Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Mythical Nitin

Some years back, I was handed over charge of a new team. As always, I was taking it slow in trying to understand the team from the team members and from the stakeholders.

The stakeholders had a lot of feedback, as they usually do, when a new leader takes over. And in trying to go back to the team to see their view on the same, I ran into Nitin.

There was new technology lying unused. The teams response, "Only Nitin knows how to use it".
There were processes that were broken. The teams response, "Nitin created this process".
There were reports that were not being sent. The teams response, "Nitin used to send those reports".

The list went on and on. For everything, the buck seemed to stop at Nitin. Nitin clearly was a superhero of an employee. When he was around, everything seemed to run smoothly. Walls were scaled. Crashes were prevented. The bad guys were defeated. And all was well in the world.

The only problem. Nitin was no longer a member of the team. Indeed, he was not even an employee of the firm for atleast 6 months at the time I had joined. And yet for every problem, the teams answer was Nitin. At one point, I contemplated calling up Nitin and meet him to meet this mythical superhero.

But for the stakeholders, no Nitin existed - atleast in their conversations with me. And they did not care, rightly so. For them, processes were broken and service delivery was affected.

As I investigated further, I discovered that whatever Nitin did was of his own personal interest. The process was never institutionalized. And it was not uniform either. It was a one off attempt that broke when the 'hero' left.

My learning in this whole experience was that, if processes ran well when you had one person in your team, chances are that the process never existed in the first place. What good is a 'process' if it depends on a single 'person' to be maintained.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Authorized guide

Many years ago (and I realized that this movie was a 1991 release) in a Malayalam movie (a classic, remade in multiple languages) - Kilukkam - the lead actor Mohanlal - plays a tourist guide. And a supporting actor plays an authorized guide.

In most tourist destinations, even today, there are 'authorized' guides who charge you 'fees' fixed by the 'authority' and do some good 'guiding' if you are lucky. And there are also 'unauthorized' guides who will charge you 'less' and 'guide' you as well.

My own experience with both kinds of guides has been iffy. The authorized guide has not brought anything that great to the table. And my experience with unauthorized guides has been equally non descript.

But in the movie, the authorized guide is a drunk who cares little about the destinations or the tourists and is only looking to make a fast buck. The unauthorized guide on the other hand, predictably, is the good guy.

But as far as metaphors go, it is a good metaphor. What do you bring to the table, your certificate or your passion (continuing from the previous post)? And when I have to get in touch with you, why do I do so? Because protocol states that I contact the training department for training? Or because I know you bring knowledge, passion, enthusiasm among other things to the table?

If the sole reason why people get in touch with you is certification or protocol, then, remember, it will get you a foot into the door, but not too much beyond that. What gets you forward is the other things beyond the piece of paper or org chart that you bring to your role!

What do you bring to the table?

In the space of the last few months, I have met two 'nutrionists' (spellcheck has put a red squiggly under this for some reason). And my main purpose was to know what diet changes I can make in order to achieve my health goals.

Now, a caveat. Most people take pride in their 'interior decoration' skills or 'aesthetic' 'taste' or prize their own 'skills' or 'talent' in something or the other. For me diet and nutrition happens to be one of those things.

I read practically everything on 'diet' and it is wont be an understatement to say that I am upto speed into the most of the current 'theories' of nutrition. Like for example: have small meals through the day. Avoid junk food. Have more fibre in your food. Dinner atleast 2 hours before bedtime. Among other things...

And this is the basic stuff. At an intermediate level, I am aware of the benefits of flax seed oil, coconut oil (yes, those old theories claiming it to be a bad oil are gone). I have read (multiple times) Michael Pollans seminal article (and the book which followed). The importance of mixing cooking oils rather than sticking to one.

And at an advanced level, the importance of fermented food in diets. Miso. Kombucha.Quinoa. (these three I have not yet figured out how to get in India). And I can keep going on and on on this topic. Upto the intermediate level I have been able to put stuff into practice and I keep experimenting to see how to reach the advanced level and keep pace with emerging thoughts in this field.

Now the nutritionist had nothing to tell me beyond the basic level. And that too not much - because I told her most of it.

The point being, the internet has democratized most basic information available in most fields. And if one is passionate about it you can get all the information (and a fair bit of knowledge as well) you want. On anything. Nutrition. Fitness. Accounting. Customer Service. Income Tax.

So, what happens when you as a 'qualified' expert meet someone who has come there with 'passion' and 'interest'. So, this is what happened when I met the qualified nutritionist. Complete disaster. If this was an engagement where I had to pay, then the nutritionist would surely not get a second appointment.

As a practitioner, one needs to go beyond the obvious. This is easy if what you are working on is your passion as well. If not, beware, passion will always triumph qualifications. And when you as a 'certificate holding nutritionist' meets the 'passionate health freak' thats it.

Ask yourself, which of the two you are? Can you add 'passion to your qualification' or 'qualification to your passion'?

And therefore, what value do you bring to the table? Certificate or Passion?