is to start recognizing the power of those mental models, and to recognize that the world isn't the way it is, but is as you perceive it is, and that you can make changes in that by altering the mental models that shape who you are. That's a very powerful methodology.

Q: In your book, you speak of unconventional strategies for achieving personal mastery. What are examples of such strategies, and what makes them unconventional?

A: Typically what happens when you want to bring about a change is that you focus on the behavior you want to change. For example, if you are a procrastinator, you focus on techniques for not procrastinating. If you're not getting enough done, you get logical, you make to-do lists, you prioritize, and so forth. In other words, you focus overtly on what you think needs to be changed. My take is that doesn't work. When you try to bring about behavioral change by an effort of will you are doing violence to yourself. Odds are very good you won't succeed and even if you do succeed there will be a by-product that you’re not happy about.

My method is different. I do not focus overtly on behavior. I focus on the mental models that you have and how is it that you view the world. If you start changing the mental models you become a different person and behavioral change happens automatically. The by-products aren't something you focus on. That’s what makes it unconventional.

Q: How do some of your principles play out in a business setting?

A: One, it makes people extremely comfortable with ambiguity. Two, it increases—by several orders of magnitude—the ability of people to have productive relationships with peers, subordinates, colleagues, and bosses. Beyond those benefits, it makes you much more focused and efficient and enables you to get more done in a much shorter time.

Q: What are some of the connections between creativity and personal mastery?

A: The way to be creative is not to bone up on techniques of being creative. All of that is a help, but it is a by-product. The most important thing you can do to be creative is to be passionately involved in whatever it is that you are doing, to derive a deep sense of meaning from it, and see that in some ways it is something that is helping the greater good. If you do that, then the creativity comes automatically.

Q: Can you give a sense for what attendees can expect from your session at the Barcelona conference?

A: I would like participants to take away two things. One is a life such as the one that I describe, where you derive deep meaning and purpose from whatever it is that you do for a living. That's not a pipe dream. It is achievable. Two, I would like them to decide that they are not going to settle for anything less in their lives. And I will share with them at least a couple of methods and exercises that they can use the very next day, which will help bring them closer to that.

You can learn more about Rao’s work at and follow him on Twitter: @srikumarsrao.

Click here to visit the home page
Click here to Read Our Archive