Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Spectrum of Success and Failure, and the Nirvana of Performance

Every act has an outcome that is noted as success or failure. Act, in this context, is considered to include a plan or strategy that is intended to be implemented.  Human beings and organizational entities are increasingly concerned and preoccupied with the results or outcomes of their acts. The more the investment of resources in an act, be it time, effort or money, the greater is the expectation of success. The resources can be tangible ones as above or intangible ones such as encouragement, environment and ecosystem. The student who invests a lot in seeking admission to a premier course in a premium institute as well as his or her family that provides the resources, tangible and intangible, both aim for success and are deeply affected by failure. Organizational entities which are backed by founders, investors and other share holders with investments of resources are also severally and collectively impacted by successes and failures.    

Hindu philosophy, probably and other philosophies too, consider successes and failures as events in the wheel of life, scripted and written by Destiny. While the Hindu philosophy exhorts the individual to perform his ’dharma’ or duty, it expects the individual to perform the duty without expectations. It also postulates “nirvana’ as the ultimate life’s goal. Practically, however, in the day to day life individuals and organizations live to succeed while performing their duties, with the objective of success casting an overwhelming hue on the call of duty. Premier education thus becomes a lever for social recognition and financial prosperity for the student and the family. Growth and profitability become the platform for global competitiveness and economic dominance for the entities and investors. Various individual and corporate acts, including adoption of technologies and management processes, are designed and practiced by individuals and entities to achieve success and avoid failure.
Success and failure
Despite the fact that everyone sets up himself or his organization for success there tend to be successes and failures in the long run. There are two ways of looking at this; the statistical way and the karmic way. The statistical approach teaches us that in any universe or its representative large sample, the chosen dimension, be it an attribute or outcome, statistically follows a distribution, in most cases the normal distribution. There would be as many outperformers as underperformers around a statistically determined median, with the shape of the bell curve in terms of the peak and spread depending upon the characteristics of the universe. The extreme outperformers as well as the extreme underperformers have low probability while the mid-rangers have the maximum probability of occurrence. Extending the statistical approach, success and failure, in the long term, are seen as resultants of an environmental and a competitive landscape rather than as something that is completely determined by the performer.
The Hindu karmic approach, on the other hand, postulates as in Christianity that one reaps as one sows. The more good efforts one puts in, the more successful would one be. That said, what constitutes good and what constitutes bad is an individualistic determination. Going through a coaching institution would be good for one class of students while studying and stretching on one’s own would be good for another class. While a strategy of product specialization would be appropriate for one class of firms a strategy of product diversification could be appropriate for another class of firms. Even within the karmic approach, therefore, the choice of right seed could be of importance. While statistical approach focuses on the distribution of a range of outcomes, the karmic approach teaches us to choose the right ingredients. Yet, many individuals and entities fail to be circumspect and objective in their choices. The cloudiness is due to the spectral effects of success and failure on the psyche of individuals and organizations.
Spectral effects of success and failure
The outcomes of success and failure have three effects each on the psychology of an individual or entity. These six shades of success and failure together with the central disposition of being unmoved by success or failure together constitute the spectrum of success and failure. As is said, nothing succeeds like success, and nothing fails like failure too. As an individual or organization goes through repeated successes or failures the psychological disposition with which such repeated successes and failures are absorbed and assimilated in the human or enterprise psychological system determines the future propensity to success or failure. At the core of individual as well as organizational mindset, the individual constitutes the core, the only difference perhaps being that in an organizational setting the collective disposition of individuals determines the predisposition.
The three effects of success could be increasingly intoxicating on an individual or entity, eroding the very platform of success. The first feeling of “confidence” that accompanies initial success is a much needed and well deserved index of success. Repeated successes, unless one is mindful, lead to “complacence” of success whereby success is taken to be granted leading to a lowering of guard. When successes follow one after the other, by design or default, even in a situation of complacence, one tends to slip into “arrogance” of success, whereby one fails to accept feedback or ignores to act on it. Each of the three states has a different influence on the psychological disposition. Confidence (a belief in one’s ability to be successful) is an essential ingredient of success; it leads to success and also gets reinforced by success. Complacency (a feeling of being too satisfied to recognize the need for change) is an outcome of ignorance of the factors that drove successes of the past. Arrogance (a feeling of excessive pride that rejects or alienates other people and other inputs) is an outcome of the false sense of infallibility that some acquire as a result of continued success.
The three effects of failure could be increasingly debilitating on an individual or entity, eroding the resilience to recover and succeed which is possible even after failure. The first feeling of “concern” that accompanies initial failure is a much needed and well advised introspection of failure. Repeated failures, unless one analyzes the root causes, lead to “helplessness” of failure whereby failure is taken to be inevitable, leading to lowered or misdirected efforts to succeed. When failures follow one after the other, by design or default, one tends to slip into a state of “despondency”, whereby one fails to recognize the residual strengths and opportunities. Concern (a feeling of responsibility to an unexpected outcome) is an essential first step to recognizing failure; it leads to introspection which, in turn, must help eliminate causes of failure. Helplessness (a feeling of inability to take care by oneself) is an outcome of an inability to introspect for root causes which, in turn, makes one rely on external miracles than internal strengths. Despondency (a feeling of sadness and hopelessness) is the sense of defeat that some slip into as a result of continued failures.     
“Equanimity” is a calm state of mind that does not respond with excessive emotions, positive or negative, to one’s successes and failures. If the six effects of success and failure described above, ranging from “despondency, helplessness and concern” of failure to “confidence, complacence and arrogance” of success, are a sequential part of a spectrum, the mid-point is the feeling of equanimity. Equanimity does not mean that a person or an entity is either unmindful of successes and failures or driven by extreme confidence or despondency. Rather, equanimity requires that one analyzes one’s successes and failures in terms of key drivers and root causes respectively and works on them for ensuring further successes and overcoming failures. Each success and failure requires prompt and considered attention as part of the equanimity approach.
Nirvana of performance
Nirvana, in Hinduism or Buddhism refers to the state of peace and happiness that a person achieves after giving up all personal desires. Performance in life’s context requires pursuit of advancement based on core competencies and core values until one believes that the end state of total peace and happiness without any further desires (or ‘nirvana’) is reached. This state is typically reached at the end of one’s career, capping a series of successes and failures, with successes hopefully being many more than failures. In the pursuit of nirvana, however, one needs to manage the spectral effects of successes and failures in such a manner that one is within the band of confidence and concern, letting equanimity determining how one manages successes and failures.
For entities, however, there can be no end-state as they are perpetual instruments for generating economic wealth and social equity. The key to enterprise equanimity lies in the elegant and effective manner in which the team members individually and collectively manage the spectral impact of successes and failures. The considerations in the blog post are powerful emotional or philosophical guides to understand and manage the drivers and impacts of successes and failures. To provide a practical platform one would need to see specific examples of how the spectral effects are evident in leaders and managers, and how they impact the management of the spectral effects of successes and failures in their own and their entities’ lives. These would be covered in a sequel to this blog post.      
Posted by Dr CB Rao on February 10, 2013  

1 comment:

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