God lies in specifications

Come festivals, and it’s sweets.

I like them.

You give, I eat and it immediately shows up as extra tyres around me.

So gratifying.

There’s also bargain shopping.

He shows, I like. He says 300, I say 100. He says 299, I say 200. He says 298, I say 290. I buy for 297. I win, I wear.

So satisfying.

In fact, I like anything that’s eatable, wearable, usable. What I get confused about are those vague wishes.

What does “Wishing you all the prosperity” mean? That I will have a windfall? How? I haven’t even bought a lottery ticket.

How can I accept “May you succeed” seriously, especially from the one who rejected my script two days ago?

There’s also plenty of “Wishing you much happiness” floating around. Everyone wants everyone to be happy. And yet, have you ever wondered how there’s so much of unhappiness still around?

Simple. Blame it on the world’s oldest warning. “If it ain’t objective, it gonna be subjective. And if it’s subjective, then get ready for bloody hell.”

Expect trouble with anything that’s vague. Much of the angst in this world can be attributed to things that are not tangible, measurable, weighable, countable.

Take Love, Happiness, Pride, Respect, Success. No two persons in the world have the same interpretations of those, or have the same expectations from those. Which is why it is difficult to please anyone for too long, with those.

In all my years in Advertising, there wasn’t one instance when I had been happily surprised with the annual increment. It had always been less that what I had expected. That’s because I interpreted every pat on my back as a zero added to my salary, while my bosses thought one is a substitute for the other.

Same thing with birthday and anniversary gifts of love. One year’s expectations go phoos when I impatiently tear open the gift wrappers and find an armpit roll-on deodorant, a ‘How to improve your writing’ book, a hair dye bottle and an anti-wrinkle cream.

I have the same issue with people who play the Guess Who game on phone.

My expectations scale down from an ambitious “Pixar?” and “Universal Studios?” to a hopeful “Yash Raj?” and “Balaji Telefilms?” until I give up after “Gopal Marriage Videos?”

It always turns out to be an anti climax. Last week, at the end of my long wish list, the voice at the other end asked, “Isn’t that Suresh Badrinath?”

No this is Ramesh Rabindranath.”

Sorry, wrong number. Happy Diwali, though.”

That’s the problem with this barrel called expectations. It comes with no lid, but has a porous bottom.

L.I.F.E might be the best management School one can graduate from, and Experience might be a better faculty than those at Harvard, but surely Expectations Management is not part of its syllabus.

How else to explain the failure of some of L.I.F.E’s brightest students?

Take the example of whom we call Karanor in Malayalam. Or his equivalent, the head of any large Indian joint family. I find him a much more efficient manager than any IIM-trained head of a multi-billion Joint Venture company.

But no matter how well he steers the big old ship through the fiercest storms and roughest seas, eventually there does come a time when he too fails. With the arrival of the second and third generation members in the joint family, expectations get messed up. Black Sheep labels will be pinned on many, but truth is, in a sinking ship there are never any villains, only scapegoats. The real reason is another unlearnt lesson in Expectations Management.

Or take the Mother, the world’s greatest General Manager.

She’s better than the best in Finance, Labour, Human Resources, Relationships, Events, Hospitality and much else. And yet, the moment daughters-in-law come into her family, she turns into this monster full of unrealistic expectations, that begins to consume the peace in the family.

Most problems in life boil down to poor management of expectations.

And one of the first lessons in Expectations Management is what Readers’ Digest dishes out as: “God lies in specifications. Devil in vagueness.”

Put down the parameters. Define it. Make it definitive,” they scream.

But who listens to the Good? After all, their theories are pristine and untested.

So hear it from the Evil, if you believe their theories are tried, tested, wrung from experience, and so more practical:

Anything left to the mercy of interpretations is up for debates, heartburns and chaos. Put down an unambiguous Yes-No checklist, and you can remove confusion and bring clarity into anything. Everything can be and should be quantified in life.”

Those are the words of Ramalinga Raju, the czar of Indian IT then, now in jail for financial fraud.

That was part of his brief for a corporate film spelling out his culture for Satyam. I remember asking him, “What about Creativity? Can it be quantified?”

Of course, it can.” he had said. “So can Happiness, Love, Pride, Respect, Success.”

I guess how well we do it will depend on how unambiguous the parameters are. I have seen it work in some cases, not work in some.

Take the example of Love in Marriage. Most husbands flounder to define it. But not this happily married friend of mine.

“Love should remain a feeling between two hearts. Not become a demonstration,” he used to say.

He had never gifted his wife a thing in all the six years of their marriage. When asked how he managed, he had given me the best quote on this:

Say it in words, and she will be happy for a day.

Show it as a gift, and she’ll be happy for a year.

Do it as a deed, and she’ll be happy forever.”

He and his wife separated exactly a year after I had heard that.

How could it fail?” I had asked. “That’s the best philosophy I’ve heard about demonstrating love in marriage.”

Because it was different from her philosophy,” he had replied.

Which is what?” I had asked, really curious.

Say it, show it and do it.”


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