Sunday, November 10, 2013

Expecting surprises

A few days ago, in a short presentation at the office, one of my brilliant young colleagues was describing the process of design of a cable stayed bridge that he had recently carried out. He is very proud of his design, and rightly so.
In setting out the context of how he came to do the design he mentioned that our office having had no immediate and extensive experience in such a design, the head was thinking of giving the task to one of our partners, a German firm of great repute. But this young colleague and his immediate supervisor prevailed upon the management to allow them to take the task upon themselves. In the process, as the designer told the audience, I was asked my opinion and I said, “Yes, you can do it, but be prepared for surprises!” This brought out a lot of twitter in the audience, not necessarily mocking yet somewhat incredulous; how can one be prepared for something as yet unknown.
Let me be honest here. I do not recall that conversation, taking place more than three years ago. But, I can also tell you that the comment is precisely tuned to my way of thing and it is not improbable that I had said it, even if not in the exact words of my colleague.
I know that there are million things that I don’t even know that I don’t know. An unknown once removed, in relationship terms. These I call surprises. I am always on the lookout for such things; that is my level of curiosity. This is what I must have meant when I advised my colleague.
How do you prepare yourself for the unknown? I will share with you my temperament. Be confident, yet not arrogant. Get schooled on the avenues you think you are likely to traverse, but do not get rutted on those. Be aware and have your antennae up all the time. Lateral thinking is perhaps a jargon, but it helps you in tackling surprises from beyond the horizon. You do not know what you are going catch from where. Be bold, yet not cocky. Be prepared to be surprised. Admit mistakes readily and do not let them gnaw your insides.
This is what Viswanathan Anand seemed to have meant after bringing the first game of the current World Chess Championship match series to a quick draw with Magnus Carlsen. He is reported to have said, and I quote, “You come to a match expecting surprises.
Take up a challenge by being prepared for the expected and being confident of tackling the unexpected surprises. You would end with nothing worse than a draw!
Raghuram Ekambaram

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