Reflections From An Online Class Room

Ever since the lockdown has started in wake of the global pandemic (caused by COVID 19), schools and colleges have shifted to virtual and online class rooms to continue the teaching – learning process.

While there have been countless debates about the education now being accessible only to the internet-equipped students, or how education has now become a privilege, let me take this moment to express my gratitude to the educators who have initiated the efforts to continue disseminating knowledge.

Gaining knowledge and spreading has been one of my personal values. Amidst this lockdown, I have been fortunate enough to conduct virtual sessions, webinars, and even conduct classes for BBA and MBA students in Nepal. Here are some of my reflections, that I’ve drawn after more than 2 months of online education:

IMPROVED PARTICIPATION

The online class – despite all its challenges – has had one positive impact for me. For me, this impact stands out from the rest. Online classrooms have allowed improved participation from all students.

Even those bunch of students with immensely creative thoughts going on their head but resist speaking in the classroom – they participate as well. They might not actively talk or send messages in the group, but Zoom’s personal messaging has allowed them a space to put their thoughts with the facilitator without having to hold back as they used to in the physical classrooms.

This simple and well thought of feature in the platform is a very handy tool – especially for linking up with introverts – who absolutely hate the group works.

“Group Work”: Extroverts do the “group” part, introverts do the “work” part.
As seen on a YouTube comment, on Susan Cain’s TED Talk Video “The Power of Introverts”

I could really relate to this comment; partly, because I am an introvert myself and largely, because I used to be the one “doing the work” in the group settings.

Also read: Will we lose physical touch post COVID-19?

EMBRACING THE SILENCE

The same teacher who demands silence in the physical classroom, now – ironically – feels awkward with the silence in ‘zoom’ classrooms where everyone else is on mute except the teacher.

I personally love discussions, positive arguments, logical debates, and productive chaos. So often, in the physical classroom, I ask my students a question and none of them answer. The virtual classroom is no different in this case. However, in the physical classroom, I could see someone thinking and debating within themselves and trying to speak up. This is something I miss in my online classroom. Even the students cannot see each other, discuss quickly and come up with an answer in virtual classrooms.

However, I’ve learnt to give them time. I’ve slowly learnt to embrace the silence – which felt awkward at the initial days. Generally, I would ask a question and give them time for about 10 seconds to think. Now, I ask them a question, and give them 20 seconds (or more, at times) to think. Sometimes, I rephrase the question, or tone-it-down – and then again give them time to think.

I miss the “discussion noise” inside the physical classroom, but I’m learning to embrace the silence by being open towards any answers that can come up from the students.

ONLINE CLASS PARTICIPATION TOOLS

In the initial days, the online classrooms felt like hosting a radio show where I am the RJ, and occasional conversations with students felt like program listeners calling in my show.

As I said before, I admire and look for more of “productive” chaos. This is something I found myself struggling in the initial days. However, there were many online tools – some free and some freemium – to begin with to engage students. I have heavily been using Google Jamboard and Draw.chat tools. Apart from that, other online tools – Mentimeter, Kahoot, Wheel of Names – have kept up the excitement and fun that I can bring in the classroom.

Of course these online tools might be a little difficult to adjust in the initial days, but hey – they’re very friendly to your physical space and pocket. I don’t find myself spending largely on chart papers, markers and sticky notes. I don’t find myself wondering where to store all the used chart papers. And I definitely don’t find myself picking up all the fallen sticky notes on the ground just because it’s glue dried. Phew!

MULTIPLE GADGETS, ASSEMBLE NOW!

Having multiple gadgets along with me has helped me big time in multiple ways. I’ve so far used my laptop, a secondary display monitor, iPad, and my smartphone – all to better prepare and equip myself for unforeseen circumstances during online classes.

Foremost, with 3 different devices, I was able to join as a host, co-host and a participant at the same time. That allowed me to understand how things look different from others’ (especially the students and participants) end.

Online Class

Second, having an extended screen not only solved my problem of mouse cursor disappearing while screen sharing the full-screen keynote presentation, it also helped me to get back (my beloved) presenter’s view, better manage participants, and involve in the chat box more.

Finally, having a secondary device alongside has allowed me to be ready whenever my internet connection dropped. At one instance when my internet connection was lost, I quickly enabled data access from my phone and informed everyone about my internet issue. I was able to ask students to take their breaks, stretch their body, gaze into the surroundings and come back after 5 minutes. Thankfully, the internet connection got restored and I was able to continue.

BREAKS & CODES

Hands down, breaks are important. But breakers are “importanter” in the online classes.

As Liz and Mollie say in their HBR article, “Without the visual breaks we need to refocus, our brains grow fatigued.” It’s easy to get tired in the online class – especially by staring at the screen for too long. I generally have a two-hour class – in which I deliberately have at least one break. I now realize there should be more than one.

Sometimes, I intentionally tell my students to close their eyes and be on a listening and speaking only mode. Sometimes, I tell students to get up and stretch for a bit. Even turning your video off in every 10 minutes can do wonders for your strained eyes!

Also, I used to struggle at times when people would be typing something on the chat box regarding a previous topic and I would just go on with my session. Some people prefer typing short and multiple sentences, while some people prefer to type long paragraphs before hitting the send button. To solve this dilemma of “who is still typing?“, I have resorted to using codes. I now ask my students to use the code “IAT” (I Am Typing) – when they begin typing their responses or queries. Once any student or participant sends “IAT”, I can be aware that s/he is about to send her/his response, and thus, i would wait more before hopping on to the next topic.

So these were my reflections and learnings from my online sessions and virtual classroom. Let me know if you have got any more!

Stay safe!

Will We Be Able To Trust People The Same Way?

The COVID-19 global pandemic caused by novel coronavirus has already impacted the world in a much adverse way. From causing global lockdowns to changes in human behavior, the virus has managed to make us rethink the way we act, work, and overall live our life.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended social distancing as one of the most effective ways to decelerate the spread rate. This has already imperiled one of the primary needs of human beings – physical touch and intimacy. One of other major concerns revolves around the question, “Will we be able to trust people the same way?”

Let’s dissect.

It is completely normal for humans to question a new environment, situation, event, object, or another human being. This is because the new environment comes with uncertainty, which jeopardizes our needs for control and sense of security. And not only new people, the skepticism grows towards known people, who have come in contact with unknown environments, too. With this scenario in mind, the surficial answer to the question reaches to “NO!”, but there is more to this picture.

HOW DO WE TRUST?

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman write about the 3 elements of trust – positive relationships, good judgement/expertise, and consistency. Positive relationships are about balancing results with concern for others, generating cooperation between others, resolving conflicts, and giving honest feedback in a helpful way. Good judgement and expertise is about anticipating and responding quickly to problems, using knowledge and expertise to achieve results, and even others seeking after their opinions. Finally, consistency is about walking the talk, honoring commitments, keeping promises, and willing to go above and beyond the regular call of duty.

Frances Frei’s TED Talk also gives a similar three elements of trust, viz. the trust triangle – authenticity (I experience the real you), empathy (I believe you care about me and my success), and logic (I know you can do it; your reasoning and judgement are sound).

Professor Dan Ariely in his paper, The Trust Factory, explains about five different trust generators – i) The long game: established relationships, ii) The glass door: transparency, iii) The why factor: intentionality, iv) The counterpunch: revenge, and finally v) The common goal: aligned incentives.

In simple words, he explains these five trust generators as:

i) With consistent partners, people are more trusting.
ii) We are more comfortable when we can see what’s going on behind the scenes.
iii) We are judged less harshly if we suffer as we struggle with moral dilemmas.
iv) The possibility of punishment helps us avoid relationships in which one side is more vulnerable than the other.
v) Sacrificing some income for the benefit of the other party can be an incredibly powerful act.

WHAT DOES THIS TELL ABOUT TRUST?

Simply put, a lot of factors affect whether we trust or do not trust another person, organization, object, or a situation. Summarizing these different literatures, I firmly believe trust comes from consistent acts demonstrating genuine concern for others, keeping others’ best interests at heart, and logical actions with transparent intentions.

Trust Framework

SO, WILL WE BE ABLE TO TRUST OTHERS?

In the worst case, we will see everyone with the same lens – “Could s/he be the carrier of the virus?” We might be skeptical towards the family member who has been in three different meetings throughout the day. We will certainly raise an eyebrow on that customer who looks ill and is continuously coughing without covering their mouth. We might even hesitate to shake hands with a new colleague who just joined the work today.

But the point is that all these do not necessarily stop us from trusting people ever again. Yes, we will be cautious and aware. We will change our behaviors in pursuit to co-exist with the virus. But we will not stop trusting people altogether. The key lies in how we communicate with people. The messages we are sending across needs to mention that we are genuinely concerned for them, have their best interest at heart, and act logically with transparent intentions. We need to recognize the other person’s dilemma, and also need to explain ours.

This might sound absurd at the beginning but certain changes are bound to happen, and happen for the overall good.

Physical Touch: Will we lose it post COVID-19?

Touchwood, let’s hope the pandemic fades quick.

While Noor Tasnim from Duke Global Health Institute was expected to stay in Guatemala for eight weeks, she worried if she would ever fit in. Her advisor, Dr. David Boyd, recommended her to greet every stranger she walked by. Noor goes on to write in her news article that by acknowledging others in the community and having that acknowledgement reciprocated, she felt connected to the locals. Little did she know that such a common greeting could be so powerful.

This makes us wonder, “how do we generally greet our friends, family, or loved ones?” It has mostly been a hug, handshake, fist bump, shoulder bump, or a kiss. Sometimes, just a smile from distance works too. Mostly, the physical touch is important.

THE HUMAN TOUCH

Dacher Keltner, Ph.D. – the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley – writes that everyday incidental gestures such as pat on the back, or caress of the arm are our primary language of compassion, and a primary means for spreading compassion. In his article published in September 2010, he explains that “to touch is to give life”.

Furthermore, in this journal article published by French physiologist Nicolas Guéguen, he instructed the professor of a 120-person statistics class to give the same verbal encouragement to any student who volunteered to solve a problem at the front of his classroom. But to a randomly selected group of students within the class, the professor also gave a slight tap on the upper arm when speaking to them. Guéguen compared the volunteer rate of those who were touched to those who were not, and found that students who were touched were significantly more likely to volunteer again. In fact, roughly 28 percent of those who were touched volunteered again, compared with about nine percent of those who were not. This demonstrates the positive effect of touch in schools, and how important touch is in communicating positive emotions.

Even in business meetings, handshakes are considered an important part. In a working paper published by Harvard Business School, Juliana Schroeder and Jane Risen of University of Chicago, and Francesca Gino and Michael I. Norton of Harvard University conducted four different studies. These four different studies revealed that handshakes made people feel comfortable initiating negotiations, led to increased cooperative behaviors, obtained higher joint outcomes, crafted more agreements, and in together promoted the adoption of cooperative strategies and influenced negotiation outcomes.

A DIFFICULT PREDICAMENT

While personal touch and intimacy itself is one of the basic human needs, coronavirus hits hard at this very basic human need. Preventing the spread of coronavirus requires hand washing and social distancing. Those are the basics – wash your hands with soap water for at least 20 seconds regularly, and maintaining social distance. As Harvard Medical School elaborates the term social distancing it goes like, “For an individual, it refers to maintaining enough distance (6 feet or more) between yourself and another person to avoid getting infected or infecting someone else.”

This could be the biggest behavioral shift and a major problem for humans, in general.

MIT Technology Review’s editor in chief, Gideon Lichfield, advocates in his article that we are not going back to normal, and social distancing could itself be the new normal – upending our way of life, in some ways forever. Peter Hall – the Professor of School of Public Health and Health Systems at University of Waterloo – advocates in his article published in World Economic Forum that the vaccine will eventually arrive, but in the meantime, epidemics like COVID-19 can be prevented by increasing the prevalence of precautionary behaviors in the general population that impede its spread.

In similar lines, the BBC Future also predicts that we – humans – will be less touchy-feely and far more wary, and the transition will feel strange. It also goes on to say that we may find ourselves more comfortable with keeping people at a distance from us when we greet them.

A RAY OF HOPE?

The Independent newspaper published an article back in 2015 stating that handshakes during business negotiations work even when one of the parties involved is a robot.

A scientific study found that when two people who may be located thousands of miles apart communicate through a robot, shaking hands with the machine and communicating the physical act still encouraged co-operation and mutual understanding.

As per the research team, even though the handshake was virtual, it created a sense of connectedness between both people as they experienced the sensation of grasping a hand with a vibration generated through a controller. They further go on to mention that the findings could provoke a revolution in the art of conducting a video conference or Skype interview.

Also Read: Will we be able to trust people the same way?

Robin Dunbar, emeritus professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford University, goes on to say that physical contact is a part of the mechanism we use to set up our relationships, friendships, and family memberships. As published in this BBC Future article, Dunbar has some words of hope. “Touch is not the only mechanism used for physical bonding,” he says. Evolution from our primate progenitors has given us new ways to feel a connection with others that also trigger endorphins. “They’re things like laughter, singing, dancing, telling stories, religious rituals and so on,” he says – “the things we use in our everyday social interactions.”

While we might remain more cautious about physical contact for the time being, physical – or – social distance doesn’t really mean we can’t feel close.

COVID-19 Pandemic & Human Behavior

This lockdown has given me ample time to reflect back not just on my own thoughts, feelings and behaviors, but also understand the general human behavior as a whole. While most of the stated behavior looks obvious and nothing new, that is where the point in writing this article lies. Humans tend to overlook “obvious”, as defined by the psychology of willful ignorance or blindness.

In her book, Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, Margaret Heffernan explains the concept of willful blindness in context of legal system as:

It refers to a situation where — if an individual could have and should have known something, then the law treats it as if he knew it. The claim of not knowing isn’t a sufficient defense. Heffernan notes: “The law doesn’t care why you remain ignorant, only that you do.”

Also Read: Why are we so confused?

This basic and obvious understanding of human behavior is crucial to understand other people better, and therefore, manage personal and professional relationships better.

For ease of understanding and segregation, the general behaviors are divided according to fundamental human needs. A small, but important disclaimer is required here, because these common human behaviors are generalized (and definitely NOT stereotyped) on my limited viewpoint and assumptions only.

On Subsistence:

This is the need for survival, safety, security, and control. Humans are seeking to be more financially secure by postponing big-purchase decisions. They have this economic pressure of paying rent, day-to-day groceries, medications, and also have to keep aside a contingent reserve for future uncertainties. People are focusing largely on health and sanitation. Job security has become a large concern, especially with the lockdown crippling the economy. People have the fear of losing their job, or receiving a pay-cut, or furlough.

Given that humans generally want certainty and prefer to take control over situations, some people have stocked (or even hoarded) resources needed for survival. This need for control and certainty has triggered a horrific and disgusting face of humans – they want to eliminate outside threats. In pursuit to eliminate the threats, some people have taken extreme irrational measures – taking down bridges connecting two districts, blocking road access, or even xenophobic remarks and death threats to the coronavirus positive patient.

On Self Care & Recreation:

For self-care, people have not been able to go to gym work-outs or even their regular futsal games. People have opted to perform home-based exercises even with limited resources. Some people have started self-care in form of yoga and meditations, which is definitely one of many positive takeaways from the lockdown. People’s leisure and recreational needs in terms of traveling and exploring new places is hampered the most. To overcome this, people have resorted to cooking new recipes, Netflix and other on-demand video streams, and even playing online and offline games with friends and family.

On Understanding & Growth:

Humans have this need for acquiring knowledge, comprehending the knowledge, and applying the understood knowledge for greater wisdom. People have learnt new recipes, read new books, explored themselves, and gathered new facts and information about various subject matters. People also have taken this lockdown time for enrolling in various online free courses and participating in webinars. These would – hopefully – expedite their mastery and growth over the subject matter of their interest.

For the working population, few of their works are now being done from home. This has triggered the need to teach themselves with technology usage. Use of internet, web-based software, video-conferencing, and online collaboration are probably at all time high. The late majority and laggards (as defined in the Diffusion of Innovation Curve) are now finally adopting the remote and virtual way of working.

However, on the flip side of consuming information comes misleading and fake news that quickly spreads around the social networks. The lack of people verifying the authenticity and credibility of such misleading and fake information seems to be a major threat for the community as a whole. To combat these, fact-checking sites such as Nepal Fact Check have also evolved rapidly during the lockdown.

On Connection & Love:

Humans crave for connection, love, belongingness, care, acceptance, and even touch and physical contact. The lockdown period has definitely brought some people close to their family as a result of being at home all the time. On the flipside, some people (especially migrant workers) are stuck in foreign countries and are dying to come back home. Some people have swam across the Mahakali river to get back to their motherland. Some people have adventured numerous days’ journey on foot to go back home, be it in hope or despair.

To keep up with peers, friends, and colleagues, people have started various “challenges” in social media apart from regular video calls. From posting pictures clad in beautiful sarees, to reminiscing when they first met together, people have craved for connection. Dalgona coffee, Instagram Bingos are just other examples which state the obvious – people do crave for connection.

With the nature of the coronavirus itself, the touch and physical contact are at the threat. Being forced to isolate and maintain a distance, some people will have a hard time keeping their hands off their loved ones. I’m assuming the hug to your loved one(s) after lockdown ends (and hopefully the pandemic ends too) is going to be a very special one.

People are working from home to keep up with their work, but this has also impacted the need for love and connection from their family members. For some people working from home, they have found themselves working for more hours, stressing more, and eventually exhausting themselves more. This culture is making some people’s life hard in terms of managing their work, family, and self.

On Creation & Contribution:

While humans crave for love and care, they also have this need for creating something, contributing to others, serving people and community, and making the world around us better.

People are using all local resources available for keeping things on-going. There have been wonderful examples of COVID testing booths being made in Nepal with locally available resources, the Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE) being stitched locally and distributed without any charges, and so on. Brands have collaborated together to make daily groceries and necessary equipment available to their doorsteps at this time of crisis. Businesses are being creative with alternate services and products and thus, generating sources for sustaining.

People are fulfilling this need to give and do for others (contribution) by helping the daily wage earners, collecting funds, assisting them with relief items, and so on. This demonstrates the empathy humans have within ourselves. However, the question still remains at large about empathy when it comes to treating COVID affected people as criminals.

On Identity & Purpose:

During this time of crisis, people’s need for recognition, status, identity, significance, and purpose have largely been secondary. This could primarily be because of human beings’ need for survival is larger than identity and purpose in this time of crisis. However, I have seen some circumstances where some people have been reinforcing their identity via social networks, as well as some people realizing new found identity as well as purpose of life, during this time of crisis.

These were the basic human behaviors that I managed to identify with my own set of observations. I’m sure I have missed out a lot. Help me complete it by making me aware of it.

What is Productivity anyway?

I’M SORRY.

My previous article might have provoked productivity guilt to some people, and I’m genuinely sorry if it has.

I wrote that article to help people solve the lockdown boredom conundrum, but I can understand for some people it might also have triggered a guilt. There are two sides of a coin – as always. However, I am – NOW – aware of this other side.

What are you talking about?

During this lockdown, a lot of people have utilized their free time into doing something “productive” – cooking, drawing, reading, learning, crafting, singing, dancing, playing music, and so much. Some people have found a new passion, or a new hobby to go along with and spend their days. Some people have completed physical exercise challenges in pursuit to their healthy living. Some people have had quality family time and meaningful conversations. Some people have looked inwards and asked self-reflective questions to explore more about themselves. This made so much sense to me.

And then I stumbled upon a quote, “This is a pandemic, not a productivity contest.” This made even more sense.

The bottom line here is about the guilt that arises from doing none of the things mentioned above.

So, what is productivity guilt?

Scott Young defines productivity guilt as:

“It’s the constant nagging feeling that you should be doing more. And if you’re not doing everything, then you’re a lazy slacker who will never reach your goals.”

– Scott Young

This definition right there is what productivity guilt is all about. It is about the constant guilt of doing nothing or doing not enough, per se.

Some people might have spent days doing nothing, sleeping, binge-watching series, or even sharing memes all day long. These people haven’t done regular exercise, enrolled into some class or activity, learnt a new language, read books and articles, invested in something, acquired a new skill, or did something fancy number crunching on spreadsheets. This is what the “generally accepted” definition of being “productive” is labeled as. This definition pressurizes people and implants the guilt of being “lazy slacker” and “unproductive”. Are these people really not being “productive”?

How does this productivity guilt form?

For students who have their exams lingering right after the end of lockdown, the doom is impending on them. They have to take this humongous decision of “read and prepare for the exams” or “let the lockdown finish first”. This is a tough call. People also have to finish watching Part 4 of La Casa De Papel (Money Heist) and make “Dalgona” coffee. People also have to complete the random challenges and bingo cards on Instagram. And we can’t really ignore them because it will then ruin the social relationship. In short, we already have a lot to do in our plate.

Now this lot of things-to-do creates overstimulation in the brain, which in turn, becomes the easiest way for human brains to become distracted. As author of Hyperfocus, Chris Bailey puts it, “Our brains aren’t distracted, our brains crave for distraction because it’s overstimulated.” This distraction doesn’t let things to be completed, which gives birth to the productivity guilt. This guilt – in turn – doesn’t lessen any of our things-to-do.

This chart explains the vicious cycle:

Productivity Guilt Cycle

People & Choices

Barry Schwarz, in his book “The Paradox of Choice“, says that more choices leads to more confusions. If there wasn’t any choice at the first place, there would never be any confusion.

Also Read: Why are we so confused?

The most important thing people need to understand is being aware. Being “productive” as society defines it – it’s their own choice. Being “unproductive” as society defines it – it’s again their own choice. We need to stop blaming and shaming both “productive” and “unproductive” people.

Instead of comparing ourselves to what others do from social media, what we need to do is to become aware of what we want to do. Do we want to work? Do we want to binge watch series on Netflix? Do we want to sleep? Do we want to learn new skill? Do we want to cook and try a new recipe? The starting point is about being aware. Then accept the reality that emerged from your awareness, and then act.

This aware – accept – act process is what I think we can do. And this is also what being “productive” is all about, according to the definition of “productivity”.

If you hit up the meaning of productivity in Google, the result is this:

Productivity
/prɒdʌkˈtɪvɪti/
Noun
The effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.

By this definition, productivity is all about being effective (what we do) and efficient (how we do). So, until and unless we stop doing what we intended to do, WE ALL ARE BEING PRODUCTIVE.

You wanted to have a good afternoon nap and you slept – you’re being productive. You wanted to finish one whole season in a night and you did – you’re being productive. You wanted to finish one chapter of your book and you did – you’re being productive. You wanted to cook some new recipe and you did – you’re being productive.

If you disagree, blame the dictionary.

And happy new year 2077, Nepal!

Conscious And Empathic Listening

“Through empathic listening, the listener lets the speaker “I understand your problem and how you feel about it. I am interested in what you are saying and I am not judging you.“

This piece of information is extracted from Barbara A. Bullen’s book, “Mediation: A Training & Resource Guide for the Mediator“.

While I read and contemplated this piece of text, I remembered a few incidents of myself listening non-empathically. Reflecting back to my own actions, I have made plenty of mistakes in listening to other people, and being aware of them is usually my first step in correcting them.

“UNDERSTANDING” WITHOUT ACTUALLY UNDERSTANDING

One of the most common mistakes I have found myself doing repeatedly was saying “I understand your problem” without actually understanding it to the full context. A few years back, I remember I was with one of my trainees, and he was sharing his career related confusion with me. The speaker was sharing his feeling about the career choices he had made in his undergraduate years, and I was thinking of a similar incident in my mind. My thoughts at that moment were being clouded by the similarity of the event that occurred in my life. That is where I was not being fully conscious and empathic towards the speaker.

JUMPING INTO ADVICES

Another mistake I now realize I have been doing was to jump into advice. As a consultant to various individuals and organizations, I hand out a lot of knowledge and advice. But now I realize that at times I have jumped into advising mode without listening. What now seems even more dangerous is that I have formed an “advice” in my mind, or at least thought of an appropriate advice right after listening to a few sentences from the speaker.

SHUTTING DOWN FEELINGS

In my early days, I have asked people to shut down their feelings and to make it worse, even have asked them to “feel differently” about a particular event/person/thing. I have asked a sad person to cheer up, and not to be sad. If I could go back in time and change my actions, I would happily do so.

Also read: Can we be authentic-self? What’s adaptive authenticity?

WHAT’S THE WAY FORWARD FOR EMPATHIC LISTENING?

I have shared my mistakes I have committed in the past. Not repeating it itself is one way forward. Furthermore, to move towards more conscious and empathic listening, one can start asking more questions about the speakers’ feelings. It becomes important to know that s/he might not be asking you for feedback, but just needs someone to listen non-judgmentally. One question I like asking is “How were you feeling when you …? “. This opens up a space for their personal reflection as well as it will help them understand their own perspectives in a better way.

When you are listening empathically, you do not get engaged in other tasks simultaneously. You might think you would quickly reply to a text, or just glance at the notification bar, but this multitasking is what kills the conscious and empathic listening. In addition to this, sometimes one needs to get comfortable with silences. Some people do find silences in the conversation as awkward. However, I have been learning and trying to embrace the silence as much as possible. The moment of silence creates the pause, which forms a space that allows me to choose my response.

In pursuit towards more conscious and empathic listening, one elementary point you can start off with would be understanding this statement:

“If you are framing a response when the other is speaking, you are not really listening.

If you can catch yourself trying to find a response while the speaker is speaking, then it’s step one towards being aware. The step two would be to ask your brain to postpone the response. The third step? Listen!

Don’t Think Outside The Box

Thinking outside the box is said to be “the creative approach”. What actually is it? Does thinking outside the box really help?

The cliché nine-dot puzzle to think outside the box

Aren’t you familiar with this cliché of nine-dot puzzle? The nine-dot puzzle and the phrase “thinking outside the box” has become a common formula to demonstrate creativity in strategic management sessions, marketing brainstorm meetings and personal development camps. To be honest, it does look appealing and convincing at the first. But when you actually try to implement it to work, you remember your workplace puzzle is nowhere near to the “nine-dot” puzzle you solved by going out of the imaginary box. This simply does not relate!

The 25% success rate research

The concept of going beyond the nine-dots to solve the puzzle is so damned appealing to our intuitions that we never actually bothered to check the facts. The exception – two research teams led by Clarke Burnham & Kenneth Davis, and Joseph Alba & Robert Weisberg.

These two research teams ran an experiment using the same nine-dot puzzle, but with a different process. Both teams were asked to solve the puzzle, but one of the teams was provided a hint. That team was fed with the information – “it requires to go beyond the imaginary boundaries”.

With the pathway to answer leaked to one of the groups, what was their success rate? 90%? 75%? No. Only 25% of them managed to find the answer.

What happened? This problem required people to literally think outside the box. And even when the participants were instructed to do so, the performance wasn’t satisfactory, compared to the 20% achievement in the original nine-dot experiment by J. P. Guilford in 1970. This proves instructing people to think “outside the box” doesn’t help.

[ From: Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results ]

What exactly is the Box?

To my best knowledge, it means going beyond the obvious. But a lot of people do not understand this metaphor of ‘the box’. What exactly is the box? Is it a process, or the desired result, or inputs? Or does it simply mean ‘doing things differently’?

This ambiguity itself makes a lot of definitions of “the box”. While going beyond the box isn’t bad advice, sometimes it does not tell us the practical aspects towards any problem. At times, I have seen people trying to get their team to stop thinking about practicality to expand their creative horizon. I have also seen people eliminate creative ideas, because they were not practical.

So does the “box” hamper creativity? Do boundaries limit our creativity?

Should the box even exist?

The Paradox of Choice

Author Barry Schwartz’s “The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More” is one of my favorite books in terms of human behavior. The key takeaway of this book – the more options we have, the more overwhelmed we become in trying to find the ‘perfect’ option.

With Schwartz’s theory, our creativity is limitless without the “box”. When our choices are too many to fathom, this leads to overwhelming stature and therefore, a creativity block. With the boundary in place, i.e. “the box”, we limit our choices. This helps us make rational decisions, because in practical life we practice “bounded rationality” of making decisions. We will never look at thousands of phones when we want to buy a new phone. Neither will we visit hundreds of colleges while opting for an undergrad degree. We will always confine our comparison sample to a few, and select the best out of it.

ALSO READ: Why are we so confused?

Embracing boundaries

Let’s be rational. Even our earth has a boundary in revolving around its orbit. Naturally, we all have limitations. Our hands are tied – due to financial situations, timings, geographical locations, restricted authority and responsibility, country’s law and policy, or anything. There are so many “boxes” we need to consider.

 “The key to creativity is defining and embracing the uncomfortable reality.”

– Dr. Charles Pellerin, Leader of NASA Great Observatories Program

Here are two examples on how companies embraced their “box” to be creative:

Intel – Kings of Microprocessors

Andy Grove was the CEO of Intel, which was building Random Access Memories (RAM) and was going through a tough competition phase due to cheap products availability in the market. Grove knew Intel could not beat the competitors on price. That was their uncomfortable reality. The Intel team then developed the idea of microprocessors, and since then we all know Intel as microprocessor creators. It was possible only because Intel embraced the “box” and didn’t start thinking of ways to develop cheap RAM to fight competition.

[From: JSTOR Journal article “Intel: Memories and the Microprocessor” ]

Space X – Launching ‘reusable’ rockets

Compared to NASA’s $20 billion annual budget, Elon Musk’s SpaceX had initial investment of only $100 million.  This miniature budget meant two things – i) SpaceX could not afford to make rockets the NASA way, and ii) they would not have enough funds to use a new rocket in every launch.

SpaceX embraced these constraints, and this boundary allowed them to develop and successfully launch a reusable rocket. The Falcon 9 completed its burn and landed upright on a drone ship for the first time.

So while you might think that a leading innovative and creative company, SpaceX, thinks ‘outside the box’, they actually think inside their boundaries.

What Next – Box or No Box?

Again, remember that the key to creativity is defining and embracing the uncomfortable reality. The “box” does not kill creativity. Not having the “box” is not a solution either. Embracing the boundaries and limitations – be it in your personal, or professional life – can help you enhance creativity to evolve with powerful solutions.

Use boundaries and limitations to your advantage. This is what management is all about as well. Economists say it too – resources are always scarce, and human wants are unlimited. “The box” doesn’t constrain you. It rather helps foster creativity.

If you don’t believe, watch this TEDx Video to know about the “Po of creativity”.

How Do I Make A Workable New Year Resolution?

Happy New Year 2019!

Every new year, we try to set up resolutions.

New year – new me. Quit smoking. Go to the gym. Eliminate that belly fat. Read books. Start the business you’ve always dreamt of. Prune away toxic people. Nurture relationships.

And we fail. Miserably.

Why do we fail? It’s not just you, there are more people out there who suck at keeping up with resolutions.

“So why does that happen?”

The prima facie reason for this is we are mostly on a reactive mode – we are busy executing our ‘daily program logs’ – answering emails, solving office issues, and pleasing clients/customers. While these ‘daily program logs’ are important to your work, there exists a little room for you to be proactive and cater your needs of self-growth. To add insult to injury, our most ‘resolutions’ are related to self-growth. Sorry.

“Okay, what do I do now then?”

Relax. I’ve got this covered.

Imagine playing Super Mario, and fighting the evil boss right at the start of the game. Sounds stupid, aye?

SMALL WINS ARE MASSIVE MOTIVATORS. BUT WE RARELY RECOGNIZE THEM.

“Yes I tried that. Still didn’t work.”

One more reason why it still didn’t work was probably due to lack of a visible tracking. Some resolutions like burning the belly fat, or reducing weight, or saving up for an international trip is clearly quantifiable, and thus can be easily tracked. However, some resolutions like working on a relationship or cutting out toxic people can not be visibly tracked.

Also read: What is productivity anyway?

“What do you do about that?”

James Clear, in his blog jamesclear.com, explains about how to stick with good habits by using “paper clip strategy”.

In 1993, a bank in Canada hired a rookie stock broker named Trent Dyrsmid. Nobody at the firm expected too much of Dyrsmid’s performance. Despite all the odds, Dyrsmid made immediate progress as a stock broker, all thanks to his relentless habit he used with a visual cue – paper clips.

On his desk, he placed two jars – one filled with 120 paper clips and another empty. Every morning he would start with 120 paper clips in one jar and would keep dialing the phone until he had moved them all to the second jar.

That was it. 120 calls per day. One paper clip, one phone call at a time.

VISUAL STIMULUS IS IMPORTANT. IT MAKES YOU STICK WITH GOOD HABITS.

This is a simple, yet powerful visual tool to track your performance, which will help you eventually develop a habit, and achieve your resolution.

Visual cues constantly remind you to push your behavior. We often lie to ourselves about starting something. We are usually rewarding ourselves first, and pushing our actions for later (“I’m going to avoid junk foods from tomorrow. For real from tomorrow. Just the last bag of chips today.”) Days later, our motivation level plunges down the graph. We start being “busy” with our “daily program logs” again. This is why a visual cue is important. Just keeping the record of progress inside our mind does not work at all. Our minds need something visible, some visual evidence.

That’s it. Good luck!

Happy New Year 2019.

Hey, Psst! It’s Okay To Do A Job

You come back home from your regular mundane 9 to 5 job, rest for a while, have your dinner and then decide to redeem your well-earned sleep so that the cycle can continue operating tomorrow as well.

But the problem is, you go to your bed and then instead of releasing sleep hormones, your scumbag brain decides to paint your sleep with the picture of your crappy work environment – that un-ergonomic back paining chair, the pile of documents towered on your ‘to-do’ section of the desk, the ever-complaining subordinates, that unsupportive teammate, that irrational client, the erratic supervisor who knows nothing else than work delegation, the awful canteen lunch that your tastebuds reject, and most importantly – the morning traffic ! Pheww!

The brain – being the scumbag it is – then poses you with the universal quandary, “Is it worth dragging my a*se to work tomorrow morning? Or should I quit everything and become my own boss?” You quickly remember the quote you came across in the evening while facebooking – “Salary is the bribe they give you to forget your dreams”.

You – then – decide to check your facebook before going to sleep. But facebook’s algorithm will now bombard you other posts related to startups and entrepreneurship. You will see your friends and classmates attending business networking events and looking dapper in blazers and suits, receiving ‘khaadaa‘ and tokens on various startup events, seed-fund competition applications, and venture capitalists proudly drinking in the Jhamsikhel bar where they have invested other investors’ money. Sigh.

Your scrolling speed increases, and you further see your friends updating their bio with words like ‘co-founder’, ‘CEO’, and ‘Managing Director’. More scrolling, and you see some other friends ‘attending’ that business pitch competition, and few more friends being ‘interested’ in those events. A random ‘motivating’ video then appears where the speaker keeps on iterating “follow your passion” for about two minutes, and then the next video appears and then the next one and next one and so on.

“Enough of this thing”, you say to yourself. You then plug the charger in your phone, and then decide to go back to sleep. But your brain is still a scumbag.

Also read: How to create your own job

With more “freshly brewed content” served to your brain, it starts contemplating even more than before. Amidst all the “startup” fashion and “being my own boss” buzz, your brain reminds you of the business plan you once made years ago as a college assignment. What a solid business plan that was! A struggle for a few years, and then you could also proudly boast on facebook and instagram with your new title – an entrepreneur! Woah!

You start comparing the cons of your current job against the pros of that dreamy CEO position. You imagine going to a fancy networking event and pulling out a business card that reads – “Your name, Founder/Chief Executive Officer”. But then suddenly you also remember the good parts of your job. You have a decent social life. You at least have a regular cash flow incoming in your bank account. You also get bonuses, and do not have to worry much about loans, credit interests and tough business decisions.

Is it worth taking that risk?

While the social media is filled with half-witted comparisons of jobs and entrepreneurs, one can easily get swayed away with the idea of starting a business. Clickbait headlines like “Quit your job right now! This business will make you a millionaire by 2030!” misleads many people to take wrong turns in their lives. The social media shows the ‘celebrity’ side of entrepreneurs but not their revenue charts going off-the-graph. These deceptive posts, images and comparison charts may push you to take frenzied actions, which will only help you to regret later.

For the records, I’m not against entrepreneurship and startups. I am only against the pseudo-practice of shaming the job holders while the ‘show-off’ entrepreneurs are glorified. Having a job is not a shame. Doing a mundane 9 to 5 routine shouldn’t be mocked. Your job might suck, but just for once think that if no one wanted to become employees, all entrepreneurs would be worthless.

And finally, to all those people wide awake at 2 AM hosting the battle of ‘real job versus show-off startup’ inside their mind, I want to whisper silently to their ears, “Hey, psst! It’s okay to do a job.

Why Should Youths Take Up Customer Service Jobs?

Customer service jobs – be it through telephone, or email, or even face-to-face – can be the most distressing yet a bolstering avenue for your career. Especially for the youths and even more specifically for business and management students, who are on the brink of starting their career, my advice for them would be to take up customer service jobs as a start.

People considering themselves as major introverts might think this as a dreadful nightmare (and even might stop reading this article – but don’t click the exit/back button just yet!). What most people fail to realize is that customer service jobs are such where they need to listen more than speak – and introverts are good at listening (or at least pretend to listen). While you might also feel like killing people for their stupidity during your customer service job, there are a lot of additional perks that come along with your salary and benefits.

Youths starting their careers are usually in the late teens, which is a phase when they feel they can do anything – they have the energy, enthusiasm, and passion for a lot of things. Also, they get easily furious and angry, with boiling hot blood flowing through the veins in their age. A customer service job helps in controlling this anger-temperament. They have to hold back their words of aggravation in many instances while dealing with customers. This will help them calm down even in similar occasions in their personal lives as well. Furthermore, it will also help the youths teach manners and respect. Usually in South Asian culture, no one is called with their first name only in the offices unlike the Western world – you either add ‘sir’ or ‘jee’ to express respect, regardless of how stupid, ridiculous, or annoying the other party is.

Also read: How to create your own jobs?

The customer service job will also help the youths understand the human nature, and prepare to act accordingly. After dealing with hundreds of customers, one can get acquainted with the variations of human behaviors and their actions in a certain state of minds. For example, if you work at a front desk and see someone charging at you with red-face or closed fists, then you better start preparing to handle a furious customer who will dump all the accusations to you as if you’ve just eloped with his/her child. Thus, it will also help the youths to understand compassion, and empathize with the other person they’re talking to.

Finally, and most importantly, people with customer service orientation are the ones who develop good public relations (PR, the official jargon) and demonstrate visible results within the organization. Imagine an accountant who just inputs numbers to Excel sheets – could their results be ever visible as compared to the customer service personnel? Heck, no – never! This is why customer service personnel are the ones who quickly climb up the corporate ladder, get quick promotions, and eventually become better managers than the rest. With all these benefits, the stupidity of customers comes for free – which can infuriate you during the job, but becomes a good dose of laughter later on. And yes, you will always have a story to share when you clasp that beer bottle and hangout with a bunch of your buddies.