Sunday, September 28, 2014

Find the "ON" Button in your life: A guide to trouble shooting

Summer is over (in New York) and the Monsoon has passed (in Mumbai). Since seasons don't really apply to Singapore, I measure time in work terms. It has been a whole quarter in my new city at my new job. The weather is almost as systematic as the city's public transportation is the same every day; sunny and humid with rain shower or two, every day.

"How are you settling in?" is the most common question I get ( "Can you help get me a new job?" being a close second!) Compared my Tokyo and Mumbai moves, Singapore has been rather easy. Except my cable incident, which was both funny and insightful...

The cable technician came over last week and after he plugged in the cable box, the TV said "No Signal".  The anxiety riddled man immediately went on a tirade and blamed the building. I proceeded to summon an army of building folk (ok, it was two, but in a small apartment which now had 3 people flummoxed over the no signal, it felt like the army had descended and were plotting a coup). Since I'm still waiting on my furniture to arrive, I sat on a box and sullenly stared at the uncooperative TV, fiddling with the only thing I could find. The remote. And then it hit me. I hit the "ON" button. Go figure. In all of this, the technician never thought to turn ON the cable box! The army retreated and the tortured soul of a technician sheepishly wrapped up. The "ON" incident did give me some insight into why a systematic and "by the book" work ethic might lead to frustration and ineffective outcomes.

When a person gets too used to everything working so efficiently and smoothly, it is no surprise that if something doesn't work, it is paralyzing for them. The technician, despite decades of experience, clearly had trouble shooting instincts that were blunt as toothbrush. The opposite is also true, I suppose. In cities where things often don't work smoothly (like Mumbai), the technician's instinct would have been to climb up to the roof of the building, checking every wire, unscrew the electrical outlet, dismantle the cable box before realizing it was as simple as the "ON" button! In this case, the technician's instincts were as sharp as a machete.  But most issues in life don't need a machete to solve them.

Over the course of my life and career, I have interacted with, worked for and managed a variety of toothbrushes and machetes. But I have also observed some amazing problem solvers/crisis managers. Here are 10 tips on how to find the "ON" button to your life/career.

1. Don't beat yourself up over a "bad" decision. Every decision is a good decision at the time you made that decision. Because it was based on the information you had at that time. If you now have new information, make a new decision that reflect that but don't lament over your old decision.

2. Be a spectator to your own thoughts. When you are in sticky situation with someone or a group of people, don't react instinctively.

3. Don't assume the worst in people. Assume you are not privy to their circumstances and that they have a reason to be that way. If someone cuts you off while driving, you get mad at them. But what if I told you that their kid is in the hospital? Don't you feel differently immediately?

4. Don't quit/judge/decide anything when you are mad. Go to bed. You will probably come up with a better answer to situation solution if you are fresh.

5. Outsource the solution, not the problem. Venting about the situation to people will not make you feel better. Find people who can help find the solution, engage them, pay them whatever. But don't waste your time on finding people to update on the problem.

6. Don't accept monkeys. The offshoot of #5 is that, if you are the "go to" person to solve problems, you may end up having too many people putting their monkeys on your back. You may have the solution but that doesn't automatically mean that you need to make yourself available to everyone. Monkeys are no fun (unless they are those monkey backpacks we got as kids). Too many get too burdensome.

7. Drink to celebrate, not to hide. Pouring a drink may seem like a good way to get out of or forget a bad situation but usually it ends up making a bad situation worse. You need your wits about you. Read #4 for the alternative.

8. Cry,  it's cathartic, then smile, its therapeutic. Much like a river, tears must go downstream and not upstream. Once you get the tears out of your system, find something to smile at, no matter how trivial. In case you are struggling on the latter, look at my Twitter feed for cute puppy pictures! Works for me!

9. Don't be bad, be better.  This is one I learned early on because of some kids in middle school who gave me a hard time. I realized the best thing to do as a revenge was to just be better than them. At everything.

10. No matter how you feel, look the part. When you are faced with crises, the last thing you think about is how you look. If anything you typically dress the way you feel. Men don't shave, women skip doing their hair or makeup. If you are going to declare war on problems, you need camouflage. Don't wear your problems on your sleeve. You need supporters and cheerleaders not people who feel sorry for you!

Bonus one! (10% extra!)
11. It may be God's will, but it needs to be your way.  If you find your strength to deal with a difficult time through prayer, more power to you. But problems don't solve themselves. Open your eyes, face the problem head on. Prayer is a tactic but a plan is a strategy.

These are not original thoughts, I have picked these priceless tips from a variety of different leaders, colleagues, friends and family over the years. But I try to adopt them as a way to handle crises or problems. "Try" being the operative word! Do share your own tips for crisis management/problem solving by leaving a comment!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Air Blog: The Cobesity Epidemic and my Digital Diet

I am writing this blog from 30+ thousand feet in the air, on my way back to Singapore from San Fransisco. Just minutes before I took off I read the horrifying news about MH 17 shot down over Ukraine with 298 onboard who died. May their souls rest in peace.

I guess it is a little morbid to be sitting on a plane right after one just went down somewhere else on the planet. I remember when I was in NYC on Sept 11, 2001 headed to work when the planes hit. The rumors were rampant on the streets as we scrambled to find a safe place. What building would be targeted next? Empire State? Chrysler? Grand Central? So where would you hide from bad things that could happen to you? Honestly, the only thing to do, is to get on with it. Go to work, go to a bar. Get on a plane.

Speaking of hiding, I just spend the last night of my trip camping, or more specifically, glamping several hours outside of San Fransisco with my new team members. Glamping is glamorous camping, for those who don't know what that is (don't worry, i didn't either). We didn't have electricity in the tents so we had to use flashlights. But strangely. we did have wireless access. Yes, wireless. And now I am sitting on a plane, with, you guessed it, wireless access. Connectivity. Which begs the question: is connectivity the most important invention on earth, even more essential than electricity? And if you wanted to hide from too much connectivity, would that even be possible? 

Earlier this week, I attended a company event where we had 2 excellent speakers Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone and Nir Eyal, Author of Hooked. Both talked about relationships and how social media can help stay connected with people you know. They also cautioned that the nature of relationships are changing because of technology, but not always in a good way. If checking your timeline or your email are the first things you do when you wake up or the last thing you do before you go to bed instead of kissing your loved ones "good night" or hopping out of bed to open the curtains, or like me, if you are connecting to the internet while camping or flying, then keep reading.

I think we are starting to see signs of our society becoming "cobese" - a term I just coined meaning suffering from connection obesity.
1. We gorge on devices - the smallest, fastest ones being the most fattening. And of course all the accessories: extra battery packs, headsets, blue tooth, blue tooth speakers, keypads, cables etc. And for some reason, we carry most of them around at the same time - phone, tablet, laptop. You know, just in case.
2. We binge on likes and links - we post and check back obsessively to see how many likes we got. We think we can just click on one link, read only one article, only to then retweet that link, end up in our timeline, read something else. Minutes turn into hours and oh, the gym is closed now so you can't go. Darn. At least I put on my sneakers and "tried". 
3. We horde free internet access - just like how people sometimes go to town the office supply cabinet, pantry or the hotel shampoos/conditioners or the free samples of...well, anything. Oh and people how buy one cup of coffee and hang out at the "good" table in a coffee shop for hours, that is just bad karma.
4. We love handles - (oh that was a good one!) There used to be a time that I was introduced to people by their names and their parent's names. I would know their phone numbers. Now I just know them by their twitter handle and hashtag. "Hey, @VirginiaSharma, aren't you #bandragirl? We should totally hangout #justsayin"
5. We load up on "click" carbs - the pursuit of capturing everything on your phone or tablet camera to share or look at later vs. enjoying the moment, smell, sight, sound.  This is only made worse with awesome filters we now use to "edit" the actual picture we take before posting so you don't even remember what the real thing looked like, let alone, how you felt when you saw it. At the rate we are going, we are going to lose our sense of smell, taste and sound because as long as you can touch your phone and see the picture you took, you don't need a balanced palate of senses!

If you are afflicted with at least 3 of these above you are at least "coverweight" (connectivity overweight) and it may be time to get on a digital detox and diet.  Here are my top five tips to get started:

1. No work email on your primary phone. This was something I started a year ago when I moved back to New York. What this means is that my phone is purely for personal use. Everyone at work knew to text me or call if it was important but that after hours I would only check email if someone asked me to via text. Otherwise I'm closed for business. This also means I cannot check work email before I go to bed or until I get into work the next morning.

2. Be device free for one hour a day and be email free one day a week. This would be the one hour where I would go for a run, walk or swim. I keep a separate device for my music vs having my music on my phone so there is no temptation to take a call while running. And pick a weekend day when you do not check or at a minimum do not respond to any email. I choose Saturdays. After a while, everyone becomes conditioned to not hearing from you. And they appreciate it!

3. Set a timer on your wireless router. This is a tip shared by Nir Eyal. He set a timer for 10:30pm to automatically switch off wireless in the house at 10:30pm till 6:30am. He said if needed, he can reboot it but it takes effort. This means everyone in the house focuses on their good nights vs. their timelines.

4. No laptop on your vacation. No matter who you are, the world gets on fine without you. You MUST believe this. If you are a people manager, there is nothing worse than being a working vacationer. It puts undue pressure on your team to also work when they are on vacation. So don't be a bad manager by being a bad role model. PS Tablets are ok because you may need them as a phone or for the ibook guides which are cool.

5. Don't date your phone. This means do not eat with your phone next to you. Do not walk in the park with your attention on the phone. No phone calls while walking around the city.  Do not take selfies with you and your phone in the mirror. And absolutely no impulse shopping for phone jewellery and accessories. Being smitten by your phone is just sad, not cute.

So in the spirit of practicing what I preach, I am going to get offline and read my book. Good luck with our digital detox and diet and do share your ideas and progress!