Friday, April 29, 2011

Of being a Self starter, Receiving Feedback, Mentorship and Michelangelo

I was recently reading thbe book- The Habit of Winning by Prakash Iyer and came across this story

The great painter and sculptor Michelangelo has several masterpieces to his credit. Perhaps at the top of that list is "David", his eighteen-foot-tall statue sculpted in marble in Florence, Italy. Now over 500 years old, this icon of Renaissance sculpture continues to attract- and fascinate- millions of visitors every year, from all over the world. Everyone who sees it goes back impressed by the genius of Michelangelo. But I am not sure if they all also take back the story behind the sculpting of this masterpiece.
The story goes that this mammoth eighteen-foot block of marble had been lying around for several years. In fact, it had been around long before Michelangelo was even born. Some great artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, were invited to create something from the slab of marble. They all looked at it and dismissed it as flawed and worthless. Nothing could come of it, they felt. Several years later, Michelangelo got to work on that 'flawed and worthless' piece of marble, and went on to create a magnificent work of art. Apparently, while he was working on David, a little boy went up to Michelangelo and asked him why he was banging away at the rock of marble, and hitting it so hard. 'Young man,' said Michelangelo. "There's an angel inside that rock. I am just setting him free.".

I did quite relate to this story as this tale is full of powerful lessons that we could apply in our Professional and Personal lives. Some of them below-

Power of Getting Started:
Before Michelangelo many renowned artists were called upon to give shape and life to this rough slab of marble but most of them dismissed the same as worthless even without thinking to try. Beyond all the artistic talent that Michelangelo had, he had a special quality i.e. the Power to initiate, that innate desire to start something.
In our work places, how many ideas (initiated by others or self) do we reject everyday either by saying or within our minds thinking they are worthless? How many times we get scared to ask a question in a large gathering thinking that people will ridicule even a single slip of tongue? How many times our own self stops us from trying something new just because that very something new will break the routine way of doing things ? I salute you if you answer "None" to any or all of these questions. But the fact of matter is that in most of the situations, without realizing, we fail to initiate. Many ideas die a silent death just because they are not allowed to come out, Just because we don’t get started.

I was reading this interesting article on How to measure Initiative ? . Found some great wisdom against which one can measure self on Initiative scale. It talks of following Stages-
1. Wait- People don’t initiate anything from self but keep waiting for Instructions.
2. Ask- Instead of Indefinitely waiting, you Ask your superior to involve you in something of meaning to you.
3. Recommend- This stage is more of not only "just" asking but also Recommending what interests you and the direction in which you would like to proceed.
4. Act Independently but Report Immediately- Think of an Action, Get convinced that it is right for business and take it immediately and report it back to Superior. This is mostly for areas you are delving into for the first time and building trust with your superior.
5. Act Independently and Report routinely- This is a stage when you are completely Independent and has been initiating lot of stuff from your side.
The story doesn’t tell whether Michelangelo had any boss but we certainly do have one. That’s why the above framework helps you know where you stand on an Initiative scale.

As Seth Godin says in his book Poke the Box , The challenge, it turns out, isn’t in perfecting your ability to know when to start and when to stand by. The challenge is getting into the habit of starting.
Start early, Start without someone prompting you- And become Michelangelo of your craft!

When Michelangelo says those magical words- "There's an angel inside that rock ? I am just setting him free.", what is he actually doing to that rock. In some sense, he is acting as a Mentor to that Rock, chiselling it, correcting it and giving it a World class shape. Without googling for it, if i have to define a Mentor, he or she is someone who shapes your mind towards success in any undertaking. Mentor helps correct your flaws not even when going is rough but even stands to influence you even during normal conversations.
I always feel having a good mentor more important than being in the Influence of good books. It only helps to open up and look for mentor and create a stage for yourself to be a mentor to someone.

Receiving Feedback:
Another learning i gather from this story is that if the Rock was rigid, it would never have transformed into David. Likewise, if we as humans are rigid in receiving feedback, we would turn into a Rock that could never be moulded. Receiving feedback is as much as a skill as is relaying feedback. Hearing a negative feedback about self is sometimes as painful as Rock (if it was living) that Michelangelo chiselled. The ones who absorb this pain becomes better and eventually World class.

Do you have any more learnings from this Story ?


Anonymous said...

Quite an insightful post Anuj. I totally agree with the mentor concept and connect to it too. I always considered you as a mentor even after I moved to diff companies and I hencr had a mentor in IBM too. Tanuj taught me how visibility, networking and initiatives are significant. I am yet to meet someone who thinks ouy of the box and wants to improvise the system the way I do. Not boasting here but gradually I have become quite aggressive aboue respect towards work,superiors and initiatives.

Anuj Magazine said...

Thanks for sharing your perspective, Chintan. Yes, its always of great help to have a mentor, the fact i have realized a bit late myself. Being Aggressive is good, as long as the energy is channelized properly to fix what needs to be fixed and maintaining the Win-Win situation.