Sunday, July 26, 2015

Monday musings 235 - Turning points

Monday musings 235 - Turning points

“Life’s most turning points are the ones that we never thought we would cross”.  A colleague of mine sent me this and says the author is a 21 year old. Such profoundness is rarely associated with 21 but I guess wisdom to some comes early and to some never.

I am a sucker for stories people tell about themselves. My fascination to hear what people have to say about their journey so far, how do they describe their own narrative is fueled by the intrigue to see how human beings witness themselves. These stories tell how universal are the themes of unmet aspirations, unrequited love, the notion of being wronged by the world, haplessness, the lack of choices etc are. The details change but the narrative remains by and large same.

The top 10 themes I find reverberating in those narratives in no particular order are as follows -
  1. I wish there was more money  available for me to do what I wanted 
  2. wish there was more guidance available for me to tell me what was right 
  3. I wish there was more status available for me to back my own standing
  4. I wish I went to a better school/college.
  5. I wish I was better with words – mostly around English speaking/writing.
  6. I wish I got the love of the person that I cherished 
  7. I wish I had made better career choices – the companies I continued to work for or left too early 
  8. I wish I was a better in managing my boss/supervisors (note this is self view – reality may be exactly opposite) 
  9. I am very non-political – wish I was more savvy in negotiating the work place intrigue (note – this is self view and may not be shared with others!!) 
  10. I wish I was better at showcasing my work (note this is a self view and may be a case of poor work itself)

Increasingly I am becoming a believer of randomness – that life does not follow a closed circuit pattern that can be controlled beyond a point. The good old luck does play its benevolence or havoc as the case might be. I kind of like what Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel laureate calls as the ‘skill bias’ – that is the overarching tendency of performers, particularly in the corporate world, to ascribe their success to their own abilities. We are what we are as much as a result of random events that contributed or accentuated our successes but we end up gobbling the entire credit for it. The corollary is equally true in that case – that those who have not managed to do very well have themselves to blame for sure but may also be plain victims of random events – like birth, economy, circumstances et al

More on this some other time because this time I have to go back to the quote above. The issue of randomness to me is also about having to take a turn we never thought we will ever take. 

We never thought we would do some things ever in our lives. Most of us have gone through circumstances we never prepared ourselves for – actually never imagined that one day we will have to see this day or that, or have to cross this path or the other. We are sometimes blessed  but mostly condemned to face all that we face, cursed to do that we end up doing. It is this damnation that shapes the narratives of most lives. Even the good that is today sometimes is born of what appeared then as the eternal damnation. The turning points were crossroads we never thought we would ever have to come to much less take a left or right from there. 

I guess we have much to blame the turns for and much to thank them for too. What we do changes from moment to moment.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

234 Monday Musings - Literature in Organisations

234 Monday Musings - Literature in Organisations

Only the fools are absolutely sure. They seem to have all the answers. Certitudes are their signature. Most others live their lives seeking something or the other and not being sure of either what is to be done or what will be the outcomes. In an increasingly outcome oriented world that can be such a burden, dilemmas rule the roost. Insights are rare if at all and so is quest for existential questions - so personal to each one of us. The yawn between what is and what should be is increasing by the day. Each one of us have an opium that we have found to numb our senses towards the assault of these questions. The only place at least I have found answers is good literature - and to think that I wasted the prime of my life figuring out chemical formula of amphetamines and making a cross section of the tongue of a cockroach in a smelly laboratory can be very depressing. what a colossal waste of that limited quantity stock called life!

I am coming to the conclusion, although i have not reach there conclusively yet, that the business world must teach its practitioners soft subjects like literature and philosophy as much as they teach the areas of strategy, enterprise profits and execution. A literature blind person perhaps is utterly unprepared for the nuances of life, people and situations. Ability to appreciate fine arts transcends in its impact from mere appreciation of the  art form to sensitivity towards the sociology of an organisation. I repeat, an art blind person is unlikely to even understand that sociology of an organisation leave aside its deep impact. IN the pursuit of delivery his deliverance is served in this ignorance. 
I remember once reading about Gurcharan Das, the ex head of  P & G who had credited his degree courses in Philosophy as having deep impact in his ability to guide his business.

However we do see early signs of this being dabbled with albeit in fits and bursts. How come business is trying to search its answers in epics and mythology? How come movies are used as case studies to teach leaders? I know of courses in some universities who use classics in literature to teach nuance of business lessons. How come the western management literature has looking at the orient more and more to solve the mysteries of organisation building - is it because they are rich in literature, mysticism, parables, myths and stories? 

Yesterday in a concert in memory of the late Jagjit Singh, the singer Javed Ali sang a relatively unkown gazal of the mastreo, which had this elegant couplet - 
"laa mai tera Ved padhun
tu meri Quran samajh"
(let me read your Ved, and you should understand my Quran" 
This by far is a rich way of acknowledgement of diversity of perspectives. Anyone who appreciates the beauty in these lines is likely to deal with the difference of opinion at workplace far better than those who understand reality in mono chromatically and for those who do not appreciate stuff like these are unlikely to discern the finer issues at work place. 

Who knows, Kabeer may have more answers than Kotler!


Saturday, July 4, 2015

233 Monday Musings – Chicken or Egg – Aristotle style

Monday Musings – Chicken or Egg – Aristotle style.
Apparently it was Aristotle who said something to the effect “Act virtuous and you shall be virtuous”.  It is not lost that he did not say “think virtuous and you shall be virtuous”. I find this interesting enough to muse about it.

At the cost of over simplifying Aristotle, what he might be saying is that behave good and you shall be good. It does not matter what you think but as long as you are behaving right the result is the same. So what it would mean is that if a criminal does a good, he is good to the extent of this specific action. Cut to the organizational context – as long as a leader is behaving right, nothing else matters. One can always argue that he will not behave right as long as he thinking is not right. I will deal with this subsequently but at this stage what it would mean is that if by some way we create a template of agreeable behaviors or desirable behaviors and there is a strong governance around that, so much less energies will be spent trying to ‘change the thinking’ of folks. (As I am writing this, I cannot believe this line of thinking because it goes against the grain of everything that I have learnt so far – but why argue with Aristotle – the bloke was a genius!)

In the line of work I am in generally and otherwise too, we hear so much about the need to ‘change the thinking’. The underlying algorithm is that behavior is governed by thinking and hence if thinking can be improved, changed or modified then behavior can be changed and hence someday this change can be seen in results.  A slight modification to that is also that thinking comes from feelings and that comes from our beliefs and so on and so forth. There is so much scream on this subject all around. Most behavior transformation programs without fail begin with attempting a reflection on understanding our own wiring and how that wiring is governing our behavior. It is no one’s guess how much this effort is yielding fruits.
May be we should listen to Aristotle. May be the answer is to shorten the path and focus only on action or behavior. Thinking is like sedimentation rocks, layers get created over so much time and events that the whole pursuit of wanting to change it might be annoying at best and frustrating at worst. A leopard rarely changes his spots! Why not tell the leopard to behave in a certain manner and lo behold we have a cat instead! A leopard is a leopard because he is violent and prone to attack all and sundry. What if he is told to behave himself, which in the beginning he is unlikely to agree to, but on suitable carrot and stick based taming I am sure his ‘actual behavior’ can be controlled – although I must admist his basic instinct might remain the same. I am sure that is how the lions are tamed in circus. Imagine all the wild beast we see in the circus or say whales who respond to instructions were put through ‘thinking changing’ programs. How ridiculous. Cut the chase – focus on behavior – what you think be damned. I am beginning to see the brilliance of Aristotle!

Is it really that simple? Not sure. All I know is that this bloke Aristotle cannot be ignored so easily.