Thursday, November 18, 2004

Remembering Names

Remembering Names

In our everyday interactions with people, It is common for us to forget people's names. Every now and then you'll hear people lament about how bad their memory has become, because they getting old.

I forget people's names quite often too but I do not believe it's because the power of my memory is diminishing. Instead I believe we forget things easily as we grow older because we do not bother to associate any significance to our everyday experiences anymore. Everything tends to be a repetition of similar events in the past.

If you look back on your week in the office, you will probably strain to remember what you did on particular day of the week, say Tuesday. This is because in a typical week, everyday feels the same and nothing stands out. But we all remember where we were on September 11 2001.

On each business trip, I usually use up half a box of business cards. When we meet so many people in our daily lives--casual introductions that hold no special significance--it is natural that their names would slip from our memory unless we make a special effort to remember them.

More often than not a person's name slips away instantly from memory the moment he or she is introduced to us--especially when there's a huge group of people involved. Usually that happens because we are too concerned with ourselves--our minds are preoccupied with the image that we are trying to project to the other person, instead of listening to what he or she has to say. The best way to remember another person's name is to try and use it immediately in your conversation with the person.

When I was teaching my class of around 30 students in the university, I made it a point to remember every one of their names by my second session with them. I took the trouble to talk to each and every one of them individually and I repeatedly addressed them using their names during my first lecture. I also had a habit of observing very insignificant details about people (ala Sherlock Holmes) such as the brand of cigarette that they smoke, the kind music they listen to and the type of stationeries they use. And whenever I needed to quote examples to illustrate a point in my lecture, I'd use things that are familiar to them.

Using people's names helps a lot if you want to buld rapport with them. It shows that you value people as unique individuals and that you are genuinely interested in them. Because I'm also an avid booklover, I sometimes like to think of people as books--mighty volumes of experience and wisdom which you can tap into "interactively". If you are also a bibliophile like me, maybe by looking at people's names as "book titles", it might actually help you to remember them better!

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Scalable Worker

The Scalable Worker

In the IT world, we often talk a lot about scalability as being a desirable systemic quality. If a system can scale, it means that one can easily add in more resources, or extend it to meet higher performance requirements without having to replace or redesign the basic system.

My friends in the industry also like to refer to certain types of workers as being "scalable". If a worker can adapt to change and is always willing to tackle new things, then he or she possesses "scalability". These are the type of people one would love to hire, especially in the IT industry where--pardon the cliche--change is the only constant.

The scalable individual always believes that he has the potential to tackle any kind of job that is assigned to him. Even if he is not trained to do it, he will take his own initiative to pick it up himself. He accepts that there will always be things that he doesn't know and he will have to continue learning throughout his entire career.

Young workers, or rookies who have just joined a company are usually willing to be scalable because they are put in a position where they have to prove themselves first. But once they have found a particular niche or comfort zone in the company, they stop learning and lose their scalability.

Furthermore as a person grows older, his energy and enthusiasm for work diminishes. He becomes more interested in mastering the intrigues of office politics and aligning himself with the right people in the company--because it is the easier thing to do.

Scalability implies change, constant and unrelentless change. It is extremely difficult and perhaps even unfair for a person to be constantly changing to meet the demands of his job. But a scalable person has to learn to be comfortable with that. There is no such thing as a comfort zone. Scalability requires one to accept uncertainty and to value learning as an end in itself.

Are there many scalable workers out there in the industry? The surprising thing is that, there seems to be a lot less of them in big multinationals compared to smaller companies. In large companies, a different type of "scalability" is evident--the ability to manoeuvre oneself up the corporate ladder. Sometimes that is all that matters for success in the corporate world.