In 100 Words: Invisible Chains

Once there was a circus Lion who was so tamed/trained that he never knew about his real strengths. He was then left in the jungle where real Lions lived. Upon seeing other Lions, the tamed Lion started running fiercely driven by fear until he saw his own reflection in a pond. He realized that he was also a Lion as powerful as others.

Metal chains are easier to notice but mental chains of our past experiences, fixed beliefs and perceived limitations are invisible. Mental chains are best broken with curiosity, openness to new experiences/ideas and an attitude of lifelong learning.

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Also Read: Other Insights and Parables in 100 Words

Interdisciplinary Thinking

Technology and sociology are two different disciplines. But when technology transcended the boundary and met sociology (or the other way around) – social media was born. It completely transformed how we communicate, consume information and sell.

If you are playing a guitar, you are dealing with two disciplines. The art of dynamically arranging musical notes in a certain sequence AND the physics of how sound is produced – i.e. stroking the strings that create vibrations in a hollow space to produce music.

New ideas, knowledge, solutions and innovation happens beyond the boundary of one discipline. In a dynamic world that we live in, problems are never clearly defined and solutions have to evolve as the understanding of problem or context evolves.

In an evolutionary environment, possibilities are endless and to tap into these possibilities, we need more interdisciplinary thinking. We need to transcend the boundaries of our specialization and understand the whole system we operate in.

Only then can we create new knowledge, learn holistically, solve interesting problems and drive innovation.

Specialization is a Journey, Not a Destination

I recently read this amazing quote from Robert A Heinlein which nicely captures the essence of my own belief about learning and specialization.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, fight efficiently, die gallantly.

Specialization is for insects.”

Let me share a story of my friend who was laid off in the 2002 dot com bust. He worked on a technology that was on its way to obscurity. After he was asked to leave, my friend walks up to his boss and talks about what organization needed then. Boss talked about a customer who wanted people who could work on a shiny new programming language. My friend took up the challenge to retool himself on this new technology in one month with a condition that if he failed at client interview, he will walk out voluntarily.

He worked very hard to learn the new language. Before he completed one month of his notice period, he not only cleared the interview with a customer but also landed on foreign shores for an onsite opportunity.

From a layoff situation to an exciting new possibility in a very tough economic environment is a truly inspiring story of our ability to reinvent ourselves.

We live in times when change is not only constant but unnervingly rapid and our ability to learn constantly is the single biggest differentiator. My friend demonstrated learning agility as a response to a tough situation. But we, in this hyper-connected world, don’t need to wait for any rude shocks. We have glorious opportunity because knowledge is democratized and ubiquitous. Connecting meaningfully with others has never been so easy, provided we are intentional about it.

Specialization is not a destination but a journey. Of constant learning. Of applying our lessons in unique business contexts. Of evolving our comprehension and connecting the dots. Of sharing our lessons generously. Of doing something about what we know. Of picking up new skills. Of adopting and adapting.  Of staying hungry and foolish forever.

I have seen so many specialists who cannot let go of what they know already. When fixed knowledge is the only hammer you have, every problem you encounter will start looking like a nail.

The key is to NOT let that happen!

Go Thinking!

Our thinking sets us apart as professionals. It determines our success and our future.

Yet, I see so many people who are always in “doing” mode. Even when they have a few solitary moments, they would pull out their cell phone and start checking their text messages or worst, play games! They literally hunt to find things that can fill their time.  Their minds are programmed to do stuff. To always be in “act” mode.

Doing stuff, executing is extremely important because all progress depends on how well we execute the ideas. But pre-requisites for executing well is to have a good idea and a thoughtful plan to execute it. Be it your project, your people, your career or your family – thinking before doing is crucial.

I do a very interesting exercise with my team members and friends. I give them a central idea or a problem statement and ask them to think about it for 10 minutes. They need to come back to me with their take on the idea and whatever they were able to think about it. Since they are not used to dedicate a time slot for thinking, they hit the wall. Their mind just stops.

Eventually, as I do this more and more with them, they start opening up. Their brain cells start ticking and they come back with ideas, thoughts and solutions. It takes time, but this exercise can work wonders. Our brain needs conditioning and environment to think.

Personally for me, early morning is the best time to ruminate and reflect upon my subject, priorities and things that occupy my mind space.

Idea is to allocate some part of your day to active thinking on your subject, your project, your career and your priorities in life. Silence is important, so is solitude.

So let you be alone, let your cell phone be switched off for a while, let your brain go on a thoughtful ride. I can tell you, that the ride is completely worth it.

As one of my mentors say – “Man who lives without thinking is a two-legged animal.”