Friday, April 14, 2017

Jottings - Slice of Life - 115 ( “Disagree and Commit” - Jeff Bezos’ mantra )

Jottings - Slice of Life - 115 ( “Disagree and Commit” - Jeff Bezos’ mantra )
Every year Successful CEO’s and Business investors have the practice of writing a letter to their employees, shareholders and to the public at large on the business philosophy which helps them innovate, transform and be successful at the market place. Bill Gates does it in measured management style, Warren Buffet’s epistles are touchstones of practical wisdom in making money; but my personal favorite, which I look forward to reading each year is the one Jeff Bezos - CEO of Amazon pens in rustic, down to earth nuts and bolts philosophy of life and business. In the corridors of Business power, Jeff’s name is taken with little caution, apprehension but definitely with Jaw-opening awe. Amazon is not merely the most transformatory and successful consumer business model ever - a revolution on the lines of agricultural and Industrial and technological innovations - it is also a company that constantly innovates and works with literally millions of partners, associates at all levels of Human society to run their gigantic operations. And the nerve center fueling this intricate web of operations is Jeff Bezos; his simple vision on how to act and get things going.
In his letter this year ( released few days ago) Jeff mentions two wonderful qualities needed to stay afloat and alive in modern business. These two traits stuck me not merely as business principles, but life lessons necessary for daily living in all areas of Human endeavor. The first thought Jeff’s expounds is the self-defeating practice of placidly accepting processes as the end goal of a transaction. A beautiful idea!!. We may be process compliant to the last letter, but if end customer did not get what was expected or promised, mere fulfillment of a process then becomes not only a colossal waste of time, but utterly irrelevant, inconsequential and delusionary. A process is a like a finger pointing to the moon. One can follow it up to a point. beyond that, we will have to shift our gaze and “look” at the moon and let go of the process. How many times have we patted ourselves on the back on following rules and processes, when the end result was nothing close to satisfactory. This is a dangerous situation to be in, and is especially true in organizations which struggle to innovate. The question that Jeff poses is:
“Do we own the process, or does the process own us?” A philosophical question cutting beyond business concerns.
The second idea Jeff talks about is even more vibrant, valued and truer to life than the first one. In a nutshell, for any collective action to take place members of a team should learn how to “Disagree and commit”. This is a deep thought valid for any reasonable action in world outside. The understanding that no decision can be based upon hundred percent certainty, and there are always pros and cons to every small opinion or decision, the best way to live life and do business is to state your disagreement ,but wholeheartedly commit to the organizational mandate. Put five intelligent, self opinionated people in a room, chances are very unlikely they will agree to the same course of action; but if majority are steering towards one end and others can agree to commit on that course - but with disagreements openly placed on the table; then chances are high that actions will follow rapidly, and more importantly it becomes more fluid and easier to adapt when circumstances change. There is no one-upmanship here or “I told you so” attitude. The fact the disagreement was acknowledged and digested, and all of us decided to work towards a goal which majority felt was right is a good fertile ground for quality actions to take place. There is no brooding or backbiting, and energy levels are rightly channelized. But beware, This is a bilateral pathway. The philosophy of “disagree and commit” applies equally to all - senior and junior managers. Sometimes, the top leaders have to commit to expert opinion and vice-versa. Bottom line is the end customer, and their satisfaction ( if that is possible), and everything else subservient to it.
This idea is true in daily life as well. Action is impossible if we wait for everything and everyone to be aligned. Many times, we simply have to walk the path with predominant hunches to smell and experience the roses and thorns along the way. Incessant thinking and disruptive disagreements without plunging into course of action is sure road to psychological paralysis - which then results in poor execution and finger-pointing. Just as a centipede cannot keep thinking about the position of each of its legs before moving, so is the case with any collective decision. We need to let go at some point and commit to something. One is free to pull in different directions, but once a decision has been made in an expert group, there should be unremitting cooperation to that goal. With such an attitude, it becomes easier to adapt If things are not going the way it was decided. Other members will find it easier and else stressful to accept incorrect decisions and willingly change because all of them are committed to the same goal - Customer happiness and enrichment.
“Disagree and commit” is a deep philosophical attitude. No Military in the world can flourish if not for this attitude. In fact, no act of consensus is possible in society if this principle is not understood deeply and existentially. W B Yeats captures the essence of this idea beautifully in his memorable poem. Here are those lines
“I KNOW that I shall meet my fate
 Somewhere among the clouds above;
 Those that I fight I do not hate
 Those that I guard I do not love;
 My country is Kiltartan Cross,
 My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
 No likely end could bring them loss
 Or leave them happier than before.
 Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
 Nor public man, nor cheering crowds, 1
A lonely impulse of delight”
Lonely impulse of delight - a beautiful phrase to capture the essence of work and sacrifice. I may not know whom or what I am fighting for, but fight I must, because I love to serve. This is pure mystical delight in work for the sake of common good. In the Bhagavad Gita, when Arjuna refuses disagrees on the reason to fight and commit when a battle has been agreed upon, the master tells him
"You have no choice, My friend. You cannot live without action even for a micro second. You have made your point this is an unnecessary war, but the war is still going to happen. Now, Either you let go, commit and win this war or you will burn in the fire of you own weakness to stand by your dharma- which is to fight . Which would you prefer? " Arjuna Fights and wins!!
And, this is Jeff Bezos message for 2017.
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala

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