Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The politics of solution design

In the book "Watching the English," Kate Fox describes the English behavior. They are apologetic and non-confrontational. Without spelling it out explicitly, she paints a picture of a group of people who is indirect in their speech. So when the Englishman opened his mouth to clarify an open point, I couldn't help notice the directness in it. The direct approach also translated into unintentional humor. Who can say no to humor? This quality is absent from life these days.

I happened to be in a room where a group of professionals was discussing the flaws in solution design. I was completely out of my depth. By the time I realized the original agenda had been hijacked with a technical discussion, I was too deep in the rabbit hole to retreat. They had multiple servers drawn on the drawing board. There were lines to demarcate the network into the core, DMZ for demilitarized zone and the external world. I used to frown upon the word DMZ as it was yet another instance of glorifying mundane work. With the events that unfurled over the weekend and the world reeling from the recent cyber attacks, I have come to the conclusion that our world has changed drastically. White collar workplace is equivalent to a war zone. I am awake from slumber. 

The servers were spread all over the place and were not communicating successfully to each other. The objective was to troubleshoot. During the discussion, the design had changed twice. When the manager evaluated the second change, he was confused.

Manager: *authoritatively* I understand the initial design and also the first change.

Englishman: *nods*

Manager: *with a gradual fall in confidence* The second change is confusing. It almost looks like the initial design.

Englishman: *looks sympathetically*

Manager: *confused* So is it redesign or rearchitecting? How do I call it?

Englishman: *with a straight face* Politics.

That was a direct answer. Some of the decisions are made for the political reasons. There are no technological reasons.

Photo Courtesy: Paul White

Friday, May 5, 2017

Tell the truth

A colleague revealed. "I try to speak the truth to everyone. So I don't have to remember what I told someone." The catch phrase was "try to." He was telling the truth again. At the workplace, there are times when we hide the truth. When we engage in such subterfuge, we are tread very close to a dark territory. I don't encourage such behavior, but I am also powerless to prevent it too. As a result, I become a silent partner in such activities. A few days back, I was in such a situation.

Everyone complaints about endless meetings at the workplace. This fact is evident when you try to book a conference room. Finding one during the peak hours is tough. The wise ones use the cafe for meetings. You can grab a coffee and a table. It is a huddle in the industry parlance. Sometimes, we see an empty conference room and occupy it. I call it squatting. It is similar to the Occupy movement with a slight difference. When someone turns up claiming they had booked the room, I apologize and move on, with the hope of occupying another conference room.

Now I would like to link back to the situation that I described before. I was meeting up with a colleague. As the floor was noisy, we just walked into an empty conference room. While the discussion was halfway through, a person turned up claiming the rights to use the room. My friend got up and muttered. "I don't know. These rooms are getting double booked. There is some problem with the software". He walked out. A perplexed me followed suit. I looked at my friend questioningly after we were out of sight from the rightful owner of the room. My friend winked.

It was a lie. First of all, the room booking has evolved by leaps and bounds over the years. The double booking is in the past. There was no need to invent an implausible explanation. Why do we have to lie? Secondly, all of us struggle with this simple issue. Coming out with the truth will only make the other person empathize with us. There is a fact we overlook all the time. Small lies add up to big ones. Do we want to be known as a big fat liar?

Photo Courtesy: Alexa LaSpisa

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The impulsive sceptic

England and weather always seem to be at loggerheads. The weather does injustice to the beautiful countryside. When the weather god smiles at England, it reveals a gorgeous sky and picturesque landscape. If you are surprised by the statement, then you may multiply it tenfold to imagine mine, and I found it through experience, not from written word or spoken word. This strange paradox forms the misfortune that has befallen on the England's natural beauty. 

Today is one of those days when the sun is shining, and all kinds of summer dresses are on display. Good weather is directly proportional to a happy mood. As a result, I was in high spirits when I walked into the meeting. I was one of the early bird. An Englishman joined me shorted. As we waited for others to join, I couldn't help comment. "A beautiful day. Isn't it?" After I had uttered these words, I felt proud. For once, I thought I had nailed the icebreaker. This time, luck was on my side. There are many other times where there was no luck, and I prefer amnesia to the aftermath. 

There was no visible change on the Englishman's composure. His lips moved and formed the following sentence. "Well... if it lasts..." I waited for eyebrows to raise, a shrug, a flick... I waited for what seems to be an eternity. But there was no such thing from an Englishman. I can't understand this strange phenomenon. Why do they have to skeptical about everything? Why can't they just see a small slice of happiness or good weather, in this case, acknowledge it and move forward? Is it a sin in this part of the world to be happy?

Picture Courtesy: Ruth Ellison

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Pappettan tells us about a 50-pound note

It is turbulent times these days. Empathy and compassion are hard to find. I was with Pappettan when we ran into a friend of ours. He looked devastated. He had a squabble with someone, and there was a war of words. I am not sure who was this someone and who finally won the argument. But our friend seemed tired and wounded.

Pappettan: *in a cheerful tone* Cheer up, dear friend.

Our friend: *still hurt* You didn't hear the accusations. How can he say it?

Pappettan: *nods and continues* Those are only words.

Our friend: *sad* Those words were sharper than a knife.

Pappettan: *adopts his saintly stance* Always a remember a 50-pound note.

Our friend: *puzzled* What about it?

Pappettan: *in a calm tone* You may get it fresh from the bank. You may get it crumpled on the street. But the value is still 50-pound.

Our friend: *thinking*

Pappettan: *continues* The same 50-pound note may change hands. For one person, that might be only thing for survival. For another, it might be added security in the bank.

Our friend: *a bit puzzled* That is true.

Pappettan: *smiling* You are the 50-pound note. In whatever shape, your value is the same. It doesn't matter what others think.

Photo Courtesy: Images Money

Friday, April 28, 2017

Fahrenheit Email

My heart starts beating fast whenever I look at my Inbox. I am unable to fathom how I reached this stage. There are tons of messages which I haven't read. I have tried a few techniques - bottom-up, top-down, today's emails, this week's emails. Every time, I attack it with renewed vigor. The number of unprocessed emails goes down. But before long, I am back to where I started. How does this happen? My stubbornness prevents me from accepting defeat. During an informal chat with my friend, I realized where I was going wrong. It was always staring in my face. Sometimes it is a herculean task to recognize the obvious. 

My friend had attended an interview. During the interview, he was present with a simulated scenario. He has come back from a long weekend. There have a couple of incidents which has gradually escalated. Now everybody is on a war footing, an expression preferred by my friend to convey the urgency. I am against this usage because people who have not seen any form of combat mouths this phrase. The interviewer presents a simulated Outlook client and asks to sort out his emails. At this point, I was impressed with the ingenuity of the interview process. In the modern workplace, Outlook client is a tool. There is no better way to judge a professional by how he manages his emails.

I know you will be wondering about how my friend fared. He performed well and cleared the interview. Now that is past us, let us turn back to the important lesson of the day. There has to be a strategy to deal with emails. Most of are caught up in the email maze is because we don't have a strategy. We talk about strategies in a lot of contexts but never related to email. My friend fared well because he understood this point. He dedicated the first five minutes to devise a strategy. Then he started tackling the emails. He didn't get to Inbox Zero. But he was able to demonstrate his abilities which are what counts at the end of the day.

I took a leaf out of my friend's experience. I worked out a system. I categorized the emails based on hierarchies. The hierarchical structure was very simple. There are two levels above me, and there are two levels below. My boss and his boss constitutes the two levels above me. My team and their team are the two levels above me. Then there are my peers. In total, there are five levels. Based on the categorization, I created five search folders named L-2, L-1, L0, L+1, L+2. The next is the tricky part. How do I prioritize these levels? I decided to keep it simple. I will focus on two levels that immediately above and below me. So I scanned constantly for L-1 and L+1. Some of the activities from L-1 converted to actions for L0 and L+1. At L+1, I had to ensure nothing mutated into an issue. I still have a truckload of emails, but my stress levels have reduced.

There is also another way to have a fresh start. This approach is easy to adopt when all attempts to Inbox Zero fails. We can declare Email Bankruptcy. This process is similar to financial bankruptcy. Though both the approaches take courage, declaring email bankruptcy is a much simpler process. If you are interested, Michael Hyatt has guidelines on how to declare bankruptcy and start fresh

Photo Courtesy: Clint Lalonde 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Movie Review: The Great Father

The Great Father is the debut feature film of Haneef Adeni. The movies capture our attention because of two things. Mammootty wears a lot of stylish costumes and sports a long beard. It is the season of beards. The beard and the clothes are looking good on Mammootty. The neatly cut trailer also adds to the curiosity factor associated with the movie. When all the above adds up, we are expectantly waiting for what Haneef has to offer.

The Great Father is a worthwhile movie to watch primarily because of the glimpses of promise shown by the director. It is a tremendous responsibility to direct Mammootty. At some point, you are forced to play to the gallery which in this case is the fanbase. The trailer promises a thriller, and the movie starts as a thriller. After the first five minutes, the movie concentrates on the mishap that falls on the family of David Ninan played by Mammootty. The tragedy deals with a difficult to palate yet commonly prevalent mental disease. Haneef shows courage in dealing with a taboo subject. At the same time, he sensitively handles the theme. It walks a tightrope, but Haneef balances it very well.

Haneef portrays the travails of a family suddenly thrust into a crisis. Before the crisis, they lead a happy life. The tragedy changes the comfortable atmosphere. The dad, the mom, and the daughter struggle to come out sane. During this part of the story, Haneef brilliantly places the camera in front of the various actors and let them emote. He can extract the best performances from all his actors. After this point, the movie transforms itself into a full-fledged thriller. The dad decides to take the law into his hand. If you look at the recent movies by Mammootty, the action scenes tend to repetitive. Haneef brilliantly avoids these repetitive scenes by showing the aftermath. There is still adrenaline and goose bumps aplenty.

Overall, the movie tackles a difficult subject. Although it is a touted as a small movie, there are a lot of familiar faces and has good production values. Haneef shows his brilliance at many places, but he is constricted by the larger than the life image of his hero. Arya as Andrews Eapen sticks out like a sore thumb. So is the case with Malavika Mohan. I am really looking forward to the next movie by the same director. The next movie will be the real test by the fire. As for the Great Father, it is a thriller with quite a bit of drama thrown in. The topic is disturbing even though the treatment is sensitive. Forget the hype and see the movie. It is interesting to see Mammootty emote as a father in the first half.

Language: Malayalam

Genre: Thriller

Rating: ***


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Embrace the differences

Ever since the Brexit vote, there has been uncertainties and discomfort. First, nobody could believe the need for isolation. Then there was this complicated process of divorce from the European Union. Now, there is a question of snap general election. What is the need for it? Is it another way of shirking responsibility? Is it a clever decision to gain majority? I understand the need for majority. You see this phenomenon play out at workplace too.

Every one complains about long meetings without producing any tangible outcome. Have you contemplated on the why? We get into a meeting to have a consensus and it is not easy to arrive at one when they are differing views. As we become increasingly busy, our reserves of energy and patience are easily depleted. Hence we dread long winded discussion about the pros and cons. We prefer to hear ayes instead of nays. It is easier to get ayes from a like-minded group.

Though I do not possess infinite supplies of energy, I do not denouce clash of opinions. In fact, I encourage it. The different viewpoints add the much needed drama in our life. We may always steer differences into consensus always. But that is not the reason to fear differences. On the contrary, it is all the more reasons to embrace it. The age of healthy debate is dying at workplace. The fear of security is bringing silence. The irritation of discussion is leading to ousters.

Recently, I heard a discussion between two friends. They had come out of an unpleasant meeting and comparing notes. One of them was praising the other. The leader was suggesting impractical solutions. The first friend showed him the cons of the approach. So the second friend was praising his bold approach. The rest of the people were silent and the first friend was the only courageous person to voice his opinion. Once the second friend finished his praises, the first friend said. "I am the only one giving unpleasant news to the leader. This may be the reason I am moved into a different team."

We cannot change others. But we can change ourselves. When someone gives you a different viewpoint, listen to their view. Try to understand why they are saying so. Don't be afraid for a debate in your life. Who doesn't like a good drama? Without drama, it is a mundane boring life.

Photo Courtesy: Rodrigo Soldon
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