Thursday, September 27, 2007

i-TFTD #62

i-TFTD #62

1. If you want *others* to be happy, practice compassion. If *you* want to be happy, practice compassion.
-The Dalai Lama

2. When most are asked to quote their "I AM's" usually they come up with such things as: I am a father, a male, an engineer, six-foot one, 160 pounds; or, a mother, a wife, an architect, and so on. They have limited themselves to exactly what they are. Where are the men and women of today who will shout: I AM GREAT... I AM A LEADER?

-Thomas D. Willhite

3. Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.
-Winston Churchill

Trust The Dalai Lama to encapsulate a deep message of inner peace in such simple words.

We often take on the roles assigned by society too rigidly and with a narrow definition. This process suppresses the inner "us", a combination of child-curious-helpful-brilliant personality wanting to do great stuff.

Being enthusiastic in desirable circumstances is easy, what counts is being enthusiastic when things are not going our way. Great achievements come from cultivating enthusiasm as a habit.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

i-TFTD #61: The Little Hut

i-TFTD #61: The Little Hut

The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him. Every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect himself from the elements, and to store his few possessions.

But then one day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky.

The worst had happened -- everything was lost. He was stunned with grief and anger. "God, how could you do this to me?" he cried.

Early the next day, however, he was woken by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to rescue him.

"How did you know I was here?" asked the weary man of his rescuers.

"We saw your smoke signal," they replied.

It's easy to get discouraged sometimes when things appear to be going badly. We all face some days when we feel that our huts are burning. For all the negative things we have to say to ourselves, Life has a positive answer for it. The next time your little hut seems to be burning to the ground, remember it just may be a smoke signal that summons Grace.

This illustrates the famous Indian proverb, "Everything is for the better" ("ellaam nanmaikke" in Tamil; would love to hear other language versions from you). The trouble is, when something happens, we cannot see the hidden blessing or the fact that things could have been worse. It is only later, with the benefit of hindsight that we are able to view the same event in a new perspective. One learning could therefore be to always believe in a better future and quickly move out of a moan-groan mode.

Anyone who has struggled through a crisis phase in a project or personal life would relate to this. Afterwards when we look back we feel it was an interesting challenge and that it taught us a lot.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

i-TFTD #60

i-TFTD #60

#60-1. "Dreams"
Hold on to your dreams
   for if dreams die
life is a broken winged bird
   that cannot fly.
-Langston Hughes

#60-2. The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.
-Bishop W C Magee

#60-3. Integrity is doing what you say. Sincerity is meaning what you say.
-Bradley Havens

Maturity and growing up usually extracts the price of training ourselves to not indulge in dreaming. But all great ideas, whether product invention or business innovation, have started with someone's vision or dream.

Another thing we learn is to avoid mistakes but when taken to an extreme it becomes a big career-block called risk avoidance. Then we have to re-learn it under the name of ability to take risks. Many business leaders including Bill Gates have advised organizations to create a culture that encourages making mistakes -- not the same ones, though!

Meaning what you say requires a decision and courage, but some lack the ability to say what they mean! It is not merely a matter of having an adequate vocabulary but the constant desire to improve one's ability to communicate. People in positions of authority are able to cover up this inability by hurling phrases on their listeners such as, "Don't go by the words I use" and "Try to understand my intent, don't criticize my language!"

Friday, September 14, 2007

i-TFTD #59

i-TFTD #59

#59-1. Never tell a young person that anything cannot be done. God may have been waiting centuries for someone ignorant enough of the impossible to do that very thing.

-John Andrew Holmes

#59-2. There is no victory at bargain basement prices.
-Dwight David Eisenhower

#59-3. It's not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are you busy about?
-Henry David Thoreau

When we wish to generate new ideas, knowledge of the relevant facts is useful up to a point. More important is to take a fresh perspective that outsiders or novices are easily able to do.

Others' success sometimes looks like a lucky break but history teaches us that there always is a lot of sweat and sacrifice behind the glamorous stories. Funnily, many creative breakthroughs have been achieved by those who looked for a shortcut or easier approach but then such individuals used that desire to persist in finding and developing their ideas.

"Being busy" is a modern disease. I dislike saying, "I am busy" to anyone when they ask for my time. In my view, that statement simply translates into, "I attach higher priority to certain other things than to whatever you are requesting." Which is fine as it goes, but it is good to be clear about it rather than giving an impression that I want to give you time but cannot. Many people confuse activity with action.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

i-TFTD #58

i-TFTD #58

#58-1. If you are doing your best, you will not have time to worry about failure.
-Robert Hillyer

#58-2. It's not good enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what's required.
-Winston Churchill

#58-3. It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly.
-Mabel Newcombe

The first quote shows how we can reduce wasting time by focusing on doing our best. We do not really know the best we are capable of, new circumstances might bring out hidden talents and greater capabilities than what we thought we had.

The second reminds us that we might have to push ourselves beyond our known-current-best to achieve a particular goal in a given situation. The history of humankind tells us that anyone who did this either achieved the seemingly impossible or achieved many other greatly useful things on the way.

Periodically taking stock of the destination and the path instead of blindly running faster is recommended by the third quote. It is applicable to life in general, to problem-solving or troubleshooting situations and to our careers, an area of current interest for me.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

i-TFTD #57: Focus on Problem versus Solution

i-TFTD #57: Focus on Problem versus Solution

We often find ourselves stuck with trying to solve a problem situation. The following two anecdotes are given as examples of focusing on the solution versus focusing on the problem. The first story is a popular joke and gets quoted as an example of creative thinking. The second one is also interesting.

Difference between Focusing on Problems and Focusing on Solutions

Case 1: When NASA began the launch of astronauts into space, they found out that the pens wouldn't work at zero gravity (ink won't flow down to the writing surface). To solve this problem, it took them one decade and $12 million. They developed a pen that worked at zero gravity, upside down, underwater, in practically any surface including crystal and in a temperature range from below freezing to over 300 degrees C.

And what did the Russians do? They used a pencil.

Case 2: One of the most memorable case studies on Japanese management was the case of the empty soapbox, which happened in one of Japan's biggest cosmetics companies. The company received a complaint that a consumer had bought a soapbox that was empty. Immediately the authorities isolated the problem to the assembly line, which transported all the packaged boxes of soap to the delivery department. For some reason, one soapbox went through the assembly line empty. Management asked its engineers to solve the problem.

Post-haste, the engineers worked hard to devise an X-ray machine with high-resolution monitors manned by two people to watch all the soapboxes that passed through the line to make sure they were not empty. No doubt, they worked hard and they worked fast but they spent a whoopee amount to do so.

But when a rank-and-file employee in a small company was posed the same problem, he did not get into complications of X-rays etc., but

instead came out with another solution. He bought a strong industrial electric fan and pointed it at the assembly line. He switched the fan on, and as each soapbox passed the fan, it simply blew the empty boxes out of the line.

It is a good habit to ask before deciding on a solution if we have identified the end objective and if that is being met.

I often encounter this situation: I am asked to review something, I say, "Maybe we could look at doing it this way to avoid such-and-such problem." The response I get is, "I proposed that way because I did not know such-and-such." And sometimes the defensiveness is more aggressive of the form, "Why cannot we stick with that way?" The effort should be on evaluating whether a better solution has been found in terms of the objective.

In specific terms, the following questions are more important: (i) Whether such-and-such problem is really a problem (ii) How likely is it to occur (iii) Whether this way will reduce it compared to that way (iv) Is there a third better way to prevent its occurrence.

Why something was proposed and something else was not proposed in the first instance is not relevant to the end objective. At best it can be useful to analyze as a post-facto appraisal.

Monday, September 10, 2007

i-TFTD #56: Degrees of Positive Thinking

i-TFTD #56: Degrees of Positive Thinking

A man was washing his car. His neighbour asked, "New car?" The man replied, "Yes, my brother gave it to me as a gift."

The neighbour said, "Wow! I wish I had a car like that."

The man suggested, "You should wish to have a brother like that."

The neighbour's wife, who was overhearing all this, remarked, "I wish I was a brother like that!"

I believe all three are examples of positive thinking in increasing degrees. To wish, to aspire for something is good. Giving is a joy that is not as easily available as one might think. I have experienced cases when I wished to help someone but things just didn't work out. Then a different kind of situation with a different person arises and I have many excuses not to provide help! I am trying to make myself more open to spotting opportunities to be of help.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

i-TFTD #55

i-TFTD #55

#55-1. The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what we want most for what we want at the moment.

#55-2. At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.

-Albert Schweitzer

#55-3. Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.
-Mother Teresa

The first one reminds us of a capability called Delayed Gratification, the first attribute of Emotional Intelligence.

The second is one type of the attitude of gratitude mentioned earlier in i-TFTD #30: Bless You My Friends. Often we can never repay acts of kindness in the same way to the same people who helped us. My personal experience has led to the strong belief that opportunities to "repay" arise in different ways with different people but we must remember to carry on the virtuous cycle.

We sometimes act as though there is a limited quantity of appreciation we have in our safebox that has to be carefully dispensed. The third is such a simple reminder from a simple and great person to loosen our purse strings at least as far as words go.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

i-TFTD #54

i-TFTD #54

Slightly different tone of thought provokers today... Like many others, a second or third reading later might reveal multiple interpretations.

1. I'm made of rubber, you're made of glue,
everything you say bounces off me and sticks to you.

2. You must get good at one of two things - planting in the spring or begging in the fall.
-Jim Rohn

3. Ninety percent of everything is crap.
-Theodore Sturgeon

The first quote sounds like the prattle of a primary school kid but it can be employed as a way to deal with what we hear. It can also be seen as a truth about what we say to others, whether positive or negative.

The third sounds like a wisecrack but it again is a useful thing to remember especially in today's hyper-competitive environment when everyone is trying to cope with new concepts, gadgets, information...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

i-TFTD #53: How Satisfied Are Your Customers?

i-TFTD #53: How Satisfied Are Your Customers?

A little boy went into a drug store, reached for a soda carton and pulled it over to the telephone. He climbed onto the carton so that he could reach the buttons on the phone, and proceeded to punch in seven digits. The store owner observed and listened to the conversation:

The boy asked, "Lady, can you give me the job of cutting your lawn? The woman replied, "I already have someone to cut my lawn."

"Lady, I will cut your lawn for half the price of the person who cuts your lawn now," replied the boy. The woman responded that she was very satisfied with the person who was presently cutting her lawn.

The little boy found more perseverance and offered, "Lady, I'll even sweep your curb and your sidewalk, so on Sunday you will have the prettiest lawn in all of North Palm beach, Florida."

Again the woman answered in the negative. With a smile on his face, the little boy replaced the receiver.

The store owner, who was listening to all this, walked over to the boy and said, "Son, I like your attitude. I like your positive spirit and would like to offer you a job."

The little boy replied, "No, thanks, I was just checking my performance on the job I already have. I'm the one who is working for that lady I was talking to!"

Other than the message on verifying customer satisfaction, this story teaches us:
-Lateral thinking on the boy's part -- he inverted the concept of holding on to a customer by actually trying to tempt her to change, but with low risk as there was no real danger

-Curiosity and helpful nature of the shopkeeper helped him learn a great lesson from a small boy
-Clarity of the lady in valuing her trusted service provider rather than shopping around for a cheaper option

Monday, September 3, 2007

i-TFTD #52: The New Gabbar Singh?

When we were young kids growing up in America, we were told to eat our vegetables at dinner and not to leave them. Mothers said, "Think of the starving children in India and finish the dinner."

And now I tell my children: "Finish your maths homework. Think of the children in India who would make you starve, if you don't."

-Thomas Friedman in "The World Is Flat"
Gabbar Singh is the iconic dacoit villain of the blockbuster Bollywood movie, "Sholay". His dialogues in the movie were memorized by everyone. One of them had to do with what mothers in nearby villages told their kids in order to make them finish dinner and go to bed, "… nahin to Gabbar Singh aa jaayega!"