Aug 26, 2012

Training, Reflections and other mundane stuff...

We are just back from a 3 day training workshop in Lonavala. And before you, like some of our friends, begin to think "Wow, Kiruku's company sends him on nice training sessions to picturesque locations, they are so employee friendly", please note that the company would want to recoup its investment in this 'resource' as they deem to call us, and is training us not out of the goodness of its heart, right?

Our attitude to training has always been a little less than positive in the sense we see it as yet another KRA for the HR department to tick off more than for it to have any life-altering impact on us. Hence, we are usually skeptical about such programs. That is why we were pleasantly surprised on this one. The difference here was that the trainer had no pretensions of being a life-change guru. And that in itself, is a refreshing change from the many charlatans that one has been subjected to over various stages of one's corporate life. We particularly detest the ones who have no clue about the kind of work we do, and bring their cookie-cutter solutions from any number of how-to books, and promise to change us from the loser we usually are into some sort of superhero. Our trainer started off by saying "I can only plant a seed. It's up to you to nurture it. After all, it's your life." So, an 'A' for setting expectations right.

Whenever we are attending such workshops, we are reminded of a quote from George Bernard Shaw which one of our professors (in fact, one of the few we have met who had this other-worldly ability to indulge in self-deprecating irony while sarcastically putting us down with wry humour) used in a class: "Those who can, do. Those who can't teach." And that is why we were happy that the person who had come to preach actually practiced it elsewhere, and hence knows what he is talking about. So, another 'A' for not being pretentious.

While the workshop touched on a lot of things (a 'B' for lack of focus?) like understanding one's strengths and weakness (bleah!), presentation skills (useful), having difficult conversations (interesting!), emotional intelligence ('inspired' by many books of that genre, nothing original there for folks who have read those), giving and receiving feedback (cookie-cutter terms here), the session that had us thinking (and still has us thinking) was the one on 'values', getting us to focus on the things that we considered 'most important'. While not filled with any blindingly original insights, we feel it was timely given how we increasingly seem to be lost in this routine of work, forgetting why we are doing it in the first place. And given that one of the key points repeated ad nauseam was "Pause and Reflect", we feel we need a lot of pausing, reflecting and other introspecting to determine what exactly is important to us. And what we plan to do to tick off the right boxes.

Of course, it is entirely possible that, at the end of all this intellectual m-word we won't use here, we come up with zilch. Or something like, we are happy doing nothing. Entirely possible. But at least, we would have reached that conclusion after giving it some thought. Thinking is something that we have neglected to do lately (except when discussing the purpose of life with drunk friends and concluding that it is to procreate and further one's genes). Time we got around to it (the thinking, not the procreating!).

Aug 13, 2012

O-limp-ics II

Say, I am your friend. I know, it is a bit hypothetical since I am not very friendly, but for a moment assume I am.
I come up to you and say, "dost, can you give me 50 bucks?"

Say you know me well enough to understand that I am a black hole when it comes to money, and if you do give me this sum, you have a very slim chance of seeing it again. Although I promise to return it with interest!

So, you naturally ask "Why do you need this, bro?"

Suppose I say, "my pocket got picked. I haven't had food since morning. Starving all day"

How many of you will give me the 50?

Or, suppose I say, "I am very short of money. My mom is very ill and I need to pay the doctor."

Will you be kind enough to give me say, 500 bucks?

Assume in both cases that while you know that I never return money, I am honest when it comes to stating the reason why I need it. I know, it is a stretch, but play along.

Now, suppose I say, "my pocket got picked. I want to pay the entry fee to play in the badminton tournament. If I win, I'll dedicate the prize to you."


Hold that thought. Let's take this thought experiment a little further.

Imagine the same situation with one small difference. I am not asking you for the money. I know where you keep your money, and I take it without your consent.

You find out and come to me, and ask "Why the hell did you take my money?"

Will you feel less angry if I said I was starving, or my mom was ill, compared to "I wanted to go swimming. I am training for a tournament."

Let's take it one step further.

You don't know me. I am a complete stranger to you, other than the fact that I and you share the same nationality. And I take your money. For one of the three reasons mentioned above. Think what your reaction would be.

And since we are having fun, let's stretch it even more. I know, I am boring you guys, but please bear with me. Not only am I a stranger to you, but you can't even question me as to why I took your money because I have a strong, muscular bully standing behind me. You know the bully can tear you apart if he so wishes.

But I tell you, "Hey, don't feel bad. You had 10000 bucks, I just took 3000, because you see, my entire family is starving and my mom is ill too."

Versus I tell you, "Hey, don't feel bad. You had 10000 bucks, I just took 3500, because you see, my entire family is starving, my mom is ill, and my friend really wanted to take tennis lessons."

Are you slightly more outraged by the second statement, compared to the first? Be honest with yourself.

Now, tell me, when you say "Government should build more sports infrastructure so that we can get more Olympic medals", why should I feel any different from what I feel when a big, strong bully (i.e. the Government) takes money from me forcibly (through taxes) to support a stranger (although each of them share my nationality, I don't know any of them personally) to train for some games?

I don't know about you, but I feel bad enough that I work 4 months out of 12 (as Amit Varma says) free for the Government. I somehow console myself that at least some of that money, after all the bloody politicians have had their share, goes towards feeding people, healing them, building roads, giving them power and water and other basic needs. Now, you want to spend more money on a facility that no one will use once it is built since, hey, it's free for those who were building it. And when cost of something is zero, expectation of return on that is pretty low.

And when I chose to oppose such waste of my effort (because the money you take away from me represents my effort), you question my patriotism! Sigh!

PS: Theme of this post plagiarized from (inspired by?) the excellent Bryan Caplan