Which economy do you prefer? Should we make a choice?

Tomorrow is a beloved grandmother’s death anniversary. Hindu customs require one to undertake certain rituals, prominent among them being to symbolically feed three generations of ancestors who are with us no more – as a means of gratitude for what they have done for us and wish them well. It is believed that these rites accrue them good fortune in their future lives – and that is a strong inspiration for the descendants to continue the practice.

As I reflect upon the Hindu life of old, I see that this “gratitude economy” was everywhere to see. Three times a day the sun was (and continues to be in many households even today) honoured for its generosity (at dawn, noon and dusk) – the sun you see just gives – it doesn’t exert itself more for either the millionaire or the saint, anyone can choose to bask in its warmth (or not), and either way it just goes on giving. Nature and the ecosystem were honoured in many ways (through worship of cows, the morning rituals of kolams which become food for the ants and so on), guests were revered and fed without preamble (the apartment culture and urbanization put brakes on this one) and the sages were remembered and thanked forever. The traditional meeting translates to roughly “I salute the divinity in you” (or so I think). Gratitude seems to have been the fuel on which society ran.

Today, we seem to be getting onto the “feel good” economy. We exercise to feel good about our body, meditation is done to make us feel more at peace with ourselves. The friends we keep, the titles we go after – they are all predominantly aimed at ensuring a high “feel good” score. No?

Now, there isn’t anything wrong with either – the gratitude economy seems to bring in a sense of awe for the world (and takes us out of the equation!). The “feel good” economy on the other hand is strongly focused on ourselves and how we interact with the world. We become “awesome” here.

Look a little deeper, and you realize that in the gratitude economy, we have nothing to lose really – it’s just a celebration of what is. Live to serve (and don’t go capturing matrices on how many you thanked or served). Pressure is zilch here but don’t go looking for a sense of personal fulfillment. If our eyes are turned toward a better body or a bigger title, make no mistake – following the gratitude economy alone will leave us unfulfilled.

On the other hand, the “feel good” economy perceives success as a series of milestones achieved – and more often than not these are milestones coveted by society at large. You are one among a million fellow runners in the marathon – and if we aren’t careful (or very good at running) we can start feeling very lonely in a crowded race. Its very easy to adopt someone else’s goals in the “Feel good” economy and feel low when we don’t succeed enough.

And this brings me back to the starting post. Perhaps, it’s best to have a bit of both – and we consciously need to choose the mix that works best for us. Are you more for being the guy who prefers doing “unremembered and random acts of kindness” or the guy who wants to be remembered for living and making a difference?

Thoughtfulness – and flight travel!

You learn a lot of good things doing the most mundane things. I travelled yesterday on Indigo, one of the several so called no-frills airplanes yesterday, and I was very pleasantly surprised by the amount of thoughtfulness and innovation they embraced.

It started off at the check in counter. She looked up my name and asked me if I would like the same seat as I had requested last time (Aisle, front rows). I asked her if she had a window and she said, there’s one – but at the very end – would that be ok? The transaction if you note leveraged analytics (history of my earlier transactions), personalized recommendations (and with a default option – you can choose but if you prefer not too, there’s an informed choice available) and when I had a clarification. she provided some insight into the pros and cons of that decision. Very simple you feel – and I agree – and this was one of the best check in experiences I had had combining efficiency and personalization.

The flight started on time (big deal in India!) and interestingly the airline had bundled complimentary meals for all corporate flyers. Very simple if you think about it – but its a win-win really – and for a commercial traveler hurrying to catch his flight after a long trip and looking to get home at the earlier, these are big plusses indeed.

The surprises didn’t end there – just ahead of the landing, there was the usual communication on please switch off your laptops etc. However there was a simple twist (or maybe it was common, but I noticed it for the first time!) – the hostess reminded all those working on laptops to “remember to save their work” before switching them off. Thoughtful.

And the best part came right after. The last part of every flight ritual is where the hostess comes to collect any bottles/ packages etc. and is preceded by the usual announcement that the flight is about to land and hence this ask. The Indigo folks however told us they wanted their customers to enjoy the experience, and one of the ways they could best do was by “turning the flight around well in time – so could we please hand over any bottles etc. to make this possible?”. Great messaging.

Most business think cheaper, better (as in higher quality, not necessarily quality of experience!) and faster. I’d feel if they added “thoughtfulness” to the list of desired attributes, they’d end up making more of their customers smile in appreciation. You agree?

Fidelity vs. Volume……..

Bigger! Faster! Better! The focus on amplification seems to be ingrained in us these days. Everywhere we go, we see an effort to increase throughput and voice the thought aloud; recently, linear increases are considered inadequate, we want exponential increases! Look around you – and chances are you’ll stare in the face a company touting itself as earning the most revenue, having the largest workforce, manufacturing the widest range of products, equipped with the most features….and recently even the most “quantified quality” is much talked about (now how does that work?)!

The bug seems to have caught the individuals’ fancy (not just the corporates’) as well – how often do we find ourselves talking about the number of certifications we own, the volume of experience we bring in, the cash we saved for our clients…..

Nothing wrong in all of this of course – but we do have to turn up the volume more and more in order to make ourselves heard. You need differentiators, purple cows and audacious stunts to be noticed – and often sensationalism and hyperbole are business as usual.

Volume

A thought – isn’t all the above only a means to an end and not the end in itself? We made the most cars because we wanted the biggest money bag right? And we didn’t make the most cars to satisfy any one customer, we wanted to satisfy our target segment. When we work toward a larger goal and are serving a statistic (and not a person!), turning up the volume is indeed the way to go.

Fidelity

Think of a rose garden now. When you step in from the main street and the huge noise therein, you suddenly are greeted with a scene of green and the scent of rose – nice on the eyes but kinda boring. And then slowly, as the inner noise within you subsides, you start noticing the stillness outside and the placid landscape metamorphoses into a throbbing eco-system – nature comes alive. You begin to notice the different hues of the roses & leaves and the squirrel squirreling away in a corner. The grass beneath your feet demands attention and a worm worms itself away oblivious to everything around it. On closer look, the blades reveal intricacies – in colour, age, thickness and height – that have you in raptures and you are enthralled by their dancing response to the cool breeze. The birds are on song and their feathers and plummuge are pigmented with exotic colors. Sounds, scenes, nature – everything moves you profoundly. This is the “fidelity” option. When we are entranced in our work, in a book that has us riveted or when we are in tune with nature, our quality of attention is intensified and the world seems a pretty happy place.

So which should we choose – to turn up the volume or to tune into an experience? And how do they effect us?

In the volume game, we are always competing against the man with the loudest speaker, in the fidelity experience – there is no competition – just a wonderful experience.

In the volume game, we are always aiming toward a better tomorrow ( i’ll sell the most cars, get a whole lotta cash, retire to the Bahamas and then be happy). Today just doesn’t matter – it serves to help us reach the tomorrow of our dreams. In the fidelity game, there is no tomorrow – only the present. The focus is not on some futuristic goal but on happiness now. We move therefore from a desired goal to a inspired state right now…

So have the big goals and create the noise and capture the eyeballs. It brings home the bread (at least for now!). But also take a few moments everyday (or week) doing what you like – a transactionless activity done just because it makes you happy and leaves you inspired. Body, mind and intellect will all react positively with lowered stress, a serene mind and a clearer intellect. Better still capture the eyeballs with a different attitude, work will turn out to be a painting you’d leave an indelible signature on (remember Gibran’s definition of work – work is love made visible).

Are there preconditions for adopting a high fidelity approach? Stillness is a perquisite – so you should either get out of the loud environment or be able to tune out the noise and tune in into a delightful
experience (enjoy the pristine stroke play in a cricket game attended by 30000 other boisterous folks). Come to think of it, maybe you could even tune into the noise without reaching for the loudspeaker – wouldn’t that be like the lotus flower blooming unaffected amidst a sludge?