Spider, Leopard and Success

Although I have held many teaching sessions, I am always nervous when I go for the first session in the course. [I am going to begin a new course tomorrow.] And I do not know why it happens.

Nah, that is not true. I know why it happens.

My very first lecture session after taking up a job with Asian Paints, was with Metal Box, a company many would not remember and others may not even know. Suffice it to say that it was a respected company in the early seventies when we read for our post-graduation in industrial relations; it is unfortunate that it has disappeared from industrial scene. An officer of the Central Board of Workers’ Education asked me to address the workers’ education class at Metal Box.

I must have prepared for several days in advance, nervous at the facing unknown people, not knowing their requirements. The effort was well received.  But I wondered whether it was ‘good enough!’

Another memorable day was in 1999. I was asked by TISS address HR students. Although I had addressed the students of earlier batches, this event remains etched in my memory for a special reason. I did not know what to talk about, the topic was very general. It was perhaps kept deliberately vague so that I can have freedom to talk on a topic of my choice. I kept thinking about the impending lecture for several days, nothing really was working out to my satisfaction. I distinctly remember that I was about to leave for TISS at about 12 noon, and I got down to prepare my talk at 11 am! In just 30 minutes I prepared my session. This session was exceptionally well received by students. I spoke about how to negotiate a productivity settlement.

Why did I wait till 11am? Actually I was preparing for a long time, but nothing was ‘clicking’ in my opinion. By this time I had bitten all the ten nails [as my wife says]. Working under tremendous time pressure, I suddenly ‘discovered’ [perhaps thoughts must have got crystallised in my mind] an approach by which I could reach out to all students easily. I knew this would ‘click.’

Many years later, with just a few years to go for retirement, a colleague and I discussed various ideas of organising an HR Meet. Many ideas were put on table, discussed and discarded, and as I said earlier nothing was clicking. We sat still; nothing seemed to meet our own approval. Then came a moment, we were under pressure and both of us instantly [and instinctively] agreed on a new format which we thought of then. Recently while reading ‘Presence’ I discovered that the Theory U talks of similar experiences. Chinese painters keep observing a landscape for hours, and then they get up and swiftly draw a picture.

These experiences are memorable in retrospect, but when you are working under pressure, there is a lot of tension. I think we put ourselves under too much pressure to succeed. We want to be like Yuvaraj Singh who hit six sixes, a sixer on every ball in the over. We want to be like a leopard that chases and kills its prey. Why can’t we think of ourselves as bowlers who bowl a few good balls and then entice a batsman to hit a bad shot? Why can’t we be like a spider that waits for an insect to get trapped in its net?

I think a leopard, Yuvaraj or a batsman are seen as far more impactful than a Kumble or Shane Warne or a spider who work to a plan. Brute force gives a strong feeling of a ‘kill,’ it arouses enormous emotions of conquest. ‘Weaving’ success is another story; it is working to a plan, and is the work of intelligence.

I must examine my ideas of success associated with teaching. Till then I will be biting my nails and worrying about the first session on the class.

Let us hope it will be good tomorrow.