Career Indulgences and Getting Real
1. Optimism: Optimism is one of those things: Can't live without it, and with it. Any project that I love, I am attached with it: By definition, I believe it can work. That belief is essential to make me commit to it, and without that commitment, it doesn't work. But optimism has lead me down the garden path at times. One of my mentors used to say, 'Hope is not a strategy', and I have failed to follow this sound advice at times.
2. Attachment: This is somewhat like optimism, but these are with people. It may not be obvious from my short stints at work, but I do get attached to people and form long friendships. I often say with pride that most people I have worked with in the past would work with me again. And, often, my descriptions about colleagues at work start with - I like him - which is not what one would usually talk about in work terms. Not that I regret this style or want to abandon this; but this is another thing that has led me down the garden path at times. I stayed when I should have left, and sometimes spent inordinate time in the futile quest of being a responsible leaver. I ignored the sound advice, from the same mentor I quote above, that once you have made your mind up to leave, it is best to focus on the next thing. I often spent time worrying about the relationships.
3. Desirability of Change: A few times, I assumed that since an organisation is in trouble, they would want to change. It seems optimism is my original sin, but this is still slightly different as this may seem like plain business logic. But change is never easy, whatever the management consultants say. And, indeed, change is even harder from inside. People in organisations are always living their past lives in an infinite loop, because if you are not clinging to the past, you would be outside the organisation which is on the wrong path. And, hence, even if the need for change is obvious, no one really wants to change. In fact, as I have now figured out, if an organisation needs changing, by definition the people in that organisation hate changing.
Indeed, all the three mistakes I cite above are double-edged problems. How does one do anything worthwhile without optimism? Or without connecting with people, or believing in change? This is indeed my get-real part, as I attempt to look to future with fresh eyes. My get-real strategy is based on three principles, corresponding to the three 'weaknesses' that I describe above:
1. Details As Deliverance: How to guard against this natural optimism that makes my world go around? I have met enough people in life, as you will expect, who would advise me to be cautious, even pessimistic: But those are people who never tried anything themselves and wheeled away their life in doing other people's bidding. To be real, the guard against optimism is not pessimism, but Details: I have learnt along the way to focus on the details. This allows me to go beyond the sentiments - both optimism and pessimism!
2. People are different from Organisations: Personal relationships are not the same as loyalty to doomed enterprises. Say I like someone I work with, and would rather help the person achieve their objective. However, supporting that person when I know it is not sustainable for him or for me is actually about postponing an inevitable rupture, a failure. I know walking away from an organisation is often seen as disloyalty to people involved, but it is not the same. I, in fact, know this, as I count among my dear friends people I have worked with in the past, and people who I have worked for, and that walking away hasn't destroyed the relationship. In fact, the only people I have struggled to maintain relationships with are those who I worked with well past the time I should have, confusing my personal loyalties with organisational ones.
3. A Different Change: I had given up, irreversibly, my earlier ideas - very Indian ones, I admit - that gradual change in organisations is possible. I have now come around to the view - more American, I suppose - that change has to be quick and decisive. While I don't support President Trump's politics, I can see why he attempted to make such a decisive break with earlier administration. I used to be dismissive with the 'First 90 days' kind of thing: I don't do it anymore. There is no comfortable change: All change is painful. As I look to future, I don't want to take on any enterprise where I don't have the mandate to do a fresh start, and build again. Or, even better, build fresh!