Critical eye

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I have met people in my life, who have a critical eye for everything around them. They will read the newspapers word by word and will always be in a position to point out a spelling mistake or language misuse. I am not one amongst them but I do admire them a lot. I have never been meticulous in my life. I am self-disciplined but live life leisurely and sometimes may slip up. I love the critical people around me as they add value to my life.

It is not fair to say whether critical people are good or bad. Each of us have our likes and dislikes in life and have a right to live life on our own terms. I love critical people as they can always point out areas for improvement in our life. They look at things from different angles than ourselves. They have the ability to see things you are not able to. For example if I write an article, I may not find any mistake in spelling or use of language. But they can read the same article and point out a couple of mistakes easily.

It is equally valuable in organisations. We need to have people of different thinking abilities in our teams. Some may think the same way as we do. We need others who think just the opposite way and some in between the two extremes. This not only adds variety to work but also challenges our limits. We are able to think on the same issue from multiple perspectives and this adds value to our work.

If we look at our family environment, it may be worthwhile to have members who think differently. A critical person is able to add value in the family too. It may help us improve ourselves and also our ability to take decisions in different circumstances. We may also sometimes not take wrong decisions because one valuable member of our family cautions us against it. On the contrary if everyone toes the line of the senior family members, we could end up in mistakes, which we could have avoided.

In a democracy, we need a critical opposition so that the government is on its toes. Unfortunately, we do not see this in our parliament nowadays. But one can recall outstanding speeches made by our own parliamentarians as opposition leaders. They have not only been critical of key government decisions but have enabled the ruling government to make mid course corrections.

Even in team sports, it may be worthwhile for captains and coaches to have critical team members in their teams. These members may help team strategise effectively in every situation. They may think differently or even question the team strategy. This may help the team to re craft their strategies or make mid course corrections. Sometimes, this may also help teams to renew themselves against tough opposition.

On the other side, it may not be easy to live with and deal with critical people in your life. One may feel irritated or defensive when one is questioned on everything every day. It may be easier to have like minded people in your family or team. Life is cosier and easy to navigate. We need to develop the magnanimity to encourage diverse thinking in our teams and appreciate the value of it. We need to learn to adapt to critiques.

As in the photo above, my wife Meena R Shankar has a critical eye and hence is my life long editor of all my writings. She is always capable of giving alternative perspectives.

Life may be boring if it is monotonous. Imagine watching a TV programme or movie in black and white all the time. Once in a way it may look interesting. However, we always like things to be colourful around us. The same is true in life. We need to have variety and spice to make life full. We need people thinking differently and diversely. We need to learn to respect them and deal with them effectively.

Life is fun with diversity.

S Ramesh Shankar

What others’ see, we don’t ?

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We need to continue to explore to see the unseen. A child may remind us of something in front of us, which we see every day but have not really observed. We sometimes miss the obvious and its not exclusive to us. All humans experience this phenomenon. This may be because we perceive things around us differently and hence tend to see what we perceive. After all perception is reality.

I have experienced this phenomena right through my life at all stages. As a kid, you tend to focus on things that interests you. You are oblivious of all other things around you. Then in the youth, we get influenced by your friends more than your family. This makes us look at things which excite us. As we move to adulthood, we tend to put a value to everything around us. We value things which we perceive as worthwhile to us.

It may be interesting to share some examples in this regard. We may be attempting to solve a puzzle for hours without any success. A kid may come in and crack it in a few seconds. We are perplexed. We wonder what we could not see which the child could do in seconds. As we grow up in life, logic takes over our lives. We forget our gut and our feelings. A child is more perceptible than an adult because they are always expressing themselves in emotions. They are not bothered how others are going to perceive them. We are worried how the stereo typed society will view us. Hence our behaviour is determined by the people around us rather than what we want to do.

It is sometimes interesting to note that a child can create multiple options within minutes. I was recently with my grand son who is 7 years old and he could pose in ten different ways within a matter of a few minutes. I might have struggled to even think of the possibilities before I could pose for similar photographs. I would have evaluated how others would perceive me when I am seen posing in such photos. That would have determined my behaviour. We are inhibited by our own limitations.

I have often seen that when I work with a group of young millennials at work, they can come up with multiple whacky options on any issue. The experienced employees tend to become prisoners of our past experience. We are worried that it did not work in the past and hence may not work in the future. We are bothered how are seniors will react to a crazy idea. A young employee is open, quick and spontaneous.

As in the photo above, the two langurs could spot a tiger nearby and cautioned us although we as tourists, who were looking for the elusive tiger could not spot it on our own. This happens in real life too. We do not see what others are able to see in every day life. It is either because of perceptions or because of conditioning of the mind. In a jungle, the langurs are the first to spot danger of a tiger and alerts all living being around them of a possible attack.

In reality, life is not different. We tend to see things which we want to see. It may be a good idea to challenge ourselves by the people around us. They can help us to see things, which we miss out in life. The time to explore the unseen is now. It is never too late to learn.

Let us start today.

S Ramesh Shankar

Spaces

IMG_1649Each of us love our private space. At times, we like to be left alone. Nobody can define what is the right space we need at any time in our life. There are times in our lives, where we feel comfortable surrounded by friends or relatives. There are other times, when we want to be left all alone. Each of us define our space based on time and our personal needs. There is no right or wrong answer to define the space we need.

The interesting aspect of space is that sometimes we want people around us and at other times we do not want. This is true for individuals, communities, societies and nations. Every individual enjoys her or his personal space. Although, we cannot draw a circle and define our space, we tend to evolve it based on needs and moods. It could change with time, space and stage of our life and it is fine to be that way.

It is important to realise that while we enjoy our space, we need to respect the space of others too. We get irritated if someone intrudes into our space but are less concerned when we do the same. This is the lesson to learn in life. The territory of others is as valuable to them as it is to us. We realise the value of it only when our space is infringed by others. It may be useful to respect others’ s spaces without being reminded of the same.

Interestingly, this phenomenon is equally applicable across nations too. In a global conference, social scientists can interpret relationship between states by the distance they keep between them. It is important to realise that every sovereign country likes to protect its space. No country likes its space to be intruded by others. We can note that even in international boundaries, there is always a neutral zone between states. This is also to ensure that no country intrudes into the territory of others even by mistake.

Another dimension could be the space we occupy even in our offices. If we try to trespass into the space of our colleagues at work it is not appreciated. On the other hand, if we keep a distance from other team members they feel ignored . We need to strike the right balance between proximity and intrusion. The line is very thin and we may learn by experience. Different people and different organisations may view this differently.

Even in our neighbourhood, it is delicate balance to maintain the right distance. If we get too close to our neighbours, they may consider it as an intrusion. On the other hand, if we keep a safe distance, they may interpret it as aloofness on our part. What is the right distance to maintain is again not defined by laws of physics or sociology. It is learnt by experience and is also situational. In a crisis situation, neighbours would appreciate closeness and proximity. On the other hand, on some other occassion, they will prefer to be left alone.

Interestingly the concept of spaces could be experienced even within the family. What is right distance you need to maintain with your elders or with your children is difficult to define. If your ignore your parents, they will feel neglected. On the other hand, if you your start advising them every day on everything, they may feel suffocated. The same may be true for your children. When should you get close to them and when you should leave them alone to learn from their own deeds is a matter of judgement.

As in this photo, the distance between friends was not planned but happened as we sat across a table in a marriage reception. We all liked it and the conversations were cordial and friendly. I am not sure if this was caused by the space between us or in spite of the space. It may be just incidental and may not have any basis at all. Hence, it is not worth spending your life thinking and planning about spaces. But, it may be a good idea to learn from our mistakes.

Lets keep the right distance.

S Ramesh Shankar

Change is good

Change is the only constant in today’s world. The most interesting aspect is the rate of change. Earlier, we would be happy to anticipate a change once in a few years. This became months, days and now life changes almost every minute. One of the reasons could be technological breakthroughs in society. I remember in the eighties we would get an update of the world news on television only once a week. Today, we are updated every minute through news apps.

Organisations and individuals are constantly dealing with change every day. Let us first examine it from an organisation perspective. Every organisation is confronted with change at every stage of its evolution. If it is a startup, dealing with change is the foundation of its existence. After an organisation matures and becomes stable, change in the environment helps the organisation to shake itself out of slumber and learn and grow.

The story of change is no different for us as individuals. In the earlier years, we had the luxury of following age old practises without being challenged. Today the rate of change of the environment is faster than we can believe. It changes very rapidly and impacts us in multiple ways. Our success lies in anticipating the change, accepting it as our current reality and learning to adapt to the change to our best ability.

Our society is also dealing with change in every way. Nations, communities and societies are experiencing unprecedented change. The boundaries of nations get blurred with economic unions cutting across countries like the European Union. This makes change inevitable. Both suppliers and customers benefits from such changes. It also impacts regulations and taxes across countries.

The biggest challenge of change is our ability to accept it and adapt to it. If we resist change, then we get overwhelmed. I remember the first days of the computer and the email. Senior managers were wary of this change and felt powerless without their secretaries sorting out snail mails for them. They even resisted the use of computers for word processing and database management. Today the computer is gradually getting replaced by the mobile phone. Our office resides in the mobile phone and every activity can be done on it if we are willing to learn to do it.

I am aware of grand parents attending computer classes to learn to send emails and chat on video platforms with their grand children who live across the ocean in different continents. Age, sex, religion or nation will not matter to adapt to change. It is our mindset to unlearn, learn and relearn. It is important to remember that change is the only constant in an ever changing world around us.

The earlier we are able to anticipate this change and adapt to it, the more successful and happy we would be in life. Most of us spend time in denial. We then try to postpone an issue claiming that a particular change is not for me. It is this attitude we need to change. The moment we realise it, we become a winner. We are able to lead the change and reap the benefits from it much better than others.

Playing football in the pouring rain made me realise that change is good. If I could play in pouring rains, I could do better during normal weather.

It is important to realise that change does not wait for us. It encircles us and moves on. If we do not learn to change, we may get changed forcibly and that experience may not be good. It is better to master change then be engulfed by change. This is true as individuals, communities, societies, organisations or even nations. As someone nicely said, ” The future has a habit of suddenly and dramatically becoming the present.” If we learn to foresee this future, we lead the change.

Lets change today.

S Ramesh Shankar

Fashion is cyclic

Fashion is cyclic and so is life. I was once asked in my college viva as to why fashion is cyclic ? I did not know the answer and responded that it may be because the world is round. Later when I clarified with my professor, he said I was partly right. He said fashion is cyclic because the choices are always limited for everything in life. Once we reach the limit , we tend to follow a repeat cycle.

We can examine this hypothesis from different angles. Let us first look at fashion itself. If we take hairstyle, we have the option of having long hair, medium, short hair or no hair and then we revert to long hair. If we look at our pants. We had tight fitting pants, bell bottoms, parallels and then we may revert to tight pants. So, we notice that all aspects of fashion is cyclic.

If we examine this from HR practices in an organisation, the story is not very different. If we look at rewards and recognition practices, we had high level of differentiation and focus on individual rewards. We then moved to a hybrid model to balance individual and team rewards. Finally, we denounce individual differentiation and feel that the best way to go is team rewards. The story of the bell curve is testimony to this theory as well. Today the same organizations which kept bell curve as the way to differentiate performance assessment have started moving away from the same.

Now, let us look at life. As they say in common parlance, life has come a full circle. We go through bad times and after years of struggle, we feel we have got over the ridge and some good things start to happen. As we ride the crest, we again see the clouds of trouble approaching us. Life is never a straight road. It has a lots of twists and turns and it is up to us to develop the resilience to deal with the uncertainties of life.

Even nature teaches us the cycle of life. We have a great monsoon and a bumper crop for two years in a row. We feel the world is green and food and commodity prices drop. Then we have a severe drought and huge losses to farmers. This is followed by high inflation and escalating food prices. The following year again we have a normal monsoon and life seems to limp back to normalcy.

One of the lessons I have learnt in life is that it is unpredictable. You face a trough, when you expect a crest and vice versa. One has to develop our patience and perseverance to deal with ups and downs. Our ability to bounce back and deal with both with equanimity makes us a winner in life. We need to realize that there is always a sun rise after every sun set. Hence, there is no need to despair after a trough but be optimistic that a crest will soon follow.

Every thing in life goes round and round. We have to develop the ability to be comfortable with the circles in our life. It is a continuum and for every dark and cloudy day, there will be a bright and sunny day that follows. If we develop the ability to deal with the breaks in between, we become victorious in life. It may look that the dark and gloomy days never end for us. The sun looks to never shine for us. But, herein we need the patience and the gratitude that we are better off than millions of people around us in the world.

Life is a full circle like in the floral decoration of the photo above. Let us learn to deal with it.

S Ramesh Shankar

Millennials…

Who are Millenials ?

Social scientists have given various age brackets to identify “Millenials”. It is broadly agreed that all those born between 1980s and 2000 would belong to this group. This is a social cohort with specific behavioural characteristics. While there is a lot of talk on the concept of dealing with multiple generations in organizations today, it has been so even in the past. The only difference could be in the radical behavioural shift of this cohort as compared to the past.

The first distinguishing characteristic of Millenials is that they are very clear in what they want to do in life. They are confident and ambitious and define their own path. They are not worried about what society thinks of them. They can deviate from time tested paths and carve a road of their own choice. This makes them difficult to understand as a cohort as individual behaviours may not necessarily reflect the behaviour of the group as a whole.

The second unique characteristic of this group is that they are technologically savvy. The mobile phone is ubiquitous in their lives. They easily adapt to technology and make the best use of it. Sometimes you do get a feeling whether technology determines their behaviour or they manage technology that way. They are well versed in technology and know how to use it to their best advantage.

The third nature of this cohort is they are restless. While being impatient for results may be a good idea, it may make them demotivated very fast. For eg., if they post something on social media and do not get many likes within minutes of their post, they get disappointed easily. This impacts their work and their life. They want to achieve success in half the time of their seniors. While it is good to be ambitious, it may be necessary to be patient for results.

The fourth quality of the Millennials is they have a lot of ideas. If their ideas are channelised and they are guided properly, they can achieve results much faster than their older generations. I have always felt energised in the company of these people. They challenge you all the time but are also willing to be challenged in every way. We need to have a participative style of leadership to deal with them.

The last quality which I admire most in this group is their ability to take risks. In my class in college, hardly one or two students would venture out to start a business after completing our professional education. In this generation, more than one third of the class wants to start something of their own. They are willing to work hard, put forth their ideas and are not afraid of failure. On the contrary, many of us do not have the guts to do that even today.

As in the photo above, this duo is full of energy and they only are looking to channelise the same to bring out their best always.

I have enjoyed every moment I have spent with this generation. It is not right to imagine that they have arrived from a different planet and behave differently. It is true their goals and aspirations are different. They have clear goals, willing to take risks, adapt to technology faster and are impatient for results. If we are willing to channelise their ideas and create a supportive environment, they are bound to succeed.

It is up to us to learn from them and lead them into a brighter future.

S Ramesh Shankar

Luck versus Hard Work

One may always be in a dilemma if luck or labour is needed for success in life. We hear stories of both categories being successful in life. On the one hand, we hear of many successful people, who work their way up in life through dint of hard work and perspiration. On the other hand, we also meet people, who are at the right place at the right time and catapult to success due to sheer luck.

One is always in a dilemma whether luck or hard work is the mantra for success in life. If I have to look back at my life and also the experience of admiring successful people around me in all walks of life I would say that hard work is the foundation for success in every aspect of life. Hard work is necessary and luck can supplement hard work but not the other way around.

Sometimes people get carried away by some rare examples of lucky people achieving success. It may be true that some people are indeed lucky and they achieve success not because of their efforts but because of their luck. This in my view would be more of an exception than a rule. It is like some people having great health right through their life and living in their nineties inspite of smoking and consumption of alcohol on a daily basis. If one concludes based on these examples that smoking and consuming alcohol every day could help us lead a healthy life, this could be misleading.

One of the reasons why many people do not consider hard work as important for success in life is that we tend to notice people only after they have become successful. We are not privy to the hard work and the challenges many of the successful people go through before they become famous. A good example could be that of a sportsman or woman. After they become famous and earn a lot of money through advertisements and endorsements, we tend to believe that life is so easy for them. We do not realize how many hours of practise they would have put in day in and night out before attaining the glory in their chosen field.

This is equally true in every aspect of life. We see famous sportspersons, actors, singers, dancers, corporate honchos and others being successful in life. They lead a life, which many of us may envy. But, we do not realize the trials and tribulations they go through before they become successful in life. They burn the midnight oil and fail many times in their attempts before success greets them.

In life, we need to work hard and if we are fortunate for it to be supplemented with luck, we could be happy. Hard work is like our daily meal. It has to be healthy, full of vitamins and regular. If we get a desert once in a way, we could be happy and that could be the supplement of luck with our daily meal. I cannot imagine we becoming healthy only by eating desert every day. So luck can help us like a catalyst but cannot substitute hard work in life.

Another important lesson in life is that we need to patient to be successful. Every process has its time limit. We cannot expect to have a child in less than nine months in a natural way. We cannot expect the monsoon to last in India for more than 3 to 4 months. So, everything in life is defined by time. We need to put in our best efforts and wait for the time for it to ripen and deliver results. Sometimes we are in a hurry and hence we end up disappointed.

It is like we tend to visit a temple one day before the exam hoping that God will bestow us with luck even if we have not worked hard enough for the exams.

Lets work hard and hope luck smiles at us on the way.

S Ramesh Shankar