Wednesday, April 28, 2010

i-TFTD #276: Inspiration from Carpenters, Stonecutters and Car Reviewers

i-TFTD #276: Inspiration from Carpenters, Stonecutters and Car Reviewers

#276-1. When I was a carpenter, I once worked with this Russian lady architect. I would tell her, "Look, I'm terribly sorry, but I want to change that a half inch," and she would say, "No limit for better." I think that is a worthy credo. You keep on going until you get it as close to being right as the time and patience of others will allow.
-Harrison Ford, carpenter-turned-Hollywood-star, in an interview in Parade magazine in Jan 2010

276-2. When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.
-Jacob August Riis, Danish-born American journalist and social reformer (1849-1914)

276-3. Many people claim to love inanimate objects. They say they love clothing from a particular store or a type of sandwich served at a specific restaurant or that restored Victorian over on Elm Street, the one with the porch swing. I've always thought that a statement like that was slightly dishonest, and that the more objects a person claimed to love, the less you could believe anything they said, whether it had to do with your new haircut or the latest release by R.E.M.
-Christian Wardlaw, Edmund's Automobile Road Tests (from a review of the Mazda Miata)

The itch to tweak, familiar to good software programmers and good artists and craftspersons of any kind, can be the path to excellence when indulged within limits.

Great output seems to come from magical abilities but those who produce it know the persistent effort that preceded the final exertion.

The love for such perfection is very different from the love of objects
; the limitation of language tends to mislead.

Monday, April 26, 2010

i-TFTD #275: Beware of Garbage Trucks

i-TFTD #275: Beware of Garbage Trucks

Beware of Garbage Trucks
By David J. Pollay

How often do you let other people's nonsense change your mood?

Do you let a bad driver, rude waiter, curt boss, or an insensitive employee ruin your day? Unless you're the Terminator, for an instant you're probably set back on your heels. However, the mark of a successful person is how quickly one can get back their focus on what's important.

Sixteen years ago I learned this lesson. I learned it in the back of a New York City taxi cab. Here's what happened.

I hopped in a taxi, and we took off for Grand Central Station. We were driving in the right lane when, all of a sudden, a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his breaks, skidded, and missed the other car's back end by just inches!

The driver of the other car, the guy who almost caused a big accident, whipped his head around and he started yelling bad words at us. My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean, he was friendly. So, I said, "Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital!"

And this is when my taxi driver told me what I now call, "The Law of the Garbage Truck."

"Many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it. And if you let them, they'll dump it on you. When someone wants to dump on you, don't take it personally. You just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. You'll! be happy you did."

So this was it: The "Law of the Garbage Truck." I started thinking, how often do I let Garbage Trucks run right over me? And how often do I take their garbage and spread it to other people: at work, at home, on the streets? It was that day I said, "I'm not going to do it anymore."

I began to see garbage trucks. Like in the movie "The Sixth Sense," the little boy said, "I see Dead People." Well, now "I see Garbage Trucks." I see the load they're carrying. I see them coming to drop it off. And like my Taxi Driver, I don't make it a personal thing; I just smile, wave, wish them well, and I move on.

One of my favorite football players of all time, Walter Payton, did this every day on the football field. He would jump up as quickly as he hit the ground after being tackled. He never dwelled on a hit. Payton was ready to make the next play his best. Good leaders know they have to be ready for their next meeting.

Good parents know that they have to welcome their children home from school with hugs and kisses. Leaders and parents know that they have to be fully present, and at their best for the people they care about.

The bottom line is that successful people do not let Garbage Trucks take over their day.

What about you? What would happen in your life, starting today, if you let more garbage trucks pass you by?

Here's my bet. You'll be happier.

Life's too short to wake up in the morning with regrets. Love the people who treat you right. Forget about the ones who don't. Believe that everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, TAKE IT! If it changes your life, LET IT!

Nobody said it would be easy… they just promised it would be worth it!

(Thanks to Neerav Joshipura for sharing this.)

I have sometimes wasted my mental CPU cycles, trying to analyze my interaction with some people who were simply unloading their garbage.

Of course, like other inspiring thoughts, it needs to be applied judiciously. This is not a prescription to ignore feedback from others when we don't like it. Or to be insensitive to another's plight. Just to move on and spend energy on the next step forward.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

i-TFTD #274: Open Mind Surgery Ha Ha

i-TFTD #274: Open Mind Surgery Ha Ha

#274-1. The closed mind, if closed long enough, can be opened by nothing short of dynamite.
-Gerald Johnson

2. Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.
-GK Chesterton

3. A sense of humor is the ability to understand a jokeand that the joke is oneself.
-Clifton Fadiman

Some traps to avoid: If I do it, I call it open-mindedness; if you do it, it is indecisiveness! I am open-minded towards people who are worth it.

I find humour to be a great mind-opener. It lets some things be said in an acceptable manner that cannot otherwise be easily said. A good, meaningful remark made in a lighter vein has the desired effect of triggering thought in the listener. The same message given as direct advice might be resisted defensively. Having a sense of humour requires some amount of open-mindedness.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

i-TFTD #273: Who Knows

i-TFTD #273: Who Knows

A gentleman once visited a temple under construction where he saw a sculptor making an idol of God. Suddenly he noticed a similar idol lying nearby. Surprised he asked the sculptor, "Do you need two statues of the same idol?" "No," said the sculptor without looking up, "We need only one, but the first one got damaged at the last stage."

The gentleman examined the idol and found no apparent damage. "Where is the damage?" asked the gentleman. "There is a scratch on the nose of the idol." said the sculptor, still busy with his work.

"Where are you going to install the idol?"

The sculptor replied that it would be installed on a pillar twenty feet high.

"If the idol is that far, who is going to know that there is a scratch on the nose?" the gentleman asked.

The sculptor stopped his work, looked up at the gentleman, smiled and said, "I know it and God knows it!"

The desire to excel should be exclusive of the fact whether someone appreciates it or not. Excellence is a drive from inside, not outside. Excel at a task todaynot necessarily for someone else to notice but for your own satisfaction.

(Thanks to Kiran Kudtarkar for sharing this.)

We know this is a useful bit of advice but it is not easy to follow. It is easier to moan that the world does not appreciate the value of excellence.

One thing to watch out for is perfectionism. In the name of excellence I cannot ignore deadlines or cost considerations. If my level of attention to fixing every detail is seen as nitpicking by most people around me who are otherwise sensible people, I need to re-evaluate my thinking.

Many seem to be wondering when to make practical choices and when not to give up. One method I suggest is to look for perfection at a higher level, or a larger goal. An example could help understand what I mean by higher level. I have fixed all the bugs and screen layout defects in my software module and tested it. If my getting stuck on one strange font color setting problem delays the entire project schedule, it is case of bad perfectionism. I need to focus my mind on the perfection of timely delivery and my contribution to the team as a whole as against my mastery in unravelling a non-critical problem.

Finally, I believe we must aspire and strive for perfection but tolerantly accept less than ideal results, especially where other people are involved.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

i-TFTD #272: On Knowledge and Ideas

i-TFTD #272: On Knowledge and Ideas

#272-1. Whoever in debate quotes authority uses not intellect, but memory.
-Leonardo Da Vinci

2. The graveyards are full of indispensable men.
-Charles de Gaulle

3. A mediocre idea that generates enthusiasm will go further than a great idea that inspires no one.
-Mary Kay Ash

Quoting authority is not necessarily a bad strategy. Its effectiveness depends on the acceptability of the authority to the listener. Many make the mistake of choosing the authority that they (the speaker) respect.

Withholding information, continuing to be the only expert in the team, making sure others depend on me… these are previous-century tactics. The benefits of consciously and regularly making myself dispensable are: (i) I make it easier to move on to newer roles and responsibilities (ii) I demonstrate leadership by developing others (iii) My contribution is not only my performance output but I leave a legacy of success via others.

An idea, to succeed, needs to reach the right minds at the right time. Too early or too late or to the wrong people... could kill the idea prematurely. Innovation (applied creativity) requires selling of ideas.

Monday, April 12, 2010

i-TFTD #271: Excerpts from The Cocktail Party

i-TFTD #271: Excerpts from The Cocktail Party

The following are selected lines from the poem written in 1949.

The Cocktail Party
by T.S. Eliot

It will do you no harm to find yourself ridiculous.
Resign yourself to be the fool you are.

You will find that you survive humiliation
And that's an experience of incalculable value.
We die to each other daily.
What we know of other people
Is only our memory of the moments
During which we knew them. And they have changed since then.
To pretend that they and we are the same
Is a useful and convenient social convention
Which must sometimes broken. We must also remember
That at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.
Half the harm that is done in this world
Is due to people who want to feel important.
They don't mean to do harm—but the harm does not interest them.
Or they do not see it, or they justify it
Because they are absorbed in the endless struggle
To think well of themselves.
We must always take risks. That is our destiny.
Only by acceptance of the past will you alter its meaning.

Every moment is a fresh beginning.

(Thanks to Ranu Pande for pointing me to this.)


So much has been said

And written about, over time

We fail to reflect.

Friday, April 9, 2010

i-TFTD #270: On Effectiveness and Thinking

i-TFTD #270: On Effectiveness and Thinking

#270-1. The only reason people get lost in thought is because it's unfamiliar territory.

2. To think is easy. To act is difficult. To act as one thinks is the most difficult.
-Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

3. If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought.
-Peace Pilgrim

Effective thinking is difficult and rare. Sustained thinking is rarer. Mental fatigue sets in. The chairman of one of the Korean chaebols used the phrase, "Thinking till it hurts". We brood and go over the same set of limited options when confronted with an important decision, usually a personal one. Edward de Bono has written about systematic teaching of better thinking, both logical and lateral. I have found that writing down the options helps my brain to move towards generating more alternatives. "Thinking About Thinking" by K.R. Ravi is a great book that lists many common logical fallacies that we all fall prey to.

You may also want to review earlier posts such as
Thoughts on Thinking, On Intelligent Thinking, Thinking Deep and Wide and Degrees of Positive Thinking.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

i-TFTD #269: From the Nitwittersphere

Having coined a word for the title of this i-TFTD, I feel compelled to explain and enlighten you of its origin.
Twittersphere, of course, is the total universe of Twitter users and their output in the form of tweets.
A nitwit is a stupid person. A nitwitter as per urban dictionary is a person who irritatingly discusses their twitting frequently. Someone else has defined nitwitter as a person who writes hopelessly incomprehensible Twitter posts.
So, my contribution to the blogosphere is nitwittersphere. Sorry. Will do better next time.
Unlike the above gobbledygook, tweets on Twitter can be useful, funny and thought-provoking. Here are three for this edition of i-TFTD.

269-1. @funnyoneliners: Today is the first day of the rest of the mess.

269-2. @michaelmelcher: Your inbox is not your to do list.

269-3. @r_ganesh: Doers are too busy to consult thinkers, who don't know or care to sell to doers or have action bias. Think I must do something!
____The first one is a variation of Today is the first day of the rest of your life. The second is about prioritization. Some people worry about not having time to prioritize and plunge into activity while some others agonize too long in synchronizing detailed to do lists in various gadgets! For both categories of folks, I recommend reading a short post at The third was my attempt to point out the irony in the artificial classification of people into thinkers and doers. I think we all do both though the degree and the domains may vary from time to time.