Decoupled Aspirations

Some of us have goals in life. Some have the plan to reach them, or to handle stuff. 

Sometimes it works exactly as the plan, we reach the goal and we are happy. Sometimes it works exactly as the plan, and we end up unhappy. 

Often it doesn’t work as per the plan. (There’s really no sure-fire method to making this work, is there?)

Often we find ourselves frustrated. 

“Things are not going as planned.”

“I haven’t met my goals yet! I am a loser!” 

“Why did this have to happen now? It was so not in the plan!”

I found myself having a series of these conversations last week. 

Co-founder, Abhinav and one of the team members, Nilanjana were having a discussion, and I happened to become a part of it. The discussion was about the current challenges being faced by her. And by the end of it I heard myself say, “You seem to have had a plan. And now things are not going as per the plan. In fact it has nicely blown up in your face, or so it seems. My guess is you are hung upon the plan going exactly as you want it to go. Can you loosen up your hold on it? Allow the plan some space to breathe and let it take its course?”

“In other words,” I said, “You know, be detached from the plan’s evolution?”

I was trying not to bring the Bhagavad Gita reference which many of us have grown up hearing: ‘Do your duty without any attachment to the results of your action.’ The last thing I want to do in the workplace is bring up stuff that has any reference to religion or spirituality. Especially to a team of millennials. 

And like a true millennial, she responded, “You mean like decoupled architecture?” (She has been writing on decoupled Drupal architecture, hence the question. Separate the backend from the fronted, so both have the freedom to do their job in the best possible way). Millennials can make innovative connections that will never occur to a GenXer like me.

I said, “Yeah, like that.”

Decouple your aspirations from how they should work out. Have a plan, but don’t get married to it. 

And thus, we stumbled upon the term, Decoupled Aspirations.

Abhinav listened to the conversation, and later told me that the idea stuck in his mind too. He has read the Gita, but somehow this term got through to him better. 

I had forgotten that I had talked about the very same concept to a friend, also a GenXer, a few days earlier. She replied, a day after this Decoupled Aspirations conversation at work. She said it made sense to her. And i responded, “Yeah, only, we now call it Decoupled Aspirations.”

She called up immediately to chat excitedly, because “the term spoke to her”.

Well, in two days, three people had understood a difficult concept just because we put a different term to it. And a day later, the friend used the same idea to explain something to her 10 year old who sat crying that she wasn’t going to win the student election! It calmed her down.

Wonder why this is happening, this instant understanding? My guess is that decoupling gives a sense of separation of two things, and that leads to creation of some space. And maybe the idea of the space created gives the relief one is looking for. And the room for comprehension.

Comfort Zone Musings

A lot happened this week, personally, professionally. Nothing new in the life of an entrepreneur (or anyone, really!). And as I find a quiet moment on a Saturday, the thought that bubbles up from the past week melee is about comfort zones. Different incidents, different people, different settings—but the common thread is that.

I had been in touch with some people I shortlisted for an open position in our company. One of the key ways for me to judge ability, as well as initiative, is to send them a test to do. It’s not an easy one, but it’s not rocket science either. But to anyone without initiative or the hunger (we are looking for), it would feel like rocket science.

So here I was, down to my shortlisted three candidates.

One did it splendidly well, but had omitted to mention that she had already found another job. So she was out.

Another replied with a mail that sounded like a combination of lying and excuses. And when I followed up on what she said in her mail, she didn’t reply. Maybe she never saw the mail, you might say. I use Streak, so usually I know who has seen my mail, and how many times. So I know she saw my mail about the test 10 times, and the follow up mail once. She didn’t have the courtesy to say, No, thank you. Sadly, I seemed to have been proven right about the combination of lying and excuses. So she fizzled out too.

The third person saw the mail, and chose to not respond either. But when I followed up, she said she was in advanced negotiations for a job, and that it would be unethical for her to pursue ours. So that candidate went bust too.

So when all three candidates didn’t work out, I did what I usually do, which is question my modus operandi. Am I being too tough? Am I being too picky? Do I not want to close this position (what if deep down my subconscious is sabotaging the efforts!)? And on and on.

Then I looked at what I am trying to build. It’s cutting edge stuff, it’s not stuff for the faint hearted. It requires a toughness and staying power that many people don’t have. And while many freshers have this, experienced people exhibit less and less of this. They have defined their comfort zones and want to play in that. Comfort zone of not being asked hard questions. Comfort zones of known evils vs unknown evils. Comfort zones of working for a brand.

And that’s okay.

The other way to look at this is that they have defined their discomfort zones for other aspects of their life: maybe their personal lives push them out of their comfort zones quite a bit, so their work becomes their comfort zone. That’s certainly okay, isn’t it?

Some of us treps go into a mode of lamenting that people just don’t want to play outside their comfort zones. Just because we do, and many of our team members do, it doesn’t mean that everyone out there must either. It’s not their calling. So let’s drop the lament, shall we? And focus on the ones who do like to be out of their comfort zones at work.

Then there are others who play outside their comfort zones at work, and seem to go off-balance really quickly. When you extend help or solutions, they listen but come back and say, “No, thank you. My discomfort zone, my rules.” Sure, that works too!

Then there could be others who say they want to play outside their comfort zones, to learn more, to earn more. But if they are not authentic enough with their work, it starts becoming apparent that their ability to step outside their comfort zones is limited. And then it can become discordant, in terms of being misaligned on what one says and what one does. Is that okay? For them, perhaps. For a manager or an entrepreneur? Maybe, maybe not. For me, it’s not okay.

So what are my takeaways this week from all this?

  • That I don’t have to hyperventilate about people not wanting to step outside their comfort zones. If I want people who do so, I will just have to keep looking and find the right people.
  • That comfort zones come in all different sizes and shapes and forms. And I don’t have to insist that your comfort zone has to match mine.
  • That in case of an integrity issue with what’s being said, and done about comfort zones (or anything really), I want to question it.

On that note, I look ahead to a week that will need me to be out of my comfort zone quite a bit. Both at work and at home.

Cheers!

Grateful for Gratitude

Sometimes you hit brain freeze. Fatigue. A total shutdown. For whatever reason. And you have to find a way to crawl out of it. It happened to me.

So what does one do? Maybe sleep it off? Which I did. Maybe watch movies you missed out on watching as life caught up with you? I did that too. Have a beer? Did that as well.

But I couldn’t find the inspiration to think ahead, or work on stuff. Even stuff that would get my juices flowing. It was a shut down. My brain refused to intake any more stuff, that I usually find cool/inspiring/funny/intriguing.

Maybe I should have gone off on a break. Turns out I couldn’t, in my current circumstances. At least, not just yet. The break will have to wait.

So what can you do? To unfreeze?

I really didn’t know. The week went by, so did the weekend. And then came Monday morning. I was better physically, not feeling drained anymore. But wasn’t sure if I had my mind on right.

While I went about my early morning chores, something struck me. “Look up a book on gratitude,” I heard a voice in my head. And yes, I do pay attention to these voices, please don’t judge me for it. Some months ago, I had heard, “Be compassionate to yourself, Suma!” And it’s probably the best thing I have heard all year. But that’s a story for another time.

So I bought the first book that I felt drawn to, after looking at a few. It was The Little Book of Gratitude by Dr Robert A Emmons.

Being the spiritual types, trying to evolve and as a follower of all that new agey stuff, I am exposed to gratitude and its benefits. And to a large extent I practice it too. But I do have that niggling feeling that I don’t really feel it at all times in my bones. However, there are also some mind-blowing moments when I can feel it in my soul. It doesn’t happen a lot, but when they happen it is magic.

So here I was, Monday morning, downloading a book on my Kindle. As the title promises, it is a little book. In fact, I didn’t even get around to finishing it. Because in the first chapter itself I found the shift I was looking for.

“Grateful living is possible when we realize that other people and agents do things for us that we cannot do for ourselves.”

There is an exercise in the book that gives you a format to express the gratitude for something someone has done for you. That was enough for me, really. I couldn’t wait to start writing.

I got to work. And wrote through the day, in between meetings and discussions and phone calls and standups. And even at home, before I slept. I ended up writing 13 pages in my notebook that day, finding 24 instances when people had looked after me, done something for me, even though they didn’t have to. But luckily for me, they did.

I don’t know what it exactly did to me. But I slipped into a nicer place, in my mind. The unfreeze had started. But the cool thing was I wasn’t doing it for the unfreezing. I was doing it for the joy of trying it. Just write. And lovely instances came to my mind. Tears. Laughter. Amazement.

I noticed patterns in my thinking, that were clearly not serving me. I remembered things I have already thanked people for in person, but I don’t think I can thank them enough for what their gestures meant to me.

By noon, I felt that I was back. Maybe not my 100% usual self, but this was definitely not that frozen person from the week past. I was unthawing.

I continued it the next day. And the day after that. And the next. And because this is December, and I was looking back at the year, it automatically became a sort of detecting the best moments for the company too. And as I would suddenly remember something we had quite forgotten, I would Slack it to one of the co-founders (the other was in sunny Goa!), so he could remember too and feel grateful. Then he started helping too: How about that person? And that instance? And so on. Very quickly, we agreed that while it had been a rough year, if we hadn’t had the support of so many people from across the world, we wouldn’t have been where we are today. How blessed we were to have met so many inspirational people through the year, who were incredibly nice to us and welcoming of our ideas. Wow. Some exercise!

Am I out of the freeze yet? Not fully, perhaps. But I am quite cool with this half-thawed person too. She is taking some time off from the world, being in silence by withdrawing from a lot of things that would earlier consume her, learning to switch off from social media, reading only the autobiography of Bruce Springsteen (that too sparingly) when it suits her. She remembers to be nicer to herself, not judge herself for all the failures and mismanagement, for any harsh words uttered.

And she can’t wait to hit her gratitude notebook.

 

How the Odds Even Out

“Well, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you

When you think everything’s okay and everything’s going right

And life has a funny way of helping you out when

You think everything’s gone wrong and everything blows up

In your face”

– Alanis Morissette, Ironic


Have you ever noticed that?

Earlier this month, I talked of coming up against cash flow issues. It was exacerbated by the fact that we were staring at three clients pulling the plug – well, pulling the plug is a bit extreme, but we like to be prepared for the worst. With a tight cash flow situation at hand, and more impending, things were looking, well, grim.

The first thing to do in such a situation is stop the plug pulling, of course. In one of my earlier posts, I spoke about my co-founder yelling at me, and him being right. It was him yelling at me to figure out ways to keep the clients, not let them pull the plug.

So while I head sales, I just had to double up as an operations person and save the game. And that’s what I jumped in to do, along with the team. Got down and dirty with the daily hands-on stuff. Got the team to chin up, and do more, better. Spoke to the client SPOCs, where required, to figure out the way ahead. My co-founder did the same. And we hoped things would become better.

The next thing to do with dire cash situations is to cut the expenses, and look for money to sustain (by quick sales, or beg/borrow; no, not steal!). So we looked at one of our big expenses, rent, and explored ways to bring that down. We explored co-working spaces; we asked one of our clients if he could accommodate us, as he has extra space. He agreed too.

But once we white-boarded it out, moving out from the current place didn’t work out to be a good idea. Then we looked at our most expensive SaaS subscription, and moved to a lower package, after much negotiation with the company. Some money saved, going forward, without letting go of key stuff we needed.

The focus then turned to how to raise some quick money. And as if on cue, the bank called and offered us a loan, far more than we need. We white-boarded the interest impact on the business, and that also didn’t turn out to be such a good idea.

So, sales it was. Well, for us that’s a 3-6 month cycle, and while many proposals and good conversations are on, the closing takes it own time. The only thing to do here is find more ideal prospects, and pitch more. And that’s what we moved on to do.

We did what we had to. With no relief in sight, not sure where the money would come from, or how the clients would behave.

But do – that’s what we do.

And like Alanis says, life has a funny way.

  • Someone close to the business offered money at no interest.
  • The SPOC at a client’s who was planning our ouster, became respectful of our work, nearly overnight. It’s because the head of sales at the company was convinced about the impact of our work on the business, and saw it as detrimental to the business if we were let go. So he stepped in and guided the SPOC to see the light. First save!
  • We did some new samples for another client, who liked them, and decided, we were the right people to have on his team. Second save!
  • The third client, is still WIP. But it has become clear that if this relationship ends, it will be because we walk out. So, a sort of save there as well.

And what’s more:

  • An old client came back for more work. Because my co-founder asked her for referrals.
  • An existing client, out of the blue, asked for a whole new project to be started, right away. Because he likes the way we have solved the same problem he has. He wants a different approach, though.
  • A prospect we had been working on for a year, gave us some quick work to do. And she has said we will sign up for a retainer in January.

So, for now, things have worked themselves out. We didn’t let the gloomons (a word Richard Bach uses in Running From Safety, to describe negative concepts) hit, too much. We thought through issues, knew where we stood, did the right things, and kept doing. And life worked itself out.

But you know, life also blows up right in your face, when things are going okay.

The year had started on a high. We had a superb team offsite which had charted out the year ahead for us. The stuff we would do, the skill levels we would reach, the number of clients we would have, the brands we would build. Ah, the high of it!

And within 45 of days that, I had separate instances of both the co-founders quitting. When we got out of that mess, and became a tad happy, I came up smack against serious inefficiencies and incompetence in the team. There were people unable to deal with conflicts and having serious resentment festering.

Sigh, I should have quit. And yeah, the thought crossed many times, as they do every year.

People resigned, were let go off or coached. The youngest members in the team laid the path for the rest of the team to follow by demonstrating willingness to learn, being efficient and productive and staying happy. Today, we are a far more efficient team. Maybe not the happiest, but we will get there.

The only thread through all this is the willingness to continue, to stay the game, to not quit, come good or bad. And if that thread is held up, life will do its funny stuff. And the Universe too. After all, as they say, the odds are heavily stacked, in your favor.