Navrina Singh
Where Do You Go for Transformation?
TEDxSanDiego 2016

I am an inventor, an engineer and an innovator. Over half of my life, I’ve spent building things, creating technologies and connecting people. Yet it took me over half of my life and a major transformation to be able to confidently say these words here today.

After graduating with my engineering degree, I spent 12 years at Qualcomm bringing revolutionary technologies and products to market. Though I was not the lead inventor on these wireless technologies, I was fortunate to be a part of a team that was responsible for how these technologies unfolded.

One of the key products that we worked on enabled the sending of data, not just voice, over these wireless networks. That is the same technology that makes every app run on your smartphones. A part of me lives in your life, each and every day, every time you send a text message, do FaceTime or post on Facebook.

It is truly humbling to know that, in some way, my life’s work powers your life and your work. The reason that I share this with you today is because it is this very technology that created a moment that transformed the way I live my life today. It’s what I call my mirror moment. A mirror moment is a moment when you see clearly the choices in front of you to either stay the same or to change. It is a moment that can be positive and filled with joy or it is a moment extremely negative surrounded in sorrow.

Either way, it is a moment that makes you pause. It makes you pause so that you can reflect about yourself and your situation. Ultimately, this moment becomes your moment in inspiration.

My mirror moment happened 10 months ago. I was a new mom. My daughter Zia was not yet two. Each and every day, I would send pictures and videos of her to my grandmother so that my grandmother, with whom I was very close, could see her learn and grow even though she lived in India, 8,000 miles away from our daily lives.

The last thing that I sent to her was this amazing video of Zia saying her first sentence and her first ABCs. She watched that video and told my mother with whom she lived at the time that it made her very happy. As she went to bed that night, she had a smile on her face. And she never woke up.

My grandmother was a strong and independent woman, and one of my biggest role models. When I learned of her passing, and that the last video that she saw was of Zia, it made me very happy. It made me transform my sorrow into gratitude. Gratitude because the technologies that I was fortunate to be a part of powered her final moments of happiness. Gratitude that the products that I touched enabled her to see my daughter laugh, smile and talk as if she was in the same room.

This moment made me realize that, even though life is finite, as humans we have this unique opportunity to sprinkle joy and bring meaning and purpose to every interaction we have, every choice we make and every person we touch each and every day. This moment made me realize that it is so important to take a moment of inspiration and create your own transformation.

As simple as it sounds, it’s really challenging. For me, transformation is when the gap between who you are and who you inspire to be closes. At this point, in a complete state of unrest, I thought to myself, “How can I use this moment in inspiration, which is so fleeting, and power my own transformation?”

I did what an engineer would do. I decided that I would go back to basics and engineer my own transformation. Having led a technology incubator for the past five years and been part of multiple technology and product creation, I realized that the same principles that can be applied to technology and smartphone development can be applied to self.

In its very simplest incarnation, this process includes ideation. It includes building. It includes measuring, learning and repeating it, day after day. The first stage of the innovation process is all about ideation. It is when an inventor not only comes up with an idea but also has the courage to share that idea with a group of highly creative experts.

As you all know, and as many inventors know, getting feedback is not only very difficult but crucial so that you can take an idea and make it even stronger. In self-transformation, it takes the same dose of courage to be able to share your aspirations and transformation goals with a network that has been set in place to ensure that you can see your path forward.

As I went on my transformation journey, I reached out to my tribe. The tribe of trusted people at home and work who would be willing to give me honest feedback. As painful as the process was, it made me realize that there were certain things that I had to change. Things that I had to do to become the new me that I aspired to me.

After the ideation phase, it is all about building on that idea. An inventor takes the strongest ideas and starts putting the blocks together to build the first version of the product that you can then release to the world. My first version was focused on building compelling habits so that I would have space in my head to think. So that I could be focused on these present moments. So that I would have clarity around my thoughts.

For me, it was all about doing something each day for myself so that I had the energy to show up for others. Your something might look very different. It might mean committing to being active each day. It might mean committing to spending time with your kids or spouse. It might mean committing to reading on different topics. It might mean taking five moments to yourself at the end of an extremely stressful day to destress.

One of the key things you have to remember is that this building process takes time. It takes initiative. It takes courage. It takes a lot of energy. You have to be kind to yourself. As you are building, you are improving on the last.
After the building process, as inventors and innovators, we are obsessed with metrics. We want to see if the products we are putting out into the world serving their purpose and providing value to an end consumer.

Going back to the smartphone example, because that’s the world I know, I realize that each and every time we get feedback from our consumers to see how the different features on the phones are received, there is an opportunity for us to release a new version of an operating system, which has fixed the problems that might have existed in the previous version. It might introduce new features.

As consumers, you have an opportunity to update your phone so that you can wake up to an exciting new feature set in the morning, which can really make your life efficient. As we all know, not all the updates go flawlessly. As we like to call it in our engineering terminology, it introduces more bugs.

Product innovation building is very similar to self-transformation. I believe it’s easier to measure. It is because you can put in place very interesting key performance indicators. You can build analytical tools to see the value that these features are providing.

But in the case of self-transformation, it is a little bit more challenging. Even though you can take the actions to bring about positive change, it is very difficult to put into place analytical tools so that you can measure how your mind, body and soul are all evolving based on the changes that you are making each and every day.

What helped me was to think of myself like a smartphone. Each and every day, I had an opportunity to release a new version of myself into this world. Each and every day was an opportunity to do it over. As we go through this innovation process of ideating, building and measuring, there is something beautiful happening behind the scenes.

It’s what we call learning and unlearning. It’s adopting new knowledge, but at the same time, letting go of things that haven’t worked. Self-transformation can feel like a work in progress, and it is. As I recognized that self-transformation is a lifelong journey and I had to give up on the idea that, one fine day, I would wake up to this new changed me, my life got a different meaning. I recognized that, each and every day, I had to manage my moments differently.

For the longest time, my life was all about a to-do list, a very busy one. At the end of the day, I would check off things on that to-do list to feel accomplished. As I went through my transformation, I realized that it was time for me to trade in the busyness of my to-do list with a to-be list.

It was all about who I imagined to be, and who I could be that day. For you, your to-be might be an empathetic co-worker when your colleague is undergoing difficult times at work. It could mean being a thoughtful spouse. It could even mean being an engaged student.

For me, the to-be list was about how I was bringing value with every version that I was creating of myself as an engineer, mother, wife and daughter. Once you’ve gone through this transformation, and now that I’ve given you all the tools that any engineer would have to create their own transformation, once you build your first version using this process, you will recognize that transformation becomes a need.

It becomes a gift that you give yourself and others. Transformation now will truly feel like you’re holding this ball of clay. Life can take whatever shape you give it. It’s surprising how pliable your life feels when you treat it like that ball of clay. Some days, you shape it perfectly. Some days, it feels like you’re starting all over again.

In the end, just remember that our future is going to unfold with or without us. As history shows, every change, inspiration and movement created by great leaders was because we underwent a transformation as consumers. We underwent a transformation as citizens. We underwent a transformation.

Imagine if the idea for a smartphone just stayed an inspiration. Imagine if it was never transformed into reality. My mirror moment would not have happened. Neither would Uber, Facebook or WhatsApp. The world that we live in today was created by you. The world that we live in today was created by your ideas, which are versions of yourselves floating around in this world as change agents.

I strongly believe that every good transformation is an inspiration, but not every inspiration can power a transformation. What I believe more is that only you have the power and the courage to unleash this inspiration within, into a transformation. A transformation that will transform your world and mine. Thank you very much.