Q: What the heck is WoW?
A: WoW is an acronym or short form for Way of Working.
Q: Okay, so what is Way of Working?
A: Way of working is our repetitive patterns of behavior.
Q: Can you give more details please?
A: Sure, it is a framework I am putting together based on what I have noticed in my life and work all these years. The framework has a core, and guidance to support the use the core.
Q: Can you tell us more about the WoW core?
A: Yes, it starts with what we can readily observe provided we pay attention, like our actions / reactions. Interactions, as well as the emotions we are currently experiencing. We soon start realizing that in a given situation we tend to repeat the same behavior again and again by rote. It so happens because consciously or unconsciously we decided to behave in a given way, and over a period of time it has become a habit or second nature for us. Even to the extent that when we get in a similar situation with different people or in a different context, we start experiencing the same emotions. That is the power of our habits.
Q: Talking about habits and their power on us, why do you think we need them?
A: I believe the nature has endowed us with this wonderful capability to save lot of load on our mind of constantly making decisions. Instead we can make a decision once and save it in our system for automatic use thereafter. It not only frees our mind to focus on more important things but also leads to an increase in our productivity and agility
But there a flip side to it. We become so comfortable with our habits, both physical and mental, that we don’t realize the world around us is constantly changing and moving away from the one that existed when the habits were formed. Bigger the gap, greater is the need to change the outdated habits. But we are not even aware of this gap.
Q: What do you think is the solution?
A: I have noticed that we are both an observer and the observed at the same time. These two are distinct roles with their own purpose, but often seem to get mixed up. It is the job of the observer in us to critically keep watching not just what is happening around us, but also what is happening within us. If the observer performs its job faithfully, the observed in us would be free to enjoy all the variety in nature and beauty of life as it unfolds. It can completely live in the present moment, fully experiencing the emotions and then be able to move on without any attachment to the past. I feel the great philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurthi was talking about the observer in us when he said “Be choicelessly aware”. The observer should stay away from getting involved in the experiencing and emotions, and resist any temptation to make any hurried decisions before being completely aware of the current reality. Differing the choice till the present is authentically observed, allows the most appropriate decision to emerge on its own.
Q: The role habits play in our lives is clear, but what influences our decisions?
A In WoW everything leads to our opinions. They are our filters through which the reality reaches us. They can take different forms. These could be assumptions which are open to change based on our experience. They could be beliefs with which we form an emotional attachment. That makes it difficult to change the beliefs because we feel challenged and don’t want to give them up easily. The opinions can also be in the form of relative values where we prefer something over something else. For example, some people tend to trust others unless proved otherwise. There are others who start with distrust till proven wrong.
These three types of opinions, assumptions beliefs and values, have a hierarchy. If our assumptions are at variance with our beliefs, our beliefs will override our assumptions while taking a decision.
Q: Taking this “Why” questioning a step further, why on the same subject our opinions are often different from those of others?
A: I think it is because the nature needs diversity for survival. We see such abundance of variety all around us. So each of us is endowed with certain natural inclinations. These inclinations influence what opinions each of us forms and get reinforced with experience.
Q: Enough of concepts and theory. Please explain what is in it for me?
A: Good question 🙂
All of us know that life is uncertain. It can be as simple as finding a traffic jam on way to work, when we are already late. Or it can be as profound as coming to know about someone we knew well and met just yesterday is no more.
Our opinions, which include our assumptions beliefs and values, create a wall behind which we live. The reality outside gets filtered and twisted before it reaches us. We are guided by our perception of reality, while the future is shaped by the reality as it exists. Bigger the gap greater the uncertainty. So the question is how we prepare ourselves to manage these uncertainties.
Best way would be to take steps that can eliminate such uncertainties. Which means that we work on the wall that separates us from reality and try to make it as clear and transparent as possible. Some of things that I find useful are,
- Separate facts from fiction (Opinions) by calling out our assumptions/beliefs/values for verifying their validity, and to encourage others to do same.
- Be aware of our emotions, experience them fully and then move on without attachment.
- Be aware of others’ way of working as well, because it affects us. When we become so aware, we may find many tips which we can see if what works for others might work for us as well.
Q: Oh, so it is not enough for me to be aware of my own working, but I need to be aware of others’ way of working as well?
A: Absolutely. We need to go beyond ourselves because we are all connected. As a matter of fact, systems are everywhere. Each of us can be viewed as system. We work in teams or groups. Each of them is also a system. Those in turn are part of an organization. Which is a system. Our family is a system. Our friend circle is a system. The society we live in is a system, and so on.
We are part of multiple systems, either participating in or interacting with them. So we need to understand how systems work. Some systems are simple like those which follow Newton's laws, but many are complex especially those involving humans, having their own laws and patterns of behavior. We become prisoners of systems we don’t understand. When that happens, our options get limited. We can’t accurately predict which way the system will go. That is the other cause of uncertainty.
Understanding systems, especially complex human systems, is part of the WoW guidance which with its 7 principles and many generic solution patterns helps us to minimize uncertainties.
Q: I am curious to know more about the WoW guidance. Can you throw some light on it?
A: WoW guidance is a vast subject. But I can certainly mention the 7 WoW principles which are so universal in nature that they can be applied to a vast variety of situations.
- Know and care for real needs (Needs, not wants. Logically know and emotionally care)
- Allow work & information flowing (Be a river, not a pond)
- Maintain the heartbeat (Adjust the system clock to a natural rhythm)
- Make it simple (Remove all the noise and clutter from the system)
- Balance automation & innovation (Use automation to let our attention focus on innovation)
- Use governance with autonomy (Restrict freedom only for protecting real needs of the stakeholders)
- Grasp complex systems principles (Accelerating & balancing loops, delays, and leverage)
With this taken care, time to get back to WoW core and see how the systems perspective can help us to prepare ourselves better for the uncertainties of life. Once we know that we are part of multiple systems, either participating in or interacting with them, we realize that we have the power to choose which system(s) we want to be part of, and which systems we don’t want to be part of. This realization gives us tremendous power to be in control of our lives.
Q: Can we do anything more as individuals?
A: I would like to mention one important point. We are always advised to take a stand and stick to it, which often leads to a blind faith, and there can be others with similar blind faith for the other side of the issue. People taking such rigid positions has led to so much violence in the world. Why not try to sit on the fence and keep seeing on both sides. This liberates us and we are free to take a decision on its own merit based on the situation we are in.
Q: You talked of preparation to minimize uncertainties, but do we also need to prepare ourselves for things when they go wrong?
A: Oh yes. That reminds me of Murphy’s Law which says “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst possible time”. Is that why at work a new urgency always comes on Friday afternoon when we are getting ready to leave for the weekend?
We can deal better with the unexpected by preparing ourselves with the following,
Details are part of the WoW guidance.
Q: Just last one question. Any quick suggestion for how do we start practicing WoW in our teams?
A: Yes. Every working day if we notice, we have series of small successes and failures. But what we do with them? Nothing much. If it appears to us as a success, we pat ourselves on our back and move on. But that moment has hidden possibilities to prepare ourselves for future by asking ourselves the question, “What made us successful?” The answer will provide us the factors which may change or vanish in future thus creating a risk of failure. Once we see this, we can start preparing ourselves to manage even when those factors are absent.
Similarly with every failure, however small, rather than just feeling bad about it and giving excuses or finding faults with others, we can ask “Why did we fail, and how much does it matter?” This will help us to get away from the negative emotions of the moment and start thinking logically about what we can learn from it and improve for future.
Try it out and see if it helps. Want to see some real life examples?