Excellence is not a skill; it is an Attitude

Excellence is not a skill; it is an Attitude

(Script of talk delivered on 6th August, 2018 at Kings College Hospital NHS Trust, London. Hosted by Kings Hindu Society)

Hello everybody. All those who have come here are already successful and excel in what they are doing. Yes or No? Anyone who doesn’t have a house?… Anyone who has not been on vacations?… Imagine 75% of people on this earth do not have these privileges. But do we want to remain here?… or Do we want to make a difference, to ourselves and the world around us? Yes?

Let me share a small story from great epic Ramayana.

Once upon a time Lord Rama was taking a morning walk at the beach before final assault on Sri Lanka. He was contemplating strategy to cross the Pak strait. He saw, that along with the morning tide came hundreds of starfish and when the tide receded, they were left behind and with the morning sun rays, they would die. The tide was fresh, and the starfish were alive. Rama took a few steps, picked one and threw it into the water. He did that repeatedly. Right behind him was Hanuman, his loyal devotee, who couldn’t understand what Rama was doing. He caught up with him and asked, “What are you doing my Lord? There are hundreds of starfish. How many can you help? What difference does it make?” Rama did not reply, and he took two more steps, picked up another one, threw it into the water, and said, “It makes a difference to this one.”

What difference are we making? Big or small, it does not matter. If everyone made a small difference, we’d end up with a big difference, wouldn’t we?

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen of Kings College Hospital and my proud countrymen. Thank you, Hindu Society for inviting me to share my views on ‘Excellence is not a skill; it is an attitude.’ Thank you Sheetal Jogia, for generous introduction and arranging this event. Thanks to my wife, Shail, for always standing beside me.

I know that today’s topic may bring up a number of questions from you, and I want to let you know that I will address as many as I can in the time we have today.

We all look at sport stars, musicians, artists, and say – “Wow, what an amazing talent, I wish I could possess that kind of talent”. People often confuse themselves with the thought that excellence is all about talent. However, excellence is not about talent alone. In fact, a major portion of excellence has nothing to do with talent. Beyond a certain point, talent or ability is the most useless virtue to possess. It is what you do with talent that counts. Beyond a point, it is attitude that counts way more than talent.

What is an attitude?

It is your reaction to people or circumstances around you, be it positive or negative. The attitude (रवैया) of a person is determined by discriminatory use of his ideas, values, beliefs, perceptions….

During a campus interview at an IIM, I asked a lady applicant, “What kind of man would you like to see as your life partner?”

She responded, “Sir, an intellectual person with good sense of humour”. On being further questioned, she explained that he should be a knowledgeable person.

At the Indian Naval Academy, I was felicitated for standing second in academics. I thought I had become a top gun. In my next assignment to learn practical ship handling, I failed miserably as it was very hard for me to differentiate between port and starboard, when going astern, reverse. Later, when I became Captain of the warship, there were other challenges, such as handling people on board and reporting to my higher command, besides ship handling. That was my pinnacle as I did not get further promotion. Whilst many average guys of my batch excelled and went on to become Admirals. Now when I reflect, it was my inability to use that knowledge. Perhaps, I did not have that attitude to ask questions but take things for granted.

All the problems that you encounter with your business and relationship converge to one basic issue, called ability to use that knowledge, that is ’intellect’. Today I ask you, do you have that ‘attitude’ of ‘intellect’.

Why ‘intellect’?

You must have observed that even the most talented people in the world have not been able to achieve what they were supposed to achieve. This is because the moment they faced a road block, did not know what to do. When they started, it was talent that solved problems for them.

Friends, beyond a certain point, it is your intellect that counts. Once you are in the top league, the importance of talent fades away. This is because, others present in the top league possess the same talent. So, what’s the difference? The difference is INTELLECT, the ability to use that talent. Talent might open the first door, might open the second door, but will not open the last door. So, to achieve anything in life, it is very important to have the right intellect and passion to do well.

Years back in mid 60s, barely 17, when I went for my interview for selection to the Navy, we were judged not only for knowledge on current affairs and love for the country but also on our discriminatory skills during various physical and mental tests in next 5 days. They also judged us for the presence or absence of emotional traits. The officers in any armed forces need to have 100% intellect. There is no room for emotions. Even if there are any, they must be governed by intellect. During the interview process, I felt very proud of myself for brilliant performance in general knowledge, group discussion and even physical fitness tests. However, in the batch of 40, I was at the bottom five. I wish I had realised my potential then.

A few months back I met a boy, who, besides being a software engineer was first class first from a good management institute but could not get his desired placement. Another girl who I know, is unable to find her dream life partner after a breakup. My observation is that both lacked reasoning and judgment in their thoughts and actions. Many gold medallists are not as successful as their average counterparts. Because most people remain unaware of the vital role the intellect plays in human life.

Friends, you need to do business, you need powerful intellect. You need to maintain good relationship, you need powerful intellect.

What is this intellect? What are the powerful tools to enhance your excellence?

A human being has a physical ‘body’. The physical body is only a container, which passes from one experience to another experience. Within this body there are two tools. One is called ‘mind’ (मानस) and another is ‘intellect’ (बुद्धि). We use this very freely, but a few understand what this mind is and what this intellect is?

Your mind is seat of emotions, feelings, your likes and dislikes, joy and sorrow, hatred, jealously, affection, …. All this resides in your mind.

Beyond the emotions of mind, there lies your capacity to think, to reflect, to contemplate, to judge, that is your intellect. This enables you to think clearly.

So, within the body you have these two wonderful tools.

With mind you develop all sorts of emotions, passions but the intellect must be developed by yourself.

Just to recollect, all learnings in your schools and universities take place in three domains – cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains, that is knowledge, skill and attitude. The affective domain is meant to develop our attitude towards intellect. Mostly it is left to the individual, as including it in curriculum is a tall order. So, it is best overlooked.

An animal has no intellect, but it is provided by nature, how to get on with life. It follows certain discipline. Have you ever seen an overweight animal? Have you ever seen an animal visiting hospital? Haven’t we seen an animal refusing food, when ill or not hungry? Exceptions are pets, and those in captivity, who are controlled by human beings. But it has mind, hence emotions and feelings are present. They take care of their young ones and are very possessive about them. However, once pups grow up and can hunt for their food, they are left alone.

A man has both mind and intellect. But for human beings, the love and attachment for their kids is lifelong, as their mind is more powerful than the intellect. The animals follow a certain discipline provided by nature, but a man needs to be guided by his intellect, which in many is not developed.

Let me ask you, is there a difference between intelligence and intellect?

You need to differentiate between intelligence (ज्ञान) and intellect (बुद्धि). Many a times, the intelligence is mistaken for intellect. You all have intelligence but to have intellect you must put in your own effort. Intelligence is knowledge, information acquired from external sources, such as universities, schools, by which you make a living.

You go to medical school, you get the knowledge of medicine and make a living. You go to engineering school, you get the knowledge of engineering and make a living. But does that develop intellect? Remember, any amount of intelligence and knowledge is unrelated to thinking clearly and logically. No place in the world has capacity to develop your intellect.

Most people work with herd instinct and follow their predecessors. But if you want to develop intellect, there are two disciplines you need to follow

  • Number one, never accept anything for granted.
  • Number two, question everything.

Friends, it should have started at the age of seven, perhaps a bit late now? But for the sake of your children…. Never too late.

To use your intelligence, you need intellect. Hundreds of medical professionals have passed out from medical schools, but only one guy performed first successful Kidney transplant. Who is he? Dr Joseph Murray. There was only guy who first championed the cure for Tuberculosis. Who is he? Sir John Crofton.

Hundreds of engineers have passed out from engineering schools, but only one guy got the idea to build Euro tunnel. Who is he? The idea was first conceived in 1802 by a French mining engineer Albert Mathieu, later pursued by Thome de Gamond in 1857. Finally, it became a reality in 1990. What about the guy who conceived Panama Canal, to unite Atlantic with Pacific? John Frank Stevens started the project in 1872. Though it was conceived way back in 1513 by Vasco Nunez de Balboa.

Am I driven by initiative or incentive to work?

So, Friends, to use the intelligence you need intellect. If you have intellect, your business or profession will grow. You will then have ‘initiative’ to grow. Otherwise, the people worldwide are driven by ‘incentive’ and not ‘initiative’. Initiative is ‘selfless’ action, whereas, incentive is ‘selfish’ action.

The selfless action brings in joy and is stress free. Selfish action is ruled by stress and people look for week ends and vacations. You all go to work and what do you look forward to?

I ask them, do you look forward to Monday mornings or Friday evenings? Do you look forward to vacations or day after vacations?

And, I tell people to look forward to Monday mornings. The day you do so, you have developed interest in the work. Otherwise you want to escape from the work. I mean perhaps, simply doing mundane jobs in routine manner, both at work and at home.

Friends, the work today is extracted through incentives, which are like fertilizers. You fertilize vegetables with chemicals. You fertilize body with supplements and vitamins and you fertilize your actions with incentives. Hence, they are not organic actions. If you want perfect action, be free from incentives. Must develop initiative to work. An enthusiasm to work. Take an example of mother and nurse. Nurse comes from time to time to perform her duty, whereas a mother is 24×7. One is driven by incentive and another by initiative.

Does intellect play any role in building harmonious relationship?

There is often misunderstanding both in the organisation and at home, due likes and dislikes, joy and sorrows, hatred and jealously, love and attachment, which resides in your mind. You suffer since you are unable to relate to each other and blame the world or perhaps your neighbour. We need to relate winter to cold, summer to heat, and perhaps beauty of one’s wife to irritability. Don’t say it loudly.

To a person smoking cigarette is his passion, while it is an irritation to the man next to him. But cigarette is same. A person wants to divorce a lady but there is another person waiting to marry her. The lady is same. We need to relate and understand. A lady told me that she is sick of her neighbour. What should she do? Let me ask you question on relationship:

You have heard about Lord Krishna and his elder brother Balram? Krishna had capacity to think, to reflect, to contemplate, to judge, that is he was high on intellect. Whereas, emotions, impulses, attachments, resided in Balram. However, Krishna had lot of respect and love for his elder brother. Yet they maintained a very cordial relationship, despite basic differences in nature? How?

You need to have powerful intellect even for good relationship. It is not whom you meet or what you meet, that matters. You are all the time trying to find the right person, there is no possibility at all. Assess the things around you, but not be judgmental. Respect the views of others. Let there be no confrontation of their views with your body and mind. Say it to yourself: “Shut up. You are right, and I am wrong”. Avoid confrontation.

Let me share another short story on relationship:

“A boy n a girl, were playing together. The boy had a collection of marbles. The girl had some sweets with her. The boy told the girl that he will give her all his marbles in exchange for her sweets. The girl agreed. The boy kept the biggest ‘n the most beautiful marble aside ‘n gave the rest to the girl. The girl gave him all her sweets as she had promised. That night, the girl slept peacefully. But the boy couldn’t sleep as he kept wondering if the girl had hidden some sweets from him the way he had hidden his best marbles”.

If you don’t give your hundred percent in a relationship, you’ll always keep doubting if the other person has given his/her hundred percent.

For everything good to happen with you, develop an ATTITUDE OF INTELLECT.

Before I finish this session, let me summarise my thoughts:

  • Number one, never accept anything for granted.
  • Number two, question everything.
  • To relate to the world, develop an attitude of giving; not taking.
  • Develop spirit of sacrifice and service; next to you…M’am; after you … Sir.
  • A person who has a better IQ can find answers quickly, but those who have great ATTITUDE can provide better solutions.

Friends, the greatest discovery of this generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.

Thank you…! I will be happy to take on your question.

The key to develop an attitude of Intellect is practice Meditation and Spiritual upliftment.


I am grateful two Vedanta Academy (near Mumbai), for guidance through their publications, authored by its founder Swami A Parthasarathy and coached by Dr Janki Santoke. I am also grateful to my family who always encouraged me to pursue my passion. I am thankful to Sameer Gangar, my fellow colleague and coach, for valuable assistance in power point creation.

2 thoughts on “Excellence is not a skill; it is an Attitude

  1. People can be very intelligent. A thief can be intelligent, Dawood Abraham is intelligent it is wisdom (intellect) or right application of intelligence called wisdom to take right decisions at right time.

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