Common Sense from Childhood to Work!
Have you had the luxury to enjoy your childhood? What we learned and how we perceived the world as children has a lot to do with how we work today.
I recollect my early childhood to be the most memorable time of my life. I learned many lessons I still use every day. They may be tiny, but they have helped my personal life and career flourish and grow, and survive the occasional stumbles.
My humble beginnings in a small village in Sri Lanka are one of the reasons why I consider myself very lucky. I used to spend most of my days exploring the woods as a child. My school colleagues and I used to spend hours and hours playing in the paddy fields. In fact, we did not even have electricity until I was 6 years old. I still remember the thrill of lighting the first light bulb at home.
These 3 little stories I am about to tell you are ones I have never spoken of. Writing in Medium makes me so comfortable for some reason. It is probably the simplicity of the platform that I admire the most.
Anyway, here are the stories.
The Bus Ride
Background : The remote village in Sri Lanka where I grew up as a child, motor transportation was luxury, buses were a rare sight. We always traveled by foot or by bicycle (Bicycle is still the poor man's vehicle in Sri Lanka). I took a good 2KM walk every morning with my friends to go to school. My sister on the other hand traveled to a school further towards the town by bus.
When I was about seven years old, my mother gave me an unsettling, yet a very responsible task. That is to fetch my little sister home after school practices which my mother usually does. I happily took upon the responsibility, therefore a bus. The ticket was 3.00 Rupees per person, however since I was a child I only had to pay half the ticket price and spent a good 1.50 Rupees on the ride.
On the way back, we both had to buy tickets. So I happily and somewhat proudly (claiming my ability to add up 2 numbers) asked the conductor to issue a 3.00 Rupee ticket for both of us. The conductor, being an old gentleman and knowing our whereabouts issued us the ticket. Guess what? I received two of Rs.1.50 tickets instead of a single 3 rupee ticket. I was more fascinated by my finding than the hurt to my little proud moment.
Now you may think I am not being serious when I say this is a turning point of my life. But it is! This is the moment I first realized the importance of perspectives and use cases. I thought about this very seriously for a little girl.
I figured the consequences of what appear to be harmless interpretations of observations. The price we would have to pay if we did not have two tickets would be a fine. Even the conductor could get fined for something that he did not intentionally commit. Later in life, I realized that technology solutions are also similar. Our customers will have to pay the price for a crime they did not commit if we misinterpret their business. I firmly believe every developer has to understand the business if they want to productively participate in the solution.
When I work with my clients in everyday software projects, that old gentleman conductor who issued two tickets saves me more often than not. It may look very sensible to add up and assume things when our customers actually want two tickets instead of one.
I have learned the importance of asking dumb questions from customers.I know that the business use case is far more important than being able to showcase my knowledge of the subject. I know that my skill is as useful as its application in day today work. I must be honest here though, it does not make me look like the smartest person in the room, but the end result is definitely fruitful and rewarding to both parties.
Lesson from a Headmaster
Background: My headmaster was a wise old gentleman. I did not know where he came from, but his accommodation was the school quarters. Even many teachers who came from distant parts of the country had their own quarters close to school. In a country where ethnic conflicts divided people for decades, my headmaster showed us unparalleled love and guidance and is definitely a major contributor to my success in life.
One day he used me as a messenger. Now, to be given an important message by the headmaster and sent out as the messenger is a privilege in our school days. I recollect that I was no more than 7 years old.
His message was supposed to be delivered to a teacher. So I carefully listened to the message, repeated it couple of times in front of him just to make sure I got it right and ran like a bird out of the cage to find the teacher. All this time repeating the message in my head so I just don’t forget it. 🙂
Now to my utmost sadness, nowhere could I find the teacher. I looked for her in the quarters, teachers waiting room, all class rooms in the school which comes to only about 12 classes and even in the play ground. I was desperate and heartbroken for not being able to deliver the message. This search continued for couple of hours before I went back to my class take the seat and forget all about it.
Later in the day, I met our headmaster again. When he inquired about what happened with the message he sent, I told him the whole story taking my time. He listened with patience and kindly replied, (these were his exact words though translated), ‘Dear child, you have done two things wrong, first you shouldn’t have to run around the whole school looking for the teacher for hours. Second, you should have just come and told me that the message could not be delivered’.
Telling you this single message was a life lesson actually demeans its effects on my life. This lesson sums up 90% of the common sense I use during work.
Thereby I have learned the lesson of acknowledgement, that it can make a huge difference for the sender as well as the receiver. Our day to day work is full of messages that we are supposed to deliver, from top down to bottom up in the organization. These do not necessarily come enclosed in an email or a note. They are in fact more often than not emotional. If you work in a position that mediates one group to another getting the message on time and correctly across is very important. When delivery fails it's always good to set the expectation right to avoid misunderstandings. Do we often deliver the right emotional message from customers to the teams and vise versa?
The Vesak Lantern
Background: Vesak is a religious festival in Sri Lanka. It is very common for the country to light up with Vesak lanterns during this season. As children, we used to make these lanterns using bamboo sticks and colorful tissue papers.
Once upon a time, in a remote village in Sri lanka there was a Vesak lantern competition. The best lanterns was supposed to be selected by a respected committee in the Village. So my sister and I made our own lanterns. I opted for a huge one because all my friends made BIG lanterns. Spent so much time and effort trying to get it organized and even to get it out of my bedroom. My little sister on the other hand opted for a smaller one. She made a tiny lantern and put all her efforts to get it decorated. Guess what, I was nowhere close to winning the competition and my little sisters lantern won the 3rd place.
I was sad and hurt, if they could only see how much effort I have put to get it out of the room, they would have just given me a prize. But it made me realize, No matter how small my little sisters lantern was, It pleased the eye because it was so DIFFERENT.
I have learned that you don’t necessarily have to do big things to win the game. It is sometimes the smaller things that get the attention of the crowd. What matters is being different and thinking different. My sister displayed her identity which got her a place in the competition. Creativeness at work is to find a way to display our true identity via the work we do, no matter how small. Always give things a personal flavour and a touch without harming its value. Every one of us is so different, victory could come in different forms to us, thereby different paths.