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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

One liner definition of Career success

Last week,i had gone to the college to talk on 'Steps to take to join corporate life'.A student asked me a question ' What is a definition of successful career?' Here is an attempt to write what i said.

Career is successful when 'you can remain apart in your work-life system while becoming part of it'. The balance between becoming part and remaining apart is dynamic; it has to be constantly maintained; not just achieved once. 

The word 'system' is used with a specific meaning. It is not a political system, or religious system, or an IT system. It is not a system of rules and procedures. A system 'is an interdependent connection of elements that together interact with each other to achieve a purpose'. 

Work-life systems

For instance, in your work-life, you engage with a team: a job-system where 'you work with other team members in a given constraints of rules to achieve a useful work-output that market values'. When you become 'part' of your job-system, you flow with the work; you enjoy the company with your team and your skills are utilised. Excellent work-output is produced. We achieve what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls, the state of flow and happiness

But being part of job-system is not enough to sustain extraordinary performance in a job. Doing a job for a short time is possible by just being part of the job system. But to sustain the interest over a long time, it is important that you remain apart from it. To remain apart, you must have a 1000 feet perspective of your work. This enables you to see how your work fits with others in the sequence. You can view the 'whole' that your work is 'part of'. You can have 'insights' that can make a difference to work. You can convert the team's work-output better by 'managing' the 'external elements of work'.

More importantly, when you view your job-role from a distance, you can relate work with rest of your life and understand that work is not just for earning money. You can find your 'meaning' in work. Finding meaning is a personal journey that we explored in other blog. I may find meaning in working in software, while you may find meaning in working in education. We may take help from others, but we cannot borrow our meaning from others. Even if you may get money from your work by being part of your job system, you will remain 'dissatisfied' when you cannot remain  apart in your job- system.

Other sub-systems of work-life are skill-market system that helps you monetise your given skills, metasystem that helps you gain support from others, skill-arithmetic system that helps you grow your skills. 

Importance of self-awareness  

Students and professionals feel that it is 'waste of time' to see work beyond money and skills. But when one fails to engage in self and find meaning in work, one can become successful for a while, but cannot sustain successful performance for long. Like what happened with Tiger Woods. In one stroke, his extraordinary talent in Golf was brought to naught. 

Or take another example of a corporate stalwart: Rajat Gupta. (Google his name to find his excellent work-record) Here is one professional who has achieved the best in his life: Money, recognition and contribution.Rajat Gupta, is the most prominent corporate figure indicted in a broad US government crackdown on insider trading, accusing him of supplying Rajaratnam with business secrets between March 2007 and January 2009 while serving on the boards of Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Procter & Gamble.  

On the other hand, when one can balance between being part and apart of work-life system, one can find options which none have ever thought.See what Nandan Nilekani did with his work-life. Or what some professionals like Nishanth Baranwal and Vaibhav Lodha are doing ( by becoming consultants to Ministers) to make a difference on a grand scale. 

Work-life success therefore depends on maintaining this 'dynamic balance' between being part of a job-system and remaining apart from a job-system. When professionals succeed, they achieve this 'balance' automatically and unconsciously. They do not even understand what have they done to achieve it. They sense that something is wrong only when 'something' disturbs the balance. And then they change their jobs, get overburned, go to Himalayas, or do something silly! 

Note of caution

While working in a job, we also work with people. In other words, to succeed in our work-life, we are compelled to engage in people-systems ( relationships). The same rule of balancing between 'being part and apart 'applies in people-systems.We will later explore how to maintain this balance in people-system.

Advantage of this simple definition

Because systems thinking has a long history,it is easy to master the skill of being part and apart in a system. One only needs to learn to view 'invisible interconnections' in one system. That is enough to help one see invisible interconnections in other systems: learning can be easily transferred. The earlier you start, the better it is. Welcome to the new world of career-making !

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

One cannot build one's life by setting goals

One can achieve something specific by setting goals. Therefore one obviously concludes that one can also build one's life by setting goals, as most self-help books advocate. In order to help the person track the huge number of activities and steps generated by each goal, these self-help books suggest to keep a diary , which have been specifically designed by them. It looks very 'obvious' that one should be able to build one's life with all such tools. But when a person cannot do it , he blames himself for not being able to do so. Interestingly, the person does not blame the self-help Guru that the advice is mistaken; instead he blames himself for not having enough self control. Heads you win; tails I lose. This is a perfect example of Win-Win strategy that Self-help gurus advocate and practice! ( and another example that 'sum of parts do not constitute a whole')

Researchers in Psychology*** have identified three main consequences of this practice:

1. People who manage their life by setting multiple goals worry a lot: Because goals 'conflict' with each other, these people constantly face difficult choices. For instance, you will always find 'Achieving work-life balance' is one common goal. But this constantly demands one to choose between work-life demands and family demands. Because of these constant choices, these people are constantly  second-guessing their decisions. If they spend more time in work, they feel guilty; if they spend more time for their family, they feel their boss is looking at them questioningly.

2. These people get done less work: This is surprising finding, because we feel that one will achieve more by setting goals. But 'action' is replaced with 'rumination' ( thoughts, tradeoffs and choices) . When the goals are not conflicting, researchers have found plenty of evidence that goal-setting is helpful; but when the goals are conflicting ( and which life goals are not conflicting), they are busy worrying and getting stuck.

3. Their health - physical and mental health- suffers: In the studies, these people reported many psychosomatic symptoms and complaints.As Roy Baumeister, one of the researcher, says " A hen might brood contentedly, but humans suffer when their conflicting goals leave them sitting around doing nothing."

In short, because life is not a sequential and one dimensional achievement of money or satisfaction or happiness or feeling of significance, one cannot manage one's life by setting goals. If one tries to do that, one cannot resolve these conflicts until one decides which goals will do them most good; which goals can be traded off against which goals and when to ignore certain goals. The consequences are obvious !

In short, one needs an overall Direction - D in Capitals - to lead one's life. One should know the mountain one is desiring to climb; not the detailed routes and paths one should take. One has to make the various trade-offs midway and live with them; even though they are difficult and irreversible. One cannot have a cake and eat it too. This advice that one can achieve 'multiple goals' in one's life easily and smoothly is impractical; it only causes ulcers and hypertension.

***Lot of Research work can be seen in Roy Baumeister and John Teirney's book ' Willpower: Rediscovering our greatest strength'.