Thursday, December 29, 2011

i-TFTD #349: Sense and Beyond

i-TFTD #349: Sense and Beyond

#349-1. The plural of anecdote is not data.
-George Stigler, American economist

49-2. Common sense is the best distributed commodity in the world, for every man is convinced he is well supplied with it.
-Rene Descartes, French philosopher

49-3. A man of great common sense and good taste, meaning, thereby, a man without originality or moral courage.
-George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright

Anecdotes have a compelling way of drawing our attention to interesting ideas.
Corporate storytelling is a concept gaining popularity. However, examples are not always a substitute for scientific data gathering. One author who churns our bestsellers using compelling stories and then presenting unusual statistics to bolster them is Malcolm Gladwell.

Each of us operates most of the time with what we believe to be common sense but my common sense may not be as common as I believe. Real common sense is extremely rare, a point brought out each time an exposed scam uncovers a large number of victims.

Too much of common sense and practicality is not healthy because innovation often comes from what initially appears to be a nonsensical thought.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

i-TFTD #348: On Kindness (yes, for businessfolk, too)

#348-1. Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar.
-Bradley Miller, activist (b. 1956)

#348-2. To cultivate kindness is a valuable part of the business of life.
-Samuel Johnson, lexicographer (1709-1784)

#348-3. Kindness is a hard thing to give away; it keeps coming back to the giver.
-Ralph Scott, US Senator (1905-1983)

Going by news reports, a number of people and institutions believe in the practice and advocacy of RAK - random acts of kindness. Most of us would have experienced being a recipient of an unexpected RAK and perhaps, even the warm feeling of doing one.

Kindness need not be confined to charitable donations and social service, it can extend to our interactions with others including colleagues.

Prof. Robert Sutton of Stanford University brought the concept of workplace bullying into prominence with his article in Harvard Business Review titled, "The No A****le Rule" and has published a wide-selling book on the topic.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

i-TFTD #347: Rumination from the Front Row

Over the past two weeks, I had the rare privilege to observe, at close quarters, a new business leader engage with teams, trying to grasp the contours of the challenges at hand while getting to know people; asking questions innocent and sharp, memorizing new acronyms and probing to discover the limits of available information; dissecting elements of strategy and distinguishing them from objectives; revealing and sharing to begin establishing credibility and style. One quality of this person was of special interest to me, namely, this person is a voracious reader who quotes business aphorisms and thinking frameworks—in somebody's words, this person is a walking, talking i-TFTD!

Some of the topics of discussion I witnessed has inspired this bonus edition of i-TFTD. First of all:

The next thing to saying a good thing yourself, is to quote one.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

Proverbs encapsulate wisdom. They become famous through their usefulness across time for people to recall a point and to make it effectively. They can act as shorthand to convey rich thoughts in a manner that attracts through compactness or elegance.

In a complex information gathering situation, there are plenty of disclaimers about history and incompleteness of views. But:

To a clear eye the smallest fact is a window through which the infinite may be seen.
-Thomas Henry Huxley, biologist and writer (1825-1895)

Actually we make many important decisions like hiring a person based on subjective impressions in a brief interaction. The reason for this being a popular method is that a better one has not been found. Therefore:

Precision of communication is important, more important than ever, in our era of hair-trigger balances, when a false or misunderstood word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act.
-James Thurber, American author, cartoonist and celebrated wit (1894–1961)

One interesting concept I picked up was, "Questions requiring numerical answers, when responded with English, could be a sign of trouble!"

Not that clear and precise communication is easy to achieve. Because:

After all, when you come right down to it, how many people speak the same language even when they speak the same language?
-Russell Hoban, American fantasy writer (1925–2011)

Perspectives and dimensions of awareness figured in the conversation as an undercurrent. There is only so much that explanation and dialogue can achieve. Remember:

You cannot speak of ocean to a well-frog, the creature of a narrower sphere. You cannot speak of ice to a summer insect, the creature of a season.
-Zhuangzi, Chinese philosopher (370-301 BCE)

Aspects of personal and organizational change have been a perennial favorite covered in i-TFTDs before, such as i-TFTD #298: Change How We Face, i-TFTD #294: On the Difficulty of Change, i-TFTD #284: Navigating Change, i-TFTD #287: On Choosing Dots to Connect, and i-TFTD #252: On the Why and How of Change among others. Proactive change initiators are a rare breed but should constitute a necessary proportion of any performance-oriented team. As it is said:

Progress is 95 percent routine teamwork. The other 5 percent relies on restless, inner-directed people who are willing to upset our applecart with new and better ideas.
-Michael LeBouef, American business book author and professor (1942-)

While acknowledging the need for different kinds of individuals, it pays to keep in mind the strengths approach concept, which we have extensively covered earlier in i-TFTD #335: Managers Need to be Strengths-Spotters, i-TFTD #160, i-TFTD #115: Only One Move, i-TFTD #142: Don't Send Your Ducks to Eagle School, i-TFTD #79: 3 Tips to Be a Prime Mover, i-TFTD #20: Motivation + Talent = Strength and i-TFTD #10: Abolish SWOT Analysis. So finally:

The question, 'Who ought to be boss?' is like asking, 'Who ought to be the tenor in the quarter?' Obviously, the man who can sing tenor.
-Henry Ford, American industrialist and founder of the Ford Motor Company (1863–1947)

If you like the way I connected one thing to another, you can connect with me by letting me know!

Friday, December 2, 2011

i-TFTD #346: Silicon Valley Speak

Indian-born techies, entrepreneurs and recently, management professors, have achieved extraordinary success and fame over the past 25 years. Recall the statement Kumar Mangalam Birla made in a speech around 2007: As the joke in Silicon Valley runs, if a person's name is Shreedhar, don't bother checking his IT skills! Many such Indians have gone on to become venture capitalists and mentors to use the wealth and experience they have gained to help nurture others. Here are a few quotes from this community.

#346-1. You have to accept the reality of where you came from. The moment you lose that, you stop listening, stop thinking and become arrogant. Usually, you see that in successful people. People become self-destructive when they become arrogant—they over-reach, become over-ambitious and dominating.
-Ram Shriram, Indian American venture capitalist and founding director of Google, in this interview

#346-2. MNCs and government are largely irrelevant in the business of innovation. Ignore conventional wisdom in order to invent the future. My willingness to fail gives me the ability to succeed.
-Vinod Khosla, Indian American venture capitalist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems (1955-), in this interview

#346-3. A recession is the best time to start a company. It is nev! er easy. Nothing ever happens automatically.
-Kanwal Rekhi, Indian American venture capitalist and co-founder of TiE, director at Novell Networks  (1945-)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

i-TFTD #345: Me And 'Er

#345-1. The path of least resistance makes all rivers, and some men, crooked.
-Napoleon Hill, author (1883-1970)

#345-2. An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.
-Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician, author, Nobel laureate (1872-1970)

#345-3. Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.
-A. A. Milne author (1882-1956)

A river f! orms a powerful motif in Herman Hesse’s Siddartha, who finally learns useful insights from a river. Rivers, I think, hold a fascination for humans, more than oceans, and definitely, lakes and ponds. Oceans beckon with mystery and danger but they also overwhelm—rivers, on the other hand, we relate to. A river seems to be the perfect metaphor for how we perceive our lives. Flowing, flowing, always moving inevitably further, encountering obstacles, overcoming them or changing direction… Nourishing those en route, also collecting and carrying unwanted baggage, appearing to meander aimlessly at times, at other times purposefully seeking the path to merge with the final destination, the ocean…

Of course, one may prefer, instead of this philosophical musing, to gape at this interactive mapping of rivers by National Geographic. Or figure out why genders are associated with rivers, not only in India where Ganga is feminine and Brahmaputra masculine, but also in other countries.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

i-TFTD #344: Dawn of True Wisdom

i-TFTD #344: Dawn of True Wisdom

by Ramesh Balsekar (in “Enlightened Living”)

Every month the disciple faithfully sent his Master an account of his progress.

In the first month he wrote: "I feel an expansion of consciousness and experience my oneness with the Universe." The master glanced at the note and threw it away.

The following month, this is what he had to say: "I have finally discovered that the Divine is present in all things." The Master seemed disappointed.

The third month the disciple’s words enthusiastically exclaimed: "The mystery of the One and the many have been revealed to my wondering gaze." The Master shook his head and again threw the letter away.

The next letter said: "No one is born, no one lives, no one dies, for the ego-self is not." The master threw his hands up in utter despair.

After that a month passed by, then two, then five months and finally a whole year without another letter. The master thought it was time to remind his disciple of his duty to keep him informed of his spiritual progress.

Then the disciple wrote back: "Who cares?"

When the Master read those words a look of great satisfaction spread over his face.

This format of initially funny-looking but eventually thought-provoking anecdotes (called "koans") are used in Zen teaching. Anthony De Mello, a Jesuit priest who conducted spiritual retreats at Lonavla (a hill station near Mumbai) for many years, has written a number of books that are superb collections of such stories sourced from all religions. Some of them are "One Minute Wisdom", "Song of the Bird" and "The Prayer of the Frog".

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

i-TFTD #343: Another Children's Day Special

In India Children’s Day is celebrated every year on November 14, the birthday of Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first Prime Minister. We saw a few quotes related to children in an earlier i-TFTD in 2008. The comment there said, ”Substitute children in the above with subordinates and parent with leader, to get useful insights on career development, leadership qualities.” Here is another bonus edition of quotes related to children—their creativity and their dreams. Are they theirs only?

#343-1. Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. And it's the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves.
Sir Ken Robinson, British educationist and world-renowned expert speaker (1950-)

#343-2. All kids are gifted; some just open their packages earlier than others.
-Michael Carr, British light music compose (1905-1968)

#343-3. The soul is healed by being with children.
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky, novelist (1821-1881)

#343-4. We are now at a point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday, and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet.
–Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist and writer (1901–1978)

#343-5. Those who educate children well are more to be honored than parents, for these only gave life, those the art of living well.
-Aristotle, Greek philosopher and polymath (384 BCE–322 BCE)

#343-6. ! Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.
-James Arthur Baldwin, American writer, poet and social critic (1924–1987)

#343-7. In a short poem titled, Cloths of Heaven, William Butler Yeats wrote:

   Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
   Enwrought with golden and silver light,
   The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
   Of night and light and the half-light,
   I would spread the cloths under your feet:
   But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
   I have spread my dreams under your feet;
   Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

And every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams beneath our feet. And we should tread softly.
Sir Ken Robinson, British educationist and world-renowned expert speaker (1950-)
If you are not one of the estimated 200 million people around the world who have watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED video speeches, please do so when you have thirty minutes to spare. They are at and I absolutely love and get inspired every time I watch, by the distinctly British humor, humility and passionate advocacy…

Friday, November 11, 2011

i-TFTD #342: How to Start an Induction Motor

It's been a long gap of seven weeks in the otherwise regular i-TFTD of the past many years.

I could give many excuses like being busy with organizational changes, helping my wife open her second Just Books library outlet in Thane (please spread the word to your Thanekar friends, it is at Hiranandani Meadows near Vasant Vihar area) and so on. But ultimately as often emphasized in past i-TFTDs, we choose to prioritize what we fill into our time and that is all there is to it. Nothing could really justify not finding a few minutes in a week to do something I care about.

I consoled myself saying...

Not all those who wander are lost.
-J.R.R. Tolkien, English writer, philologist and university professor, best kno! wn as the author of 'The Lord of the Rings' (1892–1973)

But it was important to realize that...

Every man is a damned fool for at least five minutes every day. Wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit.
-Elbert Hubbard, author, editor, printer (1856-1915)

I figured that the resumption could elicit appreciation! After all...

As contraries are known by contraries, so is the delight of presence best known by the torments of absence.
-Alcibiades, Athenian statesman, orator, and general (c. 450–404 BCE)

I value the friend who for me finds time on his calendar, but I cherish the friend who for me does not consult his calendar.
-Robert Brault, American writer (1938-)

I further pepped mysel! f up saying...

It is not what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.
-Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Moliere, French actor and playwright (1622-1673)

Getting UPSET will not help. Always getting UP to SET the things right will surely help.

(Thanks to Neelabh Upadhyay for sharing this.)

Finally the lesson from all this for me is...

Absences and gaps /
Howsoever justified /
Can be wily traps!

The above is an example of expressing a thought in haiku form, mimicking the 5-7-5 syllables used in the original Japanese poetry. Over 200 of such haikus are part of my early tweets.

In case you are wondering about the title, it is an indirect hat tip to ! the delightful movie, 3 Idiots, which talked about strengths and passion. Sorry if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t make the connection.

Friday, September 23, 2011

i-TFTD #341: Seeing the Seen

#341-1. The world is a looking glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face.
-William Makepeace Thackeray, novelist (1811-1863)

#341-2. If you've ever taken on a major, challenging project, you know that finishing it doesn't just create the output you had planned on, it transforms you.
-Dr. Venkatesh Rao, author of Tempo, independent researcher and blogger (1974-)

#341-3. There is a road from the eye to the heart of things that does not go through the intellect.
-Gilbert K. Chesterton, British writer and philosopher (1874–1936)

The first quote reminds me of the following lines from the melancholy ghazal by Jagjit Singh,
"Zindagi kya hai jaanne ke liye zinda rehna bahut zaroori hai" (to understand life it is necessary to live):
aao hum sab pehen le aaine
saare dekhenge apne hi chehre
saare haseen lagenge yahaan

(come, let us all clothe ourselves with mirrors
everyone will see their own faces
everyone will look beautiful here)

What we see when working on a tough task we handled changes dramatically when we look back. Each of us can remember at least one major task in life that stretched the boundaries of our abilities. Undoubtedly such an endeavor has a lasting and positive impact in some way or the other. It reveals our limits or hidden capabilities, makes us more resilient and overall boosts our self-confidence. Why then do we all not eagerly rush to more such challenges?

Reflection and analysis of our thoughts or f! eelings makes our conscious mind aware of certain patterns and takes us to the next level. But the belief always persists (and maybe becomes stronger) that there are important things just beyond our conscious awareness. Interestingly, that does not scare us but excites us and hopefully encourages to explore more.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

i-TFTD #340: On Seeking Answers

#340-1. The wrong answer sometimes is the right one in search of a different question.
-Bruce Mau, designer

#340-2. If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against. The struggle between "for" and "against" is the mind's worst disease.
-Sen-ts’an, 8th century Chinese Zen master

#340-3. The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.
-Leo Tolstoy, author (1828-1910)

(Thanks to K. Shailesh for sharing this.)

Our logical, analytical mind tends to jump to finding the r! ight answer on encountering a question. We have trained that ability of the brain throughout the formative years. Any answer on offer, if not judged to be the right one, is wrong. Real-life situations involving real people with real feelings and irrational emotions have a way of disproving this fundamental belief in the single right answer. The question may be framed incorrectly or there could be more important ones underlying the asked question. This is why our creative thinking needs rekindling, and techniques are used for this.

Of course, the binary mode of thinking pervades all aspects of life. The month of August 2011 almost seemed to force every Indian to announce whether he or she is “for Anna (Hazare)” or “against Anna”. Maybe someone was supportive of one of the suggestions made by the activist and against some of the other suggestions. Nor could it be taken to imply that the person is supportive of the Indian Government who spectacularly mishandled it. Yes, there are important matters, especially concerning our values, when we have to take a clear stand but the complexity and dimensions could indicate deferment of judgment, more data gathering or discussing specifics rather than a simple Yes/No vote.

Such kind of advice would only help those who have not already made up their minds about making up their minds.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

i-TFTD #339: Grow Up and Move On

Grow up and Move On
For one to move into a position, there should be someone ready to move out.
By Devdutt Pattanaik

In Vedic times, life was divided into four stages: the first quarter was Brahmacharyaashram, the stage when one is a student; the second was Grihastha-ashram, the stage when one is a householder; the third was Vanaprastha-ashram, the stage when one retires from active household duty; the fourth was Sanyasa-ashram, the stage when one detaches oneself totally from the world.

In the corporate world, the ashram system is very much a reality. But not explicitly. When one takes up a job, one spends a lot of time learning the new job. This is Brahmacharya. Then a point comes when the learning stops and one becomes increasingly productive with higher and higher ! levels of efficiency and effectiveness. This is Grihastha. Then there's a stage when one outgrows a job. One desires to move on. This is the time when one must step into Vanaprastha, the twilight zone, when one empowers and enables the next generation to step in. Having created the talent pool that can take one's place, one reaches Sanayasa, free to move on, out of the current-job paradigm into a new challenging paradigm. And the cycle starts all over again.

Conventionally, Vanaprastha is seen as retirement. But it can be seen as the stage when one passes on one's skill and knowledge to the next generation so that they can flourish while one moves on. The ashrama system need not be applied only to one's entire professional life – it can be applied to each role one takes up. Thus one has the four stages as an executive, then the four stages as a manager, then four stages as a director. If we have to grow, we have to constantly keep retiring.

The per! fect organisation is said to be one that respects the march of the four stages; where things move predictably – people move on and move in at the appropriate rate. This is celebrated in the Ramayana where as soon as Ram completes his education, he is given a wife and as soon as he marries, his father, Dashrath, declares his intention to retire, move out of the palace, and let Ram be king.

The ashram-dharma in the Ramayan is a theoretical construct. It assumes that people are willing to move on to the next stage and they know when to move on. Life is not so simple. There are executives who do not want to be managers. And there are mangers who will not let executives become managers. And there are directors who realise they are quite illequipped to direct. This disruption in the orderly course is the theme of the Mahabharata.

The epic tells the story of a king called Shantanu who has a grown up son called Devavrata, who is ready to marry and become king. ! But then Shantanu falls in love with a beautiful young fisherwoman called Satyavati. He wants to marry her but there is a rider: only her children should be declared his heirs. To Shantanu's great relief, Devavrata voluntarily gives up his claim to the throne. "But what if your children fight my daughter's children?" asks Satyavati's father. In response, Devavrata takes a vow never to marry, never to touch a woman and never to father or adopt a child. For this vow, the gods declare Devavrata to be 'Bhisma'. Bhisma is celebrated as the obedient son. Nobody condemns the father. As one reads the epic, one realises that Bhisma's act of obedience is one of the prime reasons for the great carnage on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. If the older generation had made way for the younger generation, as the scriptures advised, the Mahabharata would not have happened.

The Mahabharata also tells the story of one Yayati who was so desperate to stay young that he begged one o! f his sons to suffer old age so that he could cling on to youth. His eldest son, Yadu, refused this request. The youngest, Puru, agreed. For obeying his father, Puru was made Yayati's heir (the Kauravas and the Pandavas are his descendents). For disobeying, Yadu was cursed that neither he nor his descendents would ever be king (which is why Krishna, of the Yadu clan, is always kingmaker, never king).

As in the Ramayana, this story of Yayati in the Mahabharata clearly celebrates obedience and submission of the younger generation to the older generation. But there is one crucial difference. In the Ramayana, the older generation does not behave like a parasite – it willingly makes way for the next generation. In the Mahabharata, the older generation takes advantage of the obedience of the younger generation to indulge its appetite for power and pleasure.

Organisations need to constantly look out for Yayatis and Shantanus – men who refuse to move on and me! n who refuse to let the juniors grow.
Men who use hierarchy to dominate and control rather than simply for order and stability.

Take the example of Jaisingh. He is a brilliant store manager. And he is comfortable in this position, so comfortable that very deliberately he keeps mocking and demotivating his juniors, telling them how they are not fit to get a promotion and doing nothing to help them grow. He fears that if they learn how to be store managers, he will be redundant and that he will be kicked out by the management. What the organisation does not realise is that Jaisingh is behaving exactly as his boss, the regional manager, Vijaysingh, who is fearful that Jaisingh will make him redundant. Both Jaisingh and Vijaysingh are stuck in Grihastha-ashram. No one wants to move into Vanaprastha, because everyone fears Sanyasa.

Letting go, moving on, is perhaps the most important skill one needs to master in the corporate world.
Imagine the human pyramid cr! eated during the Janmashtami festival of dahi-handi to help the one on the top get to the pot of curds and butter tied high up. Unless those at the lowermost level rise up, the one on top will never get to the butter. Ask yourself – are you rising to help your boss reach the pot? Ask yourself – are you allowing those below you to rise? Unless you do, the pot will never be yours.

(Thanks to Sheenam Ohrie for sharing this.)

Devdutt Pattanaik writes regularly in Corporate Dossier, The Economic Times supplement. He has the uncanny ability to relate the essential concepts behind the mythological stories to modern business management. Succession planning is a concept that is widely paid lip service but rarely practised. A leader must make himself or herself dispensable through grooming, coach! ing and empowerment of subordinates in order to be free to move on to newer roles. If I am comfortably ensconced in my job I reduce the probability of upward mobility, I stagnate – dangerously.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

i-TFTD #338: On Thinking Clearly

#338-1. The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.
-Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician, author, Nobel laureate (1872-1970)

#338-2. Clear thinking requires courage rather than intelligence.
-Thomas Szasz, author, professor of psychiatry (1920-)

#338-3. Our heads are round so that thoughts can change direction.
-Francis Picabia, painter and poet (1879-1953)
One reason we get stuck when trying to find solutions is that we accept the problem description or question as stated originally. Redefining the problem is a powerful step in innovation. One has to cultivate the habit of creating many versions of a statement. If we ponder over, “What deterrent will make people be more careful and avoid mistakes in this process?” it leads to a set of solutions, which are very different from those that occur when we ask, “How can this process be designed and communicated that enables people to correctly execute this process?” The latter leads to the mindset behind poka yoke.

Think of someone who you believe is an excellent communicator and the odds are that the person has clarity of thought and the boldness to express it. It is difficult to think clearly in the age of abundant information and access to opinions. More than being ‘brainy’ it demands confidence to accept our own thoughts and feelings, especially when dealing with personal problems.

Some people who have the habit of saying, “I am very clear!” use it as a shield to prevent further probing of their thoughts or exploring other ideas. Real clarity is to focus on the objective and relentlessly pursue it even it means reversing our stand or revising our thoughts.

Friday, September 2, 2011

i-TFTD #337: They Want to Look at You When You Say It

This anecdote has been quoted by Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, author of 'The Nonverbal Advantage'. Practical tips on body language are available on Carol’s blog.

In a Fortune 25 Company, teleconferences provided an ongoing opportunity for small groups of employees to get up close and personal with the CEO.

Time after time, employees would ask questions that had already been communicated in various company publications and through dozens of email announcements.

After the sessions, the beleaguered CEO asked his communication manager, "How many times have we told them about that? Why don't they know that?"

"Oh, they! know it," the communications manager replied. "They just want to hear it from you. More importantly, they want to be able to look at you when you say it."

Anyone working in a corporate environment would be familiar with the "Don't people read their mail?" puzzle. This little story emphasizes the importance of face-to-face communication, especially for leaders, something that is becoming less frequent due to distributed teams and availability of conferencing technologies.

Highly effective people travel a lot, and also wander around the office. Ram Charan, one of the top-rated management gurus today, is said to have clocked 500,000 miles (800,000 km) on aircraft in 2008.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

i-TFTD #336: Laugh Then Think

While most i-TFTD posts have a positive and inevitably prescriptive tone, humor and contrarian statements can be usefully thought-provoking, too. Past i-TFTDs in a slightly different tone (see here, here and here) have been popular with readers so here is another set.

#336-1. Being vague is as much fun as doing that other thing.

#336-2. I don't necessarily agree with everything I say.
-Marshall McLuhan, Canadian educator, philosopher and communication theorist (1911–1980)

#336-3. Ther! e's an old proverb that says pretty much whatever you want it to.

(Thanks to AP Srikanth for sharing this.)

Clarity in communication is often a result of clear and logical thinking. With logic one can win arguments and alienate multitudes (as Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein say in their hilarious book, ‘Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes’). There are many situations where one requires the skill of being vague—to avoid hurting someone, to hedge our bets or to have fun.

When discussing complex matters or pursuing a favorite topic thread spread over time, people tend to quote something we said earlier that appears inconsistent with the current statement. It is healthy to revise our views and reverse our opinion in light of ! new facts rather than protect a rigid consistency.

Catchy statements are available to make any point and its opposite—the context and intended application should be the guide.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

i-TFTD #335: Managers Need to Be Strengths-Spotters

#335-1. People go to work to succeed, not to fail. It is the manager's job to understand people's strengths. Managers who strive to find the good in their people will achieve far more than managers who only find fault.
-Ed Sykes

#335-2. We can't make people better by trying to eliminate their weaknesses, but we can help then perform better by building on their strengths.
-Peter Drucker

#335-3. Self-mastery calls for thorough familiarity with one's mental and emotional strengths. And it calls for sustaining a commitment to personal growth - the understanding of what makes you tick as an individual - as well as personal development.
-Charles Garfield

Find your own talents, stren! gths and those of your team's. Organize work around use of these strengths.

Many i-TFTD posts have touched upon my favorite topic of ‘Strengths Approach’ such as this and this.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

i-TFTD #334: Deadly Sho(r)ts Part III

Conveying ideas crisply and clearly is a rare ability. The Deadly Sho(r)ts and More Deadly Sho(r)ts i-TFTD posts received appreciative feedback so here is another set.

#334-1. A gun gives you the body, not the bird.
-Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)

#334-2. Convincing yourself doesn't win an argument.
-Robert Half, American businessman (1918-) [not sure]

#334-3. No plan survives contact with the enemy.
-Helmuth von Moltke, German general (1800-1891)

Physical force is sometimes overestimated, its control requires power of thought. I can use positional authority to enforce a decision but its implementation is far more energetic if I invest effort in convincing the team of the decision.

Persuasion is a dynamic skill—after reasonable preparation, its effectiveness lies in the actual conversation with others and how one fine-tunes the dialogue.

Planning and plans have to be understood as two different beasts. One is a useful thinking process with multiple benefits, the other is to be seen as a temporary and temporal artifact. This was discussed in the i-TFTD post titled, “Plan But Don’t Always Stick to It”. Two new books on strategy I started reading bring out the importance of this with brilliant examples from war and business:
-Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure by Tim  Harford, author of "The Undercover Economist"
-Good Strategy, Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters by Richard Rumelt

Thursday, August 18, 2011

i-TFTD #333: What Freedom Means

August 15 every year brings the word freedom into prominence. It is a simple word but not a simple concept. Everybody wants it but apparently everybody does not easily let others have it. One man wants to have the freedom to stage a symbolic protest in a particular place in a large city that would disrupt traffic and inconvenience a lot of his compatriots. The people running the Government of India are learning (hopefully) the limits of the freedom that they have. The quotes below indicate that freedom has many dimensions.

#333-1. Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside ourselves will affect us.
-Stephen R. Covey

#333-2. Regulation is designed by h! umanity itself, it would be ridiculous to presume that everything that is not regulated is not even allowed. Regulation is an exception and freedom is the rule.

#333-3. Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.
-Mahatma Gandhi

As happens often, I sense a useful point of view in what Covey says but have to disagree with the broad sweep and finality with which it is made. One of the hottest topics of research in recent times is on the irrational working of the human brain and the ways in which our thoughts and beliefs are unconsciously affected. But within the context of our reactions to events, it helps to perceive the freedom we have, to choose our responses.

Freedom is the default state unless specific limits are commonly agreed for collective benefit.

Having the freedom to make mistakes does not mean we should not design to prevent processes or products unwanted mistakes.

Monday, August 8, 2011

i-TFTD #332: Unconventional Tips on Decision Making

Action is Better than Inaction
Excerpted from an article in Providence Business News dated June 1, 2009
by Harvey Mackay, author of the bestselling book, ‘Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive’

Anyone who has management responsibilities understands that decision-making can be precarious. Choose well and you are a hero. Make a bad choice and your career could be over. Is it any wonder that many people really struggle in making decisions?

Or, as Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

After you’ve done all your homework, when making decisions, I’ve found that yo! u have to trust your gut. Deep down, you know what’s right. If not, I always check with people I trust to give me the knowledge on all sides. Psychologist Joyce Brothers advises, “Trust your hunches... they are usually based on facts filed away just below the conscious level.

Sigmund Freud was once asked why it is so difficult for some people to make decisions. He shocked people when he said he asks them to toss a coin. He went on to explain: “I did not say you should follow blindly what the coin tells you. What I want you to do is to note what the coin indicates. Then look into your own reactions. Ask yourself: Am I pleased? Am I disappointed? That will help you to recognize how you really feel about the matter, deep down inside. With that as a basis, you’ll then be ready to make up your mind and come to the right decision.”

We grow by making d! ecisions and assuming responsibility for them. You’re not going to be right all the time. In fact, President Harry Truman said, “Whenever I make a bum decision, I just go out and make another.

Andrew Carnegie felt much the same way that making decisions is a measure for success. He said: “It has been my experience that a man who cannot reach a decision promptly once he has all the necessary facts for the decision at hand, cannot be depended upon to carry through any decision he may make. I have also discovered that men who reach decisions promptly usually have the capacity to move with definiteness of purpose in other circumstances.”

Strong leaders have no problem making decisions. They are confident that their decisions are the best. Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, said, “My idea of a group decision is to l! ook in the mirror.

Abraham Lincoln faced some of the most difficult decisions any president has encountered when he presided over a nation that was split down the middle on the issue of slavery. In 1863, Lincoln, worried about the future of a nation breaking apart at the seams, made a bold decision to take charge, take risks and move ahead. He wrote one of the most profound statements about human rights of all time, the Emancipation Proclamation. He took these ideas to his cabinet, which then numbered only six. After reading the Proclamation to them, he asked for their consensus and support. The vote, including Lincoln’s, was two “ayes,” and five “nays.”

Lincoln announced the vote as recorded, two “ayes,” five “nays.” And he said, “the ‘ayes’ have it.”

Few of us will ever have to make a decision that monumental, but as managers, we will have ! to make plenty of smaller decisions that affect the lives and careers of our employees.

James Barksdale, former CEO of Netscape, was a charismatic manager whose maxims have endeared him to his employees. One of his favorites was formulated at a management retreat soon after he took over Netscape. It’s known as his three-snake rule:

-The first rule: If you see a snake, kill it. Don’t set up a snake committee. Don’t set up a snake user group. Don’t write snake memos. Kill it.
-The second rule: Don’t play with dead snakes. (Don’t revisit decisions.)
-The paradoxical third: All opportunities start out looking like snakes.

Mackay’s Moral: Don’t be afraid to make a decision. Be afraid not to make a decision.

(Thanks to Batul Hafiji for sharing this.)

In ! the initial stages one has to learn techniques and parameters to apply but as emphasized by many leaders, one should not wait for perfect and complete information. At some point we have to decide to act and move ahead. Reflecting on one’s success and failure could improve the parameters for future decisions. Over time, one has to mature to develop one’s instinctual ability and learn to trust it. Hopefully that would help one grow into higher responsibilities and more complex decision situations and thus begin the cycle of learning, doing and developing.