Paradoxical Gains! —1 — Quotidian — 405

(Transcript of video originally posted on 13 Jul 2022)

In the year 2020. CEOs of THESE companies… Each of them very famous, world-famous, famous for its longevity, famous for its innovation, .. CEOs working in these organisations, in 2020… We keep prating on about The Great Resignation and so on… That “Employees are leaving”.. But, the CEOs of these famous, popular, great companies, quit in the year 2020. Every one of them. What do you think the reason was?!

Namaste! Paradoxical.. Yes, a gain, but a paradoxical cause for it..? An interesting question is raised right there. We saw those CEOs who quit those companies. But, if you roll back to… not just 2020, but 2000 itself… look at the past 20 years.. What were ALL THE challenges people faced, while helming companies..?

It started with the Y2K bug, some of you might be too young to know what it was.. It was probably more threatening and more dangerous-looking than even the real bug that hit us in 2019/2020. And, in between? What disasters visited us? There was this dot-com bubble burst. Then, the September 11 tragedy. It wasn’t something that damaged just two buildings in America. It had a telling effect on the global economy itself. Then the housing bubble burst. Each one of them was a black swan. Completely unexpected, changing everything from now on. What will our CEOs do?? They want to continue doing the same approaches.. And they want to solve the problems that they have never seen before. Isn’t that gonna be hard?!

In Quotidian 298, while talking about The Zen of Python, we talked about complexity and complicatedness. And, according to The Zen of Python, Simple is better than Complex, and Complex is better than Complicated. And, there is a reasoning for that. In the programming language environment, yes, Simple, Complex, Complicated!

But, I was reading a book recently. Called The Eight Paradoxes of Great Leadership. And, in that book, the author differentiates between Complicated and Complex thus. And, warns us that Complicated is fine, but Complex, you don’t want to be there, he commiserates!

So, what is the difference? What example did the author use? Well, they talk about this scenario. Take a simple Math problem. Well, not simple, but slightly Complicated. A math problem. There are six rectangles. What is the perimeter of this shape, if each rectangle has a perimeter of 222!? There seems to be some information missing! No additional data is given! You wonder… Oh my, how are we going to solve this problem?! Please try it. I will wait! But, the point is, if a Maths student sees this problem, and unable to solve it, goes to sleep, when they wake up and look at the problem again, it is going to be looking exactly the same, calmly waiting for him or her, to try that problem again. Yes, it is Complicated, but it is not threatening him more!

On the other hand, what would be Complex? He gives this example. Look at the Air Traffic Control scene. Up there, in the high tower, in the airport, with hundreds of aircraft taking off and landing all the time, where a single mistake could cause humongous damage, in such a Complex scenario… If the person, not knowing how to handle it, goes to sleep for half an hour, what would happen?!?! Will the problem remain the same?! It changes while you are working on it. That is a Complex problem. And, today’s management problems, problems faced by each manager, each leader, each CEO, is a Complex problem, says this author.

When people join a team, these days, what do they come loaded with? Why is managing a group of people, why is being a leader today, much harder than it was once? Well, the author gives five reasons why.

Reason Number One — More “Formal Education”. Once upon a time it was one degree, and then, it was work. That’s where you learn. Today, the “lust for degrees” seems to have increased a bit. Higher Education, Education Abroad, more letters after my name, … so, these days, managers end up managing people who are more educated “formally”, than them. These guys are more experienced. More worldly-wise. But, … some couple of degrees from some random college in her kitty, she arrives, and it becomes Complex when we try to manage Her!

Reason Number Two — More “Entitlement”. I am the king. I am the one who deserves it. I need it. I need it NOW. I am the first. Because? Because! I am entitled for it. Nobody is as good as I am. I should be chosen first… Well, I don’t know where it starts… Probably it starts with the One Kid Syndrome, while parenting? Probably it starts in the highly competitive environment in schools… but, when somebody enters an organisation for work, … too often, we notice they come with a sense of entitlement. I am entitled. I deserve this. I deserve a lot more. Don’t think you are doing me a favour! I deserve this. How do we manage these people? How do we lead these people? Complex!

Reason Number Three — More “Exposure”. They come with a lot more exposure. They are not happy about it either. Watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix, and you will understand! They are not happy! They are caught in a web. They have to be transparent about whatever they do. Because? Peer pressure. Everybody is doing it. They’re having such fun! Let me also POSE as if I am having fun! They come with a lot more exposure! And, with this exposure, there is a double-edged sword. A second, dark side to this. In those olden days, when we referred to Mahatma Gandhi, we all saw him as a one-dimensional Father of the Nation. Mahatma. What mistakes did he do? What were his thoughts, day to day? Nobody documented those, and hence, those were lost. Only the good things survived. Today, are we thinking along the same lines about Elon Musk?? Just when we look at him as a true visionary… he tweets about something insignificant, and we wonder… who the hell is this person actually?! So, a cynicism sets in. Is this what the world is actually about, after all? A bitterness… How do we manage these people? How do we lead these people? Complex!

Reason Number Four — More “Emotion”. Once upon a time, we were taught to keep them in check. Keep them in control. Be a professional, they said. Hold your emotions in check — that’s how they taught us. But, today, give vent to your emotions. That’s what Twitter is for. That’s what Facebook is for! Somebody is (always!) wrong on the Internet! That is what each person seems to think, today! Today, people celebrate the venting of emotions… This movie, “Inside Out”, from Pixar. I don’t think it would have made sense ten or fifteen years ago. It was such a hit when it came out a few years ago, because, people related to it. People related to the venting of emotions. And, today, when people vent their emotions at the “drop of a hat”, so easily, how do we manage these people? How do we lead these people? It is going to be Complex!

Reason Number Five — More “Expectation”. And, finally, expectation. That is the fifth problem. They come superloaded with Expectations. Expectations on themselves. Expectations the world places on them. Look at this guy. Virat Kohli. No, it doesn’t mean 123 not out! It is 123 innings without a hundred. Fans had mocked him thus, that he had a century now… a century-plus streak of century-less innings. You know how he began though? He started like this! The first 709 innings that he played in world-cricket, he hammered 86 centuries! No less! What happened after that? Pressure. Peer pressure. Pressure from the huge cheering crowd that greets him in every stadium he goes to play. Started affecting his game. That expectation. They come loaded with it. How do we manage these people? How do we lead these people? Complex!

That is what this book talks about. It talks in paradoxes. Unsolvable riddles. Inexplicable complications. How can this be true while the other is true, you ask yourself. It seems counter-intuitive, you tell yourself. Let us look at two of them today.

The first paradox that he talks about is the balance between Confidence and Humility. Confidence is the feeling of invincibility. That you can face anything, and win everything! You could even call it ego! That extreme faith in self. Humility? Well, I am not a big deal. There are much greater people than me. I am just an insignificant contributor in a corner. That is humility. Both are needed, if you are going to a leader, today. They have to play the balancing game, between these two.

I would like to take a cricketing example. Do you remember this guy? Sir Vivian Richards. Captain of the West Indies team once. He was the original Master Blaster! Even today, he is featured without fail in every “Greatest of all time” list compiled anywhere by anybody. He was a cricketing STORM. In tests, in one-days, unfortunately, he never had the opportunity to play a T20 cricket match. He would have lacerated the opposition, had he had the opportunity. The confidence he had! The swagger! The walk! The intensity! The slightly bloodshot eyes! The pearls of sweat on his forehead! If he comes and takes position, it would be as if he is challenging, “Ok, I have come, What can you do, Come and get me! If you can!” That is how the opposition would feel. If you read about him in Quora, you would see responses like “Others just played cricket, this guy destroyed the opposition bowling”.. “Bowlers shit in their pants”.. Really too good! And, much of that play-making came from his confidence. His faith in himself. And not just that. He went beyond doing it for himself, and started thinking he is doing it for the black community at large. I am a black cricketer. And, I am playing for black upliftment. For, there were no other black cricketers in any other country! That confidence on the field,… and along with it, humility, off the field. Why? He can afford to be humble. Respectful, peaceful, calm, polite, … my business is in the 22 yard space. And, who is the king there? Me! Why should I bother whatever you do, out here? I am not going to care! It is like a dog barking at the grand sun! No big deal! That was his attitude. And, that is great leadership!

The second paradoxical balance that the author talks about for a leader, is the balance between Vision and Blind Spots. Vision that is like the narrow focus of the legendary Arjuna of Mahabharatha. Very clear. I know the goal. And, what are blind-spots? I am choosing to ignore all the other negative messages that are coming towards me. If I set my focus on doing something, I am going to ignore messages that tell me it is impossible, messages that tell me it is not probably worth attempting, messages that tell me that it is very hard to attempt. I am going to turn a deaf ear, a blind eye, towards those.

For that too, I want to give a cricketing example. Featuring Virat Kohli. Please don’t be angry I denigrated him earlier. He has done this too!! In 28 Feb 2012, he played this amazing match! Sri Lanka had set an almost record-score of 320 to hit in 50 overs, but it won’t be enough even if done in 50 because India had to hit it in probably 40 overs, only then the Net Run Rate would be high enough for India to go on to the next round. In that situation, … 320 not to be chased in 50 overs, which itself is very difficult, 320 to be chased in 40 overs… Sehwag and Sachin, already out, with not much. This person, he hit 133 in 86 balls! And won the match for us! They ask him later, in the post-match interview! Blind Spots!! What blind spots? We will know now! They ask him in the interview, how did you do this? And he says, “Oh well, Suresh Raina and I were talking about this… We need to look at this not as a one-day match. We should look at it as two T20 innings one after the other! 160 in 20 overs is NOTHING in a T20 match. That would mean, 320 in 40 overs should be a cakewalk too!” You know what happened? They finished it in 36.4 overs. That is the power of blindspots.

I am not ready for a closing thought yet. We are going to see SIX more paradoxes. They are up tomorrow itself! Till we meet again, thank you!

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Rajendran Dandapani

Rajendran Dandapani

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