Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Spending time away from technology every day is mission critical: Robin Sharma

The author and leadership coach talks about his forthcoming book, what makes great leaders, and what pulls them down, and how successful people separate good advice from the bad

Divya J Shekhar
Published: Jan 12, 2024 10:58:58 AM IST
Updated: Jan 12, 2024 11:23:21 AM IST

Spending time away from technology every day is mission critical: Robin SharmaAuthor and leadership coach Robin Sharma Image: Raajessh Kashyap/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Author and leadership coach Robin Sharma, known for his international bestsellers like The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari and The 5 AM Club, speaks about his forthcoming book, The Wealth Money Can’t Buy, and the relevance of self-help books in the age of motivation content fatigue, thanks to social media. He also discusses why hubris takes down many great people and companies, why most CEOs and billionaires are “cash rich and happiness poor”, how technology takes us away from creativity, and the secret behind how successful people separate good advice and decisions from all the noise. Edited excerpts from an interaction for the From the Bookshelves podcast:  

Q. Can you give us a glimpse into your forthcoming book, The Wealth Money Can’t Buy, which is set to release in a few months?
Well, society has told us that wealth is all about how much money you have in your portfolio, let's say, or your personal net worth. I believe that while money is important and often it's a scoreboard for success in business, there are other forms of wealth, including a great family life, including making a difference to your community, including taking care of your health. So, The Wealth Money Can’t Buy is really a book that deconstructs this model I’ve been teaching to my clients for the past 15 years, [which is] called as ‘The Eight Forms of Wealth’, and I believe that when we start living each of those eight forms of wealth, we not only become truly successful in the world. But also live much happier lives.

Q. I have read a bit about the eight forms of wealth in your previous book, The Everyday Hero Manifesto. While community service, seeking mentors, spending time with family etc is also important, and is considered as a sign of a wealthy individual, can the desire to make more money be sidelined that easily?
I know your readers and listeners at Forbes understand that money is important, and I’m not in any way saying that it’s not. The idea in my mind is not about sidelining wealth, it’s about not making financial wealth your only focus. For the past 20 years plus, I've mentored billionaires, CEOs, very famous and successful people, and a lot of them are cash rich and happiness poor. So, all I'm saying is don’t sideline the pursuit of financial success, but add personal growth in there, add a great family life in there, add an impact on community and a sense of adventure in there. And when you work on the seven other forms of wealth, the paradox is that you make more money. For example, one of the other forms of wealth is personal growth. When you develop your mindset, when you release, let’s say, past trauma, when you work on what I call your health set, your fitness, that will give you more energy, more stamina, more brain power, all that personal growth and self-mastery actually makes you much better in business, which gives you more money.   

Q. What does it take for you, as an author, to stay differentiated in this age when there is so much indifference to familiarity? When you wrote The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari in the early 90s, for example, what you said was something people had never heard of before. In this day and age when there are thousand and one pages on social media dedicated to life hacks and motivational quotes about how you can be your best self—you are quoted in so many of them—how do you deal with the, ‘Oh, I've heard all this before’ feeling that people might have to these books?

It’s a fascinating and very good question. You’re right. On Instagram, for example, it’s all motivational, inspirational quotes. And we do live in a world where so many people are life coaches. There’s a lot of good information out there. But I’ve been at this for 30 years. And when you do one thing in your professional career for 30 years, it does give you layers of insight. It gives you a lot of experience, and people feel that experience. That’s one way I differentiate.

Second thing is that I’m always pushing my craft. The Everyday Hero Manifesto took me two years to write, and this new book, The Wealth Money Can’t Buy, has consumed me for a whole year, and there’s a lot of different IPs. Even ‘The Eight Forms of Wealth’ model is an IP that I’ve developed over the past many years. In The Everyday Hero Manifesto, there was one model after another on productivity, mindset, leadership etc.

So, I try to differentiate myself by providing honest creativity and innovation in my work and not trying to offer platitudes like set goals, be happy. I also try to marry philosophy with science. If you look at the leadership and personal development field right now, science is catching up with a lot of what philosophers have said for many years. So, I try to make sure I do that. And the final thing about my work, I try to make it inspirational, but also tactical and practical. 

Also read:  One Can Enjoy Material Things And Still Be Happy: Robin Sharma

Q. How does one recognise good advice among all the noise that’s out there?

You have to read a lot to get the experience to be able to decipher what’s valuable to you. The leader who learns the most wins. Education is an inoculation against disruption. If you look at the most successful people in business, they have one thing in common. They read every book they can get their hands on. The more you read, and the more you do it with a focus on what’s truth, what’s valuable, you are going to develop an ability to strip away what isn’t valuable.   

Q. In your book, The Everyday Hero Manifesto, you say that people can spend an entire existence scaling mountains, only to realise they are the wrong ones. One of the ways that happens is by “being addicted to distractions and seduced by diversions that give us a false sense of progress”. What does this look like in daily life?
We live in a world where we are glued to our screens where we constantly have a torrent of notifications. There is so much information, so many advertisements, coming to us in different forms. There’s social media, there is video games. People are calling us when we should be working. People are pinging us when we should be with our families. I think technology is beautiful. How can it be bad? There’s so much good that it does. I’m simply saying that technology is a wonderful servant and a terrible master. I'm also saying that one of our most precious commodities is our creativity. It's our leadership. It's our personal potential.

Sadly, many people are addicted to their phones, addicted to constantly being available. And I'm encouraging people to be minimalists, to focus their life on just a few things.

Q. Has technology played a role in reshaping how we approach creativity, productivity, even happiness? For example, generative AI (artificial intelligence) like Chat GPT, or these productivity apps that people have on their phones...

Technology can increase productivity if used intelligently. Personally, I am a minimalist. I don't want to have an app that measures my productivity because I feel I’ll be too close to the phone. One of the concepts I teach in my methodology is the five grade hours rule. It works well for entrepreneurs. In other words, just work five hours every day in your work life but do it in a deeply focussed way. From 8 am to 1 pm, lock yourself away and do real work. I find a lot of value being away from technology when I'm writing a book, working on a manuscript, creating content, because that allows my brain to go into flow state. Some people love technology as a productivity tool. Personally, I just like silence. There’s something very pure about being away from technology for a number of hours every day.   

Q. How many hours do you use technology and how many hours do you sort of intentionally stay away from it every day?
I would probably say I’m on technology, maybe, four to five hours a day, including checking email.   

Q. That’s low...

I have a great team that helps me with, let’s say, incoming requests. So, I use the technology to read the news in moderation, check my email. I have my family members on WhatsApp etc. There's huge value when you go for a walk and leave your phone at home. There's huge value when you do a workout without checking your email. So, spending time away from technology every day is mission critical.

Also read: Leadership strategies to develop and utilize emotional intelligence

Q. At what points do most leaders fail?

Super question, and I could come up with five different answers. One of the biggest ones where most business leaders fail when they are at the top of the mountain is when they rest on their laurels. It’s very easy to lose the white belt mentality and think that your success and customers will last forever. It’s very easy to stop getting up at 5 am and doing that inner work to make you a better human being. It’s very easy to go that extra mile at work when you’re successful because you think no one will notice. I call this the ‘direct proportionality of humility’. If you can imagine a model. On the vertical axis is success and on the horizontal axis is humility. I would say, as success increases, increase your humility. But that’s very rare. As your success grows, listen more deeply, stay more open to new ideas. Humility means work.

Q. What are some of the most common traits among billionaires you have advised over the years?
One of the biggest traits of the billionaires I’ve mentored is hyper energy. They have had incredible levels of energy. And that comes from, I think, some natural wiring. And it also comes from having a cause. If you look at Elon Musk or Steve Jobs, for example, these people have huge missions. And it gives them incredible levels of energy.   

You can also build up high levels of energy with a great morning routine, exercise, eating well etc.  
Second, the billionaires I’ve mentored are calculated risk-takers. They are not crazy risk-takers, but they see opportunities most people don't, and then they are willing to pull the trigger and take some risks. If you don’t take any risks, there is no reward.   

Third, these people are fanatical optimists. They just see a better reality. When they get knocked down, they don’t spend 20 years complaining about it. They get back up and get on the horse. Next, most people don’t see problems as opportunities. The billionaires I’ve mentored understand that they are paid to provide solutions to difficult problems. Next, they are extremely disciplined. Finally, the billionaires do not really care about the good opinion of others. Too many of us hear people say we can’t be fit, or successful, and we believe them. Billionaires just say, ‘That’s your opinion, but I’m here to get the job done.’ And they just go do it.