Sunday, July 24, 2011

Work-life harmony!

Work life balance harmony!

Wikipedia defines ‘work life balance’ as: “One can say that Work–life balance is the proper prioritizing between "work" (career and ambition) on one hand and "life" (pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development) on the other”.  When one visualize the word ‘balance’ these are some of the pictures that come to mind.
pastedGraphic.pdf  pastedGraphic.pdf
We usually use the word ‘balance’ in the context of two different things - most of the time one against other.  The irony of it is that we unconsciously pit work against life - and the  underlying (yet unspoken) conclusion is that you cannot have both and it is usually one at the expense of the other.   This invariably leads to a situation where ones work becomes ones salvation and despair at the same time: by providing the means of supporting life, but making life hardly worth supporting.  (Apologies to PG Wodehouse - adapted from his story Man Upstairs)

Contrary to popular belief we do not have corpses working and springing back to life after the work hours. 

If we need to use the word balance then we need to find two terms that are mutually exclusive, that fit into the ‘either’ ‘or’ situation.  If we try Life-Death balance, it does not make sense; or if we state ‘work hours’ ‘non-work hours’, though it is technically correct, does not seem right.  We are essentially trying to bring in proper perspective to the overall prioritization of ‘life hours’ to be used at work as well as outside work.  But ‘work’ is a subset of ‘life’, so a better option would be to keep the hours spent at work to be in sync with the total life hours.  So keeping the work-life phrase, we can replace the word balance with harmony to convey what exactly we are trying to achieve.
pastedGraphic.pdf  pastedGraphic.pdf

One earns ‘salary’ for the ‘work’, and since it is easier to measure the time spent, most of us identify the reward ‘salary’ with the work time spent.  If one realizes that the ‘work time’ is a subset of ones ‘life time’ they can see that the salary is the reward for one spending a part of their ‘life’.  Life time has begun its count down the moment one is born.  If I know the purpose of my life and the spending is towards that purpose, I will not feel frustrated about spending.  So if my work is in sync with the purpose of my life, any time spent at work is not going to be a drain and as such getting rewarded for that spending only gives me more satisfaction.  Hence it makes all the more sense for me to look for a work that is in harmony with my life - which can incidentally address all my frustration about compensation for my work time.
The question ‘have I earned my salary?’ suddenly becomes much more involved - like ‘have I spent my life towards earning the rewards, achieving the purpose of my life’.  The impact of the change is great - both in terms of the value one would look for as well the weight one would assign for the question.  It is no longer a dollars and cents question, but has a spiritual side as well over the materialist aspect.  When one relates the number of hours spent at work and decide on whether they ‘earned’ the salary - the employer in a way conveys that ‘your life is not relevant, your hours spent at work is relevant’, and the employee conveys ‘I have to spend these hours for the money but my heart/soul is not part of it’.  In short, this is a sub-optimal situation on both sides.

Historically the word ‘professionalism’ is defined to segregate the ‘personal life’ from the ‘work life’, creating an artificial segregation.   Wikipedia has listed few criteria to define ‘professional’ of which the first one states: “A professional is a person that is paid for what they do. Qualifications have little to do with being a professional.”  General perception is that a ‘professional’ should keep their personal feeling, emotions out of the work and just focus on what was expected of them for the remuneration.  If the ‘professional’ realizes that they are spending a part of their ‘life’ at the job, do they want to keep their personal feelings and emotions out of the same?  It is like expecting one to live as they are only in certain hours and not in certain hours, which is very artificial and frankly not possible.  Margaret Hefferman  in her recent book ‘ cites such artificial separation as one source of blindness.  (Willful Blindness: why we ignore the obvious at our peril’ - Margaret Hefferman: “ struck me that one source of our blindness at work is the artificial divide between personal and working lives”)
If I am thinking about the work issue and potential solutions when I am in my bath, does that count as ‘working and am I being paid for that time’?  At work if I am thinking about picking up my shirt from dry cleaning. should I be paid for that time at work?  While the answer for these questions may be one should not spend the work hours for personal things and you have to lean how not to ‘think’ about work, then we know it is artificial and not practical.  Trying to enforce this between an employer and employee only increases the friction.  If both employee and employer recognize that the reward is for spending part of their ‘life’ towards a common goal - one from the organization point of view and the other from the employee ‘life’ point of view, these frictions can be reduced, if not fully eliminated.
These days I am no longer looking for ‘balance’ - but trying to feel if my work is in harmony with my life!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Statistics and Philosophy

Statistics and Philosophy

When I was in college somehow I liked the business statistics class. And I liked coninuous data more than attribute data. For the benefit of non-statistics readers, data can be categorized into two distinctly different groups at the extreme. Purists would say there are more than two categories (like ordinal data and discrete data) but at a higer level there are essentially two types: continuous and attribute. Continuous data means your ability to define the quality in precise terms is high - like temperature you can state 90 degrees or 90.5 degrees or 90.25 degrees etc. Attribute data on the other hand is just categories - like hot and cold - where you do not necessarily know what level of temperature is defined as hot and what is not.

The reason I liked continuous data is mainly because the number of tests that you can perform to define the subset or population in precise dimension increases tremendously as compared to attribute data. Being the kind of geek I was with mathematics and statistics I naturally liked continuous data as I can engage myself for long time with that - and just like a unreasonable teenager I thought how nice it would have been if everything is continuous rather than attribute!

Over the period I learnt more about statistics and about life! As I learnt more about Statistics I realized that having a continuous data does not mean that it is good (or bad) and having an attribute data does not mean bad (or good). We need both (and other types like discrete and ordinal) types and they all make up the whole! And ofcourse you can make a continuous data to be classifed as attributes by drawing some boundaries about attributes and by the same token by defining a measure even attributes can become continuous. In short, there are no 'good' or 'bad' data - there just is data.

It is the same in life. There are certain things I like to go for continuous scale - like time spent with my family - not just saying I spent time but more keen on how many hours (and how good it was - an attribute!). And there are certain things I want to go for attribute scale - like doing atleast one 'good' deed every day - the 'good' here is just a judgmental attribute of mine not necessarily measurable in a scale.

More than this I also see the philosophy of Zen - emphasizing in 'attribute' (or discrete) way - emphasizing on the 'present', and the continous angle of the Hindu philosophy - that life is just a cycle that flows from birth to death to birth again. The famous quote "You never step into the same river twice" actually describes the interviening nature of continuous scale and attribute scale at the same time. When you are alive, you are there and when you are dead there is corpose and you are not there! You and the corpse are the same - yet different! Sounds paradoxical but yet it is so!!

Monday, July 25, 2005

Smoother relationships!

Lately I hear lots of comments – mainly at work – about the “people issues” where someone is not good in “relationships”. There are lots of “change management” solutions floating around and a casual look in the book stores (Barnes & Nobles) as well as on-line (Amazon) shows that there are lots of books – indicating still there is lots of demand on this area!

If I cut through all the “Dilbert” jargon in these – it boils down to a very simple issue: people don’t get along well with other people! Incidentally I remember reading once that “human are nothing but social animals” – and it seems that we are losing the “social” piece of it! Because of the hustle and bustle of the modern day, most of the work relationships are relatively short term (fortunately!) in time dimension. Either they move or you move – so it does not matter much for us to have a relationship that span over decades. However, the reputation of maintaining good relationships with peers goes a long way not just in helping ones career – but also ones own happiness!

That made me think about how I dealt with relationships over the years. Not that I am crowned the “people person” in any forum! Still I feel that I might have got something right to get me at least “above average” in the relationship building rating particularly after being born in a country of eastern culture and lived in 2 different countries of western culture. So here are my thoughts!

There are 3 key attributes to Relationship:
1. Acceptance
2. Appreciation
3. Adaptability

Complete acceptance of the other individual – without any reservation or judgment is a key success factor. Funnily enough not many times I have done this myself! I have accepted a person most of the time, not all the time – or subject to some reservations. And I find in every such instance, that particular relationship did not really grow to bloom! Though this seems simple I found it hard – particularly as I get older – to accept things completely. But as I get older I am doing well on one other dimension – i.e. Adaptability – so my overall success rate has not gone down.

For a long lasting relationship, it’s not enough just to accept in full but to have an appreciation for the other individual! Not just their skills (e.g. an athlete who is appreciated for his skills may soon find that appreciation go down once his skills fade away!) but the individual. This is what differentiates an ‘infatuation’ from ‘relationship’ – most of the infatuations have a high intensity of appreciation – kind of worship, and when the feature – be it physical or otherwise – wanes out, the intensity of appreciation also goes down. On the contrary, in a relationship the appreciation is more rooted – I think fundamental to the character is the right word here – and hence stays for a long time. As I reflect over the years the friends who drifted away and disappeared were more because of this attribute than anything else.

Both the acceptance and appreciation are tested over time. Individuals change over time and hence may deviate from their known features! So a certain level of tolerance or adaptability is needed to adjust for these changes over a period of time, in order to maintain a successful relationship. It’s kind of tricky – as the reference changes from both the parties concerned. If they move in the same direction, the gap is not noticeable; however if they move in opposite direction from their original viewpoint, the gap will be even wider!

While choosing relationships we can do all these analysis and judgments but in lots of occasions we do not have choices – be it your co-worker or customer (unless you are the owner and can afford to fire anyone and refuse service to anyone – though chances are you won’t be in business for long!). In those cases the key is to consciously look for spots in the other for areas of acceptance and appreciation! If you look hard you will find it – and a load of adaptability to accept those idiosyncrasies!! Just as they say in realtor’s 101 – every house has a buyer; you just need to find them!!!

I personally used this technique at work to make myself a “people person” – when ever I am forced to work with a person with whom I cant really get along well:
1. I try to find something in that person that I can accept and appreciate; if found then I focus more on that area and use my conversations to touch on those areas as often – it helps as a lubricant for the relationship to reduce friction!
2. If it fails, I try to avoid it by working to get me out of that project
3. If I can not do either of that, I just try to imagine that it is a bad dream and I will wake up soon – and since what can not be avoided must be endured, I try to wait for the “time” to take over ;-)

If I have a rough relationship at work, I try to spend more time with family – where my relationships are smooth to help me heal! Try it – you may like it!

Monday, June 06, 2005

Entropy - in organizations and individuals!


What is entropy?

The first law of thermodynamics says that the total quantity of energy in the universe remains constant. This is the principle of the conservation of energy.

“Energy can neither be created nor be destroyed. If one form of energy disappears it will reappear in other forms without any loss of energy”

The first principle establishes the equivalence of the different forms of energy (radiant, chemical, physical, electrical, and thermal), the possibility of transformation from one form to another and the laws that govern these transformations. This first principle considers heat and energy as two magnitudes of the same physical nature.

The second law of thermodynamics states that the quality of this energy is degraded irreversibly. This is the principle of the degradation of energy. About 1850 the studies of Lord Kelvin, Carnot, and Clausius of the exchanges of energy in thermal machines revealed that there is a hierarchy among the various forms of energy and an imbalance in their transformations. This hierarchy and this imbalance are the basis of the formulation of the second principle.

“Energy spontaneously tends to flow only from being concentrated in one place to becoming diffused or dispersed and spread out”

In fact physical, chemical, and electrical energy can be completely changed into heat. But the reverse (heat into physical or chemical or electrical energy) cannot be fully accomplished without an inevitable spend of energy in the form of irretrievable heat. This does not mean that the energy is destroyed or lost; it means that it becomes unavailable for producing work. The irreversible increase of this non-disposable energy in the universe is entropy (from the Greek ‘entrope’, change). Example: Electrical (or natural gas) energy is transformed into heat to cook the food, while not all the heat goes towards only cooking (as we can feel the heat near the stove while cooking).

What are the benefits and harms of entropy?

We can equate entropy to paying the fee for converting energy from one form to another – kind of currency exchange fee when you convert money from one currency to another. When the fee is high, it is not representing a judicious move to convert energy – just like paying a huge fee for converting money. The fee paid on such conversion not available for spending! In a way, without entropy we may not be able to convert energy into some forms while excess of entropy robs us of good use of energy. In a lighter way we can say that entropy is a necessary evil – like taxes!

How does a thermodynamics concept relate to an organizational system? What is similar and what is different?

The laws of thermodynamics are applied to systems. System is defined as “a set of interacting elements assembled together towards a common goal”. The business organizations are also operating as a system where different areas of the business are interacting with each other to accomplish a common goal. The organizations convert the input they get from suppliers to products or services to the customers, through various interactions within and outside the organizations. This is equivalent to converting energy from one for to another. While calories (or Kilocalories) are the units of measure of energy transformation, money is the unit of measure for organizations. The laws of thermodynamics that apply to energy transformations apply equally to the organizations that change the inputs to outputs. The following figure illustrates the relationship.


Entropy in organizations

While we are able to understand entropy in energy transformations, identifying and measuring entropy in business organizations is not easy.

“In 1922 A. J. Lotka proposed the interesting "law of maximum energy," which he applied to biological evolution. The law said that one of the factors that seem to have the most importance in the survival of an organism is the production of a large quantity of energy. This energy is used in maintaining the structure, in reproduction, and in growth. The creation of maximum power thus appears to be a condition for survival in the struggle for life. This law is also valid for human organizations.” (source: Macroscope Three:

What does organizational entropy mean?

When an organization does not realize the full value in money for their output we have entropy. Theoretically, it is the difference between the monetary value of the inputs and the transformation processes including the entitled profits less the money realized by selling the outputs. To define it in equations:

Sales revenue – (Inputs cost + Transformation process cost) = Profits earned

Organizational Entropy = Entitled profits - Profits earned

How do we identify organizational entropy?

We can relate the entropy to the cost of poor quality in the organization, though cost of poor quality is usually restricted to non value added activities. Entropy may include any necessary activity to sustain the continuance of the business – or enabling activities which may not be categorized as non value added activity e.g. taxes paid by the organization on its profits. If the actual profits derived are exactly equal to the entitled profits, we can state that there was no entropy. That boils down to the question of ‘what is our entitled profit?’

This means arriving at the ‘potential’ of the organization in terms of profit for the existing level of operation. Easier said than done! While industry averages and bench marking may provide some guidance on what that ‘potential’ might be, the way to arrive at that potential is to have a closer look at the costs – both for inputs and transformation processes – to identify the entropy elements in those and derive at the potential – as a percentage of the present level of operations.

How can we measure organizational entropy?

It is easy to quote illustrations or examples for organizational entropy but not so easy to measure it! Since the market determines our entitled sales revenue and the input costs – assuming that we have paid and received the just amount, we can focus on the entropy associated with the transformation processes. By applying the definition of ‘entropy’ as the dispersion of energy that has not been converted into the desired output or the ‘fee paid’ for converting the energy into useful output, we can critically review each of the transformation processes cost to identify the percentage of the entropy. This may require a detailed activity/task analysis to identify the energy spent (in monetary terms) that did not directly create useful output of that process. The measurement in terms of money is more out of the need to make it easy for understanding – rather than because of its completeness as it is not possible to measure all the impacts of an organization in terms of money.

So some questions to think about!

1. When is organizational entropy good and when is it bad?

2. What are the symptoms of organizational entropy and how do we identify the root causes?

3. How do we eliminate/mitigate the root-causes?

4. Is there an optimal setting? Is there an ideal setting?

5. How do we manage the organizational entropy? How do we achieve ideality or optimality?


Further readings: &

There is not much new in this so far. You can see through these links that a lot of folks have gone much deeper in this subject and this small list is only indicative of what others have thought about this.

What really made me wonder about this was how this concept of entropy relates to my beliefs! Since I believe every action has a purpose, entropy also has a purpose. And since every system gets/gives just what it deserves, I believe that entropy is the factor indicating what the system deserves! So I can understand what a system deserves simply by trying to find the entropy – higher the entropy higher the gap between the organization’s current state and the best case state – though I think it can get closer to the best case only by making it “deserve” better. The word “deserve” includes achieving the capability or potential.

I also think this concept is equally valid for individual – individual entropy is the good indication of the gap between where we can be and where we are. But my personal experience shows that it is very hard to identify the personal entropy mainly because I am too close to make any objective judgment. I feel lots of times that I should get better things, treatment etc., but all I get – I guess – only what I deserve, and I find it very difficult to accept. May be Schumacher is right :-)

“Our intentions tend to be much more real to us than our actions, and this can lead to a great deal of misunderstanding with other people, to whom our actions tend to be much more real than our intentions.”
E. F .Schumacher (1911-1977). A Guide for the Perplexed, 8, 1977

One way of looking at the personal entropy is to identify the difference between our intentions and our actions/results of our actions. I am still trying on that basis to find my personal entropy. May be one day I will find out my individual entropy for various key actions I take and do a better job of “deserving” more. To end this note I quote Albert Einstein:

“The thinking that has brought me this far has provided new problems that this thinking can not solve”.

Who is the Judge?

For a long time my theory was that the person who can judge is the one who is relevant and matters. For example to judge whether I am a good son or not, the only two relevant people are my mother and father, and what they say is all that matters. Nobody else’s judgment is as relevant and hence can be discounted or even ignored.

Of late I am questioning myself about that. I remember reading a poem long time ago about “the man in the Glass”. That puts it squarely on the ‘self’ to be the judge. It is a compelling theory and now I am not sure which one is the better theory. May be both are relevant – self for the whole, and others for their respective components! Still searching…

Ps: The poem is reproduced below

When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.

For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgment upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.

He’s the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear up to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.


The "One Thing" in Life!

The cowboy guide character (Curly) in the movie ‘City Slickers’ says to one of the riders (played by Billy Crystal) “only one thing matters in life; everything else is unimportant – and you have to find that 'one thing' for yourself”. Before seeing that movie I have wondered what’s the aim of me in this world? Since seeing the movie I am trying to find that ‘one thing’ to go after.

My first thought was happiness. As I analyze about happiness, I see that the feeling or intensity of the happiness deepens by the lack of it. The happiness in achieving anything is directly proportional to the lack of happiness in not achieving the same. So if we take the space of happiness/sadness, the mean (or average) is the state of non-happiness (neither + or -) and the variations on either side dependant on the individual’s state of mind. How much I react to any situation determines the intensity of happiness or sadness. With such a state, there is no point in pursuing happiness as it is likely I am going to end up with sadness chasing happiness!

So what should I go after? Knowledge? Satisfaction? Service? I guess whatever it may be, the criteria for choosing something should stem from this theory of ‘relativity’ – apologies to Einstein! The ‘thing’ to go after should have a pleasant impact on the ‘+’ and ‘-’ sides. In other words if I go after ‘knowledge’, then the lack of it should also give comfort and pleasantness! Is it possible to have such a thing, which gives you comfort by its presence as well as its absence? I don’t know yet! I am still searching!!

Friday, June 03, 2005


One of my favorite hobbies is to identify potential similarities, patterns, and links among different things! Sounds vague - right? Let me explain.

I have few beliefs! The first is that "there is a definite purpose in every single action that is happening in this universe". Here I interpret the 'action' very liberally - to include anything and everything - like events that seem to happen spontaneously and even thoughts! And I also feel that the purpose is not necessarily known or understood or even imagined most of the time. When I say "is happening" I also mean what ever has happened and what ever that will happen.

The second one is that "in the long run every system gets and gives just what it deserves; no more no less". Here also I use the maximum latitude in defining "system" - to include living organisms (obviously including people), as well as non-living things - apart from the general meaning of the word 'system'. And the "long run" need not be my life time or several hundred years - may be more! I really don't know!!!

With these two simple beliefs I try to 'understand' this universe. And over the years I realized that my understanding is mostly by synthesizing and experiencing for myself - though I do not want to anyway under play the importance of what very generous people taught me - in school, through their books, conversations etc.! Any lack of understanding on my part in those ‘teachings’ are purely attributed to my ability rather than theirs. That's why I place the self synthesizing and experiencing first.

I intend to share some of those thoughts - I chose "miscellaneous" as the adjective mainly because it is going to be very difficult to label these thoughts in any conventional classification (like philosophy or science etc.).

Apart from the obvious craving for some show-off/recognition/publicity :-) (To satisfy my ego!), I hope to "understand" more through these posts - through the comments and criticism of fellow humans. I guess "time" will prove whether I understood anything at all. :-)

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