December 22, 2014

Lessons for a father - Our Own Schrödinger’s Cat

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The Premise Of The Thought Experiment

Schrödinger wanted people to imagine that a cat, poison, a Geiger counter, radioactive material, and a hammer were inside of a sealed container. The amount of radioactive material was minuscule enough that it only had a 50/50 shot of being detected over the course of an hour. If the Geiger counter detected radiation, the hammer would smash the poison, killing the cat. Until someone opened the container and observed the system, it was impossible to predict the cat’s outcome. Thus, until the system collapsed into one configuration, the cat would exist in some superposition zombie state of being both alive and dead. (read detail here)

Why Is A Zombie Cat Important To Us?

Let us think of the cat as a metaphor for all our fears, deficits and insecurities. If we keep them all shut inside we would never know whether the "cat" (in terms of fears, weaknesses and insecurities) is alive or dead. What do we do then? We check on it. We open the door of our hearts and head and make sure we know where we are. Then, we do something about it.

It hardly matters what we do in life. We could be teachers, engineers, lawyers, architects or chefs. We could be home builders or doctors. All of us have something that we would like to be better at. For some it is communication. For others, it is learning a new language or keeping up with the changing IT structure around the world. Bring out the fear and conquer it.

Another Thought

Another way of looking at the metaphor is for leaders and managers around the world. Without really knowing the people that we work with, all we can do is "assume" that they are doing well and are being looked after. At that time, without us working with them and seeing for ourselves, all we have is a zombie state where it becomes impossible to know whether the team that looks up to us is actually doing well.

So what do we do about this form of our own Schrödinger’s Cat? We MUST know our teams. We MUST know what makes them tick.We MUST invest in the human potential and spend time with them (I have written about it in the past too - here). If we do not know who we work with at a human level, we are not leaders. We merely manage.

Schrödinger claimed that quantum superposition did not work on big organisms like cats (or humans for that matter). We cannot be dead or alive at the same time. But, I think, the basic premise of the thought experiment still holds. Unless we open the doors of our hearts and heads, all we deal with is a lack of knowledge and, quite possibly, zombies.

December 15, 2014

Lessons for a father - Wisdom Or Wealth?

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There used to, in the south of India, live a kid called Ramalingam. One day he was given the boon to choose between wealth and wisdom. He had to drink from one of the 2 bowls (each signifying either wealth or wisdom). He mixed the contents and drank them and thus became wise and wealthy and became famous by the name of Tenali Raman. There are a lot of stories about him that we, in India, read and listen to while growing up.

While watching the series with my son now, I realized that the question and what Tenali Raman did were very pertinent. Given a choice, what would most of us choose? Wisdom or wealth? According to the story one was incomplete without the other. But are they?

Wealth would signify abundance. If we think strictly in terms of material things like money and clothes, a lot of us, although we might never admit it, would be able to be without wealth. If, however, we start treating things like generosity, human strength, diversity, learning and faith as wealth, we MUST all get wealthy.

Wisdom, according to someone, is a habit or disposition to perform the action with the highest degree of adequacy under any given circumstance. It is also, sometimes, interchangeably used with self-awareness. If we are self aware we see things a lot differently. The world is a very strange place and a lot of times what we think should happen never happens. Wisdom would allow us to know and understand that.

Tenali was correct. Wealth and wisdom are related indeed. Whether it is the material or something a little deeper, the wise go after true wealth.

In the days ahead then, I hope that we all enjoy the wealth of wisdom that allows us to achieve greatness. And always remember what the great Einstein once said:

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

December 8, 2014

Lessons for a father - The Softness Of Familiarity

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Our son loves playing on the carpet. Its softness allows him to be himself and play without a lot of physical risk. Whether it is a "perfectly" executed somersault or walking around on all fours, he loves it because it is something he has grown up with. It is familiar. It is friendly and it is always there.

On our trip to India this month, there were multiple instances where, quite unlike his home in the USA, there weren't any carpets. There were hard tiles and somersaults on tiles hurt. Jumping off stairs onto hard floors is not as soft as well. Instead of discouraged by the hard "enemy" he faced, he realized that sliding on a hard surface is so much more fun than on the carpet. There came the "lemonade" and our pride coupled with another headache. He would try and slide everywhere!

Adversity gave rise to experimentation which gave way to new found ways of having fun (or reaching his goal).

How many times in our lives do we give up simply because what we are familiar with and know is taken away from us? We stop having fun with what we do because we do not know how to deal with "hard tiled floors" in our lives and miss our "carpet".

Apparently all we require is to keep our goal in mind and deal with adversity in the best possible way we can. If we cannot somersault we should jump. If we cannot jump, we must slide!

Well done son! Now STOP...there are people watching and feeling bad for not doing this themselves ;)

December 1, 2014

Lessons for a father - The Great Indian Wedding

If you have never participated in an Indian wedding, I would highly recommend that you do so at your earliest convenience. A good Indian wedding is one of the most beautiful experiences you will have.  There is an abundance of everything. A multitude of colors greet you, warmth accompanies you and the food leaves a lasting impression. The Gods visit and stay to make sure us puny humans are doing things right. What continues to be the most important, however, is the people element.

An Indian wedding can either be a dream or a nightmare. The logistics involved, alone, can break a person. Strong are those that make one of these successful. Extremely courageous are those that have charge of more than one in their lives.

I had the good luck of participating in the Great Indian Wedding of one of my own this past week. I cannot begin to describe the experience. My attempt to explain the last week in words would be like someone visiting the Grand Canyon and telling you that it is big and beautiful. It won’t measure up. You have to be there to see what big and beautiful means. It is almost exactly the same for an Indian wedding. You have to live through one, and survive, to tell the tale.  

Lessons for a father, a brother, a son, a husband, a friend and for any human being interested in being successful were many. 

Every event is a project that must meet very high expectations. Every such project has at least 5 sub projects that come together at the end to make the whole. And yes, all of them are priority 1s. Every person involved, especially close relatives, is a client that must leave happy and contented. Lower priority issues, if any, surface unexpectedly and, if not controlled properly, can take the shape of a very big deal (read: sanity threatening) very fast. 

Add to all this my personal favorite. We, Indians that is, still like the personal touch in giving and receiving invitations. None of this new age RSVP’ing and confirming works. So, at any given time, we never know who and exactly how many are attending the ceremonies. It is a guess at best and, like guesses work, is usually wrong.

So what did I learn from the Great Indian Wedding of this week. I think some, most or all of them hold true in almost anything we do:

  • ALWAYS have owners of tasks. A task that does not have named owners will have a very high probability of not completing (or starting at all).
  • ALWAYS go in with at least 1 second/ back up option wherever possible. Relying, for example, on a single florist to deliver the roses at 7 am might not be a great idea.
  • Make sure that you take care of your own people. Those misses are the ones that really hurt.
  • Make sure that everyone involved knows what needs to be done, why it needs to be done and what your expectations of quality are. Remember, sometimes good enough is perfect.
  • Have a team of very reliable people around you that can think and take decisions by themselves. We might have to look, unapologetically, outside of the core to make this team.
  • Make sure that the level and quality of communication is very high at all times.
  • Don’t take on or work on things that are really not important and can wait.
  • Sharpen your negotiation skills. It never hurts to be a good negotiator in no matter what we do.
  • Rest, rest, rest, rest, rest. Take a break whenever possible. No problem ever got solved with tired and sleepy people.
I am sure that there are numerous more lessons one can take home from an Indian wedding. It is indeed the Grand Canyon of all ceremonies. We are happy that our own started a new life and we were there to celebrate this new beginning with them. Our coming together and being in one place for, and with, each other was what was important. 

Everything else was and always will be just a great show!

November 24, 2014

Lessons for a father - The Art Of Making It Work

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I was having a conversation with my Dad a few days ago. The conversation involved stories of his growing  up days in our native town. One of those stories was how his studies (which, incidentally, helped him become one of the top doctors in the country) had to revolve around all the chores that any farming family have to do on a daily basis.

The story goes thus. Being the youngest of his brothers and sisters, and part of a joint family, there was a lot to do. Work started before the sun came up and ended, usually, way after the sunset. In between, there was school to attend and any school assignments to complete. Work also involved helping his older brothers finish their assignments.

Telling his Dad and brothers that he would not be able to finish a task was apparently unacceptable. All their workloads increased further if anyone saw them sitting around - even as they worked on completing school assignments. 

So how does someone accomplish personal goals in the midst of high, and ever increasing, expectations and work load?

In my father's words - by making it work against all odds. The lesson holds true for just about anything we do.

He had carved space out in the middle of the sugarcane field specifically for studying. In his "down time" he would go sit there and study hard. Instead of concentrating on the amount of time spent, he would maximize the focus he brought to his work. By doing so he has been able to, over the years, accomplish a lot more in a small period of time. 

Lesson: At any given time, do exactly what you are doing and nothing else even if you do it for a few minutes.

Bigger lesson: If you want something, do everything you can to get it. The world is never going to wait for you to find the right time. Accomplishments might involve working around an existing system.

An inspirational lesson for a father from his father. Thank you Dad!

November 16, 2014

Lessons for a father - This Too Shall Pass!

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Ever heard of that famous king that asked for wisdom in the form of words that always held true? The wise people of his court came up with: "This Too Shall Pass!". There are multiple variations of the story but the wisdom behind the statement still holds true.

Rudyard Kipling, in his memorable "If", mentioned both Triumph and Disaster as imposters. His reference was to our successes and failures in life and how they both go hand in hand and never stay constant. The king's wisdom to accept the phrase was corroborated in this piece of fine poetry.

The case of resting on our laurels or going to a point of no return with our failure stands on very shaky ground indeed. We all go through a cycle, called life, where we meet with the ups and downs in both professional and familial capacity. There are good days and bad days. We win and we lose. The idea should be to live a life where we are ready for whatever is behind the closed door that we are about to open. We are continuously dealt a hand. Let us be ready to make lemonade.

I am blessed to have a partner in life that meets any situation with a very simple "we got this". Once I started paying more attention to what she said (both in times of joy and challenge) and how she said it, I realized that it had a very calming effect on me. "We got this" meant we were ready for whatever life was throwing at us and, more importantly, I had a partner that I could trust and rely upon to be with once all was said and done.

I am not advocating for not living life to the fullest and staying "in the lane" of enormous self control. What I believe in, however, is being ready for whatever is next in our lives.

Let us celebrate not the wins and the losses, but the strength that goes into dealing with both. Let us celebrate the people that live through it with us. Let us, definitely, celebrate the current moment because, guess what - this too shall pass.

November 10, 2014

Lessons for a father - Pistachios Anybody?

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I love pistachios! We cannot finish a trip to the local wholesale store without me getting my hands on them. Looks like, luckily, we have been able to transfer the same pistachio love to our son too!

While going through our last batch of the amazing nut, a thought came to my mind. The process of eating them resembled our lives so much.

The box of pistachios represented, to me, opportunities that we get in our lives. To get to the fruit, we had to put in hard work. If we work hard enough, we will, once in a while, get an opportunity, in the form of nuts that are already cracked open. What we do with the fruits of our labor is completely up to us. 

What I also realized that even after putting in hard work, some nuts are going to be bad. We often face situations like that in real life. After a lot of effort, all we get is failure. And just like our relationship with the pistachios, we must brush failure aside and move on.

Another truth that I realized was how much better the overall experience was when I started sharing the fruits of my labor with my wife and kid. I had this vision of what I wanted to do with my opportunities. Their addition and, in turn, our collaborative teamwork gave rise to a whole another level of awesomeness.

There we go then. A box of pistachios and an open mind that is ready to be inspired can teach us all we need to know about dealing with opportunities, hard work, failure and success and our continuous march forward. 

The box of pistachios is a metaphor of course. Life is not that easy. There are multiple nuances to whatever it is that we deal with. But, and we must admit this, our evolution into a better form of our selves does involve conditions that are way simpler than we think. Sometimes all that is required is for us to crack open a few pistachios and enjoy what comes out.