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Monday, 31 October 2011

Break out of Catch 22

We can classify people into two groups based on the specific Catch 22 cycle they are caught up in.  Some people work hard, follow the processes they know and get the job done the same way, all the time.  The other group of people work smart, keep learning, try new things, make things efficient and end up doing well & learning a lot at the same time.  Both these groups are following Catch 22 cycles.  One is a negative Catch 22 and other a positive Catch 22.

Two different Catch-22 cycles
First group: The people in the first group get the job done.  They may even get the job done in time, all the time.  The effort they spend, though, is not efficient or effective.  You find many people in this group working late hours.  They end up being tired & not able to add other activities outside of work to the schedule.  Definitely there is very little time or motivation to learn new things. The person does not want anything related to work in their sight, after the long hours.  The end result is that the person continues to use methods learnt months or even years ago.

Second group: The people in the second group spend time to learn new ways of doing things in efficient manner.  This ensures that the job gets done on time, or even ahead of time.  Mostly regular work hours are sufficient to complete their job.  They have energy to branch into new areas & ideas.  They learn from books, articles, the web or even from others’ experiences.  This gives them more ideas to try & execute their tasks quickly.

If you feel that you are in the first group & feel that you are not able to get out of the cycle, here are some ideas to change it.

  1.  Before taking any task, take a little time to know the task well.  Understand all aspects of the task & the different view points.
  2.  Plan your work well, based on the understanding of all the aspects of the task.
  3.  If you are going to use a new software or tool, first spend time in understanding all the features of the software & tool.  Some of the features could make things easy for you.  Remember the saying “A job well begun is job well done.”
  4.  Repeat tasks must be automated.  Let the computer do the job for you.  Write macros or similar processes to ensure your efficiency increases.
  5.  Finally, learn from others ideas, tools, utilities & experiences.  Share your utilities, tools & ideas with others.

Another aspect to this change: (a) Change by self-motivation or (b) Change by external pressure.  It is better to make this jump on your own, instead of waiting for external factors to push you into the learning process.  At that time, the effort to change may be lots & lots more.  This provides even further de-motivation.  Jump now, from the first cycle into the more efficient, effective & fruitful second cycle.

Remember: The initial effort spent to learn, plan and execute, on a tangent, compared to the immediate task at hand, helps you to shoot out of the orbital path & reach for the stars.

(First published in a private magazine in October, 2000)

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Change with Time

Conversation between father & son
Father: Don’t do this on Fridays.
Boy: Why should I not do it on Fridays.
Father: Don’t ask questions. This is how it should be done & always has been done.
We all would have heard this or a similar conversation time and again in our homes.  Read ahead and find out how the following experiment is similar to above conversation.
Primate Committee Thinking Experiment
NOTE: Don't try this with your own apes.
Start with a cage containing five apes.  In the cage, hang a banana on a string and put stairs under it.  Before long, an ape will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the Banana.  As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the apes with cold water.  After a while, another ape makes an attempt with the same result - all the apes are sprayed with cold water.  Turn off the cold water.
If, later, another ape tries to climb the stairs, the other apes will try to prevent it even though no water sprays them.
Now, remove one ape from the cage and replace it with a new one.  The New ape sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs.  To his horror, all of the other apes attack him.  After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.
Next, remove another of the original five apes and replace it with a New one.
The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked.  The previous Newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.
Again, replace a third original ape with a new one.  The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well.  Two of the four apes that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest ape.
After replacing the fourth and fifth original apes, all the apes which have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced.
Nevertheless, no ape ever again approaches the stairs.  Why not?
"Because that's the way it's always been around here."
Sound familiar?
Most of us would have come across this attitude in our life.  It would have happened in our home, work or in social environment.
The reasons for such a negative attitude may vary. Here are a few of them:
1.    Some love to stay in the comfort of using known methods, even if it takes longer (like the above Primate excuse “That’s the way it’s always been around here.”)
2.    Some people focus on finishing the current task, rather than becoming efficient in the long run.  There is no exploration for quicker or easier methods.
3.    Someone Else’s Idea syndrome (SEI syndrome – pun unintentional).  Many people tend to not use a better method, simply because it was passed on to them from a peer / junior.  Their ego prevents them from using the better process.  (As an aside, did Americans come up with SEI because ISO was someone else’s – European – idea?).
4.    Some people love to exercise their muscles more than their brain & are adamant about it.
It is important to discourage such attitude among friends & colleagues.  We should encourage people to look out for chances of improvement.  Efficiency and effectiveness on the job must be constantly improved.
Action Plan
1.    Discourage people from using the “history” excuse.
2.    Don’t allow people to follow processes blindly.  Ask why a method was chosen & its merits.
3.    Encourage people to work smart, rather than work hard.
4.    Inculcate a good atmosphere to share ideas & encourage healthy competition.
5.    Give credit / reward for learning new methods.
6.    Give time for creativity & don’t add too much of pressure to deliver (pressure forces people to finish the job at hand rather than look for improvement).
7.    Push people to automate manual tasks.
After all, in this fast world, the quick learners and efficient people will shoot ahead fast.  Such people will also take the whole team / company along, given the right environment & impetus.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Make a difference

Do you feel that time has flown by and you do not recall how?  Are you saying to yourself “It seems just like yesterday I got my first job?” or “I feel that I finished college only a week ago?”  Where has all the time gone?  What have you done with it? When asked “How’s life?” many say “Chaltha hai.” or “Getting along.” or “OK.”  Life seems to have become mundane, from day to day and from week to week.
Experts, who have analysed the patterns in life, have explained that if we feel that time has flown, it is we who are to blame.  If we fall into a very simple routine, on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, then our brain compresses the information into a single occurrence.  There is no difference between 1 day to next, and it compacts days into 1 day and weeks into 1 week.  Voila, suddenly you feel time has flown by you, and your memory just holds a week’s information – everything else is just a repetition.
Change: Make a difference
What should we do?  It is in our hands to voluntarily change the patterns we follow on a daily basis.  Do something different everyday.  Put some effort to learn new things every so often.  Bring in interesting changes to plans everyday.  Stimulate the weekends with variety from one to next. Change the routines on a regular basis, without affecting your priorities and values.
You will find that when you start doing this, you keep good memories.  Do not stick to very strict routines from morning to night, on a day to day basis.  Have minor variations to the general routine – and be conscious of your actions and routines.  Then, every day will be different and will be recorded as such.  Every week’s learning, fun & joy will be remembered for weeks, and maybe years, to come. Spend time with children & younger people, as they teach us a lot of simple things that we forget as we grow older.
Another aspect is reflected, now-a-days, in many companies’ policies.  The reason that more and more companies are forcing people to avail their vacation days within each year is that it makes a difference in morale for us.  We break out of the standard course we set for ourselves.  Avail your vacations at an appropriate time and enjoy with some exhilarating or relaxing activities.
But . . .
The first question that many may ask is “In my organisation & planning classes they asked me to create a clear plan and stick to it, so that I can become more efficient.”
Yes, we should plan and then stick to the plan.  The modification should be in the plan itself, on a regular basis, so that the days and weeks do not become monotonous.  We can come early to work on some days.  We can leave a little early on those days and add some activities to the evenings.  Come to work or go home using varying routes on some days, consciously.  Those are the differences that will make the weeks colourful and your life memorable.
“But if we have to change routines and check-lists, then what happens to ISO and CMM.”  This is a very valid question indeed.
It is important to follow a method / routine in small sets of activities within a short period.  This will help us accomplish the task in an efficient & correct manner.  It is the bigger scheme of things that we should change.  We should juggle the tasks that we do everyday.  On some days, let us finish our tasks quicker and spend the spare time in helping others, or reading / learning things.
Here is another point of view.  If we fall into too strict a routine, we start believing our memory and methods.  Soon we do not consciously follow the routine / checklist.  That is precisely when mistakes creep in.  Hence, even in following routines and / or checklists, it is important to change things consciously, slightly, ever-so-often, so that it does not become dull and involuntary.
Past Experience with these thoughts
Many of my friends, after discussing the above ideas, have come back with positive comments on how small differences on a day-to-day basis make things more long-drawn and enjoyable.  They believe that time has been utilised well.
It seems like it has been years since I went to Ooty (went in April 2011), because every day is unique, either at work, home or external activities. Every activity is done consciously with a difference and it makes a difference.
Make a difference, in your days, weeks and career.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

VRVD Tour Tips

Started a blog to cover some information on vacations, tour tips, etc.

See it on