Tuesday, March 31, 2009

i-TFTD #195: What Are We?

i-TFTD #195: What Are We?

What Is He?

By D.H. Lawrence

What is he?

-A man, of course.

Yes, but what does he do?

-He lives and is a man.

Oh quite! but he must work. He must have a job of some sort.


Because obviously he's not one of the leisured classes.

-I don't know. He has lots of leisure. And he makes quite beautiful chairs.

There you are then! He's a cabinet maker.

-No no!

Anyhow a carpenter and joiner.

-Not at all.

But you said so.

-What did I say?

That he made chairs, and was a joiner and carpenter.

-I said he made chairs, but I did not say he was a carpenter.

All right then, he's just an amateur.

-Perhaps! Would you say a thrush was a professional flautist, or just an amateur?

I'd say it was just a bird.

-And I say he is just a man.

All right! You always did quibble.


Our ability to quickly identify by labeling and compartmentalizing everything can be a barrier to new ideas. We tend to assign a simple category to things, situations and people. Edward de Bono, the worlds leading teacher of thinking, in his recent book, "Why So Stupid: How the Human Race Has Never Really Learned to Think", says that our recognition method of thinking is inadequate in many situations. He blames this on the 'Gang of Three', his name for the most influential originators of Western philosophySocrates, Plato and Aristotle.

I was lucky to develop some kind of an aversion to simplistic categorization as a child. This was mainly due to the (misguided) queries on my language or place of origin. Like:

-Your name indicates you are a Tamilian

-Oh, you speak Telugu, you are from Andhra

-You are a South Indian in Mumbai so you cannot read Marathi, or, You are a Mumbaikar so you must be fluent in Marathi

-Your Hindi is good so you cannot be from Mumbai or a South Indian!

Some of you may think such notions are uncommon in todays age of inter-racial families. Check if some of the below sound familiar.

-She is technically competent, she cannot be a good manager

-He is a fresh graduate, he cannot contribute to solving this problem

-I want to be a software expert so I need not develop my communication and interpersonal skills

-This person sounds genuine but one should never believe a salesperson.

Our brains are hasty pattern matching and labeling machines, we are all classification freaks. I feel better now!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

i-TFTD #194: More Learning from the Dictionary

i-TFTD #194: More Learning from the Dictionary

quidnunc (KWID-nungk)
noun: A nosy or gossipy person. Etymology: From Latin quid nunc (what now), implying someone constantly asking "What's new?"

svengali (sven-GAH-lee)
noun: A person who manipulates and exercises excessive control over another for sinister purposes

bunbury (BUN-buh-ree)
noun: An imaginary person whose name is used as an excuse to some purpose, especially to visit a place
verb intr.: To use the name of a fictitious person as an excuse.


This dictionary-sourced theme has been popular, as seen by the responses received to the past i-TFTDs on this theme (available here and here, also online here and here).

Sad but true: quidnuncs, svengalis and bunburying are not as infrequently observed in the workplace as we would like to believe. Unlike the original fictional character who invented it in Mark Twain’s story, in the modern world, bunburying is a popular tactic when we miss an appointment—excuse for not visiting a place!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

i-TFTD #193: Tips to Win Any Argument

i-TFTD #193: Tips to Win Any Argument

How to argue effectively
By Dave Barry (and not by Stuart J. Williams, Attorney at Law)

I argue very well. Ask any of my remaining friends. I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this and steer clear of me at parties. Often, as a sign of their great respect, they don't even invite me. You too can win arguments. Simply follow these rules:

Drink liquor: Suppose you are at a party and some hotshot intellectual is expounding on the economy of Peru, a subject you know nothing about. If you're drinking some health-fanatic drink like grapefruit juice, you'll hang back, afraid to display your ignorance, while the hotshot enthralls your date. But if you drink several large martinis, you'll discover you have STRONG VIEWS about the Peruvian economy. You'll be a WEALTH of information. You'll argue forcefully, offering searing insights and possibly upsetting furniture. People will be impressed. Some may leave the room.

Make things up: Suppose, in the Peruvian economy argument, you are trying to prove that Peruvians are underpaid, a position you base solely on the fact that YOU are underpaid, and you'll be damned if you're going to let a bunch of Peruvians be better off. DON'T say: "I think Peruvians are underpaid." Say instead: "The average Peruvian's salary in 1981 dollars adjusted for the revised tax base is $1,452.81 per annum, which is $836.07 before the mean gross poverty level."

NOTE: Always make up exact figures. If an opponent asks you where you got your information, make THAT up too. Say: "This information comes from Dr. Hovel T. Moon's study for the Buford Commission published on May 9, 1982. Didn't you read it?" Say this in the same tone of voice you would use to say, "You left your soiled underwear in my bathroom."

Use meaningless but weighty-sounding words and phrases: Memorize this list:
-Let me put it this way         -In terms of            -Vis-à-vis
-Per se                         -As it were             -Qua
-Ipso facto                     -Ergo                   -So to speak

You should also memorize some Latin abbreviations such as "Q.E.D.", "e.g.", and "i.e." These are all short for "I speak Latin, and you don't." Here's how to use these words and phrases.

Suppose you want to say, "Peruvians would like to order appetizers more often, but they don't have enough money." You never win arguments talking like that. But you WILL win if you say, "Let me put it this way. In terms of appetizers vis-a-vis Peruvians qua Peruvians, they would like to order them more often, so to speak, but they do not have enough money per se, as it were. Ergo, ipso facto, case closed. Q.E.D."

Only a fool would challenge that statement.

Use snappy and irrelevant comebacks: You need an arsenal of all-purpose irrelevant phrases to fire back at your opponents when they make valid points. The best are:

-You're begging the question.
-You're being defensive.
-Don't compare apples to oranges.
-What are your parameters?

This last one is especially valuable. Nobody (other than engineers and policy wonks) has the vaguest idea what "parameters" means. Don't forget the classic: YOU'RE SO LINEAR.

Here's how to use your comebacks:

You say:                As Abraham Lincoln said in 1873...
Your opponent says:     Lincoln died in 1865.
You say:                You're begging the question.

You say:                Liberians, like most Asians...
Your opponent says:     Liberia is in Africa.
You say:                You're being defensive.

You say:                Since the discovery of the incandescent light bulb...
Your opponent says:     The light bulb is an invention.
You say:                Well DUH!

Compare your opponent to Adolf Hitler: This is your heavy artillery, for when your opponent is obviously right and you are spectacularly wrong. Bring Hitler up subtly. Say, "That sounds suspiciously like something Adolf Hitler might say," or "You certainly do remind me of Adolf Hitler."

So that's it. You now know how to out-argue anybody. Do not try to pull any of this on people who generally carry weapons.


Most of Dave Barrys articles and books are hilarious. In a similar category of deadly humour masking some biting observations is a recent book by Scott Adams (yes, the Dilbert guy) called, "Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!" Any time I feel like cheering myself up or need to take my mind off something, I just pick up that book and before reading 5-6 pages, I would have uncontrollably laughed out aloud. Note that this book is liberally sprinkled with profanity and topics unsuitable for children.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

i-TFTD #192

i-TFTD #192

#192-1. We do not place our mistakes on our head, the weight may crush us; instead we place them under our feet and use them as a platform to view our horizon.


#192-2. Failure is success if we learn from it.

-Malcolm Forbes, publisher (1919–1990)

#192-3. It is one thing to show a man that he is in error, and another to put him in possession of the truth.

-John Locke, philosopher (1632-1704)


Everybody knows that mistakes are inevitable and that a mistake is an opportunity for course-correction but this knowledge should reflect in steadily reducing the time we spend in:

- justifying why we made an error

-trying to pin blame on others or circumstances

-analysis prior to beginning the next action

Techniques to identify the real cause of any problem (or mistake) have been popularized by the various quality methodologies but it often degenerates into giving the process a label (root cause analysis or RCA), having a template document and filling it. The purpose of RCA is to identify and implement action steps to prevent future recurrence of the problem or mistake.

Lest we forget the human angle, there are useful and not-so-useful (ego-driven) ways to point out mistakes; the best approach is to educate the person(s) such that they themselves see their folly.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

i-TFTD #191: Test of Three

i-TFTD #191: Test of Three

Keep this in mind the next time you hear or are about to repeat a rumour.

In ancient Greece (469-399 BC), Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom. One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance, who ran up to him excitedly and said, "Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?"

"Wait a moment," Socrates replied. "Before you tell me, I'd like you to pass a little test. It's called the Test of Three."

"Test of Three?"

"That's correct," Socrates continued. "Before you talk to me about my student let's take a moment to test what you're going to say. The first test is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?" "No," the man replied, "actually I just heard about it."

"All right," said Socrates. "So you don't really know if it's true or not. Now let's try the second test, the test of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?" "No, on the contrary..." So," Socrates continued, "you want to tell me something bad about him even though you're not certain it's true?" The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Socrates continued, "You may still pass though, because there is a third testthe filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?" "No, not really..."

"Well," concluded Socrates, "if what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?"

The man was defeated and ashamed and said no more.

This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem.


Imagine applying this test to all our conversation, most of what most of us say would not pass and we would lapse into silence. Silence could be Good and Useful.

Those who remain quiet due to lack of confidence should apply the same test of three:

-Am I conveying a true picture by choosing to be silent?

-Am I being good by remaining silent?

-Is my silence useful for me or for others?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

i-TFTD #190

i-TFTD #190

Excerpted from "10 Principles for Sustainable Execution" in the Human Services Newsletter:

-Comfort should be discomforting.

-Mood management is as important as fiscal management.

-Unconscious confidence in old habits of business behavior creates performance quicksand.

-The riskiest place is to stay where you are.


Move out of the comfort zone, it is too risky to continue with the same old habits when there is so much that is changing rapidly all around us. And we know all this intuitively, as pointed out by the bestseller, "Who Moved My Cheese?".

Taking responsibility for one's own mood or the mood of one's team is important. "I am not in the mood" and "I am like this only" are more of cop-out strategies than assertion of individuality.