Category Archives: mastery at work

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