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29 August 2012

Wait...Do not delegate !!

Yesterday, while having lunch with my colleagues, I learned a great lesson from Dr.Nagaraja.

Dr.Nagaraja is the GM in the company that I work for. In his early 50s, he is a person whom I appreciate for his intellect and his exceptional communication skills. He has the rare ability to see through all the clutter of information and pinpoint the real issue. He is one of the real leaders with whom I have the pleasure of working.

We were attending a farewell dinner for our friend Ajay, who, as I mentioned in a previous post, doesn't like to save his previous mails as he moves to a new role.

Dr.Nagaraja was the Project Manager and Project Champion for the ERP implementation project that our company had undertaken. He was talking about his experiences in the project.

"Modern management theories speak a lot about the benefits of Delegation", said Doctor in that slow and clear voice of his, "No doubt, delegation is good and you need to delegate. That is the only way in which you can improve the quality of your people, and that, in turn, will help you grow."

"But, in my opinion there are two types of tasks which you should not delegate, especially if you are working in a cross-functional team like the one that we had. One, you should not delegate tasks that fall between the gaps, the kind of tasks that cross modules and which cannot be owned by a specific member of your team. You should not delegate these tasks."

"The second kind of tasks that you should not delegate are those about which you are very passionate. For example, I am passionate about training and ensuring added value to the organization. While I am sure that there are competent members in my team who can take up the ownership of training, I would prefer to own and drive the training engagements since it is close to my heart."

I found that to be a good lesson. When I look back. in almost all the trainings that I have attended, they stressed on the importance of delegation. Delegate, delegate and delegate more  was the common message. Listening to Doctor, I was reminded of the similarity between his views and the views of Jack Welch, who, in  his book 'Winning', mentioned that he never delegated the ownership of Training and retraining and how he used to personally sit through training sessions to ensure that the quality of delivery was excellent and that the organization benefited out of the training sessions.

This lesson is applicable even in our personal lives, I think. There are certain tasks in our life which we cannot abdicate responsibility. There may be tough situations in our lives where we have to 'be a man' and own up the responsibility. 

Before you decide to delegate, please wait and think....

26 August 2012

Bad week for Armstrongs..

This had been a bad week for Armstrongs. Both Lance and Neil.
First, Neil Armstrong expired yesterday. He was 82. First man to walk on the moon. A man famous for his words "A small step for man, a giant leap for mankind". While in school, I used to hate him. I used to blame him for all that we had to study about the space, for example, about Yuri Gagarin, Valantina Tereshkova about that Russian dog (what's its name, the first dog in space), about the differences between Astronauts and Cosmonauts, about Sputnik, Apollo and all those stuff.
And Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins, for good measure..
Had it not been for Neil Armstrong, I would have been spared of all these boring stuff, I used to think.
It was Winston Churchill who famously said, "When I was sixteen, I used to be embarrassed as to how ignorant my parents were. But when I turned twenty one, I was amazed to see how much they have learned in the last five years". So was the case with me. As I grew up, and started seeing the big picture, I was amazed to see how, in a span of 10 years, America was able to put its first man in space. That put Neil Armstrong in a different perspective. Here was a man, symbolic of all that is good with America, all that is spectacular about this great country, which can deliver the impossible.
At least, it used to...
Then there is the other Armstrong, Lance....
Lance Armstrong has been a kind of hero to many in my generation. Won 7 Tour de France titles, successfully fought and won against 'Testicular Cancer' (Ouch !!), winner all the way.
Till...
They stripped him of all his Tour de France titles, all seven of them, amidst allegations that he used performance enhancing Steroids.
Lance fought hard against these accusation and finally gave up. He did not bother to contest these allegations.
He did not give up against cancer, he did not give up against his competitors in the world's toughest cycling Championship, he fought against all of that and won.
But in the end, he gave up against Bureaucracy...
But in my book. Lance, you are and will always be the 'Never say die' winner that you always were..
I salute both the Armstrongs...

25 August 2012

Benefits of Procrastination....

Right from my childhood I have been told that procrastination is not good. You should not postpone actions, they told me. If is worth doing, it is worth doing now, goes the saying. We have similar saying in Hindi which goes like 'Kal kare so Aaj kar, Aaj kare so ab' (a part of Kabir Doha), which means, if it need to be done tomorrow, do it today. If it need to be done today, do it now.

Like most of us, I fall pray to procrastination once in a while. And every time I procrastinate, I feel terribly guilty. Every time I go to a place of prayer, the one prayer that I always chant is "God, give me strength not to procrastinate". Despite my prayers, I procrastinate...

And feely guilty.

That is why, when I heard that this book ' Wait: The Art and Science of Delay', is about Productive Procrastination, I was curious. When all my upbringing has told me that Procrastination is bad, how can the author of this book, Frank Partnoy, tell us that Procrastination is productive, I wondered. On thinking, I remembered a few incidences from my life where, had I procrastinated the outcomes would have been better. For instance,
  • I could have waited a bit before impulsively purchasing that dud of a share. I could have done some analysis and found the obvious mess with that stock. Ever since I purchased it, I have observed that the share prices of the company are affected by Gravitational pull.
  • I could have waited before selling that stock and found that immediately after my selling that stock, the stock touched stratospheric highs
  • I could have waited before I clicked the 'Send' button in my email
  • I could have waited before tendering that apology to a situation where I was perfectly justified in getting irritated.

There are many instances in our lives, where, if we had waited a bit, the outcomes would have been much different and better. 

That is what this book is all about as I understand from the reviews. I have not read this book, but I intend to..

How to Make a great presentation...

I am sure that most of us who read this page will have to make a few presentations in their lives. Almost all of us envy those 'Smart Alecs' who effortlessly (so it seems) makes great presentations.
How can we (you and me) make great presentations? Scott Stratten shares the following 18 points for making a great presentation in fastcompany.com.
My favorite? I have two. One, ask for organizers contact information and inform him of your arrival for the presentation. And two, Record Every Session that you do.
I think I am going to follow these tips.

Eat that Frog....

Mark Twain once commented that if you eat a live frog at the start of the day, everything else that you do in the day will look good. 
Motivational theorists suggest that if you 'Eat that Frog', tackle that big, bully task first thing in the morning, you will feel highly productive for the rest of the day.
So what do successful people do with the first hour of their day? Check out this article from fastcompany.com
The favorite of mine? Complete at least one task in the morning before you check your email.

24 August 2012

The advice conundrum....

They say that you should not ask others for advice. You don't know what you get.
People react differently when you ask them for advice. There are different categories of responses.
I thought about this when I asked my friend Ajay for a simple advice yesterday. Our company uses Lotus Notes for our Email system. Ajay is a consultant working in our company. He is in the process of leaving his current employer and moving to a new employer. Since Lotus notes do not open in any outside application, I asked Ajay how he proposed porting his current emails to the new company. I also had my mails in Lotus notes and I wanted to see how to port my lotus notes mail to another application.
"Why do I need to read my old mails?", Ajay countered
"This is a very important phase of your life. Don't you want a track of these mails for future reference?" I asked him.
Ajay could have responded with a simple 'No'. But no, he had to prove a point.
"I don't believe in keeping track of my old mails", replied Ajay a bit pompously (I thought), "I believe that once you are out of an organization, you must forget about your past."
"You must always look to future, not to past", Ajay added for good measure.
Ajay's response is a typical way in which people respond to request for advice. I call it the "Why should I?" response.
Another one is the "How can you do this" response. Typical demonstration of this is when the daughter comes and tells "mom, I am pregnant, what should I do?" and the mom answers with "how can you do this to us? Is this the price for our spending our lifetime raising you?".
Yet another response is going to the past history. This happened recently in my case. My son came and told me about how some kids did not let him play.Rather than just listening and empathizing with him, I went like "when I was in class seven, there were some kids who formed a group and ignored me. Instead of sitting and  feeling depressed, I went and joined another group of boys with similar interest".
Wouldn't silence have been a better response in this situation?
A variant of 'How could you do this?' is 'You are always like that' response. Wives often use this response. Husband tells "I forgot to send the passport for renewal.", the immediate reply? "You are always forgetting. You never remember anything. Remember the time when you forgot to....."
Yet another common response is "If I were in your position" response. "If I were in your position, I would go and ask for a raise to my boss" for example.
Old people often comes up with "When I was your age" response. "I don't know why you are struggling to jump over that tree. When I was your age, I could easily hit over that tree" (of course, when you were my age, the tree was only 3 foot tall, now it is 20 Meters tall).
What is the best response to a request of advice?

22 August 2012

One thing to do before you are 60...

This post is for all those non-Indians (and for some of the unfortunate Indians) who haven't had the taste of Indian Mango.
You have all those 'Bucket Lists', the things that you have to do before you kick the bucket, that include items like, take a walk on the Great Wall of China, Visit the Pyramids, see London through London Eye....
There is one item that all these lists miss.
Eat Variety of Mangoes in India.
Mangoes in India are different from those anywhere else in the world in terms of Size, Colour and Taste. There are small mangoes and there are huge mangoes, there are red, yellow and green mangoes and there are tasty mangoes and there are Oh, so yummy mangoes. Nowhere in the world can you see the kind of Variety of mangoes that you have in India.
Mango, also known as 'King of Fruits' is the national fruit of India. India boasts of over 800 different varieties of mangoes. Like their language, culture, cuisine, art, dance and music, every state of India has its own special mango.
When we were growing up in Kerala, we used to have so many mango trees in our farm that most of our summers were spent on top of or under the mango trees. As the sun rises, we will get out of the bed and rush to the Mango Trees. Most often, ripe mangoes would have fallen down during the night and those Mangos will be our first food of the day, even before we drink our milk and eat our breakfast.
Since these mangoes ripened naturally on the tress, they would be yummy, oh, so yummy.
We used to eat 'Kilichundan (bird beak)', 'Moovandan', 'Perakka Manga (tastes like Gauva) and other innumerable types of Mangoes. I have forgotten the names of few of them. We used to eat raw mangos with salt and chilli powder, medium ripe ones, which were both sweet and sour at the same time and of coursed, the ripe ones.
Some times, we used to climb the trees to pluck the mangoes, we used ladders at other times. We even used to pluck mangos by throwing stones. The feeling of satisfaction as you hit a mango and it falls down to the ground cannot be imagined...
During the mango season, we used to have one curry made of Mangos on a daily basis. Tambrams (Short for Tamil Brahmins) has so many Mango recipes, including Mango sambar, Mango Pachadi etc
And who can forget Mango Pickles. We had 'Kadukumanga' (Small Mango) pickle, 'Avakkai Manga', 'Manga Thokku', sweet mango pickles etc.
As we grew up, we went in search of our identity and individuality and moved away from our natural habitat. With that, we lost the pleasure of plucking mangos from the trees and eating them. We became 'customers' of Mangos. Though the purchased mangos were not as tasty as the mangos that were plucked from the trees, we did not have much option.
On the brighter side, we were able to taste the fruits from other parts of India.
Mango season in my current city Banglore starts sometime in end of February. 'Raspuri' mangoes are the first ones to arrive in Bangalore. These mangoes are not very tasty and I avoid them. But as Raspuri appears, I wait with bated breath for Badami mangoes which are very, very sweet. By about third week of March, we have very ripe Badami mangoes.
Along with Badami, come the Himayat, another of those very tasty mangoes. Also you have Malgoa and 'Andhra Malgoa', which are some of the biggest mangos that I have seen. It takes about two people to finish one Andhra Malgoa.
And sure enough, you have the most famous of them all, the Alphonso. These are normally exported and are very expensive for Indian standards.
Along with Malgoa, you also have other mangos like Dasari, which comes to Bangalore from the neighbouring state of Maharashtra.
End of mango season in different parts of India is signalled by the arrival of a few types of Mangoes. Here in Bombay, Mangos like Langda, Neelam and Chausa are the last to be seen in Shops. In Bangalore also, we have Neelam to announce the end of the season.
There are many more of these mangos that I don't know of. There are some, like Roomani, that I have heard about, but have not tasted at all. This mango is terribly sour when raw, but deliciously sweet when ripe. The problem is it takes a long time for this fruit to be ripe, and it is difficult to know when it has ripened. Many a Roomani have I thrown out because, they looked ripe from the outside but the first bite was so sour that it was impossible to eat more.
In case you are planning a visit to India, plan it in summer. Sure, it is very hot, sultry, dry, crazy etc...
But to your relish, you get these mangos...
Your choice....

08 August 2012

One hour difference...

I was talking to my colleague, Dr.Shirsat, in the cafeteria today...

Dr.Shirsat is a veterinary surgeon and he works in the inventory department in the company where I work.

It is always a pleasure to talk to Doctor. He is always positive, ebullient and has an impish sense of humour. I am always amused by the way he follows up his one liners with a loud laughter, as if providing a cue for others that it is time to laugh....

Doctor was talking to me about an exam that he took during his graduation days.

"There was a question in the exam about the medicine that you give to a horse which is suffering from an acute infection. I wrote the answer quickly and moved on to answer other questions. After about an hour, I realized that the answer that I had written to that question was wrong. So, like any student would do, I crossed out the original answer and wrote the new, correct answer."

"As you can imagine, I was pleased as a punch, for having realized my mistake just in time"

"Imagine my surprise, when the marks came, my Professor had given me Zero marks for that answer. I was livid. I barged into Prof's room, with all the text books to back my claim and demanded that he give me full marks for my correct answer."

"My Professor pacified me. He asked me to sit down. I sat down"

"Then he went on to give me an advise which I will never forget for the rest of my life"

We (other friends had joined us by now) looked at Doctor in expectantly.

"Assume that you have become a doctor, said my Professor, and a farmer brings a horse to you with an acute infection as mentioned in the question paper. You immediately diagnose the case and give a medicine. The grateful farmer leaves you with his horse. After about an hour suddenly you realize that the medicine you gave was wrong. Do you think you will get a chance to rectify to your mistake in real life?"

"In real life, by the time you realize your mistake, the horse would be probably dead because of your wrong prescription. That is the reason I gave you zero marks for your correct answer, said my Professor"

"That was an eye opener. I suddenly realized that many a time in your life, you will get situations which calls for the 'correct answer'. You do not have any scope for mistakes. Since talking to Professor, I have become very careful about how I respond to my challenges. "

Dr. Shirsat completed his anecdote.

When Doctor was talking to us, I remembered an incident that happened when I was working as an engineer in a Steel Manufacturing Company.

We were attending a training on Quality. 

"Do you feel that we can achieve 100% quality in what we do? " asked the trainer.

General consensus was 'No'. 'How can we achieve 100% Quality? We are all human beings and prone to 
make mistakes? Possibly 90% at best, you need to factor in human errors'.

We were all very happy that we had given a well thought out answer.

"Yesterday, I went to a doctor to talk to him about an impending operation. Being a quality person, I asked him the same question. He also gave me the same answer that you gave. He told me that while the chances of success was about 90%, I have to factor in 10% for human error. Do you think I will go to that doctor again?"

"Why is it that when it comes to us, we compromise on Quality by factoring in 'Human Errors', but when we expect things from others, we expect 100% Quality? Why can't we live up to our expectations of Quality from others?"

A food for thought, perhaps?