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The Buddha constantly emphasised that the attainment of enlightenment was not the end of the spiritual journey but merely the beginning of a duty: the unremitting responsibility for providing counselling and solace to those in need of help for their prevailing predicaments (Dukkha).
In a professional context, and in a word: mentorship.
Paying it forward: Traditionally, we look at paying back as the way of acknowledging help and support given to us in times of need. There is a more effective alternative: paying it forward. In gratitude for what was received, we should consider helping others in need. The downstream benefits and multiplier effects are much greater. That’s what mentorship is all about.
“. . . a great mentor can provide a path to finding your own true answers.” Tina Turner quoting Miles Davis, the jazz legend.
Coaching differs significantly from mentoring. It is often short-term, well-structured, and designed to achieve specific, tangible outcomes. A coach is the least personal relationship option.
“Searching for a mentor is similar to searching for a spouse: you two need to share common values, concerns, experiences, communication style, and, of course, have time to invest into meaningful conversations with one another.” — [Anna Szabo, Turn Your Dreams And Wants Into Achievable SMART Goals!
An ideal mentor should be:
- Accessible: there when needed.
- Experienced: been there, done that.
- Well connected: knows someone . . . who knows someone.
- Tough but empathic: iron hand under a velvet glove.
- Enthusiastic: yes, you can do it!
- Charismatic: wow factor.
The scaffolding of good mentorship
- Recognise what you desire from the relationship. It’s crucial to keep in mind that mentorship is a relationship. Instead of jumping right into business, the most effective mentorships are those in which the mentor and mentee take the time to get to know each other and grasp each other’s viewpoints.
- Set expectations together from the start. How long do you want the mentoring to continue (but you may always extend it if you both believe it’s beneficial). Define critical objectives for your mentee to attain. Work together to build a general idea of how your meetings should go. Make certain they are focussed on a few essential problems.
- Take a genuine interest in your mentee as a person. The cornerstone of good mentoring is empathic listening.
- Develop a sense of trust. Trust takes years to develop, yet it can be shattered in an instant.
- Don’t make assumptions about the mentee – inquire. Age, gender, colour, physical habitus, and appearance are seldom reliable indicators of what lurks underneath. Find out what makes the mentee tick by talking to them.
- Share your experiences. It can provide you with a unique perspective on the challenges your mentee may be dealing with. You could have had a similar situation, so now is a wonderful opportunity to share what you went through and how you dealt with it.
- Look for resources to help your mentee. This is where mentors can make a real difference. You’ll have insider knowledge of the area and access to resources that your mentee wouldn’t be able to obtain on their own. Link them to these resources.
- Be aware of your limits. When your bandwidth is limited, admit your lack of expertise and recommend other sources or persons.
Anyone can be a mentor: The image of a mentor is often one of leaders, who have been sharpening their skills for years and are experts at what they do. However, that’s not quite true; you can be a mentor if you are enthusiastic and willing to share your experience with others!
Post-COVID, remote work is now firmly entrenched as an alternative for providing professional services. Many individuals believe that physical closeness is necessary in developmental connections such as mentorship. This is wrong. However, mentorship is characterised more by the results achieved than by the medium by which it is carried out.
- Plus: Virtual mentoring may be more egalitarian since visible status signals signifying organisational position and physical stature are reduced to a voice and a screen of equal size in video-based talks.
- Plus: The limitations of shared space and location are also removed with virtual mentoring. Mentor/mentee schedules and locales are more flexible with online choices.
- Minus: Because the whole spectrum of nonverbal signs and vocal subtlety may be lacking, it may take more work to create trust and rapport in the relationship. Virtual mentoring, like many other online partnerships, may suffer from email overload and screen weariness.
“I knew from my own life experience that when someone shows genuine interest in your learning and development, even if only for ten minutes in a busy day, it matters.” — Michelle Obama, Becoming
Some time ago, I read about and started using a wiki with an intriguing name: “TiddlyWiki”. It’s a wiki and less; a wiki that went on a diet, shed large amounts of flab and emerged leaner and meaner. It’s a single html file that requires nothing special, no server, no geekspeak, works through your browser and does everything a wiki should. Jeremy Ruston (may his tribe increase), its creator, describes his brainchild as a non-linear, personal notebook. It has the austere simplicity of a Google opening page and, likewise, packs a punch. It grows on you and continues to amaze with its elegance. Explore it at TiddlyWiki.com.
This essay is not about TiddlyWiki but something that set me thinking in its wake. My first personal computer was bought after a lot of quick talking to my wife about how it would save my soul: an Apple II plus. The year was 1980. The box was all you got for a thousand plus dollars. I bought a small car the year before for about four thousand, so that should put things in perspective. No monitor; you hooked up to your TV set. No disk drive; if you wanted a 180 KB floppy drive, that would add another fifty per cent to the cost. Forget printers; a thermal-paper-based one would chalk up another 300 dollars. The software came on music cassettes that you played on your cassette player and plugged into the computer. A whopping 48 KB (K, not M, not G) of memory. I loved it.
This memoir is not about Apple II pluses either. Then came my first “PC” — loaded with 256 KB (yes, K, not M) of memory and a floppy drive that used 360 K floppies (yes, K again, not M). The machine roared along if you bought the double drive version. This way, you didn’t have to take out the floppy with the programme software and put in a data disk every time you needed to save files. The two-drive system allowed the programme and the data to cohabit the same box. If you were wealthy, you could ask for a 10 MB (yes M, not G) hard disk that had the heft of a Tom Clancy novel and crashed at least once a week. Reformatting hard disks and reinstalling operating systems and software was all in a day’s work.
This memoir is not about the travails of working in a frontier land where men were men and so on. No doubt, like the cowboys of yore who carried everything they owned and needed in their saddlebags, not their pick-up trucks and SUVs, we travelled light.
This brings me to what this memoir is all about; software that made you gasp, made you feel like the guy on a horse seeing Marlboro country for the first time. Appropriate to the current metaphor, it was called “Side Kick”. I believe that there was a space between the words; this was in the prehistoric days before wiki words and camel case. Somehow, after installing and working with hundreds of packages, I cannot recall any that gave me the high that Side Kick did. Remember, we were in an age where windows were washed regularly, not minimized. To run a second programme, you had to shut down the one you were with and fire up the one to follow. Multitasking meant talking with the phone cradled between your head and shoulder, trying not to get choked by the cord while frying eggs. In this background, Side Kick was a stunner. The entire package was about 50 K in size (K, not M). It was memory-resident, which meant that it could perform the miracle of staying in the background while another programme was running; a “Ctrl-esc” combo would wake it up. It popped up on top of your open programme in a resizable window and did not take up the entire screen. It could do several things at once: a calendar, a word processor, and a small database, amongst other things. You could save files from it. You could copy, cut and paste — all for 50K.
Okay, “So what?” the generation X-ers are saying as they slaughter a horde of slime-eating mutants on their Play Station. Like stout Cortez on the peak of Galen, you just had to be there to get the feeling. It’s like standing in line for hours to see the first Star Wars episode in the seventies. All film-making technology that has followed does not do the same for me that my first exposure to R2D2 and the Force did. I can’t describe it, but those of you who were there would know what I am talking about.
Well, Side Kick died, and I don’t think anyone even cared. I would mourn, now and then and like in life, the now and then became further and further apart. And then, TiddlyWiki! In the words of my contemporary, Barry Manilow, it was time to get the feeling again. TW weighs in at about 200K, minuscule in today’s world of software bloat that considers 50 MB as slim and svelte. TW is Side Kick born again, as Zen-like in its stark simplicity and majesty, which is the real reason for this memoir.
PS: If you mourn Side Kick, you will also remember PFS:File, in my opinion, the best flat-file database manager ever. Using the current version of Access is like trying to roll a fallen elephant with a toothpick.
“It’s a truth universally acknowledged” that employees resent meetings and try their best to avoid attending them. Surveys show that as much as fifty percent of people in an organisation believe that they are a waste of time. Executives can spend up to 20 hours a week on them. They interfere with productivity; time spent could have been put to better use. But, no enterprise, big or small, runs without periodic meetings.
We Don’t Like Meetings and We Don’t Want Them Gone
Still, when asked if meetings should be abolished altogether, the same number of people reply that it would not be a good move. They feel that meetings are essential for maintaining a democratic spirit. Ideas should be aired, discussed and modified by groups of people; otherwise, the management style will be seen as autocratic.
Two factors are at work.
1. Parkinson’s Law of Triviality — Meetings have agendas. Items on an agenda vary in importance from critical to trivial. Professor Northcote Parkinson, him of the much quoted, eponymous law, also described a constant characteristic of meetings: The Law of Triviality.
There is an inverse relationship between the importance of an item and time spent on discussing it. Plans for a large investment on a major expansion will get passed over in a few minutes whereas a half hour or more will be spent on arguing about a new coffee dispenser in the lounge. It’s easier to talk about something that you are familiar with than something beyond your knowledge limits. (This law is also called “ the bike-shed effect ” based on a popular anecdote.)
2. More People, Less Effective the Meeting: There is also an inverse relationship between the number of people attending and effectiveness of a meeting.
The optimal number is 5. As the number increases, meetings become more and more unproductive. At 20, chaos reigns; from here on — 20 or a 100 — the number in the room doesn’t make a difference. It’s imperative that only those who can contribute effectively to the discussion be invited to take part. This is one element that is seldom carefully addressed.
The challenge, therefore, is to structure meetings to make them matter.
First, and For Ever, No “PowerPoints”
Jeff hates PowerPoint (or any other flavor) of presentation app. He believes that “ Powerpoint-style presentations somehow give permission to gloss over ideas, flatten out any sense of relative importance, and ignore the interconnectedness of ideas. ”
That’s an earth-shaking diktat for all of us who automatically reach out for these tools when making a presentation.
Well Structured Narrative
The man says, in a much-quoted memo that he sent out: “Well structured, narrative text is what we’re after rather than just text. If someone builds a list of bullet points in Word, that would be just as bad as Powerpoint. The reason writing a good 4 page memo is harder than “writing” a 20 page Powerpoint is because the narrative structure of a good memo forces better thought and better understanding of what’s more important than what, and how, things are related.”
The fundamental argument is not so much about the medium itself — Powerpoint or written document — as the need to think critically and clearly.
Here’s how it’s done
Step 1: Writing the Narrative
The person or group responsible for the meeting, spends a good amount of time producing a 4-6 page, tightly reasoned, carefully worded, written narrative. (More on how to do this in another post).
Step 2: All Those Needed for the Meeting Gather at an Appointed Time.
Step 3: Read the Narrative for 30 Minutes.
The document is NOT distributed ahead of time.
Everyone present now gets a copy of the document and spends 30 minutes in silent reading. They note down their observations, comments, opposition and so on, now.
Wouldn’t it be more efficient if the document were to be given in advance? No, says Bezos; “Just like high school kids, executives will bluff their way through the meeting, as if they’ve read the memo, … you’ve got to actually carve out the time for the memo to get read — and that’s what the first half hour of the meeting is for.”
Step 4: Discussion Begins Now.
The document is used as the anchor for all that follows. It’s easy to keep all members tightly focused on the task at hand with everyone being on the same level of knowledge about the agenda. The event acquires both magnitude and direction.
Meetings have been given a bad rap. Some of the reasons are valid. In order to extract maximum effectiveness, Jeff Bezos of Amazon uses an unique structure for all meetings in his organization. In summary, here’s how he does it.
- Prepare a carefully-written, 4-6 page narrative about the topic for discussion.
- Invite the smallest possible number of people for the meeting. Limit invitees to those who can make meaningful contributions.
- Circulate the document at the start of the meeting and give everyone present half an a hour to carefully read and annotate the paper.
- Tether discussion to the contents of this document.
- Designate one person to be responsible for summing up the discussion and to provide an action-taken report.
The sole purpose of meetings is to create change, hopefully for the better. Like any tool, meetings are neither good nor bad in themselves. It’s how we use them that matters.
“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” ― Carl Gustav Jung
Dr Arjun Rajagopalan
All rights reserved
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” ― Ernest Hemingway
But then, we are not talking about writing like Hemingway or Nabokov or Alice Munro. You have come up with a project. You are sure it’s a winner. You work at a company like Amazon and to take it forward you have to first write about it in a 4-6 page narrative. This document will serve as the pivot for all discussions about the project, something that your colleagues and bosses can read with ease and grasp the ideas you are putting forth.
What are We Looking At?
First things first, we must be in tune with Jeff Bezos’ recommendation. “Writing a good 4-page memo is harder than “writing” a 20-page Powerpoint … the narrative structure of a good memo forces better thought and better understanding of what’s more important than what, and how, things are related.” Powerpoint presentations are banned at Amazon. Meetings, when needed, have to be structured around a pre-prepared, carefully thought out, flowing narrative.
The prospect of writing a business narrative is daunting to most of us. We baulk at the act because we have never received training for it. Writing with clarity and flow is hard work. Even Hemingway viewed it with trepidation.
Most narratives, business or fiction, have a typical structure. Once we get familiar with this simple scaffolding, the process of writing becomes natural and effortless. Let’s look at a 4-step method of producing a business narrative that even Jeff will smile at.
Step 1: Where are We Now?
As Julie Andrews sang, “Let’s start at the very beginning.” What was it that provided the original impetus or spark for putting forward this proposal? Write about it in simple words. The starting point could be one or more of many things. Maybe it was:
- Pain points: Write about whatever produced discomfort in your present situation: things that make you uncomfortable, wary, anxious, frightened or angry.
- Dangers ahead: There may be lurking threats to the organisation which you feel need prompt and proper handling.
- Opportunities: Maybe it’s about things that present a lucrative prospect and could be harnessed for the good of the company. Describe it.
- Innovations: In a rapidly changing business world, it may be that you feel the present set up does not encourage new ideas. To survive, you sense that innovation has to be nurtured.
- Competition: Today’s world is brutally competitive. You know that other groups are sniffing at your heels. We have to start moving faster and farther than them
The number of starting points are limitless but you will have a single, specific item. Identify it and write in detail about it.
Step2: Where are We Headed?
If you don’t know where you are going, one thing is certain: you won’t get there. Describe your goal and ambition. There are many frameworks for outlining this section. A popular one is the “SMART” mnemonic:
S = specific – be clear about what you want.
M = measurable – assess results by objective means.
A = assignable – allocate specific people for specific tasks.
R = realistic – stay within your ways and means — don’t over reach.
T = time bound – be hard nosed about deadlines.
Step3: The road map
We live in the age of Google maps. You wouldn’t stir out anywhere new without first getting a road map. Your narrative must talk of three things.
- The various steps that need to be taken to get to the goal.
- The time limit and deadlines for each step.
- Obstacles that are likely to pop up en route and your plans for working around or over them. Anticipate road blocks.
Step 4: What will it Look Like when You are There?
“Are we there yet?” — the constant refrain of children on a road trip applies to your narrative as well. Don’t just go with gut feelings. Refer back to the stated goals and make sure that you have reached every one of them. Take a hard look.
- Use objective methods of assessment.
- List the benefits and joys of having reached your destination.
- Pitch it against the list that started your journey.
Not Just for Business Narratives — be an Ace Speaker
Storytelling is a sure-fire way to capture attention. Anytime you need to make a presentation, convert it into a story and you will hold your audience during your talk. The framework that we just saw can be used to rephrase an idea into a narrative. With a little imagination, a boring sermon can be transformed into a tale of how the idea was born, its goals, the path to implementation and the view from the top. Like the ad says: “Just do it.”
You don’t have to use the steps in the order listed. You can play around with it for dramatic effect. For instance, you could open with a vision of what the end looks like, shift to the reason for starting the journey, talk about the road and end with what your goals were. Play around with the four steps and see which order suits the spirit of the narrative
Come Back to Papa Hemingway
You don’t need a vast vocabulary or a smart turn of phrase to write well. Hemingway said this when putting down Faulkner: “Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”
Write from the heart. Focus on:
- Simple language.
- Short sentences.
- Brief paragraphs — each one containing one idea, each paragraph flowing logically into the next.
- Anticipating objections and addressing them ahead of time.
- Redrafting your manuscript many times. Be a ruthless critic of your writing, logic and flow. Every word must have a reason to be there.
Writing well is the best way of thinking well. Which is why anything written is given far more value than spoken words. Penned sentences linger as a legacy of a human being, sometimes well beyond the life of the person who wrote them. To disseminate great ideas, you need to write captivating stories.
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ― Philip Pullman
Dr Arjun Rajagopalan
All rights reserved
Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Marie Curie, Nelson Mandela, Thomas Edison, Virginia Woolf, “Che” Guevara, Anne Frank, Leonardo da Vinci: a list of famous people with a diverse range of interests. What did they all have in common? They maintained personal journals through their lifetimes.
Who’s Got the Time to Write Daily?
First, a popular myth has to be dispelled. Journal writing need not be an unremitting, daily effort. The association of journaling with conventional diaries, segmented by days, is, most likely, the reason for this misconception. Daily journaling quickly becomes a chore that is easy to give up.
Instead, only record what you want to remember. Make it an exercise in capturing and archiving thoughts, emotions and ideas coming from within you. Write about interesting people, conversations, meetings, books, lectures, places — anything that captures your attention. Over time, the collection will become a resource that will act as a secure helmsman to steer you through the turbulence of life.
It’s best to keep it as a private record although, we are so much richer for many of them having been published. Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl is the most well known example of the power of a journal. There are many more.
Why Should You Keep a Journal?
Journaling should be a collection of ideas rather than a chronological log of quotidian events. Putting your thoughts down on paper (or as digital bits if you prefer) unburdens your memory, a notoriously fallible storehouse. Journal writing is a powerful productivity and self-improvement tool.
There are numerous benefits to keeping a journal.
- Problem solving: Writing is a tool for thinking clearly. The effort of transforming what’s in our heads as disjointed notions into words clarifies ideas and concepts. Spending fifteen to thirty minutes in this effort allows you to see the problem in distinct, easily grasped pieces. Organising them and making sense out of the puzzle becomes an easier task.
- Decision diary: Get into the habit of making entries for the more significant decisions you make in your life. Put down brief statements about the following items:
— The nature of the situation that needs a resolution.
— A list of the possible routes of action.
— The pros and cons of each of them.
— Your choice and why you did so.
— What tradeoffs did you have to make?
— What do you expect from this selection?
As the diary grows, review your entries now and then. You will get a good insight into your decision-making process.
- Stress reduction: Studies have shown that regular writing reduces stress. Anxiety and depression can be alleviated to remarkable degrees by expressive writing and pouring out deep emotions.
- Physical ailments: The benefits are not limited to behavioural problems. Many common disorders manifesting with pain and limitation of daily activities can respond to a simple recording of symptoms and feelings. Recognising pain and discomfort as something distinct and reportable goes a long way to augment healing processes within yourself.
- Gratitude journal: Regardless of how bad things look, there are still so many others which are going right for you. You don’t have to be a Pollyanna;there is much to be grateful for. Write them down in your journal. The effects on your overall wellbeing can be substantial.
- Self-discipline: Regularity in writing is an act of self-discipline and will power. It builds up resilience in all other aspects of your daily life.
Despite its popularity, there’s ample evidence that undergoing therapy with a trained analyst may be no more beneficial than talking to someone, even a friendly bartender. A well-nurtured personal journal is all you need. The list of winners at the head of this article, and many more, is proof.
How Do I Go About It?
The straight answer: Use whichever method or tool works for you.
It’s best to keep the process as simple and handy as you can: from just a notebook (a Moleskin, if you wish) to drawing, sketching, mind-mapping, visual thinking, photos, voice recording or any of the dozens of digital tools that are available for the purpose.
Apps like Evernote or Bear are fantastic for the ways and means by which you can organise and manipulate your entries. There are apps like Journal One which are specifically designed for the purpose.
The trick is consistency. Stick with whatever gives you the most value for the effort.
How Often Should I Review My Journal?
Once again, there is no hard and fast rule. Whenever you do look back, chose a time when you are calm, rested and still. Although there is a huge temptation to look when times are turbulent, you may not get the most out of your writing at these moments. Nevertheless, let your intuition direct you.
You must let your journal be a guiding lamp in your progress through life. No one can know and understand you better than yourself. It’s not unusual to be taken by surprise at the profound nature of your observations.
Stephen King Says
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching … your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.” ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Dr Arjun Rajagopalan
There was a time, not so long ago, when, if you wanted a book or needed to research a topic, you had to go to a bookshop or library. Watching a movie meant booking tickets at the cinema and clearing your calendar to be there at the right time and date. You couldn’t do anything else at the time. Music came through radio station programmes which you waited for, patiently. At best, you could listen to a few cassettes containing a small mixtape which you made or scrounged off friends.
Fast forward to the present decades. All of this and more is available right in front of you, in an area of a few square inches, anytime, anywhere.
Inundated by this wealth of choices, we want it all, constantly flitting from one activity to another. We are the most distracted humans of all time. The average attention span today is reported in single-digit seconds.
Not to forget, the rabbit hole of social media where you can fritter away hours at a time, ending up feeling depressed, jealous and drowning in low self-esteem. Everyone else seems to be doing fantastic things and enjoying great experiences while your life is a sad story.
Meet Blaise Pascal
Four centuries ago, Blaine Pascal, the French polymath and genius, nailed it when he said:
Four centuries on, nothing has changed. Stillness and silence continues to make us uneasy. We squirm.
The 21st Century Syndrome
In a recent article, the Guardian talked about the “21st-century syndrome” of inattention and distraction. How did we get here? What can we do to get back possession of this vital commodity?
Technology is blithely blamed as the culprit, specifically the internet. It’s true that one of the greatest inventions in history has come with mixed blessings. But technology is only a tool. It’s not inherently good or bad; it’s what we do with it that matters. You can generate electricity or destroy Hiroshima with the same tool.
What’s the buzz?
Taking a nuanced look, it appears that the problem arises from the monkey-mind of our emotions.
We look for activities to divert us from the anxiety of completing tasks at hand. Why are we anxious? We are afraid of failure. So, we postpone and in the process, accumulate even more anxiety.
You can’t tackle this problem, head-on. Trying to abstain from feeling anxiety is guaranteed to make you feel worse.
“Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” ― Corrie Ten Boom
How Do You Eat this Elephant?
Like the much-quoted solution to eating an elephant, you have to progress in small bits. Split the task into small components, each of which might take a few minutes to complete. Like David Allen recommends in Getting Things Done, you carry out a series of “next actions”.
- Don’t look at the task as a whole. You will be overwhelmed. Split every activity into a series of small steps.
- Carry out one step at a time. Suddenly, you will find that the task is done. The cloud will lift. You will experience an amazing lightness of spirit.
- Savour this sensation and go for more. Like getting your clothes clean, “wash, rinse, repeat”. You will get better and better at it.
Don’t Let Them Take Away Your Treasure While You are Looking Elsewhere
We fail to realise that attention is the currency of the day. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok: they are all stealing your most valuable possession and making enormous amounts of money out of it. Don’t let them.
Take back what is yours.
“Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are.”― José Ortega y Gasset
Dr Arjun Rajagopalan
All rights reserved
“You can watch a movie on TV tonight, or you can go to your friend’s house for a sleepover on Saturday. You choose.” And, over the years … do I take this smaller university where I get a generous scholarship or do I opt for the prestigious one which will mean steep fees? You are now an adult with a job. Do I continue at this safe but boring job, or do I quit and join the exciting startup that wants me?
We make thousands of decisions every day. Most of them hardly reach our consciousness. When they do, decision making often poses a dilemma. You want something, but you have to give up something else: a tradeoff. Some other benefit or opportunity is at stake — the opportunity cos t of your decision.
Yin and Yang
In our lives, there are a few everyday ingredients that require tradeoffs. Here are a few.
- Time: As we grow in our professions, time becomes a scarce commodity. Many decisions have to be made based on how much time is available. Time spent on the opportunity will inevitably mean that there is less for something else. Stay longer in the office and miss out on your child’s appearance in a school play.
- Accountability: The more number of people and projects you are in charge, the higher the demand on your mind share. Stress levels zoom up.
- Opportunity: New horizons mean risks. The opening might be exciting, but your steady paycheck may disappear.
- People: The role and salary at a new job may be fantastic, but your present boss is a joy and delight to work with. Moving to the other company might mean dealing with the prospect of an unfriendly superior. Relationships are an essential part of job satisfaction.
- Brand identity: It feels good to mention the name of a well-known firm as your employer, but the competition and lack of personal touch could be a downer. Your present employer is a small, family-owned business but everyone knows everyone and the owners treat you like family.
On the back burner
Tradeoffs aren’t always comfortable, which is why we try to disregard them. We seldom consider tradeoffs when we make decisions. Quite often, the compulsions of the moment do not give us the luxury of time for weighing options.
Tradeoffs can take a while to become visible. They may only show up in the long term. In the meanwhile, life goes on with or without you. As Einstein said:
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
If we pause to reflect on the options, without losing our forward momentum and balance, we can end up with more satisfying choices. Impulsive choices extract a price. The price may be more than you can afford.
Six of one, half dozen the other
Tradeoffs carry opportunity costs: what you must forgo to get what you want. The higher the value is of what you could be doing versus what you are doing, the larger the opportunity cost.
You didn’t take a vacation because you wanted the money to buy a new car. The holiday is your opportunity cost. Life is full of hundreds of similar examples.
Tiger by the Tail
The consequences of ignoring tradeoffs and opportunity costs play out in the same fashion time and again. Here are some situations where you might want to stop and reflect.
- You feel like you are always behind, always trying to catch up. There’s no time to stop and smell the roses. Understanding tradeoffs in time usage is an excellent way to cut out unhelpful behaviours and wastage.
- You are working as hard as you can, but don’t appear to be making any progress. The working day feels like drudgery. You feel trapped in “zero-sum” situations where one gain is offset by another loss.
- Multitasking doesn’t work. When you multitask, you are constantly shifting attention. This endless flitting between activities has a very steep energy cost. In the long run, you lose. You will be much better off doing them one at a time.
Taming the tiger
There is always a space between the tradeoffs we’re making and the ones we’d rather be doing. Once you notice this gap, it’s easier to work on changing circumstances. Here are some strategies.
- Reframe the situation: Spending more time at home could be a significant opportunity cost. Your present work situation demands long hours in the office. Maybe you should consider working from home.
- Alter boundaries: Examine your self-imposed limits. Go to work at transcending them. A lot of things that we think we can’t do are from never trying.
- Bargain: Tradeoffs are not written in stone. There’s always room for negotiating and reaching a happy compromise. Don’t be inflexible.
- Accept: You need to be able to let go of not being great at something. “Kill your darlings” — a piece of advice which editors give to aspiring writers holds good here.
Get into the habit of writing a diary for the more significant decisions you make. Put down brief statements about the following items:
- The nature of the situation that needs a resolution.
- A list of the possible routes of action.
- The pros and cons of each of them.
- Your choice and why you did so.
- What tradeoffs did you have to make?
- What do you expect from this selection?
As the diary grows, review your entries now and then. You will get a good insight into your decision-making process and an insight into your mind.
Ironically, knowing how to make tradeoffs is a valuable skill; those who can do this well, get more out of life than others who aspire for everything.
“There are moments that define a person’s whole life. Moments in which everything they are and everything they may possibly become balance on a single decision. … These are moments ungoverned by happenstance, untroubled by luck. These are the moments in which a person earns the right to live, or not.” ― Jonathan Maberry, Rot & Ruin*
Dr Arjun Rajagopalan
All rights reserved
Like ice cream, anger comes in many flavours: annoyance, resentment, genuine anger, rage and wrath. As the grade goes up, your awareness of the state drops proportionately. When you rage, you are out of control and beside yourself. You want to destroy things at hand.
Anger always gets a bad press. It’s seen as a dark emotional state, best avoided or kept under control. But, it is a tool evolution has built into us for survival. A lot of humankind’s achievements would not have been possible if there was no impetus from an event that provoked anger. Think about Gandhi in the train in South Africa, Martin Luther King and his sense of outrage at the treatment of African Americans. There are very many examples.
The key, though is in being able to recognise anger and work with it, if not immediately, at least while reflecting on the episode. Ask yourself questions. Probe till it hurts. Go into dark spaces.
“Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” ― Aristotle
Here’s a list of benefits from anger.
Anger can Motivate Change
We could be working for a particular benefit. Obstacles in the path can make us angry. Harvest this energy as fuel for pushing harder towards the goal.
Anger Invokes Optimism
Funnily, studies show that angry people are, in a way, similar to happy people. They tend to be optimistic about outcomes. The feel that the energy derived from anger can be channelled towards reaching their goal.
Anger can Heal Relationships
People in close relationships tend to suppress or hide anger; this is not good. The other party may be unaware of the problem and continue to do nothing towards mending the situation. Expressing anger can be an effective way of communicating what’s in your mind. Healing of wounded relationships can be a pleasant outcome of outbursts of feeling.
Anger Highlights Injustice
When we reflect on the cause of anger, it is not unusual to see an act of injustice at the root. There are any number of examples in civil society where inequality evokes a sense of indignation and gives us the energy to take action in the direction of correcting this state. The “colour revolutions” of the Middle East were provoked by deep-seated anger at the injustice prevailing in those countries.
Anger is a Useful Negotiating Tool
Exhibiting anger sends signals to the opposite party in a negotiation that you have strong sentiments about some issues. They can sense that you will not budge and may agree to a settlement that respects this position.
Anger can Give Deep Insights into Ourselves
If one has the emotional intelligence to reflect on the episode, we may be able to see aspects of ourselves that we didn’t sense. Reflection can lead to change in our behaviour and improvement of wellbeing.
Dealing with Furious, Raging People
Anger can cross the threshold where people are aware of themselves. Rage is an animal instinct. The emotional state may escalate from shouting and swearing to throwing things and breaking handy articles. Dealing with fury requires an understanding of the mind of the person.
“Why does tragedy exist? Because you are full of rage. Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief.” ― Anne Carson (Translator), Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides
We could learn some tricks from hostage negotiators who are specifically trained to defuse explosive situations.
1. Accept everything — don’t interrupt
Let the person vent. Allow emotions to pour out without interruption.
Don’t stop them during the flow.
2. Abandon logic and reasoning
Raging people are functioning from primitive centres of the brain. Don’t expect them to be capable of rational thinking. Don’t interrupt them with your comments, questions or recommendations.
3. Refrain from judging and labelling
Passing judgement on their actions will heighten rage. “You should have done this…”; “You shouldn’t have said that …”: won’t work. They will not accept criticism in this highly charged emotional state. It will only serve to worsen rage.
4. Show that you are with them
- Body language is crucial. Lean forward and let them know you are on their side, receptive to their emotions. Don’t lean back, away from them.
- Nod and affirm as they are speaking. Show agreement with their emotions.
- Every now and then, repeat and confirm what they are saying.
5. Let them make an action plan
When a reasonable degree of calm is restored, now draw them into saying what they feel should be the way forward. Let them list the steps. Gently nudge them in positive directions. Establish the feeling that the ideas are coming from them, not you.
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” ― Mark Twain
Dr Arjun Rajagopalan
All rights reserved