Surmounting the Insurmountable

There are just some things we cannot surmount.  As we work with what we have, we run into roadblocks and disruptions.  Examples include:

  • Government bureaucracy (you can’t fight city hall)
  • Climate change (you can’t stop the weather)
  • Inflexible corporate structures (that’s not for you to decide)

For many of us who work for other people, we tend to just go with the flow and just do the jobs given to us, no questions asked.  Bosses may ask us for suggestions and even offer rewards for the ones they like but, most of the time, what we offer gets discarded and forgotten. 

That would be fine with us if not for the insurmountable things. 

The trouble with insurmountable things is that they could (and they do) turn into pretty bad adverse things. 

For instance, most, if not all, of us pay taxes.  Taxes are insurmountable things.  We can’t really stop paying taxes or else we get into bad legal trouble.  Therefore, we pay for them and live with them. 

When the government decides to raise taxes, we may fret and we may grumble.  But we still have to pay for them.  No further questions asked.  Fine. 

When government continues to raise taxes and add complicated rules, we might say: “Wait a minute! They can’t do that!”   We protest.  We complain to other people in person or via social media.  Because it isn’t right that paying taxes should become more unbearable.

But yet paying taxes can still be an insurmountable thing.  And despite all of the protesting and complaining, we would by the end of the day still need to pay our taxes or else we’ll get into bad legal trouble. 

This is where some people attempt to be leaders and try to change things via rallying other people to the cause, their cause. 

But can we as leaders with followers tackle something as insurmountable as taxes? 

It took daily protests over a number of weeks to overturn the poll tax in Great Britain in the 1980’s.  Margaret Thatcher ended her long term as prime minister thanks to those protests.  The citizens succeeded in stopping the tax.

Millions of people in Greece have been protesting government austerity measures for almost ten (10) years and yet the government still pushed through with them, which included increases in taxes.  The citizens failed to stop the tax increases. 

Yes, we can tackle insurmountable things.  It would entail a lot of effort with a lot of people.  It likely may take a lot of time.  And there’s no guarantee of success. 

We would need to enlist a lot of people to help.  This is where leadership comes in.  But to be a leader, one must have the ability to influence others to one’s cause. 

The next step would be to succeed in overpowering the strength of the insurmountable thing, which in short is called the opposition. 

We can try to go head on against an insurmountable thing or we can be like waves that hit the seashore, eroding the opposition a little at a time.  The former may be quick but very risky in terms of possible irreversible failure.  The latter may take a long time to do but may end in success in the long run. 

As individuals, we can only do so much for change.  Sometimes it feels like we have to move mountains. 

We tend to limit ourselves to what we can capably change.  But in doing so, our lives become one that has an offense and defence.

We go on an offense to change what we can change.  We go on defence to fend off the adverse things brought on by the insurmountable things. 

This is why many of us end up working overtime in our jobs.

We do our routine stuff during our regular office hours and we go on overtime to try to get ahead in something we are pursuing (like a promotion).  In the daytime, we work on stuff that have deadlines.  At night after work, we work on our spreadsheets to make our reports look better. 

Insurmountable things are parts and parcels of our realities.  They disrupt our routines.  They distract us from our pursuit of individual goals and force us to invest time and resources in defending our worlds. 

We can tackle insurmountable things but most of the time it would require leadership that enrols a lot of people to a cause.  But it can be done.  If not by head-on engagement, it can be addressed via gradual efforts. 

We become productive when we come together in groups and point our individual efforts toward a common direction.

Efficiency versus Productivity; It’s Like Speed versus Velocity

What is the difference between efficiency versus productivity?  One way to compare both is by looking at speed versus velocity. 

In Physics, speed is the rate an object covers distance.  Velocity is the rate at which an object’s position changes.  Speed is all about how fast one is going.  Velocity is how fast one goes from one spot to the next. 

This is speed.

This is velocity

It’s one thing to go fast.  It’s another for how long it takes to reach a destination.   

We sometimes measure our speed but we sometimes don’t measure how much nearer to where we want to go.  Do we know where we are going in the first place?

If we travel 100 kilometres in one hour, our speed is 100 kilometres per hour.

But if we travel 100 kilometres in one hour but end up back where we started, our velocity is 0 kilometres per hour:

Efficiency is like speed.  It measures how fast we produce versus how much resources we use. 

Productivity on the other hand is like velocity.  It measures how much nearer we are to our objectives versus the resources we spent. 

Both are important.  We shouldn’t need to choose one over the other.  Both work for our benefits.  We should just know which one we’re talking about when we wonder how well we’re doing versus our goals. 

Acknowledgment

Thanks to the Physics Classroom for the very nice explanation between speed and velocity:

https://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/1DKin/Lesson-1/Speed-and-Velocity#:~:targetText=Speed%2C%20being%20a%20scalar%20quantity,scalar%20quantity)%20per%20time%20ratio.&targetText=On%20the%20other%20hand%2C%20velocity,at%20which%20the%20position%20changes.

What Can We Do About Adversity?

“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”

-old Chinese proverb

We encounter adversity all the time.  We talk about it when we succeed or fail.  It is part and parcel of our daily struggles. It comes in all shapes and sizes from the mere annoyance to the major catastrophe.  But as much as we fully acknowledge it, we often find ourselves resigned to it as we try to figure out how to work around it. 

Adversity is a prominent word for ambitious people seeking high levels of accomplishment.  We call them challenges, difficulties, misfortunes, obstacles, and setbacks.  Adversity either motivates us to do better or discourages us from moving forward. 

Adversity is the unfavourable situation that we run into or that arrives in untimely fashion.  It demands our attention and we are at its mercy if we don’t respond. 

Adversity is not the same as a challenge.  A challenge is a path we choose to pursue and which we plan for with advanced knowledge of the obstacles.  A challenge is like a golf course.  We play on a golf course knowing what to expect with clear objectives.  Adversity is the rain that prevents us from playing on the golf course. 

The damage adversity inflicts depends on how well prepared we are for it.  But as much as we may anticipate adversity, overcoming it requires planning and discipline. 

Planning for adversity is not the same as making a schedule.  A schedule considers resources and constraints that we already identified.  A plan for adversity considers contingencies such as detours and safety nets. 

Having a plan for adversity is not like having a list of things that tells us what to do in case of an emergency.  It is a strategy of preparation and awareness which requires investment in time and resources. 

Examples:

  • Having a guest room in the house which we regularly clean every day that would be ready for visiting relatives who drop in in short notice;  
  • Constructing a building with a foundation that exceeds structural standards which provides an extra buffer for safety against the very unlikely but possible stronger than normal earthquake; 
  • Packing additional prescription medicine in our hand-carried luggage in case of unexpected changes in our travel itineraries. 
  • Establishing a culture of innovation in our business so we’ll be set for the next disruption in technology, business, and lifestyle.  (Better yet if we somehow can take the initiative against adversity by being the disruptor rather than the disrupted). 

We can perceive adversity as a darkness that suddenly envelops us.  But it is not darkness that is the enemy but on how we react to it that is the problem.  We can either curse the darkness or we can light a candle and continue our way forward. 

Productivity: What Is It and Why We Should Pursue It

We all strive to be productive.  At work, at home, in whatever activity we participate. Yet, we don’t talk about productivity so much. 

That’s maybe because productivity isn’t simply measurable.

It’s easy to picture sales, costs, profits, and cash-flow.  Even if the accounting that generates them can be a little complicated, they’re easy to imagine in our heads. 

Not productivity.  We may know what it means.  Productivity is about how much we achieve versus how much we put in.[1]  But beyond the definition, productivity doesn’t have a standard performance measure we can identify with. 

We may not be able to measure productivity with one measure, but we can measure it via several. 

Examples:

  1. Labour productivity:  ratio of output (e.g. production) versus man-hours put in;
  2. Energy efficiency:  ratio of output (e.g. kilograms of baked bread) versus energy input (e.g. kilograms of liquefied petroleum gas);
  3. Yield:  ratio of acceptable finished product (e.g. metric tons of steel) versus directly inputted raw material (metric tons of iron);
  4. Delivery Reliability:  number of on-time, completed, & accepted deliveries versus total number of dispatched deliveries including those that returned or that failed to deliver). 

With measures we can identify with, we can get a grasp on productivity for whatever we do.  We don’t have to discuss it as one word but as a word derived from how we use our resources from several different angles. 

Productivity may not be in the same class as the financial yardsticks of sales, costs, and profits but we can at least respect it nonetheless as something worthwhile to improve. 

Because when we improve productivity via the different measures we can identify with, the financial yardsticks follow. 


[1] A more thorough definition of productivity: “Productivity is defined as the efficient use of resources, labour, capital, land materials, energy, information, in the production of various goods and services.  Higher productivity means accomplishing more with the same amount of resources or achieving higher output in terms of volume and quality from the same input.”  

http://www.employment.gov.sc/what-is-productivity © 2019. Ministry of Employment, Immigration and Civil Status, Republic of Seychelles

The Reality of Work

It is a new year.

Many people will have new resolutions filled with hope and optimism.

For another many, however, the new year will just be a beginning of a new cycle. 

For accountants, the new year means the renewal of business permits and the filing of annual taxes.  Especially for accountants in the Philippines, it means weeks of hard paperwork, thanks to complicated tax laws. 

Property managers will be preparing for annual inspections.  Construction managers will be preparing to start new projects.  Information Technology (IT) managers will be setting up new systems.  HR managers will be preparing new training and payroll programs. Marketing managers will be starting to work on their advertising budgets. 

Most of what managers will do would have been planned at least in the previous year.  Resolutions would be effective only for personal lifestyles.  Middle managers would be at the mercy of what their bosses want. 

Many executives who reveled during the holidays will be coming back to their business suits ready to bark their optimistic resolutions to the middle managers.  Some executives would aggressively and unemphatically demand everyone’s weight of work for the new business cycle.

This is the reality of work.  There’s no new year, just a new cycle.