Saturday, August 23, 2008

Organismics – Towards Omniscience

God, and Big Brother know all there is to know about everything. Unlike the rest of us, mere mortals, God is truly Omniscient. Big Brother, on the other hand, is not really omniscient.In spite of being served by mere mortals, Big Brother has got around his mortality by arranging to have an excellent memory. Big Brother has an institutionalized memory. Ideally, once something is known it shan't be forgotten albeit it may be lost.

Compared against God & Big Brother, I am not immortal. My memory too is not institutionalized; there're actual gaps in my memories. Of all that I know, I learnt some things at School. Some other things I learnt second-hand. Still others I learnt from first-hand experience. The last category is also the most ... pervasive.

Waiting to report at my first job, I was speechless with the knowledge that my education would finally be applied to challenging tasks. Within a month I was disillusioned. This probably happens to the majority of us. The first job carries with it the aura of finally proving to the world what we have learnt over years. Sooner or later, every one of us realizes that little of what we learnt at school is really directly applicable. The sooner this moment of truth comes, the better.

Of all lessons we learn at school, the most important are not taught in class. Rarely, if ever, are these lessons even mentioned in words. And yet these lessons form the keystone of all our education, and lie as the bedrock for a successful career.

At school, we had as many as 8 different subjects covered during the day in blocks of 45 minutes each. The teacher would, at the end of each block, hand out an assignment to be delivered in the next block for that subject, and woe-betide anyone who neglected to do it, or gave the excuse they hadn't understood in class. The impression, of course, was that we were expected to know everything.

Looking back, I now realize that these were the real lessons we were meant to learn, albeit they were never vocalized.

  1. You do not know everything; nor are you expected to know everything.

    Of course we do not know everything. When the answer is wrong the first thing that comes to mind is 'All that effort gone waste!', right?

    Wrong! It's not gone waste. We know now -

  1. At least one thing the answer is not

  2. At least one approach that is not applicable

  1. When you have expended sufficient effort towards an objective, Ask!

    Remember those sums Teacher used to give us at Math; All those words, and numbers? It sometimes seemed as though nothing we could try would work, and it was so easy to get stuck in a thought-loop. [It still is! (+:]

    Well, the approach that applied there applies in professional life too -

    1. If, at first, you do not succeed; Try, Try, Try Again

    2. Keep track of what went into each effort

    3. When you've spent a reasonable amount of time without getting the solution, Ask!

      A colleague with an as-yet unlooped mindset may be able to solve the problem by a mere a look. When an outright solution is unavailable, someone will certainly be able to put you on the right track. Even if that doesn't happen, merely breaking out of the loop by doing a different task will help.

  2. Manage your time!

    This is the most important lesson, most of us never really learn at school. With 8 subjects spread over 45 minutes daily, our approach to homework was usually haphazard. In hindsight, that we even managed to get homework done is just short of astounding.

    Working towards an objective does not mean focusing at one item to the exclusion of all else (albeit such tunnel-vision does help at times). Tunnel vision, or applying single-minded effort for a week doing naught else is usually not justifiable. Such tunnel vision starts up the backlog on other tasks in hand; every one of us is a cell in the organism that is the organization. In biology, when one cell ceases to function effectively; one of the following happens -

  1. The cell dies, and is replaced at some cost to the body itself

  2. The body's auto-immune system tries to flush the cell from the body

    Such extreme situations may not arise in our professional lives. Typically, the worst case condition is that the inability to manage time will hurt the organization that pays your salary.

True omniscience is elusive for individuals & organizations aline, but we can use these lessons as a step towards organizational omniscience.

Kept in mind three lessons, learnt subconsciously at school, form the foundation of a successful career.