Humanity in Customer Service: A Touching Tale

I recently stumbled upon a very touching story of what it means to adopt a human approach when dealing with others at work.

In 2011, Mark Dickinson was devastated to learn about the murder of his three years old grandson. Mark immediately rushed to Los Angeles airport to reach Tucson and see his grandson for one last time. At the airport, Mark saw long queues for baggage check-in and security that would keep him from making it to the flight. Mark could not hold back his tears as he kept pleading to the staff members of Southwest Airlines to expedite the process and no one seemed to care. Finally, after clearing security check a good 12 minutes after flight’s planned departure, he did not even wait to put his shoes on and literally ran towards the terminal where he found  the pilot and gate attendant waiting for him.

“Are you Mark? We held the plane for you and we’re so sorry about the loss of your grandson,” the pilot reportedly said. “They can’t go anywhere without me and I wasn’t going anywhere without you. Now relax. We’ll get you there. And again, I’m so sorry.”

Isn’t this amazing? How could a pilot – who is also an employee – take such a human call at the risk of delaying other passengers and violating corporate rules? Was this an individual decision OR outcome of a culture that Southwest Airlines has built?

I quickly visited their website to look for their values. Here’s what I found on their customer service page:

“We like to think of ourselves as a Customer Service company that happens to fly airplanes.”

Their purpose statement on website reads,

“To connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”

Most organizations have tall corporate values that are only confined to the plaque on the wall or a page on the website. They mean nothing unless they empower people to behave in line with those values.

It is an inspiring story about how corporate purpose (and culture) enabled an individual to connect a customer with his most important priority – to see the face of his departed grandson for one last time!

In an era when even brands are trying to project themselves as humans – can we, the real human beings, treat our customers and colleagues as human beings without trying to hide behind the layered corporate processes, rules and hierarchies?

This story exemplifies the importance of living the values and purpose. Of bringing your humanity at workplace. Of what it means to work in a new world.

The Journey is the Purpose: An Inspiring Tale of Nek Chand Saini

Nek Chand Rock Garden in Chandigarh, India is a true marvel of creativity and innovation. Built by Nek Chand Saini, a self-taught innovator, Rock garden is one-of-its-kind sculpture garden in Chandigarh which almost looks like a miniature of an ancient kingdom spread over forty acres. What makes this truly unique is the fact that all the sculptures in this garden are made from recycled material like ceramic pieces, bottles, glasses, ceramic pots, earthen pots, bottle caps, sinks, electrical waste, crockery, broken bangles, dust, pieces of tar, rocks and pebbles. The garden comprises of twisted, narrow and walled pathways leading to large open spaces. These open spaces house plazas, pavilions, theatre and hundreds of sculptures of men, women, dancers, animals, houses, temples, wells and decorated walls. Seeing hundreds of statues filling the canvas is nothing less than a spectacle. Interlinked and cascading waterfalls nicely complement the sculptures and walls to extend a very soothing ambiance.

The description above may sound a bit like a travelogue but it is not just that. It is an intriguing tale of passion, suspense, drama and finally the triumph of creativity over all the odds. A story with an important lesson.

Many villages were demolished when Chandigarh, India’s first planned city, was being built according to design by French architect Le Corbusier. Nek Chand Saini worked as a road inspector for the public works department when he started collecting the discarded material from these demolition sites. A few years later, he secretly started working on assembling these recycled material to create a sculpture garden that depicted his vision of an Indian village life. This hobby expanded soon into a full-fledged work of art on a government conserved forest land in the foothills of Shivalik Moutain Range. Since his work was illegal, he kept it a secret for ten long years before it was discovered by city inspectors. As the word spread, people began flocking to see this work of a genius that was already spread in 12 acres of land by the time it was discovered. Amidst the looming threat and uproar of destroying this illegal work that occupied forest conservancy, Nek Chand was able to get public opinion and support on his side. In 1976, the Rock Garden was inaugurated as a public space. Nek Chand was offered a government salary and a staff of 50 laborers so that he can expand his vision and continue his expression of creativity. In 1996, Rock Garden was again attacked by vandals after which city administration took charge of managing the park.

Today, with over 4000 visitors daily, Rock Garden is the most visited folk art sites in the world. Statues made by Nek Chand Saini decorate some of the best folk art galleries across the globe.

It is an inspiring journey of personal transformation from mundane to magnificent. He created a sublime space of innovation and creativity just out of his imagination, creativity and sheer hard work. How many of us today would spend this amount of effort and creative energy in creating something just out of love for doing it? Will we do it without any expectation on rewards or recognition? Nishkama Karma (action performed without any attachment to fruits or results) is the central message of Bhagwad Gita and Nek Chan Saini truly exemplifies it.

Did Nek Chand Saini work with a goal of becoming famous one day? Did he plan to win all the awards that he has won? Clearly, he did it just for the joy he derived out of doing it. He simply enjoyed giving form to his ideas through sculptures. He built his legacy one statue at a time.

The story of Nek Chand Saini just tells me that our work may not always be a transaction. That if we are passionate about our pursuits, have lot of conviction to do the required hard work and derive joy from simply doing it then external rewards and recognition do not matter. They are merely by-products of doing something you love doing.

The journey then, is the purpose and the reward!

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P.S.: On 15 Dec 2014, Nek Chand Saini, the wizard of creativity completes 90 years!

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Change: The Power of Gradual

In a fast paced environment, we notice things that are urgent, immediate and abrupt in nature. We forget to notice the gradual.

One small serving of unhealthy food doesn’t seem to harm but many such servings over a long duration increase the odds of having a health problem manifold. One conversation that went wrong now doesn’t seem to have any direct impact on a relationship but with every such conversation, trust is eroded till it reaches a point where relationship ends.

In an organization, this becomes even more complex where larger system is a collection of many independent sub-systems. Decisions and conversations in each of these sub-system affects the whole. The impact of one strategic failure may not be visible in a short term but can prove fatal in a long run.

The good news is: the converse is also true. Any great success is, almost always, a result of many small things done right. Careers are built one opportunity at time. Trust is earned one deed at a time, lessons are learned one experience at a time and great teams are built one conversation at a time. It is gradual and very powerful.

Why do we fail to notice the gradual then? Because we are too obsessed in responding to the immediate. Because doing takes a precedence over thinking. Because we fail to see living systems as “systems”. We work on components without considering the impact on the system as a whole.

This reminds me of a metaphor of a boiling frog

A frog, when placed in boiling water will jump out immediately because of heat. However, if placed in cold water that is heated very slowly, the frog does not perceive the danger and enjoys the warmth. Incrementally, as warmth turns into heat, it becomes groggy unable to climb up. Eventually, it is boiled to death.

As leaders and professionals, our ability to notice the slow and subtle changes in the system is as important as our ability to respond to urgent and immediate changes. 

In the novel “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway, one of the lead characters Mike Campbell is asked, “How did you go bankrupt?”. Mike responded, “Gradually… and then suddenly.”

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Photograph Courtesy: Chaula Vora – Red Eyed Frog, Costa Rica

In 100 Words: What You Leave Behind

Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel once read his own obituary that described him as a “Merchant of Death”. When Nobel’s brother died, a newspaper reported Nobel’s death by mistake. Because Nobel had invented dynamite, the obituary described him as someone who found ways to kill more people faster.

“Is this how I really want to be remembered?” he asked himself. To improve his image, he left 94% of his huge fortune to award people who made greatest contributions to the mankind through their work. (Nobel Prize)

Fortunately, we don’t need such accidental reminders to ask ourselves: How would I like to be remembered?

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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In 100 Words: On Success, Happiness and Frugality


One definition of happiness is ‘ability to live life on your own terms.’ But sometimes, we define our happiness based on what others do, and then we try to ‘catch up’ with them compromising our own core values.

Aristippus, a Greek philosopher gained a comfortable position in the Kingdom through constant flattery of the King.

Aristippus once saw Diogenes, another Greek philosopher, dining on a meager meal of lentils and advised, “Learn to flatter the king and you will not have to live on lentils.”

Diogenes replied, “Learn to live on lentils and you will never have to flatter anyone.”

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Great Story: A Manager’s Function

I recently re-read a fantastic book “Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams” by Tom Demarco and Timothy Lister.

The book is filled with hard-won wisdom about executing projects and managing people for highest productivity.

Here is a real-life story from the book that underlines importance of the “human aspect” of our work; especially creative work that requires significant emotional involvement too.

In my early years as a developer, I was privileged to work on a project managed by Sharon Weinberg, now president of the Codd and Date Consulting Group. She was a walking example of much of what I now think of as enlightened management. One snowy day, I dragged myself out of a sickbed to pull together our shaky system for a user demo. Sharon came in and found me propped up at the console. She disappeared and came back a few minutes later with a container of soup. After she’d poured it into me and buoyed up my spirits, I asked her how she found time for such things with all the management work she had to do. She gave me her patented grin and said, Tom, this is management.”

Sharon knew what all good instinctive managers know: The manager’s function is not to make people work, but to make it possible for people to work.

Peopleware was first published some 25 years ago, and updated once since then. With such remarkable wisdom available to us, it is unfortunate to see many organizations and leaders still not getting the very essence of leading a knowledge-oriented and creative enterprise. Either they don’t read enough (which is dangerous) or they don’t practice what they already know.

It is all about people. As the book nicely puts it,

“The major problems of our work are not so much technological as sociological in nature.”

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In 100 Words: Bitter or Better?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nick Vujicic is a hero.

He was born with no arms and no legs! After struggling initially as a depressed kid who contemplated suicide, he was transformed when his mother showed him an inspiring article about a man who was also dealing with a severe disability.

This realization was so profound that he started looking at life differently, mastered it and eventually did everything a normal man can do. He runs a successful NGO and speaks across the globe on coping with life’s challenges.

He asks, “Challenges in life can make you bitter or better. Which one would you choose?

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Stay Tuned: Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to updates via email using the section at the bottom of the page. Looking forward to the conversations!

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Note: Thanks to Kurt Harden for including QAspire in his annual list of “25 Blogs Guaranteed To Make You Smarter” for 2012. Great list and a great company. #Gratitude!

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Posts

Review: The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

Through his new book titled “The $100 Startup – Fire Your Boss, Do What You Love And Work Better to Live More, Chris Guillebeau shares amazingly inspiring stories of people who transformed their ideas and skills into viable businesses.  Some people start on their own because of situations and others start based on their internal drive, passion and skill. Some people keep experimenting with side projects and then do more of what works to become entrepreneurs. These are all possibilities.

For this book, Chris included stories of 100+ entrepreneurs to show us how these possibilities are realized. In a new world of work, it is entirely possible to be on your own with your passion and skill and money can follow. These entrepreneurs started with little or no money to build businesses that earns them more than the average American salary.

I specially loved the story of Brett Kelly who noticed that there was no detailed user manual for Evernote and started working on one. He meticulously created a comprehensive user guide titled “Evernote Essentials” that went on to become a big hit amongst Evernote enthusiasts. The goal was to sell $10,000 worth of copies and that was achieved in just eleven days. Stories like these also underline the importance of “noticing” a gap, a pain (and hence an opportunity) and then doing something about it. Passion comes in first, but then it is all about execution.

Chris says,

“They all did it by pursuing two twin concepts: freedom and value.

Freedom is what we’re all looking for, and value is the way to achieve it. The magic formula of skills + usefulness is how you change the world.

When you value freedom above other things, you’ll make different choices. Your priorities will shift. When you focus on helping others, connecting your work to their needs, that’s when value is created.

This is what it came down to for all of these people, and that’s how it can work for you too. No special skills, not a lot of money, but the willingness to imagine.”

One question to Chris Guillebeau

Tanmay: Chris, our world of work is changing very fast and people are looking for work that is “challenging, new and interesting” versus “safe, known and routine”. If you had to give ONE piece of advice to young students and professionals about living life on their own terms, what would that be?

Chris Guillebeau: You don’t have to make that choice — there’s not much "safe" work left. Fortunately, the challenging, new, and interesting work is unlimited. If you can’t find it, follow the lead of all the unconventional entrepreneurs in The $100 Startup and create it yourself. All the best!

This is a great book that provides a blueprint for creating freedom by building a business with no special skills and a small amount of money. Life is abundant, possibilities are endless and you are in charge. Personally for me, this book gave me a feeling of abundance, of possibilities that reside within each one of us and how those possibilities take a form when we are determined to live a creative life.

Chris also writes for a small army of remarkable people at ChrisGuillebeau.com. Check out my review of his previous book “The Art of Non-Conformity”.

Leadership, Self-Awareness and A Story

Last week, I delivered a talk at a leading b-school and interacted with final year MBA students who are now ready for their first jobs. Their faces radiated hope and aspiration. To me, they seemed like caterpillars who are changing into butterflies, ready to break the cocoon of academics and enter into the world of work.

My talk started with the topic of self-awareness (also called ‘intra-personal intelligence’) and I emphasized that businesses today need more people who are aware about their strengths (inherent and acquired) and are passionate about what they are doing. In the process, I told them a story of my friend named Nish.

After schooling, when Nish was at the cross road of career selection, he told his father, “Give me an inch of space in electronics and I will make a whole world out of it”. These words came from someone who seemed to be an average student then, but extremely passionate about electronics.

I remember his room with a lot of books, used printed circuit boards and some soldering guns hanging out of the wall. In school days,  when most students remain too busy (and often anxious) doing their assignments and tests, he assembled transistors and explored electronics. His father allowed him and he first took a diploma course in electronics. His grades in diploma allowed him to get a lateral entry into Bachelor of Engineering course. He went on to do his M.S in Satellite Electronics and then a Ph.D. in communication technologies from UK. This long academic journey was fuelled by only one thing: his passion for electronics.

Nish is a successful entrepreneur, a hands-on technologist and a creative human being who also teaches. He identified his strengths early on and built on it.

The journey of building a career is nothing but a quest to seek our strengths and then utilize those strengths fully to make a positive difference. If our goal as students, professionals and seekers is to express ourselves fully in our chosen area of pursuit, all recognitions and extrinsic rewards become a by-product.

The story resonated well with the students and I wish they take clues from it as they embark on the road to professional excellence.

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Similar stories at QAspire:

– Passion in Work: What’s Your Ice-Cream?

Actualizing with the self

Great Quote: Vincent Van Gogh on Profession and Passion

Lifelong Learning: Lesson From A Cab Driver

There was a sparkle in that cab driver’s eyes. A slim, young and enthusiastic fellow who drove me from airport to home while returning from a business travel. His greeting was cheerful and conduct, professional. As the wheels started moving, he initiated a conversation with me about economy, the state of jobs and why he loves driving cabs. He sounded like he carried a unique perspective. His enthusiasm was almost contagious and I was dragged into the conversation without even realizing it!

At one point in the conversation which covered range of topics from jobs to sales, he pulled out his cell phone and played a video recording of what seemed to me like a motivational video. He handed over the phone to me so that I could see/listen to the speech. He later revealed that he spent about 30% of his monthly income to attend this day long seminar by a leading motivational/sales speaker and urged me to find the video somewhere on YouTube.

This guy was amazing because he did not see his background, his job or lack of qualifications as a limitation. Because he taught me that learning has no boundaries. That only pre-requisite to learn new things is to have an open, willing, receptive and curious frame of mind. That you learn the best when you learn it for yourself, not for a degree or an external certification.

I once heard Tom Peters saying that if you are a business traveler, you learn the most not from the corporate executives but from the cab drivers. You really get a perspective about life. I experienced it first-hand.

The next time I need a cab, I know who to call!

Great Story: Improvement and Tending the Garden

Improvement is not a product. It is process. On the journey to improve constantly, you can never announce that you have arrived because there isn’t a destination. If you get certified against an external standard, that is a milestone which can provide a framework to improve further. Organizations often fall in trap of thinking about external certifications like ISO as a destination beyond which they lose the motivation to travel further.

This reminds me of a very interesting story that I read in Subroto Bagchi’s book “The High Performance Entrepreneur”:

A monk was tending to a Japanese garden and meticulously, for hours on end, he was removing dry twigs from the immaculately maintained flowering bushes. A passer-by, who was fascinated by the complete concentration and care of the monk at work, could no longer hold himself. He asked the monk, “O holy one, when will your work be done?”

Without looking up, the monk replied, “When the last dry twig is removed from the garden”.

Bagchi adds,

“An organization, like a garden, is a living thing, and the process of removing dry twigs never ends. So, like the monk, the top management can never say, the job is done.”

Improvement was traditionally associated with growth, that if you constantly improve, you grow and prosper. As competition grew more global and fierce, constant and often dramatic improvements have become essential for mere survival.

For business leaders, it helps to adopt a mindset of Zen gardener and build a culture that strives to improve, before competition forces them to do so.

Related Reading at QAspire Blog

A Story on Importance of Processes: From Subroto Bagchi
Great Quotes: Gems from Subroto Bagchi on Leadership

Enjoy the Process – 2

In 2010, I wrote a post titled “Enjoy the Process”. The central idea of the post was:

“My point is – if we constantly keep our goal in perspective (and get overwhelmed by it), we become less efficient. Anxiousness (and sometimes fear) kills creativity. We rush through the process to see if our efforts are delivering results. Quest for instant gratification can result in sub-optimal outcomes. Focusing on the moment, on task currently on our hands enables us to fully express ourselves. One of the best gifts we can give ourselves is to enjoy the work while we are doing it (being in the moment) – and expressing our skills fully. It is both gratifying and satisfying.”

In his recent post “The Fruits of our Labors”, the awesome Steve Pressfield nailed it with a story of Cole Porter:

“I read a story about Cole Porter when he was writing songs for the movies. Sometimes the producers would shoot him down. He’d play them his newest tune and they’d reject it. They’d kick him out of the office. I loved his reaction:

“I got a million of ‘em.”

Cole Porter was a pro. He knew he didn’t have just one song, or ten songs, or a hundred and ten songs. He had a lifetime supply.

In other words, music wasn’t Cole Porter’s job, it was his career. It was his calling. It was his love. He was in it for the long haul, come rain or come shine (wait, that was Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer). He was in it for the process, not the product.”

Steve further concludes:

“Where is the joy in writing, dancing, film-making, or any art or entrepreneurial venture? It’s not in the praise; it’s not in a paycheck. (Though there’s nothing wrong with praise or paychecks.) It’s in the work itself. The sweat of it and the grind of it and the happy moments when it gets rolling all by itself. Krishna said that’s all we have a right to, and he hit the nail on the head. The joy is private and silent.”

Read Steve’s full post here.

A Steve Jobs Story on Simplicity and Focus

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is on my reading list and I was curious to have some initial reviews about the book. Matthew E. May recently reviewed the book on his blog.

In a post titled “The Zen Master of Subtraction: Steve Jobs”, Matt shares some very interesting stories/snippets about how Steve Jobs generated extreme focus by virtue of elimination.

I borrow the following story from his blog:

Once a year Jobs took his most valuable employees on a retreat, which he called “The Top 100.” They were picked based on a simple guideline: the people you would bring with you if you could only take a hundred people with you on a lifeboat to your next company. At the end of the retreat, Jobs would stand in front of a whiteboard (he loved whiteboards because they gave him complete control of a situation and they engendered focus) and ask, “What are the ten things we should be doing next?” People would fight to get their suggestions on the list. Jobs would write them down, and then cross off the ones he decreed dumb. After much jockeying, the group would come up with a list of ten. Then Jobs would slash the bottom seven and announce, “We can only do three.”

With all the clutter around us, thinking about simplicity is hard. As individuals and organizations, we can do so many things with our abilities that we end up running in different directions to attempt all of them, spreading ourselves thin.

Most people (and organizations) do more on more. More work on more number of priorities. The key is to do more on less – more focus and better execution on a fewer set of priorities. That is what “being lean” is all about – focus on being effective, eliminate clutter, clarify your priorities and then execute like hell.

Check out Matt’s review. I now look forward to reading the book and peek into the life of Jobs.

Leadership: Not Rank But Results!

In organizations, I have seen people who are “designated” as leaders. I have seen many such designated leaders, who raised their game to meet the expectations that come along with leadership. They make an effort to learn about leadership, read books, blogs and consciously put those lessons in action.

On the other hand, I have also seen designated leaders who create a shield of air around themselves. This is where most of the leadership problems stem from, simply because a leadership position flames their ego and just makes them more authoritative. They get too focused on their own selves (heroes in their own minds).

But the best leaders I have seen never paid any attention to their position or rank within the organization. Their focus is external – on doing what is right for the organization/their vision, on developing people around them and in building systems that constantly help them deliver better results. They don’t see themselves as leaders, but let others do that judgment.

I came across a very interesting story of Hewlett-Packard while reading Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline” –

A Hewlett-Packard employee studying the company’s history once asked co-founder David Packard about his theory of leadership. She reported that after a long pause, he said simply, “I don’t know about theories of leadership. Bill [Hewlett, the co-founder] and I were just doing what we loved and were so delighted that people wanted to join us.

Bottom line:

Leadership is not as much about having other people as subordinates/followers, as it is about subordinating to a cause.  It is not as much about charisma, as it is about delivering the right results.

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Related Post: Quick Thought on Leadership and Subordination to a Cause

Employee Engagement: A Story and a Few Resources

People deliver their best work when they are fully engaged with the purpose of their work. In an organizational setting, people only deliver their best when they are engaged with the purpose, vision and values of the organization they work with. Businesses can conduct an employee survey to determine engagement levels. They look at their work as a part of a larger whole – and not just a discrete component.

How do we engage our people? That’s the question many HR leaders, project managers and organizational leaders have been asking. To help them, Ben Eubanks at upstartHR compiled a fantastic and fr.ee eBook on Employee Engagement that features best ideas, specific tips and stories about engagement. The book also features my classic post titled “Engagement, Leadership and Power of Storytelling”. (Download PDF)

Here is the story from the book introduction that I really liked:

A CEO was walking down the hallway of the hospital he managed one day and came across the janitor working. He stopped to talk with him for a few moments and eventually he asked the janitor what he did.

The janitor stopped, turned to the CEO with a completely serious look and replied, “I save lives.” The CEO was taken aback. What was this guy talking about? He’s the janitor, not a heart surgeon.

He continued, “See, when I do my job well and clean the operating rooms and other work areas, the doctors have a sanitary, safe place to do their jobs. I clean things, yes, but in the bigger scheme of things, I’m helping to save lives.” The CEO instantly realized his own “small thinking” and saw that the janitor had a view of the mission of the hospital from an entirely different, yet valuable, perspective.

In my view, great quality of work is a direct result of an engaged team. Employee engagement is a way to ensure that people do a good job, not because they are forced to, but because they want to.

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A few more resources for HR Leaders:

  • Ben Eubanks also compiled an eBook “Onboarding and New Hire Orientation“.
  • David Zinger is a thought leader in employee engagement whom I have admired since long. Check out the “resources” page on his website for some amazing free resources/eBooks/ideas on the all important topic of employee engagement.

Mini Saga: Accepting Differences

Leaders embrace difference because they know the power of differential thinking to build a great team. For smart professionals, one of the most important skills is to accept differences (and learn from them) without taking it personally. Enjoy the story:

Mark joined this new company only a few months back, but he felt frustrated. He frequently had strong debates with his boss over solutions because Mark thought very differently than his boss. This was the reason Mark wanted to quit – and also a reason why his boss had hired him!

Note: A mini saga is a story in exactly 50 words (not 49, and not 51!). This mini-saga is written based  on a real-life experience.

Other Mini-Saga’s at QAspire Blog:

Have a GREAT Friday! Cheers!

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A Story on Importance of Processes: From Subroto Bagchi

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Subroto Bagchi’s book “The High Performance Entrepreneur” has shaped up my entrepreneurial thinking to a very large extent. This is one book that helped me understand the business of doing business. This book journals growth of MindTree from idea to IPO. It offers very interesting insights on some of the most important aspects of building great organizations.

In one of the chapters “Building a Process-Focused Organization”, Subroto Bagchi shares a wonderful story that only underlines the importance of process. Here it goes –

Fuji Xerox was a joint venture between Fuji and Xerox. Fuji Xerox won the legendary Deming Prize for Total Quality Management even before Xerox, the parent company, got the Malcolm Baldridge Award for quality in the US. The gentleman was explaining why process orientation is the key to building competitive success.. Someone asked him vainly, “But Michelangelo followed no process?”

Unflustered, the expert replied, “First, be Michelangelo.”

Everybody else, he said, must follow process.

Recently, someone argued with me stating that just because they are into a creative field, they don’t need process. My take is that even in creative areas, a process is important. Artists, writers and other creative people are still professionals who have to repeat their success. They invariably follow a process (and this is more of a personal process that may not always be visible to everybody). Process is a tool that only makes us more effective as creative professionals.

Subroto Bagchi further argues by saying:

All creative people at that level actually have a strong process orientation, only their version of process is not apparent to the untrained eye. So, if you are looking at building anything memorable, you have to understand and respect process.

That is a million dollar advice for anyone who is building teams and organizations. Here is a #QUALITYtweet from my book that also emphasizes on this very important point:

“Everything we do is a process that can always be improved.”

On Vision and Building a Cathedral

It is unfortunate that I am not finding enough time since last couple of weeks to blog! This is also a reason why last few posts have been crisp and short. Till the time I find more time again (or manage my time better), I would continue to post short blog posts with some interesting snippets of what I read on blogosphere.

I have always loved Robin Sharma’s books, blog posts and now he also tweets. I read this short story at his blog:

Two workers were toiling outside of a huge new structure. The first one was exhausted and disengaged and uninspired. “What are you working on?” he was asked by a passerby. “I’m cutting some stones,” was the curt reply. The other worker was then asked the same question. “Sorry, can’t speak too long,” was the passionate response, “I’m in the process of building a cathedral.”

Day to day grind can be frustrating. It is easy to get carried away by the routine and loose focus. Stories like these help you to regain focus on goals you have set for yourself. Cathedral in the story above is symbolic of vision. Leaders are led by a vision and it is extremely important for leaders to keep their vision always in the sight.

What cathedral are you in process of building?

Have a Wonderful Wednesday!

Importance of Professional Value and a Great Story About Charles Steinmetz

    I wrote earlier about the explicit and tacit value that an individual brings to the organization. But how do you do value-addition?

    According to me, one can add value to the organization by 1) Doing things the way they should be done and finding better ways of doing it 2) Solving critical business problems (technical or organizational)

    In this regards, I re-read a great story about the importance of value over at Management Stories blog. I read this story long time back, but I reproduce it here because of its relevance in the current time.

    Here it goes –

    Charles Steinmetz was once called out of retirement by General Electric to help it locate a problem in an intricate system of complex machines. Having spent some time tinkering with and testing various parts of the system, he finally placed a chalk-marked ‘X’ on a small component in one machine. GE’s engineers promptly examined the component, and were amazed to find the defect in the precise location of Steinmetz’s mark.

    Some time later, GE received an invoice from the wily engineer – for $10,000. Incredulous, they protested the bill and challenged him to itemize it. Steinmetz did so: “Making one chalk mark: $1,” he wrote. “Knowing where to place it: $9,999.”

    GE paid the bill! Charles Steinmetz was a German-US Electrical Engineer who invented Alternate Current (AC) to initiate electrical era in the United States.

    It is when you nurture a particular skill to such a level where you can fix a small component (problem) without losing the sight of the complex machine (organizational perspective) that you start generating exceptional value for the organization. That is my learning from this story.

    Here are a few quotes from the same man who raised a huge bill for a seemingly trivial task!

    • No man really becomes a fool until he stops asking questions.
    • I have succeeded in getting my actual work down to thirty minutes a day. That leaves me eighteen hours for engineering. (Talks a ton about nurturing a skill).

    Benjamin Zander on Possibility and Vision

    Last day of year 2008 – time really flies.

    On this day, I want you spare 20 minutes and watch this video from Pop!Tech where Benjamin Zander  takes a 15 year old cellist’s performance to next level and demonstrates what it means to live in world of possibility. I am indebted to Rajesh Shetty for sharing this. Benjamin Zander is a great teacher and author of a book – “The Art of Possibility”. As a part of his speech, Benjamin Zander tells a great story about looking at possibilities – having an eye for abundance. The story goes like this –

    “In year 1900, two shoe salespeople were sent to Africa to open up new markets. Three days after arriving, one salesperson sent a telegram to his boss and said, “Situation hopeless. Stop. No one wears shoes here.”

    At the same time the other salesperson sent a telegram to his boss telling “Enormous opportunity. No one has shoes here yet.”

    According to Zander, these statements/conversations are not about assessment of circumstances – they are a reflection of attitude. Awesome.

    We were told in Management Development Program that everything happens twice – first in human mind and then externally. We see a stone, and a sculptor sees a beautiful statue waiting to be discovered. Sculptor first envisions a statue and creates a print in his brain – and then he begins sculpting. Sculptor sees a possibility. On the same lines, Zander mentions a great quote from Michelangelo which goes like this – “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

    What is your vision for 2009? What possibilities are you ready to explore? This is a good time to ruminate and connect.

    WISH YOU A HAPPY NEW YEAR!