July 21, 2014

Lessons for a father - Between Disaster And Perfection

Image Courtesy: Flickr (Saku Takakusaki)

I really wanted to utilize a word that depicted the antonym, the exact opposite, of perfection. There was the option of using the word imperfection but to me that is a state that tells us we are not there yet. I needed a word that could, possibly, finish the sentence, "that was anything but perfect, it was a/ an...". That is when the word disaster came to my mind. To a lot of us, that might not be the right word, but the intention was to utilize 2 extreme conditions.

We are so enamored by the whole concept of perfection that we, often times, forget that there is an entire area of "good enough" between the 2 dreadful extremes.

Our love for perfection, not the pursuit of the it but the state itself, often forces us to neglect what might actually be pretty good. But, accepting what might be good enough does not mean accepting mediocrity. It means that we enjoy what we have and what we might have worked very hard to achieve.

Our son does not like saying "seven" in his progression from 1 through 10. Should we be bothered by the fact that the count is not perfect or celebrate the fact that he is definitely moving in the right direction and, for now at least, what we have is really good enough?

I can do with losing a little more weight and getting fitter. I have heard many others talk about the same thing. Should I be depressed with my bad health or understand that my continuous work towards my goal is good enough? 

Leadership and fatherhood both require a lot of patience. They also make us face adversity regularly. We all are on the path of intentional and continuous self-improvement. We are all, at best, a work in progress. 

In the meantime, however, it is pertinent that we enjoy and celebrate what definitely is good enough.

July 14, 2014

Lessons for a father - Dealing With New-ness

Image Courtesy: Flickr with edits

Is all that is new good for us? That can be the case if we respond to the change, the newness, well. Easier said than done though.

Change almost always seems like a dance to me. So many things can go wrong at any time that anything less than our complete focus might not work. But that is hard work. The incessant focus can be very demanding and who is to say whether the change is actually good?

I have had the privilege to witness some organizations and teams go through change. The what's and the why's, at least on paper, are easy to answer. The change usually, at an organization level, is a function of a new target market, increased focus or just good business sense. In all the mayhem (temporary usually) that follows, we tend to forget that organizations are not just cubes and ledgers. The most important component going through the change is the human element.

A lot of organizations going through changes, and becoming new in the process, tend to keep human issues for later. Phrases like "all that emotion is not my job" or "they need to get with the program or leave" tends to make people believe that they are not important for or needed in the future of the organization. 

Not dealing with the team's issues on time might resemble a car manufacturer which keeps the task of solving the engine issues "for later".

I read somewhere, that an illusion of communication is worse than no communication. I think the same holds true for progress (like Petronium said many years ago) and being on the same proverbial page. Do not just assume that people will understand the change, help them get there.

As leaders, we must make sure that a change, no matter how minor, is communicated well and our team is ready to be successful with the change and the new-ness as well as possible. 

More importantly, we must make sure that the soft issues, those dealing with our people, are sorted because our ledgers might represent our finances while how we deal with our people depicts something way more important - our culture.

July 7, 2014

Lessons for a father - The Best Idea Of All

Image Courtesy: Flickr

What do the now famous "Obamacare" and the iPhone have in common? What sort of commonality, do you think, exists between free speech and level of water fluoridization? What about gender and race equality, day care for children, computers, music, television and a whole host of other things? They were all an idea once. Just an idea.

All of us have been given this great gift of thought. We can all think. It does not matter where we come from and what the nature of our adversity is. We may be incapable of solving a particular problem but that is not the point. We can think and that is all an idea needs - thought.

We get so wrapped around the issue of coming up with the best solution that is unbreakable under duress that we forget that an idea - any idea - is perfect. 

So how is it that ideas do not work? Because of us.

The implementation of an idea, which till then had been perfect, throws curve balls in the form of human, system or resource limitations. An idea might not work because the world, we, are not ready for it or, there is a better idea to replace it or, worse, because we do not want it to work.

Till that time, however, it is as good an idea as any other. For us to implement, consume and judge the fruits of our mental and physical labor, we all need and must have an idea.

So what if we realized that there is an idea which is the best of all? What if it is an idea that is unimpeachable and has the capacity to fulfill every criterion that we set for it to be a success? What if it is so powerful that is needs to be implemented at work and in families right away? And what if we all already know about it but shy away from it all the time?

The best idea of all, I think, is to have an idea. The idea might prove to be unimaginably hard to implement. May be it will be impossible given the framework of time, budget and human and technical resources at our disposal. But, it might also be the best idea that anyone ever came up with. The only way of really finding out if you just came up with the idea of the next century is to have it and share it. 

I do hope that our son grows up to be full of great ideas. If not great, however, I do hope that he is full of many ideas.

Rome was not built in a day, neither was the American dream won nor was Everest conquered and not Camelot created. But it all started in someone's head one glorious morning. 

It all started with an absurd idea to change the world as we know it. 

Have you had an idea lately? What did you do next? 

June 30, 2014

Lessons for a father - Degree Of Dunken-ness

Have you ever dunked a cookie in a good cup of tea or milk? I hope you have. It is an art to have the perfect dunk. There is also some serious science behind it. What is certain, however, that a perfect dunk usually leads to a much enhanced taste and can lead to an overall great experience.

People, in some countries (mine included) take dunking so seriously that Physics equations have been cited to come up with the optimal time span, based on the fluid in which dunking is taking place and what we are dunking, that the cookie should spend in the tea (for example). One of the equation that is cited is Washburn's Equation.

Where t is the time for a liquid of dynamic viscosity η and surface tension ϒ to penetrate a distance L into the capillary whose pore diameter is D - Source: Wikipedia

Our son and I enjoy dunking our cookies in milk or in my cup of chai. If it goes well and assuming we are good at it, we love our cookies even more. If it does not go well, there is a chance that our milk or chai might require some cleaning up, another cookie or, at best, some flotsam.

I love this piece of science!!! It gives seriousness to something that is "just a fun activity". But it got me thinking.

All of us get pushed to do and be more than we think possible. Whether it is professionally where we are expected to produce better results, at the gym where we are expected to get fitter and stronger or as students where we learn something new daily. 

Our daily lives, full of expectations from ourselves and others, is not too different from that cookie being dunked in chai. We are the cookie. The deluge of information and expectations is our liquid of dynamic viscosity - our life chai.

Just like the piece of toast or biscuit, there is a limit of time after which we would break. We have to realize that, just like a cookie, not every person is fit for every kind of pressure. No matter how strong we are, we suffer from finiteness. Once we are there, at our degree of dunken-ness, we will break.

As leaders we must appreciate that if we do break our people by inundating them with pressures of expectations, we would have to clean up whatever happens next.

A cup of chai or a failed dunk with a cookie may not be important. Putting our teams through an unreal amount of pressure coupled with enormous expectations definitely is.

So here is what I would consider:
  • Choose the main components of the dunk well: Whether it is your piece of biscuit or your team, make sure that they are the right choice for the dynamic environment that they are entering.
  • Do not create unnecessary and unlimited pressure: It is important to expect more but behavioral alterations will not happen over night. Mind the time and amount of pressure that you put the team under.
  • You are one team: Never forget that a good dunk requires 3 parts to work as one. 2 should be obvious by now. The third is us. We are the ones that do it. We are the ones that hold the right type of pressure for the right amount of time on the right components.

Happy dunking folks! I hope that you choose and treat your cookies well.

June 23, 2014

Lessons for a father - S.I.F.S

Image Courtesy: Flickr
When we were growing up there used to be this story of the boy who cried wolf one too many times. His cry for an urgent reaction, in this case to save his sheep from a wild animal, were repeated so many times without an actual urgency (no wolf!) that when it did happen no one responded. Based on the culture that we represent there may be multiple variations of this story.

Lesson learned there. Do not try to make urgent what might not even be important. Also, whatever you do, do not take help for granted.

A similar story involves the phrase "the sky is falling". 

What is it that we would do if the sky were to fall? 

In no particular order we would, possibly, leave what we were doing, run and hide and wait for things to settle down. What happens if someone was just "crying wolf" and the sky actually did not fall? We, collectively, would have wasted time by doing things (running, hiding and waiting) that we did not need to do. 

The perception of urgency, especially when vocalized, may lead to a behavioral shift, even temporarily, in all of us. At home or work, important should remain important and become urgent only at the right time.

A lot of us suffer from temporary loss of calm reason and engage in this Chicken Little moment. I have a name for it. I call it S.I.F.S - the Sky Is Falling Syndrome.

So the question really is, how do we make sure that we do not cry wolf if it is not needed? Here is what I have learned:

  • Ask the right questions - Instead of being contended with "things are not working" how about we take the next step and ask "what is it that is not working exactly"?
  • Set the definition of success - It is very hard to know if we are successful if we do not know what success looks like. It is like playing the competitive format of a sport without counting conditions for which the natural flow of the sport has to temporarily stop (goals, fouls, runs etc.). May be the goal is for our toddler to know the numbers from 1 through 5 or for our client to have an amazing experience using a new piece of software that was developed. What defines success?
  • Only involve relevant people - When we get into a moment of adversity we all have a tendency to attack the problem with numbers. Instead our attempt should be to only call people that can kill or scare away the big bad wolf. Numbers have this weird habit of failing to be on the right side sometimes.
  • Communicate. Communicate. Communicate - Communication, at least in my head, holds the same importance as location for a business. If at any time we are unable to answer the why, how, what, when and who of the goal, success, at best, might be temporary. In times of adversity, it helps if the quality and quantity of communication is taken to a higher level.
  • Stay calm - Even if the sky is falling or the hungry big bad wolf attacks, move fast but stay calm. Chaos usually fuels bad behavior in times of distress. Take a couple of minutes. Drink some water. Taking a minute to calm down bears much sweeter fruit than those borne of turbulence.

The sky might be falling. But it may also be just the sign of a good rain. Instead of running and hiding, it might be time to go out and have fun.

June 16, 2014

Lessons for a father - The Game That Taught Me Leadership

Piyoosh Rai uses an image from Clash of Clans to complement the blog post.
Image Courtesy: Supercell

What if I said that everything I need to learn about leadership is part of this new game that my entire team has picked up? Sounds unbelievable? Before I started looking at the game in a new light, it was not something I was ready to consider or accept either. Then the game took over.

A few weeks ago a bunch of us started playing the Clash Of Clans ®. According to the developers of the game, it is an "epic combat strategy game". I think it is more, much more. I think it is a great tool that can serve as a great lesson in goal setting, resource utilization and team building to name a few.

Question: How is it that a mobile game has an ability to teach us about leadership and managing teams and expectations?

Answer: Here is what I have learned so far:

  • Never EVER stop getting better - Whether it is updating the offense and defense units in the game or your own self - keep updating!
  • Updating will come at a cost - Defensive units might not be ready for an immediate need but the game is not played for short term gains. Studying and learning for ourselves might not give us an immediate new talent either. Stay with it though. Long term gains will follow.
  • Failure is only an opportunity to get better - a 12 hour or a 16 hour shield in the game gives us a respite from another attack. It is also an indicator that we can get better. That is not so different from looking at a bad day at work as life's indicator to keep evolving.
  • Learn from people that are better  - The game is being played by people from around the world. There are many that might have been playing it for much longer, and in a far better way, than you are. Observe their behavior. Learn from them. Again, keep getting better.
  • Use your resources wisely - Keep asking yourself, both in the game and out of it, what is the most important thing I should be doing right now? Then, go and do it.
  • Work will always take longer than you hope - Multi-day updates? Is this a joke? No it is not. All we can hope for is for work to take a short amount of time. It will, however, take the amount of time that it takes. Patience can be a learned art. Use your resources wisely.
  • Opportunities will present themselves - Always be ready to make a decision based on context. May be gathering gems is more important than updating a building. Being aware and adapting to changing demands is wise both in the game and out of it.
  • Work as a team - Make/ join a clan. Learn from each other. Ask questions. Share your resources. Fight as one. Teamwork, in the game, at work, at home and in just about anything we do, is a massive asset. Utilize it. 
Is it just a mobile game? May be. If, however, we are open to learning and getting inspiration from it, it might just turn out to be full of lessons in continuous growth, teamwork and leadership.

Play well and get 'em goblins!!!

June 9, 2014

Lessons for a father - The Best Gift Of All

Image Courtesy: Flickr

I really want to know. What is the best gift of all?

A lot of us appreciate good books. Books are a great medium of learning or to be transported into a land of imagination.

Great food, cooked at home or at a restaurant, never seems to be a bad idea either. Home cooked food obviously adds that extra personal touch, but either ways it makes for a great gift.

I have been told to stay away from all forms of colognes and perfumes. Various, very logical but mostly emotional, reasons have been cited. I defer to them.

So what do we do when we genuinely want to make a day or a moment special for someone?

And, what if we want to choose a gift that has professional relevance as well?

We all suffer from finiteness of various things in life. From lack of sleep to a lack of information, sometimes of work, and other times of happiness. Whatever the case may be there is always that something that is lacking in our lives. Something that we could do more of. Our stay in the world is one of them.

Given an unending life we would accomplish so much more than we do. Alas though, that is not possible. We have a very limited time on this beautiful planet within which all of us should contribute towards making it better. Leaving Earth better than we found it should be on everybody's to do list.

I would think that the best gift anyone could give me or have from me would be of time. That "extra" or gifted time can allow me to learn more, serve more, do more and be more. 

How do we, though, give that gift when we hardly seem to have enough for our own chores?

This might help:
  • Make sure only people that can contribute directly to the job at hand are invited to meetings.
  • Make sure meetings start and end on time
  • Schedule time for responding to emails and phone calls. Distractions, even when they are relevant, often contribute to a wastage of time.
  • Keep emails relevant and to the point. Use the subject line well (for example, phrases like [Information], [Response Required], [Urgent] can be used instead of explaining what the email is about).
  • Schedule time for a mental and physical recharge. Take days off. Spend time with your loved ones. A well functioning mind can contribute a lot more than a tired and over-extended one. Even a brief walk or a coffee break can help.
  • Meditate/ connect with your spiritual self. Between hitting the weights in the gym and solving Mathematical puzzles, spiritual health often gets ignored. It is equally, if not more, important.
  • Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize.  Not everything is as important as it seems.
  • Do not shy away from saying no. "We never say no" is a cliche that will take its toll.
  • Optimize - stay away from redundant labor and utilize optimization tools wherever possible. 
  • Most importantly - share your abundance. If you know of a tool or a trick that can make others' job easier, share it.

Here is my theory then. Food, books and even clothes are very relevant presents. None of it will matter, however, if we do not have the time to enjoy them. 

It will, therefore, be my intent to give the best gift of all - that of time.

What do you think makes a great gift?