“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, how’s the water?” The two young fish swim on a bit and then one of them looks over at the other and says “What the hell is water?” “
Point of the story being,
“The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about”
~ David Foster Wallace, 2005 –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CrOL-ydFMI
I am pleased and proud to announce that what follows in these upcoming paragraphs is a smattering of clichés, but as with all clichés they are terribly easy to ignore, not reflected upon and questioned in the contemporary I.T. industry, as often they should be, because, well, they are clichés and everyone **should** just know how to do/not do them.
But do we?
P.S. – In this article I have made noticing clichés even easier for you by quoting them in double asterisks (e.g. **cliché**).
Wallace’s talk makes so much sense to me, i.e. in the hustle of achieving outcomes and shipping better software for our clients and customers, we ignore the **obvious** things in work and personal life.
We take a lot of pride in our ability to get lots done, in our ability to be busy and go **the extra mile** for our clients and customers. We fear that we are never doing enough to support our team and keep them motivated and fulfilled. We dread the perceptions that will be created if we are risk averse (**move fast and break things**), we wonder what will happen to our careers if we say “No” (** smart and get things done**).
We take pride and contentment in being busy in our work lives, but why aren’t we equally proud of being unbusy?
<Insert Shameless self-promotion here: https://thereluctanttester.wordpress.com/2016/05/19/why-isnt-anyone-proud-to-be-unbusy-in-their-work-lives/ >
Till couple of years ago, I was worshipping busyness with similar aplomb. I was of the opinion that I was at the **peak** of my professional prowess, I was leading a team of exceptional Testers, the majority of whom I had recruited and mentored. I was fortunate to have their respect and of my stakeholders. I had won several accolades in my company. I was grounded but full of professional pride. I had a deep personal bond with my team, I had invested a lot in their wellness but (can say now with the silver bulleted benefits of hindsight) not enough into my own.
I was only seeking external validation, recognition and fulfillment.
As a result, I was ignoring the need to have unbridled play-time with my kids (on the weeknight of a big release), I was ignoring to ignore work emails while travelling to and back from work (I could not even wait to reach home to check work emails), I was ignoring not to remote in and reset the flaky automated test rigs during a long weekend break, I was talking attacks on my Team as attack on me,
And to make matters worse, I was not mindful of the impact some of my behaviour was having on my team and my family.
My argument was, well if I **slow down** now, now when I am getting all this done, my career will perhaps be stymied.
In short, I was a functioning work-alcoholic.
You know what followed? Would not be hard to guess,
Aptly described by this song,
And captured by this picture….
Image source: YouTube
I am not ashamed now to share that I crashed and burnt and stuttered into therapy.
I am also not ashamed now to share that I am a recovering work-alcoholic, and one of the (surprising) contributors in the meandering turn around has been the time that I have spent as a Test consultant.
Let me elaborate,
Image source – http://www.history.com/topics/samurai-and-bushido/pictures/samurai-and-bushido/samurai-brandishing-sword-by-felice-beato
At the height of my self-proclaimed **job satisfaction** peak, I was operating more like this samurai.
Moving at speed with precision and effectiveness. Wielding my sword skilfully, with great alacrity and confident judgement. Framing and solving problems that **mattered** to the business, fast. I was investing a lot in my Team and getting a lot of (quick and unexpectedly pleasant) outcomes. I was running brave experiments with my team and it was paying off.
The outcomes were the high that drove my work-alcoholism and the more fruits I reaped, the further intoxicated I got. I was totally outcome driven, a samurai assassin propelled by the number of trophies that I could gather.
But, obviously that did not **scale**.
Soon, I found myself in a job with a heavily bureaucratic environment, unsupportive bosses and apathetic colleagues. I applied my samurai mind-set to these environments and failed miserably. I had just changed from being a jockey atop a very nimble horse to being a “mahout” atop a very stubborn elephant and was expecting similar agility of outcomes.
This stunned me, broke me, my motivation dwindled, my drive stalled, my will to function in that environment had withered to a whimper.
I was not busy anymore, I was not getting outcomes at the pace I was accustomed to, I was not growing my team, in fact, I did not have a team to grow anymore. I was not drawing on my core skills. Things were **too slow** for me there.
After being through therapy for several months, after leaving that job and after having been a Tester in product organisations for more than a decade, I stumbled upon Test consulting.
In the past couple of years I have consulted multiple businesses, as a Test Lead and a Senior Consultant, through Assurity consulting (www.Assurity.co.nz) in the adorable city of Christchurch, New Zealand.
I have been exposed a lot to business problems that has enabled me to inculcate the below mind-set to support my Samurai mind set.
Let’s call it, The Grinder mind-set.
Image source (http://www.pickles-and-spices.com/methods-of-grinding-spices.html)
The above process (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2Olfr3PwrY) is eons old Indian practice of hand grinding spices to a paste, to be used in cooking curries. In today’s age of many faster, more efficient and affordable alternatives available, a lot of household still carry this slow laborious process of grinding the spices not only because the taste of the curry is unmatched but also that it brings the cooks (mostly Indian house wives) together for a tete-a-tete and communal gossip.
Having grown up watching my mother, my aunts and their friends do it, I was in awe not only at the delicacies that they dished out (the outcomes) but also at the enjoyment that they derived from the seemingly monotonous manual grinding (the process). Sometimes I wondered whether they were primarily there for the tete-a-tete and the heavenly curries were just an accidental outcome. The process of grinding mattered much more to the cooks than the curry.
Similarly, consulting has shepherded me into situations where I have been fortunate to learn and practice this contrasting mind-set required to **grind it out**, and not only endure it but to start revelling in it.
- Consulting has taught me that business transformation and influencing change is a slow insulin drip rather than a searing burst of adrenalin. Persistence and patience are paramount to building resilience.
- Consulting has taught me that to build resilience, you need to fail and failure is practiced by doing what scares you the most (Note – Coincidently, the “mantra” to success is the same)
- Consulting has taught me that expecting relatively quick results (even though you put in your sincerest and most skilful effort) is a strategy bound to doom in the long run (http://blog.samaltman.com/the-days-are-long-but-the-decades-are-short). Note – My definition of an atomic unit of “quick” is 1 year and of “long-run” is 3.
- Consulting has taught me that the focus should be on getting yourself and your client invested in the process of reaching at an outcome, rather than just chasing outcomes. Validate your problem solving process over just validating the outcome.
- Consulting has taught me that influencing myself (and my behaviours) comes way before trying to influence others
- Consulting has taught me to ask this question daily, **what is that one thing that I learnt today, that I did not knew yesterday? **
- And consulting has taught me that not being mindful enough to ask this question and/or not taking an action to act, when the answer is no, is letting down your craft.
Just to clarify, I’m not going ga-ga over consulting’s magical healing powers, these are lessons which can be learnt in any job from product development to delivering mail in remote Himalayan countryside. Unfortunately these are learnings that I did not gain (because I was just a Samurai) but am thankful that being a consultant has provided me with opportunities to draw these out and apply in my daily professional life.
Please don’t take me wrong, I am not suggesting that you stop looking at outcomes or be goal driven. Neither I am lecturing you on how to manage stress in your work life nor that you form navel gazing philosophical view of work and stop shipping great software.
Rather I am articulating that the Samurai (Outcome focussed) and Grinder (Process focussed) mind-set are the Yin and Yan of being a whole professional craftsperson.
Be fearless, bring your Samurai out,
Be skilled at the usage of Test tools, be an excellent Exploratory tester, be an astute coder who can write scalable test frameworks, Be the person who gets stuff done
But also relish the process and champion the grind,
Practice and champion mindfulness, Self-reflect daily, don’t leave culture to anyone (build your own), let someone go to uphold your company values, create scalable/replicable/lean problem solving frameworks, document & share knowledge, coach selflessly
Be a great swimmer, but also know what water is.