Sunday, May 29, 2016

Fundamental Lessons I (re)learned from a Public Spotfix Activity

The last week was a memorable one for me, truly memorable. I was part of a group of volunteers from my organization, in collaboration with Ugly Indians, helped rescue a filthy part of our city and made it liveable again.
From Wikipedia - The Ugly Indians (TUI) are an anonymous group of motivated volunteers who clean Indian streets.TUI calls cleaning the street "Spot-fixing". TUI chooses small segments of road each week to clean: pavements piled up with plastic, defaced walls, footpaths rendered unusable by potholes as spot-fixing places. All tools, materials and instructions are provided on the spot. All spot fixes are self-funded and volunteers are requested to make a contribution towards material costs.

The Spotfix area chosen was at the start of Ulsoor Road, which is one of the prominent areas around the heart of city of Bengaluru. This Spotfix area we chose is surrounded by Army establishments. This event was scheduled from 7:00 AM to 10:00 AM everyday from 24th-May to 26th-May.
This picture depicting before and after situation tells a lot about the transformation that was achieved in a record time of almost three hours by 40 plus volunteers-

As amazing as the transformation looks, we couldn't think but admire how much could we achieve in so less time. Before we started the volunteering act, the representative from The Ugly Indians during the address to the team said this- “How much work can you get done in 3 hours?”. He also referred to us in corporate life having been a part of many multiple hours meetings that achieved almost nothing productive. And he said that today, you will be surprised at what you will achieve as a group if you just stick to the tasks and work hard at achieving them.
When we looked at the place after the event, I personally didn’t believe that we would be able to turn it around I just 3 hours as well as it eventually became.
Bill Gates had once said “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” What this group of volunteers achieved in three hours was pretty much reverse of what Bill Gates seem to have been suggesting in this quote. We actually underestimated what we could achieve in a short span of three hours.

This transformation wasn't just physical in nature as it helped transform my mind and thoughts a bit and helped me relearn some of the aspects about leading the life, that i share below-

When faced with a mammoth task, always first look to break it into manageable chunks-
This is what Ugly Indians team seemed to have done when they came up with everything possible for this project ready. They had broken down tasks to the level of granularity that each person knew what was supposed to be done. Overall tasks that got accomplished were- cleaning the filthy areas (pulled 2 trucks worth of garbage) during shovels, brooms etc., painting of walls after brushing and cleaning, painting the pavements. All this couldn't have been done without simplifying the visibly complex chore into the chunks that each person could singularly accomplish.

When working in a team, focus more on giving back-
There were several instances where people just volunteered for the tasks without being told. I could see when some people were tried after hammering, digging the surface and resting- the other set of people just took over from where the previous set of people left, without being asked. That is the essence of true team work- understanding the pain of team members and silently offer self to the cause of helping others without expecting a sense of reciprocity.

Focus on Work, not who gets the credit:
 The Ugly Indian's guiding philosophy is summed-up in this Hindi language phrase- "Kaam chalu mooh bandh", which means- Stop Talking, Start Doing. And that is exactly what happened during those three hours. One of the most beautiful feelings that i encountered during this whole act was people just didn't worry about who got the credit. Everyone was so engrossed in getting the tasks during, almost in their zone, that helping others almost became a second nature for these 3 hours that we spent there. It was so refreshing to see "will i get credit for my work" mentality taking a backseat.

Do the difficult, more often:
We should find ways to squeeze in few difficult tasks, the tasks that we have never done before in our work days and life in general. Most of the folks who participated today hadn’t done spot fixing before, but at the end- almost everyone were happy seeing the outcome. All the participants felt happy going beyond their own comfort zone and achieving something tangible.

Focus on work, not on distractions:
The Ugly Indians representative, earlier in the day, shared that sometimes few folks who see people work in public try to rebuke and make comments. Given that it’s a public activity such reaction, though unwarranted, is somewhat not uncommon. He suggested us to just stay focused on work and politely ask the people to join and help make city clean. Though there were few people we encountered who acted like this, most of the passerby thanked us for our act of selflessness.