I needed to know. As a writer, there was no other option. While I have read the novel almost a decade back, I never felt it was unique. Magical realism woven into the narrative is fascinating. But is it worth the best of Booker awards; that too twice?
Yes, I am talking about Salman Rushdie’s seminal novel ‘Midnight’s Children‘. I did not find it any more interesting than Woodhouse’s quippy, ‘The Code of the Woosters‘ or Harper Lee’s immortal ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’. But there has to be something that makes it extraordinary in the eyes of the Booker prize jury. Even after rereading the novel, I failed to make it out.
Then it occurred to me: why don’t I just ask that entity that is considered the grandfather of all knowledge. No, not God; I mean Google. A few moments of meditation in His altar, and there flow the result in millions. Foremost experts in English fiction writing, dissecting the novel, its language, tone, and way of narration. If I had read the reviews first, I felt I would have enjoyed the book more.
Suddenly a lightbulb went off in my head: There is always a better way of doing things; even if it is reading.
The Useful 20
We tend to work hard. Whether it be our job or something that we love, we put in a lot of effort. We spend days, weeks and even years on a project to get things done.
But what we seldom bother about is the way we approach them. We usually have a vague idea of how to work on something. We follow these intuitions and carelessly put our energy into the unnecessary, and waste it. Most of the time, there is a better way of doing things.
Joseph M. Juran, an American engineer and management consultant, developed a theory called the Pareto principle Or 80/20 theorem, for quality control and improvement. It states that for many outcomes, roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes. In other words, only 20% of what we do actually makes a substantial difference.
Most of us seldom identify and spend very little time performing these crucial tasks. Instead of learning the right technique to boost the useful part, we work mindlessly. It at once drains our energy and wastes valuable time.
Stop and Think
So what should we do? How can we make sure we are doing the right things in the right way and not wasting our energy?
The first approach is to think before doing something. Starting the task right away might feel alluring. But it saves a lot of time and energy if we take a step back and reflect on the most efficient way to tackle the challenge.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Also, we have to consider that many before us have found out better methods of approaching the challenge. We can always stand on the shoulders of a giant. With online platforms and MOOC courses, we can learn from the best in any industry. Learning from their experience and adopting their approach adds value.
Recently, I learned the note-taking technique of Zettlekasten from the methods of the famous sociologist Nikolas Luman. Thanks to my friend Ashik who introduced this simple but effective technique, the way I recorded ideas was revolutionized. Now it is easily retrievable and effective.
Being a Renaissance man
To work smart, you actually have to be smart. Hence it is vital to develop a diverse skill set. It does not mean you have to be an expert in every field. It is enough to have a basic knowledge.
Tim Brown, CEO of the IDEO design consultancy, has coined a curious term for this: T-shaped skillset. He says people should have a preliminary knowledge of a broad level of topics, represented by the horizontal line of T, and in-depth knowledge in their own field, which is represented by the vertical line.
Such a person will have a broad perspective. It will help him to adopt the right technique and adapt to different situations. It can also help to improve the quality of work and reduce time lapse.
In this ever-changing world, we should sometimes stop and recheck whether we are doing things the right (updated) way, because a better way might have evolved. Thus learning the right process becomes as important as working hard.
Nevertheless, time spend on preparation should not be an excuse for procrastination. We just have to make sure we are journeying in the right direction. Only regular work in the right direction pays off.
So whenever you start with a task, learn to do that scientifically first. If it is reading, learn to read actively; if it is jogging, jog using the right techniques. The time spent on perfecting the method, however wasted it seems, will save hours of pointless hard labor.
It may even transform you into the next Salman Rushdie. Who knows!
Thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you. Please let me know your thoughts in the comment box below.