January 26, 2015

Lessons for a father - Bringing Emotions To Work

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We have all had those days in our lives. Those are times when our favorite project is cancelled after weeks of hard work; when a customer gives us a lashing when we were actually sure of having a good meeting; when our friend (and co-worker) is laid off suddenly; or our boss assigns us more work when we already had more than our fair share of work.

Been there. Done that. Got a whole wardrobe of t-shirts.

If you are one of those lucky few, however, that have not had to deal with this, then you must know of people who have lost control of their emotions at work, slamming doors, yelling at co-workers or customers, and saying things they ultimately regret.

We all realize and understand how high people’s elevated emotions can run at the office.

In an ideal world, negative emotions would never seep into our professional lives. Work cannot be built around what we like or do not. My needs and demands, especially emotional ones, might not find any place at work. If they do, and some of them are met, we work at a place that is worth staying at. I know I do. That does not mean, though, that I do not have bad days.

Being emotional, even negatively so, might not be the culprit here. I think it is our incapacity to recognize our reactions as being emotional and controlling them before hurting someone else or, as it happens most of the times, ourselves. We require a calibration and an immense control over our behavior in times like those.

Leaders too make mistakes in this regard. There is belief sometimes that good speeches and an occasional loud cheer can tame and control their team's emotions. That is hardly the case. Peter Drucker had observed many years ago that, there is “so much talk . . . about ‘giving workers a sense of responsibility’ and so little about their responsibility, so much emphasis on their ‘feeling of importance’ and so little on making them and their work important.” He equated all this to a “soothing syrup for irritable children.” Even if it does work, the effect is very temporary and, in the long run, does more harm than good.

An organization cannot, even with the best intentions, create permanent happiness. It cannot, if we do not want it to, curb our negative mindsets into positive energy. We are individually responsible for that. And yes, happiness is an emotion. So is pride in our work. Frustration at failure is a very human emotion (one that should not stay for too long!). We are humans after all, and being emotional at work or otherwise is how we do things.

So yes, I would like to (and I am blessed with one!) have a team of emotional people work with me. I would like them to be happy with themselves and take joy in what they create. I would want them to feel bad when things do not go as planned. I would want them to hate failure.

But, I would also want them to have the sense to take a walk, or talk to someone they trust or go workout or have tea and do whatever it takes for them to not impact themselves and others with negativity.

January 19, 2015

Lessons for a father - Do Not Forget. Do Move On.

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Tough week this. Physically and emotionally, it took a lot to get through. It will be sometime before my professional team can get through the toll that last week has taken on us.

Having said that, I do realize, and appreciate, that I work with some very strong people. Their mental strength is par none and if I could choose a team of people to work with, I would not choose anyone else.

No matter what we do, we all deal with adversity. Sometimes, unfortunately, the challenge we face in our fight against adversity is just a bit too much to deal with immediately. It takes time and a lot of effort. Life, however, goes on even while we deal with our misfortune.

So what do we do at times like these? We compartmentalize. We push the thought aside and keep moving forward. Over time, we deal with the repercussions of the event. With time, we learn to accept loss and teach ourselves ways of not getting completely and solely engulfed by the event(s) that transpired. 

Compartmentalization does not make us cold, it makes us human. The idea of carrying, but putting aside, grief or anger for more than a moment, with the intention of forward movement, is what makes us strong. We must realize, however, that the negative impact of the event must be dealt with over time to stop a complete breakdown from occurring.

Adversity meets various reactions from us. We must stop whatever we are doing sometimes. At other times, we need to surround ourselves with our professional or familial teams. Some events might force us to ponder alone. Howsoever we might react, the reaction cannot be deemed wrong. It is how we deal with what life sends our way. Our reaction to situations makes us, us.

Lesson for this father this week; forget or not, cry or not, miss or not, talk about it or not, never allow adversity to take over your being and stop you from moving on.

January 12, 2015

Lessons for a father - The Idea Of Absolute Independence

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Let us start with a premise. No matter what the reason, all violence - especially one that spills innocent blood, should be abhorred and cannot be justified.

What happened in France this week and in many nations around the globe in the name of the divine, even in God's name, cannot and must not be tolerated. The killing of the Charlie Hebdo  staff by, not the followers of a faith but, terrorists has brought a very opinionated and hardly-ever-united world together. 

It makes me think about the idea of absolute independence though. 

Independence cannot make us insensitive. We are free to say, write and express whatever it is that we want, but it must not come at the cost of someone else's ethos. We love this time where we are free to choose whichever side we want, or no side at all, but respect and tolerance is a two way street and it should be kept that way.

Yes, there are people in the world that can do with a little more tolerance towards others. Yes, there are people that need to understand that they or who they follow is not the target necessarily. Yes, a little more loosening up might be required. Yes. Yes. Yes.

But, those who have the power to do so cannot redefine freedom either. If my faith asks me to cover my face in public, I should have the right to do so without the government telling me otherwise. If my faith asks me to wear a cross around my neck, I should be able to do that. If what I believe in asks me to have a beard, I must be allowed to grow and keep one. 

Freedom and independence do not choose. They are universal and people should stop expecting a homogenous world. There is diversity and context in the world and it is time we accept that.

So yes, I hate the fact that I live in a world where journalists can die because they drew a cartoon of an entity. I also cannot begin to understand a world when deaths, for things much trivial and in numbers much larger, in South and Central America, South Asia and Africa are going mostly unnoticed. Maybe, it is time we woke up and realized that we are connected as human being.

We definitely have a lot to think about this week. In the meantime, yes, Je Suis Charlie but also, Je Suis Anand and Je Suis Ahmad and Je Suis Abraham. Most importanly, Je Suis Human!

Hopefully we all can find peace within us.

December 28, 2014

Lessons for a father - One In 7 Billion

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We are about to get into a new year. For some of us this is the time of new year resolutions. We will, perhaps, try to be better, faster, stronger and smarter in the new year. This holiday season and the new year will also give us an opportunity to introspect and make sure we are at least on the path to where we want to be.

Let us, then, look at ourselves as we are. We represent ourselves through a very layered means. We are a species and a gender. We are the people of a nation. We have a language (or in some cases multiple languages) that we use to communicate. We have the color of our skin. We have a certain height and a certain weight. We have a name. But that is just the obvious bit.

In addition we also have our dreams and ambitions. We have our values, our accomplishments and our challenges. We have our beliefs and our stories. 

Our sum total is what we are and what we want to be. That is what makes us, us. The definition of "me", for anyone, is so complex and nuanced that it is impossible to create another of that. 

Think about it. Is there anyone else in the world, in a large group of more than 7 billion people, that has the same story as you? No, I wouldn't think so. What does that make us then? It makes us unique and one of a kind.

We do ourselves a disfavor when we compare ourselves to someone else. They have their own stories to live through. We are writing and living through our own.

In the new year, among other things, let us make a commitment. Let us continue getting better and doing what needs to be done but not at the loss of our true self. All of us have a purpose and turning ourselves into something that we are not, and losing our uniqueness in the process, is not going to fulfill our purpose. 

In the meantime, have a great new year and I hope the new year brings you peace, prosperity, and above all else, the strength to be you.

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 ;)