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Friday, August 25, 2006

Do not try to take 'right' decision

I often receive calls from individuals who are planning to take another job. When I ask them why they have called me, they often reply that they ‘want to take right decision’. When I ask them ‘how will you know if we have taken right decision’, they understand the fallacy of taking ‘right decision’.

One of my management classmate went on to take the best paying job in a multinational bank, got stuck for 5 years, changed the job later to another bank and so on. On the other hand, I took a job in a private company changed three jobs in 5 years. When we met after five years we wondered loudly whether we took the right decision. He felt I had taken the right decision because I had grown in the three jobs and found what I liked. I however felt that he had taken the right decision because he had earned enough money to buy a flat and had therefore become more independent than me. Who is right?

What is a right decision? Do the ‘subsequent outcomes’ determine what is the right decision? For instance, if my friend was stuck further in a job for another five years, would I have said that he had taken a ‘wrong’ decision? And if outcomes determine the ‘rightness’ of the decision, how can one predict outcomes while taking a decision?

Or do the objectives determine whether the decision is right or not? For instance, if my objective was ‘growth’ and my friend’s objective was ‘money’, shall we conclude that we have taken right decision? But objective-achievement cannot be ‘digital’ (1 or 0), it is always intermediate. For instance, my friend could not have grown at all in five years. How does one determine whether that growth is enough or not? How does one determine whether that ‘degree of achievement’ is enough to constitute ‘success’?

If outcomes cannot be predicted and objective-achievement is subjective, how does one take the ‘right’ decision?

We have found that there are five characteristics of an ‘appropriate decision’. One is the self-information one has about oneself while taking a decision, second is a process of sequential logic to take a decision; third is the quality of ‘data’ available/used while taking a decision, fourth is the ‘what-if’ scenario used to maximize returns from a chosen path, and fifth is the awareness of ‘emotional bias’ involved in the decision.

We shall discuss each of the characteristics as we go along. In this page, we shall discuss the first one.

If one has enough self-information available about oneself, then many decisions get taken instantaneously. With self-information, our objectives are determined and that helps us take better decisions. On the other hand, self information can also be misguiding if it is based on wishful thinking and past conditioning. For instance, because my father is a doctor, I have more information about medicine because of which I tend to chose medicine course ‘unknowingly’.

This kind of self information can be misguiding. Like the example of Jessica given in the Po Bronson’s book What should I do with my life. After becoming MD, due to her father’s background of medicine, she found that medicine is not for her because she could not keep ‘distant’ from the patients. She could not have gained this self-information until she 'engaged' with medicine. The paradox of self-information is that we gain self-information only after we 'engage' with the outside world. And if we have to take decision before we engage with the world, how does one get enough self information? This is chicken-egg phenonomenon.

Therefore many a times, when we are taking decision, we are not aware of what we want, what we are, what are our strengths. Many a times, as I engage with the person in taking a decision, we discover many such ‘self-information’ tidbits while we are thinking hard. It is futile to demand that ‘one should know what one wants’. It is not practical.

Do you have any incidents or events to share on how you gained self-information in your life?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Beware of the career advice 'Do what you love'

Kamal Hasan, in his interview with Mumbai mirror, says that ‘I was a reluctant actor who was cajoled into acting. Now I enjoy it too much to give it up’.

Sonu Nigam, who is now recognised as an accomplished singer in Indian Bollywood industry, says that after having accomplished everything, my dream is to ‘get into agriculture farming’. He says he will spend rest of his life in it.

Jessica, one of the interviewees in the Po Bronson’s book of What should I do with my life, found that ‘Medicine’ is not her love after spending 30 years of her life in undertaking the course of medicine.

Abhijit Kunte, the Pune-based ecologist researcher, found that he loves ‘forests’ when he was forced to accompany a researcher into a forest after he failed in his first year science. It took him 5 years to find that he ‘loved’ forest.

Love is not an emotion which sprungs from within. It is not something that resides ‘deep’ in the recesses of unconscious which suddenly emerges from the inside one fine day and, lo behold, one has discovered one’s love. This image of ‘love’ is not only inaccurate, but also invalid.

Love is a stock which accumulates with our engagement with that object or action.

First, we take action based on our liking. Let us call this stock, the stock of liking. When we like something, say dancing, we do it. We watch dancers on the TV. Suddenly we meet someone who is a dancer. The stock grows. Then we meet a person who is learning dancing. Stock of ‘liking’ has grown now. It now becomes stock of ‘interest’.

When the stock has grown into ‘interest’ we dance gracefully and easily. People tell us we have talent. Stock further grows. As we learn dancing more and more, we realise that it helps us express other part of our Self - such as our love of music, or our fetish for exercise. Stock further grows. We appear in a dance contest. We win, or we get special recognition from some known dancer. The stock grows. As we engage with ‘dancing’ more and more, we start liking the people around it, the work around it, the work-related beliefs about it.

Once this stock of interest has grown beyond a ‘threshold level’, we call that stock ‘love for dancing’. Once the stock has grown beyond threshold level, the stock takes hold of us. Now instead of waiting for opportunities to come, we start finding opportunities. That is why we call this stock ‘love’. At this point, the stock of love drives our actions, decisions and priorities.

As the stock of love takes us into more and more actions and opportunities of dancing, we start learning it more and more. We become known as a dancer. Our self-belief changes. We love the way we think about ourselves, the people we meet, the Selfs it helps us to express. The stock, if it grows further, becomes stock of ‘passion’. Now the love of dancing envelopes us.

As we engage with the world outside, the stock of ‘liking’ got converted into ‘interest’, ‘love’ and later to ‘passion’. This has perhaps happened with Kamal Hasan and Abhijit Kunte.

However, at any point of time, the stock may also stop growing; either because we do not find the right people to engage or because we do not get the right opportunities. This is what happens when many of our childhood likings vanish away.

Or because, after engaging for a long time, we do not find that it is helping us to express our Self fully. Or the beliefs that it entails us to ‘imbibe’ are not compatible with the beliefs we advocate. Or we do not like to be called as ‘dancer’ ( which is issue of self-belief). This perhaps happened with Jessica and Sonu Nigam.
I have met many people who, after years of working in a profession, leave it for something else. Mats Wilander, left tennis, after he won three consecutive Grand slam titles in a year ( which is rarity), to pursue music. Or they keep on changing their professions because they do not find a ‘calling’ which expresses their multiple talents into one calling. Like for instance, Robert Fritz, the author of Creating.

In other words, we cannot tell our future and guess what will happen to us. We cannot guess which ‘stock’ of liking will become ‘love’ and which will vanish away after engaging with real life. And we cannot understand what we love and what we do not until we engage with life.

Therefore ‘do what you love’ is a catch 22 advice. We cannot love until we do it. It is therefore a trap. One cannot determine what one loves at the age of 15. Based on the ‘liking’ and ‘interest’ at the age of 15, one has to choose a path and hope that the engagement with the path will convert the initial liking into ‘love’. But there is no guarantee that it will. We are human beings who know what we know. We are not gods who can peer into our future and determine what we will continue to love.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Paradox of Doers in corporate world


I met Avinash. He works in an ERP support company. He is an excellent functional consultant in materials function, and regarded highly by his colleagues. He has worked in four companies in last three years. In one of the interviews in a big three of Indian software he was asked by an interviewer about ‘transaction code’ of a particular process in materials. He retorted by saying that ‘any novice knows a transaction code’.

I have worked in a software company myself. I have met many software engineers like Avinash. I call them doers.

Doers are believers in doing excellent job. For them, every task has do be done in an excellent manner. For them idea of ‘acceptable output’ is not acceptable, only ‘excellent’ output is acceptable. They owe allegiance to the craft. Because they care so much about the work quality and knowledge, they master the ‘work’. They have very little patience for those who are not ‘excellent’ in their job knowledge and skills, because they themselves go to extreme extent to become the ‘best’ in their professions. Because of this, they often seem to break the ‘team spirit’, which infact is not their intention.

Successful doers, to produce excellent results, realise that they have to be ‘part’ of a system. While being part of a system, one has to sacrifice ‘best output’ sometimes to ensure that customer gets what it wants. While being part of a system one has to ‘complement’ another junior team member who seems to have ‘latched’ on the specific problem being solved. While being part of a system, one has to rein one’s best ideas because they are untimely. One has to be ‘in tune’ with the system.

Difficult doers are like Avinash. They behave in the same ‘way’ in different systems and contexts. Because they are not tuned to changing requirement of a system, they seem to ‘advocate’ the best principles all the times. Radical doers start perceiving ‘genuine adjustment’ of a system as representing ‘compromise of values’ or even as ‘vagaries of bosses’. Once they attribute the causes to ‘bad management’, they view many ‘systemic’ patterns as a reflection of management’s high handedness. They exit the jobs. They find the same ‘issues’ in another job. They leave the job again. They become job hoppers.

Instead of using the systems feedback to discover what they are missing, they keep on blaming the ‘system’. The system, or the organization, tolerates them until it suits them. But they are dropped as soon as the system finds an excuse. They keep on changing jobs. As they become senior, they learn speak the right things. Overt resistance becomes covert resistance, which makes them even more sullen, pessimistic and distrustful. They are caught in a vicious loop.

Until these excellent doers learn to understand the system and why it is necessary to become ‘part of a system’, they cannot convert their excellent skills into worthwhile results.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Pitfalls of sequential career

Makrand, one of my coachee, works in UAE in a bank. Being a MBA he earns a good salary, and due to tax savings, the savings are substantial. His family has returned back because of his son’s education. We met when he was last in India. When I asked him what he is planning next, he said, he is planning to live alone without his family for another 4-5 years in UAE, return with substantial savings, and start a second career in teaching. Can one plan such sequential careers?

One of my doctor friend, who is a busy surgeon, is an exceptional musician. He plans to ‘retire’ early from his work life and launch his second career in music.

What are the pitfalls of living careers sequentially?

All of us live career with different objectives. Objectives also evolve or emerge as we move ahead. What was significant first becomes insignificant later. Money, which is very significant in the early part of our careers, becomes less important. Job satisfaction becomes more significant. We all see mix of objectives such as money, job satisfaction, happiness, and living life for significance at different times of life. This is a natural part of our growth. Sometimes, we cannot fulfill our new objective because we are locked-in a situation. For instance, one of my MBA friends started his first job with a huge salary. However, when his immediate money objectives were satisfied, he wanted to move out. He could not, because he was locked in due to his commitments of housing loan. Many of these lock-ins can be avoided with planning, some of them cannot.

In all these situations career objectives emerge forcing us to take a different decision. Let us call them evolving careers.

But planning a sequential career is difficult, because we are holistic beings. We cannot ‘start’ and ‘stop’ the evolution of our ‘Self’ by the press of a button as though we are a machine. Our self evolves as it engages with the external environment- situations, relationships and events. Every ‘engagement’ helps us discover of what we are, and what we are not. The denser the engagement, the better it is for discovering our Self.

Makrand is making three assumptions which, instead of producing the desired result, can lead to unexpected consequences. One, he plans to restrict his engagement of life ‘only with job’ so that he can earn the necessary money. He is underestimating the resulting frustration with which he will live his life and the ‘compensating’ practices he will develop to thwart the frustration. In such situation, people are known to develop many practices such as drinking, smoking and others which can completely derail his later plans. People also develop other lock-ins that can completely restrict their options later.

Second, he believes that his restricted engagement will still help him ‘grow’ his other parts of self and help him ‘really’ make a shift to teaching career later when he returns to India. As we grow, we find difficulties in learning new skills, new attitudes and mind sets. The initial hump of moving into new areas becomes difficult to traverse. If we are out of practice, we find difficult to learn anything new. Our age and stature does not further allow us to do certain things which we find very easy to do at an early age. For instance, a colleague of mine cannot do any consulting at low rate because ‘market’ cannot accept him at that rate. There are many more ‘stock’ factors that thwart a person’s ability to move into another field in later life. Unless those ‘stock’ factors are addressed, one cannot negotiate them at later date. For instance, if Makrand can start some teaching assignments in UAE, it will help him cross that hump easily.

Thirdly, Makrand is wanting to ‘stop’ life. He is hoping that his current option of ‘teaching’, which has emerged out of his past engagement with life, will still hold good. It is important to remember that his option of ‘teaching’ has not emerged out of his ‘teaching experience’, but more out of ‘necessity’. By limiting his engagement, he is not allowing life to emerge with other options. Many individuals get stuck with their earlier options, not because they are more appropriate, but just because they emerge out of the ‘wish list’ of early years. This may decrease his chances of succeeding with teaching career, as and when he moves into it.

The chances of succeeding with sequential careers are very limited because of the systemic structures in our lives. Although it looks like a nice option on the ‘paper’, the certainty of that option is illusionary.

I have seen many individuals who retire early from their corporate careers to do some ‘different work’, but they are unable to do anything significant due to this dynamics. The second career remains a dream. Money is not an issue with them. Doing something with their life however seems impossible for them, despite their money resources, their network of contacts, and their wisdom. Unless lot more planning is involved in launching the second career, it is almost impossible to overcome this dynamics.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Output Preparation is most ignored aspect of career building

I met Dan, a hardware engineer. He learnt to work with PC's and became master in repairing them. A hardware engineer also has to learn the 'operating system' of a computer to become a good hardware engineer. He therefore got to learn about Microsoft Windows. He had an innate talent to learn these things.

However, when i met him after three years, he was still working as a PC hardware engineer. I was surprised. A good hardware engineer quickly migrates from maintaining PC, to maintaining a network, and then to maintain a mail server, or to maintain a server which has large application software like SAP or Oracle on it. The climb requires a hardware engineer to get 'certified' in these different courses so that he can get the platform to display his skills. However, all this training and certification, requires lot of spare time.

Spare time is at premium for a good hardware engineer, who typically works for 10/12 hours a day. And because hardware engineers can work as freelancers in their spare time, they continue to work even on weekends, to earn some money. As their salaries are low, this income is good for them. But if they work on weekends, they do not have any time to learn new things. If they think of 'today', they get caught in the vicious cycle, and unknowingly jeopardise their 'tomorrow'.

Dan, after three years, was still working as a PC hardware engineer because he could never extricate himself out of the vicious cycle of 'today'. Output preparation was never taken seriously.

Like Dan, i have observed many individuals who hardly spend time on output preparation.

When they get married they do not spend time on learning how to adjust in a new relationship. When they change jobs they do not spend time on learning how to be 'part' of a new company. When they relocate, they do not know the difficulties of adjusting with new place. When they change jobs, they do not spend adequate time in knowing the metasystems and therefore waste lot of time in comparing 'new company' with 'old company'.

They grossly underestimate the benefits of output preparation. They fail to understand that, if they spend time on output preparation, they can save huge time, cost and pain of transition. Instead, because of inadequate output preparation, they get themselves in wrong and tough situations and therefore spend lot of time in resolving the 'painful' situation. Or they just waste time like Dan and hope that situations will improve by themselves.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Perception is inherent part of working in organisation system

Harish, a marketing support, was complaining. “Everyone blames me when the order is lost. However, when the order is won, sales and marketing take the credit. I work in a thankless job".

Jeevan, a programmer, was telling a new colleague of his, “If you have to succeed in this organisation, you have to butter your boss. Or else you get consigned to assignments which no one wants to do, or get the worst jobs in the group".

Both Jeevan and Harish are complaining about the system's inability to evaluate their work objectively and the consequent reliance on 'perceptions' in evaluating them and other people. Why does this happen in any system? Is it an inherent characteristic of a system or a flaw in a system that can be corrected? Let us use systems thinking to understand.

When you are working in a company, you are working in a group: group consisting of bosses, colleagues and subordinates. Barring few colleagues working in the same function, all of them are specialist in one area or another: sales, delivery, quality, finance and so on. Because each one is part of a function, one works to fulfill the function's purpose. If it is sales, the primary purpose of the system is to bring in new customers. If it is delivery, the primary purpose of the system is to deliver the 'promised' proposition to the customer. Further, each person may have got specialised in different fields: engineering, accountancy, and others.

Working in a function and fields makes it difficult for us to evaluate each other. For me, working in sales, evaluating my colleague Daniel in other function like hardware support, needs information about Daniel’s system, purpose, characteristic and so on. Morever, I need ‘time’ to do this evaluation. Neither I have information, nor time, to evaluate Daniel. In such cases, how do I evaluate Daniel?

You are right. I rely on perception markers. I rely on how Daniel talks, walks and presents himself. If he is untidy fellow, my perception is likely to be ‘Daniel is a shoddy performer’. I evaluate on how Daniel communicates. I evaluate Daniel by how other colleagues evaluate him. Or his colleagues evaluate him. In short, I seek ‘perception markers’ to evaluate him. If you do not believe me , take a pause, and think of how do you evaluate your doctor, TV mechanic, or your auto mechanic. You will realise the power of perceptions.

Imagine bosses who want to evaluate me, Daniel and others. Besides barriers of specialization and fields, they face another barrier: too little time. But they are the ones who decide ‘who should go for this important assignment’, ‘who amongst others should be promoted’. When something fails, they are ones who decide ‘who could have gone wrong’.

In an organization system, where cause and effects are related with each other loosely, how does one decide ‘what and who performed well’ or ‘what and who performed poorly’. Both credit and blame cannot be ascribed easily in an organization system where ‘cause’ of performance is loosely coupled with ‘result’. In such a situation, the only way to ascribe ‘causes’ to a good or bad performance is through ‘perception markers’.

That is what bosses do. And that is why it is necessary for every one of us to understand and become ‘part’ of a perception system of an organization. We do not have any choice. Perception is an inherent need of a system. If we ignore it, we get evaluated by others. If we consciously become aware of the perception system, we can at least ‘influence’ our evaluation.

If we are good performers, it is all the more necessary to be part of perception system to ensure that we get the rewards what our works deserve. If we choose to ignore it, we can only complain that less deserving are getting the rewards.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Output in work-life is created by being part of a system

Output is created never by an individual alone. Image of a hero working in a dungeon alone over a invention and shouting 'Eureka' after his discovery is a myth. That era of creating output alone is over.

Even a sportsplayer who is supposed to play his or her game to succeed has to be part of different systems before his/her contribution can produce rewards. For instance, a tennis player has to part of four systems to ensure that he plays consistently in a tennis circuit: adminstrative system to ensure that tickets, staying and support activity is managed without any hassle, coaching system to ensure that prospective competitors flaws are tracked and specific localised situations are understood, physiotherapists who helps him/her keep fit, and his emotional support system to ensure that he/she feels does not get homesick and 'alone'. Without these four systems, no tennis player can 'perform' consistently. A failure in any of these four systems can derail him/her and therefore affect his/her output in a negative manner.

The same is true of a corporate professional working in a company. He has to work in three generic systems: work-output systems to generate different outputs, perception systems to generate the 'right' perception in the organisation and the reward system to get the requisite reward from the output.

Working alone as a lone ranger does not help. Even when a corporate professional is working in a highly individualistic function like 'sales', he or she has to be part these three systems to ensure that his/her effort is converted into useful output.

Welcome to the systemic world of organisations. Although becoming part of a system is highly unsettling, that is the only way to generate outputs in a system.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Career is more than work life

Although the term 'career' is associated with work-life, career building cannot be restricted to work-life.

Because work-life is impacted by relationships ( let's call it people-life), personal-life ( the domain of taking decisions, planning and correcting oneself) and inside-life ( how one processes one's emotions, beliefs and expectations), one is compelled to work on these three other lifes.
Surprisingly, in my career research of 17 years, i found that individuals do not even know how to create outputs in work-life. They believe that their effort, skills, intentions and goals are enough to produce the work-outputs and the consequent rewards. Nothing is farther from truth.
We shall, on this blog, discuss and share how to create outputs in work-life and people life; how to use personal life to ensure that those outputs are created in a sustained manner and how to 'consciously' take control of one's inside life so that intentions can be converted into outputs.
Welcome to the journey of career building.