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Learning from Failures

A quote that caught my attention last week was

My best skill was that I was coachable. I was a sponge and aggressive to learn.

Michael Jordan 

A related question that comes to my mind is, “Do we learn from our mistakes or failures?” try to ask yourself how often you have admitted to your failures in a group without justifying it. One who is willing “learn” will celebrate the failures by

  1. Not getting stuck with it
  2. Thinking beyond failure
  3. Learning from the failure by asking a question with  What and How
    • How did I fail?
    • What led to failure?
    • What can I do now and moving forward?
    • How do I work on the factors that led to failure?

We need to accept that

  1. We are not perfect
  2. We do not live in a perfect world
  3. So why hesitate in talking about our failure(s)

One of the most challenging jobs is to accept your failures (including mistakes, errors, etc.) to your team.

I want to leave you to think of another great quote that I was reminded off

It doesn’t matter how much milk you spill as long as you don’t lose your cow.

An Old Saying

If silly things were not done, intelligent things would never happen.

Tom Peter

Is perfect execution enough?

I am sure many of you would have heard this story.

A tight rope walker was performing blindfolded with balancing with bamboo and his child sitting on his shoulder. Spectators were stunned to see that. Everyone was thrilled to see that performance, and the artist was praised for his perfection and confidence. He asked the spectator if anyone wanted to send their kid to sit on his shoulder while he walks again. There was pin-drop silence. No one wanted to risk their kid for this high-risk act.

In the story above, spectators saw a perfect performance, but they were not certain about the outcome while allowing their child to be part of the performance by the tight-rope walker.

I am sure all of you would agree with me if I say that

Mother’s lap is one place you are certain of relief irrespective of your age, gender, time of the day. You can get any amount of stress, but they vanish like magic in your mother’s lap

Do you know why that happens?

It is because your mother knows what you want; when you want; how you want; including what you do not wish to or what is not suitable for you. She knows all this without you telling her.

You might be wondering the link between the two stories/narrative above.

Do you realize that perfect execution does not necessarily give the confidence and peace of mind to the recipient of your outcome?

Can we learn from our mothers to understand the child’s requirement without they telling us? Imagine the peace (and. of course, joy) that the child will have.

This child can be your customers or other stakeholders.

BTW while writing this, I Iearnt a new word. 😊

“funambulism” meaning

Tight Rope Walking

Culture of Excellence is rooted in the Organizational Culture

The Culture of Excellence is discussed in a different context with different expressions. While all experiences and knowledge are valid, the implementation is often complicated, and even if one succeeds, it is not sustainable. Most understand that this is a huge change management process. The first step in bring any change would be to look for the prerequisite for any change management.  

The missing link is rooted in Organizational Culture. Organizational Culture is a widely discussed topic. Most readers of this blog would be knowledgeable and experienced.  The best explanation for Culture is Schien as

“A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to these problems” (Schein, 1992).

Exploring the underlined words from a realistic perspective brings an exciting and probably real scenario:

  1.  “pattern” implies a design, a way, but it also means that it evolves. This makes the culture dynamic. An acceptable pattern today may not be so tomorrow.
  2. shared” thoughts have always been a dream in the management world. Where does one stop in sharing? Is good enough if one communicates to all? An action of sending an email, using posters are shortlived. Often the sharing begins and ends with a display of values or other artifacts of the culture of an organization.
  3. “learned” implies that the culture evolves as one learns from the experience. Learning from experience needs to move from Primary Learning to Secondary Learning. Primary Learning can only provide us the immediate feel and are often reactive. Secondary Learning enables the absorption of experience that has the potential to change our way of life or subsequent response to the experience.
  4. “external adaption and internal integration” of the Learning would ensure the conversion of what we learn into practice. Adaptation to the external stimulus has been the essence of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. In the organizational context, experiential Learning needs to be adapted to match the changing business environment. The same experience would require to be integrated with organizational practices. A change in practice with integrating with a larger system in an organization can lead to suboptimal conditions and hence unstable culture. It is necessary to distinguish between change and instability. Change is desirable but not instability. The practice must lead to benefits to internal stakeholders like employees and external stakeholders like customers, vendors.
  5. The experience and Learning must be “valid” enough to facilitate reinforcement of the communication of cultural aspects.
  6.  The culture symbols and practices that represent culture needs to be “taught” to the new employees. This is necessary as every individual comes with his /her own cultural “baggage,” which may not be in sync with organizational culture. It is the responsibility of every individual to showcase the culture and enable absorption of the new culture (at times, it could be a cultural shock) by the newcomer.
  7. The newcomers would need to perceive, think, and feel the culture of excellence. This means the members of the organization would need to walk the talk.

Culture is understood by the Artifacts that represents it. The Culture of Excellence would possibly be indicated by various measures or systems.

For example, the quantum of Innovation may indicate the excellence culture.

Values would relate to the attitudes and opinions regarding reality and how Innovation (in the above example) should be handled. This has to be built into the strategies, goals, and philosophies of the organization. 

In the case of Innovation, one would need to see if Innovation has become part of whatever the organization values. Innovation should be part of the strategy, organizational goal, and the organization must believe in it.

Basic Assumptions about the organization, its people, and the business environment must be conducive to the building culture.

For example, Tolerance to failure would be critical characteristics to fuel the innovative mindset. The reinforcing assumption becomes key to the value system and then becomes an integral part of the culture.

The missing link is rooted in Organizational Culture. Organizational Culture is a widely discussed topic. Most readers of this blog would be knowledgeable and experienced.  The best explanation for Culture is Schien as

“A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to these problems” (Schein, 1992).

Exploring the underlined words from a realistic perspective brings an exciting and probably real scenario:

  1.  “pattern” implies a design, a way, but it also means that it evolves. This makes the culture dynamic. An acceptable pattern today may not be so tomorrow.
  2. shared” thoughts have always been a dream in the management world. Where does one stop in sharing? Is good enough if one communicates to all? An action of sending an email, using posters are shortlived. Often the sharing begins and ends with a display of values or other artifacts of the culture of an organization.
  3. “learned” implies that the culture evolves as one learns from the experience. Learning from experience needs to move from Primary Learning to Secondary Learning. Primary Learning can only provide us the immediate feel and are often reactive. Secondary Learning enables the absorption of experience that has the potential to change our way of life or subsequent response to the experience.
  4. “external adaption and internal integration” of the Learning would ensure the conversion of what we learn into practice. Adaptation to the external stimulus has been the essence of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. In the organizational context, experiential Learning needs to be adapted to match the changing business environment. The same experience would require to be integrated with organizational practices. A change in practice with integrating with a larger system in an organization can lead to suboptimal conditions and hence unstable culture. It is necessary to distinguish between change and instability. Change is desirable but not instability. The practice must lead to benefits to internal stakeholders like employees and external stakeholders like customers, vendors.
  5. The experience and Learning must be “valid” enough to facilitate reinforcement of the communication of cultural aspects.
  6.  The culture symbols and practices that represent culture needs to be “taught” to the new employees. This is necessary as every individual comes with his /her own cultural “baggage,” which may not be in sync with organizational culture. It is the responsibility of every individual to showcase the culture and enable absorption of the new culture (at times, it could be a cultural shock) by the newcomer.
  7. The newcomers would need to perceive, think, and feel the culture of excellence. This means the members of the organization would need to walk the talk.

Culture is understood by the Artifacts that represents it. The Culture of Excellence would possibly be indicated by various measures or systems.

For example, the quantum of Innovation may indicate the excellence culture.

Values would relate to the attitudes and opinions regarding reality and how Innovation (in the above example) should be handled. This has to be built into the strategies, goals, and philosophies of the organization. 

In the case of Innovation, one would need to see if Innovation has become part of whatever the organization values. Innovation should be part of the strategy, organizational goal, and the organization must believe in it.

Basic Assumptions about the organization, its people, and the business environment must be conducive to the building culture.

For example, Tolerance to failure would be critical characteristics to fuel the innovative mindset. The reinforcing assumption becomes key to the value system and then becomes an integral part of the culture.

Samudra Manthan

The Samudra Manthan (Sanskrit: समुद्रमन्थन, lit. churning of the ocean) is one of the best-known episodes in the Hindu mythology narrated in the Bhagavata Purana, in the Mahabharata, and in the Vishnu Purana. The Samudra Manthan explains the origin of Amrita, the nectar of immortality.

The word मन्थन can be understood in two different ways in English –  Churning and Agitating. The process of thinking can have

  1. “churning” effect, that brings our best from us in the same as we get butter from the curd when we churn the curd
  2. “agitating” effect, that brings depression or confusion. One agitates contents in a vessel to mix it well. A good agitation brings out an outcome where the individual entity is not visible,

Our thinking process (intellectual process) should bring out best outcomes

The churning of the Ocean of Milk was an elaborate process: Mount Mandara was used as the churning rod, and Vasuki, a nāgarāja who abides on Shiva’s neck, became the churning rope. The Asuras demanded to hold the head of the snake, while the Devas, taking advice from Vishnu, agreed to hold its tail. Vishnu, in the form of the Kurma turtle, came to their rescue and supported the mountain on his shell.

The churning of supposed to have brought out

table 1Anyone who has practiced some form of meditation would realize that during meditation mind does go through some churning before it settles at the higher states of realization. In this process a lot of ideas, thoughts, visualization does appear. Some of them would be wanted, and some would be unwanted. The terms “wanted” and “unwanted” is one’s perspective. For example, No one wanted Halahala (Poison), but everyone fought for Amrit (Nectar).

I have personally experienced that some good ideas do appear when you are meditating on a particular topic or issue. Churning happens even when one is not performing meditation. When we focus on a subject, churning occurs in our mind.

Next time when you are meditating or focusing on something, remember the story of Samudra Manthan, you would appreciate what goes around your thought process.

Our head vs universe

I was reading the (though read several times in past) popular story of Vamana (one of the incarnation of Vishnu) seeking three steps from King Mahabali. In one step, Vamana covered the universe. Second step he covered heavens. Mahabali offered his head for third step.

I realised few things from this story.

  • I can give up anything and everything, but till I have not given up “my head” (EGO) I have not given up.
  • EGO is bigger than anything known in the universe and life.
  • When I decide to surrender my EGO, I would be celebrated. Mahabali is celebrated every year in Kerala as part of ONAM festival.

Respecting guidelines 

I play Badminton every day morning with a group of about 8 people. We play doubles everyday.  

I am not a match winner generally. Today I had great experience of winning all the matches along with my partner. 

My partner has always told me a guideline (it usually depends upon the partner) on sharing the coverage of court during play. I had been violating that often. Today I firmly stuck to the guideline. I found myself playing amazing and also winning. I actuality had more satisfaction today not because we won, but the fact that I played better. 

Key  learning from this experience:

  1. Understanding the zones is critical not only for your performance but also for your team member’s performance. 
  2. We must agree and adhere to the guidelines for the team performance. 
  3. We can  break the rules when situation warrants. However it should be discussed and agreed with the team member. 

Sushi – Excellence

I posted this video in my Pinterest Board on Management Thoughts. This explains the journey of excellence. It is amazing to see the rigor in learning process for the members who are going to finally serve Sushi to their customer.

It is apparent that perfection in outcome is directly proportional to the rigor applied in learning process. Often we mixup learning process to training process only. Having said this, I must also mention that it is not easy to get mentor and guide like Jiro in this video.

It is a matter of dedication and patience to reach highers levels of excellence and continue the uphill journey of excellence!

Think-ability

I have been guiding several professionals at Team Leaders/ Supervisors in different organisations. Most of these people are with work experience of more than 5 years. They were working on improvements in the business processes that they manage. The improvement journey requires to seek think and come out with causes and solutions for their current performance levels. Most have been able to explain only what is obvious and the experience that they have been demonstrating were at the surface level.  I first thought if this is a case of “tool” as it is almost customary to find fault with tools.

I have been doing chintan-manan on this. The causes / solutions that we see is an outcome of our thinking process. It does not matter whether it comes from Right Brain Thinking or Left Brain Thing. Either way I thought the key word was Thinking. Possibly this was the key differentiator between the ones who came out with brilliant outcome versus the rest.

This prompted me to do some work on “thinking” process. When I wanted to understand the thinking process, I came across large list of thinking Processes in Wikipedia. I have a significant bias for our ancient language and philosophy. I have used the word ancient as most may consider them today as not so relevant.  The Sanskrit equivalent of word thinking is

  1. चिंत् refers to reflective thinking. I call this “Looking into Mirror” for ideas and /or causes. This calls for courage to accept oneself as one with positives and negatives both.
  2. ध्यै refers to meditative thinking. This requires thinking without any external influences. Distractions and shortcuts cannot allow one to perform meditative thinking.
  3. पर्यालोच् refers to deliberation, attentive observation. The observation process is different from seeing. It requires one to go into what is not visible or obvious. We are so used to “makeups” that we have forgotten the beauty of the inner layer of skin.
  4. वि-, तर्क् refers to argumentative thinking. This implies that one may need to argue with one’s own bias and assumption while thinking on cause or solution to a problem. We are often better at challenging other viewpoints. If we can start challenging our own, the chances are high that we would have better long term solutions.
  5. विचर्Refers to investigation. One may need to go beyond what is obvious. Any investigative process requires asking questions to seek answers.

In Chapter 3: Karma-Yoga; Shloka 31 and 32 of Srimad Bhagavat Gita, highlights the “thinking” aspects of human nature.

ये मे मतमिदं नित्यमनुतिष्ठन्ति मानवाः |

श्रद्धावन्तोऽनसूयन्तो मुच्यन्ते तेऽपि कर्मभिः ||३-३१||

ye: me: matham idam nithyam

anuthishttanthi ma:nava:ha |

sraddha:vantho::nasu:yantho:

muchyanthe: the::pi karmabhihi || 31

Those who always act according to the rule I have here laid down, in faith and without cavilling – they too are released from the bondage of their actions.

ये त्वेतदभ्यसूयन्तो नानुतिष्ठन्ति मे मतम् |

सर्वज्ञानविमूढांस्तान्विद्धि नष्टानचेतसः ||३-३२||

ye:thv e:thad abhya:su:yantho:

na:nu thishtanthi me: matham |

sarvajna:na vimu:dda:m stha:n

viddhi nashta:n ache:tha saha || 32

But those who cavil at the rule and refuse to conform to it are fools, dead to all knowledge; know that they are lost.

I would like to think beyond the meaning given in the shloka. Some of the key word in this shloka are matham, sraddha, anusuyantah.

मतम have different meanings and some of them are religion, thought, belief, conjectured, perceived, opinion, view.

श्रद्धा means trust, faith in general. It also means composure of mind, strong desire.

अनुसूयन्तः means free from fault-finding, critical, carping, quibbling, nit-picking, censorious, hypercritical, and captious.

The shloka when applied to Problem Solving and Process Improvement activities of a manager would mean

  • “Based on your experiences you may have different views, perceptions about a situation. You need to have faith in the process of improvement and have strong desire to improve significantly. You can come out of your current problems and move to new levels of performance, provided you think of the problem, causes and solutions without taking an approach of fault finding.”
  • “One should not get lost in trivial thinking”

The later shloka (no 32) actually warns about the consequence of not following the earlier one.

If one continues to think about the casuses and solutions without following the appraohes of thinking, would continue to live with the problem. Such situation would only worsen as the law of entropy in nature would prevail. Law of entropy in simple term implies that any process left to itself would tend to deteriorate over a period of time.

Bosses are Celebrities

 

I am trying to put down just some random thoughts that came through my mind in last few days. The intent is not to belittle or disregard anyone in the process. I am using some examples from our mythology only for highlighting the point that I want to convey. I must also state that I am not an atheist.

The current news on justification of celebrities acts have made me think that how Bosses also behave like celebrities only. To understand this better, let me make an attempt to define Celebrities. Wikipedia (mother of all knowledge repository) defines

A celebrity is a person who has a prominent profile and commands some degree of public fascination and influence in day-to-day media. The term is often synonymous with wealth (commonly denoted as a person with fame and fortune), implied with great popular appeal, prominence in a particular field, and is easily recognized by the general public.

Celebrity status for any one is not a permanent. We have seen several celebrities in our life time who have nothing to say after their utilities as celebrity is over. There have several Stars of yesteryear who have lived the life of unknown. ‘Home Alone’ star Macaulay Culkin a huge celebrity once is today facing drug related legal battles. Celebrities like Lance Armstrong lost many supporters when had to face the drug trials. It is also possible that many of them regain their celebrity status. Gods like Rama and Krishna are also celebrities of their time. Consider the fact that there are temples for M G Ramachandran, an all-time celebrity in Tamilnadu. If you carefully go through the Puranas and other religious scriptures that narrate life of them it is not difficult to find that how their “wrong” acts have been justified by building stories and justification around.

A classic criticism of Rama’ life have been his act of mistrust on his wife. He did that twice. Once after winning the war when he asked Sita to testify by entering into fire. Second time he decided to send her to exile based on the comment from a washer man. From the context of our life today, these act may even deserve attention by Domestic Violence Act. But the religion and authors of religious books have justified these act by creating stories and philosophical justification for Rama’s decision. The debate can continue between people who are religious and those who are rationalists. I am not against Rama and Krishna.

Krishna’s acts of stealing have always been justified as act of love. Krishna’s acts (read mischievous acts) during war is justified by various means in Mahabharata. We today know that in simpler term as “everything is fair in war”

Let us now look at the BOSSES. They are celebrities in their own way. Most of us would have read this somewhere or other, I definitely do not know the source of this.

When I Take a long time to finish, I am slow.

When my boss takes a long time, he is thorough.

When I don’t do it, I am lazy.

When my boss does not do it, he is busy.

When I do something without being told, I am trying to be smart.

When my boss does the same, he takes the initiative.

When I please my boss, I am apple polishing.

When my boss pleases his boss, he is cooperating.

When I make a mistake, I’ am an idiot.

When my boss makes a mistake, he’s only human.

When I am out of the office, I am wondering around.

When my boss is out of the office, he’s on business.

When I am on a day off sick, I am always sick.

When my boss is a day off sick, he must be very ill.

When I apply for leave, I must be going for an interview.

When my boss applies for leave, it’s because he’s overworked.

When I do good, my boss never remembers.

When I do wrong, he never forgets.

 

We must also remember that these justification works as long as BOSS is BOSS. Hence within a lifetime of an organisation BOSS is a CELEBRITY. Whether we like or not, we all clamour to have an association with him as mere proximity gives a pleasure and a sense of achievement. The power of proximity with a BOSS is so high that the effect would be noticeable in almost every staff who is closest to the BOSS on routine basis.

Will we ever come out of Celebrity Worship stage? I am not sure. Human kind has always followed a Hero Worship from the days he has become social animal. The most worshipped god in Pre-Vedic period was Lord Indra, who represents the kings. Kings in the early society was typically most powerful person. We again learnt it from our forefather. If you notice a group of Monkeys, the strongest and biggest monkey would be leading the group.

At the same time, I also see people at large becoming more aware and outspoken. This may not reduce celebrity worship, but the celebrities may not get the same response if they do not come up to the expectations of people.