Friday, January 29, 2010

i-TFTD #248: Ancient Thoughts, Practical Advice

i-TFTD #248: Ancient Thoughts, Practical Advice

#248-1. You are what your driving desire is.
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.
-Brihadaranyaka Upanishad c. 800BCE, IV.4.5

248-2. Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.
-Confucius, philosopher and teacher (c. 551-478 BCE)

248-3. A man should live with his superiors as he does with his fire: not too near, lest he burn; nor too far off, lest he freeze.
-Diogenes, philosopher (412?-323 BCE)

The first thing that strikes me on seeing the above is that
thinkers thousands of years ago could articulate such profound and practically useful advice.

Whatever drives us, our passion areas, determine the success or failure we achieve because it impacts the intensity of our actions. What we decide to act upon is guided by our thoughts. To improve thoughts, we should be willing to spend effort in learning. We learn many things but that has to reflect in our improved judgement and action otherwise it is futile.

All the above is self-centric. In an organizational context managing the relationship with our superior is an important element that we sometimes forget to pay attention to.

Powerful metaphor for a boss—fire! Getting too close to my boss leads to the danger of confusing one’s personal equation and friendship with the professional role-driven relationship. Staying disconnected and too far from a boss with whom I do not find common ground could lead to being unnoticed—I could miss opportunities for feedback, learning, help and possibly finding common ground. Fire does not have to be likeable. One does not dislike fire for its nature, one merely understands and looks for containing its destructive power. It is needed for igniting dormant fuel.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

i-TFTD #247: Who Has the Answers

i-TFTD #247: Who Has the Answers

The nest of young eagles hung on to every word as the Master Eagle described his exploits. This was an important day for the eaglets. They were preparing for their first solo flight from the nest. It was the confidence builder many of them needed to fulfill their destiny.

"How far can I travel?" asked one of the eaglets. "How far can you see?" responded the Master Eagle.

"How high can I fly?" quizzed the young eaglet. "How far can you stretch your wings?" asked the old eagle.

"How long can I fly?" the eaglet persisted. "How far is the horizon?" the mentor rebounded.

"How much can I achieve?" the young eagle continued. "How much can you believe?" the old eagle challenged.

Frustrated by the banter, the young eagle demanded, "Why don't you answer my questions?"

"I did."

"Yes. But you answered them with questions."

"I answered them the best I could."

"But you're the Master Eagle. You're supposed to know everything. If you can't answer these questions, who can?"

"You." The old wise eagle reassured. "Me? How?" the young eagle was confused.

"No one can tell you how high to fly or how much to dream. It's different for each eagle. Only God and you know how far you'll go. No one on this earth knows your potential or what's in your heart. You alone will answer that. The only thing that limits you is the edge of your imagination."

The young eagle, puzzled by this asked, "What should I do?"

"Look to the horizon, spread your wings, and fly."

How much I should aspire to need not be equal to how much I will achieve. Too large a mismatch between my assessment of potential based on circumstances and the track record of my actual accomplishments would at best be frustrating and, at worst, hinder even attainable goals. The history of visionaries teaches us not to be too realistic. A sweet spot seems to exist somewhere between pragmatism and dreams. The trick is to periodically examine our goals, direction, achievements and fine-tune as we go along.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

i-TFTD #246: On Anger and Self-awareness

i-TFTD #246: On Anger and Self-awareness

#246-1. If you know what you know, you are OK
If you know what you don’t know, you are better off
If you don't know what you know, you are in for surprises
If you don't know what you don’t know, you are in deep trouble.

(Thanks to Lax for sharing this.)

#246-2. Holding anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; You are the one who gets burned.

(Thanks to Prashant Varekar for sharing this.)

#246-3. Two ways to be happy forever:
-Never Give the Help of Tears to Your Emotions
-Never Give the Help of Your Tongue to Your Anger

(Thanks to Nehal Shah for sharing this.)

The first one reminds me of the JoHari window on self-awareness. More self-knowledge is generally useful.

There are many techniques to avoid acting on impulse when angry. The longer-term solution for those prone to anger is spiritual maturity. More self-acceptance and better awareness of the world reduces the frequency and intensity of anger.

Friday, January 22, 2010

i-TFTD #245: On Motivation

i-TFTD #245: On Motivation

#245-1. Managers ask me how to motivate the people who report to them. I think that's the wrong question. Stop doing things that demotivate people, and create an environment for success.

-Esther Derby

2. You can buy a person's time; you can buy his physical presence in a given place; you can even buy a measured number of his skilled muscular motions per hour. But you cannot buy enthusiasm. You cannot buy initiative. You cannot buy the devotion of hearts, minds and souls. You have to earn those things.
-Clarence Francis

3. The assets of most businesses walk out of the door at the end of each day. The challenge to management is to create an environment which will motivate them to want to return the next day.
-Lynn Yates

You might wonder if managers really do things to demotivate their teams. Obviously no one sets out in the morning to think up ways to make people feel bad. It could be small, unintentional actions without sensing the reaction. For instance, a manager with a self-perception of being soft might try to be too strict on trivial matters or keep distance from subordinates. Another might spend a lot of time taking care of the star member without realizing how it is perceived by other members. The traditional employer-employee relationship has changed due to many environmental factors but mindsets take longer to accept and adapt.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

i-TFTD #244: Becoming Luckier

i-TFTD #244: Becoming Luckier

Why Some People Have All the Luck
By Professor Richard Wiseman, University of Hertfordshire, author of ! The Luck Factor

I set out to examine luck, 10 years ago. Why are some people always in the right place at the right time, while others consistently experience ill fortune? I placed advertisements in national newspapers asking for people who felt consistently lucky or unlucky to contact me.

Hundreds of extraordinary men and women volunteered for my research and over the years, have been interviewed by me. I have monitored their lives and had them take part in experiments. The results reveal that although these people have almost no insight into the causes of their luck, their thoughts and behaviour are responsible for much of their good and bad fortune. Take the case of seemingly chance opportunities. Lucky people consistently encounter such opportunities, whereas unlucky people do not.

I carried out a simple experiment to discover whether this was due to differences in their ability to spot such opportunities. I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. I had secretly placed a large message halfway through the newspaper saying: 'Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $50'.

This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than two inches high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it.

Unlucky people are generally more tense than lucky people, and this anxiety disrupts their ability to notice the unexpected.

As a result, they miss opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect partner and so miss opportunities to make good friends. They look through newspapers determined to find certain types of job advertisements and miss other types of jobs.

Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there rather than just what they are looking for. My research eventually revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

I wondered towards the end of the work, whether these principles could be used to create good luck. I asked a group of volunteers to spend a month carrying out exercises designed to help them think and behave like a lucky person. Dramatic results! These exercises helped them spot chance opportunities, listen to their intuition, expect to be lucky, and be more resilient to bad luck. One month later, the volunteers returned and described what had happened. The results were dramatic: 80 per cent of people were now happier, more satisfied with their lives and, perhaps most important of all, luckier.

The lucky people had become even luckier and the unlucky had become lucky. Finally, I had found the elusive 'luck factor'. Here are four top tips for becoming lucky:

1) Listen to your gut instinctsthey are normally right.
2) Be open to new experiences and breaking your normal routine.
3) Spend a few moments each day remembering things that went well.
4) Visualise yourself being lucky before an important meeting or telephone call.

Have a lucky day and work for it. The happiest people in the world are not those who have no problems, but those who learn to live with things that are less than perfect.

(Thanks to D Karthikeyan, Arvindkumar Patnam and Ambarish Kulkarni for sharing this.)

I love the scientific spirit with which Prof. Richard Wiseman has studied a common human belief and brought out useful guidelines. As one of the email forwards puts it, luck can be seen as Labouring Under Correct Knowledge. I can choose to discard the wrong knowledge that I am especially unlucky. Perceived randomness in the universe is a fact but instead of resigning to! ! it, one can hope to benefit by the non-finality of certain happenings. Increased understanding uncovers the patterns, principles or laws underlying apparently random occurrences.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

i-TFTD #243: On Discussing Effectively

#243-1. Nothing lowers the level of conversation more than raising the voice.
-Stanley Horowitz

#243-2. The aim of an argument or discussion should not be victory, but progress.
-Joseph Joubert

#243-3. In a controversy the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.

Healthy debate based on principles, values, facts and logic is like oxygen for any society, including an organization. Too many people avoid arguments, and managers prevent them. One research study conducted on poorly performing teams found that there was a lot of argument amongst members of the team. They were surprised when they found that the successful, high-performing teams also had the same characteristic! I am sure the quality of debate in the two cases would have been different—quality in terms of content, issues being debated, tone and also how members behaved after the debate.

Friday, January 15, 2010

i-TFTD #242: Thinking Deep and Wide

i-TFTD #242: Thinking Deep and Wide

#242-1. When policy fails try thinking.

#242-2. Most people would rather die than think; in fact, they do so.
-Bertrand Russell

#242-3. I've been making a list of the things they don't teach you at school. They don't teach you how to love somebody. They don't teach you how to be famous. They don't teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don't teach you how to know what's going on in someone else's mind. They don't teach you what to say to someone who's dying. They don't teach you anything worth knowing.
-Neil Gaiman

A few schools in the world, thanks to Edward de Bono, actually have thinking skills taught separately as a subject. Often we think we think when we are actually quickly jumping to a prejudiced conclusion or pampering our emotions. True thinking has to be dispassionate. Continued thinking is harder than most of us admit, fatigue sets in as soon as we skim the obvious parameters in a situation and the mind goes into a loop over the same thoughts. We have to t! rain the mind to think through, to generate a larger set of options. Expanding awareness on a variety of subjectsrelevant and seemingly irrelevanthelps.

Monday, January 11, 2010

i-TFTD #241: On Intelligent Thinking

i-TFTD #241: On Intelligent Thinking

#241-1. Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way a car is driven.
-Edward de Bono

2. The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.
-Bill Gates

#241-3. Desperation is sometimes as powerful an inspirer as genius.
-Benjamin Disraeli

Edward de Bono has written more books on teaching practical thinking than anybody else. Most of his 70+ books are boring repetitions of a few points but I recommend his Serious Creativity and Lateral Thinking. His use of the word intelligence may be unusual to some. We rarely distinguish between thinking ability and intelligence, a broader term that incorporates knowledge of facts and language skills. Concentration and practice help improve thinking. What I like to call "mental laziness" is a barrier. I find that people with above-average intelligence within their circle of acquaintances are more prone to mental laziness.

Automation (or improved efficiency) is a double-edged sword that needs to be carefully applied to an effective, correct process.

Desperation can be artificially created as Andy Grove did at Intel (he wrote, "Only the Paranoid Survive") and Bill Gates did in 1995 when Microsoft was perceived as lagging behind the Internet trend. They both believed in creating a crisis in their company when the external market or competition did not.

Friday, January 8, 2010

i-TFTD #240: On Patience

i-TFTD #240: On Patience

#240-1. How can a society that exists on instant mashed potatoes, packaged cake mixes, frozen dinners, and instant cameras teach patience to its young?
-Paul Sweeney

240-2. The perfection of a clock is not to go fast, but to be accurate.
-Luc de Clapiers, marquis de Vauvenargues, moralist and essayist (1715-1747)

240-3. The art of patience is not much about how long one can wait, but it is about how one behaves while waiting.

In the 140-character Twitter age, where we seek one-click convenience in just about everything, a two second delay in my browser displaying an article induces me to jump instead to another site. This constant hurrying has made us patients of various stress-related ailments. u lik SMS langg, no? Nicholas Carr, who gained notoriety with his predictions o! n the IT industry, wrote an article titled, Is Google making us stupid?

Patience is often
associated with slowness (imagine your favorite icon of patience replying slowly to your request for a quick decision on a trivial matter, Let us carefully consider the alternatives…”) but it is a misleading stereotype. One should be able to wait for things that require waiting without fidgeting or jumping to conclusions but one can be impulsive and itching to begin action in many situations. If you have your plate full, with multiple threads to pursue, it is easier to shift focus and spend energy in a useful manner.

Another common
mistake is to wait for too long for something in the name of patience. There is an art to setting a timeout expiry time on many things. Sending a doc for review? Indicate a reasonable time frame by which responses are expected and what are the consequence if none are received.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

i-TFTD #239: Dare to Let Others Be Different

i-TFTD #239: Dare to Let Others Be Different

#239-1. Tradition should be a guide, not a jailer.
-Somerset Maugham, English critic and author (1874-1965)

239-2. Commandment Number One for any truly civilized society is this: Let people be different.
-David Grayson [pen name of Ray Stannard Baker], journalist, author (1870-1946)

239-3. A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.
-Robert Frost, poet (1874-1963)

It's a cliché to say, "Dare to be different." More of us are afraid to let others be different, I think. We mindlessly pass on proverbs (yes, I notice the irony of saying this in i-TFTD and like it!), eagerly extrapolate our experience to others' situations and generally discourage through various acts of omission and commission.

Eccentric literally means off-centre or away from the centre. It can be understood only with reference to a centre. When explored with a sense of adventure, new (better) centres are discovered. There is a spirit of movement that one can cultivate without sacrificing respect for tradition. There is no contradiction in my appreciating the ancient and the current while also getting excited with the new.

Stability is as much of a fiction as a new configuration that is yet to be attained. The imagined stability is often more dangerous to hang on to, better to flexibly grope. Enjoying the process is paramount. Satisfaction is stagnation.

Many of you wrote back with kind words to my previous post i-TFTD #239: @ 43. One update is that Viyoma was profiled at a blogger interview site. Almost all of you said that my ! post inspired you to make a similar list for yourselves. Thanks for letting me know. Make it.