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.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

i-TFTD #331: On Vague Moods

#331-1. When in a sour mood, stop everything and ask if you are in need of food, sleep, a potty break, fresh air, or exercise.
-Justin Wehr

#331-2. The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is on the contrary born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else—we are the busiest people in the world.
-Eric Hoffer, philosopher and author (1902-1983)

#331-3. Weather is a state of mind. How gray one feels inside has little to do with clouds or what the thermometer reads. One could find cheerful people in an icy place like Alaska or gloomy people on a sunny beach in Hawaii.
-Anu Garg, chief word smith of A.Word.A.Day

Mood is hard to define but we all know what it is. Moods are non-specific emotional states that linger but are less long-lasting than personality traits. I used to believe that so-called moody people are inconsiderate folk who use the word to justify their self-centered behavior. Psychology professor Robert Thayer is a mood researcher who has written useful books and articles on how food and thoughts affect our mood. One useful insight I gathered is to view mood as a thermometer. It is an indicator. We can learn to become aware of our mood and examine the causes of it so as to take useful action. Proponents of emotional intelligence advise us to identify how a particular feeling, especially a negative one, manifests as a physical sensation. Many people experience a low-intensity headach! e-like throb when they are frustrated or silently angry about something. For me, it seems to make me feel queasy in the stomach. The value of noticing such a symptom is that it often precedes the identification of the feeling by our conscious mind. Once we make a correlation we can train ourselves to become aware quickly.

When prioritization is not done properly we may end up spending time on the less important matters, which creates the feeling of being out of control. Then we become less effective.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

i-TFTD #330: Past = Passed

#330-1. Keep in mind that half of what you knew 18 months ago is worthless today, so you need to keep learning new things.
-Dr. Heinz Kabutz, creator of Java Specialists newsletter

#330-2. The past is to be dropped not because it is bad but because it is dead.
-Anthony De Mello, Jesuit priest and spiritual author (1931-1987), in "One Minute Wisdom"

#330-3. The dust of exploded beliefs may make a fine sunset.
-Geoffrey Madan, writer  (1895-1947)

The human mind works by identifying and memorizing and applying patterns so, in a way, we rely on nothing but the past. We find it easier to criticize past beliefs that are traditions imposed ! from outside but we rarely examine our own beliefs formed by a past experience.

Thinking about the past is useful only for the purpose of analyzing it to extract lessons that may guide our future behavior, otherwise it is to be avoided. Occasional reminiscing and nostalgia, if it makes us feel good, is healthy in small doses. It is important to remember that we don’t remember anything accurately however clear the image in our mind may seem. Many researchers in recent years have conducted experiments that show how what we recall is heavily influenced by many factors such as our current knowledge and the emotions attached to events. Many things about our past—especially our cultural background, educational and economic status—are nothing but a videotape we choose to play in our minds. They may be irrelevant, inaccurate and unnecessary constraints to our current capabilities.