Monday, January 14, 2008

Equip More and Ask More...

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When I was a schoolboy I had a bicycle that I used for short rides. Once in a while I rode it long distance but the results were not that good. I was tired by the time I reached my destination or even abandoned my journey at times. I remember losing a local cricket match because our team exhausted itself cycling to the distant venue! :-) When I got a motorbike, my reachable radius increased further. Now with my car, I can easily consider driving 500 kms. Not only can I consider it, I can also complete the task with a certain ease. In each case, the increased capacity of the vehicle has made it easy to travel longer distances.

The point here is that the availability of a newer vehicle has made me think of possibilities that were not feasible with the earlier vehicle. My decision to upgrade from a bike to a car itself was probably triggered by my urge to undertake longer drives and to explore more.

Let us apply this concept to learning and the roles we play. When we acquire more knowledge and skills, we are likely to feel bored with the same level of challenges. We feel bolder to tackle bigger tasks due to the additional capacity we have. We will want bigger challenges. The new knowledge, like more BHP, also forces us to explore un-chartered territories. This in our work translates to taking up bigger and more challenging tasks.

So far so good. But there is a flip side to this. This also means that we first equip ourselves with additional knowledge/capability before we ask for more complex assignments. Without this knowledge and capability, even if we get additional work, the results would be disappointing. It is more like trying to ride a bicycle for 20 kilometers and then play a cricket match in the hot sun. So rather than ask for higher roles, we have to improve our capacity and then make the claim. This is better than the other way around, where once we have the opportunity, we go and equip ourselves. In today's fast paced world, the business may not wait till we equip ourselves. The business will move on to the next suitable candidate. This holds true for an individual as well as an organization. Repeated failures (without the required skill set) make a person or an organization afraid of taking on greater challenges, thereby not realizing one's true potential.

Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and other books, distinguishes between Production (work output) and Production Capacity (capability, potential). We need to achieve an optimal P/PC balance. Periodic sharpening of the axe is mandatory in today's fast-changing environment. If we keep doing just what we are good at, we are already falling behind in today's world. It is always better if this capability building precedes application on the job. Merely attending training programmes or accumulating educational degrees is unproductive. It is like buying more and more expensive, powerful cars for a "long weekend drive" that we never undertake.

Some people worry if their managers would recognize their new skills and offer the right opportunities. It is every manager's responsibility to get the best possible performance from the team. People willing to shoulder responsibilities are always in demand in every situation. This "sense of ownership" is a vital trait that is ignored by many. Most people want the comfort of a guaranteed success but higher achievements always lie in the unexplored zone.

So let us build capability at regular intervals, let our superiors know of our efforts and eagerness, and reach farther. And btw, a long weekend drive is not a bad idea, either!

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