Ideas are cheap, ownership is hard

A few months ago, in a meeting, in response to something that I’d worked on along with a different team member, someone said, Why don’t we do…? The “do what” does not matter; it was the “we” that I’d like to focus on. The use of “we” in such situations looks like a benign word but it hides a more pernicious agenda of why doesn’t someone do this as long as this someone is not me.

Before you accuse me of reading too much into this one incident, this is something that I’ve noticed time and again, so it’s not just about one incident. Also, I’m pointing this out about people who make suggestions (i.e. give ideas) but do not take the initiative to actually implement any ideas or improve processes, i.e. take ownership of something and execute on the idea.

I think it’s because ideas and suggestions are so easy to throw out there. “We should do x to improve y”, without specifying the we and without further action is what empty vessels do. lots-of-metal-hearts-with-messages-attached-to-a-wall

To give an idea or a suggestion, to follow it up with a well-thought out execution plan, and to execute the plan is hard work. Also, it makes you responsible for implementing the idea and when you actually take responsibility, you see what executing your brilliant (in your mind) idea actually entails.

I have been in meetings where people have tossed out ideas and when you ask them to come back with even a high-level explanation of the how (regarding the execution), they have no clue about how to proceed. Sometimes it is because the ideas themselves are superficial, other times it is a lack of critical thinking and understanding that prevents folks from seeing bottlenecks and issues that could crop up.

I’m not against giving ideas but against the notion that ideas are enough; they’re not. Ask anyone who has created something based on an idea or implemented something based on an idea and you’ll understand how much effort the execution actually takes. While ideas are important, they are only one part of the process–the execution is far more important and far more difficult than the generation of the idea.

So, go ahead and keep generating ideas but take ownership of some and bring the ideas in your head to fruition by doing the hard work of executing them. You will gain a new sense of appreciation for the people who generate ideas and successfully execute them. And, even if you fail, you’ll learn something about how to actually do stuff rather than talk about stuff.

That’s a win-win situation if you ask me.

The new year feels old already

2010 flew by so fast and we’re already 9 days into 2011, and it feels like an old year already. Maybe it’s just deja vu — this does happen every year, no?

I’m not sure if I’ll look back on 2010 a few years later and remember it differently, but right now I can’t say that I’m unhappy that we’re in 2011.

Sorry for the radio silence from my end. I wish that there were a compelling reason why I am not posting regularly, but it’s a combination of just being busy with other stuff, i.e. non-Internet life, and sometimes not having much to say. I have definitely reduced the amount of time that I spend online, and spending time doing other things is nice. Who’d have thought it, eh — that there this a whole other world offline?

Happy New Year 2011 by the way. May your 2011 be bright and shiny, just like the sunshine over Bangalore at the moment.

Why do we use only blue or black ink?

Lately, I’ve been wondering why we predominantly write with pens that have inks in two colours: blue or black. I remember that in school we were explicitly told not to use green, purple, or heaven-forbid, red pens. The penalty was death. I’m kidding, the teachers only caned us.

I remember that the school principal used to use a green coloured pen to sign letters or late slips or whatever. That green seemed exotic at the time.

I think teachers didn’t want you to write in red because they evaluate answer sheets with their own red pens and the colour clash can lead to confusions.

What I don’t get though is why we’re asked not to use any of the other colours. Green is a perfectly fine colour to use, so is violet, maybe even brown. I’ve never tried the latter two, so I don’t know.

I did buy red and green refills a few weeks ago and I started using the green one, but I had to change to blue. I was afraid that someone would use the green pen without knowing and accuse me of ruining a cheque leaf or whatever else.

Which brings me to my second point. I get why schools — whose job it is to get you ready to conform — would restrict the colour of pens that you can use. Why is there the same restriction in the real world? A form that I came across recently had instructions that told you to use blue ink only. And, in my various forays into the real world, corporate or otherwise, I can’t remember a single time that I’ve seen a pen with green or a purple coloured ink being used. I’m not kidding.

I can make a case for not using red because it’s associated with danger (traffic signal for example) but why not green or any of the other reasonably dark colours? I’m not asking for yellow and pink pens because I think that they’ll be hard to read on white paper, but brown, purple, green, maroon — they’re all colours that can be read.

If you know the answer or have a theory about why we use only specific coloured inks, feel free to chime in. I’m stumped.

Some research after the fact

After I finished writing this post, I went to Google and found this article. It explains why blue ink is preferable on legal documents — it contrasts with the black print. Another point made, in a different place, was about copiers and scanners and how certain colours don’t copy or scan well.

Interestingly, there’s a lot of discussion on this topic but I haven’t come across any definitive answers.

It depends on what your definition of juice is

I have nothing against Minute Maid or The Coca Cola Company but a few months ago I happened to look at the label of the bottle of Minute Maid (MM) pulpy orange juice that I was drinking. I doubt if you can tell from the scanned image but the ingredients listed are as follows: Water, Sugar, Orange Juice (12.5%), etc.

Orange Juice but with a bit of water

It’s the 12.5% orange juice that surprised me so much that I ended up peeling the label, scanning it, annotating the image, and writing a blog post about it. (Yes, I do realize that there are other things one can do in the time I have spent.)

I haven’t looked up labels of other orange juice manufacturers because I don’t drink a lot of processed juices, but this incident got me thinking about the kind of advertising that we’re shown on TV and the product that ends up in our stomach. I don’t recall the advertisement mentioning that the dilution was so much — 1 part orange juice to 7 parts water . With this kind of dilution ratio, you’re drinking a lot more water than orange juice, which is not bad health-wise. Except that you’re paying to drink orange juice not water.

In addition, I think that if I were to make orange juice with this kind of dilution, I’d need to add a fair bit of sugar to the mix to make it taste like reasonable orange juice, which isn’t the healthiest thing. (If you make orange juice at home, you probably will need to add a little bit of water and maybe some sugar, but I doubt if you’re going with those kinds of dilution ratios in the first place.)

The point of all this is to tell you that every once in a while it makes sense to look at the labels of the (processed) food you’re consuming. We tend to remember the advertising when we buy products and advertisers aren’t known for their tendencies to disclose all information. Even this information that I found was in a much smaller font than the other text on the label.

You probably know what RTFM is, maybe we need to RTFFP – Read The (um) Fine Print.