Monday, July 30, 2007

$piritual Business: Acceptance before Change

The response to my post on 'Five lessons I learned at IIT Conference' was overwhelmingly positive and got me to think about some other key lessons I have learned over the years. And many of these lessons did not come from the business domain exclusively.

The common perception is that spirituality is for the ascetics or people that are probably not as interested in the material world. The truth is there are many many lessons that can be applied to succeed in the business world - I will be bringing a few to your attention over next several weeks - starting with Acceptance.

What is Acceptance? One definition suggests Acceptance means that you perceive reality accurately and consciously acknowledge what you perceive. Some people misconstrue acceptance to mean that when you 'accept', you put up with the improper behavior of others towards you. In fact, by 'accepting' the reality that someone is manipulative or aggressive, you become consciously aware and then can respond to the person and her behavior in the most appropriate manner.

Acceptance in Business: So how does this apply to business or work life. Let us take an example. Many years ago, I worked on a product that was poorly architected and was being built with the wrong use case scenarios. It was clear to sales and other organizations outside of this core team that the product would never succeed in the market. However, most people on the team failed to accept this. The few that did sense something was wrong simply got into shouting matches and were unable to effect any real change - they either ruined their career prospects or ended up leaving the firm. They saw the flaw in the product but did not accept the reality of how others on the team felt. A very small number actually accepted both realities - that the product as designed was not going to succeed, and that many team members and leaders were unwilling to see this. By fully accepting both facts, this small subset approached senior executive management to make a case for change. The senior executive management accepted this reality and brought in new leadership. With new management, the product was mothballed and a newer product built and launched resulting in one of the most successful product launches in this company's history.

The key message of the story is that you must fully 'accept' all of reality including people, their preset notions, the market, etc. if you want to effect change. And, don't forget to accept and become aware of your own biases and tendencies.

How can I learn Acceptance? I have found that there are several areas of our lives where many of us tend to be naturally accepting and we may want to learn from them.
  • Hiking in the Forest: When you are hiking you accept the surroundings, the shape of the hills, the thorns of bushes and the occasional rain. In fact, I would argue that one of the reasons we feel good when we are with nature is because we do not have any 'expectations'- and this enables us to accept all as is. Perhaps next time you go to a meeting, be willing to see more than what you are primed to look for. The recent New York Times article Who is Minding the Mind? sites research by psychologists and neuroscientists on the myriad biases originating from our subconscious.
  • Playing with babies: When a baby bites your hand or ruins your best shirt, you do not lash out against her. Again, you are accepting (while throwing the baby back to the crib) of what is rather than what should or could have been. A lot of salesmen refuse to acknowledge genuine objections by an attendee that is not C-level in the hopes that ignoring the objection would help move the process along. In reality, they are simply choosing to see an alternate reality - a dream sale - that may never come to fruition. In stead, by acknowledging reality of exactly what everyone is thinking (or saying) in a meeting can be the first step towards establishing rapport, answering the objections on path to a sale.
I am not suggesting that you go for a hike or play with babies to learn acceptance - not that that would be a bad idea - but what I am suggesting is that you become consciously aware of times when you are accepting (i.e., seeing reality as is) and when you are in denial.

(Suggested further reading: Are you ready to Succeed?, and your favorite spiritual book.)

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