Naga Chokkanathan

Archive for April 2010

Do you think your job is very stressful?

The answer depends on the individuals, their attitude, working style, peers, superiors, work environment, organizational culture etc., It is always possible that two people doing a similar (or even same) job can give different answers to this question.

Hence, we need to take any information about “Job Stress” with a grain of salt. Recently, http://www.careercast.com has done an interesting survey on this regard, and found the most (and least) stressful jobs of 2010, In America. Here are their ratings:

Most Stressful Jobs:

  1. Firefighters
  2. Senior Corporate Executives
  3. Taxi Driver
  4. Surgeon
  5. Police Officer
  6. Commercial Pilot
  7. Highway Patrol Officer
  8. Public Relations Officer
  9. Advertising Account Executive
  10. Real Estate Agent

Reducing workplace stress is everybody’s responsibility, as with the definition itself, there are no golden rules on how to make this happen, But there are certain techniques typically recommended which we can try out:

  • Job role definitions, Processes in place
  • Having right people on the bus (to suit which direction the bus is going), and ensuring they are in right seats as well
  • Accept / Assign / Manage a realistic workload, based on the individual’s talent, abilities, availability and other priorities (within / outside the office)
  • Continuously update (or ask for an update) the task(s) status, Avoid last minute surprises
  • Delegated responsibilities, and effective monitoring / control
  • Enhanced communication, interactions
  • Work – Life balance
  • Awareness of Ego, and related behavior changes, Education on interpersonal skills, empathy etc.,
  • More?

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Being related to someone famous, must be a very difficult thing, really!

Irrespective of whatever you do on your own, you are always seen as “Person X’s wife”, or “Mr. Y’s Mother”, Or “Ms. Z’s ex-husband”. Moving out of this ‘brand’ is a near-impossible task. Not many have survived this.

When I saw an autobiography of Lucille O’Neal, I immediately thought she got this assignment only because she is mother of a very famous basketball superstar, and we are forced to read her story just because her son’s success as an excellent athlete.

But pretty soon, Lucille proved me wrong. Its not her last name which is her claim to fame, But her life itself makes a very interesting reading. With co-author Allison Samuels’ support, she has beautifully narrated it in a very gripping, inspiring, sometimes funny way.

The most interesting aspect of the book, according to me is, Lucille explains the struggles she faced in detail, but she never points fingers at anyone. She talks about faith as her only companion during hardships, and also during greener pastures of her life. This attitude seems to be one of the important reasons why she survived such a difficult grill.

I recommend this book for anyone who don’t go by brand value, but are interested in reading honest, true, and inspiring story of a simple human being, and benefit from it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Suzy Welch

Suzy Welch, co-author of best selling book “Winning” has recently released her latest work titled 10-10-10.

It’s a very simple decision making tool. But the good news is, this tool is not meant for executives or CXOs, Anyone can use it for solving their personal or professional problems.

The concept is very simple 10-10-10 actually means, 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years. Before making a decision, or completing an action, Suzy suggests us to think about the consequences of that action in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years.

For example, Let us say you feel very hungry now, and there are two choices – grab a chocolate or go for a proper / balanced meal.

If you take the ‘chocolate’ option, what could be its effect in 10 minutes? (I don’t feel hungry anymore!) 10 months? (Few additional grams of fat added to my body) 10 years? (Diseases related to unhealthy lifestyle)

Of course, a simple chocolate bar may not affect your life directly, but collectively many such actions can. Hence, Suzy’s book advices us to think of consequences in short term, medium term and long term, before making every decision. It takes probably few minutes to think about these three ‘10’s, but it will be a worthy investment!

Many of us live in short term, few stay in long term forever, and the majority ignores the medium term. 10-10-10 acts as a simple reminder to change our thinking process and learn to make better, complete decisions.

You can read more about this book here: http://www.suzywelch101010.com/

Suzy Welch 10 10 10

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Daniel Kahneman

(Image Courtesy: http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/2002/)

Praise, Or Punishment – What works?

It’s a classic puzzle. No one has a right (and fully justifiable) answer to it.

Many scientists have tried to test this using animals, and sometimes humans too. Their conclusion is, our brains are wired in such a way that Praise works better than Punishment. This means, if we get a pat on the back for a good job, we tend to keep that reputation intact by doing a similar (or better) job next time and so on.

But, when Daniel Kahneman (who went on to win a Nobel prize for Economics in 2002) tried explaining this to a team of Israeli flight instructors, they didn’t agree with him. They felt, ‘When we praise a trainee (student) for some good work, it goes above their head and next time invariably they make a mistake or do a poor job. But scolding works perfectly, If someone does a bad landing, we shout at them and immediately we see great improvement in their behavior / output.’

Daniel Kahneman was puzzled. He couldn’t imagine why his theory fails in this case. Hence, he decided to investigate.

Next many months, he did research using lots of data, observed students who are either praised or scolded, and marked their reactions, future behavior. At the end of this project, he came-up with a very interesting theory.

Whatever may be our job, Each one of us have an average performance score. For you this score may be 6, and for me it may be 4. Over a period of time, with experience and expertise we may increase this average score, but it happens over a period of time, slowly.

Now, imagine a student’s average is 6. He may get lucky and score a 9.5 on one day, But its not his usual performance.

Similarly, same student may find an unlucky day, and scores just 2.5, This doesn’t mean his average drops. On a given day, very good or very bad performance is likely for anyone – Even a Sachin Tendulkar scores 0 in one match and 100+ in another, but his average stays in 40s.

Applying the same logic for those flight school students, Let us assume a student does a bad landing, Means he is below his average. What does the instructor do? Scolding, of course!

Next time, he does a proper landing, This is sure an improvement from the earlier bad landing. Right?

But, this improvement didn’t happen because of that ‘scolding’. That student is just returning back to his average, that’s all. Even without the instructor shouting at him, the same would have happened.

Same way, when you praise a student for exceptionally good performance, he or she can’t stay there forever. Definitely he / she will return to their average performance the next time, which may look like praise has done damage to his / her performance. But the reality is, it’s all a game of averages.

So, returning to the original question. Should we praise, or punish?

The truth is, either of them won’t bring you great results immediately. Improving one’s average is a very slow process and on that path, praises will help a lot more than punishments.

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When is the last time you used the word Childish? In what context?

Somehow, we are under the assumption that the word ‘childish’ means doing something wrong, silly, making a mistake and so on. But the truth is, almost every major mistake the world has seen till date was by adults, not children. Then why call that behavior “Childish”?

This is the question from Ms. Adora Svitak, A child prodigy, writer, speaker and most important, thinker. You can read more about Adora in her official site: http://www.adorasvitak.com/

slideshow image

Image From: http://www.adorasvitak.com/

Recently, Adora made a short presentation in the famous TED event. You can find the video here:

When we listen to Adora, a single, strong question occupies our mind. Why do we assume children can only act silly? They may not understand practical aspects of life, they may not listen / respect rules (or laws), they may lack experience, but that doesn’t mean they are to be treated as second class citizens. In fact, throughout the history of mankind, every generation is found to be more intelligent than the previous one, and it is important that we give credit to this future generation.

According to Adora, adults should let children act ‘child’ish, their boundless creativity will produce wonderful results, than our restricted thought process. New ideas come very natural to them, and they always think out-of-the-box, In fact, for them there is no box at all, the entire world is open with possibilities, and possibilities only. This is something adults need to learn from children.

Adults Learning from children? Are you ‘Kid’ding?

Oh yeah, there is a famous book called “All I Really Need To Know, I Learnt In Kindergarten” By Robert Fulghum. Some of those points may surprise you, and after going through this list, you would start respecting children more than you love them:

  • Share
  • If you make a mess, you need to clean it up
  • After using things, Put them back in their place
  • Don’t hurt anyone, If you do, Say “Sorry”
  • Learn something, and then play, Don’t miss out on either of these – Balance is very important in life
  • Give Fair chance for everyone
  • Look at the world with wonder
  • Be creative

These may look very simple and silly. But think again, Are we following these easy rules we learnt as children? Why Not?

Image From: http://referencegirl620.vox.com/

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Recently, Apple released its newest innovation – iPad, and sold 300,000 pieces in the very first day. That’s a whooping 150 Million $s worth iPads on a single day.

Apple is always known for their first day launches. Since their iPod success, almost every product they announce gets super-hype in the media, internet and as a result, on day 1, there are long queues in front of Apple stores all over the country.

The funny thing is, none of the Apple version 1 products were perfect. All they do is, release a decent, simple-to-use, working version with lots and lots of known & unknown gaps / bugs. After the product gets launched, people use them, raise complaints and they get corrected in version 1.1 onwards. May be few months down the line, the product will have a stable version with all necessary features working as expected.

So, if you think rationally what will be the best thing to do? Don’t buy any Apple product on Day 1, Wait for a month or two, see the media reaction, patches from Apple, newer version releases, price reductions etc., and finally go for the purchase. Smart!

But try telling that to Millions of Apple Followers. Even though they know the product is going to be less-than-perfect, there is a maniac rush of blood which makes them buy anything Apple releases on day 1. After that, the same people may complain loudly, but that doesn’t stop them from buying it earlier than anyone else.

What could be the reason behind such a devotee-like admiration / support from folks all over the globe? What is Apple doing differently than, say Microsoft, Nokia, Google etc., (Who are their competitors in various domains). Is this success limited to Product companies, or even service companies can achieve such a distinction? Is it possible for a small / medium sized company to get such a fan club, at least in a smaller scale? What do you think needs to be done by them to achieve this in say 3 years, 5 years, 10 years down the line?

jim collins photo

(Image From: http://www.jimcollins.com/)

Jim Collins, in his celebrated (and well researched) book “Good To Great” talks about five levels of leadership. This is nothing to do with managers, or supervisors, or team leads, but a general principle anyone can adopt and benefit.

The five levels suggested by Jim Collins:

  • Level 1: Highly Capable Individual – Able to give good contribution to the team by his / her skills, experience and expertise, follows good and effective processes to do his / her job
  • Level 2: Contributing Team Member – In addition to individual performance, people in this level also work towards the team / group / organization goals, Work effectively with others as a team member producing synergy
  • Level 3: Competent Manager – From level 2, there is a leap, People in level 3 are able to take care of themselves, and effectively control / manage others (they may be his / her subordinates, but that’s not really a mandatory need) and take them towards the common goals
  • Level 4: Effective Leader – Able to motivate a team towards higher standards and results
  • Level 5: They are just called “Level 5 Leaders or Executives” – Able to move a team / organization from average / goodness to greatness, at the same time ensuring that it’s not a one man show. Means, even if the level 5 leader moves away, the company should continue to achieve excellence

Becoming a level 5 leader is not easy, Many talented people can grow upto level 4 and that itself will be considered and praised as a great achievement. According to Jim Collins, few individuals who reach the coveted level 5, would have had some personal traits such as:

  • Personal Humility – Modesty, Quiet, Calm determination
  • Focusing on Organizational goals / growth than self
  • Taking the team along with, instead of personal growth. Prepares a effective succession team which can take the organization to even greater heights in the next generation
  • Fearless, Professional Will – Resolve to do whatever needs to be done, however difficult it may be

This means, for an organization to grow, having a single Level 5 leader at the top is not enough, They have to be present in all important positions to ensure a uniform and natural progress, building a ‘level 5 culture’, instead of relying on a super star!

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Disclaimer

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Organization He works for / belongs to.

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