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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.