Uncommanded maneuver

A Qantas flight from Singapore to Perth did some uncommanded moves that injured people on board and put the aircraft at the risk of crashing. The skilled pilots gained control of the aircraft and landed it safely. Investigation reports stated that, the sensors fed wrong data to the aircraft’s computer and it triggered a panic reaction to do course correction. There was a long two minute delay when the aircraft behaved erratically and when the pilots assumed control overriding the computer. There was a delay because, the pilots were confused why the plane makes these moves when the visual feedback from the cockpit window is perfectly fine; this made jump them through a series of quick recollection of what to do in this situation and after two minutes they disengage the auto pilot. The altitude was very high and hence there was enough time to recover, that 120 seconds did not matter much. If the aircraft had been flying lower, it would have crashed.

Feedback is essential part of any workplace. It is necessary to be 360 degrees as it conveys key information about the environment to an individual. In many organizations it is part and parcel of the workplace culture. When feedback is helpful, acting blindly on it might not provide good results to us. There will be an influence of personality clashes, perceptions, prejudices. Receiving those feedback will leave us in a situation where we observe a disturbing dissonance; just like how the pilots were thinking that the aircraft is flying fine as per their visual feedback but the sensors feed in wrong data. Panic reactions or worries about career path arises a lot when feedback is received as a part of the performance appraisal. In those situations it is necessary to take all the data with a pinch of salt and plan the next steps with a long term goal in mind taking into account of all the priorities. A knee jerk reaction to correct oneself will often result in short term gains and might not be aligned with the individual needs and priorities.

The disconnect in an uncommanded maneuver in career will be quite disturbing. Through a healthy cycle of feedback and introspection such situations can be avoided. Dissonance is what causes unexpected outcomes and wrong perceptions, we should learn to remove it off our radar.

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Knowledge Inventory

Maintaining an inventory will always cost money. Millions of wealth is spent in optimizing supply chain and some have earned billions by cutting down warehouses or having zero inventory policies. New technologies, online presence, faster shipping has made people make more money by optimizing their supply chain. In my school days owning a knowledge bank like encylopedia, tell me why, how stuff works were considered to be prestigious. The advantage of large inventory of knowledge was very evident in General Knowledge exams and quiz competitions. School curriculum also relied on the application of knowledge especially in mathematics, physics and chemistry. All those days, I was relying largely on access to printed books with little or no exposure to computers. My dad’s workplace (manufacturing and engineering) also had a similar environment with little access to knowledge when immediately needed.

Technology for sure evolves at an exponential pace. In two decades internet and communication technologies has revolutionized data access such that a great amount of knowledge is available at finger tips. Does this make our process of learning and keeping ourselves up to date an expensive time consuming activity? If knowledge is available in a handheld device at any time, is it worth going through lengthy college courses for performing day to day technical jobs?

Knowledge is a basis for a thorough understanding of the fundamentals. A strong foundation of fundamentals is a prerequisite for great productivity. The more the understanding, the more is the creativity. The ability to deal with higher levels of abstraction also increases which in turn helps to deal better with our limited working memory (refer to Miller’s law). Access to knowledge/information is a boon to us to increase our ability to learn more, not just to help us remember less. Let us keep learning everyday.

Driving on the right side of the road

My first visit to the US was little disorienting. My trip was unplanned and it was the first time that I am traveling on two 11 hour flights consecutively. Adding the jet lag for 11.30 hrs time difference and standards in America for orientation of switches, driving directions, portion sizes contributed significantly to the disorientation I had on the first day.

The very next night I landed, I had dinner with the client’s board members and their families. They were very considerate and arranged for a large range of vegetarian food in the middle of Texas. One of the ladies at the dinner made sure that we are doing well and adjusting to the new place, she kept us occupied so that we don’t feel left alone at the dinner. She was curious to know how I felt being in America, I immediately blurted out that “people drive on the other side of the road, that is disorienting.”. She burst into laughter and then replied “I like your attitude, if I were you; I would have said people drive on the wrong side of the road. It shows that you are open to experience new cultures and accept other standards. Whenever I go to London I always comment that we drive on the right side of the road and the English drive on the wrong side of the road.”

I was surprised to know the fact that subconsciously I was open to many things even though it pushed me out of comfort zone which helped me to learn and experience a lot of new things. I suppose it is partly due the work environment as well. Most part of my work life, I have been working without cubicles (dining table setup) and the companies I had worked practiced openness as its core value. This has made me feel that everyone are at the same playing field; standards, rules & conventions are fine tuned for individual and societal needs. I am right from my perspective, but for someone else it could be wrong from their perspective.

If we get into an argument about something is right or wrong, may be trying to find which way we would express the driving side (right or wrong side?) will show how we are inclined to accept other standards.

Coercive power

I like the reputation system in stackoverflow.com. It allows one to up vote as much as you like but if we wish to down vote, will reduce the receiver’s reputation, it will also reduce our own reputation hence making it a serious choice. Why I like this system is, this is very much like how someone’s reputation grows or reduces in real life.

Reputation does not show up in numbers in real life, so one can not say whether their reputation is on the rise or fall in the immediate turn of events. Workplaces are getting more and more co-operative. Research also shows that a motivated individual performs lot better than someone working with the guidelines from super efficient processes. Every individual gains powers through position, authority, rank, knowledge, skill etc. One of the powers gained is coercive power, which when used never leaves a positive note.

It is very common in schools, cadet corps, military where reward and punishment is like carrot and a stick. In the office environment it is in the form of hikes, assignments, ┬ápromotions. In a co-operative environment where work gets done based on trust and motivation, use of coercive power can provide super quick short term gains. This can make people in power, fall into trap of getting something accomplished when trust and motivation does not get them through. What will not be realized is that the trust on the person in power goes down and the recipient’s motivation level will further go down.

This creates a vicious cycle of usage of coercive power and loss of motivation until the healthy workplace culture turns into an order and serve office. My first hand experience of witnessing this on few teams will never make resort to this power. Let us keep the work place symbiotic.