Monday, May 25, 2015

Compensation in ‘respectability’ – the Doctoral Pursuit

Corporations are competitive places to survive in. They house employees who are perceived to align with corporate objectives. They have been to reward the more aligned, based on what is now bandied about as ‘performance’. There are also those nooks and corners in corporations, where performance is incidental to the employee’s presence. Some of these employees are seen as ‘solid citizens’ and are some of the most procedurally compliant lot. They acquire onerous goodwill due to their dependable character and predictable nature. You don’t mess with these people if you know that they have a place in your heart.

But, they are not as satiated as their top managements may like them to be. So, the guy was given this office near the men’s room corner, and a pay grade lower than the executive cadres - with a title that could at best win the respect of a campus recruit. Denied the status and the merit based promotion cycle he is left wondering what aspect of loyalty failed him the next title and pay-grade.

Compensation in ‘self-worth’ – the ‘elixir’ of philosophy

So he rationalises it to be his pedigree – not the ivy league college degree, or the mother-tongue accented English conversation, or for that matter neglected acts of fine dining when hosting clients or government officials. So he decides to earn a title beyond the workplace. This time its going beyond the evening MBA. It’s a full doctoral program, course-work, and mini-thesis all rolled into an ongoing corporate problem that needs a fresh insight.

Numerous nouveau-riche institutions, make the beeline for retired executives and retiring ones with a noble exterior of respectability. Education plays the great leveller, after all, with knowledge having no favourites among learners. And learning is a virtue, that corporations can live with. Consumptive knowledge brings one closer to monetary value. But learning for learning sake does not necessarily guarantee more money instantly. Yet, it can salvage lost pride, as such is the inherent virtue of the transformations of learning.

Old habits die-hard

And when I saw an online appeal for ‘executive MBA’ students to help in the literature surveys, it was quick to get my attention. The learner in me awakened. To my horror, the posting was on behalf of Research scholars, who wished to outsource their literature survey, design of questionnaire for interviews, and interactions with industry leaders! Wow, some scholars these – even the methods of enquiry are finalised before the literature survey has ended. Rich students paying lesser students in the guise of learning! I can well imagine, how lost both outsourcer and the outsourced would be. To make matters crisp, let me lay out the following.

1.       Outsourcing a research project assumes that the researchers are trained and competent to design the research process, collect data, analyse information and makes inferences that are consistent with the method of science.
2.       Expecting untrained literature surveyors to execute research is like a surgeon expecting a barber to perform surgery for want of resources, including that of time.
3.        A PhD is about the method of science, and not the execution of procedural tasks bereft of the scientific mind-set.
4.       Internalizing the method of science within the researcher is a major differentiator in the research process. Why otherwise would a research scholar attempt trial-and-error research efforts with novices?
5.       A quest for a title cannot be unanchored in principle, purpose or ethics of the discipline. Can an aspiring guitarist ask free hands to tune strings without one’s will to strum it?

Parting Questions : 
1. How is the method of science different from other forms of knowing, for which you truly aspire to be a research scholar?
2. What's even more important to you than your self-worth, and the pleasure of learning for which you are taking up a research question in a scientific process?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Your mirage is not your father's horizon

Recently, someone on my professional network got in touch for some advice. It is as you may imagine in the litany of woes, that first comes as a statement of need, but hides the deeper need within. Seldom does the first expressions of requests for professional help, get to the real issue. The presenting issue and the latent issue at the core are different. This time though, I am writing about the content because it is hugely disconcerting to know that fellow professionals reach out for help and struggle to articulate their situation for what it is. To commence with,  brief narrations of the days gone by.
Caselet 1 : She was aspiring to learn under some industry greats, with a veteran in influential governance of the firm itself, and a heard name in the industry reporting to him as functional head. Both were PhDs and that mattered to the aspiring professional. But all the new joinee got in an apparently ‘global’ exposure role was a transactional overdose with a bully attitude in the  functional head. With not much to ‘learn’ as it were, she wanted a way out of the rather stifling situation, including opting out of thecity itself. Relocation was stated to be small price for overcoming this disillusionment. The tipping point as it were came, when the aspirant was accused of being from a lesser than A grade institutional pedigree.
 Issue : How can she face up to a bully at work, without giving up on her professional aims?
Caselet 2 : In another instance, a bundle of enthusiasm is struggling to re-enter a vocation after a rather unlucky attempt at the civil services. In this case, the person not only rose up the ranks, but also got through to a premier institution for a management education. After being selected from B-School to a prosperous industrial house for an ambitious project, the venture ran out of steam, and the lad was summarily re-assigned to a role he was not trained for. Then he joined another set of companies and did the grind only to find the thrill was gone. Assuming civil services to be the route to salvation, he has resigned to the advent of time after failing to clear the entrance exams. On presenting his credentials, no employer he has approached has been favouring his zest for life, let alone brisk learning in volatility. He is earning his bread teaching young students to fare well in their competitive exams.
Issue: How can he orient himself to a society that does not appreciate downturns in business and careers as passing phases or crucibles that can be leveraged for success?
So what is it that bothers me? What can similarly challenged professionals do to cope?
  1. In India, irrespective of gender, it is not perceived as honorable or normal to voice displeasure, discomfort or sheer victimization. SPEAK FROM YOUR HEART, ALRIGHT; BUT APPEAL TO YOUR SENSES, NEVER MIND THE UNCERTAINTY.
  2. When in this vortex like grip of an emotional downturn, clarity is not only the casualty – it is also the mirage. OTHERS KNOW FROM A FEW OBSERVATIONS WHAT YOU WILL NOT IN YOUR MILLION SIGHTS. THE EYES CANNOT SEE THEMSELVES.
  3. A zillion words from a few hundred people cannot assuage your feelings as the voice that comes from within you. ENERGISE YOUR PURPOSE in LIFE, BECAUSE ENERGY FEEDS ON ENERGY – YOUR ENERGY.
  4. If you feel you are not the one to sign your father’s tax returns’ will it prevent you from speaking your wealth of truth to him fearing that you may upset him? NO MATTER WHAT, BULLIES DRAW THEIR POWER FROM YOUR SUBMISSION TO THEIR NEED FOR PITY. DISEMPOWER THE BULLY WITH A CALM VOICE, UNHURRIED FREEDOM AND YOUR DISARMING SMILE. This may need practice, but what is your current option anyway?
  5. Even though they may not know it, the ‘idiots’ you have to work with may be your best teachers, with lessons coming at you faster than your preparedness to fail. While the process is mutual, this point is reserved for the traditionally rigid and orthodox boss. YOU DON’T HAVE TO PUB YOUR WAY TO YOUR TEAM MEMBERS’ HEARTS. SHOW THEM THEIR HEARTS MATTER WITH YOUR ACTIONS THAT IMPACT THEIR EMPLOYABILITY. AVOID screaming AT THEM.
It is as you may well agree, not a singular view that describes our composite reality. What is your experienced reality in such respects? Do our generations need to meet each other? Do they want to understand each other after all?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Community as a Safe Place

Movement through groups and between people will be unique, from moment to moment; even amongst the same persons.

There are unique identities in individuals. Formal workplaces too have their own identities. When these social entities begin to adopt structure over process, there is a reduction in the experience of individuals in the group. Then conversation by conversation, the group itself becomes less than a community – less friendly, and less safe.

To be vital, vivacious and energizing, a crisis can become an opportunity even among strangers, if the cause unites them to community. Expecting community by accident is not everyone’s option, however. Here are some ideas for how we may initiate our designs for community. But before we go there - a snippet that places the safety dimension upfront.

A science journalist was given an appointment with the famous Dr. Einstein. In the fall of day, the journalist said, “I have only one question. We’re asking every scientist we can find the same key question. The question is : What is the most important question that a scientist can ask?” Acknowledging the might of the question, Dr. Einstein was sure it deserved a serious response. After quiet stretching on his rocking chair, in pensive reflection, Dr. Einstein stunned the reporter. “Young man, the most important question that any person can ask is whether or not our universe is a friendly place”. 

Significance of Questions? We get answers that mean something to us

On pondering over its significance, Einstein elaborated “It is the answer to that question that determines what we do with our lives. If the universe is a friendly place, we will spend our time building bridges. Otherwise, people use all their time to build walls. We decide! I learnt of this story from Marilyn Atkinson, my Master coach, from the Erikson Institute. Along with this story, I got in touch with the power of many aspects of our social brain, some of which I will attempt to narrate
. Of course, it is YOU who will decide on how you will use this sharing from me.            

1.        Friendly disposition could be pseudo-community, and yet, lonely forays are the greater risk!
Being friendly and nice, seem important and necessary. However, vigil is called for when you see instant agreement, experience extreme pleasantness and witness quick conformance. The making of community requires time, and the experience of sacrifice. Do we quickly sell ourselves to people who withhold their own feelings and truths about themselves? Being included implies that time is invested mutually in each other. If this phase of getting to know people seems difficult, then try joining the pack!

2.        It’s because of….CHAOS! –

 Individual differences take time to surface, to express and to understand. The tense attempt to ‘convert’ others to their point of view is often an untested plan going berserk! “No, it’s because of this..” is the common refrain for lack of community. In an age of abundant diversity unlocked by age, gender, language, creed and faith, non-constructive and non-creative struggle is the epicenter of chaos. And you thought YOU were normal! Normalsing others is the under-reported radicalism of our age. Vitality is heard in the voice of struggle, and is a shade better than pseudo-community. Chaos is the outward activity that precedes inner awareness. It is so for individual members, and therefore for the group as a whole.

3.        Emptiness as a bridge between Chaos and Community –

Communication barriers can stifle the transition from individuality to community.  Preconceptions, prejudices, ideology and activity addiction are some of the ways in which noise permeates our relationships. Silence is the freedom from these noises, an emptiness in which the need to control others is overcome. The surrender into vulnerability is a multi-faceted dance between visions of clarity and the sharing of brokenness, defeats, inadequacies and shortcomings. Blocking out expressions of pain, suffering and forbearance are resistances composed of pretenseful shields against irrational or illusory fears. Death of pseudo-community is also the ability of members to recognize their capacity to die for each other, when the calling is through such mutual understanding of crisis and opportunity. Emptiness can precede truly powerful community. When authentic expressions are made, our social intelligence picks up threads of opportunity of the larger collective good. Humility perseveres despite myriad odds. Mindless group unconsciousness is no threat to the humble, who sense the emptiness to follow as vital to community.

4.         Community -  

Comme une –in the French language literally suggests – as one. Quiet ensues hard emptiness with soft eyes and deep listening, when community emerges from the emptiness of overcoming prejudice, invalid preconceptions and obsessions with ‘normalizing’ others. One-size fits all rules assumptions in large corporations today. In community, even a paradoxical decision may be taken as to whether it should maintain itself in the first place. In more presenceful or aware groups,  the discretionary wisdom to sense suppression from repression is a living reality. The world out there is fearful of not earning a living, when genuine wealth comes from giving of oneself to others. This oneness from human love is a deep joy, that dares community to greater glory of responsible power respectful of mutual needs. 

In community, inclusion yields consensus, commitment breeds realism, humility begets contemplation and the notion of safety is through an assured laboratory of personal disarmament. Yes, graceful conflict occurs when people realize their collective - as a group of leaders - unafraid to express and willing to listen, in a spirit’ of peace. 

Sounds or reads idealistic? 
This note is adapted from the works of Martin Scott Peck – particularly, his book – The Different Drum. It is written as an invitation to youthful leaders –to- be , so that they can be realistically open to the possibility of community, as they transition to focus on workplaces