Introduction: Jinny is a successful Omni-Retail executive and author of IN/ACTION – Rethinking the Path to Results, in this book she explores the downside of the prevalent cultural bias for action even when it’s unnecessary or counter-productive. Capturing insights into the benefits of reflective thinking and strategic inaction, this book presents a less stressful and more efficient way of achieving more by “doing” less.
So, I sat down with Jinny, to learn what the book is about and how can we achieve more by “doing less”.
Bajaj: Jinny, I love the topic, it’s so relevant, we are a stressed and overworked generation and are losing our sense of well-being. Please tell us about you and how did you get the inspiration to write this book?
Uppal: Thanks for this opportunity to speak with you and for sharing your thoughts on the topic. The inspiration to write on this topic came from my own life. As an ambitious and driven woman, I’ve always believed that it is the action that drives success. I was convinced that it was things I ‘did’, decisive actions I took that led to my own career success.
Last year, like many others, I found myself in an underproductive slump due to the pandemic. I didn’t have a job and I felt helpless and stuck as my industry, retail, went into a slowdown. As I looked back to my life, during this period of reflection, I realized most of my major pivots were preceded by a period of a slowdown in some shape or form. I’ve always hated being in these phases where I wasn’t busy doing something that I would have called productive, worrying that I ‘wasn’t doing enough. But, I reflected that what came out of those periods were big leaps forward. For example, I took a break from my career in 2016 and when I returned to the workforce a year later, I pivoted from technology to business strategy and took a step up the ladder to become Vice President of a major company. So the book started off as a question “Have I got it all wrong? What really drives great progress? Is it tangible action which we can see and measure or moments of thoughtful inaction where the seeds of massive and inspired action may be getting sowed”. The result is this book.
As a happy irony, look what happened after the (unwanted) pandemic-induced downtime in my life: I wrote a book, something I never imagined I would ever do! The difference in my own mindset now is that I accept thoughtful inaction as a strategy to getting results and don’t judge it as wasteful anymore!
Bajaj: I heard you talk about inspired action and strategic inaction; would you please give us some more context to understand it?
I’ll share a story from the book of Singh, CEO of a major medical imaging company who was informed about the death of a child on a machine made by his company. The typical response to such news is for a CEO to take action from the crisis playbook; lawyer up, call an emergency staff meeting and get ready to play defense. But Singh, instead, went for a walk to reflect on the situation. During the two-hour walk, he decided to act as per his principles and not from the crisis playbook; he decided to fly to the scene of the incident, in another part of the country, to be with the family and support them in their loss. Soon after he arrived at the hospital where the death occurred, he learned from the hospital’s investigative team that the death of the child was due to a cardiac arrest and not the equipment. Since the CEO had flown in to condole with the family and show his support, he had already demonstrated good intention. He stayed on and as he got to know the single mother, he asked if she would share her experience with his team. The mother agreed and told her story to a thousand employees at Singh’s company town hall. After hearing of the human side of the work they did, the company’s employees were inspired to significantly improve the quality of their production floor. In our book interview, Singh told me those improvements would usually cost a company significant time and money, but the team took it upon themselves to do the work, saving him the effort.
The genesis of, what I may call, an inspired series of actions and events, was Singh first deciding to go for a walk. It takes courage and confidence to not default into a series of automatic reactions. Think of the pressure on a CEO to play it safe and act from an established crisis playbook. But a relatively short period of reflective thinking can lead to much better and inspired solutions; in Singh’s case, it culminated in quality improvements on the shop floor. Even though Singh got lucky in that the child’s death was not his company’s fault, think of the message that his inspired action of flying to the scene of the incident sent to his stakeholders on what really mattered: the patient and their families.
Strategic inaction is not the inaction that comes from fear or paralysis, it comes from knowing that a thoughtful pause can lead to better ideas than barreling down the action path.
Bajaj: It’s an era of “Great Resignation”, why do you think people are choosing to take a break? What would you recommend for them to use this time for? Also, where can they find your book.
Uppal: Many people who are quitting were burned out during the pandemic, and some just woke up to the fact that they have been running the hamster wheel for years and don’t want to do that anymore. My first recommendation is: avoid filling up your schedule with every dream project you’ve wanted to do since you were ten! Instead of a list of to-dos or jumping into another job right away, reflect on the life you want to live. Here are some ideas from how I approached my own career break experience:
- Visioning: Write down a 360 degree vision of the life you want to live: the work you want to do, the kind of mental and physical health you aspire to, relationships you want to develop or maintain.
- Self-Care: Develop a habit which is restorative for you: meditation, walking, or a hobby. By restorative I mean that when the pressure, worry and FOMO goes up, this activity calms you down.
- Support Structure: Build a personal team which will support you during this phase. When I was planning my career break, I realized there were some loved ones I could not discuss my plans with because of their tendency to worry for me. I had to sit them out for this life-project! Choose your support team to be a combination of a bucking up brigade and those will keep you sensible and grounded.
It doesn’t take very long for inspired ideas and creative solutions to come forth. But because we tend to keep busy all day long, we just don’t give these ideas a chance to emerge. Thoughtful inaction as a choice can lead to much better results than chasing action!
My book will be available everywhere you buy books online and in some bookstores in December 2021. Your readers can subscribe to my newsletter to read the latest news as well as book excerpts (it will also include invites to launch parties, online and offline!). I love to hear people’s stories of how they are approaching, or perhaps struggling with, this subject. You can also learn more about the book and read the Introduction chapter on jinnyuppal.com/book.