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The young must question
She is only 18 months old in the company, and was thrilled to be given independent charge of a project. It was a short duration one (6 weeks), but she gets to work with the Business Manager in New Jersey (NJ). It was clearly a great opportunity to prove herself, and also get noticed at the Global HQ. She plunged into it, and at the end of the first 3 weeks, she had a list of impressive questions for the Manager in NJ. The Manager in NJ was very happy to respond to her deep and incisive questions, and said as much in his reply to her.
All her euphoria evaporated that morning when her Manager in Bangalore called her into his cabin, and expressed his displeasure at her writing directly to NJ, without running the questions through him first. Her Manager felt that those questions sent to NJ will reflect badly on the state of expertise in Bangalore, and may tell the HQ that no one here has the answers, and hence we have had someone write to NJ.
When the project ended a few weeks later, the Business Manager from NJ came on a visit to Bangalore, and was all praise for the quality and commitment she showed in completing this assignment. That fulsome praise emboldened her to ask him the question that was bothering her. Was she wrong in writing to him directly about her doubts on the project? His answer was categorical: “Oh, no! Not at all. Your mail gave us all in NJ a good idea of the kind of talent available in Bangalore. It also told us the level of detail and depth at which we should engage with Bangalore in future projects. It was a revelation to all of us in NJ!”
When she reported this conversation to her Manager in Bangalore, it got dismissed as the NJ guy being ‘merely polite’. “What do you expect them to say?” he continued, “they would love to know what is going on here without being here.” As Managers, the questions on performance, deliverables’ quality and timeliness are all ours to answer, she was told. “You are too inexperienced to understand these games they play.”
It was disturbingly apparent that this young executive will never ever break protocol, or ask those searching questions to NJ. She would rather make peace with the team and the Manager that she has to deal with daily at work. This will be a very sad development only because she is young, and therefore, probably the most qualified in the team to ask those difficult questions. The seniors ask questions that preserve their reputation, and hence their current livelihood.
“The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything”, says Oscar Wilde.
If you are young, what can you do? Be clever, play the ‘system’, appear pliable when necessary, network with each other for strength, learn by making mistakes, traverse to the edge of chaos, and put all your energies into constantly finding new methods both foul (as seen by the current regime) and fair. At each of these steps, ask those questions. This is how you will pay the world back for the privilege of being young. Staying with the questioning attitude keeps you young. Ashley Montagu, the celebrated anthropologist agrees: “The idea is to die young as late as possible”.
Just as children who have more questions at home, the young in our society and at our workplaces should have lots of questions on all that is happening around them. If they don’t want to take the present methods into the future, they must stand up, push and demolish if required, to sculpt the future they want. The not-so-young amongst us should help along.
The girl must talk to NJ, says German philosopher and poet Friedrich Nietzsche:
“The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”
Feb 16, 2016: Written by Ramesh Srinivasan