Self-awareness for a holistic problem-solving

Many of us are extremely good at providing cosmetic fixes to problems that humanity faces. While some of the fixes such as pain management in medical care are amazing, many fixes are merely cosmetic in the sense that they are symptomatic treatments and doesn’t necessarily remove the cause.
Any problem that can be perceived by our five senses is wonderfully solved using cosmetic fixes. For instance, in the US, waste disposal problem is well organized where trash bins are kept and emptied regularly. A more holistic approach resulting is a permanent fix would be to minimize waste generation by reducing overall consumption, which is yet to happen.
Similarly, modern medicine focuses more on treating the symptoms by finding and making easy access to drugs whereas a more holistic approach would be to eliminate the cause itself by ensuring easy access to quality food, air, and water.
We need to see and understand beyond what our five senses can perceive to find holistic solutions to humanity’s problems. It begins with self-awareness.
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How we do anything is how we do everything: On working right

More often than not, we are obsessed with finding the right line of work and we forget the most important part, which is working right. When we hate our jobs, we try to switch to a different job or even a different career path but, we do not tend to think of the possibility of us working in the right manner irrespective of the job we have. 
In his book, Deep Work, Cal Newport writes a story about a Rabbi who wakes up early every single day to master Judaism. With rigorous self-discipline over the years, the Rabbi managed to gain a lot of knowledge on Judaism. A layman would ask what is the use of this knowledge. However, it’s not the knowledge per se that’s important it’s the effort that went in order to acquire that much knowledge that matters and the years of persisting a processWhy? Because, how we do anything is how we do everything
 
What we do doesn’t matter but, why we do matters. What we do is simply a reflection of the times we live in (for example, if Vincent Van Gogh was born today, he wouldn’t have become an impressionist painter) but, why we do something goes deeper into our own values and belief systems. It’s a direct reflection of who we are. We just happen to do the ‘whats’ because our ‘whys’ need an expression.
In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck emphasizes the very same idea by bringing in the theory of growth mindset where effort is given more importance than talent and ability. Practice and hard work are the key components of a growth mindset. 
The magic happens when we obsess about the process and not the outcome (a trait of the craftsman mindset). That’s when the transferable skills are formed. Once we form the transferable skills we can apply them in any domain we want to excel. Success would then be a byproduct. We keep track of all the wrong, superficial things. We mistake the byproduct for the actual effect and that’s why there are only a few successful people in this world.
 
Similarly, Tim Ferris in one of his keynote talks about the DSS strategy for learning anything. This strategy is universal and it validates the point of how we do anything is how we do everything. 
 
 
Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble. (Quid’s recte factum quamvis humile praeclarum.) —Sir Henry Royce

Sometimes, on the road to where we are going or where we want to be, we have to do things that we’d rather not do. Often when we are just starting out, our first jobs “introduce us to the broom,” as Andrew Carnegie famously put it. There’s nothing shameful about sweeping. It’s just another opportunity to excel—and to learn.

But we are always so busy thinking about the future, we don’t take enough pride in the tasks we are given right now. Too often we phone it in, cash our check, and dream of some higher station in life. Or we think, This is just a job, it isn’t who I am, it doesn’t matter.

This is foolishness.

Everything we do matters—whether it’s making smoothies to save up money or studying for the bar—even after we’ve already achieved the success we sought. Everything is a chance to do and be our best. Only self-absorbed assholes think they are too good for whatever their current station requires.

Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing and wherever we are going, we owe it to ourselves, to our art, to the world to do it well. That’s our primary duty. And our obligation. When action is our priority, vanity falls away.

 

An artist is given many different canvases and commissions in their lifetime, and what matters is that they treat each one as a priority. Whether it’s the most glamorous or highest paying is irrelevant. Each project matters, and the only degrading part is giving less than one is capable of giving.
 
We will be and do many things in our lives. Some are prestigious, some are onerous, none are beneath us. To whatever we face, our job is to respond with:
  • hard work
  • honesty
  • helping others as best we can

We should never have to ask ourselves, But what am I supposed to do now? Because we know the answer: our job.

 

Duty is beautiful, and inspiring and empowering. Because all we need to do is those three little duties—to try hard, to be honest, and to help others and ourselves. That’s all that’s been asked of us. No more and no less. Sure, the goal is important. But never forget that each individual instance matters, too—each is a snapshot of the whole. The whole isn’t certain, only the instances.
How you do anything is how you can do everything. We can always act right.
P.S: I did a syntopical reading/listening of the following people’s body of work (books, interviews, talks). The idea of why working right always triumphs finding the right work is a common theme. 
1. Cal Newport
2. Ryan Holiday
3. Carol S. Dweck
4. Simon Sinek
5. Tim Ferris
6. Seth Godin
7. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev

Process vs. events

Anything that’s worth doing takes a long time. The outcomes that we are proud of are results of processes we followed over time. They are not events.
Therefore, success is a process and not an event. The process over the years gives birth to an outcome, which we mistakenly see it as an event. The truth is the efforts or the process we have been following over the years eventually catches up.
This theory applies to everything in life. The relationships we bothered to care about when things were rough pays off over time in the form of real friendships. The music lessons and practice sessions we attended when we didn’t feel like going and wanted to play video games instead, pays off over time making us good musicians. All the early morning runs we went for when the whole world was sleeping and when we didn’t feel like going, pays off in the long-term in the form of an athletic body. All the healthy food habits we cultivated by saying ’no’ to processed food and beverages over time pays off in the shape of a great body, great skin, and excellent health.
Processes eventually catch up. If we are unhappy with the outcome, chances are it’s a result of bad habits and behaviors over a long time.
What this means is that, if we want to become the kind of person we could be proud of five years from now, we need to start today and persist until we see the intended results. We often overestimate what we can achieve in a year and underestimate what we can accomplish in five.

What does student debt, a workforce talent squeeze, & disruptive innovation have in common?

While the world and the workplace are adapting and innovating at a lightning pace, the higher education system is not able to keep up. The current higher education system is one-size-fits-all, slow, and expensive. As a result, it puts pressure on companies to provide on-the-job training, increasing the cost to the company, while many employers no longer need any employees with higher degrees.

What we need is a customized education program that caters to individual needs based on competencies and interests. Just like how we have Software as a Service, it’s time we had higher Education as a Service.

Education as a Service should unbundle degree programs and curriculum. It cannot be the same for everyone; every student has different needs. Students should assess their current competencies, the skills required to get the job of their choice and work with the higher education organization on the resulting gap. All students should be able to earn credits quickly for existing knowledge and engage in deeper learning with new information valued in today’s corporate workplace. The class times become variable, set at a student’s pace to master the required skills. If done right, the student is a “customer for life” and continues to learn new competencies as their workforce evolves and demands it.

The content offered should regularly be updated, just like Software as a Service offerings, with a real-time connection with the corporate world and a perspective to train people to be successful in the face of uncertain situations. The offerings should teach agility and prepare the students for the constant changes they will face in the workforce. The offerings should also pair related content, like social skills and other soft skills to provide an education that is relevant today and will be of interest in dealing with unforeseen events in the future.

So, how is this different from the already existing traditional e-learning MOOC courses?

When learning is consumed in a completely self-driven and self-paced fashion, the retention and overall success rate are low. This is shown with the low completion rates for MOOC courses.

Success rates and retention improve when there is a social and collaborative component aligned to the student. This can be as simple as chatting with other students in a forum or other peer to peer learning techniques, or it can be via complementary live webcasts or virtual one-on-one office hours with an instructor.

Education as a Service needs to take the concept of MOOC and extend it into higher education by providing the content along with the social and collaborative aspects for increasing retention and success.

Personal Knowledge Management Systems for knowledge workers

All these while I have been religiously blogging regularly without even knowing the official terminology of the entire process. Only recently, I came to know that it’s called Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) system.

A daily blog driven by your curiosity can do wonders in the connection economy. In a connected and social world, mere knowledge is not valuable. What is valuable is whether we can make sense of the knowledge. That’s what PKM enables.

Personal knowledge management (PKM) is a collection of processes that a person uses to gather, classify, store, search, retrieve, and share knowledge in their daily activities (Grundspenkis 2007) and the way in which these processes support work activities (Wright 2005).

 

pkm-2016

 

Instead of digesting any random information that comes our way, we deliberately seek out information and knowledge about things that are naturally driven by our curiosity through the process of gathering. Once we gather the necessary information, we make sense of it by curating and then, share it with others in the form of blogs, videos, podcasts, ebooks, and presentation slides. Using our inbuilt ‘crap detectors,’ we carefully eliminate information that we are not curious about.

What an opportunity the internet has provided us. We are all writers, authors, teachers, and artists in our right now. We didn’t have this luxury in the industrial era, though. Only a privileged few had access to information, and they carefully curated ‘just enough information to survive’ and fed us in the form of textbooks and syllabus in schools so that we can be obedient factory workers. They shunned our natural human curiosity and made us all into obedient trained assembly line workers. But, not anymore.

Now, we have the privilege to become thought leaders and influencers in the world we seek to serve. We can thrive the way we are meant to succeed in this world using the tools that are available to us. Let’s not use them to watch more cat videos.

The metric black hole in knowledge work

I was listening to the podcast on Deep Work by Cal Newport the other day when I got to know the concept of metric black hole in knowledge work.

The metric black hole is that there’s no established metric in knowledge work that measures adverse impacts of shallow work such as regularly checking emails and social media feeds and that weighs the benefits of deep work such as a constant focus on building something long-lasting. As a result, companies generally, tend to opt for and emphasize on the more convenient option, which is the shallow work.

This is completely contradictory to why organizations recruit knowledge workers in the first place. We recruit knowledge workers for the cognitive capital they bring in and by creating an environment where answering emails and attending back-to-back meetings is given more priority over deep work, we are not capitalizing on the rare and valuable skills of knowledge workers.

This could be a reason why millennials get bored and frustrated with their work in a short span of time and it need not be due to the sense of entitlement that they have as commonly accused.

So, what can we do about it? I would say, the employees must demand more productive environments if they think the existing conditions are not enabling them to perform at their fullest cognitive capability. They must explain the concept of deep work and also, suggest possible solutions that improve the working conditions. The employer must be receptive enough to understand the ideas and suggestions from the employees and be brave enough to make the change for a better working environment.

Psychological traits of work

Our work life goes way beyond mere livelihood. It can impact our identities for good and for worse. I wish I had known this earlier when I was in college but, it’s better late than never.

When we meet new people, we’re tempted to ask: ‘what do you do?’ We’re picking up on the idea that our identity is very linked to our daily tasks. But the way the question is answered tends to lock on to the practical externals of our jobs.

However, what’s more revealing, but more elusive, are the psychological requirements and consequences of jobs – what mindsets a job breeds, what doing the job requires of your inner life, how it expands us and (crucially) limits us.

Once we are aware of this fact, we can acknowledge it and process it properly to decide the actions we need to take to become a person we are proud of becoming.

Being in a particular psychological environment every day for years has a pretty significant impact on our habits of mind. It influences what we assume other people are like, it forms our view of life and gradually shapes who we are. The psychology inculcated by the work we do doesn’t stay at work. We carry it with us into the rest of our lives.

We find it much harder to notice what has happened in our case, because – of course – our outlook feels natural to us, though it is anything but. It may take an encounter with an alien (in the shape of someone from a very different field) to get us to notice.

Identifying the psychological traits of your work and personal life will guide you to take necessary actions to make yourself a more rounded individual.

We’re broadly aware that the way people learn to think at work can be traced in their domestic and social character.

Work can be very useful for people. The mentality fostered at work might be making up for aspects of the self that didn’t get properly developed before.

But work can narrow our characters too. When a particular range of issues and ways of thinking become entrenched, it means that others start to feel awkward and even threatening.

There’s a fundamental question we might ask ourselves: in what ways might my character has been shaped (for better or worse) by my work (just as it is important to grasp how one has been shaped by childhood)? There’s a poignant autobiographical question: if I’d done a different job, would I have been a different person? And the answer must be yes. Contained within other career paths are other plausible versions of oneself – which, if contemplated, reveal significant, but currently undeveloped, elements of one’s character. It gives rise to the most tricky of questions: where are those other bits of me?

Personally, I can say that I have become a much better person after I have taken up a pro bono project in a nonprofit organization. It has made me more generous and helped me focus on work for work’s sake and not for any extrinsic benefits such as pay, or popularity.
Being aware of the psychological traits of our jobs will make us more empathetic to people for who they are.

Keeping in mind how work shapes a person means we should be slower to blame other people for the way they are. Perhaps it is their job, not ‘them’ that has made them as they are – that has made them so nervous, angry, or boring. It’s the employment environment we should blame, not them. They might have been other people. Our identities are vulnerable to our jobs.