Tag Archives: stud

End of month blues

One of the problems with running your blog on your own website is that you need to manage bandwidth. Basically it seems like my blog has been run over by bots and so by the 25th of every month the bandwidth for the month is over, and the blog goes down for the rest of the month. I’ve been trying to do a lot of things to prevent this – blocking suspicious looking IPs, installing bad behaviour, and such like, but still I don’t know why it gets locked out.

My biggest problem with this end of month lockout is the volume of ideas that go down the drain during this time, rather than getting published on the blog. I wish I could try and remember all those blogging ideas and do one mega blog post at least with a summary of all of them, so that I could write about them at some point of time in the future, but it seems like I can’t remember anything now.

In other news, I’ve been getting really stressed out of late, and my mental bandwidth has been at an all time low. I’ve felt that I’ve been going downhill since my trip to New York a few months back, but of late it’s gotten really bad, and I’m just not able to do anything. That’s yet another reason why blogging frequency has dipped in the last couple of weeks or so.

Doing a deep dive into my own past, I think I’ve figured out why this has been happening. Rather, I have a hypothesis about why I’ve been stressing myself out too much at work which has led to this situation. Basically it’s down to studs and fighters.

I traditionally have what I call as a “stud” working style. I work in bursts, at reasonably low intensity. I look at the problem as a series of steps, and for each step, I internalize the problem, and then try to de-focus. And while thinking about something else, or reading something, or writing something else, I end up having a solution to the problem, and then I take a little break and move on to the next step. This is essentially how I’ve worked over the last few years and I think I’ve (to myself at least) done a good job using this method.

There’s yet another method that I’ve frequently used in the past, one that I call the Ganesha method. It’s basically used for tasks I want to get  done with ASAP. I work at it at a very high intensity, shutting myself off from everything else in the world. I work at it continuously without a break, and then take a long break once the solution is done. I’ve used it in the past for things like competitive exams where I think I’ve done rather well.

So the mistake I did a while back (maybe a year or so back) was to try and use this latter method over longer periods of time, for longer problems. The thing with this method is that it’s suited for short problems, which can be finished off in a burst with a little bit of stretching myself. But when applied to significantly larger problems, I’ve found that it’s been stressing me out way too much. By trying to be steady and focused over a long period of time, which is how a fighter traditionally works, I think I’ve mentally destroyed myself.

Moral of the story is that whatever happens you need to be yourself, and do things in your own style. Don’t try to change yourself in order to please others. It is simply not sustainable.

Managing stud work

I begin this post with an apology. About two years back I’d promised that I won’t write any more on Studs and Fighters on this blog, and I’ll save all that for my forthcoming book. Unfortunately, since then I’ve managed not more than one page of my book, and that too has been in the last couple of weeks. I realize that by not writing about studs and fighters here, I’m losing that perspective of thought entirely, because of which I’ve not been able to write my book.

So, Chom (a friend) raised an important point during a discussion earlier today. He said that people who are studs, after they become “managers” (in which case their job is solely to manage other people. Think of someone like a partner in a consulting firm), start angling for more fighter work for their team.  That they seem to forget all their studness, and assume that all the people they manage are fighters.

I had argued earlier that once the partner of a consulting firm stops doing day-to-day work, the quality of work at the firm suffers. This post is an extension of that. So what Chom says inherently makes sense. Here’s why.

Stud work is risky. There is a good probability that it may not be completed. So when your target changes from the “total impact of work done” to “number of pieces of work successfully completed” the whole equation changes. You are not looking for those “big wins” from your team, any more. What you need from your team is a high rate of delivery, and a large number of projects that are completed. If you get big wins, that is just a bonus. But all you care for now is the number of wins.

So you start taking on more fighter work, and letting go of stud work. After all, it is now rational for you to do that. Your own working style can sit aside.

Arranged Scissors 15: Stud and Fighter Beauty

Ok so here we come to the holy grail. The grand unification. Kunal Sawardekar can scream even more loudly now. Two concepts that i’ve much used and abused over the last year or so come together. In a post that will probably be the end of both these concepts in the blogging format. I think I want to write books. I want to write two books – one about each of these concepts. And after thinking about it, I don’t think a blook makes sense. Too  many readers will find it stale. So, this post signals the end of these two concepts in blog format. They’ll meet you soon, at a bookstore near you.

So this post is basically about how the aunties (basically women of my mother’s generation) evaluate a girl’s beauty and about how it significantly differs from the way most others evaluate it. For most people, beauty is a subjective thing. It is, as the proverb goes, in the eyes of the beholder. You look at the thing of beauty (not necessarily a joy forever) as a complete package. And decide whether the package is on hte whole beautiful. It is likely that different people have different metrics, but they are never explicit. Thus, different people find different people beautiful, and everyone has his/her share of beauty.

So I would like to call that as the “stud” way of evaluating beauty. It is instinctive. It is about insights hitting your head (about whether someone is beautiful or not). It is not a “process”. And it is “quick”. And “easy” – you don’t sweat much to decide whether someone is beautiful or not. It is the stud way of doing it. It is the way things are meant to be. Unfortunately, women of my mother’s generation (and maybe earlier generations) have decided to “fighterize” this aspect also.

So this is how my mother (just to take an example) goes about evaluating a girl. The girl is first split into components. Eyes, nose, hair, mouth, lips, cheeks, symmetry, etc. etc. Each of these components has its own weightage (differnet women use different weightages for evaluation. however for a particular woman, the weightage set is the same irrespective of who she is evaluating). And each gets marked on a 5-point likert scale (that’s what my mother uses; others might use scales of different lengths).

There are both subject-wise cutoffs and aggregate cutoff (this is based on the weighted average of scores for each component). So for a girl to qualify as a “CMP daughter-in-law”, she has to clear each of the subject cutoffs and also the total. Again – different women use different sets of cutoffs, but a particular woman uses only one set. And so forth.

I wonder when this system came into being, and why. I wonder if people stopped trusting their own judgment on “overall beauty” because of which they evolved this scale. I wonder if it was societal pressure that led to women look for a CMP daughter-in-law for which purpose they adopted this scale. It’s not “natural” so I can’t give a “selfish gene” argument in support of it. But I still wonder. And my mother still uses scales such as this to evaluate my potential bladees. Such are life.

Interview length

When I interviewed for my current job four months back, I was put through over twelve hours of high-quality interviews. This includes both telephonic and face-to-face processes (on one day, I was called to the office and grilled from 1030am to 630pm) and by “high quality”, I’m referring to the standard of questions that I was asked.

All the interviews were extremely enjoyable, and I had fun solving the problems that had been thrown at me. I must mention here that the entire process was a “stud interview” – one that tried to evaluate me on my thought process rather than evaluating what I know. I’ve also been through a few “fighter interviews” – ones where the interviewer just spends time finding out your “knowledge” – and I don’t remember taking a single job so far after passing this kind of an interview.

So recently I read this post by Seth Godin that someone had shared on Google Reader, where he says that there exists just no point in having long interviews and so interviews should be kept short and to the point. That way, he says, people’s time gets wasted less and the candidate also doesn’t need to waste much time interviewing. After reading that, I was trying to put my personal experience into perspective.

One thing is that in a “stud interview”, where you throw tough problems at the candidate, one of the key “steps” in the solution process is for an insight to hit the candidate. Even if you give hints, and mark liberally for “steps”, the “cracking” of the problem usually depends upon an insight. And it isn’t fair to expect that an insight hits the candidate on each and every question, and so the way to take out this factor is by having a large number of questions. Which means the interview takes longer.

The other thing about the length of the interview is signaling. Twelve hours of hardcore problem-solving sends out a signal to the candidate with regard to the quality of the group. It gives an idea to the candidate about what it takes to get into the group. It says that every person working in the group had to go through this kind of a process and hence is likely to be of high quality.

Another thing with the “stud interview” is that it also directly gives the candidate an idea of the quality of the people interviewing. Typically, hard math-puzzle based interviews are difficult to “take” (for the interviewer). So putting the candidate through this large number of math-problem-solving interviews tells him that the large number of people interviewing him are all good enough to take this kind of an interview. And this kind of interviews are also ruthless on the interviewer – it is usually not hard for a smart candidate to see through it if he thinks the interviewer has just mugged the answer to a question without actually solving it.

All put together, when you are recruiting for a job based on “stud interviews”, it makes sense for you to take time, and make the candidate go through several rounds. It also usually helps that most of these “stud interviews” are usually fun for the candidate also. On the other hand, if you are only willing to test what the candidate knows and are not really interested in the way he thinks, then you might follow Godin’s suggestion and keep the interview short.

Studs and Fighters and Form

It’s been a long time since I wrote about the Studs and Fighters framework. I had overdosed on it a few months back, when I’d put some 3 posts in 4 days or something, but that was when I was hajaar enthu about corporate affairs.

It’s been almost two months since I quit my last job, and in this period, among other things I’ve lost all enthu for anything corporate. I don’t find Dilbert funny anymore. I usually just put well left to the office-politics posts that some of my friends on Google Reader share. And since the S&F theory was mainly meant to deal with corporate situations, that too has gone to the backburner.

I was thinking about Mitchell Johnson’s inclusion in the Aussie team in the Third Test. Given how badly he has been bowling all tour, and given that Stuart Clark hasn’t been bowling badly at all, it seems like a surprising selection. But dig deeper, and employ my favourite framework, and you’ll know why he’s still in the team.

It seems like Johnson is a stud bowler (as I’d remarked earlier, Test match bowling in general is stud). And the theory goes that form matters so much less for the stud. This is mainly because studs are significantly more inconsistent than fighters, which makes forecasting one data point based on historical data a nightmare. This also means that the last few data points say much less about a stud’s next data point than they do for a fighter’s case.

All that a stud needs to do to make amends for his hitherto bad form is to come up with one, or maybe a handful of moments of inspiration/insight. And that can happen any time. In fact, theory says that it is more likely to happen when the stud is defocussed on what needs to be done.

So even in the first couple of Tests, you could see Johnson occasionally coming up with the totally awesome delivery, which would produce wickets. Most of the time he was crap, but the occasional moments of brilliance were enough for him to make an impact. So the thinking in persisting with him is that sooner or later, he will produce enough moments of brilliance in a game that no one will look at all the crap he has bowled, and even that the moments of brilliance can push up his confidence which can lead to less crap.

This kind of thinking doesn’t apply to a traditional fighter, who isn’t capable of that “moment of brilliance”. He usually relies on consistency, and accuracy, and process to do what he needs to do. For the fighter, it has to be a steady rise from one “form situation” to another. And so persisting with the fighter doesn’t make sense. So for example, if Mike Hussey continues batting in the same way as he has been this series, there is a case of sending him to domestic cricket.

The problem with a lot of fighters is that they refuse to acknowledge the existence of studs and treat them too as fighters (on the other hand, most studs understand the existence of fighters). And this treatment of studs (assuming they are fighters) can have disastrous effects.

Theory of comparative advantage and chutiya kaam

Suppose you and me together have to do two tasks A and B. We need to decide who does what (let’s assume that we need to pick one task each). Now I’m a stud and you are a chutiya so I’m better than you at both A and B. So how do we split? It all comes down to the degree to which I’m better than you in each of these tasks. Suppose I’m marginally better than you at A, but significantly better than you at B. Theory of comparative advantage (commonly used to describe international trade) says that I should do B and you should do A – this way, total productivity is maximized. I suppose this makes intuitive sense.

You have a number of people cribbing about what is popularly knonw as “chutiya kaam” – approximately translates to bullshit work. Work that is uninspiring for them, but which they need to do because it needs to be done. Sometimes you have otherwise fairly intelligent and efficient people assigned to chutiya kaam – with the explanation that there is no one else who is well-enough equipped to do it. And these people find that less intelligent nad less efficient people are being given better work.

The reason the more intelligent and efficient person might get the chutiya kaam is that he is better at that than his colleagues, even if he is better than his colleagues in the more intelligent stuff. So I suppose if you want to avoid chutiya kaam altogether, one of the ways of doing it is to prove yourself to be a chutiya at that. To be inefficient and incapable of doing that, and in the hope that it will then get palmed off to someone else who is perceived to be better.

But then this is a double edged sword. There are people who believe that all kinds of “chutiya kaam” are inferior to all non-chutiya kaam. And that if you are not good at chutiya kaam you cannot be good at everything else. I’m reminded of this guy in my class who was captaining the class team for a day and who refused to let me open the bowling because I’d dropped a catch. “You can’t even catch properly, and how can you expect to bowl?” he had asked.

The unfortunate thing is that a large number of people are like this. They refuse to accept that chutiya and non-chutiya kaam are not comparable, and require different skill sets, and that they will neeed to apply trade theory to figure out who does what. They look at your skills in one and use that to judge you in another. And allocate resources suboptimally. And when faced with this kind of people, the strategy of trying to be chutiya at chutiya kaam may not work.

So I suppose the key is to figure out what kind of person your boss is. Whether he appreciates that different jobs can take different skills, and no one job “dominates” another. And whether he applies trade theory when it comes to work allocation. If the former, you can’t really do anything. If the latter, you can try being chutiya at chutiya kaam.

Postscripts

“chutiiya kaam” is not a homogeneous term. Some jobs are chutiya for some people but non-chutiya for others. It varies from person to person.

I have grouped all “chutiya kaam” together just for the sake of convenience. There are differnet kidns of chutiya kaams and all of them require different skill sets.

Each non-chutiya kaam also requires its own skill set. I’ve again grouped them together for the sake of convenience of argument

I firmly believe that principles of economics that can be useful in real life (such as demand and supply, trade theory, game theory, etc.) should be part of the 10th standard economics syllabus, rather than teaching kids to mug up GDP growth rates for different states for different decades

I have resisted the temptation to bring in the studs and fighters theory into this analysis

Don’t use stud processes for fighter jobs and fighter processes for stud jobs

When people crib to other people that their job is not too exciting and that it’s too process-oriented and that there’s not muc scope for independend thinking, the usual response is that no job is inherently process-oriented or thinking-oriented, and that what matters is the way in which one perceives his job. People usually say that it doesn’t matter if a job is stud or fighter, and you can choose to do it the way you want to. This is wrong.

So there are two kinds of jobs – stud (i.e. insight-oriented) and fighter (i.e. process oriented). And you can do the job in either a stud manner (trying to “solve a problem” and looking for insights) or in a fighter manner (logically breaking down the problem, structuring it according to known formula and then applying known processes to each sub-problem). So this gives scope for a 2 by 2. I don’t want this to look like a BCG paper so I’m not actually drawing a 2 by 2.

Two of the four quadrants are “normal” and productive – doing stud jobs in a stud manner, and fighter jobs in a fighter manner. There is usually an expectancy match here in terms of the person doing the job and the “client” (client is defined loosely here as the person for whom this job is being done. in most cases it’s the boss). Both parties have a good idea about the time it will tak e  for the job to be done, the quality of the solution, and so on. If you are in either of these two quadrants you are good.

You can’t do a stud job (something that inherently requires insight) using a fighter process. A fighter process, by definition, looks out for known kind of solutions. When the nature of the solution is completely unknown, or if the problem is completely unstructured, the fighter behaves like a headless chicken. It is only in very rare and lucky conditions that the fighter will be able to do the stud job. As for “fighterization”, about which I’ve been talking so much on this blog, the problem definition is usually tweaked slightly in order to convert the stud problem to a fighter problem. So in effect, you should not try to solve a “stud problem” using a fighter process. Also, as an employer, it is unfair to expect a mostly fighter employee to come up with a good solution for a stud problem.

The fourth quadrant is what I started off this blog post with – studs doing fighter jobs. The point here is that there is no real harm in doing a fighter job in a stud manner, and the stud should be able to come up wiht a pretty good solution. The problem is wiht expectations, and with efficiency. Doing a fighter job in a stud manner creates inefficiency, since a large part of the “solution” involves reinventing the wheel. Yes, the stud might be able to come up with enhanced solutions – maybe solve the problem for a general case, or make the solution more scalable or sustainable, but unless the “client” understands that the problem was a stud problem, he is unlikely to care for these enhancements (unless he asked for them of course), and is likely to get pained because of lack of efficiency.

Before doing something it is important to figure out if the client expects a stud solution or a fighter solution. And tailor your working style according to that. Else there could be serious expectation mismatch which can lead to some level of dissatisfaction.

And when you are distributing work to subordinates, it might also help to classify them using stud nad fighter scales and give them jobs that take advantage of their stronger suits. I know you can’t do this completely – since transaction costs of having more than one person working on a small piece of work can be high – but if you do this to the extent possible it is likely that you will get superior results out of everyone.