Whether we like it or not, or even whether we are aware of it or not, each of has a specific way of working – which includes how we act/react and interact with others, how we take decisions and which of our opinions influence those decisions, and last but not the least the emotions we experience in a given situation.
This keeps happening day after day, week after week, month after month, sometimes even year after year; as if we have been programmed to do so. Over a period of time it keeps changing but not necessarily by our intent or control.
With time our needs also keep changing, but our way of working does not remain aligned with those needs. Sometimes we don’t respond fast enough, other times we may overreact. Mostly this happens even without our knowledge, and we might see the disconnect when it is already too late to do anything about it.
What can we do about it? We have a choice. Either we let what is currently happening to continue as is, or we can learn to understand why we do what we do and use that awareness to change our current way of working appropriately to eliminate this disconnect.
For each of us what makes us happy can be different. But irrespective of our needs, when they are fulfilled, that makes us happy. This is true for us, this is also true for others. If we understand their needs and meet them wherever we can, they would do the same for us.
We and others are part of systems. If we learn to understand how the systems we are part of work, we will no more be prisoners of such systems; we will be in control.
For some time now I have been trying to learn how to do this, and it is giving me a much better understanding of my own as well as others’ way of working. As I do this day after day, I am uncovering better ways to align my way of working to my current & future needs. This is not a onetime activity, but an ongoing process and quite interesting.
If what is said above makes sense to you, and need help from my experience, please let me know by a comment below. I will get back to you and would love to help.
One of the key practices of WoW framework is “Separate facts from fiction”. We often tend to mix the two, and in this confusion take decisions which may turn out to be harmful.
The easiest way to take care of this is to start using a new language construct regularly while thinking as well as when we speak. When we think something to be a fact, we should use “I know xxxxx”, immediately followed by questioning ourselves “How do i know it?” The response we get would be in the form “because of yyyyy”. So the complete sentence would be “I know xxxxx because of yyyyy”. Once it comes out in the open, it is so easy to decide whether what we thought as a fact is actually a fact. Quite often it turns out to be just our assumption.
Many a times our mind plays tricks on us and assures us something is a fact, when in reality it is a mere assumption. We believe our mind, and without thinking further go ahead and act as if it is a fact. The changed way of thinking and speaking helps us to go around our mind and see the reality as is.
Here is an example.
Recently on a Saturday, I had to take my personal laptop to a service center for some repairs. I had gone there a couple of times earlier as it was quite close to our previous home, and knew the people there well. After driving all the way, when I reached there I found some other outfit. On enquiring I came to know that the service center had moved very close to our new home. By the time I drove back, it was already closed. Disappointed I returned home and had to wait till Monday because they are closed on Sunday. Some urgent work I had planned to complete on the weekend could not be. I felt so bad about it. All this could have been avoided if I had adopted the new way.
I thought I knew they will be there as before. But actually it was just an assumption. I had their contact number and could have called them. But that option did not occur to me because implicitly I was sure the service center would be there. How I wish I had used the simple language construct and saved myself all the trouble.
Initially we may feel little awkward to use such formal constructs, especially while talking to others. But trust me it is a very powerful way to bring clarity about how our opinions and facts get mixed up. If we are speaking to another person, it is worth spending a few minutes to explain why we will be using this construct to get him/her on the same page.
On the other hand when we believe something to be an assumption, it is so easy to check by saying “I assume xxxxx because of yyyyy”. Saying it to ourselves or preferably to others will make it clear whether our assumption is true or false. If true it is no more an assumption and can be considered as a fact. But more often this will lead to further assumptions which are to be handled in the same way. We may also find the assumptions are a result of our firmly held beliefs which similarly need to be questioned.
Here is an example.
A new colleague at work had promised to complete his work by Friday evening. Based on past experience of dealing with people, I assumed that there is a possibility that he may not have completed his work. So I made alternate arrangements. But he actually had, and not only that but even mailed me to inform that the work is complete and the place where he had kept the document for my review. It was a pleasant surprise. It confirmed that my assumption was a fact. Then I realized that in spite of past experience, I still believed that the new person whom I did not know well would complete it on time. This belief came from my natural inclination to trust people unless proven otherwise. This has its advantages as well as disadvantages. Another person in exactly same situation would have thought and acted quite differently, if he was inclined to distrust people till proven to be trustworthy.
Once we start practicing the new way regularly, we see how our assumptions are influenced by our beliefs, which in turn are shaped by our values and inclinations. Underlying beliefs and values have a strong influence on how we act/react, how we interact, and more importantly how we take our decisions.
After we are comfortable and keep practicing it regularly till it becomes a habit, we can modify it to a more natural way, without of course losing the benefit of questioning. Each person can decide when and how it is to be changed, though sometimes it just happens.
Once we see the power of separating facts from fiction, we realize the risks we carry with unquestioned opinions. There is no time to waste and postpone it.
But next question is when can we practice it? Fortunately life provides so many opportunities. If we notice something happens as expected, but often reality goes against our expectations. That is an opportunity to practice it. Even when things go as expected, it is good to ask ourselves whether there are any factors which were responsible for this and in case those factors are no more there in future to help us. This leads us to see the risks which we tend to neglect otherwise.
If you are curious to know more WoW framework see it at https://wayofworking.org
Q: What the heck is WoW?
A: WoW is an acronym or short form for Way of Working.
Q: Okay, so what is Way of Working?
A: Way of working is our repetitive patterns of behavior.
Q: Can you give more details please?
A: Sure, it is a framework I am putting together based on what I have noticed in my life and work all these years. The framework has a core, and guidance to support the use the core.
Q: Can you tell us more about the WoW core?
A: Yes, it starts with what we can readily observe provided we pay attention, like our actions / reactions. Interactions, as well as the emotions we are currently experiencing. We soon start realizing that in a given situation we tend to repeat the same behavior again and again by rote. It so happens because consciously or unconsciously we decided to behave in a given way, and over a period of time it has become a habit or second nature for us. Even to the extent that when we get in a similar situation with different people or in a different context, we start experiencing the same emotions. That is the power of our habits.
Q: Talking about habits and their power on us, why do you think we need them?
A: I believe the nature has endowed us with this wonderful capability to save lot of load on our mind of constantly making decisions. Instead we can make a decision once and save it in our system for automatic use thereafter. It not only frees our mind to focus on more important things but also leads to an increase in our productivity and agility.
But there a flip side to it. We become so comfortable with our habits, both physical and mental, that we don’t realize the world around us is constantly changing and moving away from the one that existed when the habits were formed. Bigger the gap, greater is the need to change the outdated habits. But we are not even aware of this gap.
Q: What do you think is the solution?
A: I have noticed that we are both an observer and the observed at the same time. These two are distinct roles with their own purpose, but often seem to get mixed up. It is the job of the observer in us to critically keep watching not just what is happening around us, but also what is happening within us. If the observer performs its job faithfully, the observed in us would be free to enjoy all the variety in nature and beauty of life as it unfolds. It can completely live in the present moment, fully experiencing the emotions and then be able to move on without any attachment to the past. I feel the great philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurthi was talking about the observer in us when he said “Be choicelessly aware”. The observer should stay away from getting involved in the experiencing and emotions, and resist any temptation to make any hurried decisions before being completely aware of the current reality. Differing the choice till the present is authentically observed, allows the most appropriate decision to emerge on its own.
Q: The role habits play in our lives is clear, but what influences our decisions?
A In WoW everything leads to our opinions. They are our filters through which the reality reaches us. They can take different forms. These could be assumptions which are open to change based on our experience. They could be beliefs with which we form an emotional attachment. That makes it difficult to change the beliefs because we feel challenged and don’t want to give them up easily. The opinions can also be in the form of relative values where we prefer something over something else. For example, some people tend to trust others unless proved otherwise. There are others who start with distrust till proven wrong.
These three types of opinions, assumptions beliefs and values, have a hierarchy. If our assumptions are at variance with our beliefs, our beliefs will override our assumptions while taking a decision.
Q: Taking this “Why” questioning a step further, why on the same subject our opinions are often different from those of others?
A: I think it is because the nature needs diversity for survival. We see such abundance of variety all around us. So each of us is endowed with certain natural inclinations. These inclinations influence what opinions each of us forms and get reinforced with experience.
Q: Enough of concepts and theory. Please explain what is in it for me?
A: Good question J
All of us know that life is uncertain. It can be as simple as finding a traffic jam on way to work, when we are already late. Or it can be as profound as coming to know about someone we knew well and met just yesterday is no more.
Our opinions, which include our assumptions beliefs and values, create a wall behind which we live. The reality outside gets filtered and twisted before it reaches us. We are guided by our perception of reality, while the future is shaped by the reality as it exists. Bigger the gap greater the uncertainty. So the question is how we prepare ourselves to manage these uncertainties.
Best way would be to take steps that can eliminate such uncertainties. Which means that we work on the wall that separates us from reality and try to make it as clear and transparent as possible. Some of things that I find useful are,
- Separate facts from fiction (Opinions) by calling out our assumptions/beliefs/values for verifying their validity, and to encourage others to do same.
- Be aware of our emotions, experience them fully and then move on without attachment.
- Be aware of others’ way of working as well, because it affects us. When we become so aware, we may find many tips which we can see if what works for others might work for us as well.
Q: Oh, so it is not enough for me to be aware of my own working, but I need to be aware of others’ way of working as well?
A: Absolutely. We need to go beyond ourselves because we are all connected. As a matter of fact, systems are everywhere. Each of us can be viewed as system. We work in teams or groups. Each of them is also a system. Those in turn are part of an organization. Which is a system. Our family is a system. Our friend circle is a system. The society we live in is a system, and so on.
We are part of multiple systems, either participating in or interacting with them. So we need to understand how systems work. Some systems are simple like those which follow Newton’s laws, but many are complex especially those involving humans, having their own laws and patterns of behavior. We become prisoners of systems we don’t understand. When that happens, our options get limited. We can’t accurately predict which way the system will go. That is the other cause of uncertainty.
Understanding systems, especially complex human systems, is part of the WoW guidance which with its 7 principles and many generic solution patterns helps us to minimize uncertainties.
Q: I am curious to know more about the WoW guidance. Can you throw some light on it?
A: WoW guidance is a vast subject. But I can certainly mention the 7 WoW principles which are so universal in nature that they can be applied to a vast variety of situations.
- Know and care for real needs (Needs, not wants. Logically know and emotionally care)
- Allow work & information flowing (Be a river, not a pond)
- Maintain the heartbeat (Adjust the system clock to a natural rhythm)
- Make it simple (Remove all the noise and clutter from the system)
- Balance automation & innovation (Use automation to let our attention focus on innovation)
- Use governance with autonomy (Restrict freedom only for protecting real needs of the stakeholders)
- Grasp complex systems principles (Accelerating & balancing loops, delays, and leverage)
With this taken care, time to get back to WoW core and see how the systems perspective can help us to prepare ourselves better for the uncertainties of life. Once we know that we are part of multiple systems, either participating in or interacting with them, we realize that we have the power to choose which system(s) we want to be part of, and which systems we don’t want to be part of. This realization gives us tremendous power to be in control of our lives.
Q: Can we do anything more as individuals?
A: I would like to mention one important point. We are always advised to take a stand and stick to it, which often leads to a blind faith, and there can be others with similar blind faith for the other side of the issue. People taking such rigid positions has led to so much violence in the world. Why not try to sit on the fence and keep seeing on both sides. This liberates us and we are free to take a decision on its own merit based on the situation we are in.
Q: You talked of preparation to minimize uncertainties, but do we also need to prepare ourselves for things when they go wrong?
A: Oh yes. That reminds me of Murphy’s Law which says “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst possible time”. Is that why at work a new urgency always comes on Friday afternoon when we are getting ready to leave for the weekend?
We can deal better with the unexpected by preparing ourselves with the following,
Details are part of the WoW guidance.
Q: Just last one question. Any quick suggestion for how do we start practicing WoW in our teams?
A: Yes. Every working day if we notice, we have series of small successes and failures. But what we do with them? Nothing much. If it appears to us as a success, we pat ourselves on our back and move on. But that moment has hidden possibilities to prepare ourselves for future by asking ourselves the question, “What made us successful?” The answer will provide us the factors which may change or vanish in future thus creating a risk of failure. Once we see this, we can start preparing ourselves to manage even when those factors are absent.
Similarly with every failure, however small, rather than just feeling bad about it and giving excuses or finding faults with others, we can ask “Why did we fail, and how much does it matter?” This will help us to get away from the negative emotions of the moment and start thinking logically about what we can learn from it and improve for future.
Try it out and see if it helps.
Most people say they are doing Agile when they are actually doing Scrum. This is because Scrum is the most widely used agile method; with a good reason. Scrum provides a complete framework that includes roles, ceremonies and artifacts. Over last 20 odd years of its existence, it has matured and scaled to large projects.
However Scrum does not provide sufficient guidance to the teams about how to manage their work within a sprint. There is no guidance on when to start work on which story / task. It does not provide guidance on how to keep the work moving smoothly without interruptions.
It mainly focuses on capacity utilization and relies heavily on burn-down chart to anticipate the risk of spill-overs. But there are cases where in spite of available capacity there is just not enough time for quality work before the due date. Hence there is a need to look beyond Scrum for help on these challenges.
Scrum is not the only agile method. There are others like Kanban and Lean. Kanban came from manufacturing, especially Japanese auto industry, and was pioneered in software development 10 years back.
Kanban is a light-weight method and is commonly used where the 2-3 week batch mode of Scrum doesn’t fit very well. Such situations include support activities, projects in maintenance mode, or anywhere the requirements come in at random and with a short completion time.
So a common approach is to choose between either Scrum or Kanban, but not both together. However there is an area of Scrum, single iteration or sprint, within which the Kanban principles can be considered for improving the execution effectiveness.
Expected benefits of introducing Kanban within a sprint are,
• Improved Agility –Measured as turn-around time (Elapsed time from the start to finish)
• Higher Productivity – Average velocity per person per week
• Better Quality – Reduced defects and rework
Kanban relies on pull mechanism to decide when to start an activity, and has just three simple principles.
• Limit the work in progress – Complete the work-in-hand before taking up the next task.
• Observe and manage the queues – Long queues introduce an inherent delay to every item. Lengthening queues indicate a capacity imbalance.
• Identify and remove the bottlenecks – Worst bottleneck decides the system throughput. Removing it reveals the next worst.
How Kanban principles help each improvement area:
Limit WIP: Pull system allows JIT re-prioritization (Agility). Uninterrupted attention reduces setup time (Productivity). Focused attention helps do a thorough job reducing defects and rework (Quality).
Manage Queues: Short queue reduces waiting time for all items in the queue (Agility). Reduced waiting time minimizes spill-overs (Productivity). Reduced waiting time provides more testing time before the due date (Quality).
Resolve bottlenecks: Removing bottlenecks Improves flow throughout the system (Agility). Improved flow results in higher capacity utilization (Productivity). Absence of a bottleneck means no need to compete for getting beyond it in hurry (Quality).
For best results it helps to follow a step-by-step implementation. The suggested steps are,
Set up the board to clearly visualize the work:
By default a board normally contains just three states – To Do / In Progress / Done. But the total span of a team’s work typically contains multiple stages. Visualizing them on a board as different columns helps to clearly see the flow. Further breaking the stages in pairs of doing & waiting clearly separates WIP and Queues.
Put in place data discipline:
The team will take some time to ensure that the data in the tool is in sync the with ground reality. But it is important to achieve this discipline to get reliable data for measurement and analysis.
Modify board design to facilitate measurements:
Initial measurements on live data will reveal areas of high variability. The board design would be modified through setting up swim lanes and filters to reduce this variability.
Baseline the current agility / productivity / quality:
Before we can measure the improvements, the current level needs to be captured.
Agility would be measured as the elapsed time between given points in the flow. Agile tools like JIRA provide powerful reports for cycle times and cumulative flow.
When doing Scrum, the productivity and quality measures would be in place to baseline the current levels.
Keep measuring and improving:
After the successful completion of first 4 phases, the teams can start reaping the benefits. Areas of improvement and the extent of benefits achieved will vary from project to project. There is no out of the box solution; but there are available pointers to indicate possible areas of improvement. Continuous improvement needs to become an iterative activity, with a short feedback loop.
Scrum is the most widely used and powerful framework. Its power can be further enhanced by understanding and applying a few Kanban principles. The best place to start is within each sprint.
I saw a news item yesterday about freight train movement between Mumbai and Delhi. It has only one stop at Vadodara in the total distance of around 1400 Km. The track ahead is kept free to ensure “Sustained pace”. This reminded me of my childhood days spent in a railway town. The primary mode of travel for us was the trains, and I still remember the poor goods train waiting patiently in a loop line while a mail train thundered by.
Over all these years, both the throughput and velocity of freight trains have substantially increased. The freight train mentioned in the news is two KM long and carries substantially greater weight from origin to destination. It also moves in an “Expedite” mode in preference to other trains. The terms sustained pace and expedite that came to my mind shifted my attention to agile software development, and I started thinking whether the way we use “Velocity” is correct. Isn’t size delivered per sprint a measure of throughput rather than velocity? I looked up the definition of velocity and found that it is “The rate and direction of the change in the position of an object”. It is closer to speed than throughput.
That shifted my attention back to trains. A passenger train which stops at every station and an express train stopping at only the major stations may carry more or less same number of passengers (throughput), but they cover the same distance in substantially different times (velocity). A passenger train might attain, for a brief period, speed similar to an express train. But its average speed is much lower because of, not only the waiting time at the stations, but more so because of the frequent acceleration and deceleration involved.
This explains why there is so much importance given in agile for a team to take up only a few items at a time, and take up additional items only when those in hand are fully “Done”. Unlike the trains which follow physical laws, agile teams made up of humans have an additional challenge. Once our attention is diverted to something else, it takes time and effort to switch it back to what we were doing earlier. In addition the information we used might have also become stale in the meantime. So if the agile teams want to achieve high velocity and maintain it, they should be aware and manage the number of items being worked on at a time.
I also remembered that when I was waiting in a passenger train for an express / mail train to pass, sometimes the wait was quite short while at other times it was considerably longer. This was because of the dependency on the time at which the higher priority train would pass. And we had no information when that would happen. Agile encourages transparency. A perfectly flat transparent glass allows a viewer to see on the other side very clearly. Similarly, all those involved in any work should have the information, without filtering or distortion, when they need it. Agile processes and tools provide high degree of transparency, and it is for us to make sure that it remains so.
Another way to minimize the harmful effects of dependency is with enhanced and effective collaboration. When cross-functional team members work on the same item, speed and quality with which it gets completed is phenomenal. Hand-offs are the worst enemy of velocity.
In earlier days, there were single tracks between two stations. This resulted in only unidirectional movement at a time. The other train had to wait at the station. Presently with parallel tracks in both directions this is not an issue. Hence in agile we should think of velocity (a vector) and not just speed (a scalar). Rework moves in the opposite direction to the normal work and slows it down considerably.
There is a saying “Words make the world”. We should not mix throughput and velocity or use one in place of another. Commonly used words package lot of information and meaning with it. More importantly, the words also package the emotions. A mere mention of such a word starts the train of thoughts and images associated with it, and recreates the emotions involved as if they are being experienced now. Wrongly using the velocity when we actually mean throughput deprives us of the immense benefits mentioned above that can make our work simpler and life easier.
Recently I across a job description for the Scrum master role. It started with the mandatory sentence “Scrum master serves and protects the team”. But beyond that followed a long list of activities, mostly of administrative nature, which had virtually no relation to the serve and protect part. This made me start thinking. Here is how I would like rephrase the job description.
A Scrum master must be acutely aware:
• Aware of Agile, not just Scrum
• Aware of the power of agile tool that the team uses, both in terms of how it can help or harm; and
• Aware of the potential of his team members and inhibitions harbored by them
Why does he need to be holistically aware of agile and not just limited to Scrum?
Scrum is a good framework but it is just one way of doing agile. There are others, and those can further enrich the team’s capabilities and make their life easier.
There are agile principles which can guide him when in doubt. For example the one called “Simplicity” is so beautifully defined as “The art of maximizing the amount of work not done”, which can serve him in a vast range of situations.
Why is the agile tool so important?
Initially agile was tentatively tried out for simple cases, hence the manual information sharing and face to face interactions were good enough. But as it has matured over the years, now it is being confidently practiced for much more complex situation, for example bigger projects in offshore development mode.
In such situations using a good agile tool is a must. Otherwise there is an excessive overhead to keep everybody in sync.
A good tool also can capture lot of useful data through the transactions it handles, and provide rich reports based on the data provided it is reliable. This means all the relevant data is in the tool and not outside it.
Secondly, if the tool has to automatically capture the time related information, such information must enter the tool as soon as it happens. It takes discipline to do so, and the Scrum master must take care of it.
The tool provides benefit because it automates lot of manual work. But such automation has its cost and introduce certain degree of rigidity. The Scrum master must understand these aspects and guide all concerned, including the team, in a right direction.
Why do people matter?
People bring unique potential and valuable diversity. But this also introduces its own challenges.
One is the assumptions and beliefs held by the people, which sometimes can severely restrict or distort use of agile.
Secondly neither processes nor tools have any emotions, but people do. This requires very careful handling. The Scrum master should appreciate and accordingly serve and protect the team.
[Note: The term “serves and protects” can sometimes be confusing and open to multiple interpretations. If in doubt, look at a mother who doesn’t feel it below her dignity to do whatever it takes to look after her child’s interests. She doesn’t think twice when the child is threatened by an external or internal challenge and rushes to its rescue. And she leads by example. She truly personifies the role of a Scrum master.]
In short to be effective a Scrum master must grasp the essence of his role and love being one. Otherwise any amount of knowledge or training won’t help much. He should really understand agile in its totality, know the details of the tools used, and empathize with people he deals with both within and outside the team.
CPIE captures what a customer values most. It stands for Certainty / Productivity / Innovation / Elegance. The concept can also be extended to internal customers.
When agile manifesto was announced in Feb 2001, twelve supporting agile principles were also identified. Even after 13 years very few people know about these principles; even those who are using agile practices in their work.
These 12 principles can be broadly divided in 3 categories.
Customer: Satisfy Customer | Working Software | Deliver Frequently | Sustainable Development
People: Motivated Individuals | Work together | Self-organization | Face to face
Process: Welcome Change / Technical excellence / Inspect & Adapt / Simplicity
It would be interesting to see how these agile principles can help and guide us to achieve CPIE.
Certainty is a perception that customers form based on their interactions with us over a period of time. It is partly subjective and partly objective. To provide certainty, we must have the desire and will to keep our commitments. If we don’t have that, the customers will see it through our actions. But however well we plan, everything is not under our control. Things change, new situations emerge. “Welcome change” mindset helps us to see the new reality because we are not stuck to our existing assumptions and beliefs, and through “Inspect & Adapt” can quickly adjust to the new situation. “Deliver frequently” provides instant feedback about the changes in customer expectations. All this helps to make mid-course corrections to meet the current situations and customer expectations by the promised date.
Productivity is all about output upon input. Output is the value delivered to the customer. Input is the efforts we put in. “Simplicity” – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – helps us to get more done with less. “Satisfy customer” helps us to be always focused on the customer value. Similarly focus on “Working software” helps to avoid unnecessary activities that are not adding any value.
Innovation is required in two areas; technical and practices. Continuous attention to “Technical excellence” and good design fosters the culture of Innovation. “Motivated individuals” can quickly identify opportunities for practice innovation and when they “Work together” it leads to useable results.
Elegance is an elusive concept which can only be experienced. It has been variously described as neatness, precision, simplicity, tasteful design, dignified gracefulness, and restrained beauty. It requires continuous attention to quality which is possible only with “Sustained development”. To experience the elegance requires full use of multiple senses, which is enhanced with “Face to face” interactions. It is difficult to achieve elegance with command & control culture. It requires “Self-organization” to bring out the best from each team member.
Though we have looked at each element of CPIE separately for better understanding, they need to be approached holistically. Together they produce the kind of synergy that is impossible if attention is divided.
To summarize, understanding the agile principles and related practices is important to achieve CPIE. But even more important is an agile mind to understand and use the right principles / practices as may be required for a given situation.
Have you ever been on a group tour? Everything is planned to the last detail, and executed meticulously. Totally expected, no surprises.
I hesitate to go on such tours. I prefer family tours, where there is a lot more flexibility. You can choose when to get up, where to eat. May be cancel some planned activity and just relax walking around the neighbourhood.
All of us have an internal compass. It takes us in the right direction, at least metaphorically, if not literally. More we trust our compass, more will be the surprises.
As a child we all have gone on a treasure hunt, some of us still do. There is no map to take us to the treasure. Just a few pointers. Even those we don’t have all when we start. When we reach one milestone, we get the next clue. It has lot more adventure and fun.
Isn’t agile software development similar? We go to the end of one sprint, have the satisfaction of achieving “Done”, show to others what we have done and get feedback; our clues to the next milestone. We have our product vision and a broad roadmap. That is our compass. It will keep us in the right direction.
When we get comfortable with our internal compass and trust forces beyond us, an external compass called destiny comes into play. Instead of remaining passive puppets in the hands of destiny, we actively embrace it.
Columbus trusted his internal compass and took to uncharted seas to reach India. The destiny had other plans. Fortunately, Columbus did not have Google maps and the GPS. Otherwise US would have remained undiscovered to the rest of the world.
Till about a couple of years back, I used to visit my blog at random. But I realized that blogging helps me shape my ideas, insights and takeaways from different experiences better. So I resolved to add a new post every Monday and followed it religiously for last two years, even when I was on vacation. However, the regularity had somehow started to compromise the quality & originality of what I captured & shared. This led me to take a break for last 6-7 weeks and wait until there was a strong urge to share something really worthwhile. Today, I feel such an urge to share what follows.
There is a very popular Indian TV serial – Satyamev Jayate – which means truth will always prevail. In an episode a couple of weeks back, Justice Dharmadhikari was invited as one of the guests. He said that right from birth, label after label was attached to him, so much so that he now struggles to find his real self, hidden behind the labels. This comment led to the current chain of thought.
If we look at a typical resume, it mostly contains the labels. When and which family we were born in, where & what we studied, where we have worked so far and holding which positions and responsibilities, certifications collected and so on. It is useful but not really sufficient to know the person. When we want to start interacting with a person, or even when we are already interacting, what we really care for is to understand what drives him and what value he would add to our relationship. This information is missing so we have to make assumptions, put the person in pre-conceived boxes and project our experiences with other people in those boxes and extrapolate our conclusions. This is a time-consuming and error prone route. Won’t it be nice if the person can just make available such information directly to us? Let me give it a try.
I still distinctly remember the two terms in a book by J. Krishnamurti which I read in late seventies. These were “Transparently genuine” and “Choicelessly aware”; they had made a deep impression on me and ever since I have tried my best to put them in practice. Let me explain their relevance in present context.
Transparently genuine – Appear to others as we truly are. Normally, there are two sets of filters through which my reality reaches you and vice versa. I can clear the filter on my side by not pretending to be somebody other than who I really am. It makes me vulnerable but still it is really worth it. Unfortunately, I have no control over the filters you use to view me. But if we both decide to be transparently genuine, we would save so much of our time & efforts to figure out the person behind the mask and as a result make our relationship truly rich and really useful to each other.
Choicelessly aware – It helps to see the reality as it is; raw & authentic without any distortions. But it is very tough to do so because the moment we come across an unpleasant reality, our built-in defense mechanism springs into action and tries to protect us by creating a mist of a make-believe world. But this takes us farther away from reality till we are in for a shock. The main reason this happens is because we feel compelled to make a choice of what we do with the observed reality about how we should respond to it. If and when we learn to postpone this knee-jerk reaction and be aware of the reality without feeling any need to make an immediate choice, we are able to observe it very authentically. After the impulse to make a choice passes, we are able to take a much better decision. I have tried this over the years and it has really worked for me. When we interact with each other, you will rarely find me on the defensive. I am rather eager to grab the opportunity to learn something new, improve and grow in the process.
After having practiced these two concepts for many years, I recently came to the conclusion that rather than always thinking about “What is in it for me?” in every relationship, it is lot more rewarding to try to be a net producer, rather than a net consumer, of value in any interaction, big or small, one time or repetitive. And it invariably comes back; more we give, more we receive.
Just saw my watch and realized that it is time to see the last episode of Satyamev Jayate which will be aired in a few minutes. Be back soon…
I am now back. This last episode was about those people who went out of their way to help others, each in his own way. Watching their heroic efforts brought tears to my eyes. In comparison my value addition to my relationships seemed trivial, but at the same time it gave an assurance that I am on the right path.
Lastly, let me share what drives me in everything I do. For many years, I kept struggling to understand what really drives me. Then one day, I came across the online strength finder assessment by Gallup which is based on a huge research data of over a million persons. After around 30 minutes of answering different questions I got the report which identified my top 5 strengths out of 34 against which I was checked. The accompanying book told me that 4 out of the top 5 strengths were from the “Strategic” domain. When I looked up the meaning of “Strategic” in the book, I was startled to find that it had exactly zeroed on what I was searching for all these years. Here it is,
- People with great Strategic Thinking strengths are the ones who keep us all focused on what could be
- They are constantly absorbing and analyzing information and helping the team make better decisions
- People with strength in this domain continually stretch our thinking for the future
Since then I have consciously tried to prefer those interactions which enable me to use my strengths to the fullest while trying to add more and more value to our relationships. This is the essence of me and the cornerstone of all my actions and interactions. Hope this helps.
I grew up in a small railway town and our primary mode of travel outside was by train. As a small child, I enjoyed the illusion of movement when the train on the side track started moving, though our train was still very much stationary. This illusion persisted only as long as I was focused on the other train. However when I looked at the ground below, the reference changed and I was back to reality. With this new perspective, when I looked at the moving train I saw it moving and I was aware of our train being where it was. This was probably my first exposure to the theory of relativity 🙂
Recently after many years, this experience came back quite vividly to me when I was thinking of the years gone by and years ahead. Till I recalled this childhood experience, I had a feeling of rushing ahead in time, almost as if being driven by a force over which I had little or no control. But the moment I remembered the train illusion, suddenly another perspective came in view. I was very still in a thin slice of the time called “The present”, while observing and enjoying as new events and occurrences opened up in front of my eyes. It was like immense variety and never imagined beauty unfolding before my eyes. It was a totally different experience. I was fully alert & attentive, the feeling of helplessness had vanished and I felt completely at peace with myself.
Though the feeling at that moment was one of elation, due to it being a very different and totally new experience, another part of my mind was thinking that all experiences are not same, some are quite painful. But the very awareness of this contradiction also led to resolution of this conflict; as I realized that nature by itself is neutral and beautiful. It is only when we interact with it, the contradictions arise. How we handle these experiences is totally up to us; we have complete control over it if we choose to do so.
This was a great experience till I eventually got back, but somehow I was also changed forever. Really surprising how small memories from the distant past can give totally unexpected turn to one’s way of looking at the world and oneself.