Tag Archives: parenting

GO.S.H., HA.G.S, or (yeah sorry…) S.HA.G?

16 Mar
Parenting Lack of Understanding

Parenting Lack of Understanding

Having a 14 year old is probably the most humbling/ nightmarish experience ever! You may be the superwife, super daughter, even supermom till now, the highest achiever by all standards – professionally, personally, whatever – but “mom-of-14-year-old” strips you of all accolades!

You become meanest mom, most hated person, evil heartless monster, insensitive and non understanding, torture chamber, slave driver, etc etc etc person ever – actually, I have to admit – this is not only in the 14 year old’s imagination, but in fact! SOMETHING happens at 13-14 when both you and your thus far sweet child transmogrify into separate evil avatars!

I think most folks facing this issue do the usual self help book/ counseller visit/ friend shoulder rant and rave – but, apart from all of this, I have done deep analysis, and I think at the heart lies the problem of GO.S.H, HA.G.S, or..erm..excuse the french…S.HA.G….

GOSH

Essentially, what do most parents want for their children? Apart from Good health, which is the overarching, most important thing; I think it is the following:

– That they are GOOD – they don’t lie/ cheat/ cause harm to others or themselves/ no criminal tendencies etc, and that they are sensitive to others’ misfortune and try to help others

– That they are SUCCESSFUL – They do well/ exploit their potential – (doesn’t matter in what field – Howard Gardner and his theory of Multiple Intelligences has only formalised what most parents knew) and are able to earn decent money to keep themselves in similar (or better) circumstances than they have been brought up

– Most importantly, that they are HAPPY – feel fulfilled/ loved/ in a good place/ not sad/ depressed/ don’t feel their “life” sucks etc etc…..

Now, in my opinion, parents wants their kids to have ALL three of these – even a 2/3 is not good enough (i.e., a thief may be successful and happy, but is NOT good — and so on)

It is precisely these 3 things – their relative juxtaposition/ the priority, and even the existence – that causes the teenage parent angst!

leaving home

So, i wd think most of us raise our kids to try and be good – this is what you teach them from when they are – (to get all Shakespearean about it) – mewling and puking in their mum’s hands. To teach them “don’t tell lies, help the elderly cross a road, not to bully”….

This really is a foundational thing.

The next thing is – and this quest begins at various stages – depending on the parent/ the child/ the school/ the country….we try and steer our kids towards “success” – the choice of school, of other skill “classes”, their popularity amongst peers, their habits….

This is I think where the biggest man-trap happens – coz, very often, your definition of success ain’t their’s (and understandably so). For you, their “success” often goes beyond the here and now – and is also aimed towards the future (bade hokar kya karogey??). In addition, it is coloured by YOUR experience of the growing up years, and YOUR vision of how their future will be – they obviously don’t know this at all.

Ofcourse, above all, we want our kids to be happy – but in our view, the happiness comes partly from being good and being successful (or, to be more exact, doesn’t come – at least in the future – unless they are good and they are successful).

Refer to Fig 1 of my handwritten diagram above.

The problem is because for the kids, success IS being happy…So, kids, if they view this GOSH/ SHAG/ HAGS thing at all – view it as Fig 2 – where they are NOT dependent on each other but 3 mutually exclusive axes!

In addition, they have to deal with the problem of, in order of priority, shd one chase GOSH/ HAGS/ SHAG/ GOHS/ HASG or SGHA……confusing right? even for us? Those poor 14 year olds get completely messed up heads 😦

And THAT is the root of all the stress and distress.

YoureNotAlone

The only silver lining is a recent whatsap forward to me (the fates must have sensed my utter depression, coz I got it no less than FIVE times yesterday!):

Taken from a handout by Corrie Lynne Player:

“I just realized that while children are dogs—loyal and affectionate—teenagers are cats.

It’s so easy to be a dog owner. You feed it, train it, boss it around. It puts its head on your knee and gazes at you as if you were a Rembrandt painting. It bounds indoors with enthusiasm when you call it.
Then, around age 13, your adoring puppy turns into a big old cat. When you tell it to come inside, it looks amazed, as if wondering who died and made you emperor.

Instead of dogging your footsteps, it disappears. You won’t see it again until it gets hungry…then it pauses on its sprint through the kitchen long enough to turn up its nose at whatever you’re serving, swishing its tail and giving you an aggrieved look until you break out the tuna again.

When you reach out to ruffle its head in that old affectionate gesture, it twists away from you, then gives you a blank stare as if it is trying to remember where it has seen you before.

You, not realizing your dog is now a cat, think something must be desperately wrong with it. It seems so antisocial, so distant, sort of depressed. It won’t go on family outings. Since you’re the one who raised it, taught it to fetch, stay and sit on command, you assume you did something wrong. Flooded with guilt and fear, you redouble your efforts to make your pet behave.

Only now you’re dealing with a cat, so everything that worked before now has the opposite result. Call it, and it runs away. Tell it to sit, and it jumps on the counter. The more you go toward it, wringing your hands, the more it moves away.

Instead of continuing to act like a dog owner, you must learn to behave like a cat owner. Put a dish of food near the door and let it come to you. But remember that a cat needs your help and affection too. Sit still and it will come, seeking that warm, comforting lap it has not entirely forgotten. Be there to open the door for it.

One day your grown up child will walk into the kitchen, give you a big kiss and say,
“You’ve been on your feet all day. Let me get those dishes for you.” Then, you’ll realize your cat is a dog again.”

cat and dog

Essentially saying – “This too shall pass”. Amen to that! Waiting eagerly for that day……

Limiting Factors, Outliers, Managing Perception; and… Parenting!

18 Aug

Outliers Autographed

Outliers Definition

Parenting is, arguably, world’s toughest job!

The next probably is working out/ losing weight

And ofcourse, after that is managing a large work force 🙂

The correlation is not apparent – but, will be soon enough.

This thought actually got sparked off this morning as I was in my Aerobics class. I realised that over the one year I’ve been attending these classes, my trainer (and good friend) has considerably upped the level of the exercise regimen. This is actually sensible, since the bulk of her class is regulars – and obviously with continuous exercise, general fitness levels have increased – hence higher challenge levels required..In fact most students are now actively into running.

But, what I also realised is that N aims her class at the “stars” in the class – those as-fit-as-her, and as-Nazi-ish-about-fitness-as-she-is, people. Again, understandable, since those stars are a) able to follow the regimen best, b) show the effects best, but most importantly, c) challenge her to work harder at the training.

However, a corollary of N “speaking” to the best is that I get the feeling (probably unwarranted) that she doesn’t then focus so much on the “lesser beings” – people like me. I also ofcourse always rationalise it by telling myself that anyway I am “cheating” – i.e., doing many of the routines at less than 100% compliance – and, at least, looking at the stars keeps the benchmark always within sight. Having said that, I still sometimes feel that when I DO manage to get to the 100% level, it would be great if I would get those treasured words of praise fm the trainer – “well done”. But, my image of being the lesser being probably colors then the trainer’s view of me, and then she doesn’t look at me as often as she does at the stars, and so misses the occasional stellar performances I do manage and so I don’t do as well maybe next time…and so…and so…

(When she DOES utter the “good job, S!” magic words, I am tempted to work harder/ cheat lesser/ push myself more)

Interestingly, this is a direct contrast to what I do when I teach English to a 4th/5th grade class at a Kannada medium government school. Generally, most of my attention goes towards the “row 1” students – those that find it difficult to grasp most lessons, knowing that if they “get” most of the lesson, the rest certainly will!

Now, how does this fit in with parenting?

As with most parents, I have 2 kids who are diametrically apart in temperament, behavior, likes, dislikes, strengths and improvement areas. One is a dreamer, the other is a doer. One is a morning person, the other has to be dragged out of bed after loooong nights reading. One likes chinese food, the other doesn’t touch noodles — and so on.

But strangely enough, one lesson I found myself repeating for both in recent times is that of – self image, and perception management related to it.

Started with younger child – she is a fiend if you ever had one. Loud, brash, the world-is-my-friend, don’t-care-about-anything, finds-humour-in-everything kind of fiend. Bright actually, but “does” terribly at school – I have been called to school at least 6 times in the past 2 years for would-be-grave one-on-one lectures by her teachers (“would be” because I refuse to be cowed down by these strictures on the child). Each teacher tells me – “knows everything, if only she would be neater in her work, submit her work on time, not get distracted and want to go for frequent toilet breaks etc etc…) Now, by the way, P WORKS at this image – she thinks its cool to be brash/ funny/ don’t care-ish.

However, this post is not about what to do with children like this (though that is a real problem for sure), but the problem that occurs as a result – ofcourse, a few teachers “get” the underlying personality of the child, I am thankful to say – however, many of them believe the image is reality – and treat her accordingly! So, if there is a disruption in the class, most fingers point at P. More importantly, once branded with the image of “casual worker”, when she does turn it better work, its sometimes not noticed – and on the few occasions that she is serious about some stuff in school, there is a chance she gets overlooked.

P and I have had frequent serious chats about “how to manage” your image or perception (in so many words!). These serious chats are peppered with examples of her two “best friends” – one of whom is truly a “good child” and is widely recognised for that, and the other is more like P, but has managed to retain an image of a “good child” (in their lexicon ofcourse, to be branded “good” is probably almost abuse! 🙂 )

Older child faced this too – she used to be keen on Indian classical dance when younger. As she entered her teens, interests changed – and she is now passionate about dramatics. But, her lingering image of “dancer” leads school to pick her for dance related events and not theatre. Being older, and after some counseling, she did manage to assert her interests – and is now a happy camper. But the point is, this “change of image” took some doing!

Now think about organisations – doesn’t this happen there too? How often have you had complaints at appraisal time from folks saying – “my manager doesn’t think I am good enough – and so has not given me x or y job”. It’s probably true, because in the natural order of things, the manager WILL pre select those he or she thinks are the best bets for any given job – thats what managers do – they “optimize” or “manage” resources. The question, however is, how much of that “image” is reality and how much just perception not directly related to reality?

A related point here is then – as the trainer/ teacher/ manager/ leader, do you address the “stars” or the “dogs”, or do you stay somewhat in the middle – my favourite – the golden mean!

Nature certainly selects the “fittest” – if Darwin is to be believed! (the fittest evolve into next generations while the others gradually die down) So, my trainer and P’s teachers seem to have precedent! Incidentally, I find this Theory of evolution video immensely funny! :

But, actually, on the other hand, nature ALSO looks at the lowest common multiple – think about Limiting factors in Photosynthesis ( the rate of photosynthesis is limited by the least amount of necessary resource available – see video for a slightly long winded reminder):

And ofcourse, in most organisations we work neither at the highest nor the lowest but at the average. This is what the bell curve does for you – it force-fits everyone in the organisation into a mean +/- standard deviation curve – and treats exceptionally the outliers. The problem with that? Think about the statistician who drowned while crossing a river that was on average 6 inches deep! (A nice explanation of averages – and what outliers do to them can be found if you click on the link)

In a diametrically opposite view, Malcolm Gladwell made famous his theory of outliers – where he correlated success to the amount of time spent working at that skill, and some factors not quite under control of the protagonists.

The question arising from of all of this dilatory musing is really this:

If you are a leader/ parent/ trainer: Do you focus on the outliers, or the average in terms of managerial/ parental/ teacher attention. And, if the former, should it be the “LCM” (those who need extra input); or the “HCF” (in other words, the stars).

If you are the led/ managed/ taught: How do I get a sense of whether I am LCM, average of HCF – BEFORE painful yearly evaluation sessions/ how do I manage the perception of my being LCM if I am not/ how do I match my self perception to that of the outside world?

Any answers? Suggestions?

Meanwhile,

The problem of Least Common Multiple came forth funnily in the movie Father of the Bride. Enjoy!

Come on, Own Up, it IS your Monkey after all!

20 Feb

Monkeys

Classic situation at home: regular domestic help off sick, temp one hired. Big clash with housekeeper – about who should be doing what. I ask housekeeper/ nanny – why a certain thing didn’t happen – she said “Lakshmi didn’t do it”. Lakshmi ofcourse said – “I thought Tulasi amma would do it”

This one atleast I get, it is maybe my fault for not delineating responsibility squarely and clearly; and definitely Tulasi’s for not doing the same (she’s been with me long enough to know what her role is – individual as well as supervisory)

What I don’t get, and I see very often now, is this:
When we were growing up, school was where we “learnt” everything – The 3 Rs ofcourse (and later STEM), but also running, basketball, cricket, singing, dance, theatre, art, debating, etc etc. School tenure was shorter (8 to 1 pm I think), we came back by 2 pm, ate a hearty lunch, slept, played till the street lights came on, did H.W., ate again and slept. Nostalgia inducing though this itinerary probably is, the point is not about the simplicity of that era; it is about what school was responsible for. I did NO tuitions, NO extra dance class, NO drama class, NO tennis/ badminton class etc. Everyone did/ tried all activities, some showed natural inclination towards one rather than the other – and then were in general trained harder on those activities than the others were.

Cut to now. There is higher exposure to the kids in terms of avenues of “co curricular” activities (by the way, in our times, it was called “extra curricular” – the shift in terminology is symbolic, but only in talk, not walk!) and attendant competitive events where they get to test themselves, benchmark against others and (presumably) get egged on to perform better…But, the discovery of talent, as well as training/ honing – is ALL done at home! So, most kids start some form of classes after school from when they turn 3-4: craft/ art/ tennis/ keyboard/ guitar/ tennis/ basketball/ swimming/ theatre/ dance/ rock climbing/ fencing/ skating. And most also rotate all these around – so, a) kids do a different activity everyday, their calendar post school therefore being chock full; and b) they get “bored” of these activities sooner or later, and so hop skip and jump to another..then another…then another and so on.

Implied here is the obsessive nature of parents today, and maybe inability/ unwillingness to give their kids free time and/ or keep them entertained (me being a big culprit too) but again, that is NOT the point being made here.

The point is, if the kids are “learning”/ “honing” everything at home, what role does the school play? Admittedly, “education” nowadays has changed form – while in our time, it was “what you know”; it now is “can you find out/ solve” (thanks to the internet, and, google 🙂 ). Having said that, should schools not be the place where they are TAUGHT tennis, swimming, singing, dancing, drawing etc etc — rather than just the place to “aggregate” existing talents and then display them in competitive events – thereby earning laurels for the school?

So, with reference to an old/ classic HBR article, whose monkey is it? The school’s, right? Then why oh why is it being transferred to the parents?

Ofcourse we see this in the corporate scenario – I wrote an article a long time ago, on this, describing scenarios where the monkey keeps leaping onto diverse peoples’ backs.

Links to leadership styles in a way – Are you a “doer leader”, a “delegator leader”, a “shirker leader” (then actually you’re not a leader 🙂 ), the “team work leader”, the “wannabe leader” or the “pretend leader” :)..sounds familiar?

I do this all the time to my husband – my taxes get paid by him, the garage door when stuck gets opened by him, exotic chicken and lamb dishes when guests are coming for dinner get cooked by him. (Wait, that’s division of labour, not monkey passing!)

We are seeing a great example in Indian Politics currently – blame game, responsibility shirking, mud slinging, disruptiveness. And, in the context of monkeys, and politics, a cartoon I love – enjoy!

baboons

What I figured out last year

6 Jan

a-tale-of-two-cities

To borrow from my favorite Charles Dickens novel, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
Most bloggers probably write posts revisiting 2013, making resolutions for 2014. I thought I’d do my version of the same, but instead list out stuff that was eye opening/ confirmation of previously mildly held hypotheses/ new learnings/ breaking down of myths for me…So, here goes:

I learnt:

(On Retirement):

That it is possible to be busy without “achieving” anything
(Look at my previous blog post of outlay vs. outcome). So, being recently retired, I learnt how to make activities expand such that it fills time available.

This is by no means a phenomenon that affects homemakers (aah! I luuuvvv it when I apply this description to myself!) only – don’t we all know those colleagues/ subordinates/ even managers who procrastinate all day long doing gawd-only-knows-what, and then in the evening start looking/ being really busy, and/or calling meetings! I bet only 10ish percent of them are really overloaded – most are suffering from a time management issue.

I read a recent article in the same vein – about how an ad that goes viral doesn’t necessarily give great sales results! Click on this link for Mashable’s take on effective vs. viral ads (and a look at some of them).

A corollary of the above is the learning,

That lethargy is addictive.
(Look at another old post on habits, and hiatuses). So, not only does one have the ability to “feel busy” all the time, one can apparently do it over and over again! A tad dangerous, that!

And, finally on this topic of learnings from retirement,

That while workaholism is fun; retirement is funner.
For those gawking at me in disbelief/ or thinking wistfully “If only I could….”, here’s a good take on “giving yourself time for leisure”

(On Parenting) – since that’s the job I did do consistently both before and after retirement:

momhood

That parenting is the toughest job in the world
That u can manage thousands of people at your workplace, but, however phlegmatic you are, your pre teen/ teen WILL be able to draw out a screaming/ hysterical monster from inside you

That your children don’t really appreciate your “so called sacrifices”. Both my kids now feel it was better for them when I was at work than when I am home!

That battling the “sense of entitlement” modern day kids of reasonably-well-to-do-parents have, is a universal and perennial dilemma for the parents. I didn’t get to any answers about how to solve this – but just now read a nice take on it..may it help others like me!

That DNA is a real thing! – and really messes with lots of things.
I see kids of my friends – all bright/ super achiever type people – excelling in their chosen fields – makes me feel proud. In general, strangely, it is in inherited areas of skill – Namita writes well, Sharan paints and bakes well, Arjun and Gowri sing and play all instruments, Antara is a public speaker/ debater, Dhanya is a super sportsperson, Neel tops class in all subjects…

I also similarly see the lack of drive/ casual attitude in my kids – guess who I have to blame for it?..:(

(On modern communication/ technology etc):

That facebook newsfeed is different on phone than on PC.
Ofcourse we all know that FB has – just from a legacy perspective – been slower on mobile. But, thank god for that! I really truly don’t like the new newsfeed optimisations they are doing – where they try and show you content that is “more important/ customized” rather than new/ just being posted. So, I have a good way of getting the best of both worlds – my phone newsfeed still mainly populates newsfeed based on chronology, and that on PC, based on relevance – I just log onto both at the same time!

That Big Data is more talked about than used
But, to be fair to it, this is true of a lot of things ahead of time. Nevertheless, for all the share of mind it gets on tech related content nowadays, the actual implementation/ results are abysmal – at < 2% of all servers.

That there is no accounting for what takes peoples’ fantasies
Have any of you looked at the list of the top 10 youtube videos in 2013? (I have been making discreet enquiries amongst my kids since then about whether they have seen Miley’s wrecking ball video!)

That there is NO end to the number of things you want to read nowadays
My list of “Things to read in the day” just seems never ending – no wonder, with, even back in 2012, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data being produced every day! Sometimes, I feel its better to stick to trashy romance 🙂

(On body, mind, and mind over body):

That your body does have a mind of its own
If you've abused yr body for upwards of 40 yrs, it WILL show u attitude when u start working out. Hence, the slooowwww rate of weight loss that my husband Manoj and I see despite an infinite order of multiple increase in workout time (well, when the base is zero, any increase makes it infinity!)

That alcoholism is a real disease.
I always thought it was a simple case of willpower (or lack of it) – but learnt this year that it is a real, physiological disease!

That if u have the conviction, you CAN turn around things.
Even a largely apathetic nation – look at the wonders a very very new political party, the Aam Aadmi Party in India has done already – rising from nothingness to actually form the government in the capital city in a year and a half, arousing the largely apathetic middle class intellengtsia to vote in unprecedented numbers, forcing political stalwarts to “learn from them”, and giving hope to a billion plus population!

I see similar examples in the smaller scale but still significant good deeds that our community undertakes on many levels – schools in the neighbourhood, domestic worker camps, help for the aged…

It really needs a few people to say “I want to/ I can/ I will”

That you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.
I started music and guitar classes this year – and made some inroads into both. I guess it’s a question of wanting to do something badly enough, and then having no excuse to not do it 🙂 (no time/ no money/ no teacher…)

inscrutable americans

Also, unlike in Inscrutable Americans, one of my all time favourite books, people now CAN haggle in shops in America, specially in response to showrooming.

Oh btw, this article indicates that you know you’ve fully integrated your new skill when you dream about it! I HAVE to now start somehow getting myself to dream of a trim runner’s body! Kekule anyone?

Again, I think examples of this in work life abound – e.g., flexibility seen in cross functional assignments – some companies really excel in developing this value in their people by posting folks in all kinds of functions irrespective of core skill.

That left brain and right brain are real things.
I see all around me the creative/ right brain types of people – and, this creativity is really truly multifaceted. Most of these folks cook, paint, sew, design, sing-play-dance, write with consummate ease. It unfortunately doesn’t seem so for the left brain types (I may be a good case in point 😦 ).

However, recent research shows that certain things are processed across both hemispheres.

(On New Words in the English language):

That Indulgence has a new nameself gifting.
So has second thoughts: self censorship (its also called spying when done by Facebook. But, also see facebook’s denial of this!)

And, very topically, a Drynuary doesn’t really help – it’s better to have a few “off days” every week!

(On startups):

That startups can always use help
It’s just that all don’t know when/ how to ask for it. Interestingly also, help is always available to those who truly want it, ask for it and deserve it (ask Harry Potter/ Dumbledore)!

In this last year, I have met maybe a start-up a week – ranging from tech/ services/ drama/ NGO/ sports – all topics. Each and every one of them has a set of bright, passionate, talented people – desperately trying to make it big. Each and every one of them is struggling with time/ money/ people/ clients/ content/ tips whatever. Some are good at reaching out and asking for help, others have to be pretty much be forced into it. Most agree that help is always welcome 🙂

Interestingly, what I also learnt as a corollary is

That, if you’ve sold one company, you kind of are perceived as having the magic formula to crack it!.
The sad truth is that in many cases, it really is trial and error that leads to success – but ofcourse, atleast selling one company qualifies you to advise others in the field of “what not to do!”

(On life/ death and the in between):

That the world continues to be a male oriented one, with heinous crimes being committed against women on and on and on – and that I have done/ am doing nothing about it, despite now having time/ money 😦

That erstwhile people on pedestals are more bound to come crashing down than not – we’ve had so many scams – but I think the ones that personally bothered me most were, in chronological order: Satyam/ Ramalingam Raju; Shashi Tharoor, Rajat Gupta, and now Tarun Tejpal. (Sounds a bit elitist, but as I think about it – the take-aways are probably that I expect politicians to be corrupt, but not so much corporate folks 😦 – clearly not so true)

That, Marc Anthony/ Ceaser/ Brutus notwithstanding, ambition is not an endless/ infinte thing – atleast not for everyone.

(Ofcourse, I chose the Charlton Heston version 🙂 (RIP), but for those who prefer the other one, here it is..)

I am NOT saying ambition is bad – it is, after all, probably a big driver for most of our deeds and achievements. What I meant is, that I discovered, that mine has an end goal – it reminds me of my cousin Anupam telling me years ago – “I only want enough money such that I don’t have to think about it”. I realised that I am now happy with my house/ car/ friends/ and many material things – and so am not looking for the bigger/ better…I AM however ambitious for kids and family – I want them to be happy, my body – I want it to be slimmer….so, maybe, it IS infinite – only, changes direction?

That happiness is truly a state of mind

That whatever u do, death is final

(not “new learnings”, but re-inforced as never before this year), and, finally:

That it IS possible to have a place look better than its picture postcards

(The Mughal Emperor Jehangeer is said to have once written about Kashmir: Agar firdaus bar rue zamin ast hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast! – meaning if there is paradise on earth, it is here…I think New Zealand could very easily have made the cut, and far better!)

IMG_4873

So, Happy New Year All – may the odds be in your favour 🙂

Outlay vs. Outcome: Why I need to diet AND exercise (or, why is “purchase intent” better than “likes” or “retweets”)

20 Nov

child studying

Classical scene in our house post any exam for the 8th grader child: One parent checking child’s answer against question paper. Child ofcourse answering to less-than-parent’s-satisfaction. Parent in glumpish/ lecturish/ sad/ disappointed mode. Child whining – but ma, I STUDIIIEEEDDDD – for TWO hoooouuuurrrrssss….

Actually mirrors my own scenario to a certain extent with the whole aerobics/ swimming business. I began attempting to get some exercise the beginning of this year (for the first time ever, I may add). Some 46 weeks later – very very very very marginal reduction in inches and kilos.

weight loss fail cartoon

(Credit)

Reminds me of our early partner calls running our start-up, when we would each ask the other partner – so, what’s the sales pipeline looking like. And, one of us would always say – see, I called company XYZ, tried to catch person ABC, attempted to get a meeting with so and so….

What’s common between each of these? Effort – Much. much. much. much…. Result – Zilch. zero. zip…

The point is, most of us very often kind of give sop to our consciences saying – I put in so much effort – I studied x hourse/ did y hours of community service/ made so many calls/ research so many papers. NOT IMPORTANT – what IS important is – did you achieve what you were trying to? Did it have the required outcome/ the impact???

Honestly, if it didn’t, your effort went waste! There is a saying – don’t just work hard, work smart. It’s to do with this outlay vs. outcome thing. ROI is a key metric most smart organisations measure – how much “bang for your buck” are you getting? Are you able to get higher turns out of your resources – inventory/ capital/ people time…and, the only way to do it is to be efficient/ smart/ outcome focused.

A good tool to measure this is a time sheet – I remember in the early days of our startup, we four founders decided to fill up time sheets – one week into the game, and i had trouble accounting for my 18 hours that i burnt the midday and midnight oil at. It was astonishing for how many of the hours, I would have probably put in “email” and/ or “internet”…(ofcourse, we were a virtual organisation, hence email was important; and we were a secondary research oriented org, hence the internet was inevitable) – but still, eye opening!

It’s a classical HR conundrun also – do you hire/ keep the “well intentioned/ great attitude” employee, or the “expert” one – who probably comes with all kinds of baggage of maintenance. A smart company actually hires a mix – and the managing of this mix determines the success or not of the org.

Interestingly, this is counter intuitive advice from what the Bhagwad Gita (a well known Indian tome) gives you – Karmanyevadhikarastey, ma faleshu kadachana – means keep focussing on your work, don’t worry about the result. (looks like this has had a great impact of me one way or the other – I just realised I used it in a completely different context in an earlier blog). I think, it would have been better if Krishna said – “work ofcourse, but work towards a goal – results will come, so don’t worry about them” :).

I saw a depressing example of the flip side of this advice actually a few days ago. As most Indian corporates know, recently the Companies Act got revised, and it now includes a provision that companies have to show spend of 2% of their net profit on CSR activities. A friend (and former co-founder) now actively in the CSR space wanted to pitch advisory services to firms about how to make use of these “mandatory” funds to make an impact. The finding in most cases is, that companies don’t really care about impact – they care about the “doing” – so, its all – “We Spent XXX Volunteer hours on CSR activities” – OoooKaayyy, what did you achieve? “uh-duh…who knows, who cares, how do we find out, why should we measure”! Kinda defeats the spirit of the act, don’t you think?

Another corollary – the whole Social/ Digital Media ROI piece – most folks are chasing likes/ retweets/ shares – and calling it engagement. Sure, these are good goals to chase as a FIRST step – but thats all they should be – a means to an end. Unless it translates to actual brand health KPIs – like, consideration/ purchase intent/ recommend-ability, loyalty…its all so much “feel-good” stuff.

I read this interesting article recently on HBR – pretty much says the same thing; slamming “being slammed/ busy/ neck deep in work” on grounds of outcome vs. outlay, worth a click.

What’s the solution though – how do you make sure you keep end objective in sight and don’t get bogged down by the effort. Most of you management sorts probably HAVE the toolkits, for me, a simple daily checklist worked well (I loved the ticks against each completed task) – but this daily checklist needs to get collaborated against yr monthly / quarterly/ annual goals. (It’s end of the year, folks – I’m sure many of you are now filling out “traffic signal” sheets against goal achievement? ).

For weight loss, I’m onto a protein only, no carbs diet for some time starting, uh, tomorrow? 🙂 (I see with my own eyes the much better effect of a combi diet-cum-exercise regime on my aerobics classmates everyday!).

Weight Loss tips Cartoon
Credit

Regarding kids, and how one makes them goal oriented, and not effort oriented – well, I have NO answers! (Its amazing how the simplest parenting problem is so much more insoluble than the most complex corporate one isn’t it?) Anyone with any idea, DO PLEASE pitch in!!!!

Playing to Your Strengths? Really?

1 Mar

atlas

I came across this article from the CEO of Gallup Jim Clifton about how his dad advised him to “follow his strengths”, saying “Your weaknesses will never develop,” he told me, “while your strengths will develop infinitely.” This mantra was then a big reason for his success. Apparently this also allied with the Gallup Strength Finder, a tool that has been used across enterprise for a lot of psychographic profiling.

You know, I actually agree with this in general – to be successful, it is important that you work in an area of your strength – this will a) make you work well, b) enable you to give your best to your organization, c) make you happy, and finally d) be the incentive to become even better at it – like the Gallup CEO above said.

But I think to do the above you first need to take a simple step – this sometimes takes a LOT of time even though it shouldn’t – it is finding out what a person’s strength is. It is something that education should direct you towards finding, but very often doesn’t really.

I wonder about this thing fairly often – my kids go to umpteen classes – Dance, Hindustani classical vocal, Western classical guitar/ piano, Tennis, Swimming, Drama – really, they try everything. And this by the way is a continuously rotating thing – in the last 8ish years we have tried skating, basketball, art, soccer, ballet, robotics, chess – what have you. Many of these we give up because the kids protested loudly – it was such a struggle to send them to those classes every week – they would call at really inconvenient times at work – and whine and whine and whine! Others we gave up because it was not sustainable to take them way out logistically.

But what was clear – or started becoming clear was that my kids really did NOT like certain things – and more often than not those very classes were skills they were not good at/ showed no signs of developing. Ofcourse, they very often did not like some things they were good at as well! And herein was my dilemma – should I keep encouraging them to go to classes that they showed promise at (dance and drama for my older one and skating and swimming for my younger one), or atleast kept them at classes that they weren’t good at, but I thought were good for them – till atleast they acquired a threshold level of dexterity at those. I think most parents deal with this, specially if u throw in the “like” equation on top of the “good at/ good for them” one.

I think what I ended up doing probably works for parenting just as it does in corp life – you give everyone exposure to all business functions – so u allow them to test all, and you get a chance to evaluate their inclinations at it (I’m talking freshers here obviously). This is why “management traineeship” in most orgs is a fairly successful one year program. Then you slot folks according to their interest and aptitude.

This allows them to find out what they are good at, and then build on it. One also has to recognize that the more u rise in the hierarchy, you need to have atleast a working knowledge of many functions whilst you keep your specialization active. This is what I had referred to in my earlier blog on focus vs. multi-tasking. Typical corp journey makes you first a generalist, then a specialist and finally a generalist again! (On multi-tasking btw, my 7 year old Achchu has caught on like fire! The other day sitting at the pot executing bodily functions 🙂 before school in the morning – she said “mom, why don’t u change my T shirt while I’m pooping – see we will multi task then!”)

I see this in my aerobics class also – Niru sets up a routine that basically through the week works each set of muscles in a particular, pre determined order – they’re not all done the same day, they aren’t even done in the same sequence, and as I wrote earlier, she varies her routine EVERYDAY (in two months I have yet to see her repeat something – I guess that’s what a true artist does!). But she does work every muscle individually – and THEN builds some up more than the others — the “threshold level of competence; with a view to attaining strength in others” principle.

Look at how academics runs it – most higher level studies have a “core” level – basic knowledge, and then an “elective” level – where you specialize!

What spices up this from time to time is if u throw in a little bit of change – at Gillette we used to have a program of Job Rotation where folks sat at any other employees desk for – hmm – actually I forget how long. I think it was a month.. The idea was, one cross trained a bit, changed the routine of one’s work, and more importantly, developed empathy for the “other guy’s issues” – so it facilitated team work and collaboration. Pretty nifty I thought.

job-rotation

I remember seeing an old Hindi Movie – I think it was called Nayak – where a common man gets to be the Prime Minister of the country for a day. Ofcourse, being a Bollywood movie, he got to perform all kinds of miracles despite insurmountable odds, but the basic premise really was job rotation.

Then ofcourse you have the actual/ real job rotation – my earlier company Genpact was pretty good at this. The head of infrastructure and admin, as an example, had never done it before in her life – she was a lawyer. There were senior folks in HR from business and vice versa. And ofcourse everyone was/ had been – in sales (that’s my next post btw – so watch this space). In that space, maybe it made sense – as one of the HR folks once told me – we are all BPO people – we made this industry, we grew it, and that’s all we understand ☺. Like most home-grown business, early pioneers pretty much have to wear many hats at different times – sometimes many hats at the same time. But the concept is the same.

In our entrepreneurship journey, we kind of took turns at doing both these – but at different stages of our lifecycle. In the beginning, all four of us did everything – sometimes all together, but we certainly consulted one another on every single thing! This was very inefficient probably but great fun and also immensely comforting – remember we were all first time entrepreneurs, with NO clue about what to do – so there was comfort in consensus. As time elapsed, and we became comfortable with each other and also with the whole entrepreneurial thingie, we graduated to our areas of respective strength – Debjani the eternal striver and super networker/ convincer to Business Development, Kyung the troubleshooter and Mr. Client Man to Account Management, Shoma the meticulous process person and executor par excellence to all admin etc support functions and Media Monitoring, our division that was very process oriented; and yours truly into making something out of nothing – i.e. creating solutions where none exist – both in research and information support services divisions.

It doesn’t work in some situations by the way – think Sports – and what would happen if your quarterback was made your goalkeeper – or, as we see very often in India at moments of desperation, when the 7 down/ bowler/ allrounder is sent in to bat at 2 down! There IS something to be said for specialization and making sure you win competitions!

Where it does work ofcourse is the outsourcing industry – this was the very fundamentals of the industry – concentrate on your strengths, and outsource the others. I am sure most of you have seen this funny parody of 12 days of christmas – you should be Indian to appreciate many of the allusions) (specially focus on the 9th day for context), but for those that havn’t, enjoy!

And then not to forget there is the SWOT! I think all Marketing 101 techniques are great – even though simplistic, they really apply to most situations, and can help analyse even contemporary problems. SWOT was one construct we used a lot in our initial days as a business research company. Ofcourse, we always had difficulty finding the “O” and the “T” – we essentially ended up making up really obvious/ simplistic stuff but couched it cleverly – like “macro economics ordain that marginal utility of xyz product is diminishing so there will be a competitive share of wallet participant that will usurp this fm its leadership position” – just kidding – this sentence made no sense, did it ☺?

swot

But all said and done, there is immense merit in finding out stuff you are good at – and then working in that area to hone it further. Now, the problem arises when what you are good at is not what you like doing (and vice versa) – I think that’s what triggers many start ups and alternate careers….book writing anyone? (that’s my future career, you know ☺ )

If all above is true, isn’t it a pity that most performance appraisals focus on weaknesses and how to improve them rather than strengths and how to “make them develop infinitely” ? Is it time to abolish the bell curve? Your vote?