Knowing “when” to pivot is as important as how — Nikhil Kulkarni #JeenaIsiKaNaamHain

Avinash Raghava
#JeenaIsiKaNaamHain

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JeenaIsiKaNaamHain is about people who play for the long haul; people who I have interacted with and have come to admire for various reasons. The commonality in all these stories is that they have an X-factor which makes them stand out.

Today, I will talk about Nikhil Kulkarni who I have known for many years.

I meet a lot of young people and their energy levels are so high and contagious that I feel it’s a privilege to be in their company and have some of it rub off. As one grows older, it’s very important to keep new ideas flowing, and people like Nikhil will always stimulate your grey cells. The choice is straightforward — either you “re-tyre” or you retire. And the tyres must be changed as the vehicle is in motion. Few or any have the luxury of transitioning with a welcoming gap in between.

I met Nikhil when I was at NASSCOM, building the Product community and program managing large initiatives. I was always nervous about the outcome, but I had Rajan with me who made program management look like a casual walk in the park. He was that good!

Nikhil took over as program manager, studious in demeanour, he had big shoes to fill.

And how remarkably well he did!

Soon after, Rajan and the other stakeholders were extremely happy, and Nikhil came to be admired for his world-class program management skills. Back then, if we had internal C-sat measures in vogue, Nikhil would have scored in the top quartile.

Managing large conclaves and initiatives is very difficult and “program management” is for namesake only. What’s called into play are superior product management skills because complexities come unannounced, and Nikhil demonstrated expertise in navigating a complex environment while helping give shape to a definitive product — a world-class conclave.

Given the intensity of the job at hand, long hours of volunteering were customary, and in the process, we became very good friends. Nikhil being younger, I always looked upto him for intellectual stimulation because of the new ideas that he brought in and shared generously. It carried on well into my iSpirit days as well.

Men (and women, of course) like Nikhil are never happy with the status quo even while doing well. They’re always looking for newer challenges because they have a growth mindset. And Nikhil epitomizes this perfectly. In between, he spent some time with Aurus Networks and then decided to move to Australia. Today he works for Atlassian where he is the Group Product Manager, and deservedly so. He has all the skills necessary to take on such a big responsibility in the product management domain.

From Nikhil’s life — here’s another thought to ponder on.

We spend many years in building skills and networks, and we do so in one country — generally. Then a time comes when we are faced with a situation which seems like a great opportunity but also comes cloaked in uncertainty. Settling down in a new country and having the confidence to start afresh is not easy when we aren’t so young. There are responsibilities to meet and bills to be paid which hold us back from taking the plunge. It’s people like Nikhil who can break free from the inertia of rest to gather momentum in a different orbit.

The conviction has to be remarkably strong. At that time when he decided to move out of India, his wife was also doing well professionally so it was not easy to uproot and “re-root” in a different country. But Nikhil and his family could do so! Conviction is backed by one’s ability. If one is very good at something, one is confident that it is “geography-agnostic”. If you can do it in one country what stops you from doing well in a different country which is culturally different? I met his wife as well in Bangalore and I remember those wonderful hours, the three of us shared in a café, exchanging ideas and fun stuff as well.

Now here’s another learning.

Once, I bumped into him in Delhi and at that time he was not into product management (for some reason) but in sales. He was not in a happy state, and far from his usual suave and intellectual self. As we got talking, I realized, he wasn’t in the right field. Thankfully, he was able to get back to his calling and kept going ahead.

Many of us take plunges in life but we must do so by evaluating things we aren’t cut out for. Nikhil, brave that he is, realized it early in his career and was able to make the necessary course corrections. Again, it goes back to the fluidity of his movements. He can pivot and very fast at that.

In the age of extreme learnability, you may think I am being contradictory. After all, if you aren’t good at something what stops you from being better by working hard and smart? Sure, we do it all the time, but we mustn’t throw caution to the wind. We should — at all times — be aware of the guardrails.

Fast forward.

Nikhil and I exchange messages often. He has two daughters, and they live in Sydney. He shares his life (professional and personal) and over the years, a very deep friendship has been cemented. It’s always wonderful to know what he is doing and how life is shaping up for him.

Thank you, Nikhil!

Knowing you is a privilege. Your energy is invigorating.

Here’s wishing you great health and happy days ahead. May you always find the conviction to try out newer things.

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Avinash Raghava
#JeenaIsiKaNaamHain

Building Community at @SaaSBoomi | Past: Community @ScaleTogether @Accel_India. Co-Founded@iSPIRT(@Product_Nation), @NASSCOM