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Somik Raha: The Value of Values

“Fall In Love With Whatever You ...

“Fall in love with whatever you find difficult, and it will become easier,” said Somik Raha’s father.  As a student in India, Somik struggled with math.  But following his father’s advice, he quickly grew to appreciate it and excel…and he has tried to follow this advice with other challenges that he has faced.

     His father once took him to attend a talk by Swami Ranganathananda with whom he had studied for many years.  The Swami spoke very slowly and deliberately, but one remembered every word he spoke.  What Somik heard propelled him on a journey that continues today:  “Business is service.  Out of gratitude, people pay you to continue doing what you do.”  It was a radical idea of business, often at odds with what we might see, but he chose that idea to define his own work.

     Somik spoke with us about that work, and his enthusiasm is contagious.  He uses his insights and deep questioning with members of an organization to help them transform their company into a values-based business.  Business cannot be solely about profits.  It must be about core values as well.  A cool head and a warm heart.  “Business is about teamwork and moving the planet forward,” he said.  “Hierarchies are giving way to individuals, and in this way business can be a huge force for good if we understand our way of being in it.”  Inspiration is essential to this end.  Why do we exist?  What do we want to leave behind?  What problem do we want to solve?  If offered all the money in the world, why would employees still continue to work?  The answers form the basis for the existence of the company and the driving force behind it.  “Money is what helps people do what they love.”

     When we judge a person or a business, Somik warns, we commit to no possibility of change.  We lock people in.  “Those judgments can run very deep!  We need to keep working on them and deal with our own opposition first.”   So when he works with people in an organization he is careful not to lecture but question them.  What surfaces are deeply emotional “ah-ha” moments that create the path for all subsequent business strategies.

     He admits that this is more easily accomplished on the leadership level where owners and directors are focused on inspiring their organization.  But for lower level managers and front line workers, burnout is a constant threat both to the organization and the individuals.  To this Somik says that corporate leadership must commit to the happiness and empowerment of its employees.  He spoke passionately about Southwest Airlines.  Their financial success is astounding.  Leadership’s “secret sauce” is taking care of their employees: spending time listening to them, fixing the problems immediately, allowing them to make frontline decision to serve their customers better.  In one instance a pilot violated air transportation policy to hold up a flight so a grandfather could board and travel to see his dying grandson.  And in another example, when a customer became irate with the ground crew, a manager stepped in to stop the altercation, refunded the money, and took the person to another airline saying, “Our people don’t deserve this!”  This kind of mutual respect within the organization creates a culture of happiness, whereby employees go beyond the line of duty to serve customers, and end up creating more shareholder value. There is no conflict between any stakeholder and the business has the potential to become a game changer for good.

     Challenges abound in our business transactions.  Amazingly, Somik has found useful insights through the practice of Aikido.  This martial art, founded by Morihei Ueshiba, teaches participants to become one with the opponent, moving with them rather than against them.  In this manner we receive a challenge with love rather than fear or anger, and we connect with the other on a very deep level.  “You must feel another’s pain, but do not share his suffering.”  In this manner there is no manipulation, only co-creation.  The best solutions are to be found in this process.

     He came to the work of decision analysis serendipitously.  An encounter with a manager who could not figure out how to pick the best projects to fund prompted him to research strategy and enroll at Stanford University's Management Science and Engineering program. 
  Outside an elevator he met the man who would become another mentor, Ron Howard.  A humble man, Dr. Howard believes in learning from others by paying attention to them.  He did this in his encounter with Somik.  The next time they met, he was able to engage him in a conversation about Somik’s work in agile software development.  In class, Dr. Howard said he would be leaving the evaluations to his teaching assistants so he could focus on mentoring his students, knowing that one could not be both a coach and a judge. 
  In his first class, Somik heard him say “You cannot judge a decision by its outcome.”  This astounded him because it is exactly what he had learned in spiritual texts.  So he mentioned this to Dr. Howard after class who replied, “But these texts don't tell you how to apply this to everyday decision-making.”  And from this beginning, he learned all he could through his mentor the value of spiritual understanding applied to business and other fields. 

     Somik also shared his views on voluntary action.  "Many government institutions are the result of us outsourcing our compassion; the connection with our own humanity is lost when we want to coerce a third party, usually through these government institutions,to alleviate the suffering of another on our account."   But when we are in service to others directly, we become a living part of the ripple effect, the change we wish to see.  “Voluntary action has no coercion in it.  You exercise your freedom in service of another.  Freedom lies in the infinite ways we give up our freedom.”

     Through a synthesis of the spiritual and the pragmatic, ancient and modern, and being at the right place at the right time with amazing mentors, Somik has created a niche for himself that inspires so many—personally and professionally.   As a friend to many here in the Service Space ecosystem, Somik’s own values reach out to all in large ways and small.  Many recounted his gifts of generosity, despite the embarrassment that may have caused him!  It was my first introduction to him.  But I understand why those who know him speak of him with such love and appreciation.  Now I feel fortunate to be a recipient of all those ripples that touched him.   This blog posting cannot do the conversation justice.  I urge my readers to listen to the Forest Call recording, and feel themselves to be touched by the ripples as well.

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