Paradoxical Gains — 2! — Quotidian — 406

(Transcript of video originally posted on 14 Jul 2022)

This thing called Zen Buddhism… followers of it simply LOVE paradoxes. Take this, for example. There were these four or five monks who were passing by a temple and they saw a flag. It was moving in the wind. One guy commented: “The flag is moving!” The other guy, wanting to show that he is probably superior and more enlightened, said, “The WIND is moving!”… The third guy came along. “Not the flag, Not the wind, your MIND is moving”, he said. The guru, the wise teacher of these all, he came along finally. He said, “Wind, flag, mind moves. The same understanding. But, when the mouth opens, all are wrong!” Do you understand the paradox there?

Namaste! Paradoxes, and gains from paradoxes! If you are trying to be a leader, if you want to be a leader, if you ARE a leader, Part Two!

Where did we close out yesterday? We have seen two! There are six more to go! What are they?

Paradox Number Three:- It is that beautiful, delicate balance between visibility and of course, invisibility. It should seem like it is there.. It should also seem like it is not there!

I don’t know what YOU think! But, this guy bears an uncanny resemblance to Rahul Gandhi! I am using this picture here because I was looking for a waiter… at a star hotel. He is special, for a reason. One of the most important trainings that are given to this person is… how to be available the moment you are needed, AND, how to just vanish into the wallpaper, when you are not needed. You SHOULD NOT poke your nose into an intimate conversation between two people, asking them if it would be mineral water or normal water. But, at the same time, when somebody is trying to refill his glass from a bottle, and the bottle is empty…, and even before he looks up and asks for a refill, “I knew you would want this. Here is some water. Here is something else you might like” — That is a great quality. Visible. As well as Invisible. Also, Visibility is about showing the path… Invisibility is about having shown the path, step off it, and watch and help the others pay attention to the path, not you!

If you observe a swimming coach in action, you would learn perhaps the very same lesson! “Come on over! I am there to help” — She would call out loudly to the fearful child! She will seem to be angelic, the most helpful! But, at the crucial moment, it would seem as if she has deserted you! “Oh my god, she has left me to die! I am drowning!” That is the feeling you would get. But, we know. We always know. Before the child, before the learner, really drowns, really gets into some serious trouble, the coach will be there, Invisibility would have turned to Visibility. Being there when needed, giving way, and becoming invisible so that you can empower the rest.

The Fourth Paradox that the book talks about is the balance between Stubbornness and Open-mindedness. You need to have an open mind, but you also need to be steadfast and bullheaded with your grip. How on earth is that going to be possible??

Yes! We have actually talked about it in some earlier Quotidians. In fact in 352, we specifically talked about Light but Heavy. I am sure you will remember.

We had broken it down into four quadrants. Strong opinions, Weak opinions, Strongly held, Weakly held… And, which is the winner among these? Strong convictions, strong opinions, but held lightly!

Why is it so special though? It is that metal hand, that robotic, all-powerful metal hand holding an egg. It can of course grip even harder. But, if it does, it knows the shell will break! That knowledge is key! This person’s name is Paul Saffo. The original futurist, you could call him. He created The Institute for the Future. He was the person who made this phrase super-popular. Strong opinions, weakly held. Why?! Why is it so important? Well, it is important to have a strong opinion. Because? For a weak opinion, you don’t need to do much research. Only if you research hard and deep, your opinion will strengthen. You must have spent a lot of time obsessing about it. And, so, that is why you are stubborn. It is a very strong opinion you are holding on to. At the same time, you have to encourage conflict. You have to find out what other people think. “You tell me”, “You go ahead, share”, “What do YOU think”, you should go around asking for opinions. Invite conflict. Ask them. Challenge them. “Can you break my fortress down?” Why? I will become a member of your fortress! Open-mindedness! I am going to jump right over! It is almost like climbing up a ladder! The rungs of a ladder are not made to hold on to your weight for ever! They are made only to hold on to your weight for that little time, before which you will climb to the next rung! Stubborn! As well as Open-Minded!

The fifth, conflicting, paradoxical balance — That’s about Personal and Collective approaches. Treat everybody the same, hollers one philosophy. Treat each person uniquely, claims another. Both are needed! Treat everybody equally… Treat everybody individually too!

Classic case from cricket. These two, they used to play for the same IPL team. Dinesh Karthik and Gautham Gambhir. And, as captain for both these players, was our Virender Sehwag. And, both of these were going through a dull patch in cricket. How did Sehwag address their problems? Sehwag had a private meeting with Gautam Gambhir. And challenged him. Taunted him. Mocked him. “What nonsense are you doing? My grandma can play better cricket than you!” Next match, … feeling righteously hurt, deciding to “show Sehwag what he is made of”, Gautam Gambhir, like a tiger, like a wounded tiger, fought back, came, hit a 75! On the other hand, knowing that the same approach wouldn’t work out well with Dinesh Karthik, what did Sehwag do? He took Dinesh Karthik aside, “Hey, what are your strengths, what are your weaknesses? Let’s try to leave those balls that kinda tempt you in your weaker side. Let us focus on your strengths”. That was the “deal” that Sehwag struck with Dinesh Karthik, and once again, that approach worked with Dinesh Karthik. This wouldn’t have worked for him, that wouldn’t have worked for this guy!

This is the famous “Shoes for people” conundrum. Such a large shoe for one person, such a petty shoe for the other?? How is it fair, you may wonder. But, that is only until you realise, one of them is probably Lebron James, and the other is that little kid born just a year ago! You will have all KINDS of people. “To treat everybody fairly” DOES NOT mean “To treat everybody equally”! So, you need to have that Personal approach, while having that global Collective. They even call it the Big Picture. In your mind. Paradox. Hard. But, that’s the challenge.

The Sixth Paradox is that classic, world-famous balance between being a Teacher while also being a Learner. Some people would actually quip — “You can Teach only if you are a good Learner”. And, they have also said — “I am able to Learn a lot, only because I Teach regularly”! That’s a paradox, right there!

One example, for this Teaching / Learning dichotomy, would be this concept called The Skinny Chef. Would you want a chef looking like this to come around and hand you a menu? Wouldn’t you look at him quite doubtfully? For, you don’t seem to be a person who has cooked well, and eaten heartily, …

… like this guy! Only if you are looking like THIS, I would be comforted by the thought that I would be happy and hearty like you, if I eat the food you cook! Are you eating your own dog food? You are going around, teaching everybody what to do… Are you following that yourself first?! Are you walking the talk?! You want us all to learn. Are YOU learning? That is the question. And hence, the Teacher ALSO has to demonstrate that they are a Learner. Same stands for a leader. A leader has to demonstrate, when he is Preaching, that he is also Walking the Talk. So, the Teaching / Learning dichotomy.

The Seventh Paradox. What is that one going to be about? It is about setting very High Standards. Okay. You have set very high standards. What if we can’t match up to those standards? Be Gracious in your Forgiveness! Learn to Blissfully Forgive! Expectations should be SKY HIGH!

Take the case of these incidents. In 1979, Three Mile Island was a human-error-triggered nuclear disaster in America. A peace-time nuclear accident. Human error.

1986 — Not more than seven/eight years later. In Chernobyl. A worse accident occurred. Again? Human error. So, my contention here? Okay, you haven’t set High Standards. Human errors have crept in. But, what repair did you do? How did you ensure it won’t happen again? You jailed that guy perhaps. Fired him from his sorry job. But, what happened? When somebody else replaced them? Did you ensure nobody can make that human error once again? That is the always-rising standards. That has to be set up. If, even inspite of all that, if somebody screws up, it is a slap on YOUR face. You haven’t put a great enough process in place. Remember that! So, always keep raising your standards, while being Gracious in your Forgiveness, because, you see that as an opportunity to learn, you see that as an opportunity to raise your standard EVEN HIGHER.

The Last Paradox — is the difference between these two similar sounding words. Timely… and Timeless. What is timely? Perfectly timed. The right thing happening at the right time. Giving the right advice at the right time. What about timeless? Eternal! You can look it up any day! “Thou shalt not lie” — is eternal advice. Those ten commandments — each of them — you don’t need to ask Moses what the expiry date on each of them is..! Beautiful advice.

Take these two examples! You know what happened with Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs had very few maxims. One of them, the love for minimalism. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Even today, more than ten years after his passing, what does Apple still strive to do? How do we make things simpler, and more elegant? He has captured that for eternity! Can anybody from Apple ever say, “The soul of Apple has changed, we don’t believe in that ‘simple maxim’ anymore!”? It is a timeless advice. A thousand no’s, for a single yes! If we say a single Yes, please remember, we have rejected a thousand other, less amazing alternatives! Timeless advice!

On the other hand, look at the case of this person! He is Winston Churchill. They even called him the “Winningest Premier”. Such a powerful, charismatic leader. The person who led Britain during its “Finest Hour”.. Such a person, who played such an important role during the World War, the person who was among the very few who actually thumbed their nose at Hitler, and actually, eventually, won over him! The war is over. Victory has been had! A good name in hand. Elections come along. He is standing for re-election. What would one expect?! He has past achievements. He has personal glory. He has celebrity status. What more would one need?! He must have had a landslide victory! No! “What plans do you have for the next four years, they wanted to know. Are you going to buy a thousand airplanes? A hundred army tanks? Or, … are you going to lay new roads, rebuild the damaged school buildings and uplift the education status, .. You are not a peacetime thinker. You are of a different ilk. We don’t want such a person.” they wondered. He lost, he lost miserably. So, one also has to be timely. Changing with the times. Timeless, as well as timely.

That brings us to the Closing Thought. Paradoxes. Paradoxes. Paradoxes everywhere. Here is one that is a personal favourite. There is a beautiful scene like this in “Alice in Wonderland”. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is in progress. The Hatter would be asking Alice: “Do you think I’ve gone round the bend?” And, Alice would promptly respond: “Yes, I’m afraid so. You’re mad. Bonkers. Completely off your head. But, I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are!” What a paradox…! So, you may be seen as cranky, crazy, but, you are well on your way to being a great leader! All the best!



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Rajendran Dandapani

Rajendran Dandapani

Business Solutions Evangelist at Zoho Corp. President at The Zoho Schools Of Learning.