FF Daily #477: The pool of shared meaning

September 17, 2021: What’s with Infy and the I-T portal; A consultant’s job; Pressure

Founding Fuel

[Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay]

Good morning,

When Crucial Conversations was first published in 2002, it shot up the bestseller list. It continues to attract fanatical readers looking for pointers on how to deal with tough situations. We revisited the updated edition that was published in 2012.

“Each of us enters conversations with our own opinions, feelings, theories, and experiences about the topic at hand. This unique combination of thoughts and feelings makes up our personal pool of meaning. This pool not only informs us, but also propels our every action. When two or more of us enter crucial conversations, by definition we don’t share the same pool. Our opinions differ. I believe one thing; you another. I have one history; you another. People who are skilled at dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool—even ideas that at first glance appear controversial, wrong, or at odds with their own beliefs. Now, obviously, they don’t agree with every idea; they simply do their best to ensure that all ideas find their way into the open.

“As the Pool of Shared Meaning grows, it helps people in two ways… The larger the shared pool, the smarter the decisions. And even though many people may be involved in a choice, when people openly and freely share ideas, the increased time investment is more than offset by the quality of the decision.

“On the other hand, we’ve all seen what happens when the shared pool is dangerously shallow. When people purposefully withhold meaning from one another, individually smart people can do collectively stupid things.

“For example, a client of ours shared the following story.

“A woman checked into the hospital to have a tonsillectomy, and the surgical team erroneously removed a portion of her foot. How could this tragedy happen? In fact, why is it that nearly 200,000 hospital deaths in the United States each year stem from human error? In part because many health-care professionals are afraid to speak their minds. In this case, no less than seven people wondered why the surgeon was working on the foot, but said nothing. Meaning didn’t flow freely because people were afraid to speak up.

“Of course, hospitals don’t have a monopoly on fear. In every instance where bosses are smart, highly paid, confident, and outspoken (i.e., most of the world), people tend to hold back their opinions rather than risk angering someone in a position of power.”

Does this sound familiar? Let us know. 

In this issue,

  • What’s with Infy and the I-T portal
  • A consultant’s job
  • What pressure is

[FF Exclusive] What’s with Infy and the I-T portal?

As things are, everything about the last date for income tax filing appears fuzzy. And what’s the matter with the authority’s portal isn’t clear. All questions directed to Infosys, the company contracted to manage it, have met with a stony silence. And most narratives in the public domain are speculative at best. To find out what the matter is, our colleague NS Ramnath had deep conversations and emerged with a fascinating narrative.

“The ministry was keen to roll it out. For the politicians, a successful launch could create goodwill, improve rankings in the lists that think-tanks regularly publish, and maybe even win some votes in the next elections. All these would have a rub-off effect on the company. More government projects. More revenues. Happy investors. Above all, a chance to demonstrate tech can make lives better, leading to a bigger market for its services.

“However, the development took too long, and there were delays, which annoyed the government. When the project finally rolled out, it didn’t pan out as planned. Government employees seemed to be miffed and let the media know about their feelings. Users complained about glitches, about the fact that it was taking more time to get things done. There were protests in some places. Instead of basking in the strengthened relationship with the government, company executives were fretting over reports that said it might even be booted out of this project. The punches on the nose seemed to land hard and fast.”

It is tempting, Ramnath points out, to assume this anecdote is about Infy’s current travails. “But it’s not about Infosys. The description is in fact about TCS’s famed passport project. Only, all these events took place between 2009 and 2012, during the development and initial months of rolling out. It took time for the new system to work, and for it to become a case study of how to get government projects right.”


Dig deeper  

[Exclusive Book Extracts] A consultant’s job

We are delighted to carry some exclusive extracts from Arun Maira’s book The Solutions Factory. After having read it, we highly recommend it. It contains his reflections basis his experience in the business.

“All my friends are consulting in different ways for different people—for village communities, youth leaders, coalitions of business, or the government. They ask me for advice on how their work could have more impact. In other words, how they could be better consultants.

“AV with his avocation for education is working alongside a large management consulting company that has a multi-year contract with a state government to improve the quality of education in schools. The consulting company wanted the government to increase its fees, with rising inflation, to compensate for the higher salaries it had to pay its own consultants. The government, hard-pressed itself, was not willing. So, the consulting company contracted with AV to provide it with three young consultants at less cost. AV thought this would be a good opportunity for his young team to learn the skills of consulting. However, he is disappointed.

“He says his young consultants are working alongside the (more highly paid) young consultants of the larger company writing manuals of procedures for schools. Evidently this is what the government has hired them for, whereas the real need for improvement of schools, AV says, is to build the capacity of principals of schools and teachers and make school systems work. He worries that his consultants will not learn how complex systems are improved and the role consultants can play in them by working alongside the company’s consultants. AV wants to consult to fulfil his avocation; whereas for the company’s consultants consulting is only a highly paid vocation.”

Dig deeper

What pressure is

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Team Founding Fuel

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