Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Employee's power. How to obtain a salary raise

This story was told me some years ago by my cousin. He works in Milan for a company producing aluminium and surrogates. The thing is that they use a complex distributed software application to administrate productions, stock, sales and so on. They also have advanced management software that control the very production process, that is: fusion of metals, compounds purification, filtering and other technical operations on aluminium.

The fact is that everything is controlled and managed by machines. Without software management, strict synchronization between processes would not be possible, and as everyone knows, machines fail. The story is about this huge software and his main responsible, The Engineer.

The story tells that once upon a time this big piece of software broke down and left the whole company with no service at all during some hours. That meant: stop the production, switch machines off for safety reasons and try to fix the whole thing back as soon as possible. Kind of when telephonic network is out of order and you cannot even use your mobile phone, that same sense of anxiety.

So, everyone got at work rapidly to bring the machines back to life, The Engineer was there in the first line to understand what had happened and assistants there too. And when everything was back to the normal rhythm and probably a lot of money had been lost, the management called The Engineer and all his technicians to a meeting.

My cousin was there in the room, so he could tell me this funny story. The manager of the production department started screaming, red-faced and really altered after machines failure, and started accusing everyone. But above all, he reproached The Engineer for his lack of prevision of what had happened.


The show went on some minutes, and The Engineer, facing the whole management staff on the other side of the desk, remained silent. He had spoken not a single word since the show had started. The management team was sitting and he was standing. My cousin reported it seemed like a jury deciding what would have been the future of The Engineer. And The Manager went on screaming at The Engineer in front of his team, and more people had got closer to watch the scene and to understand.


The Engineer, who had remained silent the whole time, was standing firmly and waiting for his turn to speak. At last, he just opened his mouth and said.

The Engineer: "I quit"
The Manager: "WHAT???"
The Engineer: "You have heard it. I quit. Tell me where I have to sign. I'll quit right now, I'm leaving the company."

The Manager after some embarrassing seconds of silence, continued: "Wait a second you cannot quit"
The Engineer: "Yes, of course I can. I'll quit right now. I don't need to communicate you anything else"
The Manager, conscious of the vital importance of The Engineer and of the difficulty to substitute him with anybody else, slowed down: "Ok wait, let's stay calm and relaxed, let's see what can we do about it".

Maybe not everybody in that company knows the end of the story, but my cousin knows that not only his friend The Engineer remained in the company in the position of expert of the IT system, but moreover he received a considerable salary raise. And I'm sure that since that moment, people respect him a little bit more.
If you want to obtain a salary increase, firstly make sure your boss, your colleagues or whoever respect you and your job.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Energy, sentiment and conscience: three keys to success

Today, during my weekly yoga training session I focused on the master's words during the heating phase; then my mind started wandering. At the beginning of the session, we are used to lay down on a mat, keep the eyes closed and listen to relaxing music. This happens in a warm room lightened by some dim lamps.

The master started the lesson by suggesting some full yogic breathes. After emptying the lungs, the yoga breath consists of a deep abdominal breath followed by thoracic breath (pushing air to the chest). Then, always in the same breath, the air fill the upper part of the lungs almost to the clavicles. While doing these yogic breathes, he suggested to concentrate, accordingly the air softly moved from down the stomach up to the clavicles, to these three chakras.

  1. The chakra of power, situated few centimetres below the navel. This is where energy comes from and the point where to concentrate attention when looking for relax, calmness and energy through deep breathes.
  2. The chakra of sentiment, situated in the middle of the chest and the centre from which feelings emanate. Emotions like love, joy, happiness and generosity come from this chakra that is the channel through which we connect to other people.
  3. The chakra of conscience, situated between the eyebrows. It's the centre of intuitive perception, this chakra helps having clear conscience of where you are and where you are going to. This chakra is responsible for imagination and helps building a more complete perception of the scenario, providing peripheral vision that would otherwise go unnoticed.
Picture of the seven chakras
After the master provided this brief description (I am not an expert in chakras) he invited us to continue focusing on these three centres during all the breathes, and even more difficult, during the whole lesson.

That's when I realized that power, sentiment and conscience were not just three chakras scattered along the body. I think they really represent three important attitudes in life: when communicating to people, participating to a meeting, analysing a problem, going to a party or whatever I do in my daily life. I cannot imagine doing anything in this world without even one of these three strengths. I don't see myself doing my job without imagination and loving a person without energy and passion. I cannot think of any relation and communication without appreciation and generosity. 

That's why I think it's a good idea to stop from time to time along the day, take a deep breath and consider if any of these strengths is being neglected. When you happen to discover that you are acting with energy, passion and generosity as well as imagination more and more often, you are probably a successful person.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bathroom thinking

After reading one of the classical books on creativity, James Webb Young's "Techniques for producing ideas", I had an epiphany. Young says that to come out with a new idea, after writing down all the components that describe certain problem, product or service one should try to mix all these chunks to produce an idea, an improvement to an existing situation or a solution to a problem. After that, he suggests to "Drop the whole subject and forget about it. Turn the whole problem to the unconscious mind and to what stimulate your emotions".

This step reminded me of those times at school, during examination of certain subjects such as maths, physics or other logical and rational tests. The mould used to be more or less the same: two hours for the whole exam, and the permission to go to the bathroom after at least one hour.
Logical challenges, defying reasoning and of course memory, require the candidate to possess some skills: to dominate the subject, having done lots of exercises to familiarize with the typical problems but also to be flexible enough not to panic when the proposed exercise is different from anything seen until that moment.
And I think that's legitimate, reasoning and improvisation should be taught at school, or maybe at least introduced: it's not so straightforward to teach how to improvise.

Toilet built inside a Baobab Tree (Kayila Lodge, zambia)

The scenario was often the same. Students who had studied could easily obtain a very good mark. But I have only seen the excellence when personal interpretation and analysis of a problem was proposed. You might call that kind of personal touch, at the time of answering an exam, inspiration, creativity or genius. I don't know what it is. But what I know is that when I was stuck on a problem and could not discover the solution by using normal logical reasoning, I needed to go for a cigarette.

Asking the teacher to go to the bathroom, where I could smoke ─unseen─ a cigarette leaning out of the window, used to help me. Five minutes for me to completely disconnect from the examination and to forget problems by feeling in a relaxed mood: "I have done what I have done, and I have done it well. Probably I was not sufficiently prepared for the exam. But perfection has its own price".

I assure you that after some puffs of the cigarette the enlightened moment "But what if...?" automatically arrived. The inspiration was there, and suddenly the idea to unblock that problem and reach the solution was there too, clearly drawn in my mind. Not because of the cigarette, of course. The cigarette was just the pretext to enjoy the relief related to nicotine addiction. But the pleasant moment together with being locked in the bathroom, thus creating a relaxed and private space as if at home, contributed to produce wellness and the context switch, the shaking of concepts in my mind and the production of the idea.

Today I still discover that when I have to take a decision, solve a problem or look for compromises in my daily life, the bathroom helps me; often times unconsciously.

So this is what is for me "Bathroom Thinking": "To pause the routine when looking for the best solution to a problem by switching the context and taking a break with food, cigarettes, drinks, or any other pleasure facilitator in a familiar and private space".

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Anything you want, you got it

If you are used to complain because your job is full of non-senses, because you cannot express yourself, or more, your very life is boring, just take a pause and consider that winners find solutions, losers find excuses (and I am sure that both are good at doing it).

What if you already have all the ingredients you need to make your life, your job or your relationships with others more interesting? Yes it is, everything you need; right now and in your hands. It's not great novelty that in order to have an original idea one needs to dig within his own environment and find out how to mix things to obtain something new, something of value.

Think of Mac Gyver, you know for sure who am I talking about. Do you think he ever needed anything more than stuff at hand to fix things or to escape from any dangerous situation? No, the nice thing is that he was a master in re-arranging his close world to obtain new things, to invent tools and to solve situations brilliantly. So let's have a look at some contributions to show how this thing work.

Everyone is creative within his own workspace, tools and goals. This paradigm constitutes one of the basis of Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) company: the "Closed World" condition. It dictates that, "when solving a problem or developing new products, one should strive to use only those resources that exist in the product (or system) itself, or in its immediate vicinity".

This approach is absolutely nothing new. James Webb Young wrote five steps for producing ideas in 1939 in his reference book for creative people from marketing, advertisement and other sectors of the industry. From his book: "The first of these steps is for the mind to gather its raw material. The materials which must be gathered are of two kinds: they are specific; and they are general. Specific material are related to product and the people. General knowledge, about life and events.". So it's clear that the first step to come out with a new idea is to have a look at what is in the near environment and write it down. Collecting materials related to products and people is necessary condition to produce results starting from certain point and to produce an innovative value. But it's also needed general knowledge, and nothing can provide it except curiosity for life.

James Webb Young
Last but not least, there is the most entertaining and catchy proof that everything come from some other place through copy, transformation and combination. Kirby Ferguson, a New York-based film-maker has produced a short documentary split in chunks (a preview of the first chunk in this post) to show that modern works in the industry of entertainment are based on classical and successful productions. Song melodies, movie plots and the very aesthetics of these artistic productions are most of the times taken and inspired from somewhere else. To give a quick hint, just consider for a moment Quentin Tarantino's movies inspired in vintage scenarios or whichever of the countless cover singers re-interpreting classical hits.

So, when I say that if you want to change something in your life and feel innovation under your skin you already have got anything you want and need, I am not saying anything new.
Roy Orbison already said that.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

No genius allowed? You can still be creative

"I like your CV, but what I like more is that you have studied acting in a drama school. Engineers are all around, you know. We are not looking for a genius nor an inventor. We have products, and now we need to integrate as soon as possible one more person to our team to help improve the product."

That's what I was told at the end of a job interview by a manager. I still wonder nowadays what was the real meaning of that phrase. I can suppose that on one hand it meant that integrating in the company social texture would have been tough, and secondarily, that there would have been mechanical work to do, like testing, documentation and so on.

I can comprehend that the interviewer might suppose that belonging to a drama school would have made it easier for me to make friends (neither necessary nor sufficient condition, though), but I still don't see and don't understand the meaning of the not-being-a-genius requirement.

No need to say that genius or creativity, call it the way you prefer, is necessary at any stage of product life cycle. So, unable to understand the real meaning of that confidence ─shame on me for not clarifying─, today I believe that he simply couldn't manage to express what he really wanted to say: "We are looking for creative and brilliant solutions to our problems in order to enhance the value of the product, optimize human efforts and decrease costs of production".

Sunday, May 6, 2012

I am sorry, I did it wrong, I won't do it again

Few days ago I wrote some considerations about committing mistakes when a person is supposedly living in an innovative environment. Today I am in the mood for writing some more lines about mistakes when one is effectively wrong and there are reasons to stop and ponder about that.

I made some reflections after the news had reported that Spanish King Juan Carlos Borbón-Dos Sicilias was admitted to hospital and operated for having his hip injured. Not a great news, had it not been for the fact that he injured himself hunting elephants in Botswana.

That news was well accompanied with a photo of the King holding a shotgun in front of the unlucky and deceased elephant.
As anyone might imagine, the fact provoked strong public critics; not only for the act of killing elephants and taking part to an expensive safari, not just because Spain is suffering from unprecedented economic and social crisis, but mainly because Spanish Crown is currently being scrutinized because of a financial scandals.

Eskamilla: Juan Carlos I of Spain, 2008

The thing that made the news ways more interesting was the immediate and clear answer of the King. When leaving the hospital, he faced a flash interview and after appreciating the treatment received in the hospital, he declared: "I am sorry, I did it wrong, I won't do it again." 

Not that much of a speech, really; rather a Tweet (93 characters) saying it all. But after days of polemics, scandals, burning media and boiling social networks, in my humble opinion he finally came out with the most effective recipe (regardless of the consequences of killing elephants in Botswana). These are the reasons.

  • Humbleness is the most effective weapon against pride. Instead of arguing that black is white, acknowledging the failure at early stages is fast and efficient, much more than saying sorry when no more argumentation is available.
  • The King summarized sincere feeling of guilt ─I am sorry─, transmitted the admission that hunting elephant is not the best thing to do ─I did it wrong─ and finally conveyed the message that after all, he learns from his own mistakes.
  • He diverted public opinion away from the fault and concentrated attention on the apology and how it has been made.
  • He probably achieved to go down in history as King Juan Carlos "The Humble".
That said, next time you commit a big blunder and you are aware of it, consider saying sorry as fast as you can. It'll save you a lot of time and your error will almost go unnoticed after a while.