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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pursuit of virtues is neither a way to build talent, nor to succeed in life

If you read any book on the 'keys of success', the book will tell you to follow a long list of traits and virtues such as honesty, hard work, confidence, motivation, pursuit of truth and so on.

But, as we have seen in our earlier blogs, traits are highly contextual, and have only limited significance. For instance, we have discussed how motivation is contextual.  Even confidence is contextual. Because of their contextual nature, traits are both time-dependent and relevant for a specific situation. We should not ascribe this traits more 'meaning' than what they represent. We should instead listen' to the signal they are trying to communicate, and take the necessary action. For instance, when the motivation falls for a specific task, it gives us a signal that our challenge is lower. It tells us that we need to find a way to increase our challenge by increasing the complexity of the 'task', for instance. The same rule pertains to confidence. When 'confidence' is lacking in a specific act, be it buying a house or driving a car, we know that our capability is not commensurate to that 'act'. Either we find the right person to help us out or increase our 'capability'. Sometimes, it is better to ignore the low confidence, because when a task is unknown to us, we will naturally feel 'diffident'. Trying to feel confident in all the situations, a symbolic hallmark of corporate achievers, is a sign of 'foolish bravado'.

In the same way, most of the virtues are appropriate for a specific context. Take example of a virtue, which is most talked about; the virtue of honesty. Are you honest if you pick up a lost wallet and give it back to the owner? or are you honest because you refuse to buy a cinema ticket from a rogue outside the cinema theater? or are you honest when you report your every 'cent' of money in the income tax returns? or are you honest because you refuse to pay additional money to the railway ticket officer for getting a reserved seat in a 3-tier coach and instead get down from the train? or are you honest because you refuse to pay 'additional sum' to the ration-card officer and  prefer to re-visit the office repeatedly? As you will realise from some of the multiple situations  described above, one may be 'honest' in some situation and not be so 'honest' in other situation. It is very normal for us to practice honesty that we think is relevant to us and not practice another 'definition' of honesty. Virtues by themselves are not 'right' or 'wrong'. They are just 'appropriate' or 'inappropriate' to the situation. The same is true with other virtues like hardwork, patience, pursuit of truth and countless others.

Many individuals confuse 'virtues' with 'values'. Values are something that we hold close to our heart, irrespective of the difficulty or the challenge we encounter in 'holding them'. In other words, values are not 'nice-to-have virtues' which are appropriate or inappropriate to a situation. Values are strongly held beliefs that we will live for irrespective of the 'damage' that is caused by them.

How do some virtues become values? Values are right-brain outcomes in which we 'ascribe' meaning to virtues. As we have seen in the blog, these right-brain outcome depend on the loosely-knit process that is occurring in our lives unconscious to us. It is a process of clarifying aspirations, understanding and 'resolving' the conflicts in the values one holds and method of closing the gaps that the 'reality' confronts. Because of this process, what is value to you is not a value for me. You may value 'ecology' and I may value 'education'. And when virtues become values, talent becomes a means to an end, not an end. That is the fourth stage of talent embedding phase we discussed in our talent unfolding process.

But do not get misled by the slogans of positive psychologist who tell you to pursue different  kind of virtues and traits like Have a goal, Pursue truth, Be creative, Form a Network, Be committed and so on. Each  new author will present to you with a new list of virtues/traits that will help you succeed in life. This list is a laundry list; 'useful to all' and therefore 'useless to anyone'. Like they say when you believe 'everything is holy' then nothing is holy for you.

For full description of the list of virtues and traits that have attained mythical proportion, please read the book " Sanjiv Bhamre, The five myths of career building"

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

You can acquire talent in more than one way


Talent can be acquired in more than one way; with or without educational background, or by following a role model, or by relying on one's own strengths.

In the earlier blog, we discussed how a working model of a task of 'stock broking' converts knowledge into a skill. One has to 'refine' the same working model to convert the skill into a talent. In other words, your journey of becoming a talented performer in your field is via the 'task model' that you develop. Task model is the medium of acquiring talent.

A working model can be built using solid 'knowledge base' of the ' task area'. For instance, Nicholas Taleb's 'task model' of stock market is based on the theory of 'randomness and probability'. Harshad Mehta, who made huge money from stock broking was a High school student. His 'task model' of stock broking was perhaps based on the simple 'rules' of buy and sell. Although, he later became too ambitious and used 'bank money', which landed him into trouble, one cannot ignore his talent in stock broking. He proved that the task model of  'Stock broking' does not need a degree in Economics or a Phd in Mathematics.

On the other hand, one can follow a completely different route to build one's task model. For instance, Warren Buffet  has a completely different 'working model' of share broking which relies on investing in one or two companies, and then influencing the company by taking huge stake in the company. There are various ways of climbing the mountain, so to say. Warren Buffet used his own 'strengths' to develop a task model of stock broking which earned him millions, as have Nicholas Taleb and Harshad Mehta

Books on talent building ( stock broking or any other talent) are misleading, because there is no one 'best' working model of a task. Every working model is highly 'customised' for the task done by the individual. Whose book will you follow: Nicholas Taleb, Harshad Mehta or Warren Buffet? Only one thing is common: Every task model has to go through the rigorous process of 'reality-testing'. Initial robustness or comprehensiveness does not matter. Accuracy does not matter. It's ultimate value depends on how you do the reality-testing so that the model closely reflects the as-is reality.

One of the biggest class of best seller books are management books written by erstwhile successful managers. As you will realise now, they are not particularly useful because of the above characteristics of task model. Every manager has to built his own 'task model' to manage his own unit/branch/group. The task model of 'management', to be useful, has to be sensitive to context ( depend on the function, domain and industry of the unit), cultural practices of the company in which he or she is working ( implicit company rules and practices) and the personal strength and weakness of the individual who is managing ( people oriented, task oriented ). Because of the highly 'contextual' nature of task model of management, one cannot easily adopt someone else's task model of management. And you will also observe  a curious phenomenon here:  Building a good task model of management does not require any degree in management, or post degree qualification in organisation behaviour.

Apart from task of 'management', which are the two big professional tasks where a talent can be developed without any educational background? Just take a guess. One is cooking !. Another is ....!.Hint: we engage with these talented people every day.