The secret to success in the workplace
Let me start with an old mythological story.
Narada Muni was a disciple of Lord Vishnu. One day, Narada asked: “Why is the statue of Garuda (Vishnu’s eagle and vehicle) placed in your temples? Why not mine? Am I not your greatest devotee?”
Before Vishnu could answer, a huge crash was heard outside the main gate of Vishnu’s abode.
“I have sent Garuda on an errand,” Vishnu said. “Can you check what happened, Narada?”
Keen on seizing the opportunity, Narada rushed to see what happened. He returned a few seconds later and said: “A milkmaid tripped and fell.”
“What was her name?” asked Vishnu. Narada ran out, and came back with a name, “Sharda.”
“Where was she going?” Narada ran out again and returned with an answer: “She was on her way to the market.”
Do you see where I am going with the story?
“What caused her to trip?” Vishnu asked again. This time Narada felt irritated by so many
questions. Nevertheless, he went back again to ask. “She was startled by a snake crossing her path.”
“Are all her pots broken?” asked Vishnu. “I don’t know!” Narada snapped with anger this time.
“Find out, Narada. I might buy some milk,” explained Vishnu patiently.
You could see the anger in Narada’s expression. “She broke one pit, but the other is still intact. She is willing to sell the milk but at double the price,” Narada uttered.
“So how much should I pay her?” Vishnu asked.
“Oh I forgot. Let me find out.” Narada started running back again.
Right then, Garuda flew in, and Vishnu stopped Narada. “Don’t bother,” and turned to Garuda and said, “I heard a crashing sound outside the main gate, can you investigate?”
Garuda promptly answered: “It was a milkmaid named Sharda. She was on her way to the market but tripped because she was startled by a snake. She broke one of her two pots and is worried about how to pay for her broken pot and spilled milk. I suggested that she sell the milk to you, as you are the husband of the goddess of wealth, after all.”
“Oh I nearly forgot, the price of the milk is four copper coins,” Garuda promptly replied again. “It should be one actually, but I think she wants to make a handsome profit because she is dealing with God.”
Vishnu laughed and caught Narada’s eyes, almost instantaneously. Narada understood why Garuda’s statue, and not his, is placed in front of the image of Lord Vishnu.
Yes, sometimes people get promoted because of office politics. But they fall down quickly again. Whereas, there are people like Garuda, who are not passive, not active like Narada, but pro-active. They understand what would be valuable for them and their supervisor, and get it done quickly and efficiently.
But people who work their way up fast in the corporate ladder don’t just rely on working smart. They are actually smart. How? They apply a concept called “forging artifacts.”
Early in his career, the great inventor Richard Buckminster Fuller constantly had ideas for possible inventions and new forms of technology. However, he noticed in meetings that, though people had ideas, most of them either were too afraid to turn them into action or preferred to indulge in critique and discussion before.
Fuller would make prototypes of his ideas and he would seemingly test them. His ideas were no longer an idea, it was reality. He would take them to the public and actively gauge their response on whether to build on the prototype or discard it.
When your manager or supervisor gives you a project or task, don’t spend a week on finishing it. Chances are it won’t be how she wanted it to be, and tempers will flare.
Instead, finish only a portion of the work -- a prototype, a model, an outline -- and share it with your manager. Collect the feedback on it. Ask if the format is OK and take some input. I guarantee that with a realistic deadline, you can often finish it with great confidence, collecting a big round of applause along the way.
When you keep your manager aware of your progress, break the bad news early if there is any and don’t blame anyone for it. Present alternatives to try out what s/he likes best, as you are forging the artifacts and gathering more trust.
After a few rounds of prototyping, you and your boss will know exactly what you both want and you will look like an indispensable Garuda-like asset for your boss. Over time, you will be given more responsibility on your reliable shoulders.
The better you know your manager, the less time it will take you to complete tasks. Then you can become more efficient and more productive for yourself as well as turning into a linchpin for your boss.
You will no longer need to ask for a promotion, as you will be the obvious choice. So get on it, and try the story out if you are stuck at your corporate ladder and looking for a way out.
Touhid Kamal uses Anthropology to learn more on micro-cultures and human behaviour and is a UX researcher and team culture builder. He can be reached at [email protected].