Sunday, June 12, 2005

Let's learn from Arjuna

Lore has it that Dronacharya, the guru of the Pandava clan, feared the tribal Ekalavya would one day defeat his favourite student, Arjuna. The wily guru circumvented Ekalavya’s pleas to become his student, by asking for his thumb as guru dakshina.

If you look back on this incident, do you really think Ekalavya would have defeated Arjuna, even with his thumb intact? Possibly not.

Before you flame me, let me set out my reasons: Arjuna was a warrior—he was taught to overcome opponents with numerous devices, including swords, sorcery, and fist fights. Quite like the way many of us showcase all those technologies we work with—software, hardware, quality assurance and so on.

Ekalavya—as far as we know—knew only archery and that too against one target, the dog. Arjuna thought like what he was groomed to be—a ruler. He would have foreseen potential pitfalls in a clash with a lone, wild tribal prince, and would have planned well in handling the meeting—if at all it had come to that.

He was part of a large network—gurus, four other brothers, a shrewd mother, a thoughtful wife, other councillors and royal princes, all of whom would have opened up a vista of plans.

Now, tell me, would have Ekalavya won?

What does this have to do with us? Today, technology has rendered us Ekalavyas—hard core technology people who work in lone cubicles on pieces of projects: quite like the tribal prince who knew only how to shoot arrows at a single target.

Job markets in the technology world have taken on some unique cycles—you are flooded with offers when the market is on a roll, or are laid off without even a goodbye, when the market is down.
When you are in a market high, how do you choose a perfect fit?

Or when you are laid off, how do you get back to equilibrium?

Let us learn from Arjuna. What did he have on his side?

Learning: He was an artful warrior and kind ruler, with a host of skills finely honed to perfection, and years of grounding in arthashastra—the art of ruling.

Leverage: He was constantly using his network of contacts in finding out what happened in his kingdom—trends, people’s moods, thefts and murders. He was in the know of things to paint the big picture.

Leadership: He was always taking on the initiative to do things—acting messenger for his brother, winning contests...At any instance of hardship, Arjuna offered to take on responsibility.

How can you apply these to your daily job in the technology world?
Simple. Open your ears, close your mouth, and think deeply.

Learn: When you are on a project, spend an hour with the team in learning what the rest are working on, speak to your manager and learn what the project has to do with the company, the customer, the business, the market.

Get the big picture. You will immediately know what this project is a trend for, and can plan to learn new skills. If you plan to learn a new tool or software simply because your neighbour got a job in that field, you may not get very far.

Leverage: When you are stuck in a project, you think it is your duty to solve it all by yourself. Wrong!

If you have spent sufficient time in building your network of people (not technology!), all you need to do is throw this problem onto a network and wait for solutions to come pouring in. Ignore this free education, and you are shutting yourself in Ekalavya’s forests.

But if you can return this by contributing towards solving someone else’s problem, you have won a name for life.

Lead: The normal career path in any large firm seems to be like this—code for four years, become a senior coder, code some more, become an expert, then a project lead, and finally a project manager.

It is almost routine, and you are disappointed when your next cubicle occupant has become an expert in three years, whereas you haven’t. Promotions are a sign of leadership—unless you are already acting like an expert, don’t expect to become one or be granted such a position.

Find out opportunities within your project where you can show your style of expertise—which in turn demands that you have learnt quite well about this project and can leverage all resources to lead the team to solve a problem.
MBA degrees, skill sets, technologies all matter. However, in the long run, what matters is what you bring to the table—your learning abilities, your leveraging abilities, and your leadership abilities.

Technology serves a dual cut—while it unites businesses to customers and revenues, it has isolated the people behind it from each other. If you think your PC, coding, and your cube are the best friends in your world, come on out and take a walk.

The world is still full of people who wish to know you, and be known to you. Ask yourself, “Am I an Arjuna?”

No comments:

Digg it !