Wednesday, March 31, 2010

i-TFTD #268: On Sense and News

i-TFTD #268: On Sense and News

#268-1. I react pragmatically. Where the market works, I'm for that. Where the government is necessary, I'm for that. I'm deeply suspicious of somebody who says, "I'm in favor of privatization," or, "I'm deeply in favor of public ownership." I'm in favor of whatever works in the particular case.
-John Kenneth Galbraith, Canadian-American economist (1908-2006)

268-2. I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.
-Theodor (Dr.) Seuss Geisel, American children's writer and cartoonist (1904-1991)

268-3. If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.
-Mark Twain, American humorist, writer and lecturer (1835-1910)

I like Galbraith's nonsense and Dr. Seuss's pragmatism <g>. Many great thinkers, including Rajaji and poet Walt Whitman, have expressed the need for improving our views. Forming opinions with confidence is the first stage in learning a new subject but further steps of growth necessarily involve reversing earlier thoughts. Attenuation is different from having a weak signal to begin with. Playful tweaking is an essential activity for rapid learning.

After The Indian Express, The Hindu is the second respected daily English newspaper in India facing family ownership related problems. Such are the times (pun intended) that we are left with a monopoly newspaper group that proudly auctions its pages all of which are worthy of being called Page 3. Like my friends in America have been doing for years I wo! uld soon be consuming news from Google et al rather than the physical paper accompanying the morning cuppa. Not much to lament about ! when you can explore topics with innovative services like Trailmeme.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

i-TFTD #267: Deep Thoughts

i-TFTD #267: Deep Thoughts

Some quotes, in addition to conveying a useful thought, lend themselves to multiple interpretations, or provoke us to reflect deeper. Like it? Let me know.

#267-1. Eminent posts make great men greater, and little men less.
-Jean de la Bruyere, essayist and moralist (1645-1696)

One obvious meaning is what people become through their actions after reaching the post. Great ones now have a better platform to do more good, while lesser ones misuse power. Another interpretation is that the successful attainment of eminent posts itself makes them more of what they are. Good people become better in the path to higher levels while others tend to take short cuts of dubious standards to attain success. A related but slightly different view is that the achievement itself is a strong proof of someone's greatness or lack of scruple.

267-2. A good leader can't get too far ahead of his followers.
-Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd US President (1882-1945)

Cannot could mean should not, that is, should lead and pace by adapting to the team in order to be effective. Too much awe or respect of the leader's ability would make the team reconcile themselves to their current state rather than inspiring them to attain higher levels. Cannot could also mean will not be able to, that is, a leader is constrained by the team's capability levels. Where possible, selecting the right mix in the team becomes a leader's important responsibility. How about: "Followers can't get too much behind a leader." Reminds me of the question: which is a better pe! rforming team, a group of lions led by a deer or a herd of deer led by a lion? The answer is not too obvious to me. Is there one correct answer?

267-3. Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, thirst that is unquenchable?
-Kahlil Gibran, mystic, poet, and artist (1883-1931)

Insecurity induces damaging behavior from leaders, eventually self-damaging. Accumulation of more wealth and affording luxury do not correlate with contentment. This unquenchable thirst reminds me of the unwakeable sleep-pretender. A different thought is: dissatisfaction with a working system is a thirst that can be quenched with innovative improvements. In fact, that is the creative urge that brings progress or poetry.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

i-TFTD #266: Riding into the Storm

i-TFTD #266: Riding into the Storm

#266-1. All men should strive to learn before they die
What they are running from, and to, and why.
-James Thurber, American author, cartoonist and celebrated wit (1894–1961)

#266-2. The wind and the waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators.
-Edward Gibbon, English historian and Member of Parliament (1737-1794)

#266-3. The wise have encountered the negative thoughts and the temptations which are illusions of what is good. The illusion of good is what seems good now but is not good tomorrow.
-Thomas D. Willhite, motivational author

I remember Thurber for his hilarious piece I once read titled, "My Own Ten Rules for a Happy Marriage", which, unfortunately, I could not locate online. His quote was immediately thought-provoking when I saw it. Most of us seem to be running away from something most of the time. What? Why? Pausing to reflect seems useful even if there are no clear answers.

Positive thinkers tend to feel lucky, as Richard Wiseman has found. Maybe the so-called universal energy prefers to favor excellence?

The key is to keep doing the right thing to the best of one's ability even when the wind does not seem to be on our side.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

i-TFTD #265: On Praise and Criticism

i-TFTD #265: On Praise and Criticism

#265-1. The shame that arises from praise which we do not deserve often makes us do things we should otherwise never have attempted.
-Fran├žois de la Rochefoucauld, French author of maxims and memoirs (1613 –1680)

(Thanks and a doff of hat to K Shailesh, another broadcaster of thoughts, for sharing this and many others.)

#265-2. Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made, kills initiative.
-William L. McKnight, President and Chairman of 3M from 1949 to 1966

(Thanks to D Karthikeyan for sharing this.)

#265-3. If there was no praise or criticism in the world, then who would you be?
-Howard Behar, author of "It's Not About the Coffee: Leadership Principles from a Life at Starbucks"

(Thanks to Ramanan Jagannathan for sharing this.)

This is not necessarily a bad thing. I have seen parents use this successfully with their children to elicit the desired behavior by praising even before the behavior has been demonstrated. Though we might sometimes experience a little shame on undeserved praise, most of the time, our rationalizing brain would lead us to convince ourselves that we actually deserve it. Daniel Gilbert, whose research at Harvard has earned him the nickname of Professor Happiness, whose delightfully informative book titled, "Stumbling on Happiness" I recently read, says this is part of our psychological immune system.

Striking a balance in management approach of encouraging risk taking (and therefore, by definition, mistakes) while also demanding excellence is so difficult, which is why we admire those companies and leaders that seem able to achieve it.

Tough to imagine a situation of no praise and no criticism! Pondering this question would lead us to a better understanding of our values and morals.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

i-TFTD #264: On Action Orientation

i-TFTD #264: On Action Orientation

#264-1. God gives every bird its worm, but he does not throw it into the nest.
-Swedish proverb

2. Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence. Inaction is not only the result, but the cause, of fear. Perhaps the action you take will be successful; perhaps different action or adjustments will have to follow. But any action is better than no action at all.
-Norman Vincent Peale

3. Right actions for the future are the best apologies for wrong ones in the past.
-Tyron Edwards

Sometimes it seems like a worm was thrown into our nest (lucky day feeling) or someone else's (much more often) but I believe sincere effort and fruits even out in the medium-to-long term, and it is we who do not make the connections easily. The process changes the person, even if the effort superficially appears to yield no result.

Any action is better than inaction caused by too much pondering. It is good to remember this when trying to begin something. However...

The keyword in the third quote is "right"plunging into activity that repeats past mistakes and justifying it with "any action is better than no action" will harm, not help.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

i-TFTD #263: Snippets on Giving and Receiving Feedback

i-TFTD #263: Snippets on Giving and Receiving Feedback

7 characteristics of highly effective feedback
Posted by
Wally Bock on Oct 17, 2008 at his blog

Highly effective feedback works in the context of clear and reasonable expectations.
Highly effective feedback takes place in a climate where everyone is treated fairly.
Highly effective feedback takes place in an atmosphere of candor.
Most highly effective feedback sessions are short and informal.
Lots of short, informal feedback sessions produce better results than fewer, more formal sessions.
Positive feedback is the tool of choice for getting a person to try something or continue something.
Negative feedback is the tool of choice for getting a person to stop something.

Management Advice from the Buddha

Posted by Marshall Goldsmith on March 16, 2008 at
HBS Forum

Buddha suggested that his followers only do what he taught if it worked in the context of their own lives.
He encouraged people to listen to his ideas, think about his suggestions, try out what made sense keep doing what worked and to just "let go" of what did not work. Similarly, I teach my clients to ask their key stakeholders for suggestions on they can become more effective leaders then listen to these ideas, think about the suggestions, try out what makes sense keep doing what works and let go of what does not.

When our stakeholders give us suggestions on how we can become more effective, we can look at these suggestions as gifts
and treat our stakeholders as gift-givers. When someone gives you a gift you wouldn’t say, “Stinky gift!” “Bad gift!” or “I already have this stupid gift!” You would say, “Thank you.” If you can use the gift use! it. If you don’t want to use the gift, put it in the closet and "let it go."

You would not insult the person who is trying to be nice by giving you a gift. In the same way, when our stakeholders give us ideas, we don’t want to insult them or their ideas. We can just learn to say, “Thank you.”

We cannot promise to do everything that people suggest we should do. We can promise to listen to our key stakeholders, think about their ideas, and do what we can.
This is all that we can promiseand this is all that they expect.

My good friend, Chris Cappy, is a world expert on large-scale change, has a great philosophy on getting ideas. He always says, “I won’t learn less.”
When we get ideas and suggestions, we may learn more but we won’t learn less. Get in the habit of asking the important people in your life, “How can I be a better…?”

This works at work
in your efforts to become a better leader, team member, or co-worker.

This works at home
in your efforts to become a better friend or family member.

Like most good advice, these are easy to understand and agree with but hard to practise! Formal appraisals are one situation where we have to give feedback. Many find it difficult to do so they opt to give vague, generally positive comments and avoid providing negative feedback. If timely feedback is given throughout the year, it becomes easy to summarize the highlights at the formal annual appraisal. If specific events are noted down to quote as examples, the discussion can be more focused and fruitful.

Everybody these days seems to express a desire to receive feedback but the more accomplished the person, the more defensive the reaction to feedback. Pragati Leadership Institute suggests receiving feedback like 'prasad’, the blessing in the form of a sweet distributed in a temple. Even if one were to refrain from consuming it for medical or hygienic reasons, one would dispose of it discreetly and not offend the giver by refusing it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

i-TFTD #262: On Belief

i-TFTD #262: On Belief

#262-1. If something exists, it must be possible.
-Amory Bloch Lovins (b. 1947), experimental physicist and environmentalist

#262-2. They were so strong in their beliefs that there came a time when it hardly mattered what exactly those beliefs were; they all fused into a single stubbornness.
-Louise Erdrich, (b. 1954), author

#262-3. Men are generally idle, and ready to satisfy themselves, and intimidate the industry of others, by calling that impossible which is only difficult.
-Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784), English author, critic, & lexicographer

Though the original context could have been different, the quote could help us catch ourselves from the common phenomenon of denial. It could be a software developer's first reaction to a tester, "There is no bug!" It could be a manager saying the product cannot be maintained at the same quality and sold at a lower price when told that a competitor is doing precisely that.

Such an ostrich-like attitude when persistently demonstrated by groups of people, can lead to dangerous situations.

All this might have started innocuously out of sheer mental laziness. Tim Hurson says in his book, "Think Better" that productive thinking is hard work because nature and evolution have designed our brain to take efficient shortcuts in the form of well-set patterns.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

i-TFTD #261: On Balance in the Journey

i-TFTD #261: On Balance in the Journey

#261-1. Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them work, family, health, friends and love and you're keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four ballsfamily,health, friends and loveare made of glass. If you drop one of these, they! will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.
-Bryan Dyson, former CEO of Coca Cola

(Thanks to Durgaprasad Kulkarni for sharing this.)

261-2. If the path is beautiful, let's not ask where it leads. And if the destination is beautiful, let's not ask how the path is.

(Thanks to Chandan Relan for sharing this.)

261-3. If someone has written a good poem, we need not throw it away because of a few mistakes in spelling. If it is a bad poem, correct spelling will not save it from the dustbin.
-Dwaraknath Reddy, former chairman of Nutrine group and spiritual author, in "Gentle Breeze, Rustling Leaves"

The need for and presence of balance is a profound lesson we periodically learn from nature and even human affairs. I like to point out, especially to younger folk, that balance is useful only when imbalance has been achieved. A pre-requisite on the path of career success is to overdo, to tilt in some direction before even contemplating balance. Excellence is extreme and one at least has to be aspire for and pursue it. Balance need not imply holding back, one could achieve balance by developing int! erests in different domains of life.

A destination may make the hard journey worthwhile, but many times we do not know whether it is so. Exploring without a predetermined goal is not always bad.

One may ask what makes a poem bad? This is the kind of question that the octagenarian Mr. Reddy would appreciate. His book, Birth Play and Finale of ! Mind that logically and humorously explores consciousness and sciences difficulty in dealing with it! , is unfortunately not widely available.

Monday, March 8, 2010

i-TFTD #260: The Ten Commandments of Egoless Programming

i-TFTD #260: The Ten Commandments of Egoless Programming

These are The Ten Commandments of Egoless Programming (From a classic book written in the early 1970s called, "The Psychology of Computer Programming" by Gerald Weinberg) but most of the recommendations are applicable in a wider context.

1. Understand and accept that you will make mistakes. The point is to find them early, before they make it into production. Fortunately, except for the few of us developing rocket guidance software at JPL, mistakes are rarely fatal in our industry, so we can, and should, learn, laugh, and move on.

2. You are not your code. Remember that the entire point of a review is to find problems, and problems will be found. Don't take it personally when one is uncovered.

3. No matter how much "karate" you know, someone else will always know more. Such an individual can teach you some new moves if you ask. Seek and accept input from others, especially when you think it's not needed.

4. Don't rewrite code without consultation. There's a fine line between "fixing code" and "rewriting code." Know the difference, and pursue stylistic changes within the framework of a code review, not as a lone enforcer.

5. Treat people who know less than you with respect, deference, and patience. Nontechnical people who deal with developers on a regular basis almost universally hold the opinion that we are prima donnas at best and crybabies at worst. Don't reinforce this stereotype with anger and impatience.

6. The only constant in the world is change. Be open to it and accept it with a smile. Look at each change to your requirements, platform, or tool as a new challenge, not as some serious inconvenience to be fought.

7. The only true authority stems from knowledge, not from position. Knowledge engenders authority, and authority engenders respectso if you want respect in an egoless environment, cultivate knowledge.

8. Fight for what you believe, but gracefully accept defeat. Understand that sometimes your ideas will be overruled. Even if you do turn out to be right, don't take revenge or say, "I told you so" more than a few times at most, and don't make your dearly departed idea a martyr or rallying cry.

9. Don't be "the guy in the room." Don't be the guy coding in the dark office emerging only to buy cola. The guy in the room is out of touch, out of sight, and out of control and has no place in an open, collaborative environment.

10. Critique code instead of peoplebe kind to the coder, not to the code. As much as possible, make all of your comments positive and oriented to improving the code. Relate com! ments to local standards, program specs, increased performance, etc.

(Thanks to Shuja Rahman for sharing this.)

Friday, March 5, 2010

i-TFTD #259: On Managing

i-TFTD #259: On Managing

#259-1. Of all the decisions an executive makes, none is as important as the decisions about people, because they determine the performance capacity of the organization.
-Peter F. Drucker

2. "Management" means, in the last analysis, the substitution of thought for brawn and muscle, of knowledge for folklore and superstition, and of cooperation for force.
-Peter F. Drucker

3. I believe managing is like holding a dove in your hands. If you hold it too tightly, you crush it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.
-Tommy Lasorda

Drucker, the original management guru, has said so many profound things in his usual sober style that are still being fully understood. People decisionsright from hiring to role allocation to promotionmake all the difference. I have always emphasized to members of interview panels that they carry a mighty responsibility on their shoulders. They are the gatekeepers who filter the quality of intake but the question is whether we take sufficient care in training them.

The application of knowledge and thinking in order to manage better sounds like common sense but he pointed it out several decades ago, before the arrival of the information age or knowledge era. In fact, he coined the term, "knowledge worker". In 1959!

The fine balance required in holding a dove is a good analogy for leadership. I think this is related to the dilemma that many leaders face, namely, how much to delegate and let go versus how much hands-on involvement one should have. The answer should be determined by resultsboth short-term and long-term. If I achiev! e a short-term objective by doing a task myself have I compromised the goal of developing my team? If I let a critical situation get out of hand by refraining from doing what I am good at, all the theories in the world would not change the fact of a leadership failure in attaining the desired result.

The analogy reminds me of another beautiful one from
Indias ancient grammarian Panini (whose rules are associated with a fundamental concept of computer science, the Backus-Naur Form) where he advises correct pronunciation to be done like a tigress carrying her cub by her teeth, neither too gentle such that the cub slips and falls nor too hard, which might hurt the cub.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

i-TFTD #258: On Thoughts and Words

i-TFTD #258: On Thoughts and Words

#258-1. There are some who only employ words for the purpose of disguising their thoughts.
-Voltaire, philosopher (1694-1778)

#258-2. Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
-Oscar Wilde, writer (1854-1900)

#258-3. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers.
-Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Indian independence leader and thinker (1869-1948)

The words we utter could be weapons, shields, masks, medicine even unintended leaks!

The simple trick of role playing changes our thoughts and words as seen in many training programmes. It also manifests when a person takes on a new position and suddenly supports the opposite of the viewpoint that person was espousing until then!

Taking Gandhi’s view, to confirm that I am growing, I could check if there is refinement in the language I use.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

i-TFTD #257: Happy in the Moment

i-TFTD #257: Happy in the Moment

#257-1. Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus.
-Alexander Graham Bell

2. If all our misfortunes were laid in one common heap whence everyone must take an equal portion, most people would be contented to take their own and depart.

#257-3. The man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest.
-Henry David Thoreau

Even in a leisure activity, one derives maximum pleasure or relaxation when one is in the present moment rather than have the mind wanderout of habitinto the future or the past. I have observed this kind of focus in high achievers. They work hard and play hard. When we do this we are in flow state.

We have earlier discussed the universal but useless thought, "Why me/us?". Our bad luck and constraints appear significant only until we really see what other people are facing. Periodically feeling an attitude of gratitude for what good things we have, what we have achieved and the good relationships we enjoy, helps in maintaining a positive outlook. Incidentally, amongst the great Western philosophers from Greece (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle), Socrates inspires me the most as he was a hard-core be! liever in practical wisdom and engaging in worldly activity, w! hile simultaneously applying his mind on deep matters. Not unlike Vivekananda.

Cheapest pleasure need not be about consuming lower quality luxuries. It could be that one enjoys the company of children, the smell of rain and many other "little pleasures" that we sometimes forget as we age. This has helped me a lot.