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The article may be accessed here.

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Sanmargam

Time was running out. There was no option – my wife decided she would go to the bank (public-sector) to get the Tax Deduction Statement (TDS) needed for income-tax computation. She would not let me go because of my suspected friendly leanings towards Covid.

Expectedly there were few customers in the branch. She asked for S, an officer, and when he walked up, she identified herself. The magic words ‘TXX’ spoken ‘opened the doors’!

‘Yes, M’m, come in,’ S was all deference. One would have thought she was some high officer from the HO on a sudden field-visit. ‘TXX spoke a while ago. If you’ll kindly be seated here…I’ll get it in a couple of minutes. It’s all printed and ready.’

As she sat down, a cup of hot tea was served with sugar to add!! A feat far beyond you to equal. Forget tea, I challenge you to get…

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vide PCKMC

Dont know if apocryphal or authentic. Never mind. The gentleman is quite capable of…

Here we go:

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Chairman, TATA Steel was holding a weekly meeting with Tata Steel staff  in Jamshedpur. 

A worker took up a serious issue. He said the quality and hygiene of toilets for the workers was very bad. Whereas, he  pointed that the cleaniness and the hygiene of executive toilets was always very good. 

Chairman asked his top executive how much time he needs to set it right. The executive asked for a month to set it right. 

Chairman said “I would rather do it in a day. Send me a carpenter.” 

Next day, when the carpenter came. He ordered the sign boards to be swapped. 

The sign board on the workers’ toilet displayed “Executives” and the Executives’ toilet displayed “Workers”.

Chairman then instructed this sign to be changed every fortnight.

The quality of both the toilets came at par in the next three days. 

Messages:

‘The Leadership is something much more than being an Executive’

Problem Identification requires critical thinking. But Problem Solution requires creative thinking_

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Sanmargam

Received thru Rajiv Chaudhry:

Once in a Physics class, the teacher asked the students, “Why do we have brakes in a car?” Varied answers were received:

“To stop”
“To reduce speed”
“To avoid collision” etc…

But the best answer was,
“To enable you to drive faster”

Give it a thought. For a moment assume you have no brakes in your car then how fast will you drive your car?

It’s because of brakes that we can dare to accelerate, dare to go fast and reach destinations we desire! At various points in life, we find our parents, teachers, mentors & friends etc. questioning our progress, direction or decision. We consider them as irritants or consider such inquiries as “brakes” to our ongoing work.

But, remember, it’s because of such questions (periodical brakes) that you have managed to reach where you are today. Without brakes, you could have…

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Actually it’s not about numbers and their unity, if u really observed, it’s about the courage of ONE buffalo move forward to attack the lion, until then the lion has no fear eventhough surrounded by many buffalo’s. That move, agression, no contact yet …at 1:42

Video is here.

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Looking for adventure, they pitched their tent in the middle of nowhere.

It was getting dark. All flaps rolled down to keep unwelcome insects and intruders out.

Just when they made themselves comfortable in the bed, horror of horrors, they hear them…a swarm of mosquitoes ready for an onslaught. And how could they hear their buzz inside the tent?

Ah, that was it…a tear in the canvas on one side. Oh, Oh, in no time the enemies will breach their defenses making the night hell for themL

He looked and high and low for something to plug the tear. Couldn’t find anything handy besides the usual stuff they carried in their backpacks and, of course, an outsized map rolled up.

And that’s when his friend, not feeling so helpless, swung into action. He had a pen-knife with him. Taking the map-roll from his friend, he got down to making a…what??…another tear in the canvas! Had those creepy-crawlies already got to his head with their toxins?

Watch what he did before settling back for a comfortable night sleep, here:

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For those not into Hindi: He bends the map-roll into a ‘U’ and plugs the two limbs into those two rips. Mosquitoes gleefully enter thru one rip only to exit back to the outside through the other! The map is still usable.

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As received from Rahul Mehta

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Most Stanford students fail this challenge. Here’s what we can learn from their mistakes.

You’re a student in a Stanford class on entrepreneurship.

Your professor walks into the room, breaks the class into different teams, and gives each team five dollars in funding. Your goal is to make as much money as possible within two hours and then give a three-minute presentation to the class about what you achieved. 

If you’re a student in the class, what would you do? 

Typical answers range from using the five dollars to buy start-up materials for a makeshift car wash or lemonade stand, to buying a lottery ticket or putting the five dollars on red at the roulette table. 

But the teams that follow these typical paths tend to bring up the rear in the class. 

The teams that make the most money don’t use the five dollars at all. They realize the five dollars is a distracting, and essentially worthless, resource. 

So they ignore it. Instead, they go back to first principles and start from scratch. They reframe the problem more broadly as “What can we do to make money if we start with absolutely nothing?” One particularly successful team ended up making reservations at popular local restaurants and then selling the reservation times to those who wanted to skip the wait. These students generated an impressive few hundred dollars in just two hours. 

But the team that made the most money approached the problem differently. They realized that both the $5 funding and the 2-hour period weren’t the most valuable assets at their disposal. Rather, the most valuable resource was the three-minute presentation time they had in front of a captive Stanford class. They sold their three-minute slot to a company interested in recruiting Stanford students and walked away with $650. 

The five-dollar challenge illustrates the difference between tactics and strategy. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, they refer to different concepts. A strategy is a plan for achieving an objective. Tactics, in contrast, are the actions you undertake to implement the strategy. 

The Stanford students who bombed the $5 challenge fixated on a tactic — how to use the five dollars — and lost sight of the strategy. If we focus too closely on the tactic, we become dependent on it. “Tactics without strategy,” as Sun Tzu wrote in the Art of War, “are the noise before defeat.” 

Just because a $5 bill is sitting in front of you doesn’t mean it’s the right tool for the job. Tools, as Neil Gaiman reminds us, “can be the subtlest of traps.” When we’re blinded by tools, we stop seeing other possibilities in the peripheries. It’s only when you zoom out and determine the broader strategy that you can walk away from a flawed tactic. 

What is the $5 tactic in your own life? How can you ignore it and find the 2-hour window? Or even better, how do you find the most valuable three minutes in your arsenal? 

Once you move from the “what” to the “why” — once you frame the problem broadly in terms of what you’re trying to do instead of your favored solution — you’ll discover other possibilities lurking in plain sight.

‘- Anonymous

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Very interesting!

To me, there’s another way of looking at the problem and the winning solution.

While the goal is unambiguously identified and given to you, ask what are the inputs or resources made available to achieve the same.

Well, right away, the 5-dollars funding, a key resource in any project, sticks in the face.

Secondly, time as a resource – 2 hours are available for the enterprise for putting in all its efforts. This is also not difficult to guess.

The winner does something more – something, by no means obvious. He identifies even the 3-minute slot as a potential resource and figures out an imaginative way for use by the enterprise – sells it as a product!!

It seems you’re more than half way home if you are able to identify all the resources available for deployment and their potential for contributing to the goal at hand. Not a trivial task as not all resources stand out there holding placards nor do they list the ways how you could potentially use them.

Reminds me of a similar seemingly trivial problem, in an entirely different domain, of identifying the various stake-holders, visible and invisible, to be impacted/served by an IT system (or any project, for that matter); and how could they be possibly best served.

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A software engineer was visiting his grandparents in the village.

On the following day, he took a round of the village.

On the outskirts of the village he came upon a strange sight he had not seen before. It was a thatched shed open on the sides. He saw a bull slowly and steadily going around in a rutted circle. And a man who seemed to be the owner was sleeping peacefully on a bench.

He stopped a passer-by and asked him what was happening.

Amused, the man explained it was an oil mill to crush oil seeds to extract oil. Sometimes it was dried coconut kernels (copra). These were held in a large mortar like structure and ground by a big pestle driven by the bull in a harness, sometimes a pair. .

He found it very interesting to observe this traditional oil-expeller in action.

A question occurred to him. To the passer-by: ‘What happens if the bull stopped…here the man is blissfully asleep.’

‘He’ll know. You see the bell round the bull’s neck? It’ll stop ringing.’

He was impressed with this simple innovative solution.

Returning home, he had to share it with his grandparents.

Just then, a thought came to him. Exclaiming in self-reproach: ‘Stupid of me – I didn’t ask….’

‘Why, what happened?’ inquired his grandpa.

‘What would happen…how would the man know if his bull stood at one place and shook his neck, ringing the bell?’

His father sorted it out: ‘Son, these bulls around here are not the work-from-home types.’

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Source: A Whatsapp forward and image from Quora

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There was a knock.

At this time on a Sunday?

He went up to the door. It was his manager.

Not unusual, though not in the last six months or so.

Summoning surprise and enthusiasm right for the occasion and gracefully dismissing the apologies for the unscheduled call, he invited him in, hurriedly closing the door on the draft and the chill out there.

Once the visitor was settled down in the living room as comfortably as the tired springs of the sofa would allow, he excused himself to the kitchenette on the far side to get some fresh tea and cookies.

In a short while he returned carrying the cups and plates and set them down on a centre-table.

The man was standing near the fireplace. Idly he picked up a piece of red-hot coal from the pile and set it aside.

He said he was on his way to meet a friend. Was early and hence…

Enjoying the hot tea and its flavour wafting up, they talked about this and that, mostly his. How did he get his food? What did he like most? How were the weekends? His parents back home…

In between, he did not miss noticing his manager eyes for a few moments distracted to the solitary piece of coal, now cold with the fire died out, covered with ash.

Some more on his friends, his hobbies…mercifully no shop talk.

The man looked at his watch, thanked him for the tea and stood up, ready to leave, once again apologizing for barging in thus. He picked up the piece of coal, dead, placed it carefully back in the pile, the coal catching it from the pile, going red hot and cackling almost immediately.

He turned around, winked at his host and found his way out.

**

Monday, team meeting: Presented, talked, suggested, agreed, nayed, shouted, pleaded…he was his old self. When they walked back, his manager smiled at him and…it was the same wink.

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Source: A Whatsapp forward. Image: Pinterest

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An interesting article, fairly short, relevant for these times when we are told to do things we never did before for collective benefit, with wider implications and applicability. The original content is very lightly edited and recast here for easy reading and comprehension (highlighting is mine).

Here we go:

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Problem:

For the past two months, we’ve been told to wash our hands, wear face masks, and social distance. We’ve come up creative ways to do them all—with viral handwashing dancespublic pledgesZoom parties with live DJs, referred to as emotion-triggering devices. Judging by the beautiful photos of eerily empty public spaces around the world, most of us have been willing to comply—for now. But when will the novelty wear off? And what will happen to our new habits, still necessary for the public health crisis we’re facing?

Some countries, like Denmark and Austria, and several U.S. states, have already started to relax the strict stay-home regulations and are counting on their citizens to make smart choices to protect themselves and others. But are we confident that we’ll keep up our good behavior when left to our own devices? 

Solution:

Emotions are, by definition, temporary. So is attention. Using activity-mobilizing emotions such as fun, hope, anger, or fear can work exceptionally well to kick-start a new habit, but we still have months or even years of behavior change ahead of us. Before long novelty may fizzle out, motivation worn away and compliance unexciting. In fact it could get downright annoying.

Example: In 2009, designers created “Piano Stairs” at the Odenplan subway station in Stockholm. Each step was a piano key that made a sound when it was stepped on. The idea was to make it fun and easy for commuters to pick the healthy option of going up the stairs instead of taking the escalator. And it worked—for a couple of days. The initial excitement quickly gave way to the reality of rush hour, as commuters trampled over keys going up and down the stairs. To no surprise, the piano disappeared. But the video of the stairs gathered 23 million views on YouTube and is often still found in presentations by behavioral consultants.

So when the novelty fizzles out, how can we harness our current motivation and channel it into long-term change? The evidence is still sparse, but we do have several examples of behavioral interventions that have a longer shelf life. These are referred to as Nudges.

Nudges are of two kinds: Pure and Moral.

Pure nudges are simple changes to a preexisting choice environment meant to counteract simple inattention or laziness. They seamlessly blend in with their environment. They are typically not consciously noticed by the decision maker. Grabbing a ceramic cup conveniently stacked next to the coffee machine instead of a paper one from the cupboard does not require you to think about saving the rainforest before your morning coffee. The less conscious the nudges are the less they are prone to wearing off or even backfiring, regardless of whether you agree with the goal of the nudge or not. 

Two other examples of pure nudges: a) Perhaps the most successful example is Defaults. Individuals defaulted into pension plans, insurance in air-travel, two-sided printing, or renewable energy for their home seem to stick with the option. People either don’t notice it or don’t take the effort to change it from default b) Salience has also proven to be effective in the long term. Placing vegetarian food on top of a menu makes it more likely that customers will select it, and real-time feedback while showering reduced energy consumption of hotel guests. 

In contrast moral nudges are those that are fun or trigger fear, shame, or pride, rewarding “doing the right thing” with psychological utility or disutility. The nudges are meant to be consciously noticed. The most prominent one being the use of Social Proof—“9 out of 10 people in your city pay their taxes on time—you are currently not one of them” or “Compared to your neighbors with similar sized houses, you consume far more energy” or “Will you vote on Sunday? We will call you again and ask about your experience.” 

Social proof is powerful, no question—the frantic toilet paper buying we have seen in the past weeks was an unintended testament to that. In the short run, moral nudges can generate significant effects, but long-term behavior change is seldom. Further, moral nudges run the risk of backfiring. Individuals asked to donate repeatedly decided to opt-out of communication altogether, and others who regularly came out badly in comparison to their neighbors’ energy consumption were willing to pay money not to be contacted anymoreDeliberate defiance of these appeals could also explain the groups of college kids who went on spring break despite the health warnings or the Danish teenagers who now drive over the bridge to Sweden to party “because lockdown is boring.” 

Nudges can make it easier to do the right thing. All that said, taking past research in account, nudging on its own, whether moral or pure, won’t be enough to stimulate the required behavior change. The gap between what we want now (our lives to return to normal) and what we need to do (diligent maintain hygiene and continuous social distancing) is just too large. But that doesn’t mean lasting behavior change isn’t possible. We need to combine nudges with traditional economic incentives and regulations. Just like the traffic rules. We have laws, fines, and nudges (speed bumps or beeping seat-belts) that keep us and others safe on the road without invoking anxiety, shame, or fear every time we get into a car.

And designing the choice environment promoting/instilling long term habits. Example: Copenhagen, author’s hometown, has four large lakes in the city center, which have a small footpath around them that is popular for runners and people going for a stroll. At the start of the lock-down, the trail was converted to a one-way street to reduce the amount of tight face-to-face encounters. Currently, park guards control compliance, but already most people are in the habit of walking clockwise around the lake. A habit that can most likely be sustained with a simple sign and social norms. 

Like fighting climate change or obesity, overcoming this health crisis will be a marathon, not a sprint.  Our collective health depends on how we use these available mechanisms keeping in mind their long term impact versus the need.

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As it must have already occurred to you, interestingly these concepts are equally valid and useful to bring about changes in various aspects of organizational behavior!

The article by Christina Gravert may be perused here.

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