Thursday, August 18, 2011

"An Attempt to define Personal Excellence..."- Presentation at BWST-3

I had an interesting experience being a part of Bangalore Workshop on Software Testing-3 . While i will write about my experience on being a part of this Workshop separately, i intended to first share a summary on my presentation in this Workshop.

The theme of this workshop as unique in many sense. It was Personal excellence & skill development . Being a part of quite a few conferences in the past, this was arguably the first workshop (or a conference) dedicated to this so relevant topic. That was exactly one of my first thoughts when i got to know about Speaking opportunity here i.e. Personal Excellence is so very important but most of the external conferences are so focused on rather external skills (Some call them Technical Skills, Some Hard skills, Some Job skills...).

In short, i knew i had to contribute to this opportunity and i chose a topic quite related and close to my experience. My topic was-
An Attempt to define Personal Excellence- Some Snippets from my experience
I have uploaded the presentation here .

This session was quite close to my heart as i chose to spoke on some experiences that i have been through in the past, which has largely helped me to shape my mind and thinking. While i need to get better at video recording my sessions but till the time i do so, i wanted to Summarize the key points of my talk here. Before you proceed, just to mention, what follows are just my thoughts on Personal Excellence, which may differs from yours. So do share your perspective.

Some Key points i presented:

- This presentation is just “An attempt to define Personal Excellence…” rather than a definite guide to Personal Excellence as i am no definite authority on Personal Excellence.

Essence of Personal Excellence: This dialog from the movie
3 Idiots define the essence of Personal Excellence for me
Kisi Mahapurush ne kaha hai, success ke pichhe mat bhago. Excellence! Excellence ka pichha karo. Kamyabi jhakkh mar ke tumhare pichhe aayegi. (Some wise soul has told that, don’t run after success. Excellence! Follow and conquer Excellence! Post which success will just come running at your door steps.)

I believe most of the answers regarding Personal Excellence reside inside us rather than outside.

Reading shapes your mind One of the quotes that i found Inspirational is-
If you read for just half an hour everyday, you could finish a 250 page book in just two weeks' time. That's twenty six books a year. A hundred books in next four years.
To learn and grow, make reading (books that make you better) your religion. Just think, what difference would that make to the quality of your mind, your career, your life ?

Habit of reading in itself cannot change you unless you have the necessary will: One of my learnings have been that Reading books or Reading quotes in itself cannot Change you. These acts or habits are powerless in a way as in the mere act of reading alone cannot change you. At the most what it can do is to Inspire you. Unless one matches that Inspiration with will and Inspiration to bring you that positive change you wanted, the whole act of Reading may not be that fruitful in the end.

- With the advent of Globalization and the adoption of
Employees first culture, More than ever in the history of human kind, there is now an unrelenting focus on people and Individual Excellence and Organizations are beginning to understand the same.

Personal Excellence=Excellence in various Life situations: I find Personal Excellence very closely associated with how one deals with different situations you find yourself in. Most of us generally gets to deal with myriad of situations when executing our professions. Some can be easy, Some will be tough for sure. Its actually how one gets to handle the different situations defines the level of success one enjoys. You can either be faced with a tough boss or tough colleague, or with a situation of people around you being fired, or even the situation of having to convey a bad news (as a testers we are often) or even the situation of having promoted, there can be numerous such situations.
Shane Warne once said-
Never worry about the situation you are in because that is already upon you. Instead ask yourself how can you win from here.

An uncluttered mind and an ability to think on feet are important when dealing with situations specific to Conveying the bad news (last minute bugs, not so pleasant news about Product Quality etc.) as there can be a lot of unexpected conversations during these situations. Preparing for worse is a wise move but keeping your mind clouded with worse happening doesnt help. As Michael Fox once said- "Never think too much about the worse for it may never happens. If you keep thinking about the worse and Even if it happens by chance, you would have lived it twice.".

Handling Disappointments: The Unexpected conversations in the above situations can also lead to disappointments. Handling disappointments successfully is as important as handling the successes in one's career.
I found Don Shula's twenty-four hour rule quite relevant in managing disappointments at workplace. As Don Shula says-
I had a twenty-four hour rule. I allowed myself, my coaches, and our players a maximum of twenty-four hours after football game to celebrate a victory or bemoan a defeat. During that time, everyone was encouraged to experience the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat as deeply as possible, while learning as much as we could from that same experience. Once the twenty-four hour deadline had passed, we put it behind us and focused our energies on preparing for next opponent.

Difference between "Commitment" and "Interest"
For managing multiple tasks and passions at work and in life in general, it is important to be able to distinguish between the tasks you are merely interested in as against the tasks you are truly committed for. As Ken Blanchard says in his book "The Heart of a Leader"
I learned from author and consultant Art Turock that we need to make a distinction between being interested and being committed. When you are "interested" in doing something, you only do it when its convenient, but when you are "committed", you follow through no matter what, no excuse."

Managing time and priorities Another aspect that i find quite relevant in managing multiple tasks and passions is Effective time management and effort prioritization. I have learned that managing time well is more about managing yourself well so that you can make most of the time.
Subroto Bagchi in his book- “The Professional” mentions-
It is probably more effective to watch and learn from people who actually seem to manage their time well, and who feel productive and satisfied. My experience of meeting many such people and working with them tells me the primary quality they all have is self-discipline. If someone does not have basic self-discipline, you will soon find that poor time management is just one of their many problems.
On Prioritization-
The issue some people face is not the absence of a goal, whether big or small. The issue is their multiplicity. For people with resources, it is the lack of prioritization that becomes a big problem . It is important to prioritize one’s life. Ask what is really important to you. Also ask why this thing is so important and are you willing to commit yourself completely to it.
The prioritization of work is more often as simple as having discipline to put down all your tasks on a paper or document and number them in order of execution. Simple. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Setting your own benchmarks: Most people benchmark their progress with the number of promotions one gets and after how long. This may be a right benchmark depending upon your goals and aspirations but more often this is typically done to keep up with rather false societal norms. It is important to set own benchmarks for self and work towards having a body of work that you can be proud of and remembered for. Getting promoted alone may not be the best benchmark for one's career. It is not always a true measure of excellence in job.

The need to Initiate, Getting Started: 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. As Seth Godin says in his book- "Poke the Box"
The essence of human is to get started
So for a change raise your hand to take up an initiative you have no knowledge about. That very act will make you better than those who have knowledge but no will to get started. Any Knowledge and Skill can be attained much faster than you can imagine, it is often the willingness to get started that separates Achievers from Average employees, from Dispensable to indispensable employees.

How well do we ask for feedback often separates how much better do we get ? Paul Arden in his book- Whatever you think, think the opposite says-
Ask for a Slap in the face.
Let me explain- if you ask someone your piece of work and you ask them “What do you think ?”, they will probably say its ok because they don’t want to offend you. Next time, instead of asking what is right, ask for What is wrong in this piece of work ? This question usually changes the equation a bit. They may not say what you want to hear but the chances are that they will give you a truthful criticism. Truth hurts but in a long run it is better than a pat on the back.

What’s your definition of "Done" and how Religiously do you follow it ?
When someone says I have Done something, how would you know that something is really Done.
As Subroto Bagchi says beautifully in his book “The Professional”-
"The quality to do what you have said you will do, in the time you have committed to must be applied to the smallest of tasks in your life. Without it, you not only disrespect others, you disrespect yourself."

- The Final point i made in the presentation was that The very idea of Personal Excellence goes beyond self. This may sound contradictory to what i mentioned in the beginning but i believe that the whole notion of Personal Excellence can sometimes (and often) make ourselves very Selfish. After all, by its very nature, Personal Excellence is close to you. I was reading this interesting story of Mirake Couriers . They are a Courier company with a difference in the sense that they employ only deaf people in their organization. The whole act of delivering a courier does not ideally require the delivery man speaking. Its just Packed, Delivered and Sealed. What a beautiful company!
How much of Software Testing can we do by not being able to speak ? Can deaf people make good testers ? The more i think about it, the more i tend to believe that if we as a professionals, in order entire careers can guide and mentor the differently-abled people and help them shine, it will transition our profession from a Wonderful one to a Beautiful one.
That’s why i say the whole idea of Personal Excellence should eventually move beyond self. After one has achieved excellence, help spread it!

Signing off this blog post on this note. Do send your feedback! (Sorry for such a long post. I couldnt help but write)