Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What is Quality?

This blog started with the idea that sabha (at least the ones we sat through) could be drastically improved in terms of quality.  We phrased it differently at the time. A great deal of that could be attributed to emotion - we were annoyed and frustrated. Then we listened to some katha, chilled out, and focused on Sabha.ology -  improving sabha quality. We realized a few days ago that we never really defined quality.

Make a SMART goal
We asked ourselves: How would we make it a SMART goal? Maybe something like this:

Within the next quarter the core sabha team will present one topic every week and improve quality to a mean of 7, measured by taking an anonymous opinion survey of the core team to rate each talk (1-10).

This is definitely a great SMART goal, but it felt like passing the buck. We could not define it so we hand it off to the local core team to average it out (by wisdom of crowds). While wisdom of crowd works if you have the right people (or so many people that the outliers or "wrong" people get drowned out) it may not work with such a small team. Again how do we define quality?

What would a Judge say
Another way to measure sabha quality could be taken from Justice Potter Stewart, in his concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 U.S. 184 (1964), regarding defining obscenity. He stated, "I know it when I see it." Again we all know and feel when we sit in a great sabha but how do we charactize a sabha that is somewhere between great and not so good?

Just Do It
We can read all the posts in this blog or simply read Made to Stick and Resonate! and think about how to apply it to sabha and our quality will improve. But we still did not define quality so we still cannot measure it.

What would Seth Godin say
Here is an excerpt from Seth Godin's blog in this topic:
"Given how much we talk about [sabha] quality, it's surprising that there's a lot of confusion about what quality is.What's a higher quality car: a one-year old Honda Civic or a brand new top of the line Bentley? It turns out that there are at least two useful ways to describe quality, and the conflict between them leads to the confusion.

Quality of design: Thoughtfulness and processes that lead to user delight, that make it likely that someone will seek out a product, pay extra for it or tell a friend.

Quality of manufacture: Removing any variation in tolerances that a user will notice or care about. 

In the case of the Civic, the quality of manufacture is clearly higher by any measure. The manufacturing is more exact, he likelihood that the car will perform (or not perform) in a way you don't expect is tiny. On the other hand, we can probably agree that the design of the Bentley is more bespoke, luxurious and worthy of comment. 

Let's think about manufacturing variation for a second: Fedex promises overnight delivery. 10:20 vs 10:15 is not something the recipient cares about. Tomorrow vs. Thursday, they care about a lot. The goal of the manufacturing process isn't to reach the perfection of infinity. It's to drive tolerances so hard that the consumer doesn't care about the variation. Spending an extra million dollars to get five minutes faster isn't as important to the Fedex brand as spending a million dollars to make the website delightful.

Dropbox is a company that got both right. The design of the service is so useful it now seems obvious. At the same time, though, and most critically, the manufacture of the service is to a very high tolerance. Great design in a backup service would be useless if one in a thousand files were corrupted.

Microsoft struggles (when they struggle) because sometimes they get both wrong. Software that has a user interface that's a pain to use rarely leads to delight, and bugs represent significant manufacturing defects, because sometimes (usually just before a presentation), the software doesn't work as expected--a noticedvariation."

Quality is Balance
The balance of these two types of quality is what we want to achieve. If we cancel sabha one week to do some other activity, we reduce our quality of manufacture. When we start 20 minutes late, or (more likely finish 40 minutes early) we reduce our quality of manufacture. These things can be tackled within karyakar meetings and even in sabha review.

When the presenter starts on time and reads right off the paper we reduce our quality of design. Again this blog is meant to tackle this issue, quality of design, but both are important.

Consider what Philip Crosby realized a generation ago: Quality is free. (free essays are here). It's easier to design outreach quality into sabha and the Mandir than it is to do outreach about the Mandir and sabha. It's cheaper to design manufacturing quality into sabha and the Mandir than it is to inspect it after sabha is over.

They are both important, so we should avoid a boring sabha that starts and ends on time and uses every part of the syllabus. Also we don't want a really fun sabha that happens every "every once in a while" and where we "just do goshti or talk about satsang in our lives" while ignoring the syllabus.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Attention to Detail

The following is a blog post from Vic Gundotra:
One Sunday morning, January 6th, 2008 I was attending religious services when my cell phone vibrated. As discreetly as possible, I checked the phone and noticed that my phone said "Caller ID unknown". I choose to ignore.
After services, as I was walking to my car with my family, I checked my cell phone messages. The message left was from Steve Jobs. "Vic, can you call me at home? I have something urgent to discuss" it said. 
Before I even reached my car, I called Steve Jobs back. I was responsible for all mobile applications at Google, and in that role, had regular dealings with Steve. It was one of the perks of the job.  
"Hey Steve - this is Vic", I said. "I'm sorry I didn't answer your call earlier. I was in religious services, and the caller ID said unknown, so I didn't pick up".  
Steve laughed. He said, "Vic, unless the Caller ID said 'GOD', you should never pick up during services". 
I laughed nervously. After all, while it was customary for Steve to call during the week upset about something, it was unusual for him to call me on Sunday and ask me to call his home. I wondered what was so important?
"So Vic, we have an urgent issue, one that I need addressed right away. I've already assigned someone from my team to help you, and I hope you can fix this tomorrow" said Steve.  
"I've been looking at the Google logo on the iPhone and I'm not happy with the icon. The second O in Google doesn't have the right yellow gradient. It's just wrong and I'm going to have Greg fix it tomorrow. Is that okay with you?"
Of course this was okay with me. A few minutes later on that Sunday I received an email from Steve with the subject "Icon Ambulance". The email directed me to work with Greg Christie to fix the icon. 
Since I was 11 years old and fell in love with an Apple II, I have dozens of stories to tell about Apple products. They have been a part of my life for decades. Even when I worked for 15 years for Bill Gates at Microsoft, I had a huge admiration for Steve and what Apple had produced.  
But in the end, when I think about leadership, passion and attention to detail, I think back to the call I received from Steve Jobs on a Sunday morning in January. It was a lesson I'll never forget. CEOs should care about details. Even shades of yellow. On a Sunday.
I am sure we will be inundated with many of these types of stories in the coming weeks. Yet one of the things Jobs was able to do was convey a sticky message but more than that really believe in what he was doing. Sunday sabha is something worth believing in. And one way to make our sabha into something everyone wants or falls in love with  (like an iPhone 5) is to pay attention to the details. They really do matter.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Simple Shortcut #2: Combination

Simple Shortcuts is a new series of posts geared towards synthesizing that not-so-simple yet crucial simple statement (i.e. main point of our presentations).

Our next shortcut may not seem as straightforward as substitution, but it's not impossible.

Shortcut #2 entails asking, "How can I combine <insert Satsang item here> with <insert non-Satsang item here>?"

In our last post, we looked at the following video and how it might apply to the age-old concept of agna.

However, through combining this video with other topics, we may in fact find more intricacies that span the breadth of our Satsang presentations.
  • Related to agna is the topic of faith vs. logic, and while the birds may have perched in a logical musical pattern, it required a leap of faith to see if that pattern did exist or not. 
  • Perhaps these birds are a breath of fresh air into our otherwise boring, mundane lives; it's something we need to apply to our Satsang (i.e. nitya navin rakhvu). In Vachanamrut Kariyani-3, Shriji Maharaj explains, "This Shuk Muni is a very great sadhu. From the day he began staying with Me, his enthusiasm has been ever increasing; in fact, it has never diminished." If we seize the right moments, we too can experience the flourishing of our Satsang. 
  • However, do all people find birds perched in a pattern entertaining? Eccentric musicians aside, maybe not. Thus, we need to engage in a modality that suits our preferences, like one of nine types of bhakti.
  • For a musician, birds sitting in such a coordinated pattern is a rare opportunity - slim odds - yet it's in these encounters we can remember God as sarva-karta (all-doer), one of the four aspects of our upasana and feel empowered by the one we've met.
Rather than continue along with this free-for-all, let's see what simple statements we may have generated.
  • Faith freshens up our Satsang.
  • The nine types of bhakti are there to keep our Satsang fresh.
  • Understanding God as the all-doer keeps our Satsang fresh.
Here, we've combined topics in ways we may not have otherwise thought of before, and the more we do it, the better we get at it. Think about that the next time we encounter something extraordinary.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Simple Shortcut #1: Substitution

The three-point recipe for a coherent presentation - simple/shakeup/stories - has been introduced in our posts and applied in past presentations, but we realized it was no fun. Why should we be the only ones enjoying ourselves when we should be sharing the wealth? Now we're taking one step backwards in helping fellow Sabhaologists create these elements from scratch on demand beginning with the first element: the simple statement. 

The importance of a simple statement cannot be underemphasized. Ever. Without a simple statement, our presentations are nothing more than a lifeless mass of words passing in one ear of the listener to the other. Thus, we need to unite this mass with a message or main point. It's what we call simple though the process by which we synthesize it is not so easy.

Hence, Simple Shortcuts, a new series of posts, will help us with developing that core of our presentation through a host of different perspectives that help us synthesize that not-so-simple yet crucial simple statement.

Shortcut #1 entails asking, "What can be substituted in <insert non-Satsang item here> with <insert Satsang item here>?

For example, let's watch this clip.

Ok, let's break down what we saw - straightforward of course:
  • Birds sitting on wire in no observable pattern.
  • Observer sees how the birds fit together in a musical pattern.
Now, let's see how substitution takes effect.
  • We may perceive the Satpurush's agna to be random and gloss over them without much thought.
  • However, the Satpurush sees how they fit together in a spiritual pattern.
Um, spiritual pattern - how does that benefit us? Does that mean we are all supposed to become atma-realized? Or is how we can inspire others if we ourselves become inspired? Or is it how we can establish Satyug in Kaliyug? 

And that's how we unleash the torrent of thought which we otherwise find difficult to awaken when we're given a presentation. Sometimes, we just need the starting spot to brainstorm ideas, and using Shortcut #1 on what we perceive as non-Satsang suddenly breathes life into concepts we have otherwise grown to consider stale. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Wrong Body Language

A fellow Sabhaologist sent us this nifty article that summarizes the no-no's when it comes to our posture and position amidst speaking and presenting. Though in each of our mandals we have a slightly different setup for sabha, it may not hurt to remember these annoying habits to stay on the good side of audience perhaps even in a non-mandir setting.

Tapping a Pencil

After all, it's great to captivate the audience but not at the cost of composure.