March 23, 2015

Lessons for a father - Forming or leaving a habit (Part 4 - Gamification)

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To be great or a disaster is based on the same rule. Our effort to gain knowledge or continue in ignorance has the same basis. To carry forward an addiction or to leave one behind can be attributed to the same starting point.

Know what that is?

Our desire to do so.

Motivation from our leaders (familial or professional) and reward are external factors. The first step towards achievement can only come from ourselves. We should want to gain knowledge, for example. We should want to be good or to add value to whatever entity we belong to. Only then, like picking up a habit or leaving one behind, would all the external factors make any difference.

Our son's attempt to write the perfect "A" is no different from someone going to college. They want to do something. The teachers in the case of the student, or his parents in our son's case, provide assistance and help only after they take the first step.

That is no different, once again, from an alcoholic trying to acquire their drink of choice. No different than someone trying to gain fitness in a gym. They do and get what they want simply because they want to. Help from groups, friends, family, doctors or trainers all come later.

Desire to be good then, to lead, to motivate and to achieve. Become a better version of yourself.  Add value in whatever it is that you do. Whatever you want to do, do take the first step.

March 15, 2015

Lessons for a father - Changing Behavior (Part 3 - Gamification)

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How do I get fitter? How do I learn a new language? How do I save more money to secure my family's future? How do I contribute more to my team? How do I become a better leader? 

We all have things we want to do and goals we want to accomplish. These can range from personal to professional in nature. Why is it, then, that we lose out on accomplishing all the goals that we set for ourselves? What if we changed our behavior to accomplish those goals?

According to Dr. B. J. Fogg of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, three elements have to come together at the same time for a behavior to occur:
  • Motivation: The person is HIGHLY motivated to accomplish the goal or exude a behavior.
  • Ability: The person can very EASILY carry out the behavior or accomplish the goal.
  • Trigger: The person is triggered/ cued/ asked to accomplish the goal
As leaders and parents, we have input in all three elements. 

Motivation to accomplish a goal can be internal but, as leaders, it is imperative that we provide the motivation wherever necessary. That external motivation can be anything from a monetary reward to giving a platform or an opportunity where the very human need for social cohesiveness, self confidence, self esteem or achievement can be met. 

The factor of ability can be influenced by providing training with the intent to help a person get better continuously. Ability, however, once again, can be increased without any external agent by following a path of learning. It can also be influenced by doing and accomplishing easy things. Running a marathon on the first day of getting fit might very well lead to failure, but what if the goal was to walk for a minute? That would be easy.

A trigger, unlike the other two, might mostly be an external entity. Friends and family members that I rely on for good advice, for example, might have to tell me that I need to get fit. My relocation, in another example, to a foreign country might trigger the need to learn a new language. Something, or someone, must remind me at the right time of my ability to accomplish a goal and where motivation already existed.

An entire industry of games and gaming exists around this behavior model. It is no different, however, than leading change in our team or our family. The same model of keeping the motivation up, doing simple things but learning continuously and responding to a trigger (a call to change or to accomplish) can be followed in any setting.

Happy accomplishing!

March 9, 2015

Lessons for a father - Shot of Dopamine (Part 2 - Gamification)

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What is your "Dopamine"? Almost everyone has their own version of the "happiness drug". Technically, it is a hormone and neurotransmitter of the catecholamine and phenethylamine families that plays a number of important roles in the human brain and body.

In a gamification setting,  the "dopamine effect" is associated with a sense of achievement and the happiness that someone feels when goals are met.

In a sense, it plays the part of a motivating agent that is responsible for us taking action towards our goals, desires and needs and "rewards" us with happiness thereafter. On the other hand, procrastination, self-doubt, and lack of enthusiasm are linked with low levels of dopamine.

To keep up our need of this happy state, one way is to break our bigger goals into smaller chunks. By doing this, we can control our brain to celebrate when we hit the finish line. This way we can create a series of little finish lines which releases dopamine. It is important, however, to celebrate. 

Project management methodologies and frameworks like Agile are all built around the idea of small and more "get-able" goals. There is power in achievement, no matter how small. There are numerous other examples of this in the real world. Whenever a bigger goal is broken down and made more achievable, the idea is to keep the people involved more motivated throughout. Think about the following:
  • School systems
  • Weight loss/ diet programs
  • Gaming systems (Duh!)
  • Learning a new language (bad words first?)
The list, above, is a small sub-set of ways and places where a "dopamine" system has already been implemented. It works. Brilliantly.

As leaders and parents, we can help by recognizing accomplishments of the people that might look up to us. The celebration does not need to be big either. Acknowledgement of the achievement via words, written or spoken, can be enough. The idea is not to wait for major accomplishments but to continue motivating by celebrating and honoring those small wins too!

It does not matter what role we play at any given time. It would appear that we must all invest in having and maintaining our Dopmaine Effect.

February 23, 2015

Lessons for a father - Playing the game (Part 1 - Gamification)


There is a part of the new age learning and teaching process that revolves around game mechanics and game design techniques. This is called Gamification. The intention behind it is to engage and motivate people to achieve their goals. It taps into the basic human desire of status and achievement.

I have been studying up on it for the past few weeks. It is a powerful method that is being used by organizations around the planet in helping people achieve everything from learning a new languages, follow process, increase efficiency and teamwork or even on-board new employees. That is not the end of it though. 


The same technique can also be used to engage customers, promote desirable software usage behavior (websites, applications and games all fall under this category) and even supplement, and sometimes replace, conventional classroom learning.

There are constituents of Gamification that would hold true in case of parenting or leadership too. One of those constituents are what are called Activity Loops. They
are

used to encourage a user along a desired path of activity.

Activity loops in a gamified system are of 2 types:

  •     Engagement Loops
  •     Progression Loops

Engagement loops
encourage a person to perform in the form of an accomplishment. The feedback, in terms of the accomplishment, then becomes the motivator and encourages people to take their performance to an even higher level.

Progression loops allows for the participant to move in multiple smaller progressive steps instead of one big leap which might overwhelming. Each sub-accomplishment allows for "rest" in between to set the player for a bigger/ harder fight in the next stage.

Leadership, or parenting, also expects us to provide external motivation whenever required. By following rules of gamification, we can follow a process that is capturing people's imagination around the world and gaining a lot of momentum.

Let us play the game in all its glory and keep improving with our accomplishments.

February 16, 2015

Lessons for a father - Are you smart enough to build Rome?

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My fitness trainer, Daniel, often motivates me by telling me that "Rome wasn't built in a day". That is his way of keeping me focused and remind me that physical fitness cannot be achieved in a day or two. It is continuous work that involves self-betterment.

Daniel is right. He usually is about all things fitness. But the same logic can be extended to just about anything that can get better, and for me, that is everything.

I can become a better father and connect with our child at an even deeper level. I can become a better husband so that the best thing to even happen to me, my partnership with my dear wife, gets even stronger. I have a whole list of things that I can do to become a better son, a fiercer friend and, possibly, a good leader.

All of that, like Daniel suggests repeatedly, is not going to happen in a day or a week or even a year.

Rome took centuries to be built. It emerged over time but was never a finished product. It kept evolving, getting better, and adapting to the world that kept changing around it.

While it was getting better, Rome was destroyed, voluntarily and involuntarily, multiple times. What made it successful was its solid foundations and the perseverance that its people showed towards it with the dream of making it a great city. History would suggest that they were successful.

Similar to Rome, our greatness can be a lot more possible with a foundation built on belief in ourselves, goodness in our hearts and reason in our heads. All that should also be accompanied with adaptability that allows us to evolve in all our relationships, professional or familial. 

To be like Rome then, we must be ready to work hard continuously - evolving, destructing and reconstructing and putting brick on brick. Greatness will not come soon but then, it is not meant to!

February 9, 2015

Lessons for a father - Taking our trash out...regularly

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Thursday is special for a lot of reasons. The end of the conventional work week is nigh. In the west, the day is named after Thor (the Norse God) and that makes  the day, by definition, super powerful. In India, the day is named after Brahspati, the guru (teacher) to all the Indian Gods and the regent of the planet Jupiter. Again, the day holds incredible power but also, almost equal parts, wisdom.

It is also "special" because the beginning of the day is marked with my dear wife reminding me, almost every week - yes, it is that bad, that trash needs to be taken out. The difference is those alternate weeks when both the trash and recycle bins need to be kept out for collection.

That is the house trash though.

What about the trash we carry within us? 

The week is spent in doing a lot of things. We meet people, some because we want to, others because we have to. We do hard work while taking unintentional failure in our stride. We give every day our best and we all need our power packed Thursdays, our take-out-the-trash-day.

I think we should choose a time, preferably every day, when we introspect and meditate our way out of the negativity inside. That trash can take a much higher toll than what we throw out on in the week.

Here is what has helped me:
  • Create your own System Of Positiveness. Working out, good reading, meditating or switching off from the rest of the world and being with family and friends helps.
  • Concentrate on what is going on right at that moment. Nothing else is under our control anyways.
  • Try and run away from the "what if's" of life. Again, what might happen and what has already happened cannot and will not change unless we do something about the current moment.
  • Believe in something and stand up for it. It does not have to be religion or faith. It does not have to be world peace. It must be something that we truly believe in.
  • Have a vision and mission in life with the acceptance that life has a very wonderful habit of surprising us. Change is not entirely a bad thing.
Have a good cleaning day!

What else have you tried to clean yourself of built-up trash?

February 2, 2015

Lessons for a father - Chaos Or Art?

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What is art? If we look at one of the many officially definitions available online, we would get something on the lines of:
[Art is] the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. - source
Technically, the definition is correct.  But there is something missing. I think art has a lot to do with the creators but it also has also to do with the people that experience it. A beautiful painting or poetry without connecting with people (even one person!) might end up being easily forgotten. 

The question then becomes this? Is it art if no one gets it? If no one gets it, is it just colorful lines on a piece of paper than being the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci? If no one understands it, or appreciates it, does it make Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge any less?

What if we apply the same principle to leadership? We might all consider ourselves to be great leaders. There is nothing wrong there. I am pretty sure that Messrs da Vinci and Coleridge drew and wrote not to be famous but for the shear joy that it brought to them. Their greatness, however, has to be, at least partially, attributed to the love and appreciation that they have received ever since they went public with their art.

Things that we do not understand or connect with are usually shunned. The importance of good communication and of patience cannot be highlighted more than when we are trying to bring about a real change through our leadership. The "also ran" do not provide inspiration. They do not set standards that people try and achieve and surpass in time. They are not the ones that become heroes. They, quite simply, also ran.

We might be able leaders. We might be artists with the ability to be the next Picasso or da Vinci or Kipling of leadership. We might be fine remaining where we are. It becomes a different story, however, if we want to be great at what we do. That requires others. 

True greatness will only come if we really touch peoples' lives to the point where they reciprocate with an elevated performance or change in behavior or achieving greatness in their own way and in their own time. Till that happens, the art of our leadership may make us happy but would lack real value.