Monday, 14 December 2015

God Bless America: Part IV

When I mentioned that “commonly known differentiating aspect, the driving discipline and traffic mannerism, is my next point of interest”, I was posing to be humble. In fact this one is a glaringly differentiating character. Many of us may even generalize it to be an aspect differentiating a developed and developing society.

Chaotic hold ups resulting from seemingly unplanned growth, sub-standard infrastructure, undisciplined behavior of vehicle users, is a way of life and we are almost used to it, if not the cause of it. Many of us like yours most truly may even not be silent spectators and may be abusing spectators for that matter. 

Traffic safety is a subject most discussed and little attended by all most all governments. I find studies after studies since the beginning of civilization (sarcasm intended) having been undertaken by many well meaning and other profiteering and politically motivated organizations and committees appointed by all and sundry government departments. The focus of these studies has been largely traffic safety.

It is irony, governments are more interested in quantity of life (and why not?) then quality of life on the road.

Traffic congestion is a major problem for transportation professionals in India. Most of the cities are suffering from medium to high level of traffic congestion. Although in some major cities the growth of private vehicle usage has increased at a faster rate, in general, car ownership and usage has remained at a much lower level in Indian context, as compared to increase in vehicular traffic of other varieties including bicycles, two wheelers and three wheelers. Poor road condition, non-uniform roadway specifications and features in terms of road width, lane width, shoulder width, turnings and round abouts, encroachment of road, abutting land use and resulting pedestrian activities, poor lane discipline, improper bus stop location and design, vehicles of wide ranging characteristics of technology and operating condition, heterogeneity of traffic, uncontrolled on-street parking, etc. indicate that the nature and cause of congestion in India are substantially different from those, if any in the developed countries.

Governments have been expending huge sums in expanding road networks, but little or no attention is paid to other softer and therefore difficult causes for abysmally poor quality of life on the roads.

Having experienced what roadway specifications can be while traveling in US, I was noting the lane width in particular. For us at home in India; width of Road (all rough edges counted) divided by two is the centre divider. And that is a broken line, meant for general guidance and not necessarily for restricting movement. If the road is wider, it can be because of many reasons, not necessarily current or projected traffic density (including financial considerations for parties to decision making), further divide by two to make two lanes each side. I wonder there are any standards and if any where have they been imported from?

I feel there must be standards but they are not for Indian traffic composition. Can we not have lanes designed keeping in view composition of our traffic, providing lanes with appropriate width for pedestrians, bicycles, two wheelers, three wheelers, cars, buses and heavy vehicles? I can not blame the traffic.

The causes of our traffic vows are thoroughly inadequately planned roads, lack of discipline, varieties of vehicles, our social customs, our religious beliefs related to animals, absence of laws and law enforcement. I am not talking rocket science. This is a matter of common sense. 

Who is responsible for this state?

I got my car driving license in early 70’s from a place, I had no connection with. That was because my uncle was District Superintendant of Police there. I do not remember I was tested at all. And that I am sure is true for many. Not everyone is as honest as I am. Compare this situation to what I experienced back in USA. My host has crossed 65 years (almost my age) and his license got due for renewal. He appeared at a written test of 100 questions. I believe we have introduced that system, but am not sure how effective is testing.

Traffic jams are experienced on US roads as well and I could witness on many occasions. But the way in which law enforcement agencies operate, the way in which vehicle users behave is totally different. There may be queues of miles on, but there will not be attempts to shift to lanes, there will not be honking of horns.

I believe there is dire need to educate law makers, law enforcing agencies and vehicle users including pedestrians.  I believe in US there is an institution of School Resource Officers, a type of Police Constabulary who help developing traffic sense in schools and may be even conducting driving classes for 10th grade students, since they have to bring cars from 11th grade on wards.

I looked at traffic signage and found thrice as many as we can find here, each making huge sense. I found the system of lines on the roads, broken, white full, yellow full and each has clear meaning which every one understands and mostly follows.

I found left only and right only arrows on roads. And everyone went by it, even if that meant travelling 10 additional miles for making a minor error of not following Right only lane arrow.

I am sure we will catch up and bridge the difference. I am sure our teachers will take up that onerous duty. Any comment from teachers in my circle?

So long. I will await for criticism and plan writing some more learnings. I have an explanation. Wait till you hear from me next. The cause is in Cultural aspects.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

God Bless America: Part III

I have a habit of continuously checking quality of my work. Though I am not jotting down my impressions and observations for mass communication, I am keeping an eye on how many of my friends have retained their interest in reading what I write. The second part shows decline. I may still wait before undertaking root cause analysis and carrying out mid-course corrections.

Let me get back to definition of Culture and relive what we saw, heard and experienced, for the time being. That will also provide some respite to those who may not appreciate theories much.

Your first impression of any place could be based on, if you are observant, what you see from air while landing, that is if you are flying in. And the first impression about my port of landing was “how can the streets be so geometrically aligned?” What you see from air when you come close to landing at O’Hare air port is perfect (almost) rectangles created on ground by a grid of streets. I could not take the picture, since I was not in window seat, but have borrowed image from Google Earth. This one is from a height of about 1000 ft.

Though yellow lines are not streets, if you enlarge this image, you will find perfect rectangles of plots made by streets. In fact the network is based on grid and streets are numbered such that the address can be used to find the distance between two points.

The road network in Chicago, our first port of calling, was so interesting; I looked for some details and found that Chicago's streets were laid out in a grid that grew from the city's original town site plan. Streets laid initially later became arterial streets in outlying sections. The streets are laid out with eight streets to the mile in one direction and 16 streets to a mile in the other direction. A scattering of diagonal streets, many of them originally trails, also cross the city.

The road naming/ numbering and house address system adopted by the city and extended to suburbs is so methodical, that one needs to know house number and street number/ name with an extension of North- South or East – West. The Street numbering is East – West of State Street and which runs north and south, and north – south of Madison Street, which runs east and west.

And this is not true of just Chicago, all the places we visited had similar character. Wikipedia has pages full of how Americans handle their roads from planning to sizing to maintaining and how do they plan their cities and counties to enhance public conveniences.

I was thinking about what is that distinguishing character of USA, which makes such planned layouts possible to the extent of being extremely predictable? How can the Freeways or Highways as we call them, be running straight in one direction for miles on without having even a 5 degree bend?  I believe the underlying pride among citizens to sacrifice own interests in favor of city or state and integrity of the public servants could be the reasons. I believe if decisions in public life are taken in individual interest, as against in interest of common good, such decisions will result in crocked roads, unplanned development and resultant public hardships.

My conclusions are, Americans behave more responsibly when it comes to society and public good, than us Indians. They do not have small temples and durrgahs to be shielded and protected. They perhaps do not have private plots of land to be retained in the shape the powerful owner wants to retain. They perhaps care for nature and natural heritage more and provide all that is necessary for protecting nature, storm water drainage, forest reserves, green belts, you name all.  

The other commonly known differentiating aspect, the driving discipline and traffic mannerism, is my next point of interest. Let me do some study and come back with concret stuff.

Till then, please comment and keep me awake.

I must appreciate a younger friend from USA, also one of our host, who insists I must keep writing and in fact demands.

Monday, 23 November 2015

God Bless America: Part II

I am happy no one asked me the reason for the caption. I would like to clarify. 

During these 4 months and about 10,000 miles of travel within the country to experience numerous attractions, one common thread was conspicuously visible. Americans are proud of what they have done and demonstrate the pride without inhibitions. Be it a Base ball game, a Football game, a video detailing Caves or journey of a space craft retired, you will listen to “God Bless America”, their National patriotic song written by Irving Berlin in 1918 and revised by him in 1938. The later version has been recorded by Kate Smith, becoming her signature song. The song is in form of a prayer ("as we raise our voices, in a solemn prayer") for God's blessing and peace for the nation ("...stand beside her and guide her through the night..."). (Source: Wikipedia)

I thought I can only say that after the travel.

Early comments have given me encouragement and some direction. I realize, my friends may be more interested in what I have learnt. Let me assure you, theories and studies I am talking about will only help all of us appreciate realities better.

Appraisal of others’ behavior is a common human tendency. And when we write about what we observed, it is also a kind of appraisal. It is essential that all appraisals are more objective to be effective. I would therefore intermittently present the dimensions on which group, team, organizational and national cultures can be objectively understood, characterized and profiled drawing from the literature. It may be good to agree that in areas of sociology, theories are critical and sound observations made by intelligent people in the past and therefore are relevant.

Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory is one such framework for characterizing national cultures in relativity, developed by Geert Hofstede. Hofstede developed his original model to examine the results of a world-wide survey of 'employee values' by IBM between 1967 and 1973. The theory was one of the first that could be quantified, and could be used to explain observed differences between cultures.

The Hofstede’s model of national culture consists of six dimensions. The cultural dimensions represent independent preferences that distinguish countries (rather than individuals) from each other. The country scores on the dimensions are relative. In other words, culture can be only used meaningfully by comparison. I would while bringing forth the cultural parameters try to relate our experiences and my observations. 

Now, all generalizations are wrong (including this one) and as such at times I may tend to over generalize. Please take it with a pinch of salt.

First the Hofstede’s dimension number one:

Power Distance:
This dimension expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept that it is perfectly in order if power is distributed unequally. People in societies exhibiting a large degree of Power Distance (India scores 77 against USA’s score of 40) accept a hierarchical order. Our cast system could be at the root of such acceptance. Our society accepts differences and even stereotypes such unequal groups. In societies with comparative low Power Distance like USA, people strive to equalize the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power.

We did experience the power equality in day to day life during our stay.

At home, in India, Artisans who are engaged for repairs and maintenance of household equipment or structures at home, are treated, by most owners of the properties, with disdain. Now, this can be a sweeping generalization and may not be true for some. But such cases are exceptions and not norm. A meson or a carpenter or a vehicle mechanic or a driver or a plumber, notwithstanding that he is invited for jobs, will wait outside our place and may be allowed to enter homes after clear instructions. He would remove his shoes. He will not smoke while on premises. He will request for water, hesitatingly. He will eat, if at all something is offered, going out of the house and making sure no one sees him. This is normal and in line with the cast system we are inherited with.

Reduced power distance in US means such artisans are treated as equals. They will give appointment or take appointment. They will come by their own car. They will carry their food, drink and even their portable oven to heat their food. They will enter house inquiring how has the day been for the service receiver and may be, sit on the chair, if you need to discuss issues, without asking you, of course. He will not expect to be fed. He will be able to discuss not just the job but will have opinion about guns control, drugs control, presidential elections, you name the topic.

A host described, what is ultimate proof of low power distance. They were consulting a world renowned doctor for a child’s eye condition. The doctor an Indian, was so close that he insisted them to stay with him at his house during their visits to the town for consultation and treatment. He would ensure the guests are in company always. It was on one of those days that the doctor informed the guests that he will not be able to give them company. The reason was, he had to take a carpenter, who was working for hospital, to lunch. 

Can we ever think of treating a service provider with lunch or dinner?

More to follow. Please stop me if I am incoherent. Comments are always welcome.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

“God Bless America” : Part I

I am privileged to have people around me who are highly appreciative of what I do. Such appreciative groups have their expectations as well. At least I believe so. I believe they do expect me to write down what did I learn from our recent tour of United States of America. Even those who may not expect, I feel will certainly appreciate if I write down learning from the visit.

It is imperative, I evaluate the benefits for the cost, not just to me but to my hosts as well, incurred.

It was planned and much tom-tommed-about tour, as is my way of doing things. Many would inform, about such travels, only those who need to know, at the last minute. Some may not even inform. I believe I must announce my plans well in advance and let all those who matter know what I am conspiring to do. This strategy has multiple benefits. We get all the advice we need to have upfront, and we are prepared for all the adversities we may encounter. Planning for the tour started, I remember, immediately after a milestone of marriage of the younger one was reached, in February 2015.

Even before we left on July 11th, as is a habit, I pondered over what should be areas of interest during any such planned, prolonged and pricey travel. And it struck me that cultural differences is normally the talking point when ever relatives from such far away, modernized places visit us. And so comparing cultures was obvious topic of study. 

I have learnt, though not in an organized way, culture is what you see, feel and experience in the communities. I did look for more standard definitions and zeroed on:

Culture (noun)
1. The ideas, customs, values, and social behavior of a particular people or society.
2. The arts, artifacts, systems, processes and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

I was conscious, all these four months, to note these aspects where ever we went. 

I feel, before I start elaborating on my observations, it will be of interest to students of sociology and humanities, if I present findings of some studies, which will perhaps explain my observations as well.

Besides, when you are visiting a place which is allowing you to travel and hosts you, while narrating experiences the challenge is to ensure you do not hurt the popular sentiments and at the same time present your views objectively and dispassionately. In order to be objective in my narration, I looked for quantitative studies and thought of relating ground level experiences with the findings of the studies.

In order to ensure I do not become a bore and drive my friends away from reading this monologue, I plan to cover various aspects in following order, in future posts:

·         Theoretical aspects and findings of studies describing national cultures;
·         Comparison of Indian and American culture by scholars keeping the dimensions used for study in view;
·         My observations related to cultural dimensions keeping definition of culture in focus;
·         My learning from the tour for the benefits of those younger ones who plan to visit or migrate.

Your comments are welcome, as usual. They will help me cast my narratives better.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Debriefing: Extracting “learning” from an event

I find Friends in the office discussing about “debriefing” as part of “Learning and Development Programs” design. And I wonder, does it have to be limited to a formal “L&D Program” setting only!! I was reminded of an event that happened about 20 years back in the office of my boss and GM (P&A).

I spent best part of my life enjoying what I did in a Public Sector Undertaking. PSUs were not the employers of choice for most of the so called “professionals” more since they paid less compared to glamorous private undertakings. However, there was no comparison between the two when it came to provision of developmental opportunities, provided, of course, if one looked for self development.

Some of us during those days also, were in a habit to leave office much after the day was over. It was one such late evening I left my office and thought of looking up to my Boss and GM (P&A), whom I have adored and shall always do for his sheer genius, detail orientation, patience and honesty.

As usual, he was in his office. He was normally the first one to reach and last to leave. And that day he had a special reason to be in office, which he mentioned when I sought his permission and entered his room. And the reason was, an agitated trade union leadership. The working committee of a left inclined trade union representing about a third of workers has taken onto them selves a cause of transfer of one of their members from one plant to another. The cause of their current action, however, was more to show their existence and prove they have strength. The members of the committee, about 10 in numbers, had chosen to storm the Senior Manager’s office and squat down,  preventing him from moving out. Arguments for and against the decision of the Manager were continuing for more than 4 hours now.

A battery of Advisers, including the Head of Operations for the Site, were trying to advise the Manager on phone, to leave his office and when stopped, to report to the Security about the “confinement”, since such “forced confinement” by trade union amounted to “unfair practice” and liable to action to discipline the individuals. Ours being a Government of India PSU and an essential service organisation, consequences of such “unlawful confinement” would have been detention of the individuals by the Police.

The Manager was however an extremely soft gentleman, who did not want to put the union leadership to such hardship, and therefore was not co-operating with the advisers. The same Manager, however, in other coordination meetings would be vocal about failure of Personnel and Administration in disciplining trade union leadership.

The drama was still being enacted when I entered my Boss’s office. After narrating the events of the day, he asked me, “so what is the learning?”

And I propounded my theory of child behavior, I was not mindful of the fact that I was propounding any theory at that time.

Behavior of a child is conditioned by two sets of characteristics, one inborn and the other imbibed. The behavior set which is an outcome of imbibed characteristics, is normally socially acceptable, since child has seen adults behaving in that manner and imbibed the same. However, behavior set which is an outcome of inborn characteristics may not be socially acceptable, since these characteristics are more genetic in nature. Unless the child is explained that this set of behavior or some of them are not socially acceptable, child does not know that for modification. If such advice is not given in time, the unacceptable behavior gets ingrained and harder to modify. Adults can not blame the child if they have not taken early actions to guide the child, for any unacceptable behavior.

Same is true of behavior of trade union leadership. If Management as adults of the family do not convey that a set of behavior are not acceptable, such behavior will get ingrained and become a way of organizational life. And precisely same thing was taking place at that juncture.

Was this “debriefing”, I muse!!

Comments are welcome. 

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Strengths (!!!), where do they come from? (Part 2)

I am privileged to have been borne in a joint family and had more than two parents to take our care. Whereas, Papa instilled into us discipline and made that our habit, uncles pampered us and took care of other creature comforts.

Ma has a complaint that I remember too little from my childhood, and that is not wrong. But I remember enough to relate my strengths to the gift I received from them.
We had a humble beginning. Papa was hardly in secondary school when my Grandfather passed away. Being away from their home town in Saurashtra, in the interior of Maharashtra, schooling was in Marathi. Papa mastered not only Marathi but also Sanskrit. He was a gold medalist in school in Sanskrit and was an ace orator when it came to English.

I am mentioning about languages only to bring to fore the contrast in studies. He must have scored well, since having cleared Matriculation exam, he got into Science stream and eventually into medicine. Only an avid “Learner” can demonstrate such mastery.
That was just the beginning. He had to drop out of medicine, since he got a job in the state police. Job was more important since he had to support families.

Learning did not stop there. He mastered law and was acclaimed as an ace investigator, having proficiency in handling medico- legal cases. He was drafted to investigate complex cases being an officer in CID. Promotions in police must have had some linkages to qualification. He felt the need and cleared his graduation with Hindi as special subject, when he was around 40 years of age.

I see clear genetic linkage. My last formal education ended when I was about to take charge of Computer Systems, at an age of 52 years and took last MOOC course in Social Psychology this year.

And now the other source of “Learner” as a talent theme.

My Ma did not complete her schooling before she got married. But that meant nothing. When we were taking extra exams in Hindi, while in middle school, she competed with me and cleared 4 such exams up to “Kovid”.  I was in engineering college, when she decided to appear for her SSC Exam and was stubborn enough to insist she will have mathematics as a subject. This cost her one trial, but next year, at her age of about 40 years, she did clear SSCE. I have her mark-sheet as souvenir .  Which better sources can I present than these two for my talent theme?

My parents and uncles were compulsive readers. I remember they had membership of one of the best libraries in Ahmedabad way back in early 1960s. I developed habit of reading by observing these elders. All of them can rattle names of books and stories therein written by Kanaiyalal, Gunvantrai, Ramanlal etc. My mother completed her reading of “Parth Ne Kaho Chadhave Ban”, all 5 parts, umpteenth number of time, very recently in her 90th year.

And learning comes so naturally to her. One reason she has very sharp memory at this age is, she is a subscriber of magazines of crosswords and other puzzles. She completes 5 every month.

She is a creative person, always in lookout of artistically knitted or woven apparel. She is expert at handling pins, needles, crochets and can create designs of her own. She has only to look at the specimen or a picture of the same and she can create one better than the original. Here are some samples.

Her latest triumph is using a Tablet. She has explored the web and created another master piece. Here are the evidences.

Talent is innate, we are born with it. And I am a “Learner”.

More about strengths later. Comments are welcome.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Strengths (!!!) where do they come from?

I am blessed.

I have dear ones around me, who push me to do things which are good for me. And normally such “pushes” take place in the morning, after some of physical chores are done. 

And today the “furmaish” was to think about my strengths and their origin. (The paraphrasing is totally mine.)

I come from traditional school of thought, when it relates to development. And that means I believe one must work to overcome one’s weaknesses to achieve superior performance. The current line, of course is the opposite. And I do not have any quarrels with these psychologists as well.

The current school feels, “Success lies in your ability to discover your strengths and to organize your life so that these strengths can be applied. If we manage our weaknesses, instead of focusing on them (notice the verbs), we will be able to build our strengths.”

Strength is grounded in positive psychology perspective – focusing on what is positive and normal behavior, rather than focusing on deficiencies or what is abnormal behavior. 

Strengths are produced when talents are refined with knowledge and skill. To develop strength in any activity requires certain natural talents.

We can build strength by identifying our dominant talents and refining them with knowledge and skills. There are three ingredients of strengths:
  • Talent – innate, we are born with it, a naturally recurring patter of thoughts, feelings or behaviors (we see talent all the time – e.g. India Idol, India Has got Talent)
  • Knowledge – book learning and practice – we can understand it and talk about it
  • Skills – learning and practice – we can develop it

What do strengths feel like? 

When you do it, you feel effective. Before you do it, you actively look forward to it. While you are doing it, you feel inquisitive and focused. After you’ve done it, you feel fulfilled and authentic.

Gallup’s (I am sure all of us have heard the name and hence not being introduced) psychologists, researched the “best of the best” and identified more than 420 themes of talent in studying more than 2 million individuals. They then conducted focus group discussions with people who were the best at what they did and found 34 strengths which were the most prevalent in the “best of the best”. Their "StrengthsFinder 2.0" is a psychometric profiling tool which is used for identifying one’s strengths and arranging them in an order of mostly used themes.

And psychologists in our group after a long struggle, persuaded me to take this test some time back. I feel what any such test does is, it asks “you how do you feel?” and when you respond “good”, tells you “you are feeling good”. 

I am hundred percent in favor of these lines of assessment, since these tests make you think and provide you with lot to introspect and improve.

They not only provided me with a report but also coached me in using these areas of my talent and strengths. Now, whether I am using them or not, only these coaches can say. They described my strengths as under:
  1. Learner: has a great desire to learn and wants to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites.
  2. Achiever: has a great deal of stamina and works hard, takes great satisfaction from being busy and productive.
  3. Harmony: looks for consensus, doesn’t enjoy conflict; rather, seeks areas of agreement. (and my coach had a hard time convincing me that this is my area of strength for obvious reasons and you all would agree with me)
  4. Input: has a craving to know more. Often likes to collect and archive all kinds of information.
  5. Responsibility: takes psychological ownership of what he says and does, committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.

Now this is not my claim, I have just reproduced what Gallup’s report says. If any one disagrees, I have no issues with them.

Natural and logical extension of this analysis was to look for sources of these talents themes and strengths. The answer is in the definition of talent itself. I am borne with these and hence have got it from Papa and Ma and can not take credit for acquisition. I tried to relate.

I will identify the sources of my strengths in the next part, till then comments are welcome as usual.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Locus of Control

It has been a long time I wrote about what is going on within, my obsession for passing time. Some of you may even call it an OCD.
Today morning I was asking my wife, who by now is used to this OCD, how much responsible am I for the status of some of the close ones. Obvious question was how does this question arose?
My rationale was in the psychological concept of “Locus of Control”. I believe, and now as I read through some articles, I am not abnormal, that “I am responsible for what happens to me and to my near and dear ones”. Psychologists would describe this as Internal Locus of Control.
As the environment around us changes, we can either attribute success and failure to things we have control over, or to forces outside our influence. Which orientation one chooses has a bearing on one’s long-term success.
This orientation is known as our "Locus of Control". Its study dates back to the 1960s, with Julian Rotter's investigation into how people's behaviors and attitudes affected the outcomes of their lives. This produces a continuum with external control at one end and internal control at the other.
Now there is nothing wrong in perceiving one way or the other, like it is true for all concepts related to behavior and psychology. There are certain advantages which individuals with Internal Locus of Control derive, most of the time. Some of them being drive for achievement, working hard to develop competencies being inquisitive, and trying  to figure out why things turned out the way they did.
There are associated disadvantages. Such people are viewed as arrogant, over powering, some one who is better left alone. Such people may also find them selves as being respected more than loved.
And I wondered is this true for me also?? Do I not behave in a manner one with Internal Locus of Control behaves? Do I not get the treatment one with Internal Locus of Control receives?
And as for the conclusion "I am not abnormal", the end-note to an article on the subject reads "As people grow older they tend towards a more internal locus of control. This comes from the increased ability to influence things going on in their lives and the realization that much of what happens to them is a result of what they do."
The dilemma is how do I overcome the disadvantages associated with being one with Internal Locus of Control? And that is where I need help from those for whom I believe I am responsible.

Comments as usual are welcome. Critique althemore.