Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ode to Contemplation

As a hollow vacant vessel I echo every whisper, every rustle
As a clear still pond I reflect every hue, bob with every ripple

Clear, still, empty
Full of the vast nothing, in plenty
My mind opens to sound and sight

The darkness of the night
Brings out the faintest light

Realization doesn’t need much
By way of understanding as such
Just an instantaneous impression
Leads to spontaneous comprehension

The wondering, the wandering
Oh! the joys of pondering!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What part of NO don't you understand?

Everybody has their own ways of classifying and typifying people. In my case, my taxonomy would depend mostly on the subject at hand and somewhat on my mood. When it comes to responding to a given question or proposition or point of view, I find that people generally fit into two broad stereotypes (or a third narrow one) - those who have difficulty in clearly and openly agreeing (let's call them the natural nay-sayers), and those who have difficulty in clearly and openly disagreeing (the natural yea-sayers). The third category consists of those mature, evolved, unflinching individuals who agree with what they agree with and disagree with what they disagree with, and stay that way. (Sometimes I wish I could put myself in this class.) But since this is a very thin slice of humanity, and in any case a bunch of folks who don't seem to be plagued with issues such as doubt, uncertainty, paradox, etc., and who don't feel the heat of social or economic or political pressure, we would do well to leave them alone.

Natural nay-sayers tend to start their responses with a No, even when they agree with the given proposition. Quite often you'd find them shaking their heads in dissent even before you've finished saying your piece. And quite often, you'd find that in the final analysis, they're in agreement with you. I am constantly amused by the typical "No, I agree with you" response - the hallmark of this type. Some natural nay-sayers however are not honest enough to admit that they agree. They start with a No, which happens to be the typical nay-sayer's favourite word, and proceed to give you their opinion which, it turns out, is more or less the same; but they will not accept that it is essentially similar to (or at least somewhat aligned with) what you just said (or at least some parts of it). In some cases, it may be the overwhelming persuasiveness of your argument that renders them unable to articulate that one vital thought that could establish their position of difference. So they know they disagree but can't cleary say where or why. But in most cases, I suspect, it is more likely to be a reluctance to accept something as given - even if they agree with parts of it - unless it is regurgitated and cast in their own unique style of expression (by which time it has become a different proposition). An extreme reaction of this sub-type is to say exactly what you said, completely ignoring the fact that you said it first, and pretend that you never did or they never heard it. So it's their idea now and they own the IPR on it. On the whole, the good thing about people of this type is that they leave you with little ambiguity - you more or less know what to expect: they've already voiced their disagreement and as your dialogue with them progresses, things can only get better.

Natural yea-sayers are, by far, more complex creatures, and in dealing with them things may not turn out the way you'd expect, going by their intial reaction. Their first response is to agree (usually they are nodding their heads in assent right through, while you talk) regardless of what they really feel or think. There could be numerous reasons (and, accordingly, sub-types) behind such immediate affirmation. There's of course the typical Sycophant. And the typical Diplomat. There's also the typical Eternal Optimist who'd agree with anyone and anything purely out of a feeling of bonhomie and good cheer towards all of mankind. Then there're those who secretly disagree but generally tend to shy away from confrontation, those who get easily swayed by forceful rhetoric and/or the loudest voice and/or the most powerful presence around, and those who don't have a mind of their own to begin with.

There are several ways of saying No, including the one that starts with a Yes. Some years ago I had a T shirt that said "What part of NO don't you understand?" and I used to think about that sometimes. I guess I have my answer now ... it's the part that is actually a YES. Someone needs to spell it out, if it has to be understood. Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that the best way is to look for areas of agreement first - start with an up-front Yes (if you like, qualify it with relevant conditions and provisions), before opening out the areas of difference. And even there, in that, seek resolution by way of a win for both sides. Peaceful dialogue, focus on real issues and common goals is by far the best way forward. Some people call this looking for the silver lining. We need this now, very badly.

Friday, September 01, 2006

4 P's - my 2 bits

When it comes to the business of life and equally, the life of businesses, here're my 4 P's - Purpose, Profit, Principles and Pride. Over the last couple of decades I've come across a wide variety of organisations (and people), who would most likely rank these 4 P's differently from the next guy. For the more numerically inclined, there're 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 24 ways in which one could rank them. Of course, there could be some organisations (or people) who'd want to drop one or more of those P's completely, resulting in a much larger set of possibilities. I am not, at this point, going to get into the academics of permutations and combinations, because that's not what this is about. (However, math enthusiasts and other geeks should feel free to do so and knock themselves out.)

Purpose, according to me, is fundamental to everything. An enlightened soul once said "Find Purpose - the means will follow". The discovery (or, in some cases, invention) of Purpose clarifies our raison d'ĂȘtre. It would be an interesting experiment to randomly poll people (or organisations) to find out if they are clear about their purpose. I expect that most responses would be in the affirmative, though I suspect that most of those claims would be shallow. Few have Purpose, and of the ones who purport to have Purpose, even fewer demonstrate purposefulness in what they do. While several might actually put Profit before Purpose, few would honestly admit to it - the vast majority spends considerable time effort and money to get a glossy cover that talks about all the right things: vision, mission, blah blah ... words on a web-site or corporate brochure or presentation, cleverly crafted by a PR / ad agency or perhaps internal creative talent. Then there are those who would assert that their Purpose, indeed, is Profit!

Profit is not a bad thing, though some idealists might tend to think so. It is what keeps us alive. If Purpose gives us a reason to exist, Profit enables us to stay alive. And healthy. Without Profit (OK, excess of income over expenditure - not-for-profit organisations should be happy with that), you cannot continue to serve your Purpose. Selflessness requires at least this much of selfishness - sustenance of the health and well-being of the selfless. But Profit without Principles? Not a good idea. Principles without Purpose? I don't see the sense in that. Principles guide where the Profit motive may lead astray. Sometimes, Principles guide where even Purpose may lead astray. I would venture to say that Principles form the foundation for a civilised society. This could however be taken to an extreme - the "I will break but not bend" type of adherence to Principles. I haven't come across as many ultra-highly principled organisations as I have people. Somehow most such individuals end up being very bitter, while putting up a brave front and even taking Pride in their uncomprising position. And, in my scheme of ranking, Pride is the last P. There's arrogance, there's ego, there's pride and there's hubris. Frankly, I think it's a good thing to take Pride in who you are, what you do, how you do it and why. But there's no place in business (or social) life for ego and arrogance. And certainly none for hubris.

Which brings me to the background to this blog entry. I have been encountering so much ego these days - at work and also at play, that it is frustrating. Ego is not good for business! Somehow, several people don't get it. Ego threatens Purpose, Profit as well as Principle. I'm OK with Pride - in a larger, more abstract and more mature sense. In fact I believe it's a good thing for business. But not ego. A supercilious or a patronising attitude drives away customers as well as suppliers, and erodes goodwill with all other publics an enterprise deals with. It is amazing how every little interaction provides a potential window for any of this to manifest itself. And how the more successful ones fall prey to ego, which they mistake to be Pride. Perhaps this sounds paradoxical, but I'm an advocate for Pride without ego - a Pride based on humility. And proud of it!