Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Born with a wooden spoon and 2 digit IQ

If we scan through any popular print media or watch news channels for few minutes, we would invariably come across the names of people who have excelled in their respective fields. It could be a mention of a sportsperson who has brought fame to his country, an entrepreneur who has sold his startup for a couple of million dollars, an artist who has won a prestigious award, the list is endless. Often, when I read or hear about these people, I am left wondering – why am I not one among them? One thing for sure is that there is no definitive answer for this question, but I will make an honest attempt at getting close to the answer.

On analyzing the super achievers, I observed that they could roughly be placed under four groups– 
  • Born geniuses – These are the people who are extraordinary by design!! These people are gifted with some unique ability and it is tough to answer why they were the chosen recipients for the gift. A popular example would be Albert Einstein. 
  • Blessed with a great lineage – The set of people who have an edge over others primarily by the virtue of being born to super achievers. It is like , in a race, their starting point is quite ahead of others. These people have the much needed guidance and mentorship available at their fingertips and are best described by the phrase ‘born with a silver spoon’. Pick any second generation successful industrialist as an example. 
  • A combination of 1 and 2 above – These are set of people who are gifted with fairly good skills and a decent lineage. Their credit lies in combining it optimally. 
  • The hard worker – The quintessential darling of popular media who makes it to the top by sheer hard work and determination. 

Of course, this is a very broad classification and in most cases, it would be a combination of two or more things in the list in creating a success story. But, more than refining the list, am concerned about the vast majority of us who don’t belong to any of the categories above. By ‘us’, I mean the guy writing the blog and the one who is reading it J let us call this group as the ‘mediocre majority’. The hard truth is that members of this group are not gifted with any extraordinary abilities or born with silver spoons. Adding to the misery, hard work does not bond well with us. It is these people who seem to lead very ordinary lives in comparison to the exciting lives of super achievers. It is these people who spend most of their spare time wondering why are they leading ordinary lives!! During one of these contemplating sessions it struck me that I am missing an important point while comparing myself with people who seem to have achieved too much too soon. May be, the error is that we are just looking at the end result and not the path. It was like looking at two end products and immediately concluding which is better than the other, without doing the background check of what went into making each product. A better analogy would be like looking at two athletes ‘Mr. Mediocre’ and ‘Mr. Extraordinary’ racing against each other and instantaneously concluding who is the winner, without asking some critical questions – did they start from the same place? Did they follow the same track ? Were they given equal opportunities for training ? Are they participating in the same race ? May be, if we really start analyzing along these lines, it would be tough to declare anyone of them as winner or loser. 

In the above example, imagine that ‘Mr. Mediocre’ who apparently looks lagging behind started from a different point in the race and had to train under tougher circumstances compared to ‘Mr. Extraordinary’ who apparently looks like leading the race. Fortunately or unfortunately, the situation of most people in the ‘mediocre majority’ is similar to the situation of ‘Mr. Mediocre’ in the race. With the limited skills and opportunities, it takes time before we accomplish anything substantial [what actually qualifies to be called ‘substantial’ is a different topic in itself]. And due to these limitations, it is quite possible that ‘Mr. Mediocre’ might never catch up with ‘Mr. Extraordinary’. This may sound hard, but this could just be the reality. The motivational speakers would want me to believe that these limitations just exist in the mind, but reality does not always match theory!! 

I don’t mean to discredit the super achievers in anyway, but just looking at the end result and ignoring the process would be a wrong way of judging anything. Considering this, the next time I am tempted to compare ‘Mr. Mediocre’ and ‘Mr. Extraordinary’ and come to a hasty conclusion, it is better to not just look at the end result, but also give a thought to their individual journey through the race.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Futility of faking Emotions

In a group of people, it is interesting to notice how we share common opinions about each other. We often hate or like things in common. For example, in a group, if I find one guy to be very kind and generous, it is highly likely that most of the group members feel the same way. Similarly, if I find one guy in the same group not to be trustworthy, it is again highly likely that most of the group members share the opinion. It is as if we are all naturally equipped with this ability to judge the intentions of people we interact with.

Imagine this situation - two friends A and B meet accidentally after a long time. A is going through a great phase in life and is in a mood to share everything with B. But, B is having a tough time and is not interested to indulge in a lengthy conversation. Now, without B explicitly telling A that he is not interested in a long conversation, I would safely bet that A would get the subtle message [assumption is A is a sensible guy!!] and keep the conversation short. I am sure all of us have been in the position of both A and B numerous times. The situation might be different, but the bottom-line of we being able to intrinsically and accurately perceive the emotions of people we interact with and react accordingly remains intact. Now, imagine what the situation would be if A did not have the ability to understand that B is not interested to listen to his life story, it would be nothing short of a disastrous conversation.., May be, the ability to understand the unexpressed emotions is critical part of human communication. 

We all have repeatedly heard and read that verbal communication forms only a small part of the communication. The rest is all non verbal communication. So, understandably all of us should have natural in built sensors to decode these fine non verbal messages. The sensors could be developed to different extent in different people. Few of us could have super sharp sensors where in just by looking at a person, we can accurately judge them. Few of us might have slightly blunt sensors, where in we need multiple interactions to accomplish the same. But, eventually, we will figure out the true intentions of the people we interact with.

This brings me to the actual question I had – is it possible to hide our true intentions and fake our emotions successfully? Is it necessary to do this and is it sustainable? If not, what is the alternative? From my little understanding, the answer to the first question is NO. It is NOT possible to consistently fake our emotions. We can manipulate our words, but it is hard to manipulate the non verbal communication. It is very easy to observe when there is a conflict between what one is thinking internally and what he/she is communicating externally. We can make this out even in response to a generic question like ‘did you like the food’. The fact of the matter is that we are interacting with human beings and not robots and they will eventually decode our true emotions, no matter how much we try to camouflage it. But, the sad part is that not everybody understands this, including me at times. It is pathetic to observe people when they try hard to be somebody they are not and are wrongly convinced that nobody noticed it. A simple example could be a co-worker who is self centered, but pretends hard to give an impression of a people person.

Given this, it is futile to fake our emotions and it is better if we just try to be our natural selves. Coming to the question of whether it is necessary to fake emotions in the first place, this is a tricky one and may be the answer is yes. We cannot always reveal out true intentions, but these situations are more of an exception than a rule.