One of the hallmarks of our times is that thanks to communication technology we have a glut of information. Another is that we have a multitude of communication instruments but we seem to have stopped communicating. Similarly with a surfeit of information we now have a challenge, understanding the reality and even more so, chalking out a path of action that can lead to some positive results.
What I have tried to do is to conceptualize this into 7, steps which are easy to follow and which I use myself to decide on which issues I will tackle and which I will leave alone. That way I am able to conserve my energy so that the things that I focus on get the amount of time and attention they need in order to show results.
The 7 – Steps are:
- 1. Eliminate the noise
- 2. Focus on what you control directly or can influence
- 3. Analyze objectively & face the brutal facts
- 4. Relentlessly measure results – first your own
- 5. Empower people – the doorman is also ‘people’
- 6. Share knowledge & teach implementation tools
- 7. Don’t worry about who gets the credit
1. Eliminate the noise
The first and foremost thing to do is to decide what to „see‟ and what not to. We are faced with multiple media outputs all clamoring for attention. If you give more attention to one then it is at the expense of another. My solution is to create filters in the system so that I am assured that I will only hear what is important from my point of view. What I do is as follows:
1. I don’t read newspapers or watch news channels: If it is important enough someone will always tell you about it. Especially because today newspapers are more about propaganda and less about news. They invent language, twist facts and color events to make them seem the way they want us to see them. I can and do make up my own mind without encouragement from anyone else.
2. I subscribe to two internet news consolidators: One business, one political. They give me a gist of the important happenings without any propaganda. Then I sit back and ask myself some useful questions. We‟ll come to them later.
3. Create filters to ensure you see good information. Analyses of events, situations, trends, circumstances are always useful. That way someone else does some of the work for you. But be aware of the bias of the analyst.
4. Do unto others what you want them to do unto you: That applies also to what you must not do. And the most important of that is NOT forwarding emails mindlessly. It all comes back and so don‟t do it. Delete all forwards mercilessly and tell people to take you off their list for mindless forwards.
5. Remind yourself that:
a. Data is not information
b. Information is not knowledge
c. Knowledge is not wisdom
d. Wisdom is not power
The key in value addition means to un-randomize data and make sense of it. The key phrase when faced with information is to ask: So what?
a. Organized data is information
b. Leveraged information is knowledge
c. Conceptualized knowledge is wisdom
d. Applied wisdom gives power
An ounce is better than a ton of sterile wisdom sitting in books and gathering
2. Focus on what you control directly or can influence
The key is to separate emotion from objective analysis. Emotion is what drives us to action in the first place and so it is very important. But unless we separate emotion from our thinking, planning a clear strategy becomes almost impossible. I use three operative questions for myself:
1. What is in my control and what is not?
a. We can only influence what we control in one way or the other.
So it is essential to clearly identify what factors in a given situation are within our control and which are not. Among those which are not within our direct control may be some which we can indirectly influence to get the desired outcome. We can take those into consideration in our analysis. But factors that are clearly out of our control must be discarded. For example we probably can‟t influence national policy on education but we can certainly educate one poor child.
2. How much do I care about this thing?
a. Given that most things need time, effort and money to be done; I ask myself how much of each I am willing and able to devote. In some cases it may not be necessary or even possible to address all aspects of an issue. So we can choose to address the one where we believe we can create the maximum impact or where we believe we are most suited to contribute.
3. Whose support do I need?
a. Most goals that concern others need the involvement of other people for their accomplishment. The key is to decide who the critical people in this respect are. Not everyone has the same priority. The prioritization must be done strictly on the basis of what the individual can contribute; not who they are. I have seen too many initiatives go nowhere because the implementing body was filled either with big names who had no time or well meaning people who were ineffective and had neither the ability nor the resources to do what needed to be done.
4. Decide what NOT to do
a. A very important step in this whole process is to decide what NOT to do. This is a very deliberate step involving consideration of all factors mentioned above and consciously deciding what the things are that we will not do.
3. Analyze objectively and face the brutal facts
Truly it has been said that the only one you can really fool is yourself. Self deception can be done both individually and collectively by groups and nations. The fact is that reality does not change because we refuse to recognize it.
There are four related steps in this process:
1. Have: Assess your assets and liabilities: What do you have, what can you commit and what are the weaknesses of yourself, your cause or your group?
2. Will: Then decide on what of this you are willing and able to contribute to the cause. Then decide on what the shortfall is, if any and where you are going to fill it from.
3. How Much: Then decide on the metrics to assess your progress. This is often the most difficult as it is the most painful part of the process. There is always a tendency to white wash the results or to make them look less mean or bleak than they actually are.
There is a tendency to talk about all the „hard work‟ that went into the task and then say, “Well you see, after all the results are not in our hands.” This enables us to feel good about failure. But it achieves nothing. I remember a lecture on leadership that I attended at the IIT-Madras by the famous tennis player, Vijay Amritraj. One of the several insightful things that he said humorously was, “We Indians lose in sports because the British left their attitude with us along with their language. When an Indian or an Englishman win a match they shake hands with the loser and say, “Well done old chap! Better luck next time.” But when you lose to an American he says, “You lost!!!” So we need to be brutally frank with ourselves and assess results without any pretentions.
4. What if: Lastly we need to anticipate the risks and make contingency plans. One good way to do that is to conceptualize scenarios and then look at what is in our control and what is not and prepare for eventualities.
5. Empower people
Remember that the doorman is also „people‟. Empowerment is an outcome of respect. Not respect for special people but for everyone. Not a show of respect in terms of rituals or gestures, but genuine respect demonstrated through practice.
- Listening attentively is respect
- Responding thoughtfully is respect
- Disagreeing giving reasons is respect
- Acknowledging contribution is respect
- Being fair, frank, compassionate is respect
- Sharing benefits is respect
6. Share knowledge and teach implementation tools
There are three main questions to answer in this aspect:
1. What do you know?
a. Do a knowledge audit to ascertain the extent of what you know. What more do you need to find out? Where will you get this information from? Many times people and organizations are unable to use what they know because they have no idea what they actually know. This is especially true of on-going learning that individuals acquire in the course of their work. This knowledge, even though it is gained at the expense of the employer, remains the personal property of the individual and leaves with him, the employer never being the wiser. This is an avoidable loss provided you are willing to create a knowledge bank. The knowledge audit is the first step for that. Then this knowledge must be made freely accessible to everyone who is interested in it. You will be amazed how many wonderful ideas come from people because they read something that they would not otherwise have had access to.
2. How much are you willing to share with others?
a. Sharing knowledge is the surest sign of confidence and trust. By all means exercise discretion but do differentiate between reasonable discretion and secretiveness. The latter produces distrust and suspicion.
3. Do you have tools to implement what you know?
a. Finally what is to be done with what you know? How will this impact all the constituents? How can the maximum benefit be derived from this?
b. Teach people the tools for implementing your solutions so that they can do things on their own. Being indispensable may seem nice as it gives the individual a feeling of power but it is very dangerous for the cause to be dependent on prima donna individuals for its success. The broader based the competence the safer is the result.
7. Don’t worry about who gets the credit
This is easier said than done of course. We all have the desire to be recognized and appreciated. The key is to re-define what appreciation and recognition mean to us. If appreciation merely means that people must sing our praises then we may well become blocks to the free practice of our ideas. People use best what they consider their own. In that process they may well forget the initiator. But the idea will be genuinely espoused and implemented. If instead of wanting praise, we look to see who is using our ideas and derive satisfaction from that, then we become catalysts for the proliferation of our ideas. For me the biggest satisfaction is to actually see someone use one of my ideas and call it his own. That means that the idea no longer needs me to support it and can exist on its own.
For the eagle the biggest satisfaction is to see its fledging soar on his own wings, rising on the thermals and staying afloat effortlessly. To know that I taught her how to do that is more satisfying than any medal or material reward that I can get.
References: Excerpt from Sheikh Mirza Yawar Baig Publications