Are you killing the goose which lays golden eggs?

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The Story

I am re-reading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. There is a story narrated by Stephen R. Covey in this book, about a farmer and a goose which laid golden eggs. We all have come across this story in our childhood. In short there is a farmer, who has a goose. One day the farmer discovers that the goose lays golden eggs. The farmer sells these golden eggs daily in the market and soon becomes rich. Then one day, the farmer decides to get rich quickly (does it ring any bell?). So the farmer decides to open the belly of the goose and take out all the eggs. But on opening the belly of the goose the farmer finds nothing and the goose obviously dies. The farmer now repents on the irrecoverable loss.

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As per Covey, many of us get stuck into the same game. We want to get rich quickly and start working harder and harder and ignore our health. This got me thinking. I have also gone through a long phase where I have worked hard, day and night, sometimes as much as 18+ hours a day. I ignored my health and my family. And for what ? Working for the companies which on the whole don’t have any interest in my goodwill. Yes they provide the health insurance.. but their concern stops there. They won’t come down to repair any relationship losses or major health losses.  The companies are loyal to their shareholders only. Almost all of those companies where I overworked, fired many good people when the sub-prime crisis hit in 2008 – leaving them to fend off the crisis themselves and find out means to pay the debts and other bills.

Significance of the goose and golden eggs analogy?

Goose and golden eggs analogy is a powerful one. I had never imagined that this elementary story can provide so deep insights before reading the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  I thought about this in detail with the new paradigm shift that I had experienced after reading this portion of the book.

First thing, I came to realize that, unlike the farmer we have a goose, which is capable of producing more types of golden eggs(expanding the analogy to cover health, financial, mental, spiritual, relationship levels) than only one(financial)…so we are luckier than him… But our luck ends here. Because, like the farmer we are not only killing the goose but also feeding it improperly so that it produces selective types of eggs and getting devoid of deeper riches. Not only this, we are sometimes forcing others to kill their geese as well. So we turn ourselves to be more unfortunate than him.

How do people kill the goose in their personal lives?

Our personal lives compose of

  • Ourselves
  • Our family

We all have bills to pay and also family to raise. Besides we also want to get ahead of our peers in the game by getting better positions and possessions. There are two ways people respond to this:

People think that more quantity of work will get them promotions – this might be true to an extent. But in my observation – this is more of a myth in most of cases. Only a handful of the hard working people get promotions (provided they get good management on top of them). In almost all such cases(including the lucky ones who get promotions) the more they work the more work they get… Since they have set a bar, they accept this extra  work also and start giving more and more time to the work, often working more hours than required to maintain work-life balance.They do not let their bodies have the desired sleep, nourishment and exercise. This leads to rapid wear and tear of their bodies.  I have known many friends who have health issues like – backaches, slip disks, joint pains, infertility, eyesight problems etc, all of which could have been prevented through right work-life balance.

Second some people think that over-pleasing managers (a.k.a boot-licking) will give them promotion. This might also be true to some extent depending upon the kind of managers they get. But at the end they are left with feeling of emptiness, selfish friends and set bad examples for their children.  They focus too much on office politics and might ignore the technical skills. In IT industry our technical skills are our bread and butter. Hence once they are axed, they find it very hard hard to get next job.

Then there are people who use mixed approach – win politically as well as through hard-work… they are the ultimate losers. They suffer from the side effects of both approaches. I know couple of such guys who have practically given their lives to their managers – just like the faithful subjects of an emperor -- trying to please them with their work as well as boot-licking. As I write, nobody wants to trust them (except their managers) and they are miserable on health front.

When we are taking time from our personal lives to give to the companies which have hired us (i.e. shaking the work-life balance) , we have lesser and lesser time for our family members and friends.  Our families miss us. Our friendships start getting weaker with time or we can say that the sweetness lessens and distance grows.

Related post: Is “That Guy” killing you (and probably everyone/everything else around you)

How do people kill the goose in their work lives?

Exactly opposite to above, there are many people who are too focused on themselves and their personal lives. They spend less and less time in office and more and more at home. Most of IT companies have flexible work culture. These people tend to abuse it. They come late to office and leave early and work from home (or pretend to) rest of the time. Or they are working from home (a.k.a WFH) for 2-3 (or more) day of week. This makes them lose the credibility. I have many many examples of such people. The managers won’t say anything negative directly to them as the company policy allows them to flexible working options. But the human factor creeps in. If I am a manager, I would like to walk up to the desk of my subordinates and talk to them directly and get the issues resolved faster than pinging them over IM or calling them on phone again and again. Then there is another category, of WFH guys – they send email to the team that they are working from home. But then they are not reachable. They are gone after sending the email.

In flexible working option – the myth is “If the assigned work is getting done in desired time, then it is fine”. But this is far from truth. The managers as humans do expect you to be in office during certain hours (a.k.a core hours). You team members, want you to be in office during core hours.

Remember  -- if you are abusing flexible working options, the ultimate loss is yours. You have to keep yourself in the shoes of

  • Your manager
  • Your team members who are dependent on you for inputs for their work
  • Your colleagues who want to interact with you face-to-face for personal/professional reasons

How do the managers kill the goose?

Now, we come to the managers. Managers kill their geese by micromanaging, taking away the independence, breaking the trust of employees through fake promises, not promoting hard working people, promoting wrong kind of people, promoting politics in organization and other number of ways. Now not all managers are like this, but I am talking about the human nature in general (where people tend to get work done in dictatorial manner wherever possible). The managers are paid to get things done within the budget, time and other constraints. This makes some managers to be pushy.  A manager’s job is of high responsibility and the repercussions are also very bad, for the managers and the employees.

I was leading a project where I was reviewing a lot of scripts written by team members. A second line managers advised me to “give hard time to the engineers” by giving more and more review comments ! (I think he forgot that he was advising this to an engineer.  I am confident, he must be telling this to the first line managers also.) . No wonder most of good people from the teams under him left to the competitors.

What about other areas in our lives?

We can think more and more examples in other areas of our lives where we are killing the goose which lays golden eggs for short term gains. For example, we might be being selective in interacting with people in our social lives (e.g. interacting people meeting some social criteria, or not meeting people at all). Or we might be doing wrong things(which btw most of us do) in our financial lives (by not maintaining income and expenditure balance) or in our spiritual lives(by polluting our minds with thoughts of hatred and other ways) etc.

Solution? (P/PC principle)

So what is the solution? I found the primary solution in the same book itself. The solution is what Stephen R Covey calls P/PC balance. The P stands for Production and PC stands for Production Capability. We focus too much on production (golden eggs) and kill Production Capability (goose) for increasing the Production.  For getting the golden eggs (Production i.e. money, happiness, peace of mind etc) for longer time we have to feed the goose sufficiently (Production Capability, e.g. our bodies, relationships, mind etc).

How to maintain the Goose which lays golden eggs?

When it comes to the precious  goose in our lives, first of all we have to take the responsibilities of our lives at following six main levels.

Physical: The body is our prime way to get things done. If our body is not with us, we cannot get up, go to office, work for many hours etc. It is our responsibility of maintaining it the best way we can.

We have to give it adequate rest by sleeping for 8-10 hours. The more gruesome the work, the more rest we need to give it. In case we have to take few hours of sleep away occasionally from it, we should compensate for it. In October 2009, SAP CEO Ranjan Das died of cardiac arrest at the age of 42. He was a fitness freak and still died young. The reason was attributed to the lack of sleep.

Second, we have to give it adequate nourishment. Equally important is not to feed it fast food or other unhealthy junk.  This video gives more insight into how dangerous the fast food can be for our bodies.

Third, we have to keep it active and flexible through exercise and yoga. Take special care of your eyes.

Fourth, is to adopt right ergonomics while working on the computers/laptop and other gadgets.

Fifth, is routine checkups – must have are eye, blood pressure, diabetes etc. (most of these are available in packages).

Mind: Not going into the metaphysics, for the purpose of this post let us consider that mind means our ability to think. Mind is where we sow new thoughts and from where our new thoughts originate. It is part which is responsible for our psychology. We have to feed our mind with healthy thoughts. There is a saying that, “as is within, as is without” or “to change things on the outside, we have to change from inside”. Mind gives us the lens to look at the world. If that lens is not clear then we will have blurred view. It is also responsible for our habits. If we feed it junk (through various media and our conversations), it results in manifestation of garbage in our lives. A person who keeps watching cheap soaps, starts thinking in same way.

Mental: Mental function of the body is at the level where we code, test or analyze. Where we do all those calculations and where our language skills come from. The primary way to take care of ourselves at mental level is to have adequate sleep. Second, we have to nourish it through healthy food and avoiding unhealthy stuff. Third, we should challenge it with complex work and by mastering our technical skills to greater depth/breadth. Fourth, we should not abuse it by over-stretching is beyond its limits. One of my acquaintances used to keep straining himself over solving technical puzzles so hard that his head used to start aching. The better way would have been to take some rest periodically and attempt the problem again. Here is a related post: How to deal with the Stress in IT profession.

Spiritual: Spiritual level of our being is which is responsible for the satisfaction and happiness in our lives. You might have heard some people say that they earn huge sums by working day and night, but they don’t get satisfaction. However when they help someone in small way (often it is the case when the other guy cannot repay back) then they get deep fulfillment. This is our spiritual level. This is different from religion. You need to get involved in giving back to the society to get mental satisfaction. Now, most of IT professionals don’t have time. So they donate financially to some charity. Financial help will give you momentary satisfaction. You need to involve in spirituality on continuous basis. Helping someone could be selflessly help your colleagues who are ramping up, by helping them do something in more efficient way.

Relationships: Next area is relationships. Give adequate time and attention to your family, other relatives, friends and society. The emphasis should be on quality time. Create sweeter and better relationships. Make existing ones stronger.

Finance: Most of our struggle in our lives is of financial nature. We have to pay bills, bring up family and then save for the retirement as well. In case of finance, the timeless wisdom is – to start as early as possible. Hire a financial planner for planning your finances and follow the plan. Hire a financial coach who can look into your financial habits and help you overcome the mental barriers which could cost you dearly in long run.

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