It is quite common to make New Year resolutions and forget them soon after, as the New Year turns into the current year. I have also done it from time to time. However this year I want to try a different approach. Instead of resolutions, I am making commitments to myself. We can try to fool the whole world but we can never fool ourselves. Hence there is a better chance that I will keep these commitments 🙂
Main objective of making these commitments is to live life to the fullest by my values, while increasing contribution through my actions & interactions.
My first commitment to myself – I will be careful before making a promise to others; but once I make that promise, I will ensure keeping it.
My Second commitment to myself – I will firmly yet politely say “No” to the temptation of getting pulled in activities which neither interest me nor I have time or talent for. I will especially watch out for small requests which turn out to be a thin end of the wedge. I will use the space thus created for really contributing something worthwhile for which I have interest time and talent.
My third commitment to myself – I am basically an introvert and tend to limit myself to the known. So I will open out more to explore new ideas and experiences. However if something does not interest me even after trying it, I may not continue with it.
My fourth commitment to myself – I prefer bonding with others through shared work rather than through social interactions. Hence I will seek out and utilize more and more opportunities for short stints of meaningful work
My fifth commitment to myself – Whenever I notice something unusual, I will promptly share it with others who can do something about it, and follow it up with patience and perseverance. Every day I come across more and more cases where such sharing is able to bring about permanent changes for the better, where everyone concerned benefits.
And my last but not the least commitment to myself – I commit to keep all the above commitments, Amen.
From time to time, we read / hear quotes or sayings which sometimes are amusing and other times could be even boring. Unless we experience their real effect on us, they come and go without much impact on us. To illustrate let me share an incident that occurred a few days back.
In the stream of mails that we keep receiving I noticed one particularly because it irritated me. As all of us do, he had forwarded a long conversation thread of which so far I was not part of with just an ‘fyi’, which is a commonly used short form of “for your information”. I was in the middle of a busy day with lot of things yet to be completed for the day and I had to dig deeper in the mail thread, spending a few precious minutes to figure out what was the information he wanted me to have.
Later in the day when majority of the chores were done and behind me now, I could think of the incidence more peacefully. It suddenly hit me that I have been doing the same thing to others without thinking about the recipient, how much information he already possessed and what additional information I want to provide him with. There was a moment of guilt quickly followed by the need to change my practice. From that day, I am careful to consider whether just ‘fyi’ is adequate or I can help the other person by pointing out what additional information I am trying to share. I presume and hope that it is helping others. But in any case, I feel good that I am caring for others’ need and acting on it.
Whoever said “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” had a point which I realized only after experiencing it myself. Do you find it happens in your case too?
What we say, the words & language we use, shapes our thinking. It profoundly affects our assumptions and beliefs, and through them how we decide and act. If we wish to change ourselves for the better, the place to start is consciously & intentionally using a different language. Here are a few real life examples from my experience along with the general lessons I leant from them.
Every option has some pros & cons when we have to make a decision. Till a few years back, whenever I had to choose between different options, a thought would automatically come to my mind that I have to make a “compromise” which left me a little dissatisfied, whatever option I chose. One day I thought whether it is really a compromise? What is the basis on which I am taking a decision? Normally I was trying to get the best of either money, growth, knowledge, relationships or just happiness. In short, I was trying to “optimize” something. With this sudden realization, I decided to start using “optimize” in my thoughts as well as while speaking to others instead of using “compromise”. The result was that I felt less unhappy about the options I did not choose, but also the decisions I took turned out to be better.
Another example is more recent. I used to strongly feel the need to change something, either in my habits or behavior. Though I used to be convinced of the need but found it quite difficult to put it in practice. Then one day a few months backs, I noticed that the language I used was like “I like this; I don’t like this” or “I am like this or that”, which sustained and even reinforced what I was. How could I then expect to change myself so easily? For example, I was so proud of my punctuality that I would reach an event or a meeting on time or little before time, irrespective of whether anybody else had turned up or not. I was so attached to and blinded by my punctuality that I never thought of the consequences for me or others. The solution was to try a different language which transferred by current habits / behavior from the present to the past. So I started thinking & talking like “I used to be very proud of punctuality”. This helped free myself from the attachment and I had the possibility of thinking / behaving differently started opening up. Of course, when I was required for starting the event like if I had to conduct a training session, my presence by the scheduled time was essential whether or not anybody else turned up. But when I was only a participant, I could watch others’ timeliness or otherwise more carefully and apply a different strategy depending on the type of meeting, people involved and level of my involvement. Earlier, I used to consider punctuality as a rule to be observed irrespective of the circumstances. Just the change of language made this possible.
The last example is very recent, actually within last few days. Currently an external consultancy agency is coaching us at office in self-transformation. The course is very good, really an eye-opener. But I was little uncomfortable with a pair of terms “Breakdowns” & “breakthrough”. The course covers some nice techniques for converting breakdowns into breakthroughs. My problem was that whenever I heard the term breakdown it reminded me of a car breaking down & I felt that I am not a car being driven to my destiny but rather a driver driving the car of my internal & external resources & tools towards my destiny. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with my car except some wear & tear and occasional servicing required. However, it faced “roadblocks” from time to time and would get stuck. Thinking in terms of “roadblocks” rather than “breakdowns” helped me because depending on situation you could either by-pass it, slowly & carefully go over it or in a worst case try to break it. Another reason why “roadblock” makes more sense is because a “breakdown” is an event whereas a “roadblock” is a structure. In life it is the structures, hardened over time, which restrict our freedom and we need to work on them till either they become soft or completely broken down.
For me the takeaways from these examples were,
- A positive approach like “optimize” opens up new possibilities while a negative one like “compromise” locks us up in the same thought process
- Saying that we like or are so & so, creates the attachment which can be broken if we shift such statements to past tense
- If some terms make more sense to us and help us to achieve the objective, even if majority of others are using different terms, it is okay
Your views and inputs are valuable; please share.
There is a saying “Man proposes but God disposes”. All of us would have experienced it often. We plan something in every meticulous detail, but when the time comes to put the plan in action, the reality turns out to be different from what we anticipated; sometimes catching us unawares. Our success then depends on how well we are prepared to deal with the new reality.
Not that planning is unnecessary; it is very much required in terms of identifying the actions and resources needed to carry out those actions. It also helps to use our (and others’) past experience to assume the quantum of resources, sequence of actions and their dependencies. But the problem starts when we believe that the future will be same as the past because then we stop thinking about what could happen differently and whether we are prepared to deal with it.
So it seems logical that along with planning, preparing for the unexpected turn of events is also essential. But the next question is what and how do we prepare for? For one normal expected flow, there can be tens or even hundreds of permutations & combinations of what can go wrong. It is impossible even to think of, let alone prepare for all such eventualities in advance. Hence rather than a very rigorous approach, we need to develop an empirical mindset where we are watchful for any signs of deviations building up rather than going with a blind faith that everything will work out as per plan.
The first step is to accept and practice an open mind that our assumptions & beliefs can be wrong and should be subject to revision. For some of us, this can be quite challenging as it threatens our self-image, but getting over this hurdle can be quite liberating. Once we are able to open up our mind to the reality, the signals of change which were always there will start becoming more & more visible to us. As we are now open to accepting change, it will be easier for us to adapt to the new situations. This process of opening up the mind to new reality can be accelerated, if it is done in a group or team where members support & help each other.
The preparation would take place at two levels. For the specific plan under consideration the new way of looking at it would immediately start showing some of the parts we need to start preparing right away. But the major change, though relatively at a slower pace, would start at a more generic level and would have a long lasting multiplier effect. We would start examining how we take decisions and what skills & competencies need to be built-up to be able to take quick & effective actions. We would start taking a fresh look at our relationships as well as how we prioritize our attention. In short, it will start a steady process of evaluating ourselves dispassionately and putting desired changes in place.
At a different level, how we define and the way we measure our successes & failures would change. Any deviations from the plan would no more be automatically treated as failures; they would be looked upon as opportunities of improvement. This would result in a more positive approach to life and greater enjoyment from whatever we do.
To summarize, planning is important but preparing for changes in perceived reality is even more important. Once we start in that direction, the outcome can be quite beneficial & enjoyable. Your views and inputs are valuable; please share.
Last week I was having a chat with couple of colleagues at work where we were discussing about effectiveness of self-improvement programs. The net outcome of our discussion was it is generally entertaining to attend them and we feel quite enthusiastic but soon the impact is lost once we get back to our daily routine.
Later when I was thinking about this in the overall perspective of self-improvement, I could recall a few broad approaches that I encountered in my life and what is ultimately working for me now. I also recalled the famous speech Steve Jobs had delivered in June 2005 at the Stanford University, which had some pointers. I would like to share my experiences with a hope that I will hear from you what works for you.
In early childhood I heard a lot about duty, sacrifice & self-denial as a way to self-improvement. Avoid this and avoid that so that you will become virtuous and pure. Probably most of it comes from Indian culture and our religious background. Though I could not put it in so many words, it did not make sense to shun life’s experiences and its beauty. I somehow was not convinced and gave up after a few attempts.
As I grew older, I was exposed to another approach. I saw lot of persons attending discourses, having a Guru, reading scriptures, attending self-improvement programs and the rest with very little visible improvement in their behavior. Almost all of these had an external focus and a driving agent. Whatever change occurred, was due to their obedience and unquestioning acceptance of what somebody else said. Sometimes it seemed to make a positive difference, mostly not. This again, didn’t make much sense to me.
Then in late seventies I read some books by J. Krishnamurti and was impressed by his non-conformist attitude. He refused to be anybody’s Guru. Dr. Annie Besant and others from Theosophical Society formed a world-wide organization called the Order of the Star in the East and the young Krishnamurti was made its head. After some time, Krishnamurti who was uncomfortable being somebody else’s Guru, renounced the role that he was expected to play and dissolved the Order with its huge following. Then he travelled throughout the world and talked of the things that concern all of us in our everyday lives. I read his books and attended one of his live talks at Mumbai. His teachings put you in the driving seat. You are expected to take charge of your life. The essence of his teachings is austerity or as he calls it “be transperantly genuine”.
In my 6th Dec 2010 blog, I had posed a question “Who am I? i or I?” and put forth a hypothesis that we have two levels of identification. First represented by “i” is inward looking, bound to our assumptions & beliefs, our emotions and our insecurities. It is always on the defensive and trying to protect itself. The other is represented by “I”, which is connected to others, open and more confident and able to draw on immense potential of connectedness. As we shift our attention from “i” to “I”, it is able to take charge, look at “i” with loving care and guide it in the right direction. All actions are taken by “i”, “I” only provides the inner voice and direction. As we depend more & more on its guidance, our dependence on external anchors starts diminishing. This is not just self-improvement but actually self-transformation. In last few years, I have come to depend more and more on this approach though I still find myself far behind my wife who is intuitively so well connected to those she interacts with.
Going back to Steve Job’s speech, all the three stories he narrated from his life had this common thread. He relied on what he loved most in life to guide him and took each day as if it was the last. He took his own decisions. I think all these helped him get out of his “i” and let “I” take charge of his life.
As I said above, I have shared these with the hope of knowing how you see it and which road to self-improvement works for you.
In the later part of last century there was a lot of hype about “Management by …”. The three prominent ones were,
- Management by objectives
- Management by exception
- Management by walking around
The basic principle behind Management by Objectives (MBO) is for employees to have a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities expected of them. They can then understand how their activities relate to the achievement of the organization. MBO also places importance on fulfilling the personal goals of each employee. But as Peter Drucker said “It’s just another tool. It is not a great cure for management efficiency”. As per him, managers should avoid the “activity trap”, getting so involved in their day to day work that they forget the main goal or objective of their work. MBO also introduced the concept of SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-related).
As per definition, Management by Exception is a “policy by which management devotes it’s time to investigating only those situations in which actual results differ significantly from planned results. The idea is that management should spend its valuable time concentrating on the more important items”. Focus on exceptions helps to get an early warning signal and identify the root cause to eliminate such occurrences in future.
Managing by walking around was popularized by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in the early 1980s because it was felt that managers were becoming isolated from their subordinates. As per W. Edwards Deming, “If you wait for people to come to you, you’ll only get small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people don’t realize they have one in the first place.”
It is important to understand the benefits of each tool and use the right one for a right situation. To me the importance of MBO is focus on the purpose or objective of whatever we do, which should not get lost as we get bogged down by the pressures of carrying out the day to day activities. Focus on exceptions helps to pick out improvement opportunities provided by things which are not going as they should. Walking around helps to get in touch with the ground realities, build rapport with people and catch the problems even before they become apparent to the persons concerned.
Each of us tends to stick to one of the management approaches that suits us or we are comfortable with. It is good to expose ourselves to other approaches as well so that we can see the benefits first hand and choose to use them when appropriate. If each manager in an organization goes through this and enriches his tool-kit, it will help the organization to reach a higher level of excellence.
I would really appreciate any thoughts / experiences from you that either support or challenge what is said above.
Last year on Dec 31, I had shared here my New Year resolution for 2010. The main theme of the resolution was to be “completely SELFISH”. What was meant by selfishness was that we have every right to take care of our interests. As I had said “Who better than ourselves to take care of our interests; everybody else is busy (whether they admit it or not) taking care of their interests. I have a right as well as responsibility to look after my interests”. There was an interesting paradox “When we are forced or force ourselves to be selfless, we end up being selfish in a narrow sense and feel guilty about it. Whereas, if we accept that it is okay to be selfish, have the right & responsibility to look after our interests, the guilt is gone. After the superficial needs are met we tend to move towards our deeper needs. Since we are all connected, we automatically & willingly do things which involve and help others. In the process, we end up doing what was the intention in the first place of being selfless and at the same time feeling good about it.”
I sincerely practiced it through the year and it was a great experience which was captured in my recent post of 6th Dec “Who am I? i or I?”. Basically, what we are is what we identify with. Our identification is influenced by our early childhood experiences, our likes & dislikes as well as our value system. But we can also consciously expand our identification with the systems we participate in or interact with. Such identification helps us to contribute wholeheartedly to what is good for these systems. The systems in turn start paying back to us with what is good for us.
Now for the New Year 2011, I want to take a step further. I want to work to increase the energy flow in the systems I identify with. Every system has many bottlenecks. They hinder the smooth flow of energy within the system. This is beautifully captured by Dr. Eli Goldratt in his “Theory of constraints”. The bottlenecks are different kinds, physical financial psychological as well as cultural. They determine the overall output of the system. As we remove the existing bottlenecks, new ones start showing up. It is an ongoing process. Progressively, the system starts moving more freely with greater output.
Another important side effect of the bottlenecks is clogging in the system which starts producing toxins and poisoning the system. These toxins create the negativity and seriously affect the health of the system. Removal of bottlenecks leads to free flow of energy, which in turn clears away the accumulated toxins leading to a more healthy system. I would therefore like to focus on identifying and removing the bottlenecks and the resultant toxins in the systems I participate in or interact with and would like to share my experience here from time to time as we move together through 2011.
As I proceed on this journey, I expect to find many more opportunities to do what I plan to do but may become limited by resources. The obvious resources that come to mind are time, money and attention. Not so obvious ones are my capabilities and the level of risks I can afford to take. I hope to learn on the way how to prioritize these scarce resources. But I am certainly looking forward to an exciting and eventful journey.
Sounds philosophical? Not really. The subject of this blog post was triggered by a discussion with a colleague at work. He said that biggest problem the organizations face today is when people start thinking only in terms of ‘I’. It led me to wonder why ‘I’ is used as a capital letter, when you / he /she start with a small letter. Does it indicate an inflated ego? Could there be another possibility? There were some interesting thoughts as result, which I want to share.
Basically, what we are is what we identify with. In early childhood, we first identify with ourselves, the ‘i’. Then as we get comfortable with surroundings we start opening out. As we grow, whenever we feel threatened by the environment, we feel the need to protect ourselves and shrink more & more in our identification. On the other hand, whatever or whomever we feel comfortable with, we start identifying with whether it is family, friends or colleagues at the work place.
We have our likes and dislikes. Those who share our likes, we feel safe with them. What we dislike, we are uncomfortable with and we can’t identify with it. Thus our scope of identification and in turn or identity starts taking a shape and tends to get colored & hardened over time. It acts as a filter and every input comes to us through that filter.
We have our value system; what we consider right and wrong. That again shapes our identity, whether it is related to cast & community or religion or country. Whatever we consider as right, it is “US”; rest outside is “They”. Over time, it creates auto responses and logic or reason is suspended in such cases. Whether it is war between nations, terrorism arising out of religious beliefs or honor killings based on outdated cast divides is a result of such deep-seated responses.
But do we have to be a victim of this process? Not necessarily. We can choose to be more open to the diversity, choose to see others’ point of view even if it is currently not matching with our own. We can choose to modify our assumptions & beliefs based on what we learn through our intentional exposure to new ideas and new experiences. This approach of openness slowly starts softening the boundaries and making them less colored. The ‘i’ starts moving towards ‘I’. This process is both enjoyable and exhilarating. it comes about not by reading books or attending spiritual discourses but by actually living life moment to moment with an open mind. It is highly practical and not just philosophical. So let’s move from ‘i’ to ‘I’ and see what great change it brings about in us and others we interact with.
Any thoughts & experiences from you would be most welcome.
We just finished joy of giving week. All of us would have given something or the other – mostly material things – as expected during this week. But I recall reading an excellent book “Go giver” by Bob Burg & John David Mann. We have all heard the term “Go-getter” to describe the kind of dynamic, result oriented person who goes out of his way to get what he wants. Hence when I came across this book, I was amused and curious to know more. As I started browsing the pages, it caught my interest. It had some very different things to say about business success compared to what we are brought up to believe. The book is written as a story of Joe, a successful and ambitious sales manager. Though a go-getter, in spite of his best efforts he gets in a situation where he is unable to meet his quarterly targets. He is referred by a friend to the “old man”, a very successful businessman. What follows is an interesting narrative of how Joe meets one highly successful person per day for next five days and learns the five secrets. Pinder, the “Old man” insists that Joe must practice same day the secret he learnt that day; otherwise Joe need not come back to him the next day. It is a fascinating story of a man transformed from a “go-getter” to a “go-giver”.
Here are the five secrets. Though they are given as secrets for business success, they are equally applicable for individual success. All of us are connected to each other at a deeper level and our interactions result in unexpected and sometimes mysterious ways.
The First Law: Law of value
Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.
The Second law: Law of compensation
Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.
The Third law: Law of influence
Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first.
The Fourth law: Law of authenticity
The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.
The Fifth law: Law of receptivity
The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving.
Want to know more? You can read the book. I am sure you will enjoy it. To benefit from these laws, thinking about them is not enough. You need to start practicing them right away. If these laws work for you do let me know. To the extent I have been able to put them in practice; they have worked wonders for me.
In the previous post we had seen how the coexistence of the “Production” and “Creative” systems in an organization is important for excellence. ‘First break all the rules’, the book that I am currently rereading, vividly brings out the difference between skills knowledge and talent. I find that this understanding is important to see which belong to which system and a right approach for a manager to take.
“Skill: Skills are the how-to’s of a role. They are the capabilities that can be transferred from one person to another. The best way to teach a skill is to break down the total performance into steps, which the person reassembles. And, naturally, the best way to learn a skill is to practice.
Knowledge: Your knowledge is simply what you are aware of. There are two kinds of knowledge; factual and experiential. Factual knowledge can and should be taught. Experiential knowledge is less tangible and much harder to teach. You must stop and look back on past experiences and make sense out of them. Through such reflection you start seeing the patterns and connections. Some of these understandings are practical, some conceptual.
Talent: Talents are a different phenomenon altogether. They are the recurring patterns of thought feelings or behavior. There are three kinds of talents; striving talents, thinking talents and relating talents. They represent why part, how part and who part of the person respectively. Within each of these three categories, each person will have his unique combination of talents. No matter how much you yearn to be different, your combination of talents and the recurring behaviors it creates will remain stable, familiar to you and others throughout your life.”
The skills and factual knowledge are the domain of “Production” systems, whereas the experiential knowledge are part of “Creative systems in an organization. They have to smoothly and transparently coexist because both of these are related to every individual. The former can and should be managed at the org level whereas the later needs to be handled by each manager with one individual at a time because every person has unique combination of talents and experience and he needs to be handled separately.
The book further makes the distinction between the two in terms of their applicability.
“The power of skills and knowledge is that they are transferable from one person to another. Their limitation is that they are often situation specific – faced with an unanticipated scenario, they lose much of their power. In contrast, the power of talents is that they are transferable from situation to situation. Given the right stimulus, it fires spontaneously. The limitation of talent, of course, is that it is very hard to transfer from one person to another. You cannot teach talent, you can only select for talent.”
Every organization has some org level agency like a human resources department and they are most suited to take care of transferring the skills and factual knowledge to the employees. This can be done by classroom teaching as well as providing self-learning material. The manager needs to take care that it is put in practice. As regards the experiential knowledge and best fit between talents and work, it is primary responsibility of the manager; HR department can help by providing mentoring to the managers on how best to do it. As above, the manager’s manager needs to ensure that the manager puts it into practice.