Jul 11, 2011

Stop Bitching, Start Living!

"Some people seem to go through life standing at the complaint counter
~Fred Propp Jr.

Complainers are like insect repellents! They create strong impression about themselves with people they talk to, and they are effective in doing their repelling job well! Psychologists say that's the biggest reason why people should change this behavior. Oh yes, there is no dearth of complainers around us, colleague bitching about the boss, neighbor whining about the weather, friend kvetching about the state of politics...expressing helplessness is a common tendency of ineffective people.

Dilbert on Complaining


Getting rid of learned helplessness and whining behavior can be quite liberating, empowering. And the good news is, it can be unlearned. Change is easier for some people than others because not all complainers are the same. I feel there are 3 types of complainers:

  1. Habitual Kvetchers suffer from existential angst perhaps - they are stuck in the ditch of their mindless complaining, unable to get out. It takes persistent effort can change themselves.
  2. Infected/secondary complainers - complaining is contagious yes, and these folks are like vampires and start their own rant once infected. They may be complaining to gain a common ground with their peers, to get closer to the others. They might be able to overcome this attitude quicker than Habitual Kvetchers.
  3. Genuine complainers: The folks have a genuine reason to complain but chances are they end up complaining to the wrong person, in a wrong manner at wrong place. 

How to Change?

  • Become aware: ask yourself: "Am I a complainer?" and be honest with your answer - if you are and your answer is "yes" you have just won half the battle!
  • Toll Gate: Next time you are about to complain, just stop yourself - try a joke instead or just don't say anything till you have something positive to say.
  • Recruit help: entrust a close friend or colleague to alert you when you start - in a subtle way (by blinking at you for instance!)
  • Record & Reward: keep a log of your attempts to complain, successes and failures. Reward yourself as you succeed.

Got to Complain?

When you NEED to complain, complain by all means, but make it legitimate. Here is how:

  • make sure you are complaining to the right person
  • don't blame briefly describe what happened 
  • how that effects you and 
  • what exactly you want as a possible solution to the problem (don't complain if she has a different solution)
  • focus on the problem not people

If you are in the company of a complainer, anticipate situations and subtly avoid those situations. Try helping complainers, most of all, don't get influenced into complaining yourself.

What do you think? Sound it off! click 'reactions' (below)

Jul 2, 2011

Where is Your Map?

I published this blog at goodblogs - terms prevent me from publishing it again here. Please check it out: Where is Your Map?

Please post your comments and views.

Jun 27, 2011

"Yes Customer, Have Your Cake!"

Saying “Yes!” to all that customers ask is not a viable customer retention tool!

If you want your customers satisfied, tossing a quick “yes” or habitually agreeing to deliver whatever is definitely not an appropriate response - if this is routine and habitual to you and your team, your customer might start doubting your credibility. If you are serious about delivering on your promise, remember that diligence is prudence!

Take time and assess:
  • if customer needs fit into your and their strategic goals and
  • if what is asked solves real needs
...and then say “yes” (or “no” if necessary). 

This might seem either counter intuitive (culture of collectivism) or an obvious thing (culture of individualism) depending on where you are from. However if customer satisfaction is important to you, actually delivering on promise matters more than giving an impression that you can! 

Many employees of Indian IT services companies are prone to say “yes” when they are supposed not to - this behavior has its roots in culture of collectivism - where disagreeing and responding in negative is seen as disrespect and disloyalty and hence is avoided.

Affected firms should invest in mandatory behavior training (not just cultural orientation) to help employees cope with such habitual behaviors and responses with roots in their culture to help employee get into customers’ shoes.

(Embedded Dilbert strip is my mashup - copyrights owned by Scott Adams)

Jun 17, 2011

Death with Detail

There is devil in detail! Details tempt people to look away from their goals and purpose and get carried away in filtering, slicing and dicing data endlessly.

This preoccupation with detail is next only to our desire for riches. Whatever the position in hierarchy, senior, middle, junior, day in day out are busy on obtaining and making sense of details without which most of them cannot do their jobs. Detail of operations, projects, business and so on. Phone calls, emails, meetings costing countless dollars and hours of effort are spent on obtaining details that might not really help.

Sure, details give a sense of control and focus, they give comfort of knowledge, feeling of being hands on and a reassuring sense of  control. But details need more detail to understand and more and more detail to explain and make sense of and soon, we are lost in them. Details matter less than the purpose, goals, objectives.

Details shield us from focusing on goals, purpose and objectives of the mission on hand. details destroy our sense of direction.  With excessive details, 'means' start to matter more than the ends. When purpose is ignored, thoughts drift, actions chase themselves in a futile pursuit.
With no big picture, no map in hand, we loose our way, it might sound counter intuitive, but we don’t actually loose our way not without detail, but the other way round. What you need to find direction and reach your destination is a compass and a map, not the details of how exactly the next turn looks like...for instance.


If it were not for the detail, meetings will be shorter, there will be lesser confrontations, more harmony for individuals with their surroundings, others and within themselves.

How do we know if we are lost in details?

Ask yourself why you need the data/detail in the first place? What conclusions does it help you make, what insights it is expected to give. If the answer doesn't relate to your mission goals, you are lost in details for sure.

If you are not sure why you are doing the next level of drill down, just don’t dig further - perhaps you already have data you need.

What are your thoughts?

May 26, 2011

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Simple questions are potent. They carry power to strike at the root of our assumptions; simpler a question, better the insight, a good answer can give.

Here are my questions to you: 
  • "Are you sweating the small stuff?" 
  • "Yes/No?" 
  • "How do you know either way for sure?"

Do this simple exercise to find answers. List out all the stuff you and your team sweats on and place them on the quadrant (below). 

Something that scores higher on y-axis does more of championing, sponsoring, defining, deciding, course correction and less of routine transactions. 

Business integration (y-axis) is easy to tell: ‘does it help get money in':higher if 'yes'.

(Just like many things in life, it is not yes or no or black or white exercise. Use your judgment to place activities at  places they truly deserve.)

Ask yourself or your team, “Why we do xxx activity?” for each of the activities on the list...

May 19, 2011

Quality - A Place Holder or a Game Changer?

Assumptions are mothers of all hidden factories (not just screw-ups). Carried through years, assumptions protect 'hidden factories' and prevent changes that can bring dramatic improvements.

An expensive assumption that potential customers expect certifications from IT Service providers created hidden factories within Quality that dole out variety of badges at whatever the cost. Soon this became the predominant or the only preoccupation of Quality function in most companies - to seek and obtain certifications of different flavors. Like all hidden factories, this will have negative impact on the competitiveness and profitability - because the assumption that customers look for certifications is not entirely defensible. Customers want their requirements met - customers want return on their investment, they really don't care how many certificates their vendors got.

Shifting focus from certifications and compliance on to...

May 5, 2011

World Without Badges

What happens if US Navy SEALS are ISO9001 certified? Well, this might sound ridiculous, but several police stations in India are certified…not that these two organizations are comparable (far from it). But if they were, SEALS would have definitely asked OBL for his ID and a succession plan before shooting him in the head. Thank god, SEALS don’t carry ISO badge. But that's how Indian police would approach. ISO certification actually gave them something to do for the police - engage some consultant to do some paper work to get another on the wall. There are other, more important things police in India are supposed to do, we all are aware, they are most ineffective in doing that...that is public knowledge too. The ISO badges are just an unpleasant distraction.

But matter of interest is how having or not having ISO badge makes a difference.

May 4, 2011

Quality Conundrum - Pampered Auditor’s Paradox

“Stupid is as stupid does” 
~ Anonymous

Organizations around the world choose auditing firms and pay them  to get certified in ISO standards and to get assessed for CMMI.

These auditors are loyal and understanding folks, especially towards their Indian customers ('hosts' is more apt). They don't mind flying (Of course, business class only) half way across the world, stay, eat, commute, entertain themselves and fly back home all at their hosts’ cost - they audit and certify their hosts as well.

Sometimes,this is despite the audit firm having an office in the country...

Apr 30, 2011

Habit #4 - I-M-C Syndrome

Inspiration, Motivation and Collaboration are means for achieving ends i.e. vision or mission. Failure to use these powerful tools undermines a leader’s ability to achieve goals/mission as he becomes solely dependent on his position and power to make people do what he wants them to do. People follow because they don’t have a choice and that is bad leadership.

This could happen because of four reasons:

1. Not believing in capacity of people to raise to the occasion, team members are seen either achievers or non-achievers.

Apr 25, 2011

Habit #3 – Passion, Missing!

If fetish for low hanging fruit keeps a leader permanently anchored to low performance, lack of passion takes life and inspiration away from leadership – it is akin to a pond with no water.

Passion is a critical ingredient, litte else matters without it! With a leader who doesn't take risks, doesn't believe in learning or discovery, doesn't pursue meaningful goals,  effectiveness...the outcome is not entirely unfamiliar. These leaders never get out of beginners' zone, beyond a threshold that sucks!

This is a perfect environment for people...

Apr 19, 2011

Habit #2: Temptation of Forbidden (Low Hanging) Fruit

Low-hanging fruit are easy to get, bring in early gains, they are good to start with, enthuse people, change perceptions for good, improve morale, I give you that!

But once morale is pepped, perceptions are set right, you need real results...only real battles give real results, you need to go after damn good fruit, not just low hanging ones, that’s where the money is!

Beyond early gains, leaders ought to set right direction, nudge their teams in right direction  away from small stuff on to changes that nurtures long term growth sustainable gains - it is the primal function of leadership. A bad leader fails in this basic function, to set right direction.


Bad leaders get hung up on low-hanging fruit,

Apr 12, 2011

Habits of Highly Ineffective Leaders

Internet is teeming with articles and blog posts on Leadership. Google search ‘Qualities of a leader’ yields 21.3 million results in 0.14 seconds whereas search for “Qualities of ineffective leaders”, gives just 1.73 million results but take 29% more time – are we ignoring the unpleasant side of the leadership coin? Granted that it is charming to be a great leader, but I think it is easy to be a bad leader than being a good one. Probability of being a bad leader exceeds that of being a good one. Like a consultant Kent Romanoff said   “... [we get to see] a spectacular cavalcade of incompetence...” so spectacular that I can’t help but rant about it. 

Attitudes and beliefs are influenced by culture, they give leaders a distinct local shades of behavior patterns. Here are some common symptoms of bad leadership in India, one at a time:

Habit #1 - Coterie Complex
: bad leaders nurture a coterie around them - this is devil’s temptation, nothing less, an age old failure function that leads to inevitable decay. History of India is replete with stories of kings, their fiefs and their deputies indulging in this suicidal orgy, building coteries of yes men around them -
sucking up to someone has never gone out of fashion!

Like bacteria infested water,

Apr 7, 2011

Documentation Conundrum

Take a sample poll in any organization, ask people what they think Quality is about. Few can talk about Quality with reference to documentation. Insistence on paperwork to verify compliance led people to believe Quality is all about documentation and paperwork. If paperwork is in order, reality is (naively or conveniently) assumed to be just fine. Sometimes it looks as if Quality is more about documentation and less about customer - that predicament still bugs many of you like it bugs me. But is documentation and paperwork really necessary for Quality?

In sensible servings, documentation is beneficial: as reference and as communication tool. Policies and high level processes should be documented. But traditional approach for pushing documentation for consistency, accountability, completeness is outdated. Documentation (in its traditional sense of paperwork) is as necessary as cheques are necessary to withdraw cash from your bank account. There are better and more effective ways of bringing in accountability, consistency and completeness, just as there are faster and convenient ways of withdrawing money using an ATM, electronic transfer/clearance etc.

Focusing on Quality rather than Documentation

When processes are seamlessly unified with requirements for workflow automation, built into a workflow tool, documentation takes different, more effective form . Benefits of documentation are achieved, but differently, through automating and implementing the processes. When document changes automatically mean workflow changes - changes become seamless needing minimal manual intervention. Business can focus on service provision and Quality can get workflows to reflect processes. This opens up a host of other possibilities too and focus shifts to Quality from documentation.

For this to happen, processes should directly address business requirements, not requirements of a standard. Often, processes are designed to comply with a standard and to get a certificate (The argument is not against certifications - in fact, no standard requires processes to be defined in a particular way, only broad guidelines are laid out). When certification is the goal in itself, business needs take back seat.

Even when that is not true, requirements for workflow automation are something and processes are something else. Quality owns processes and somebody else owns workflow tools and automation requirements – their goals are not common. Often these people don't see eye to eye, perhaps even be at logger heads with each other – and business needs take back seat. It comes down to a silly turf war, yet, no one dares ask executive management to intervene and to break the silos. Consequently, Quality remains a back office that can’t reach out to the end customers, cannot influence the way services are provided.

If ineffective leadership, egotism, personal agendas (like personal brand building) take precedence over everything else, paperwork and other trivial stuff takes precedence and Quality remains a back-office business.

What are your thoughts? You agree? Disagree? Just share your opinions (you don’t need to login to comment)

Apr 3, 2011

Mindless vs. Happiness

Seth (Nicholas Cage): What's that like? What's it taste like? Describe it like Hemingway.
Maggie (Meg Ryan): Well, it tastes like a pear. You don't know what a pear tastes like?

Seth: I don't know what a pear tastes like to YOU.
Maggie: Sweet, juicy, soft on your tongue, grainy like sugary sand that dissolves in your mouth. How's that?
Seth: It's perfect.

~ City of Angles (1998) 
Just when elevator doors are about to close, two other people entered the elevator. I smiled at one of them and greeted, "Hello!" He scowled, as if offended and turned away.

All of us have our own experience being mindless ourselves and mindless behavior of others. Locking ourselves out of house, cars, forgetfulness, daydreaming, callous behavior on roads, in offices... It is estimated that people spend nearly half the time thinking about something other than what they are doing, and that is what results in mindlessness...doing something and thinking about something else.

Mindlessness is a coping mechanism, coping with stress and anxiety of decision making, coping with information explosion, pressures of modern life like unpleasantness of driving through a messy traffic jam, having to take decisions under pressure and so on. It is the way our mind protects itself from overload – like tripping mechanism of a fuse, by distracting us from work at hand. In that case, why bother? Mindlessness is not a simple annoyance, there is direct positive correlation with stress levels. More mindless one is more stress one is carrying and consequently less happy one will be deep inside, less one will enjoy life or work or whatever that they are doing, at the moment.

If we want to be aware and happy, here are the symptoms to watch for: worrying about future, day dream of yester years, too inflexible or too flexible with rules (especially those set by oneself), beliefs, ethics, norms, processes (eg. open and blatant disrespect to traffic rules and admiring crooks etc.)

Mindfulness on the other hand means being open minded, empathetic, aware, being in the present, non-judgmental and non-reactive. The memorable scene from the movie City of Angels portrays this idea. Maggie Rice goes out to fetch some more pears after that never returns (becomes an angel)!

What are your thoughts and experiences?

Mar 29, 2011

Litter Begets Litter

“We must dare to think about unthinkable things
because when things become unthinkable,
thinking stops and action becomes mindless.”
--J. William Fulbright

Littering is universal  phenomenon (we have had enough of those bashing Indians' littering habits).The US for example owes $11 billion to litter cleanup costs(kab.org and others), many other societies suffer from this menace too! But the questions that haunt us are:

Why people litter? How to prevent it?

I think people litter to dispose things they don't need. If there is a better way to do that, people need to be told about it explicitly. But, anti-litter campaigns spend more time complaining than finding interesting ways of telling people not to litter or perhaps thank folks for not littering. Setting causal relation (littering makes the place littered and untidy) and giving positive reinforcement can be surprisingly effective. Have you seen the ad for encouraging blood donation? The little girl thanks a stranger for donating blood - when the stranger says he never donated blood, she just tells him to do so in future. Now, that's a darn simple and memorable communication.

Sometimes our frustration makes us ignore the easiest and the most effective of solutions.

Change in such collective habits occur when habits of a critical number of people change. And then, clean places repel littering behaviour of others.

While commuting in Delhi metro, people hold the urge to litter and wait till get out of the metro station. Clean stations of the metro subconsciously discourages littering.

Cleaner the surroundings, less people are likely to litter. So lets cleanup, not complain.!

Mar 23, 2011

Risk Aversion & Fallacy of Assured Benefits

"The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning.
Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers."
-Erich Fromm

A study on risk aversive attitudes of farmers in Tanzania (Rosenzweig and Binswanger 1993) shows the impact of choosing 'safer' crops: 20% lesser income.

Similar study on Ethiopian farmer's attitude towards using fertilizers shows the lengths people go to avoid risk, they could have produced 8% more, had they used fertilizers.

In a paper entitled Consumption Risk, Technology Adoption and Poverty Traps, authors (Stefan Dercon and Luc Christiaensen) conclude at one point, risk (avoidance) is  a cause of perpetuating poverty. It seems many folks would rather be stuck in poverty than risk using fertilizers, try new equipment or other, better crops with higher yields.

Now, let us not conclude that risk aversion is limited to farmers of Ethiopia and Tanzania.

Many savvy investors invest in debt instruments because they are considered more 'secure' than equity - despite long term data proving otherwise (Beating the Street - Peter Lynch).

Unit linked investments give sub-optimal returns yet, millions of dollars are poured into these instruments. Most insurance endowment plans in India don’t provide good returns (about 6-8 % CAGR) while well managed mutual funds manage to get 15% CAGR, almost double returns - that apparently doesn't bother a majority of people buying insurance and paying hefty premiums (they are actually contributing to the salary budget of inefficient insurance monoliths). Not surprisingly these traps (oops, schemes) don’t have favorable exit options, lest investors wake up and run away.

That is A LOT to pay for risk protection! Taking measured risks can make people (be it poor farmers or richer urban investors) richer - with far reaching consequences on economies.

Risk avoidance has little to do with education or sophistication (sophisticated urban folks are just more sophisticated in their risk aversion than peasants). Making optimal choices and avoiding poverty traps is actually to do with taking measured risks, making intelligent choices and avoiding comfortable yet sub-optimal choices.

Mar 22, 2011

Quality Certifications - What Changes Within?

"Enlightenment is not imagining figure of light but making the darkness conscious."
~Carl Jung~

If someone asks, "what changes if we are certified?"

Often the most suitable answer will be, "not much!" With Certification, nothing changes about the way things are done - believing the certification as a badge of competence is being amazingly naive.

Most firms will neither be better or worse off without the long list of ISO certifications that they have. That is why, they are taken for granted -  few would bother to frame them hang them up the wall. Certification is a ritual that you ought to be done with (and a damn expensive one at that). It is as if, ISO created this revenue model to help create and sustain host of auditing firms. It is a hidden factory with no meaningful value addition to majority of its customer firms.

This works like medical care: patients pays for diagnosis which tell whether they are healthy - here customers demand truth. But that is not how ISO certification works. The firms pay external auditors do so to get certified not to be given the bad news of disqualification. The model of certification is hopelessly flawed - brilliant people at International Standards Organization (ISO) miss this silly point altogether, or so they pretend.

The game of certification audit is semi-subtle...to start with, auditors play tough and then start frowning upon some missing processes and then at the end of the day, certify the firm anyway. Neither auditors can afford to loose their client by telling the truth, nor the client is bothered to take it the hard way. It's a win-win for both and little changes within.

Oh by the way, customer organizations pay for the hotel, boarding and entertainment of their auditors - now, who would bite the hand that pays for kind hospitality!

Can this be fixed? I think so! More about that in the next post.