Motivated by a post from my friend and my own experiences with work pressure, I was tempted to write something about it.
If you are wondering why you should know about dynamics of pressure in work life, I would assume that you haven’t tasted it yet. I would like to congratulate you for this accomplishment. However, for a lot of poor folks like me, work pressure is an everyday reality which can cause very bad things like early aging and various other disorders.
So, for a lot of people, it’s important to understand pressure.
Usually, people are not so bad that they intentionally pressurize others. Things always start with a push and that push becomes a pressure eventually.
We are living in a time when pushing oneself to be more, to do more, to achieve more is very common. If you can run 5 kms a day, you push yourself to run 8 kms a day. If your team delivers 1000 lines of code everyday, you push them to do 1500 lines of code everyday. If you are selling 50 switches every month, your manager pushes you to sell 70. If your revenue is $20 billion, you push yourself to make it $25 billion.
Nothing wrong here. It’s good. Pushing is a necessary ingredient for the “more” recipe. If your team member is just idling and not starting his work, a slight push may get him started. If your product has high number of bugs, a slight push may motivate people to find innovative ways for reducing bug count. Whatever your sales figures are, a push on the sales people may make them more efficient or creative and get your better sales.
So, pushing is not necessarily bad. If there is room for “more”, it usually gets you more. However, if there is no room for more, or if one is not able to find room for more? What happens then? That’s when push becomes pressure. And that’s a very very bad thing. Because when there is pressure, you don’t get even as much as you were getting originally.
When a team working at the peak is pressurized, the productivity falls. It may still achieve “more” in short term but not without a cost. Development teams that are pushed beyond their limits write crappy software. Creativity goes for a toss. Also, such teams may see more attrition.
Pushing is like a knife. An adept can put it to wonderful use but in the hands of a monkey, it can cause a havoc. So, it’s very very important for us to understand the difference in pushing and pressurizing. Pushing should be a tactic and not a habit. Used as a tactic, it works for you and used as a habit, it works against you.
Unfortunately, neither our education system, nor our corporate training teaches us how to use this tool. We all are part of a network where everyone is pushing one another, either directly or indirectly. Yet, how well do we understand or use it?
What are your insights with push and pressure? When did it work for you and when did it work against you?
Every social system must have provisions such that users cannot game it. It is a fundamental goal of the system design.
At a very high level, we can take two approaches to achieve this -
1. Make it extremely difficult for someone to game the system. Example – Google. Google spends tremendous amount of energy on ensuring that people do not game the system.
2. Reduce the incentive of gaming to zero. Example – Wikipedia. If you put some spam on Wikipedia, chances are that the very next person who visits the spammed page will revert your changes. End effect, only one person saw what you had put.
We know now that the first method is not fail-proof. Wherever money is involved, people are able to spoil Google results and the search results are more like advertisements. Even though you may see that these are not good results, you cannot do anything about it and those bad results will stay on the first page for a long time.
So, with Google, it’s hard to game the system but once you have gamed the system, the incentive is very high.
That’s not the case with Wikipedia. There, gaming the system is extremely easy. As easy as it can get. Just edit the page and put an advertisement for yourself. But there is virtually no incentive in doing so. That’s why Wikipedia has very little spam compared to Google.
So, what do you want to do for the system you intend to design? Make it hard to game it or remove the incentive of gaming it?
Put forth your best and don’t think about the results too much, because come what may you cannot better your best.
My friend Hari Om has written a humorous and very insightful post on pressure in corporate life.
An item on my must-read list. Some more stuff from there -
There is another kind of pressure. Sometime we stretch ourselves, and consciously or unconsciously set the benchmark for us. Since life always do not let us operate in perfect conditions, but in general the expectations do not take into account all these factors. Thus we continuously engage into stretching ourselves. Since stretching in one direction makes our life severely disbalanced, thus we feel the heat on the other fronts in life. Now, the natural reaction is not to eliminate the original stretching, but we start stretching ourselves more. Example we set a benchmark at work place. But consistently performing at your personal high level costs you your personal space happiness. Your family is at the stake. The first reaction is to somehow manage this all. Thus we get into the loop of managing things rather then living the life.
I had mentioned sometime back that Leadership is Situational. The same person who is accepted as a leader at one time is rejected at some other time. I used the examples of Alexander, Mahatama Gandhi and Churchill.
Now, the questions arises, Leaders are always the same, well, leader-like. So, how come leadership becomes situational? How come a person is leader in one situation and not in another situation?
The people who are leader-like (i.e. the ones taking the lead) are always leader-like (i.e. they always take the lead). However, people may not follow them all the time. In India, at the point of time, so many people are trying to take the lead towards better governance but how many followers have they got? They are still leader-like but there are no followers for them.
Tomorrow, when people are just too fed up with the current state of governance (as much as that they decide to take some “real” action), the same set of leaders (social-activists as they are called) will emerge as leaders.
Leader is a person who has followers - Peter Drucker
Let’s take an example. Alexander? He was a leader right? A good one? He conquered most of the land known to the Greeks of that time. Starting from Greek, he led his army all the way to heart of India.
But what happened when he was preparing for a fight with Nanda for Magadha? His army refused. And he couldn’t convince his army to fight. What did he do then? He left for home.
Another example - Mahatama Gandhi. He was at the forefront of India’s movement for Independence. What happened after the independence? He was not a leader anymore. People started turning away from him. And one day, someone assassinated him because he was considered a “hindrance” in the progress of India.
Another example? Ok, last one. Churchill? Led British Army to victory in World War 2. After the war, Churchill told a huge crowd in Whitehall: “This is your victory.” The people shouted: “No, it is yours”. And what happened in the elections afterwards? He lost. Leader?
So, as we can see, all these people who are among the greatest leaders of all times did not have followers all the time. Even though they were still the same people all along, what really made them leaders and what took away the leadership position was the “time”.
There are several attributes that people tend to assign to leaders – tenacious, determined, leads from the front, thinker, etc etc etc. But the most important attribute of a leader is that he or she represents the aspirations of the people of that time. When aspirations change, leaders change.
As long as the Greek army was driven by a passion to conquer, Alexander served their purpose fine. But when the army got bored of fighting and wanted to go back home, he couldn’t move the army even by a couple of inches.
As long as people of India wanted self-governance, Gandhi looked like a leader to them. However, when self-governance was achieved, he was seen as a hindrance.
Churchill? Chief reason for his losing election was a desire for post-war reform was widespread amongst the population and that the man who had led Britain in war was not seen as the man to lead the nation in peace.
Conclusion? Leaders do show some attributes like tenacity, clear thinking, etc etc. But the most important thing is that leaders represent the aspirations of the followers and they inspire a belief in the followers that all their aspirations will get fulfilled through him/her.
As I mentioned earlier, building a website based on user generated content is somewhat like a potter making an earthen pot. Since there are so many websites coming up that rely on the user generated content, it is imperative to understand the process that can make these websites successful or an utter failure.
The pot is made by the momentum of the wheel. And what does the Potter do? Gives shape to the clay of lump so that an earthen pot comes out of it.
First he applies hard force so that something starts rising from the clay lump. And then slowly and gently, control the upward and sideways movement of the clay as it rises further and further up.
Similarly, for the website, first ensure that the wheel is spinning i.e. there is willingness in people to contribute to the cause you are standing up for. Put in some hard work (may be hire some people) to create a critical mass of information. This will set the momentum in the right direction. And then slowly and gently, keep things in order while people dump more and more info to your site.
Of course, things are not so simplistic but there is certainly a pattern.
Carpenter works with tools. Potter works with hands. Carpenter cuts the wood in pieces, gives them shape by applying a lot of force, then puts these pieces in some order back again. Potter spins a wheel which is the main supplier of further force and then just sits and gives shape. The wheel keeps spinning and the potter keeps giving shape.
Carpenter exercises explicit control over the entire process while Potter exercises very subtle control.
Building Mahalo is Carpentry where it is decided which articles to write, the format in which to write, assign people to write them, review them, put them up, keep people on job for updating them.
Building Wikipedia is Pottery where the core Wikipedia team primarily works towards keeping things in shape and maintaining some quality. Rest is all done by the spinning wheel (i.e. a movement towards building a free encyclopedia).
Both are art and both have their own pluses and minuses. They both can give good results. You need to decide which approach will work for your site and then stick to that.
अकेला ही चला था मै राहे मंज़िल मगर
लोग मिलते गये, कारवाँ बनता गया
I don’t remember the author name now. It roughly means that if you start alone in your journey, if you stay on course, people will join you.