Project vs Operations

Project is something that we start from zero. Something that we build or create. 

A bridge could be a project. The road could be a project. Simply going to the mountains for a trek could be a project. Writing a book is a project. Project is something that you might just do once. 

Then how do you define operations?

Once you build that road the toll booths that collect tax are a part of operations. Maintaining the road is operations, taking care of the bridges, and ensuring that they are structurally intact every year, that is an operation. 

Going to school every day is an operation. If getting married is a project then staying in that relationship is an operation. 🙂

Operations are something that you’re going to do on daily basis. Maintaining the status quo. 

Some people just don’t like doing the routine work. While some people enjoy it. Some people only like to build new things, create new things and move on.

I personally like projects. What about you?

The value of a 4 day week

I started my career with manufacturing and process engineering. The companies I worked for gave me Sunday to relax, enjoy and rejuvenate.

A Sunday wasn’t enough. A half-day on Saturday is what used to long for. 

That was a decade back.

Now I have switched jobs and work in an industry where 5 day work week is a norm. I value this norm. It gives me more time to relax, enjoy and rejuvenate. 

Now there is a new emerging trend, the 4 day week. 

One poll asked, how do you wish to use an additional day. 

Left me thinking. 

What would it solve for me?

Will it offer a better work-life balance?

The answer to work-life balance is an additional day off? That’s it?

How would you feel on a Monday after you take a 3 day weekend?

How would you feel if you were to sprint through the 4 days to get the tasks done?

Would you work for 12 hours instead of the usual 10 hours that you spend? 

Over the years I have realized that work-life balance has little to do with how you unwind on weekends.

It has more to do with how you manage your workday and still get enough time and mindfulness that enables you to reset, spend time with your close ones. 

If you look at the history, was there even a concept of weekend? Humans don’t mind working everyday as long as they are in a flow, and get enough breaks to reset their minds.

Then there were extended periods of rest, off-seasons and long breaks.

But that was past, let us not go there.

Today there are freelancers who never take a day off.

Manufacturing still has the 6 day work week. 

How do they even manage?

Any thoughts?

Mental peace is more of a Shift+Delete game

Take a deep breath, and reflect what is occupying your mind now.

This is not a meditation exercise, it is my attempt to make you understand need to resolve your mind.

For me, personally, my mind is peaceful when I don’t wish to resolve anything.

I feel the discomfort when I have something unresolved running at the back of my mind.

It is occupying my mental RAM (random access memory) that doesn’t support me to move on to the next demanding task.

If you open the task manager on your PC, you may find a list of processes and apps that you might have opened a while ago to complete some task. Now probably you have moved to some other task that needs your attention. For the sake of argument, it is a heavy design application or a spreadsheet that you wish you work on. However, with the limited available RAM your PC struggles to run these heavy applications. 

It stalls, current applications crash and you get annoyed. If you  are a little tech savvy, you might proceed to quit apps that are occupying significant memory.

You may force quit certain RAM hungry applications.

And then get back to what was important.

Our mind sometimes works in similar ways.

Small conflicts, and pending tasks can occupy a lot of mind space.

Unfortunately, there is no force quit button that we could use. We just can’t quit processes, they need to be resolved. 

What needs to be resolved, needs to be resolved. Everything needs resolution, that new mobile phone you might need. The repair your fridge needs. That difficult conversation you need to have with your boss. That time you need to give to your partner in order to set the relationship right.

That will free-up your mind for next big tasks that you have to prioritize.

The root of Stress and Anxiety

We often perceive stress and anxiety as abstract and relate it to personal experiences.

Here is my attempt to simplify these two. Thank me later 🙂

Anxiety comes for uncertainty and unclarity, you are not sure about the outcome.

Stress comes when you try to achieve the unclear outcome in an inefficient manner.

Work related stress comes when there is more on your plate than you can chew, followed by poor ways of dealing with the work demand in order to meet unrealistic deadlines.

Basically, anxiety and stress go hand in hand.

For instance, you need to reach to the airport at peak traffic hours to pick your old mom.

You know that you cannot leave office before 5:30 PM. The flight will land at 6:30 PM

It is just a 40 minute drive, without the peak traffic but now you are uncertain that you will reach to the airport on time or not.

All this is uncertainty, you are not able to imagine the clear outcome.

Can you leave a little early? Will your boss allow? It was only yesterday that you had asked her (boss) for a half-day. Will you reach or will you not? How will you reach, is there any alternate route? Where you are going to park your car? 

Here, you are not sure about the outcome. This leads to anxiety.

Stress follows when the situation demands action that is way beyond your usual potential and set routines.

Asking and convincing your boss, leaving early, navigating through peak traffic, aggressively honking and overtaking, waiting for the signal to turn green, hoping that the flight gets a little delayed and finally finding the parking spot.

Here you are stressed. You heart is beating 30 beats above your resting heart rate.

This was just once instance, but imagine going through this on a daily basis.

Clear outcomes lead to planned actions.

Had you known what outcome to expect from your boss, you would have taken either of the two steps

  1. Boss says yes : Leave sufficiently early to reach comfortably to pick your mom
  2. Boss says no : Arrange for someone else to pick your mom

Both ways you could have managed the unnecessary anxiety and stress.

I know like is little too uncertain, we can’t imagine all the outcomes. But wherever we can, we should define the outcomes for better actions. 🙂

The value of being in the “Present”

Driving is full of micro decisions. If you don’t have an automatic car, it demands all your senses to co-ordinate in tandem. Spice this up with traffic signals, careless pedestrians, and cars that are just inches away.

The micro decisions are stress inducing, even if you take the same route everyday. 

One day, I was back at home after driving for 40 minutes in a dense traffic. 

Sipping tea, I was sitting across my wife who was asking about my day.

I like to explain my day in detail. Once I was done, I asked her, how was yours?

As she started narrating her day, my mind started drifting.

I was no longer in the present. I was thinking about my own day and random thoughts.

My wife noticed this, are you even listening?

Little irritated, she said “you teach listening to others, why don’t you even practice it?”

I said, I am not able to.

And then we discussed something else.

The present was lost, forever. 

I realised that being in the present demands efforts and energy.

You are at peace when “being in the present” comes naturally to you.

You are not so peaceful when you struggle to be in the “now”, struggle to read a book or enjoy a movie with your loved ones.

How do you solve this?

I believe sometimes the awareness that you are not in the present is enough, your body will do the rest.

You don’t have to solve that, you just need to be aware. 🙂

You will realise the value of being in the present when you struggle to be in the present.

Indecisiveness, Stress, Recovery

When I was a runner in the making, I could manage a couple of kilometres before my calf muscles gave-up.

My legs went through a structural stress because of the weight of my body and the shocks from the road. This stress was painful. Some suggested to dip my legs in cold water, few others claimed it will go on its own.

Every time I went through pain, I was apprehensive to return next day for my run.

Should I even run? if this is what it takes?

But then I pushed myself and faced the reality. Underwent stress and pain and took the much needed time to recover. This became a loop. Over the period of time, my legs muscles became strong. 

Now the early memories of pain are faint. Have I became a good runner? to an extent yes. Once I fixed my legs, it was time to fix my core muscles and heart muscle for endurance. The 2km limit has definitely expanded to 10km and sometimes 12km.

If you feel you aren’t growing personally or professionally, there are three key elements we need to manage.

  1. The resistance or worry before you go through stress. Call it indecisiveness
  2. The stress itself which comes after the desired action
  3. and then the much needed recovery which follows action

If you compromise on any one of these elements, you might suffer in the long run.

The resistance is usually the analysis/paralysis mode, should I go or should I not go.

The stress is where you take action, you might go to that much awaited trip to the mountains. Take a new job or shift to a new home. Action will lead to some stress. Every new action in new situation or event will develop high stress. 

Without action you will be trapped in the infinite loop of being indecisive or apprehensive about a possibility.

This loop leads to an organic restructuring in our brains, our muscles. 

After action, you recover the way I used to dip my feet in cold water. You can only take so much stress and then take a pause to heal. If you don’t relax, the stress harms you.

Once you take enough rest, you are ready for the three steps again. Because if you get trapped in the loop of infinite rest, you might not make any progress in the desired direction.

Why predictable stories win?

Couple of weeks back I just binged watched Squid Games on Netflix. I am sure many of you have watched the show by now. Whenever I login onto Netflix, Squid Games is always trending. 

What is so different about Squid Games that makes it so engaging? How some people always get their storytelling equation right?

Isn’t Squid Games one of the most predictable shows out there?

You know what is going to happen from day 1, don’t you?

Who is going to win all that money and in what sequence people are going to die, we know it all.

But Squid Games doesn’t seem loose the grip on their audience ever.

Then what is working so well for Squid Games?

Well, it is not “what” is going to happen but “how” it is going to happen that matters.

We always wish to see how it is going to happen, how things are going to unfold.

Some character is going to die for sure, but how?

Someone is going to cheat, but how?

All stories are predictable. And Netflix has got the equation right.

Humans look forward for predictable plots. We love to see reruns. We love when heroes win and villains eat the dust. Predictability is the safest bet that producers take. 

Ok, apart from all that, there was one thing that has worked really well for Squid Games; high stakes

When the stakes are high, as high as life and death and obscene amount of money involved, the plot is usually foolproof. 

Money Heist worked on that principle.

I sometimes wonder why Bollywood/ Indian producers aren’t able to get the equation right. 

I don’t think Indian origin shows trend so much in other nations.

And the answer that comes to my mind is simple, they blatantly copy the “what” and also shamelessly copy the “how”. They play it too safe. Low risks, low returns. 🙂

Please leave your thoughts

Toxic Culture in Edtech

Toxic culture in Edtech. We don’t need to name any organization but I am sure you have come across many posts articles and videos that speak volumes about the toxic culture.

What is toxic culture? 

Toxicity at workplace is characterised by set of nasty behaviours that don’t contribute to psychological safety, security and overall mental and physical wellbeing. 

What are these nasty behaviours? 

Disrespect, unnecessary workaholism, unhealthy politics, unhealthy recurring conflicts, etc. The list is endless but this should suffice for the sake of argument.

How we define behaviours?

Behaviours are natural/deliberate responses to situations/stimulus. Behaviour simply means how you chose to react to the happenings around you.

With that foundational knowledge let us try to understand what is happening in Edtech.

Edtech organisations are nothing but sales organizations. They have a tech core, software engineers who build the platform and educators who use that platform. And then there is an army of sales people who aggressively push the product/service to the masses.

At any given time sales employees outnumber the core employees by a ratio of 1:5 (for every one core employee, there are 5 sales employees, I am using conservative numbers, the ratio could be much higher)

Which makes any typical company in Edtech as a sales organization. The product/service is highly scalable so much so that for a 10x growth you might need only 2x core employee rise but a 5x rise in sales force. 

Now just imagine, what kind of environment/situation a typical B2C sales employee faces in his/her routine?

Uncertain, dynamic, stressful, targets that always remain elusive, stretch goals, exhausting. These are all situations.

Then what are the resulting behaviours? 

We have already discussed that. 🙂 

So I believe it is not surprising that culture in most Edtech companies in characterised by toxicity. Only difference is that this toxicity is being reported more often. 

Should we deduce that all sales organization are toxic? I don’t think so. It depends on the environment they function in.

OYO, Oracle , Insurance companies can be termed as sales organization because they have a small core and large sales functions.

Are they toxic? Do tell me in the comment section.

Shared Psychosis and Religions

Shared psychosis is a phenomenon wherein a group of individuals share a delusional belief or an absurd alternate reality. For instance, if you and your folks believe that the moon will crash onto the earth on December 31, 2025 and erase all life, that is a delusional belief. It is absurd but a small group of people has developed a strong shared belief around it. And perhaps there could be a reason for this shared belief best known to them.

Recently, I watched a documentary on Netflix that narrated a disturbing event. In 2018, a family of 11 committed mass suicide by hanging themselves. To cut the long story short, among the dead was a 45 year old man who influenced everyone to die along with him. But the seeds for this event were planted in 2007 when the psychologically disturbed man started writing notes on how the family should behave. He was seen as the family leader and a patriarchal guiding light. The notes were elaborate and dictated each member of the family to behave in a certain way, follow routines and mannerisms. It was a cult practice. What was more shocking was the consistency with which the notes were written. One note-book per year was written. Everyone lived by the book and kept it a family secret. Even the kids followed the doctrine diligently. The date and process for the mass suicides were also dictated as per the book.

Now let us look at religions. Without naming any religion, don’t you think every religion is somewhat a shared belief. We call it a shared belief and not shared psychosis because religions are seen from the lens of divine idealism. Millions of people follow it, most follow it blindly and few consciously. Obedience is virtue. Thousands of years back the seeds for the hundreds of religions and cults were probably sown through shared psychosis. Absurd but surreal beliefs of one single individual that percolated across a small group.

Few religions reached an inflection point where they could gather the followership of masses. These religions succeeded because the ideas and philosophy transcended beyond the individual who incepted those. Apparently those ideas were sustainable and to a degree conducive for human sanity long after the founder passed away. Inflection points for young religion or cult practices happens when the greater good and wellbeing of followers supersedes the vested interest of the founder. In the case of the mass suicide mentioned earlier, this inflection point manifested in form of death.

Managing Customer Experience is really a rocket science

I love to visit Crossword. It is a ritual I perform every time I visit a mall. Usually, these stores are quiet, peaceful and urge you to spend time with books you never care to read. But a few days back, it was a different story.

Two staff members were having a heated conversation. The mediator was their store manager who was quietly listening.

It was early in the day, around 11:30 am.

It was not a big store but clearly understaffed given its size.

I could hear the heated conversation from the extreme corner of the store.

By every minute it was getting louder. They were speaking in Marathi.

My wife gestured, let us move as I was trying to find a good book for her.

Whatever I could overhear was the following:

“I don’t take lunch breaks, she goes for lunch breaks and takes her own sweet time to return. 

She doesn’t even file the bills. I am working here for 8 years, I have never seen such nuisance created by a new employee.”

We left the store. I didn’t even feel bad. I am not even a loyal customer of #Crossword. I appreciate them for their physical presence and always prefer to buy books on Kindle. Or buy physical copies from Amazon. Thanks to the huge price differential. Do I deserve a good experience at a Crossword? maybe not. 

Maybe it was the post-pandemic noise as things are coming back to normal. The discussion could be dismissed as two employees voicing out their concerns over KRAs, work hygiene, etc. 

We then headed towards Decathlon for a specific need; compression socks for distance running.

I love their large stores. Employees were busy arranging merchandise. 

“You need compression socks? You will get them near the billing counter on the left” said a 20 something enthusiastic executive.

Once we reached there, he came and explained the nomenclature and the size details. 

Unfortunately, my wife couldn’t get her size which she ordered online later but I got mine. 

After a few minutes, he met us again at a different counter and asked if there is anything else we need.

Are we comparing the two experiences? Not really, it will be foolish to do so.

But I believe managing customer experience is very difficult. It is a deliberate art, well thought of the top levels and equally well executed on the floor. 

Trivia: Decathalon hires employees who are passionate about sports. They are hired as sports leaders and manage the related merchandise.