I have a gentleman who has done some very interesting things with the Department of Treasury, with Forbes Magazine, with Reuters, Citigroup, GTE, Pan Am, and Diners Club. This gentleman has a very unique approach and he’s like no one I brought you ever before. He works on the inner game. He works from the inside-out to help you get better at running your life, building your business, finding, discovering and enhancing your inner purpose as you go about doing the things you do every single day. I know it must sound a little unconventional for me to be bringing someone like this to the show, but this is the guy who helped me in so many ways with his amazing books. He has two books out. I read his book, Happiness at Work, and it was unbelievable.
Srikumar Rao on Finding Your Inner Purpose
I want to introduce you to Srikumar Rao. Srikumar, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Mitch. It’s my pleasure to be on your show.
You and I, we’ve been friends for a while now. We met at Sang in 2010. It’s cool because we’ve shared each other’s lives and I’ve shared with you many of the intimate details about mine and you have yours. I value and really treasure our friendship together. To have you here as a guest is a super treat for me and also it’s because I know so much about you and where we’re going to go with this interview that I think everybody is going to get so much out of it. One of the things I really want to do is uncover some origins. We all basically start the same way, just as you and I have in business and in life. Many of our listeners are in the process of starting their business or growing it at this point. Let’s go back in time and let’s talk a little bit about when you first discovered what it is that you now are acclaimed for. How it became obvious to you that this was your path, your chosen field and now your gift?
For a big chunk of my life, I was drifting. I was a very good student. I started off as a Physics major. In my class, there were some really brilliant people. I was growing up in India and if you were in India during those days, this was in the ’60s and you were a good physicist, you didn’t eat very well. I switched paths and did my MBA. I really didn’t even know what an MBA was but I knew if you did one, you got a high-paying job and that sounded nice. Towards the end of my MBA, I took my ATGSB, which is today known as the GMAT, and I scored well. I knew that I could do my PhD virtually any place I wanted. I had no interest in doing a PhD, but I had huge interest in coming to America. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you wanted to come to America, it’s good to come on somebody else’s nickel. There were all these great universities saying, “Dear Mr. Rao, please come do PhD. We will give you a fellowship” and that means money.” I said, “I’ll do my PhD.”
I came to Columbia because it was in New York. I started my PhD in marketing because Columbia was the world’s best school in marketing at that time. That’s how my life was going. I was drifting. I dropped out after I started my PhD in Columbia. I got a job in Corporate America. I was in corporate research at Warner Communications and my career really took off like a rocket. In my early twenties, I was head of corporate research for Warner Communications reporting directly to the President, so a very heady, a super rocket-like progression. I got burnt out by corporate politics. By that time, I had my PhD, so I decided that I’d go to academe where there was no politics. It was a very naïve view of the world. By the time I found out how alive and well politics was in academe, I had already made the transition. I continued in academia but it basically stagnated. One day I woke up feeling sorry for myself. I had great education, went to the best schools in the world, had a phenomenal early career, and now I was stuck and all the persons who were my peers had exceeded me. What the hell was I doing? It was a pity party.
All my life, I’d been doing a lot of reading, spiritual, biography, mystical, autobiography. They would take me to a nice place and then I came back to the real world and it sucked. I remember thinking, “All of this is useful only if you were sitting quietly thinking peaceful thoughts and not when you came to the hurly-burly. Then it was useless.” Somehow, I knew that wasn’t true. I knew that this was perhaps the only thing that was valuable. I just hadn’t figured out how to make use of it. One day, I came up with my bright idea which was, “Why don’t I create a course which will take the teachings of the world’s greatest masters and adapt them so that they’re acceptable to intelligent people in a post-industrial society?” The thought of doing something like that made me come alive. I needed that course for me. Initially, I thought nobody was going to register for it but that was fine. I wanted to create that course because I needed it for me. It made me come alive.
For you to think that you could condense all of the world’s greatest masters into a single course, where were you coming from with that?
Where I was coming from was a place of utter desperation. I felt a little bit of a fraud thinking that I was going to help others make sense of it because I hadn’t quite made sense of it. My inner voice was saying, “Maybe you haven’t, but you’re sincere, so why don’t you get started and the universe is going to help you? We’ll figure it out and muddle our way through it together.”
I think most of us are in the same place. I would venture to say that there are many times throughout the week, throughout the month where I wake up feeling a little sorry for myself, maybe comparing myself to others, the way most of us do. What gets me back on track is comparing myself to me a year ago. Does that make sense?
Yes, it does. That’s the only comparison that you should make.
Here you were feeling a little unsure about yourself, about condensing and compiling the world’s greatest spiritual masters of the world down into just one body of work. How long did that take?
By way of background, I’ve always been doing a lot of this reading, spiritual biography and mystical biography. In a sense, my entire life was a preparation for this, although I didn’t know it at that time. My challenge was I knew what they had to say was very valuable, but all of the great masters spoke in the language of the time and space that they were in and they used examples which were relevant there and not necessarily relevant to persons in the postindustrial society. My job was to strip the religion, culture and so on out of it because you don’t really need that. What they had to convey was so powerful but it’s really independent of the context in which they framed it for the persons they were talking to at that time. That is my contribution. It works like spades because I have taught this in many other top business schools in the world and it’s been among the highest-rated and most popular courses. I’ve taught it in major corporations and it’s been written up all over the place.
I get that and I want to still keep you back there because it’s important to me. When you did this, you say you stripped the religion and culture out of the stories. Isn’t that essential to the way to communicate with the wisdom of those masters were?
It is very helpful to have stories. What I simply did is I created new stories which got the same point across. Those new stories had characters who lived in current environments as opposed to way back in the past. I translated.
Do you have any example of one even if it’s a quick overview so I could see what you mean?
Take for example the tale of the Good Samaritan. It’s a very powerful story but it’s told that somebody in the ancient time who was going on horseback and he helped somebody who nobody helps. I put it in a corporate framework. You’re CEO of a major firm and you have a troubled employee who has done good work in the past. You noticed that nobody is helping him, but you help him in a different way by listening to him and directing him to a medical or psychological help he needs. The principle is exactly the same, but it’s in a context that the kind of people who attend my program can relate to.
I’m starting to see a very clear picture now. At the same time, not only did you update a particular story, my understanding is that you wove these stories together to create a much larger picture for a much larger purpose. When we go back in time and you were just doing this work and you then started to teach it, how did you market yourself?
I have a syllabus which has been revised several times. I call it a syllabus but it’s a manifesto and it’s pretty much a sales tool. When I was teaching at business schools, I’d say, “Here’s the syllabus. Don’t even bother applying for the course until you’ve read it,” and people read it. The kind of people I wanted to have in the course looked at it and said, “This is what I’ve been looking for my entire life. There’s no way in hell I’m not going to apply to this course.” That was my screening mechanism.
Basically what you’re doing is you are selecting out those who you don’t want to have in your course or basically to waste your time with.
It’s a little bit different from that. I’m allowing the people to opt-out. Of the people who opt in, I then put them through an application process to decide whether I want to have them in the course or not.
That’s even better and it’s more discriminating as well. This is a strategy that I use as well in my own program. When I bring someone into my Certified Consultant Training Program, when I do it with my clients, the way we sell the program is with an application. If someone were to read all about my client’s program, which I help my client build and design, at that point they must fill out an application. It does not mean just because they have money that they will be accepted. To me, that is a far more effective way of selling because you’re not convincing somebody else. You’re letting them convince you that they are right for whatever program that you have. I love the idea of the manifesto and of the application. All that truly resonates. How do you get traffic into that place where people can see the manifesto?
I started off as a marketing professor and I probably need to be taken out and shot because I’ve done very, very little. I know there’s a great deal that I can and should be doing but I haven’t. However, I am learning and I’m gearing up for that. Basically, I get clients from word of mouth. People who have taken it say, “This is something for you absolutely,” and they refer people. I’ve had persons come from as far away as Australia to New York just to do the program. They did it because someone whom they know and trust intimately said, “This is for real. You have to go do it.”
You started this at a university, is that right?
I started it at a business school.
It became a course, not just a private program you were running. This was a college course, is that right?
This was a college course. In London Business School. It was a double credit course, meaning that it counted as two courses because of the meeting times and the immense amount of work involved. In other schools, it counted as a very heavy single course.
Anything like this is going to take some time. How much time does it take to get through the material with you?
On average, when I was teaching in business school, we would meet for a full day for fourteen weeks. In addition to that, we had an onsite retreat which would be from Friday evening through Sunday evening. The onsite was residential. You had to stay there and we pretty much work the entire time except for very short sleep breaks.
In one program, how many times did you meet off-site?
The way the program was structured in those days, we met once. The way the program is structured now, we meet three times.
This is quite brilliant and the reason that I’m commenting on this is because so many of us have programs that we can combine our weekly meetings with off-site retreats, symposiums, masterminds, whatever you want to call it. What Srikumar is doing here is he is using a time-tested strategy that is now applied in the modern world. It’s like taking something quite old and making it very new. I love the fact that you have continued to do this now. How long have you been doing this?
I have taught at many of the world’s top business schools. I took it private in 2009 and I have been doing it privately since.
When you say you took it private, it means that you’re no longer associated with a university or with a corporation. Is that right?
How do you go about finding people to take the program? Is it the same as before?
Same as before. I have a small list and I tell them, “I have a new program,” and I get some people through that. I get many more people from persons who have taken the program who want their colleagues, their spouses, their business associates or persons they know to be part of that.
Let’s talk about the results. If I were to come and take your course, which I want to do so I hope I get to do that sometime, what should one expect if they go through the program with you as an end result?
One of the things that I mention both in the syllabus and to persons when I’m interviewing them to find out whether or not they’re right for the course, is I tell them not to have any expectations. If you have twenty people take the program together, they’ll have twenty different experiences. Don’t come with an expectation of “This is going to happen to me,” because what’s going to happen to you is something marvelous and totally different from what you expected. Here are the kinds of things that a large number of people have noted. One of the things that happens is, as we go through life, there is always an undercurrent of tension in us. It’s so common that we don’t even notice it, which is, ”There’s so much I have to do. I should be doing something else. Why am I wasting time? This has to happen in my life.”
There’s this thought flow that’s going on. There are things that need to happen which aren’t. There is a feeling that you’re getting stuck. There is a feeling that, “You’re very successful but given your talents, you should have been even more successful,” and a whole host of things. One of the things that happens when somebody takes my course is that joy genuinely comes into their life. They get up in the morning and they are literally happy. They are cheerful. They are full of spirit. Full of spirit not because something is going to happen or something has happened, just because they’re alive. Stress very largely leaves their life. They find that they can accomplish a great deal more than they ever thought possible. They become more inspiring leaders without trying to be a more inspiring leader. It’s just that they resonate at a different level, as a result of which, people want to hang out with them. They want to seek their counsel. The quality of the conversations improves dramatically. Their relationships improve across the board with customers, with vendors, with colleagues, also with family members, with spouses, partners and children. They just experience life as, “I’m having so much fun.”
I want to relate a story to you that this reminds me of and I’d love to hear your comments on it. Tony Robbins and I worked together building Business Breakthroughs. As my business partner, Chet Holmes, got very, very sick as he was dying of leukemia, Tony Robbins and I worked even more closely to keep Business Breakthroughs really running. I attended a lot of his events. One of the things that I noticed is that when you go to a Tony Robbins event, it’s as if you are vibrating at another level when you’re there. Many of the things you described, people seem to attribute to being at a Tony event. Here’s the thing and this is the question for you. When they leave, somehow these things don’t quite stay permanent. The reason I know that is because they come back and they want to do it every year, because somehow it’s not permanent. Why is what you’re offering different versus something like a seminar by Tony or an event by Tony is?
I haven’t attended any seminar by Tony, so I can’t comment on that, but I am familiar with Tony’s books and work and I have read his books. They’re all drawing from the same well. What I encourage people to do is look at the mental models they hold as a result of which they view the world in a particular way. As you start making changes in that, you quite literally become a different person. The people who start my program are not the same people who finish. In my syllabus or manifesto, this is not something you begin and end, this is a rest of your life journey. There’s no going back. You travel at your own pace. Some are more dedicated and they put in more effort and engage more with the topics and therefore they make more rapid progress, but this really is a rest of your life thing.
To my knowledge, this is the only such program around where when you take it, you are both the scientist and the laboratory. As you start making the changes and you see that these changes impact both how you feel and how other people are reacting to you and how the universe is acting in your presence, you become a convert. When we are done, there is some regression. You go back to your old models but you never go back all the way, so you are distinctly better off than when you began. It’s not unusual for people to come back and repeat my program. There have been numerous people who have done that. Most of them say, “I got more out of it the second time than I did the first.”
What we are dealing here is the nature of human beings. What many of us struggle with are many of the things that you discussed and we want the things that you say are the results of your program. I will tell you that myself included, many of us spend a lifetime searching for ways to achieve this. I’m even more excited about what you do in your program. When I read your book on Happiness, I saw all of what you are talking about shining through and I loved it. Let me go one step deeper here because we’re talking now about business. When you set up something like this and it becomes a one-shot deal where I enroll in your program and I go through the whole program and I may or may not repeat it later, there generally is an upsell. Do you have some form of a program that comes after like the graduate level? What happens next?
I have been incredibly derelict because I have not created an upsell. I am being forced to do that by the number of people who are alumni of my program who say, “Dr. Rao, what about CPM 2? I want something at an ongoing basis.” I’m in the process of coming up with something for these folks. One of the things that I am planning is a trip to India. We’ll do the usual stuff, the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort, and the Wonders of India. In addition, I’m organizing a tiger safari, which is an extraordinarily rare and beautiful experience. Interspersed with all of that will be sessions with me where we talk about their life, where they’re going and how all of this fits together. It’s a comprehensive program and I’m putting it together. This is the first time I’m going to be offering it. It will also serve as an introduction to the persons who have taken my program. There is a method for them to continue being involved in an ongoing basis, both with me and with those who are serious about personal growth. This is very much a work in progress.
Interestingly enough, one of the little pieces of business rule sets that I’ve adopted, one small piece of wisdom that has made an impact on my life is never sell anything unless you know what you’re selling after your customer buys what you’re offering. I learned this the hard way. When I released my book, The Invisible Organization in 2015, as most authors will feel, it’s a little bit like giving birth. It was such an event for me. It got on Amazon. It became a number one best-seller. I was so proud. You were kind enough to review the book, but then what? Watching geniuses like Russell Brunson release a book, I realized that I would never release a book again without an upsell, without a program that goes along with it. If you buy a book from Russell Brunson, what ends up happening is that while you’re checking out, he’s already selling you the next thing. In fact, if you buy the next thing, he’s selling you yet a third thing. I think there’s some basic brilliance in this strategy, whether it’s selling a book, whether it’s selling a life-changing program or whether it’s just helping someone get better at what they do. If you don’t know what comes next, think twice about offering what you have now. Srikumar, I know that you have given this a lot of thought, and particularly with the scope of what you do, it’s not as if it’s easy. There are ideas but this is very dedicated stuff that people must commit to. I’m excited for you because that sounds like an amazing trip. I want to talk about some of the people who’ve attended your program and maybe tell me some stories about the folks. I’d love to hear about the people’s experiences who have been through your program.
Persons come to my program for a number of reasons. Let me give you the profile of the kind of person who will get the most. I’ve had numerous persons come up to me and say, “Professor Rao, here is X and he absolutely needs your program.” I smile and say, “What did you tell them about it?” I know that the persons who “really need” my program are never going to sign up or register for it. The people who benefit from my program are those who are pretty successful and if you would talk to their peers, they would say, “This person has it made. He’s got everything going for him or for her.” Internally, they feel, “Given my talents, given my abilities, I’m not where I would like to be.” They know that they are successful. They are confident but they know that they could be so much more. They know that there is an undercurrent of stress in their life. They know that there is a spiritual side to life which they should explore and they’re not quite sure how. When they take my program, they find out that you don’t live a material life and a spiritual life, the two are intertwined and you can make one feed off the other. You’re living as a whole person and growing together as opposed to “This is my spiritual part and this is my material part and I’m going to nourish each of them,” which really creates a feeling of tension and a feeling that you are divided. When those two come together, you not only feel good about yourself, you not only feel good about your place in the world, you have deep meaning and purpose. All of a sudden, it’s as though you’ve stepped on a rocket and taken off because your life takes off.
Let me give you some specific anecdotes. There was this woman who was a partner at one of the Big Four accounting firms. She was on the consulting side of that. The atmosphere in many of these firms is quite toxic. She was at the garment contracting business and doing very well. She was a partner. She basically said, “I had it. I really can’t stand this place anymore, so I’m going to go off on my own.” She recruited some of her former colleagues and went independent. She did extremely well. Her business prospered. They were making more money than they ever had but then she got bored out of her wits. She took my program saying, “That’s it. I’ve reached the end of the road. I really need to know what I should do next. I am searching for my exit and where I should be going.” A few weeks after she had finished my program, she sent me an email saying, “Professor Rao, thank you so very much. I have a completely different take on life and what I’m doing. I recognize I’m in the exact place that I need to be. I get up every morning and I’m enthused to be working at what I’m doing. I have all kinds of plans for growing. These plans involve not just me but it involves all the people who are working.” I think she had a company that had 100-plus employees at that time. Not only that, but her customers. She is really seeing it in the context of “I am making a change in my small part of the universe.” She said, “I’m never going to be anyplace else again.”
Many of us feel that way. Many of us are doing this alone. We build businesses at almost the opposition of the people around us. Sometimes our family would just rather we stop all this baloney and go to work. What you’re doing is you’re showing us that the people that you work with are going beyond most of what the outside expectations are and really focusing on what their true expectations should be from within. I love that. That’s a beautiful way of putting it.
The very important point, Mitch, is not so much what you do; it’s who you were being as you do it. A lot of us have the notion that we’re not passionate about our business because something is missing. If X happened and X could be financial, in terms of, “Am I making so much money?” X could be, “Here’s how much fame I have, here’s how well-known I am. These are the kind of persons I interact with. These are the types of employees I have. These are the types of customers I’m attracting.” If X happens, then I will be passionate. The reality is passion exists inside you. It doesn’t exist outside and it doesn’t exist in the business. If you don’t succeed in igniting it within yourself right where you are now, you’re never going to find it outside. The beauty is that when you succeed in igniting it right where you are, the outside world changes immediately to accommodate the person you are becoming.
This is very closely aligned with something called universal law. Most of the teachers in our world, including you, all draw from the same pool of knowledge and wisdom. We’re going to shift gears a little bit here because I want to know this. If you had a chance, who, in all of space and time, would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation with?
That is something I’ve given a great deal of thought too and I can answer that question immediately. There is an Indian sage called Ramana Maharshi who had a profound influence on me and my work. If it is at all possible, I would have loved to spend an hour in his presence. I doubt that I would have got into a serious conversation because he taught through silence and very rarely spoke. I would have loved to have spent time in his presence.
I don’t know him but I do have a question about what you said. If the two of you were silent, other than enjoying the time in his presence, is there something else that I’m not getting?
There is a wonderful book which I would recommend to you, called A Search in Secret India which was written in colonial times. It was a British spiritual seeker who went to India and he met a number of seers and sages. The most prominent of them was Ramana Maharshi. He talked about how when you were in his presence, your questions did not get answered but the questions themselves dropped away. He was such a powerful spiritual personality that when you were in his presence, your consciousness rose. It rose to the point where all of the things that were troubling you simply dropped away like a scab from a wound which is completely healed.
It’s that pure spiritual power that we’ve seen attributed to others in history and time. That makes it very clear. Srikumar, could you tell us how to find you on the internet?
My website is www.TheRaoInstitute.com.
TheRaoInstitute.com is where you will find Srikumar’s entire biography and more information about who he is and his program. Srikumar, it’s been a wonderful conversation and very enlightening. There’s been a lot of wisdom, not just the spiritual wisdom that I always get when I speak with you, but I think the business-building wisdom that so many of us seek and desire as we grow our companies. No other better way to grow it than doing it in a conscious way, fully present and enjoying the entire journey. Thank you, Srikumar.
Growing business is extremely important but don’t focus on growing the business. Focus on providing incredible value to your clients or whoever you’re serving. Make their life better in some way and not just their life materially better, but make them better people and more capable of being the best that they are capable of being. As you do that and you put your attention on that, you will find that growing your business happens as a byproduct and you don’t even really have to give a lot of thought to it.
That is absolutely wonderful and it’s something to live by. Dr. Srikumar Rao, thank you for your time. Talk to you again soon.
Thank you, Mitch. My pleasure.
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- Srikumar’s Website
- Invisible Organization Book
- A Search in Secret India Book
- Tony Robbins Events
- Russell Brunson’s’ Website
- Ramana Maharshi