I have been a coffee drinker from the time I was a five year old . I grew up with my paternal grandparents ( Dad and mom stayed in a distant town where the factory he worked for was situated and that place didn’t have good schools ) who were both coffee drinkers and I would get a small cup too when they had theirs . Kerala is famous for tea – and strangely I don’t like tea . Everyone else in my family enjoys tea except me 🙂
The very first trip to US – the ONLY food item I packed was a big bottle of BRU instant coffee . I also remember my excitement and relief finding BRU in the local Indian store in Colorado Springs !
I value efficiency a lot – and BRU instant coffee with milk was the easiest solution at home . A mug of milk takes 90 seconds in the microwave to heat up and another ten seconds , I can have a great tasting coffee . Outside my home – Starbucks cappuccino is where I end up spending all my disposable income .
I have always had great espresso makers . But the time it takes to get a coffee and the clean up afterwards essentially meant they stayed in the garage shelf more than on kitchen counter . Few years back – I shifted to a Nespresso machine . While definitely more expensive and not very sustainable – it was a great solution to having high quality coffee in thirty seconds .
A little while ago, I stopped having milk altogether . And this posed a problem – if I drank big mugs of coffee throughout the day, the acidity in my tummy took away the pleasure of coffee . So I switched almost exclusively to espressos . I really needed a small quantity of intense flavor and it will last me several hours . Two a day is plenty for most days . But for that – Nespresso wasn’t cutting it .
So with great reluctance – I dusted off the espresso machine and researched good beans and started grinding and making my own from scratch . It does take a lot more than 2 mins to get a perfect shot – and some days the magic doesn’t happen and I try experimenting some more .
The process – to my utter surprise – proved to be rather therapeutic . I no longer know what I enjoy more – the process of making a great espresso and the experiments to make it a little better the next time , or the resulting drink itself !
It is an interesting parallel to how my views on work have evolved similarly over time as well .
I used to compete in Dog shows actively while I was in college . It was not easy to find time to train my dog and also not let my grades drop – so I micro optimized both the study routine and the training routine . I was fairly successful from an outcome point of view – my dog won regularly and I had decent grades . But honestly I can’t look back and say I enjoyed the learning experience very much on either side .
As a young engineer – I only cared about making sure I could deliver high quality code within time and budget . My enjoyment was more about typing a few hundred lines of code and see it compile the first time itself . Someone created the rules and I improved my skills at optimizing within those boundaries and delivering what I was asked to .
By the time I was a senior manager – I had a little bit more confidence in redefining problems before solving them . The one I remember the most is convincing a finance leader at my client that she didn’t need 150 reports that her team scoped about and can get everything she needs with just 70 by redefining the problem to a certain business outcome that will “move the needle” . And then I had to convince my boss that we will make a lot less money doing the lesser scope of work. Both worked out fine and over a long period of time we earned good business from that client .
Looking back, I think the next evolution was in encouraging my team to redefine the problems and then optimizing the solutions while I try to spend more of my own time trying to gaze a little farther into future and preparing for what is yet to come . I minimize my intervention to what business schools call “management by exception” – and even then only to the extent of helping them think through. I guess that’s where I am now – with of course plenty to improve on finding the right balance .
My biggest learning from all this is the importance of operational excellence . If the routine blocking and tackling is not well taken care of – your ability to expand your horizon becomes rather limited . I have done more than my fair share of whining on operational aspects of executive roles – but I no longer do it with the kind of zeal I used to 🙂 .
This is why I call coffee as “liquid wisdom” 🙂