Mastery at Work – Critical Thinking

Very few people are aware of Visvesvaraya, one of the greatest civil engineers India has produced. What set Visvesvaraya apart was is ability to think critically and devise solutions for mammoth problems. He was requested by Nizam of Hyderabad to advise and assist in the reconstruction of Hyderabad city after it was devastated by flood in Musi river. After in-depth study he submitted plan to save the city from floods in the future.

What sets these critical thinkers apart from others? To understand the same, we need to understand what critical thinking is. The process of actively gathering, analysing and evaluating data or information to logically infer and form a judgement is called as critical thinking.

It is the ability to reflect, reason, focus and logically connect our thoughts to reach a conclusion.

In today’s age of information and technology, we are overloaded with information and knowledge from various sources.  It is extremely important to be able to accumulate information, analyze information and deduce logical conclusions or decisions based on this information. Our ability to solve problems is based on all of the above. 

No wonder critical thinking is the second most wanted skill as per the latest skill surveys done on fortune 500 companies.

How does critical thinking work in real life situations? Think of any situation which requires you to provide a solution. In short you need to solve a problem.  In this case, a problem is defined as a question or situation that calls for a solution.

How do you think critically in these situations? In any situation which requires critical thinking, try and do the following:

  • Recognize and define problems
  • Make relevant observations
  • Ask the right questions to the concerned people, always be curious
  • Note down beliefs, assumptions, opinions of people involved.
  • Examine beliefs, assumptions, opinions and feel free to challenge them against facts you have been observing and noting.
  • Analyse the facts available to assess the validity of statements and arguments
  • Evaluate all the information available, understand logically to make wise decisions
  • Synthesize the information to find valid solutions

The following habits will help you in increasing Critical Thinking:

  • Focused Observation: Learn to pay focused attention to what is going around you. Increase awareness of your surroundings and situations and do it as effectively as possible. There are 3 steps to the same:
    • Using your own observations.
    • Collecting information from others
    • Personally, gathering information

Tip for you: While you are practicing focused observation, remember to do the following when you encounter a problem. Pay undivided attention to the problem, look at the context in whole and not in parts and be thorough in your observations.         

  • Collecting Information: Collecting detailed information on possible causes or reasons for the problem. This could include online research, reading books, consulting experts etc.  You need to remember that your solutions are going to be as good as the research you do at this stage.
  • Evaluating Facts: Remember the difference between facts and opinions. Anything which can be verified is a fact while opinions are subjective statements based on personal beliefs. We need to evaluate all the information we have collected by checking the accuracy of the information. The accuracy of the information can be checked by source of the information, credibility of the source and also checking if the information is available anywhere else.
  • Evaluating Data: Particularly for complex problems, evaluating data is extremely critical to reach the right conclusions. In order to collect the data correctly, we need to ensure the following:
    • Use appropriate sample population
    • Collect adequate amount of data
    • Check the degree of accuracy of the data

There are many more precautions to be taken while observing data which will be discussed in due course.

  • Using Graphics: Organize all the information you have collected in a graphic manner. The tools which can be helpful in the same include Fishbone diagrams, concept maps, mind maps, webbing, Venn diagrams, charts etc. We will be doing the same in details in the part II of our series on critical thinking. Graphic organizing tools help us in splicing our thoughts and putting them in specific buckets where we can evaluate each item in its context.
  • Reasoning: Is either based on premises which are in turn based on validity of data or based on past experiences and common sense.

Interesting Fact: Greatest achievement of Visvesvaraya was building the Krishnaraja Sagar Dam across Cauvery river. It was the largest reservoir built in India until then. It stores 48,000 million cubic feet of water for purpose of irrigating thousands of acres of land. M.V as he was also known, tried and involved as many intellectuals as possible in the major issues that he resolved. This shows that he used expert opinions to gather both information on the problems he was facing and also took their opinions to resolve the issues.

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Mastery at Work – Accountability

Accountability is taking up responsibility for work to be done. A person who accepts accountability accepts the onus of getting desired results. In other words, responsibility is assigned by others and accountability is taken by you, and it is a clear commitment to be kept!

Accountability works at 3 levels, individual, team and organizational level. Since we are speaking of mastery at individual level, we will be delving deep into how to be accountable at our personal level.

All of us have been at various points in time tested over commitment to our professional life versus some emergencies on personal level. I can think of numerous examples of my colleagues sacrificing important occasions like marriages and deaths in family to be able to complete important tasks on hand at work. We would expect most of working population to be accountable, but it is surprising to note that lack of accountability is one of the biggest worries senior executive face at workplace.

This brings us to wonder what makes us accountable? Do we foster accountability as a habit?

Here are the some of the factors which play a major role in making us accountable:

  1. Solid work ethic and character: The first thing which comes to my mind is that people with strong character realize that their work is representation of themselves and go that extra mile put their best into any job assigned to them. Having a strong work ethic and character form the foundation of accountability.
  2. Passion and Perseverance: Being passionate about doing only your best at our jobs and nothing less and also the ability to persevere in spite of various setbacks you encounter during the course of your work.
  3. Love for your job: You may be employed by an organization or may be self-employed, in both the cases, how attached are you to your job role or your business profile makes a lot of difference in the way you look at your work.
  4. Loyalty to the organization: Are you proud to the organization you work for? Do you relate to the vision of the organization? Do you believe in the goals set by the organization for yourself? The more you relate to all the above, the more you feel committed to the cause of the organization and take the accountability to achieve results.
  5. Commitment to goals: Clearly defined goals form the basis of accountability towards results. When you are determined to achieve a goal, you commit yourself to it and you become accountable for achieving it. Ideally goals should be SMART.
  6. Clear direction and planning: Having a clear strategy towards achieving goals helps in focusing better and being committed to work. Particularly during early part of the career, little help from seniors in terms of defining clear goals and tasks to be completed in order to achieve them can go a long way in making work easier for the younger generation.
  7. Clear communication: Effective communication is always simple to understand. Leaders are responsible for clearly communicating what the team is responsible for. In case of individuals, they need to follow up with their reporting managers to understand communication clearly.
  8. Prioritization of the task as per urgency is also an important part of being accountable. Ability to balance tasks will lead to completion of task on time and increase accountability.
  9. Set up reminders to complete tasks in timely manner. Keep constant track of your commitments.
  10. Consistent: Being consistent at your work without slacking. This will mean being punctual, disciplined, following rules and completing task in timely manner.
  11. Monitoring progress: Ability to monitor our progress against targeted goals in a timely manner helps us in knowing whether we are on track with respect to our goals. Ask yourself constantly “How am I doing at my Job?”
  12. Seek feedback: Feedback is crucial to understand how we stack up to expectations of others. Accurate and timely feedback is a very effective learning tool and helps not only you but also the organization to set up a culture genuine accountability.
  13. Training yourself: In case you feel you are not skilled enough to do the job, put in efforts to learn the skills required to complete the job.
  14. Follow-up with others: In case your task is dependent on a team for completion, please remember to follow up with other members of the team on their progress and holding them accountable.

Last but not the least, accountability is about high performance. Contrary to how many people might view it, being highly accountable makes us less stressful, increases our productivity and satisfaction with life, builds trust and credibility and makes people rely on us.

Anecdote: This is a story about four friends named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and this job was assigned to them. Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Everybody got angry about that and Somebody had to be blamed and pointed to Anybody who came in vicinity at that moment. Ultimately Nobody owned the responsibility for the work not carried out. Because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have. That’s how important accountability is!

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July 6, 2018 · 1:42 pm

Mastery at Work – How Important is Conscientiousness at Work?

Zig Ziglar wrote about a very wise old man who lived on a hilltop overlooking the beautiful city of Venice, Italy. Legend had it that he could answer any question anyone might ask him. Two local boys figured they could trick him, so they caught a bird and took it to the wise old man. 

“Tell us,” they asked, “is the bird in our hand dead or alive?”

The wise old man replied, “Son, if I say the bird is alive, you will close your hands and crush it to death. Or, if I say the bird is dead, you will open your hands and it will fly away. The answer is in your hands.”

And so it is with life. We hold the our potential for success or the seeds of our failure in our hands. Conscientiousness is the our ability to live a meaningful life! whatever we sow we reap. It’s the law of the harvest.

The one personality trait that separated successive US presidents as per Journal Assessment 2000 study is Conscientiousness. Conscientious people are highly organized, dependable, disciplined, result oriented, high achievers, and hardworking by nature. Most of the US presidents without naming them scored in the 90th percentile and above for this one trait which forms a part of “Big Five” personality factors per standard psychology.

What is conscientiousness? Conscientiousness is characterized by organization, methodic planning, thoroughness, purposeful action and innate desire to do the task assigned really well.  People who are conscientious tend to have long term goals and they work consistently and with perseverance towards achieving their goals.

Conscientiousness is a very important predictor of success at job, hence it is highly advisable to check the candidates for this trait at the time of interview. People who score high on conscientiousness are composed, never impulsive in their actions and this distinguishes them from people who are not (lack of conscientiousness is visible by laidback attitude, disorderly way of working, less goal orientation and inability to be driven by success).

Recently, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology stated that conscientiousness has two distinct parts.

Industriousness, which is excellence in making plans, setting goals and achieving them with discipline, perseverance and tenacity.

Orderliness which is strong sense of duty towards your organization, ability to follow rules, being diligent and reliability in terms of ability to complete the task given. Orderly people are punctual and think before they act. In order words, they are not impulsive in nature and not disorganized in their schedule.

Now coming to the important question of how do we improve conscientiousness? We can improve the same by:

  1. Assessing your conscientiousness by taking up various online test. You can try this one
  2. Recognizing negative behaviors and being aware of these behaviors is the first step to making positive changes in behavior.
  3. Get punctual and organized. Update your goals, prepare plans to achieve them, prepare to-do lists.
  4. Start all the above changes with small manageable changes so that you don’t end up overwhelming yourselves.
  5. Become more dependable, complete whatever task you begin on time on regular basis.
  6. To ensure the same, avoid getting distracted and ensure focus on activity on hand.
  7. Take responsibility of your actions, do not be impulsive, and be high on self-regulation.

Happy Reading until next time!

Dr Batool Fatima

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Mastery at Work – Role of Grit

The great violinist Itzhak Perlman was afflicted with polio in his childhood and was crippled by it. He was able to walk only with braces and crutches. One evening, Perlman was scheduled to play a difficult challenging violin concerto. In middle of the performance one of the strings of his violin snapped with a loud sound that filled the entire auditorium. The orchestra immediately stopped playing and the audience held its breath.

Everyone assumed that Perlman would stop playing, put on his crutches and leave the stage.

After a brief while, Perlman set his violin under his chin, signalled the conductor to begin. “It is impossible to play a violin concerto with three strings” But that night, Perlman refused to know it. He was modulating, changing, and recomposing his head. When he finished, there was an awesome silence that filled the room. Then audience rose and cheered. Perlman smiled wiped his brow and raised the bow of his violin to quieten them. He spoke, quietly in a pensive tone, “you know, our job is make music with what remains”.

If there is something which holds ultimate importance when it comes to success at achieving goals, it is Grit.

Grit can be defined as perseverance and passion to achieve goals. It is high level of motivation to achieve goals, it is the ability to stick despite of all the obstacles and failures. The term “Grit” was made popular by Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor at University of Pennsylvania. Angela says the single most important factor responsible for success is grit.

How do we develop “Grit”?  we can develop grit by being consistent about our goals (goal posts should not keep changing frequently). By sticking to our long term goals in spite of failures. By being committed and passionate towards the goals we are trying to achieve.  To be committed in the long term to a goal, it is very important to be aware of dips which might occur along the way reducing our motivation.  It is very important that during these short term phases of discouragement and lack of enthusiasm, we keep working towards our goals and not break down when things get tough or we face a setback.

It is not difficult to develop “Grit”.  To develop “Grit”, we need to become mentally tough. Mental toughness calls for physical toughness and people who undergo extreme physical conditions tend to be very tough mentally.  Such tough physical conditions are bearing extreme temperatures, vigorous physical activities, and fasting. Meditation is also known to increase grit. Stepping out of comfort zone makes us grittier.

Apart from mental toughness, we need to realize the power of consistent efforts and actions. Consistent efforts and actions towards achieving our goals requires planning and organization.  Defining our routines and sticking to them helps us in maintaining consistency.  An important character in people who show grit is conscientiousness. Being conscientious, calls for systematic nature and lot of self-control.

While working conscientiously we need to measure results and make ourselves and others accountable for their results at all times.  Ability to solve problems and overcome difficulties will help you to stick to your goals than abandoning goals all together.  Strong support from friends and spouse can go a long way in helping you to stick to your goals.

Faith in oneself and optimism also increases resilience and grit. Another method to increase your confidence to read self-help books and watching inspiring videos, particularly when we don’t have motivational buddies to inspire us. Motivational self-talk can go a long way in changing our attitude towards failure and obstacles.

Conversely setting unrealistic goals, staying with negative people, getting flustered by setbacks can all act adversely on our ability to see through our goals.  Set the right goals, surround yourselves with people who persevere and adopt flexible approach at work.  Reflecting on problems, learning from them and actively trying to solve them helps in keeping our motivation high when it comes to solving them.

There is no age to develop “Grit”. We can start today and by constantly practicing all of the above develop what it takes to succeed!

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Mastery at Work – The Growth Mindset

Dr Dweck coined the terms “Fixed Mindset” and “Growth Mindset” after studying thousands of students. Some of us believe that success is based on the innate ability, that is basic qualities such as intelligence and talent are fixed traits and cannot be changed. this kind of mindset is known as “Fixed Mindset”.

While others believe that success is based on hard work, dedication, training and deliberate practice are believed to have the “growth mindset”.

These two schools of thought are known as “Fixed Theory of Intelligence” and the “Incremental Theory of Intelligence”.

How are these important from Mastery at Work point of view?

People with fixed mindsets believe that intelligence is static and cannot be increased. This results in them being wary of learning difficult tasks, inability to follow through and finish work if they encounter an obstacle, inability to put in extra efforts to get things done when they face challenges, inability to take criticism and lack of confidence at work. The end result of all of the above is inability to progress in career. It is also very surprising that as managers we also tend of believe that capability in some people is limited and we also do not instill growth mindset in this set of people.

There is also another group of people who are likely to fall into fixed mindset approach, surprisingly these are people who have been high achievers in their respective fields. Many leaders fall into fixed mindset approach and refuse to take feedback once they feel they have accomplished much more than others resulting in their downfall due to lack of ability to listen to feet on street, inability to take feedback from peers etc.

How is the employee with growth mindset different from the above two? An employee with growth mindset tends to learn new activities, takes up challenges willingly, will persist in case he encounters challenges and works around solutions to overcome obstacles he faces at work. He is open to feedback and sees feedback as an effective mechanism to grow, and will tend to find ways of working which have worked of his predecessors or mentors.

How to we instill growth mindset in children and in adults? The first step towards instilling growth mindset is the realization that “growth mindset” exists. Not many of us are aware that our brain is not plastic and is growing every second of our lives. Parents in particular play a very important role in teaching the child about the same. The second most influential person in a child’s life is teacher. The teachers need to instill growth mindset in children. They need to make the child acutely aware that with every new thing he is learning and every new task that he is undertaking his brain is growing and his ability is increasing tangentially.

If you are reading this article and wondering how to instill growth mindset in yourself? Then you need to remember that the key to succeeding at the developing growth mindset is trying harder at the task on hand and secondly trying new tasks. This means that we need to work more effectively at tasks on hand and try and avoid errors in our work (by thoroughly understanding what needs to be done) and also try to do new tasks. Take up something challenging at all times even if it means we encounter failure occasionally. We need to understand that even if we fail today, doing new activity will help us in strengthening our brain and gives us confidence.

The stepping stone to growth mindset begins with intense self-awareness, that is our capability to realize our strengths and our weakness very well. People with growth mindset generally eradicate their weaknesses by learning the tricks of the trade from their mentors in the field. Our brain is like a muscle which needs to be developed, this development is possible only through training it hard and working it out harder.

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Mastery at Work – Role of Harmony in Success

Not many authors emphasize the role of harmony at work. Harmony at work and at home can be defined as adaption of the human mind to the environment and also to the fellow human beings who work or live with him.

A positive environment between the person and the environment and between the person and people around him results in release of positive chemicals which can increase in will power, energy levels, and performance resulting in stunning achievements. This is typically demonstrated in sports when the team is cheered by supporters, and there is immense team spirit and comradery among the team members.

On the contrary, a negative environment where the culture of the organization is toxic in nature or the person is surrounded by people who are not motivating or discouraging by nature can interfere with hormones to such an extent that the individual might lose his lose confidence and sink into abyss.

This assumes great importance particularly in personal context because spouse has a great influence on state of mind and harmony in general. It is not uncommon to see spouses making or breaking each other’s career.

Similarly in professional setup, lack of harmony is often the most cause, employees leave the organization and business partnerships break. How do we increase harmony at work? It is up the leaders who set up the right culture at work. We should never be lackadaisical about setting up values and culture in the organization. It is important to ensure both management and employees are working towards common goals. Training the employees in culture and values is very helpful.

Hold everyone equally accountable for work expected from them. Define job roles and KPIs very clearly and monitor on regular intervals. Build a strong feedback mechanism. Having well defined processes will avoid a lot of heartburn and rework. Offer support at all times, even if it means dirtying your own hands in case of missed timelines. Establish good work-life balance. Avoid unfair rewards and bonuses at any cost.

Last but not the least, Open door policy helps and employees feel heard in such organizations. There should be consistent effort to hear the employees, keep the ears to the ground.  Socialize outside of work to know your employees better.  Similarly encourage teams to work together.  Training teams on empathy has shown great results in improving harmony.

Interesting Fact: In certain regions in South Africa, when someone does something wrong, he is taken to the centre of the village and surrounded by his tribe for two days while they speak of all the good he has done. They believe each person is good yet sometimes we make mistakes, which is really a cry for help. They unite in this ritual to encourage the person to reconnect with his true nature. The belief is that unity and affirmation have more power to change behaviour than shame and punishment. This is known as Ubuntu-humanity towards others!

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Mastery at Work – Focused Attention

An important component for Mastery at Work is ability to focus attention and concentrate on particular activity or task for a given period of time.  Focused attention is the ability to focus on one activity without being distracted by other stimuli. Attention can be automatic or self-regulated.

Routine and repetitive tasks generally require scant attention; this is where automatic attention comes into play. Automatic attention is relatively inflexible and it cannot cope with the unexpected. A process which is very well defined and laid out for employees generally requires automatic attention. As result of routinely doing the same activity as per process. While this minimizes errors, it gives raise to inability to inability to cope with sudden and unexpected situations.

On the contrary, self-regulated attention requires focusing voluntarily on the present moment, on the task on hand. It requires a person to be open to new learning experiences, accepting of themselves and the situations they are in and also being curious about things around them.

Self-regulated attention or sustained attention is also our ability to avoid distractions which could be both external (noise, light etc.) and internal (thoughts).  It is important to understand that distractions lead to waste of time and reduce productivity, they deeply inhibit our ability to immerse ourselves in learning, creating new ways of working as well as prevent us from getting into flow of things.

Biggest issue with distractions is it has a profound impact on our ability to reflect and gain deeper insights into any subject.

What does focused attention require? Being focused requires will power and self-control.  The will power to maintain focused attention and self-control to get it back the moment you detect your mind drifting from the work you are doing. This kind of awareness is called meta awareness. The key to focused attention is training your mind to realize the drift happening and the ability to get in back to object of focus.

Last but not the least, experts in any subject are great at focused attention and are great planners and executors while novices in any subject generally concentrate on getting routine tasks done and are generally people who execute on the ground without really putting in efforts in planning or understanding the nuances of how it works! Be an expert, be Focused!





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Mastery at Work- Deliberate Practice

One of the important components of attaining Mastery at work is Deliberate Practice. Deliberate practice refers to repetitive practice of important tasks at your job. The practice needs to be systematic, focused, purposeful and done with the end result in mind. The usual end result targeted is improvement in performance.

Deliberate practice consists of the following steps

  1. Planning (setting out work in organized manner, preferably writing down the process for the same).
  2. Focused attention (work with concentration, no distractions)
  3. Continuous Feedback (based on solid measurement of performance, define metrics for the same)
  4. Repetition and rework based on feedback (feedback should be critical and given by an expert/coach)
  5. Reflection (self-Awareness and self-regulated learning based on awareness of one’s own strengths and weaknesses)
  6. Coaching by a mentor/expert ( to track performance based on metrics decided and critical feedback agreed with you).

While we are practicing, it is also very important to remember that you need to like the work you do.

While learning, it is important to embrace criticism and failure and be humble. Be careful not to succumb to insecurities and develop fears when you find a task difficult.

Discipline your mind to face these situations by repeated exposing it to difficult activities which push you outside your comfort zone.

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Mastery at Work – Attaining Mastery at Work

Mastery is not an inborn talent, but needs to be achieved through hard work. To achieve mastery, focus not on money or instant success but on lifelong learning. Mastery is achieved only by determination, perseverance and patience.

Learning could be through either a mentor or self learning.
With a number of rich online resources available, we should be able to draw a map of what do we need to learn to get ahead.

Some apps that I would recommend are Udacity, EdX, Coursera. Latest both on news as well as business via Magzter. Also very resourceful for learning is Facebook by following different pages of your interests.

It is very important to maintain focus despite competing priorities and distractions, we need to earmark time every single day for learning and practice.

Whenever you learn something new, you need to link it with what you have learned previously. This will help you in remembering and applying knowledge.

Secondly, challenge your previous learning too so that you are able to innovate and create new ways of working.

It is highly advisable to maintain a mastery journal to maintain a record of your learnings.

Everytime you learn about a topic it is very important to realise the depth of learning rather than just the breadth.

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Mastery at Work – Developing Craftsman Mind-Set

  1. Craftsman mindset believes in systematically crafting careers by developing our abilities.
  2. Compelling careers do not happen, they are pursued with lot of efforts.
  3. Attaining mastery over your job requires you to perfect your job through learning and repeated practice.
  4. Define your masters, who is your role model.
  5. Observe your masters very closely, find out how he/she reached there
  6. Develop specific vision for yourself and find out what are the rare skills which matter in your field of work. Observe your masters closely on how they developed those skills.
  7. While working, avoid instant results and focus on quality.
  8. Never let yourself plateau when it comes to skills.
  9. Practicing new skills puts you in state of discomfort, put yourself into the same frequently.
  10. Remember Deep Work=Good Life.

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