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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reclassify your relationship skills

Many of our skills, such as programming, can be learnt by one's individual efforts, understanding the topic in details, simulating different situations to test one's ability, correcting oneself on the drawing table and then be able to practice it in a 'live situation'. I call them off-line skills.

Relationship skill is however an online skill, because it can only be learnt by practicing it in 'live situations'. It is a product of using/misusing our Type 1 mind. Relationship skill is the derivative of Type 1 mind.

And because it is online skill that is derived from the way you use Type 1 mind, you already have a developed ( or undeveloped) relationship skill that you have unconsciously learnt from your parents, friends, and even movies, serials and stories. If your relationship skill is effective in managing your relations with others, you are lucky. In earlier days, the chances of developing this skill was high because we and our fathers/grandfathers had lot of opportunities in developing and fine-tuning our relationship skills.

If we lived in joint family, we could depend on many siblings and relatives to teach us the basics of relationship skill such as listen fully before you talk, or understand the unique drivers of a person to relate with someone, use different kind of powers such as persuasive power, ownership power or positional power. If we lived in small towns ( which had not Walmartised@ itself to only include transactional relationships) , we had siblings and families that exposed us to variety of relationships with unequal power, incompatible habits, irreconcilable beliefs, and diametrically opposite attitudes.

Our children are not so lucky. They confront the worst possible situations that inhibit ( and sometimes actively discourage) development of relationship skill. We have nuclear families with fixed pattern of relating. Sometimes siblings are also not present to provide enough differences. TV and computers have further reduced the 'interaction-time'. Friends are only from a specific 'strata' that pose only one kind of pattern.

If you are from one of these families, you have a big mountain to climb, because you are not only very immature in relating with people, but - more importantly - you are not even aware that you have a poorly developed relationship skill. As relationship skill is a product of Type 1 mind, none of your relations will tell you something is wrong with you because you will 'find' friends who are 'like you', you will work in 'familiar situations' with 'known bosses', you will convert your 'children' in your mirror-image. Type 1 mind manages to find 'coherency' in everything.

You find something is wrong in your relationship skill only
  • when you cannot 'execute' big ideas because you cannot 'collaborate' with someone
  • when you are comfortable only with people who listen to you all the time
  • when your daughter grows young and wants to 'pursue' her own interests which are different than yours.
  • when you will find something 'wrong' in others all the time
  • when you are uncomfortable with your 'aloneness' 
  • when you seek 'validation' from others for whatever you do
  • when you keep on aping someone else's goals and dreams throughout your life
Because Type 1 mind manages relationship unconsciously, it never lets you 'detect' the relationship problem unless you consciously deploy Type 2 mind. But because Type 1 mind often manages with its unconscious package of heuristics, intuitive judgements, and 'rapid calculations', it is often difficult to undo this 'unconscious package' later in life. The longer one takes in detecting, the more difficult it is to undo the package of Type 1 mind.

Often corporate executives who succeed in 'corporate life' fall in a different trap. They conflate relationship skill with 'social relationship skill'. As they become adept at managing one kind of relation: the social relation (where the exchange between two people is transactional, either of money or in kind in 'return' of something) they feel confident in dealing with people. They become overconfident (overconfidence is also a trait of Type 1 mind) and often use the same 'style of relating' with their friends and family, which are dense relations. It is these dense relations which enable us to challenge our beliefs, force us to confront reality and find meaning in our lives. Because they get stuck up in 'social relation', they never get an opportunity to utilise dense relations ! Only big upheavals ( such as big financial loss, loss of a job, or deaths of near ones) in their life can challenge them to question their belief and heuristic set! Biographers then tell us that people need failures to succeed in life!

We all know that 'relationship skill' is critical to do anything in life: be it negotiating the pay rise, collaborating with colleagues or finding satisfaction in one's life. Unfortunately, Type 1 mind does not know that relationship skill is classified in three types: Social ( transactional), dense-social (collaborative) and dense ( with spouse and close friends). Because we never understand this distinction, we never exploit its fullest potential, nor do we train the Type 1 mind with appropriate heuristics and cues.

We shall see later how the relationship skill of 'dense-social' and 'dense' types can be learnt by altering Type 1 mind and reconfiguring the 'complementary relation' between Type 1 and 2 mind.

@Walmartised living: This is the term used by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer in The Gardens of democracy to define a state in which because people 'lose' touch with each other because of overreliance on laws and rules to govern every day interaction. People also lose their ability to judge each other and trust. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why intelligence is not enough to build talent

Many professionals confuse intelligent mind with rational mind. So here is a short summary of how our mind works. We have two minds: Type 1 and Type 2.** 

Type 1 is fast, automatic, and subconscious. It is quick, dirty and parallel, and requires little energy.  Type 1 uses all kind of rough heuristics (thumb rules) to come to conclusions and solve problems, even if they are imprecise. It is prone to all kind of biases. When you want to leave company because of a bad boss, it is your Type 1 mind taking the quick decision for you. When you chose a job on a impulse which turns out to be good, it is your hindsight bias that tells you that you have taken a good decision, even though you had taken the decision on impulse. 

Type 2 is slow, deliberate and conscious. It is therefore energy-consuming, slow and serial. Type 2 consists of algorithmic and reflective mind. While Algorithmic mind is linked to intelligence (measured by IQ) which helps us represent the world 'cognitively' and therefore help us manipulate it for our purpose, Reflective mind is the rational mind which uses  thinking skills such as logical, scientific and normative thinking. The division of reflective and algorithmic mind explains why intelligent people can behave irrationally and can fall prey to Ponzi schemes.

Ideally, one has to achieve the right balance between Type 1 and Type 2. Type 2 is the mind that helps solve problems, set goals, reflect on our experience and learn, but it also requires effort and energy. As the Noble Laureate Daniel Kahneman says, we are 'cognitive misers'. We avoid taking any mental effort as far and as long as we can. That is our natural tendency, so to say. So we rely on Type 1 processing even when it is harmful to us and even when the evidence against using it is infront of us.

Because of overuse of Type 1, we tend to take 'instinctual easy decisions', instead of 'right decisions'. Because of Type 1, we copy the decisions of friends and colleagues and then spend time in damage control. We blindly follow the logic of Type 1 mind and then waste huge effort in clearing the mess. Here are some of my examples that I have seen of Type 1 overreliance: 

  1. Asit jumped from one company to another, even when everything was going right in his first job: his boss was right, his 'area' of work is right. But he changed the company because he believed in the thumb rule that 'one must change job after 3 years, if one has to grow quickly'.  He landed a job with 50% hike, but also landed with a wrong company. And then he approached me for damage control ! 
  2. Parag left a job in US after 8 years, came to India with the hope that he will be 'grabbed' by the companies. Only when he started looking for the job, he was shocked to see, as he said, 'how the companies were exploiting his job-less situation'. A typical trait of Type 1 is overconfidence and therefore being unaware of market realities.
  3. Jeevan, a CA, joined a software company, because he got a very 'big starting salary in 2005. In 2011, he met me because he was dissatisfied that 'he was not using even 10% of what he learnt in his chartered accountancy'. He was unable to leave his job, because he was handcuffed in the 'golden chain'. On the one hand, companies could not offer him higher salary because he had no relevant experience of accountancy. On the other hand, he was unable to start from 'scratch' in accounting. Another case of wasting time to clear the mess ! 

What can you do?

When I coach individuals, I ensure that they learn at least two skills to stop overuse of Type 1.

One is the skill of sensing a situation to override Type 1Type 1 is always in a hurry and gives you the necessary confidence to negotiate daily situations with grace and ease. One therefore has to develop a 'sense' to detect situations that should be processed by Type 2. Unless this 'sense' is developed, one tends to 'follow' the Type 1 mind recklessly. One of the way to increase our 'sensitiveness' is to check the heuristics (thumb rules) that one is employing unconsciously. For instance, Asit should have checked his heuristic of "changing job in 3 years' before acting on it. 

Second skill is to enhance the 'logical skill' of Type 2. For instance, when one appreciates the unintended and ancillary consequences of taking various decisions and actions, one is able to compensate for the logical consequences of an action proactively. This skill simultaneously enables the 'sensing and detection ability'.
For instance, if Jeevan had understood the consequences of taking up a software job after doing CA, he could have simultaneously taken 'proactive steps' such as 'taking finance assignments in software company', or finding products like SAP finance to use his CA skills. On the one hand, this would have helped him 'polish' his finance skills ( keeping his other options open)  and also helped him find 'satisfaction' in the software job itself.  And if he found his 'satisfaction' in software job itself, why would he need to find another job to use his CA skills? ( The problem is dealt at the root level!) 

** Read any of the Daniel Kahneman's book on psychology. He is Noble Prize winner of 2002.  His latest book, Thinking Fast and slow, is worth a read.