Monthly Archives: August 2012

Back in two…….hmmm?

World ClocksIt’s a common (sloppy, I would say) expression that is used these days – I have even heard it used on newschannels such as CNBC. As a physicist, it was rammed hard into me, back in school, that the units are even more important than the numbers. “If I send you to buy eggs, I would rather you return with the wrong number of eggs than the right number of something else”, my physics teacher used to say.

It’s easy to think the meaning is obvious – “in this context it’s obvious it must mean two minutes”, you might say.  It becomes habit. Imagine then, talking to someone far away, in another culture, not accustomed to this expression, where traffic jams and a laid back life are the norm – it will not be too difficult to see how the meaning could easily be mistaken to be two hours, two days or even two months!

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers” talked about how lapses in communication (because of a lack of clarity and mitigation of the urgency of a message) have resulted in airplane disasters. Another airplane crash investigation I watched in National Geographic’s “Air Crash Investigation” series traced the cause of the crash to be confusion between the the metric and imperial systems of measurements.

We all think in terms of different units – and that’s fine, but why can’t we just be clear about what we mean? How much effort does it take to utter the two syllabus “mi-nutes” or the words for any other units for that matter? I wish we all would make it a good habit to state our units – we really don’t need a huge disaster to happen before we realise how easy it is to avoid some risks.

Risk Taking

In life, we must take risks to move forward. “Dive into the depths of darkness in an elevator and fall to my death?” you might think, cynically. No, I mean we must take calculated risks and where possible we should engage in strategies to manage and mitigate these risks. Sometimes, of course, despite doing the calculations, we are taken by surprise and a catastrophe results – we then investigate, do post-mortems and hope the world will learn and do better next time.

If bold risks were never taken, we would not be enjoying fabulous air travel today. Yet, sometimes the risks taken end in catastrophic air crashes; some of these, we think, would have been avoided with better care and planning. There is a fine balance. This subject is very topical today, with corporate success and corporate failures, both bigger in scale than ever before, seen everywhere. This is my first post in this new blogging category I have created and I hope to add to this discussion in the future.

My takeaway from the book “Express to Impress” – by Darren Tay

Express to Impress – by Darren Tay

My friend, Darren, a 23-year old with many accomplishments already, invited me to his book launch, held yesterday, which I was happy to attend. Darren recently graduated with a law degree and was on the Dean’s list, he is a champion public speaker within Toastmasters International and is now an entrepreneur, having started his own ‘Public Speaking Academy’.

I hadn’t planned on buying the book before the event, as I already have many on public speaking. However, it was quite inexpensive, with an attractive discount at the launch event, only about 170 pages long, and well, what can I say, my curiosity got the better of me – I am always drawn to books.

What I like about the book is that it is refreshing and original. There are a gazillion books on public speaking and I had earlier thought – “what could be new about this one?” Yet, it is very much based on the writer’s personal experiences and perspectives. The stories, anecdotes and lessons learnt are uniquely the author’s and therefore to me, the book has been an interesting read.

The takeaway for me, and for any aspiring writer, is just that. No matter how beaten up a subject may be, an author’s own unique experience and stories brought to life somehow have a way of connecting with readers’ souls!

Book Review: The Age of Unreason – by Charles Handy

The Age of Unreason – by Charles Handy

Everyone gets something different out of a book. The opinions here are mine only.

“…there always comes a moment in time when a door opens and lets the future in…”     –  Graham Greene

This book was published in 1991. I read it at the end of 2010, almost 20 years later. The fact that I found the book so relevant almost 20 years after it was written is testimony to the author’s powerful insight into the changes taking place in the workplace and in our way of life.

Charles Handy speaks of demographic, technological, social structure and value changes affecting society in a discontinuous way. Formal organizations, he says, will be less important and more people will be outside these organizations. There will be more freedom and choice regarding how people work and live; and more people will have a “portfolio of jobs” instead of a job title. On the flipside, more choices and greater emphasis on individual achievement could mean the stronger are better off and the weak worse off, unless there is, ingrained in society, a strong ethic of support and encouragement.

Let us take stock, for a moment, of what we are seeing in the world today. With baby boomers closer to retirement age, the pyramid structure of organizations is under increasing strain. Technological changes, while applauded for increasing productivity and improving our lives, mean that different jobs have to be created in order to keep people at work (otherwise unemployment goes up and we are seeing this too). Ethics go out of the window when the rich don’t care (look at high profile Ponzi schemes, banking scandals and the like), adversely affecting millions of ordinary people. Yet, the work of philanthropists (like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and others) helps lift some out of poverty. This all fits in very well with what Handy puts forth in “The Age of Unreason”.

For those wanting to fathom the changes that we are seeing and are to come in the world and figure out how to be prepared rather than be shocked, “The Age of Unreason” provides an excellent pair of lenses from which to put it all into perspective.

Book Review: The 3rd Alternative – by Stephen Covey

The 3rd Alternative – by Stephen Covey

The 3rd Alternative - Stephen CoveyEveryone gets something different out of a book. The opinions here are mine only.

The gems….

It really is worth operating in the way Stephen Covey advocates and instilling this as a part of our DNA. The “Talking Stick” concept, in the spirit of the African “Ubuntu” principle, is one I would like to see practiced. The “Talking Stick” is passed from one person to another – when the person with the stick does the talking, no one else is allowed to interrupt except to ask for clarification. Later, the listeners are tasked with re-stating the speaker’s point of view, emotions and all, to the satisfaction of the speaker. This last phrase, “to the satisfaction of the speaker” is critical. It ensures proper listening and empathy – all too often lacking in discussions. From there, the parties transcend to find novel solutions not thought of previously.

Covey cites great examples of where this has worked and these are certainly worth studying.

The challenges….

It is a long book. In places, I felt it could be more concise. The examples cited are great but as with many great ideas, there are obstacles to implementing them widely in practice. How can organizations (so entrenched in shareholder value and measureable outcomes) convince shareholders that they are investing time wisely, tackling the root of problems, while their competitors get better rewarded for churning out profits? Another problem – after all the listening and empathizing, what if there is a fundamental difference in relative importance of values upheld by both parties? Things can get pretty complex.

Concluding remarks

I believe there is a lot to be gained by applying the methods in the book to problems of the world. It is most likely, though, that as with all great ideas, the book will be read and people will go back to the daily trudge of life unless a widespread effort is made to train everyone in this and make a revolutionary change in the way we do things. I for one will be bought over more if I begin to see TV debates applying the “Talking Stick” method in earnest, instead of pitting one opinionated person against another.

Hello world!

This is my first blog ever. I hope to add a new post at least once a week and get your comments. Let’s get better!