Blow! Out

Let me begin with a story.  A few years ago, my sister was visiting me in the US.  One of her friends had also come to New Jersey on a professional assignment from India.  There was a need for him to go from his hotel to another one, about 15 miles away.  Three factors came into play here; there was no ride (lift) available to him, the hotel had rental cars available and he had been driving in Delhi for several years.  He came to grips with his fears and decided to take the plunge and drive [along with a rider].  He consulted my sister on the best route and the best road behaviour and off he went.  An anxious 30 minutes later, my sister received a call signifying that he had indeed made it to his destination without major incident.  In fact he was rather proud of the fact that he only had 4 people honk at him during the trip!

What a difference in perceptions!  In fact, what a difference in facts!  In Delhi, I can personally vouch that any trip of 15 miles or 24 km of good driving in traffic will elicit an order of magnitude more people blowing their horns at you.  I can also personally vouch that in 15 years of driving in the US, my horn usage would have been limited to single digits.  So, the meaning of 4 honks was quite different for the two parties on the call.

In India, blowing your horn is a way of life on the road.  I have observed a person pressing the horn about every 2 minutes on average just out of habit.  Let us not even mention traffic jams and red lights.  I have also observed that the public is becoming fairly immune to the horn – they seem to filter it out when they hear it.  Further observation states that the solution being provided to this is louder and more metallic horns.  Loudness of horns is a major concern for new car buyers and the dealers are quick to respond with upgrades.  What a world…..

I am sure every resident of and visitor to India is aware of this.  Nothing new there.  However, I would like to propose a radical solution.  Let us ban horns – disable them on every vehicle on the road.  I can already hear the screams; ‘you are crazy’, ‘that will lead to chaos’, ‘how will we warn people of impending doom?’,….

I agree.  I probably am crazy.  It will lead to chaos.  But for how long?  The theory of creative destruction teaches us that alternatives are found.  Human behavioural studies teach us that people adapt.  Let us, for a moment, analyze how people will adapt.  I can guarantee that they will not stay off the road.  They would do that today if they could.  Other techniques to adapt would include using one’s senses; look left and right before joining a main artery; look in your rear-view mirrors and side mirrors before changing lanes; wait for the light to turn green before crossing a red light; wait for the pedestrian to cross before turning on a side road; ……

Wait!  The proposed results seem to suddenly make things nice.  This is the way we want everybody on the road to behave (except ourselves of course).  This will make my life better, we say.  But, will turning horns off make this happen?  In my view it will.  The price will be the chaos until self-preservation forces a change of habit.

Will the desired habits be formed?  Will the price be worth it?  Is it a whackily practical thing to try?  What do you think?

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How Strict are You?

This question is about reactions we have in our daily lives.  The breadth of these reactions can range from being overjoyed to being really upset.  For the purposes of this blog, I will concentrate on things that produce negative reactions in us.

Negative reactions are generally produced when we are disappointed in the results of an action – more often actions done by others which we are dependant on.  The level of this reaction (internally) is directly proportional to the degree by which the desired result is compromised.  The question is how it gets represented externally.

These situations can occur anywhere – with our family/friends (specially with the kids), with our service providers (domestic help, vendors, retail establishments, etc) as well as in the place of work.

When we have a negative reaction, we have multiple ways to express it.  First of all, we must decide whether to express it at all.  If we do, it could be done as a positive (you tried your best!), negative (how could you do this?), negotiation (what would it take to do better next time?) or coaching (you may want to try it this way!).  The decision on how to do this has to be made relatively quickly (until you subscribe to the count to 10 theory) under stress and has to take into account the history of the subject in question – is this result an exception or the norm with this subject, etc.

Each reaction causes a different counter-reaction.  The expression of this disappointment should be done in order to generate the appropriate counter-reaction.  Keeping this control goes a long way in being a good parent, manager or whatever other role you are playing at that time.  Also, the level of expectation should be internalized to evaluate the situation correctly.  High levels of expectation can be difficult to achieve and cause a higher percentage of disappointing results.

A person who maintains high level of expectations consistently is typically labelled strict.  So, is being strict really bad?  Not if you are are able to generate the correct counter-reactions.  These need to be based on the history of the task at hand, history of the subject as well as the criticality of the result.  But if carefully controlled, they can allow the subject to be motivated in the right direction.  Leading by example, and performing at the same level as your expectations will also allow you to use this in a positive manner.

Parents are the easiest example to observe for this behaviour.  If you look around you, you will find parents with this skill in all shades of gray.  You will also observe that there is no right or wrong, but that finding the shade of gray which suits the parent and the kid best, will produce the desired result.  So, the question remains: How strict are you?  and maybe more importantly: How comfortable are you with that level of strictness?

Old dog; New Tricks

The last couple of weeks have been a revelation to me.

To explain, I will have to give a little bit of insight into my nature.  I do like to write, and I do like to teach.  Given that I do not get the opportunity to do so on a regular basis, my circle of friends, relatives and co-workers often suffer my verbal diarhhea.

For the last year or so, my sister, neices/nephews and one friend in particular have insisted that I become ‘active’ on the net.  To satisfy them, I did join a professional networking site.  However, I was not active in that space.  Unfortunately, over a short time-period, this stopped satisfying the contingent and the pressure resumed.  So, two weeks ago, I relented.

I have started writing this blog.  I hope you find some value in it, because I definitely find value for myself in writing it and getting the comments from you (on and off the blog).  I also joined a social networking site (something I was dead-set against), which to my surprise did not turn out to be a complete waste of time.

So, what has been revealed to me?  From the blogging (yes – I know it has only been two articles), I have begun to re-connect with the passionate side of myself.  Not having done this before, I am only able to write about topics I truly believe in.  This has given me a renewed sense of vigor and confidence.  I am able to put into words my feelings and leave it out for the world to read.  I am able to say with confidence things which many people have much more knowledge of and experience in.  And I can do this without fear of criticism or argument.  This is a liberating thought, if I ever heard of one.  I believe that this will also benefit me in the offline world (or the ‘real’ world as I like to call it).  Hope, I continue to find the inspiration and confidence to write.

The social networking site seems to be changing the game for me.  I had read the articles, I had read the reviews, but was not prepared for the results.  Within one week, I have already connected with 2 dozen people who I had given up on interacting with ever again.  This includes family I had not met in years, friends in a different age that I barely remembered, colleagues who had moved on to better things over the years.  I still have to build up the courage to post regularly on the wall (personal messages visible to all???!!!), but I spend a significant amount of time using the chat functionality to renew the links that had been interrupted.  I can see the possibilities of the future and am finally beginning to understand the articles that I had read before.

Why are these thoughts blog-worthy?  Firstly, I feel a change I wanted to talk about.  Secondly, I wanted to find out from other people how they felt when they started.  Thirdly, give a first hand account to people who still troll the web, but have not started connecting.  Send me your views when you get the chance.

Moral of the story:  You CAN teach an old dog new tricks