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Friday, April 02, 2010

In corporate work, we can only produce task output without influencing 'task outcome'

In a recent ATP tennis tournament of Indian Wells, California, 2010, i was watching semifinal match between Andy Murray and Soldering. The match looked close. At the end, Soldering won the match in three sets, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Statistics however at the end of match was surprising. Both had won equal points: 79. Both players won equal points, but one player won the match at the end. Andy Murray and Soldering put in same efforts in the match, produced same output, but the outcome of the match was determined by 'who won the points at what time'!

I see this phenomenon regularly in a corporate world. Two individuals working in a company may work equally hard, but may end up producing different outcomes. That is, one may get less 'credit' for the task accomplishment than the other. It looks so unfair to the loser, like it looked so unfair for Andy Murray. But if you pause for a moment, you will not be surprised.

Unlike in a tennis match, the work in a corporate world is always done by a team. In a team situation, where the work is knowledge work, it is very difficult to decipher 'who did what'. How does one decide, for instance, that a 'smart' idea of one team member contributed more than the 'long hard work' of another team member? Therefore, logically speaking, in such a situation, 'perception' plays a critical role in determining the 'winner' than the real merit. With no method of determining 'truth', that is the only way out.

You may wonder that this rule may work in a demanding field like research, where research contributions are strictly monitored. But i was surprised. One of my friend who is a researcher in physics ( doing her PhD) also experienced the same phenomenon. When the research was over, she found herself 'fighting' for getting the credit of success. Phenomenon was no different than a corporate world!

But if Soldering's win was a surprise to me, the result of next match in the same tournament was shocker to me. It was a match of Nadal versus Ljubicic. Nadal won more points than Ljubicic at the end. It was 98 versus 92. But yet, Ljubicic won the match in the third set in a tie breaker. It is so difficult to believe.

Now what other proof do we need to appreciate that we can only influence 'output', not 'outcome', even in a one-to-one match. If it is so valid in a one to one situation, how can it be different in a team work of corporate life ( where it is more probable because of additional factor of 'perception')?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Understanding country's historical background is important to achieve a part of career objective

According to one Harvard study, one of the four objectives which man seeks to achieve during his life is legacy. One of the common way of leaving behind legacy is doing something for the society or the country. Most of the corporate executives however do not start working on this objective until they have retired and therefore often fail to prepare themselves for doing anything meaningful in their later part of life.

I was therefore surprised to read Nandan Nilekani's book "Imagining". After reading the book, one realises that his entry in Government UID project was not a chance event. In career, 'opportunity' becomes an opportunity only when you are prepared for it. This book shows his preparedness. Although the book took about 3 years in the writing, I am sure it was working on his mind for much more longer than that. The book depicts his method of understanding India's background and challenges to find what he could do in this scenario.

In the process, however he has created a book which can be used by all corporate professionals. (This is opportunity for you!)

It is a very good book that brings together the relevant part of Indian history to understand where India stands today. It fills in numerous gaps of information that may be irking you. For instance, it would help you understand how this 'double hump' demographical change in Northern versus Western/Southern states is fueling the 'Marathi' movement in Maharashtra. Or why accidental introduction of English language to 'control' the English empire by British India has unwittingly helped India today? Or how these small revolutions in Stock exchange automation or Telecom have contributed to India's growth in such a big way? Or what challenges is India facing on education and health front?

For a corporate professional, who does not have the time and patience to understand the country's challenges in a meaningful way, this book of Nandan Nilekani offers a 1000 feet perspective of India's historical background and the emanating challenges, so that one can delve into deeper details of a relevant portion ( of IT or eduction or health) depending on one's interest and concern.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Is career building a mystery or a puzzle?

( Mystery versus Puzzle idea was made popular by Gladwell in his Enron's article)

Let us understand this distinction better. One can view traffic congestion problem, for instance, in a city as a mystery or a puzzle. If it is a puzzle, then one shall identify traffic patterns, build appropriate signaling system, negotiate traffic through one-way and two-way roads, and build flyovers where the four-way traffic is equally dense. If one views it as a mystery, then one shall view it as phenomenon of natural urbanisation in a country and therefore find ways to 'manage' the increasing intake of rural population, determine 'threshold' level of a city that can assimilate a specific size of population at a particular rate, decide ways of reducing population intake into traffic intake ( say by forcing people to use public vehicles), and then arrive at an effective strategy of reducing urban congestion.

As you will observe, mystery solving involves making several judgments, taking many ' intuitive calls' on the unfolding of future, and making murkier decisions based on inadequate data. Puzzle solving on the other hand means getting more and more data, finding better way of getting data, and using algorithms to find the right decision. Puzzle typically has one conclusion, Mystery has many. If puzzle is solved wrongly, it is easy to find a culprit. In Mystery is solved wrongly, it is not possible to blame any one. So what do individuals do when forced with this choice. Does it take any Prophet to predict that they will naturally choose puzzle-solving paradigm?

The same has happened with Career-building. Solving a puzzle of career building is far more easier than solving the mystery of career building. We therefore find our career goals, determine the gaps to reach the goals, and fill those gaps. Naturally a puzzle can be solved in many ways. So some others solve it by building the right skills and traits that are universally right, such as thinking positively. They ignore the finding that all successful people do not have the right skills/traits. Based on the cricketing skills, who would have chosen Virendra Sehwag in a cricketing team? And that too in a national cricketing team?

Which paradigm do you chose to build your career? Unfortunately, the choice is not in our hand. Open-ended problems, like traffic congestion or career building, cannot be solved by using a puzzle paradigm. If you solve them like a puzzle, the solution is always inadequate, often a wrong one, and leads to many other unintended harmful consequences. In the problem of traffic congestion, we face the impact of wrong solution every day and conveniently ignore its consequences. In the problem of career building, we face the impact of wrong solution directly in our lives and pay for the unintended consequences every day.

The real question therefore is how to adopt mystery paradigm to build your career. If we agree on the question, then we are on the same table, and can proceed to find answers to the question.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

What is your career script?

Last week, in one of the Television show, I was listening to an interview of Smita Talwalkar. She is a film producer, who is producing good meaningful Marathi cinema, a model, an actress. She must be around the age of 40.

When asked about her past, she mentioned that when she was working as a TV announcer at the age of 18, she was working with Smita Patil. After a year or so, Smita Talwalkar got married, while Smita Patil went on to make an acting career in a film. Smita Patil made a mark as an actress. They could rarely talk to each other, but she used to tell her children and husband about their association on the TV. ( Perhaps she also missed what she could have achieved?) When they met together in one of the film shootings, though, Smita Talwalkar was surprised to hear Smita Patil praising her decision of making a family and living her life. She said ' Whatever you have achieved in your family can never every be compared to what she would have got in work".

How many of us have courage to write our own career script and live it through? Most of us, as we grow, summon enough courage to do it at the later age. Some cannot do it even till the end of life, as they keep on chasing money and security throughout their lives. But at the age of 18, it is rare to write one's career script.

In my journey of exploring interesting careers, I have met very few individuals of this type. We love seeing these characters in movies and make those movies famous. 3 idiots was a movie of such an individual. It is so exciting to fantasise about these characters and wanting to become like them.

Although these characters in movies are motivating and encouraging, it is not very useful, because it is important not to chase a mirage in careers. 20 years back i started searching individuals who build careers by 'setting goals'. When i found them, i observed that they exist only in certain professions and conditions.

If you therefore find individuals, who have written their career script, at an early age, please inform me, either on this blog, or through email id. It is important to investigate and get to know the 'reality'! I know that 'reality' is not always good for some individuals. Some time, however, it is a matter of life and death for some individuals. Like it is when i tell corporate professionals that building careers for them is not through setting goals !