Long ago, I was in a meeting with my team and a few other colleagues, including my boss. One of the team members presented a new project plan that she came up with. As seniors, my boss and I had a little more experience with the customer and we shared simialr approach to developing the plan.
My boss listened intently without interruption and then started asking the team some questions listened to their perspectives, and also sought out more information about the project, such as conducting research or talking to other experts in the field. He ended the meeting 30 min earlier and suggested we meet after 4 days and suggested a 30 minute meeting and take a decision.
I was curious, and after the meeting I asked my boss why he did not just suggest our approach and just come to the decision immediately and unnecessarily call for another meeting. I said that we could have just got the team executing right way with our approach. After all we had experience to support our logic.
He said that since it was ‘not time-critical and there was no right or wrong approach’ his goal was to understand the different perspectives’ and allow the team to come with a solution that emerged from themselves’ as consensus. He said if the ideas come from themselves, it would have higher ownership and build confidence for the future. “We are anyways there to provide guardrails”, he said.
I had been following that advice from that day 20 years ago and it has been one of the most valuable learnings. Much later in life, I came across the terms – advocacy orientation and inquiry orientation – I realised the power of these concepts.
Advocacy orientation and inquiry orientation refer to two different approaches to communication and problem-solving. Advocacy orientation involves taking a stance on a particular issue and arguing in favor of that position, while inquiry orientation involves seeking to understand multiple perspectives on an issue and finding common ground.
An advocacy orientation focuses on persuading others to accept a particular point of view and may involve the use of persuasive techniques, such as emotional appeals or logical arguments. This approach is often used in situations where there is a clear right or wrong answer and the goal is to convince others to accept the correct answer.
In contrast, an inquiry orientation involves asking questions and listening to others in order to better understand their perspectives and find solutions that can be agreed upon by all parties. This approach is often used in situations where there is no clear right or wrong answer and the goal is to find a solution that works for everyone.
Advocacy orientation and inquiry orientation are not mutually exclusive, and many people may use elements of both approaches in different situations. Which approach is most appropriate will depend on the specific situation and the goals of the conversation.
I was never a fan of potatoes growing up. I thought they were boring, mushy, and bland. But in the last 20 years and having moved to cities, I realize they are the perfect food! They are the ultimate all-rounder: mashed, fried, baked or boiled. Top it off; they go with everything, including cheese, egg, or meat – not to mention veggies too! As a bonus point: they are inexpensive and available across the globe!
I never liked potatoes as a kid because they looked too bland and mushy. But in the last 20 years, I have realized that they are the perfect food.
Potatoes do not discriminate against any other ingredient or cuisine. They can be enjoyed in any shape and size chips to fries to wedges, without discrimination! Also, Potatoes are versatile and are a must-have in different cuisines.
Much like the Generalists who can work in any organization and culture. They have the unique ability to adapt themselves according to the needs of a team or an organization without discriminating against anyone. Like potatoes, they imbibe the values or culture of their workplace.
Generalists are like potatoes. Like potatoes, they do not have a distinctive snob factor. They usually do not cost much to hire while delivering immense value to organizations when hired well!
Like potatoes that are easy to prepare, Generalists can quickly be onboarded across industries because they possess skills applicable across domains.
Generalists are the ultimate all-rounder, like potatoes.
Potatoes are versatile and adaptable and can be cooked in various ways. You can have your mashed spuds straight up or make them into chips, wedges or even potato gratin. These versatile tubers can be used as the main course or as the side dish—they are equally good either way!
A good Generalist is similar —they are the ultimate all-rounder who can take on any role you give them, no matter how big or small. A true Generalist will always be your second-in-command (after all, they are exceptionally good at taking orders). They are also more than capable of stepping up to lead projects if they need to do so—and sometimes even when they do not need to do so because they want some more responsibility!
Generalists are wildly versatile – mashed, fried, baked or boiled. Oops.
Have you ever noticed that potatoes are versatile? They can be mashed, fried, baked or boiled. You can use them as a side dish or main course. You can even make potato salad out of them (and who does not love potato salad?).
Just like good Generalists! Good Generalists are versatile, and they can be used in many ways. They can be used as a team lead, a project manager in the main course, or as that go-to resourceful guy.
Top it off; they go with everything, including cheese, egg, meat, or veggies. A good Generalist can be put in any department – project, product, sales, operations, or finance. They can be worked with in many ways, go with many departments and are not too pricey and accessible.
They can be your side dish or even your main course.
Like potatoes, a good generalist can be your “side dish, or even your main course” (sic). The potato and the generalist are both versatile. They can work on projects requiring technical skills but not too much specialization—tasks called “the 80%” if you are looking for someone to take care of the back-end development of your website or app, great! Oh wait, did you say your Operations team have quit en masse? Look for a few generalists. That is yet another area where they will shine, not outside their boss. And after all this, they will probably still have time left to help with other things like graphic design or marketing (if you need it).
The bottom line is that if you need something done quickly and well—and do not mind having them around after they are done—good generalists will always be there for you.
They are also not expensive and accessible across the globe.
Yes, they are not expensive, like some Yartsa Gunbu, Spanish peas, Wasabi roots or pink lettuce. Potatoes are accessible across the globe and inexpensive. There may be some La Bonnotte Potatoes, but they are more exceptions than the rule. They can be grown in most countries, which means they are available all year round, unlike other foods with strict growing seasons. Potatoes contain a valuable source of carbohydrates, vitamin C, potassium, and fibre, making them ideal for people on a budget or with dietary restrictions. Even more importantly—they can be stored for months!
The generalist is produced in most countries, universally available, and significantly less constant skilling and grooming. Generalists are a valuable resource for contextualization, standardization, and cross-functional and cross-industry innovation. Even more importantly, they have a long shelf life, unlike some of the tech industry, where the skills courses/certifications they attempt to gain are already ancient by the time they finish a course!
Generalists are a valuable resource for contextualization, standardization, and cross-functional and cross-industry innovation.
A Generalist is like a potato – good in everything but rarely gets credit for all the goodness.
Yes, many things, well, from being a Patient Care Assistant or a Police Officer or a President, but they rarely get credit for all the goodness that comes from being a Jack of all trades. A Generalist can be hired for any project or team because they are usually capable in many areas. It is high time we see their versatility and pay attention as they should. From fries to wedges to chips – they are everywhere.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post and found it helpful in shaping and shifting your career. If you are a Generalist like me, do not worry. We have lots of time to prove that we are good and the best at what we do!
I share my experiences from a devastating accident in which I almost lost three fingers, and what I have learned from this miracle ordeal.
Three years ago, it was late Sunday evening in January when I met with a freak yet devastating accident. As I was working on a 12,000 RPM rotary metal cutting tool, a momentary lapse of attention and I severed my three fingers on the right hand.
This jolted my family and threw life out of gear. With three small beautiful children and a family that is dependent, an entrepreneurial journey, and a whole life ahead, a useless right hand, was the last thing one would want on.
By the time I was wheeled into A&E, the situation was grave, and more than one hospital in the area refused admission as they did not have the doctor on call over that weekend. It was a weekend night, and Bangalore roads were choked with heavy traffic.
The Two-Wheeler Ride To Eternity:
And clutching the tree dismembered fingers of my right hand tightly with the left. I rode pillion on a two-wheeler, and my wife was the ‘ambulance’ driver. The blood loss was significant as The body gushed out blood to the fingers. Sitting in the pillion, the one thing on my mind was to keep myself awake, come what may, and not become unconscious and fall off. I hugged my feet to the sides of the scooter, much like how you would on a horse and kept talking to my wife, lest i fall asleep. The notorious city’s traffic was not helping and a good 30-40 minutes later, and what seemed like an eternity, we reach a hospital that would admit us.
What happened during that ride was nothing short of awakening and rebirth.
What happened during that ride was nothing short of awakening and rebirth. My mind was filled with an intricate mix of self-doubt and self-acceptance on what-if and how I will live with just a thumb and a little finger for the rest of my life. A billion thoughts crisscrossed my mind. Would this be the end of me? Will I be accepted in this world? How will I have an opportunity to pursue my hobbies and passions for which I came back to India? How will I do as an entrepreneur? Would this end my professional life forever?
The Surgery And The Recovery
It was an intense 4-5-hour surgery under general anesthesia, and I remained drugged for hours afterward. I still remember the light banter in the Operation Theatre with the surgeon. He informed me that he would need me to sign the consent form, as he said, “….we can save one finger, be ready to lose two of them, but we will try to save the second one”. This was before the General Anaesthesia, and I replied, “Doc, without those three fingers, I cannot sign. How about you fix them, and then I can have the form signed in no time.” After a good guffaw, they got the consent form signed by my wife, who was there through out the phase not sleeping a wink.
Cut forward to 6 weeks later – As we went for the removal of cast and stitches, my doctor was awed and euphoric – for this recovery was beyond all his expectations. He mentioned I was ‘one big lucky man‘; While I was relieved, I knew deep within that the hundreds of prayers and positive energy from many well-wishers and the doctor’s dedication would not go waste.
And all that was backed by a rock-solid backbone by wife and children, strong support of family, prayers, blessings, and encouragement from many friends. Over the next few months – life had ‘raced back to normalcy – in 6-8 weeks, much earlier than the expected 6-12 months.
I was welcomed from the hospital with a cake, and the little ones were more excited to see me, than to have a piece of that cake.
I have learned a lot in those few months and unlearned many more. It indeed was a rebirth. With many cobwebs in mind removed, the mind knows what is essential in life. In retrospect, this was the best exerience in my life, yet. Couldn’t have been luckier to have this experience.
Here’s a summary of the six most important lessons that I’ve learned:
Throughout the adventurous journey, I realized the importance of having the love and respect of family, whom you could always depend on. My parents-in-law were all the time and my parents flew in from Dubai immediately after hearing this. With that confidence of the support of my family and friends, I would sail through this life. I was also fortunate to have support in the form of many hundreds of telephone calls and WhatsApp inquiries from all corners of the world. Many of them dropped by for a visit. Words of encouragement, flower bouquets, courier packages with holy water, ashes, and prasadams(similar to holy water, in the form of solid or liquid) from holy places were pouring in.
Within minutes of the accident, and immediately after the shock, I had mentally prepared to accept whatever was on the cards and whatever googly life threw at me. If it means living with just my thumb and the little finger for the rest of my life. I was ready for a life the way it was dished out to me.
Gratitude was the most important of all the learnings. Through the process of a long recovery, I was filled with immense gratitude for all the amazing things that life had to offer. I was grateful for all that so many people have done for me. Through the countless solitary moments, I thanked thousands of people, yes, thousands of people. I could vividly remember the faces of the many persons I had encountered since childhood. And, I believe that act alone was the single most significant contributor to my miracle recovery, a record of sorts.
Let alone not losing any of the fingers as the doctor had said, the recovery was much lesser than six-twelve months; I was ready and kicking and six weeks. In fact, just a day after the bandages removed and even without physiotherapy I went ahead and did what I love to do – an 800 km Road trip, more than half-which I was at the wheel.
I could vividly remember the faces of the many persons that I had encountered in life since childhood.
If there is one important thing other than gratitude, mentioned Earlier it is the law of attraction. Much I was accepting each day for what it was; I was not willing to let go of the optimist in me and the fighter in me. Each day, I would visualise miraculous healing and see the senior surgeon tell us that he was amazed at the speed of recovery.
Adaptability Of Human Body:
Through my journey, I was able to be aware of and observe remarkable aspects of the internal workings of the human body. The experience of ‘electric shocks’ from nerve endings as they try to heal, regrow and reconnect to the nervous system, the incredible way my left hand took over seamlessly, much like a doubles partner, to compensate for my every weakness. The reflexes had dramatically improved. Never in my entire life would I have experienced such a level of alertness and strong reflexes .
Dramatic Increase In IQ Tests
Here, I’m going to speak about something incredible that happened and is beyond imagination. This was more of an unintended consequence, serendipity if you may, for what you are about to hear is not something even I foresaw in my wildest dreams.
I am a regular player of online brain games like Lumosity. After that break of about 6 to 8 weeks, scores consistently surged way higher than any previous of the high scores. Not believing this magical twist, I took 20 -30 different brain tests. The scores were consistently 30-70% higher than my earlier high scores. On further research, I learned that sudden use of the left hand for the considerable amount of time helped activate the other half of the brain.
Today, I am so grateful to the people around me, my life, and the universe. When I play badminton, play with children, pick up those weights in the gym, or make that 10,000 km road trip – and all of them are still a bit of effort, nonetheless – not a day passes without feeling how blessed life has been.
Let me twist this the other way round –
How would you feel if the President of your company is cynical about your organization, its products, its people and its processes? Would you work for that President?
If you want to head this company some day, would it not be fair that you commit yourself totally to its people, products and services. You must understand the company’s mission and its values. You must live the company culture. You must do this as your second nature. You must at all times be worthy of being a representative of the company that you work for.
Use its products. If possible promote them tirelessly to all, especially family and friends.
Buy your company’s stock, if available (and affordable).
Talk about the great people you work with. Be proud about them as your colleagues and friends.
We have all seen this enough times
customers do not buy from salesmen who do not believe in their product.
candidates do not join companies where HR does not believe in their own company’s values
employees do not want to work for managers who do not believe in the company
prospective employers shun candidates who talk ill of their previous organizations
If you do not believe in your company’s products, values, services or vision – DO NOT work for that company. There is no point in having you go through the dissonance each day, personally and with people around you. If you do not believe in smoking or explosives or that addictive video game, don’t work for such companies. Cynicism about ones own company, its people and products is hallmark of a loser, not its future President.
PS: I am not suggesting that you must blindly advocate the wrong, if the company does one. If something is amiss, critique it constructively, offer to help and share with your superiors on the disconnect and how you plan to fix them. Do all it takes to fix it. Or, may be there is a reason for the way things are that you may not know. By all means avoid the gossips and cynicism.
Business is tough and may is not joy ride. That should not stop you from emanating joy and having fun along the way. As a manager, you are expected to to keep the team focussed towards the goal. You are supposed to to lead them through the journey. You can make the journey hard, grumpy and tiring. Or you have a choice to make the joy, fun and lively. It is a common knowledge that people who enjoy their work can be more creative, more enthusiastic and more productive. Conversely, an environment that is constantly serious and matter-of-fact is stressful and inefficient. The manager who is able to maintain a sense of humour, lightens the mental load will always have a motivated happy team. A motivated less stressed team is a more productive team. They achieve things faster, better and bigger. Sense of humour is mark of intelligence and quality sought out for corporate presidents. If you see it as a rare quality – all the more reason you have a better change of being one if you possess one. Make fun@work a reality.
Always answer the phone with enthusiasm in your voice and show your appreciation for the caller. In today’s times where telephonic conversation are over mobile phones and VOIPsare a norm, this aspect has become even more crucial in creating the first impression.
We all are very perceptive when the person at the other end is just not listening to us in the conference call or he is just bored.
How many times have you got disappointed with the apathetic approach with a call centre?
How would you react when you call 900 and the person at the other end answers with lethargy and disinterest?
Yes, these are extreme examples. Good phone manners are essential.
To convey authority on the line, stand up. This will instil further confidence in your voice.
To convey empathy, get closer to the phone – switch off the speaker phone – and pick up the receiver.
To convey friendliness, smile. The other party can sure hear your smile.
Practice this for a week and you will see the difference in the way people react to you.