Change your perspective or get S.T.U.N.N.E.D

All of us are on a journey through life. If you belong to the ‘fatalistic’ school, you believe that it will get you to that place that you deserve or destined to be. If you subscribe to the opposite school, then you believe you are in a constant state of tussle with the nature to shape your journey the way you want it – speed, direction, path, and destination. Who succeeds in the end – the jury is still out on this one.

One of the smaller sub-journeys that many of us take in our lifetime is a ‘Plane journey’. That journey is completely a fatalistic experience. You are bound to land up where the pilot wants to go, or rather as dictated by the airline schedule. You can’t do a thing to change it. Some of us take too many of them – as depicted by the numb, robotic and number obsessed character played by George Clooney in ‘Up in the Air’. I am not one of them, neither do I wish for anyone to be in that situation. To have your name on a plane is nice, but there are easier ways of achieving that rather than sit in a plane 300 days a year…… there I go meandering again. Getting back on track…..

I do dabble in aviation once in a while.  Wow – that sounded exotic! Like I pilot my own private plane or helicopter or something like that. Personally I would opt for either the Gravitube or the ‘Beam me up Scotty’ means of transport, if they existed. But since we are only in 2011 and at least a trillion years away from either of them, I choose the more mundane option. I pick an airline, pay the ticket price, sit back, enjoy a book and collect loyalty points (which are never redeemed).

Travelling back from US to Europe a couple of weeks back, zipping through time zones, the S.T.U.N bug hit me. This bug called S.T.U.N (Sleepless Traveller nUmbed by moNotony), is rumoured to live in a secret chamber designed into every airline seat in the world. There are many tell tale signs that the seat you are sitting on is teeming with S.T.U.N.s. These can range from the fact that the a/c vent above your seat can either be set to blast you continuously with frigid air that can drive even a polar bear away or completely off – no mid way setting possible. Another could be that the ‘lamp’ button on your seat controls the lights of a fellow passenger sitting 30 rows away on the seat 42D. Your unending quest to try to switch on your light by continually pressing the button in every conceivable position, pressure, frequency etc has put the passenger on 42D in either a state of frantic rage or a blissful hypnotic stupor. The sure shot sign is the presence of strange pieces of small white calciferous bits in the seat pocket in front of you. You probably mistook them for small crumbs of nuts that the airline attendant failed to clean, but in reality are the remaining pieces of bone of the last passenger that was devoured by the S.T.U.N bug. Rumor has it that the bug has been deliberately planted by the airline companies. Apparently, the passengers bitten by this bug, in their state of paranoia and desperation, contribute vastly to the airline’s coffers by buying vast amounts of useless items from the duty free catalogue. If you have ever bought something from an airline duty free catalogue – blame it on the S.T.U.N bug.

Anyway, the bug bit me. While I skillfully managed to avoid the last described fate, but there I was – wide awake and trying out all the exercises recommended by the airline booklet to keep the blood circulation in my legs going. I got up to take a small stroll and reached the back of the aisle. Standing there, the following image presented itself in front my eyes. A pretty normal sight, people glued to the TV screens, struggling to make out the details of the movie on the washed out, tiny screen while straining to hear the dialogue on the ineffective airline headphones.  While some of them may have been genuinely enjoying the movies, probably many of them were unknowingly sinking deeper into the traps set for them by the S.T.U.N bugs.

Just that brief respite of being away from the S.T.U.Nning seat brought a sense of normalcy, not experienced in the last 4 hrs. Suddenly a realization hit me. Isn’t this small, unimportant incident so similar to situations that affront us often? Many a times, when people are stuck with a problem or an issue – they will often keep trying the limited number of ways that they can immediately ‘see’ from their point of view. And there will often come a point when each of these ways will be exhausted and the problem will be declared ‘too difficult to solve’ or ‘each of the ways of solving the issue as useless’. I remember talking to one of my team members about this, who was in the same situation about a project, and was unable to solve the issue at hand. Talking to the person, it became clear that by repeating the same old tried and trusted methods, the issue was becoming like quicksand and pulling that person deeper into it. So very typical …

What people don’t do enough of is the following –

  • Stop repeating the same old, time tested methods
  • Take a breather and step back for a minute
  • Ask for an opinion of a colleague, a friend or someone else
  • Change the environment in which you have been trying to solve the problem. Small stuff like move away from your office or desk, call for a meeting in an unusual place like the office lawn etc. It’s surprising how often these small things make a world of difference
  • Basically, try to look at the issue from a different perspective

It is human nature to think that one probably has all the answers and the solutions. Einstein famously said – “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. I fully agree with him (even though he meant it differently and was trying to prove a different point). There is far too little time on our hands to waste on doing the same thing over and over again.

That little moment of realization was another reaffirmation of the fact that your point of reference, changes how you perceive a given situation and how you act on it. Before I took that small walk till the end of the aisle, my vantage point was my seat; a couple of feet away from the flickering screen. All I could think about was which movie to watch to fill the time till I land. Suddenly being away from the seat and be able to see the ‘bigger picture’ (so to speak), got my mind working on an altogether different plane.

So next time your umpteenth crack at a problem has failed – stop. Stand up, clear your head and try a different vantage point. If all else fails, take the BA flight that I was on, go stand at the end of the aisle and you might see the issue or the world around you differently. And while you are at it, please apologize to the passenger on seat 42D, for he still might be there in a state of stupor.


The best kept secret of the whole world !

Today i am going to let you in to a secret. No, it’s not the secret of the philosopher’s stone or the Bermuda triangle … It’s the secret behind the beauty of the Swiss alpine forests. Those who have travelled around Switzerland and wistfully gazed at those picture perfect alpine forests covering the mountain sides and wondered how on earth a natural forest can look so prim and proper – the answer is those wonderful guys at the Bergwald project and people like us. How does it all add up to enhance the alpine scenery – read on.

On a cloudy autumn day, a bunch of 25 odd folks from different areas in my company descended on a small town in the Graubünden area for a volunteering event. On arrival, our ‘forest guide’ instructed us to form a semi-circle. This immediately challenged our intelligence! Semi-circle – haven’t heard of that in years. After a few minutes of pottering about, while most managed to grasp the concept – some colleagues were left stranded in the middle and were doubtfully staring at the rest of us as if we were performing a strange medieval ritual. A quick roll-call and 10 minutes of instructions in swiss german prepared us for the day ahead. Being linguistically challenged in the intricacies of swiss german, my understanding of the instructions was limited to – ‘grab a sickle, hack some kinds of shrubs, don’t hack the other kinds, repeat till lunch… and watch out for the deers (whether to hack them or not – was a questioned to be pondered later)’. Then we were showed the sickles to be used – looking at the large circular glinting edges, possibility loomed large that some of us novices will surely end up hacking something more than shrubs. The aim of all this (as explained by my kind colleagues) is to maintain the bio-diversity of the forest of that area and allow certain trees to grow better. I find it pretty cool that so much energy and thought is put into such specific fields. But what do we (people who deal only in powerpoint presentations and e-mails) know about this?

Anyway, the work begins and we start to hack away. Millions of aim-hack-look-wonder-aim-hack sequences and thorn cuts later, i finally manage to clear the overgrowth and weeds around a few delicate alpine saplings. I take a breather to admire my handiwork, the forest guide passes by, stops for a minute and provides us inspiration in that wonderful swiss german accent – Gut gemacht! (well done). Then i see him peering closer at a plant and can make out that something is not up to the swiss-standards (remember here i an Indian), he points to a branch of a small tree which i have been trying to protect and says – “Das pflanz ist zu gekrümmt, nicht schön” (That plant is too crooked, doesn’t look nice), takes the sickle from my hand and proceeds to chop it off in a single expert movement. I stand there flabbergasted and suddenly it sinks in – So that’s how those damned forests look so good ! Every tree, every branch must be perfect! A few more of such sequences and inspite of sickles flying around everywhere, all of us survived till lunch in one piece. Lunch ….. What can be better for 25 ravishing folks (normally used to sitting around desks in Dilbert style meetings) than hot soup, grilled sausages, big hunks of swiss cheese, salad, chocolates and some home-made cookies, all washed down with alpine herbal tea & coffee .. and all this in a middle of a forest!

By 4 o’clock the day is done, hundreds of saplings are now free to blossom into perfectly formed trees that will enhance the beauty and the bio-diversity of the forests, we are satisfied with a day of volunteering out in the nature, away from the presentations, meetings and e-mails.(Though  many of us could not resist a temptation to make that quick call back to office, and in doing so presented quite a funny picture : energetically barking into the phone and waving a huge sickle in the other hand, as if threatening the person on the line – do as i tell you, otherwise ….). In spite of our aching legs and hands, at the end of the day, we stood there admiring that fact that we could actually see the results of our hard work (unlike some days at the office !).

….. so next time any of you gaze at those alpine vistas, take your binoculars or the mega-zoom digital camera & look a little closer, you just might find gnomes like us hidden among the forests, hacking away!