Is patience a virtue or a curse at work ?

With family and friends, I absolutely think patience is a virtue . You generally don’t give up on these two groups by definition – and it’s usually bidirectional.

The answer is less obvious when it comes to the work place . Perhaps due to the uncertainty created by the pandemic, it’s a question that has come up from several people I know off late . Sometimes it’s about their own careers and some times it’s about their team or their customers .

How long do you wait for a promotion or raise before jumping ship in this hot labor market ? How long do you wait for performance to improve for an employee before letting them go ? How long will you spend time with a customer who refuses to buy anything from you despite giving you buying signals for a long time ?

A lot of this confusion happens because we carry over the the way we deal with family and friends to our work life too . This is normal since work takes as much time or more than what many people spend on their life outside work . The key difference here is that the emotions that hold a family together are love and affection, where as the key emotions at work are respect and fairness . Once that distinction is clear – it becomes a little more easier to make important decisions .

What this distinction means is that patience is a virtue that comes attached with a time dimension at work – and that time dimension is determined primarily determined by fairness . 

Bad news at work generally doesn’t get better with time – mostly because of the time dimension . You never have enough time – and you can’t buy more time . So generally I am a fan of determining the range of time that is fair to turn around bad news to good news , but then starting with the lower end of that range for how long I will be patient . 

I am also a big fan of defining upfront what happens if nothing changes in that period of time . For this – it needs an honest conversation with the other party on what’s causing the issue and if there is a path possible for a turn around . Without that – you are just guessing and there is a high chance you will get it wrong . Such conversations do need patience to do them well !

It is also important to consider short vs long term implications . Maybe you will get 20-% more money if you jump today – but it will delay your career progression by several years because you need to build a new network at your next gig . Maybe you won’t get money in base pay – but your cash flow might be positively better with a retention bonus . Think about all of this carefully – we all tend to generally be poor at understanding the long term effects when we are worked up .This is where patience is a virtue !

Granted you can’t always be explicit about telling this to the “other side” – if you don’t have another job lined up , you may not want to threaten to leave if no promotion happens in 6 months , or you may not want to spook a customer prematurely that you don’t want to work with them anymore . But in your mind – the action should be clear and immediate . If no promotion happens in 6 months , you want to leave – but that means you start your job search right away .if your cljent doesnt buy in one more quarter, you will stop working with them – but that means you will start more prospecting right now.

When the short end of the fair range is getting close , you have a decision to make . This is where the longer end of the fair range helps . Ok so you didn’t get promoted in 6 months – but there is a hand shake with your boss that happens that makes you believe it will happen in 3 more months . You also have a good idea that you have a few options lined up and can wait 3 months . It’s time to be more explicit with the other party on what happens next – telling them how much longer you are willing to continue patiently and what happens if nothing changes . At this point – it is no longer acceptable to be told an open ended “pls be more patient and good things will happen” . The time for that was the previous conversation – and even there an open ended promise only would have gone  so far ! 

Relationship decisions in personal life are often driven by love and affection – but in the workplace it’s a trade off between risk and return . No one of truly irreplaceable at work over a long period of time – it’s the short to medium term that is at play for work relationships . That is another good reason why it’s fair for your own patience also to come with a finite time dimension  . 

if you have read this far – you are probably a very patient person 🙂 

Musings from vacation

Couple of decades ago, I worked in UK for a bit . The biggest challenge for me was getting used to the relaxed pace of a 35 hr work week after the 60 hour regular weeks in US that I was used to . I think our manager spent more time with us at Pubs and horse races than at the office . Strangely instead of taking life easy – I really longed to go back to US with the faster pace .

Then came a stint in Germany – where work was all about efficiency . When the work week is 40 hours – it literally means you spend every minute of those hours focused on work . Very little small talk etc – which was usually limited to lunch time in the cafeteria. In fact I hardly remember seeing anyone take their lunch to their desk there . Also – I got used to the idea of employees negotiating for more vacation and better company cars and willing to sacrifice their cash compensation . Vacations were sacred and no one generally thought of work during their time off – and practically very few would be available even on phone after work hours during the week unless it was an emergency . There were clear boundaries between personal and professional lives .

US workplace generally had a culture of very long hours when I entered the workforce. As a young associate – it was a badge of honor one earned by showing up before the bosses showed up and leaving after they did . And the execs did not slack either – often pulling very long hours themselves . Sacrificing vacation for work was another “badge of honor” thing from my past – which took various forms from not taking any vacation some years to checking in on work while on vacation . I am not at all proud of any of these – I wish I was smarter to not do it .

This week – I took my daughter to UK and Italy for a vacation . The last time she left our home town was just before the pandemic hit – when we had taken a week in a London and Paris . She will be off to College next month and this was a daddy-daughter thing we had planned for a while and were eagerly looking forward to . The last time just she and I traveled together was 12 years ago 🙂

I more or less succeeded in staying present and not worrying about work – with maybe six work emails and a couple of slack messages in eight days . All of those could have waited for me to return next week – but I will give myself a B- for an improved performance from past vacations 🙂

I have been in several European countries over the years for work – and occasionally on vacation as well . The difference from a work trip to a vacation trip is significant in all aspects

1. I realized how much I depend on my EA for booking travel – she makes it all seamless across flights , cars , hotels and so on . Researching and getting through all of that myself was both fun and stressful . Thankfully, the experience of a few million air miles does come handy in terms of knowing must-do and must-avoid items

2. I enjoy food a lot , as does my kiddo . The work trips generally don’t leave a lot of options for trying out the local food options to the extent I would love to . Well this time – I think we had almost all the stuff we wanted to 🙂 . The standouts were the lunch at an organic farm in Tuscany, Pizza in Naples, and the dinner at Dishoom in Kensington .

3. The sights to see – it’s actually pretty pathetic that I hardly spend any time to stop and smell the roses when I am on work trips . Usually I walk from the plane to a cab and my eyes are on my phone the entire ride . A cabbie in Paris was once so annoyed that he would stop at every landmark on our way to my meeting to make sure I appreciated his city 🙂 . NY is perhaps the best example – I go there several times a year for work , but I love to go on a double decker bus with my wife and daughter and watch this amazing city from the eyes of a tourist . We totally made amends on that front – weather was hot , and we walked more these last few days than any one week in recent history . But we loved every moment of it !

4. Water ! So I have always had a big problem with spending $$ on bottled water . Even when I travel for work – I don’t drink the $5 bottle of water in the hotel room. I would go buy water from a convenience store for cheaper . Well – all that changed upside down this week in Italy . It was so hot that we were finishing two bottles an hour throughout the trip . By the time we were driving back to the airport – I briefly considered opening a shop for selling just bottled water in Rome 🙂

5. Skechers shoes are life savers ! I knew from past trips that there will be a lot of walking involved and the decision to put a pair of Skechers on was perhaps the single best decision I made . My legs are sore – but I know how much worse it could have been !

6. Everyone in Italy seems to be a Formula 1 driver . My original plan was to rent a car in Rome and drive to Amalfi coast from there . Lucky me – a client of mine talked me out of it last week when I had dinner with him . Best advice ever – I wouldn’t have enjoyed the trip if I had to deal with the stress of driving south .

7. The heat wave and the Taxi strike ! Italy had been cursed with a heat wave for the last few months and I think we caught the peak of it . First week of July seemed worse than the last week of August . To add to the misery – there was the taxi strike in Rome to protest against Uber . Uber is twice as expensive as regular Taxi when I checked . And it seems taxi drivers spend 200K euros to get their license to operate – a situation similar to what happened with the taxi medallion owners in NY . The result of this was that we ended up walking a lot more than we planned to . By the last day – we could navigate the city quite well without a map , and I think I can swear decently in Italian now 🙂

8. The quality of tour guides we got – that made a huge difference ! They were courteous to a fault , throughly professional and had a great sense of humor . Their knowledge of history is stunning to say the least, and their pride in it is heart warming . I was curious what they thought of Mussolini – and it was clear none of them cared for that time in history . I think this is the best I ever experienced so far anywhere in the world . I also left Italy thinking this might be an area that INDIA could do better about tourism .

9. Cash is still king . I generally don’t carry cash with me when I travel and I regret it every time . This time was no exception . The exchange rate losses alone could have funded the expense on bottled water 🙂 . Credit card acceptance is much better now compared to the past – but for tipping , buying water and eating an ice cream on the street , you need a lot of small change . Even the cabs had notices that they prefer cash !

9. What did I learn from this trip ? I think the biggest learning for me is to slow down and smell the roses along the way . I admire the general culture of Italians – over the weekend, they drive to a small village and take it easy . When they eat in a restaurant – they take their time to enjoy their wine and their meal . No one is ever in a hurry unless they are driving 🙂

What citizenship will my great grand kids have ?

There are three things that limit extraordinary or exponential progress for mankind in my opinion .

1. Physical ability

2. Mental ability

3. Time

When you make even small improvements in each bucket, you gain some competitive advantage . For example – if you have adequate food and healthcare , you have better chances of spending time learning , hence a chance of better jobs and hence more wealth creation . If you have better mental abilities than others – you can find better opportunities to create and retain value . All of us have the same amount of time every day – so those who can spend it on higher order activities generally tend to have better results .

The people who tend to have a better combo physical / mental abilities and have more time on their hands – they tend to gravitate towards being the large scale suppliers of goods and services and everyone else becomes consumers .

Scale for suppliers is good for consumers in the short term – gives them better service and better price . Obviously this can turn bad in a hurry when there is no competition . I don’t worry about monopolies very much – I think the more realistic scenario is that there will always be a few large providers for most things consumers need .

The interesting aspect of scale is how technology will be used to make it happen . I think the suppliers will be the first to benefit – be it longer life span due to better healthcare options , better intelligence due to gene manipulation and use of powerful tech , better use of technology to predict what consumer wants , and maybe even better ability to manipulate consumer into wanting something that the providers have to sell , and perhaps the ability in future to be in multiple places at the same time and accomplish more within the same amount of time .

The fact that tech is not there today doesn’t mean it won’t get there in future – and given the tech progress is usually exponential and not linear , its only a matter of whether it takes 20 years or 200 years .

So what about consumers ? Suppliers need consumers – otherwise there is no future for them either .

I don’t expect any sudden change in global job markets . But it’s not hard to imagine that most skills that we consider useful today will become irrelevant tomorrow . We can mitigate it for some more time by changing how we learn and up-skill – but that only delays the inevitable . Eventually the majority of things that a lot of humans do today will be replaced by fewer humans and lots of automation .

So the people who don’t have the skills to do anything that adds value – how will they act as consumers ?

When automation can do stuff better/faster/cheaper than regular humans – there is no reason for suppliers to use these folks to create value . Even at no salary and “will work for food” – as in a terrible “slave labor” type scenario – there may not be any takers .

Even for the consumers who have useful skills – technology might be a good tool for them to gain efficiency in their purchasing . For example – if a personal digital shopper does all your purchases , it might be able to negotiate better prices from all available sources . The side effect is that the suppliers might be the one providing such a solution to the customers . So eventually the consumers loses value long term in that scenario too .

Then there is a possibility that the tax paid by suppliers will be enough to pay for all citizens to live comfortably – the Universal Basic Income concept in some form . This will need a complete rethink of our political and economical systems – and perhaps our religious belief systems too .

Take countries like INDIA and USA for example – which are a union of states with a federal government . Would rich states agree to pay extremely disproportionately to support the poorer states ? If they do – will Americans accept some kind of hybrid communism as a way of life ? And if they don’t – can the rich states stop mass migration from the poor states ? Will the rich states want to become independent countries at that point to retain their advantages ?

Even if no states leave the union in INDIA and USA , and the tax situation somehow works out with negotiations etc within each country – that still doesn’t solve the problem . Mexico and Pakistan might not have enough supplier taxes to cover their population adequately . Will US and INDIA send them their tax money to prevent mass immigration and its associated problems ?

The likely outcome given how government works everywhere is that they will increase the tax burden on the suppliers . It will get to a point where the supplier has no incentive to be in business any longer . Given they are already better than others with physical/mental abilities and time management – a good number of them probably will find a way to keep the advantage they have and stop contributing to the tax base .

At that point – what is the definition of “a country?” . Would physical boundaries and National flags mean much at all ?

I was born and raised in INDIA . If you look at the history of British rule in INDIA – you can easily realize that technology (ships , weapons, looms, medicine etc) gave a huge advantage to Britain – and INDIA eventually became a source of raw materials and a consumer for the finished goods. The kings who ruled INDIA at the time largely didn’t get along with each other , common people identified themselves with the territory their king ruled , and there were a lot of immediate problems to solve instead of worrying about technology . Looking back – it didn’t end well for INDIA at all for a couple of centuries .

The mistakes of the past like what happened in INDIA could repeat itself with even greater impact across the world . We will probably look back at last few decades and take a stance that automation has been a boon and not a curse – and we will be quite right in saying so . We might even look forward to say it will still be a boon for next twenty years – and that could be also quite true . But in doing so – we maybe doing our future generations quite an injustice .

It maybe ok for our grand kids to not have any nationality or religion – but we don’t have a clear idea of what will take their places as identities . And if we leave it for future generations to figure all this out from scratch and go on with our lives , we may not be doing humanity any favors . At a minimum we need to start taking small steps to define these solutions and work towards it with clarity .

Learning Philosophy : Between N-1 and N+1

In 1997, I was an apprentice engineer in a Tire company in India after finishing my degree in mechanical engineering . One evening, a machine broke down in the line and I quickly figured out that it’s just a broken spindle that needs to be replaced . I did some quick calculations and figured a 10.2 mm diameter is what the replacement should have . I could see the confusion in the eyes of everyone around me . Someone quietly went to the store and got the replacement and work progressed . The next day – my boss took me back to the machine , and showed me there was a panel with clear instructions there on parts – and the standard size replacement was 10mm . There is no such thing as a 10.2mm . He was sympathetic – he coached me that 90% of the time , you don’t need to worry about actual calculations and have to just follow the manual . He never gave me an example of the 10% when I will need to know the calculations 🙂

The next episode happened in Colorado in 2000 . I was a young programmer struggling with a massive old C program that started misbehaving after I added some functionality needed for my project . I didn’t change any existing code – and my code would compile without error and execute when I did it as a stand alone program. I went to the team leader – a long time veteran of HP-UX and probably the best programmer I have seen in my life . He casually asked me “Anything odd with the assembler code?” . I am not a CS major – and while I thought I was a really good programmer in C and a few higher level languages , I didn’t have the faintest idea on how a compiler actually worked or even how to read assembler code . Well, I was given a 30 mins tutorial and a manual for instruction set architecture . I struggled for weeks and eventually figured out what was wrong . I will spare you the details – but I walked away thinking that all mission critical code should be compiled without Optimisations turned on . I also learned to my horror that compilers can actually have bugs . Till today I don’t know if the compiler I used had an issue – but to be honest , I have never felt confident enough to blame a compiler even once when my code fails .

I wrote my first BASIC program in 1986 and first C program in 1989 . Till this episode in Colorado in 2000, I had never thought about the need for understanding what happens at a level below (N-1) what I needed to learn for everyday use . And in general I would say I had spent more thought on higher level abstractions (N+1) from where I am operating from .

My father was a very talented mechanical engineer . He used to tell me when I was in college that an engineer’s job is to make sure that whoever used the output of an engineer’s creation should be able to take it for granted – a lamp should switch on , a car should run when ignition is turned on and so on – without the operator knowing how it happens . And when it doesn’t work – most of the time the operator should know what’s wrong , and quickly decide if it needs expert help . By his definition – I wonder if he would have agreed that software is a real engineering discipline 🙂

If the episode in 2000 with Assembler had not happened – I doubt I would have developed an interest in N-1 thinking as my learning philosophy at all . It did help me quite a bit as moved into more business leadership roles later in my career . As I wrote recently about scaling a business , the ability to go to N-1 is critical when rethinking the building blocks . Otherwise we routinely get stuck in status quo and at best some incremental progress . Equally important is the fact that the moment you have solved things at N-1 , you need to zoom out to N+1 to pick up speed .

Keeps life interesting , doesn’t it ?

Scaling a business during the Covid pandemic – a dozen lessons I learned

2021 has been quite an interesting year and I have alternated between “will this year ever end?” and “Whoa – are we in December already?” . Both from a business perspective as well as from a personal perspective – I had to learn new things and act differently . I thought I will share what I learned , with the hopes that perhaps some of it will be useful to others

1. Every step-change will break things where you least expect it

I was very proud that we were able to shift thousands of people in the team to work from home last year with zero difficulties because we have a strong business continuity plan that we trained for and implemented efficiently . So I had a false sense of confidence that it will be equally smooth when adding more people to the team . I was wrong – everything from courier service to background checks to laptop availability failed to scale at a certain threshold . These are all things I took for granted all my career . Thankfully we have such a great team that they sorted it out extremely fast !

2. Over communication is mostly a bad idea

When we started remote work, the instinct was to checkin with all the teams frequently . But very soon – the teams adapted to the new norms of working , and we didn’t tweak the “checking in” frequency. It became a diminishing returns investment of effort and leaders started burning out faster with the extra time spent on an activity that could have used a different cadence . Same with mass emails , all hands calls etc . Less is definitely more !

3. But you do have to over communicate some times

What works with people who have been in the team for a long time doesn’t work for people who are new to the team . That was true in the past too – but scale puts a spotlight on it quickly ! Questions that would get asked to someone sitting next to you in office would now often need a manager to explain the answer . Mentoring younger colleagues coming from university online is not the same as mentoring an experienced hire online . We had to learn to segment and tune our approach every time we detected a pattern . Again , we also need to learn when to ease off with the new team . I do wonder if these problems will get addressed by HR Tech at some point

4. Free form feedback is way more useful in uncertain times

As an analytics guy by training, I measure everything . That didn’t change during the pandemic times either . But I did learn after a couple of quarters that standardized questions are very limited in these times to address issues and opportunities with the client or my team . Free form feedback is where the useful information was mostly available . I read every comment that my team and client make in the surveys – and we talk about addressing them in our leadership meetings . I also use sentiment and tone analysis with ML to get a gauge of the aggregate as well

5. Invest in leadership ranks ahead of scale

I am a firm believer in leaders at every level making fewer but higher impact decisions compared to their team if they have to be effective . In uncertain times , there are hundreds of more decisions to be made even if the business is steady . There are thousands of more decisions to be made if the business is growing . If you don’t have enough good leaders – you will sink faster than you can imagine . Good teams grow because of strong culture . It’s very easy for the culture to go south if scale happens in an unmanaged fashion . That’s another reason why having good leaders are vital .

6. Invest in operations

A highly efficient operations team ( finance , HR, bizOps ….) is the reason why most business leaders don’t die of panic attacks . When they are very good – leaders occasionally take it for granted that they have infinite capacity . Operations have people and processes . Both parts will stretch only to a limit and they they will break . Relook at literally everything that is needed to keep the business growing and invest in operations and redesign workflows .

7. Relook at all communication channels

I hope there is a massive series of studies done on this topic . Slack has been a life saver for me. I over estimated the effectiveness of video . And I rediscovered how effective good old phone calls are . A great example of the change in effectiveness are the quarterly all hands calls . I don’t see a tenth of interaction in those massive webex events that I get on a slack based ask me anything session with my global team .

8. Business Relationship building has evolved

A pleasant surprise for me this year was that unlike 2020 – it is now totally effective to build new business relationships online via webex and email and calls , without face to face meetings . It’s incredible how long established norms of shaking hands and breaking bread as first steps in a new relationship got replaced by talking about children and pets on webex ! No business scales without scaling relationships vertically and horizontally – so this is a very good change in my view

9. Take good care of people – that is one thing that has NOT changed

All business is ultimately about people on all sides . That’s the one constant that did not change in pandemic times . The great resignation is something we need to learn from and act on quickly . Money , flexibility , interesting work – there are lots of reasons why people quit their jobs . You can’t fight the forces of market – you have to adapt quickly and find your own equilibrium . My fundamental view has not changed in pandemic times – I think the key to attracting and retaining good people is to make sure that leaders and their teams feel comfortable in discussing everything openly and being fair to each other . If I look at where I spend most of my time – I think it’s probably 50% on helping my team , 30% with assisting my clients , and 20% on all other things taken together .

10. Increase the focus on learning

Pandemic has caused a lot of grief in the world . I lost friends and family – and I don’t deny I have an amount of fear in my mind at all times . But for business – it has largely created more opportunities . But to tackle these opportunities effectively – you have to be an aggressive learner , and encourage everyone around to do that . On the technology side – I spent my time learning more on Redhat openshift , Ansible and GCP . I also have been reading up a lot about the tech behind crypto currencies . On the non tech side – I have been reading more about WW2 and life during Great Recession

11. Take some time off – don’t make the mistake I did

I am generally good at taking some vacation every year to reset . I did not do that this year and it certainly is proving to be a bad idea . I know I am not alone – and it’s not going well for others who didn’t take the time off either . Almost everyone I know in my team and in my network who has taken the time off are more productive than I am .

12. Do something else outside work

Last year, it was mostly playing cards online daily with my friends . That has come down a lot this year . But 4 days a week, I take my puppy to training for IGP competition which we hope to start competing next year . I try hard to block that time off from all work – and it literally has been the best decision I made this year . It brings a much needed balance . I am sure that if I hadn’t decided on that – and also not taken vacations – I would have completely burnt out half way through the year . I am fascinated by the range of hobbies my friends have picked up new this year- Ironman , wood carving , singing , equestrian etc . In every case their experience mirrors mine – and their businesses have had a positive impact .

I have a “good feeling” about this !

Staring at data is a big part of my job – but it’s very rare that data alone gives me direction on what to do next . Data needs to be put into the context of what I feel (and what others feel) and then some decision gets made . So in reality – I am not really data driven , I am more “data enabled” when it comes to my decision making process .

What I feel – perhaps what can be called my intuition – is based on my past experience . So I often wonder how useful it will be to depend on intuition when it comes to decisions about future . That led me to think about my feelings a little more – and that led me to three (overlapping) possibilities on why I decide to go forward with some decision

1. I like and trust the people who will execute on it

This doesn’t happen unless I know them really well . And amongst the people I know – only a few fall into this category when I think about it more . With such people , I feel strongly that they are so driven that they will make it happen irrespective of challenges I can anticipate . The reality unfortunately is that my success rate is only that of a coin toss . While some data comes into play – it’s really not data driven or data enabled if I am honest about it . I will however add that when everything else is “iffy” – I trust my judgement of people and make bets on it . In such cases – at least so far – it’s been better than coin toss odds for success .

2. I understand it from first principles

These usually turn out to be my best decisions – I understand the problem well from the ground up , and consequently I have a framework to evaluate solutions . All the examples I can think of have ended well – but I am sure there is some bias in my thinking, so let’s say 80% success rate . I can use data to validate my assumptions and mental models – so these are data enabled decisions .

3. I can see the potential tweaks needed to make it work

These are usually things like redesigning the process , having a different leader for the team , resetting the business case etc . I think this is where experience comes in handy – because it’s essentially pattern recognition that is helping me . To increase my odds, I also tap into my network for their experience once I figure out the pattern . Interestingly , this is the category where historic data comes in handy . Quite often – it’s staring at data that gives me a starting hypothesis on what needs to be tweaked .

The time dimension

I try hard to be thoughtful about the decisions I make that have large and/or long term impact . That needs time to deliberate . I conserve my time, energy and brainpower to make such decisions by routinely delegating whatever I can to my team . But even then – a third of the time , I will have to make snap judgments with limited time to deliberate .

As I look back at examples of such decisions – I see an interesting trend . When I have delegated and conserved my time and energy – my snap judgments generally turn out to be ok more often than not .

What is the net net ?

I am convinced that we don’t really need human decision making if it’s purely data driven – such decisions should be automated ( with manual over rides and other precautions on ethics/security etc taken care of ) . Humans (generally) should only have to care about data enabled decisions .

What’s the weakest link here ?

There are two ways to think about data enabled decision making . One is using data to find answers to questions you defined . The other is defining questions based on data . The former is largely a solved problem already . The latter is what keeps us employed 🙂

The “Stupid me” loop

My mornings start early with a ten minute training session with the (not so) little Archie . For the last few sessions, I have been having some trouble getting a certain specific result and yesterday I went into a familiar loop of “Stupid technique – Stupid dog – Stupid me” .

The familiarity is not from training dogs – it is from my past life as a programmer 😆

When I used to get stuck with a difficult problem – and a few attempts wouldn’t solve it , I would get into this spiral of self doubt . I remember the horror on a fellow engineer’s face when I told her “That’s it – I am done – I am switching to sales or management”. My appreciation for source code version control grew manifold those days because I invariably would destroy perfectly good code trying to fix one problem .

In the case of training Archie, it’s just a hobby . There is no real impact if he doesn’t win all the big titles . So it seems illogical that self doubt would even come up like it used to for actual work .

Thankfully the approach to break out of this problem is something I can borrow from my engineering experience . Every time I have run into the “stupidity loop”, the problem eventually got solved by me or another colleague in the team . The problem was never the person really – it was always the technique or approach . I am trusting that the problem I am facing with Archie is not that he or I are stupid – it’s some stupidity in our technique and I just need to figure out a way to diagnose it and then fix it .

A seasoned manager once told our team – I know you guys don’t care about managers like me . But someone needs to be mature enough to know which problems are perfectly fine to leave for support tickets . The man had a point – so after all it might still be “stupid me” behind all my current grief. The common factor in all my disasters is … ME !

For now , we are just going to visit the neighborhood Starbucks and attack some emails .

What I learned about work from cooking

Some of you already know that I enjoy cooking . A long time ago, I landed in Colorado without knowing how to make a cup of coffee or an omelette. But since that time, I have picked up some “hobby” level skills . Talking about cooking with a friend, we realized there are some life lessons – and perhaps some “work” lessons – that can be gleaned . I thought it will be fun to share .

  1. Scale is VERY difficult : I can make a near perfect Biriyani for 6 people . I have failed miserably trying to make it for 20 – and also the one time I tried to make it for just my daughter and me . Much like business – every step change needs a rethink !
  2. The real skill is making a great dish with what you have available : We all want A players to work with , perfectly defined requirements and so on . The reality is you often have to make do with the cards you are dealt .
  3. Solid technique and first principles matter : life is easier and more fun in the kitchen when you have good knife skills , and know the basics of temperature control , how “less is more” and have good tools . Knowing the basics of people/process/tech helps work through new problems at work easier too
  4. Hygiene and organization is your best friend : I clean as I go and try to minimize number of utensils for any dish . I also prep everything I need at hand before I start cooking . At work – there is no compromise on effient ops , and I try hard to reuse what’s already available as information and process
  5. Proof of the pudding : is of course in the eating , but also in the cooking . If I didn’t enjoy the process – I would have just eaten out and left cooking to real chefs . Outcomes absolutely matter , but if you don’t enjoy the sausage making too – you won’t do it well for long . Who you do it with matters too . My daughter is usually my sous chef and chief taster 🙂
  6. Experiment, learn and share : That’s how cooking got better for me . It’s also how work gets better . Mistakes are a given . It’s good to learn from mistakes – but even better if you share with others on how to avoid and mitigate . Share the outcome too – both your finished dishes as well as any goodness from your life and work !

Let’s please NOT over communicate !

It’s been nearly a year and a half since I started working remotely . If there is one lesson I can take away from this time – it s this . It’s a myth that over communication is a good thing !

People are stressed as is – you , me and everyone else around us . I don’t know anyone who has started working less hours since remote work started , compared to before the pandemic . Why do we work longer and feel drained ? I think the number one culprit is the bucket of activities I will call “Over communication”.

Initially the wisdom was that we need to checkin frequently with everyone in the team . After the first couple of times – it became a pain for all parties involved . When you live in a small apartment with your family and pets – and have to context switch frequently from helping your kid with homework , feeding your cat , filling the time sheet and taking back to back calls on video – there isn’t a lot of brainpower to spare . It’s physically exhausting too !

Corporations love meetings . We generally think more meetings lead to better outcomes . This has been the case for ever – it’s not an outcome because of the pandemic . What did change was that the corporations went into an over drive of communications – more all hands meetings , more sales reviews , more performance inspections , more emails , more slack messages , more zoom calls … more of everything . Net result – more exhaustion !

It’s high time we stop this madness . We need to right size communication instead of switching to over communication . I have a friend who is having a bit of a hard time in his business . He holds lengthy meetings with his team frequently to see what all can be done to improve it . When I heard about it – I suggested a couple of great books and two videos for him to checkout . Unfortunately his (very genuine) response was “if only I could find time”. When I insisted that he at least check out the videos while he was on the treadmill , it turned out that he couldn’t focus for more than 5 mins and switched to email . This is just one example of what an over dose of emails does to even high caliber leaders !

For the last few years, I have had a simple rule that I will only have one recurring meeting that I host . In my current role that is a one hour call with my team every other Friday morning . My boss has a weekly team call that I participate in as well . Other than that – I only attend meetings where I have something to add to the discussion. I am happy to live with offline updates on everything else if I can use that time to do something else that is of more value .

Every other communication is ad-hoc and works on a pull basis . If my team needs me – they can get a hold of me at any point in day or night . We don’t need a scheduled meeting unless it needs multiple people whose synchronous input is needed to solve a problem . We just hold each other accountable – and we leave time and resource management to individuals . We respect boundaries each of us set for our personal times and violate it only in extreme emergencies . When I assign work, I assign the authority to get it done too – and a promise to remove roadblocks . Similarly when I sign up for a goal – I check to make sure I am truly empowered to make it happen . If that’s not clear, I am secure enough to push back and get a mutually agreeable solution .

Mistakes happen – but over communication only works as a solution in a handful of cases . One area where I have seen it work well is security and compliance . A good example is awareness about phishing . Complacently often creeps is unless you get a periodic reminder .

In other cases , it is better to spend some time to incorporate the specific feedback on the root cause of mistakes into your standard processes instead of resorting to more emails, videos and blogs .

Parting thought – if you spend quality time recruiting and developing your team , you can save time and trouble “managing” them with long emails and multiple meetings .

Thanks for letting me vent !

Keeping burnout at bay

If there is one word I could pick to explain the last 18 months of my life – I would choose STRESS . I am sure I won’t be alone in that assessment .

I lost my father , a dog that was practically a son for my wife and me , multiple friends, colleagues and relatives . I haven’t met my clients or my team in person in a long time – nor have I seen my mother , my sister or my mother in law in the last year and a half . We have not traveled anywhere for vacation and so on . And yet, when I am asked if I am burnt out – I can honestly say I am not . I have come close for sure, but have somehow always found a way to find a way to cope .

For what little it is worth, I will explain what has helped me – in the hopes that it might help someone who reads figure out a way to help themselves .

1. I am no longer extra hard on myself

I think losing people who I care for deeply was what started making me rethink my priorities . No one stresses me out more than myself – it has always been the case from my school days . It just took me a very long time to realize it . The good part is that I also don’t need anyone else to help me stop the problem . I can’t say I am fully there – but I forgive myself readily these days if I don’t beat my own expectations . I think I have a greater appreciation now of what I am good at and what I am terrible at – and that helps me have more realistic expectations .

PS: I also switched to more old school phone calls instead of video calls – and I think that is far more enjoyable now than being on camera .

2. I built some time every day for myself

Every day I train Archie, my german shepherd puppy – 4 times a week in a class , and other days by myself .

Unlike in the past where I worried about competition – I don’t actually care anymore whether we will ever compete . Just spending quality time and learning together is all I care for now . And almost every evening I play cards online with friends – where the conversation is ten times more fun than the game . Even if work or some personal issue stresses me out that day – the time with Archie and the card game takes off the edge quickly .

3. Maximized the time spent with my daughter

I missed some quality time when she was little – thanks to relentless focus on my career . That was dumb and I did not realize it then. These last 18 months are the first time where she and I could hang out every day – sharing jokes , debating learnings from history , discussing topics for her college application essay , watching movies together and swimming . Knowing that she will be off to college next year does stress me out a little if I am totally honest 🙂

4. Increased focus on making myself useful to others

All things considered, I really don’t have a lot to complain when I look around . I am grateful for my blessings . Whether it is about writing more checks to help the causes I care about (childhood hunger being one of the top causes ), lending my voice to speak up for those who can’t , switching from just mentoring to actively sponsoring more of my junior colleagues , and so on – I find it more satisfying to spend my time, money and energy a bit more on others than on myself and my immediate family . There is a side benefit – it has certainly improved my empathy

My litmus test 🙂

Right from the time I had to prepare for exams as a kid, I am used to making plans and evaluating my progress against it . That habit has stayed with me through my life at work too. What is usually does is that improvement plans – meant to make life less stressful – usually ends up stressing me out a lot . So now that’s my litmus test on things I do to prevent burnout – I stop immediately if I feel I am only adding fuel to fire .

The latest casualty is reading . I like reading a book in one or two sittings , irrespective of size . Somehow I cannot do that anymore – it takes me sometimes ten sittings to get through 300ish pages these days . It started stressing me out significantly and took away from the enjoyment . So I have taken a break from reading . Strangely , I haven’t stopped buying books – so now I have a pile of books on my shelf that I need to read . I will stop buying when that pile starts stressing me out – which so far has not happened . It’s a strange life 🙂

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