Monday, April 19, 2010

Secret behind the Amazing Dabbawalas

I recently attended a lecture by the popular Dabbawalas in my college. I was initially apprehensive about this whole lecture thing, as somehow I felt that Dabbawalas had received too much of attention from the media that most of the popular folk could think only of Dabbawalas when they thought of innovation. However my apprehensions and inhibitions withered away in the after glow of the brilliant speech by the third generation family which runs the Nutan Bombay Tiffin Box Suppliers Association. The brilliant speech gave me some amazing insights regarding the secret which makes them so efficient and amazing. Although the founders mentioned the secret so casually that hardly few could have noticed it, it somehow struck a huge chord with me.
Let me come straight to the point without belaboring further.
Dabbawalas belong to a Varakari Sampradaya ( tradition) and the entire 4000 strong work force belong to this sampradaya. This tradition unites them and make them work as organism as compared to an organization. White caps worn by every dabbawalas symbolizes this tradition. Bono makes this point in some interview where he mentions that teams should work as one organism together. U2 is another amazing example which works as an organism
So what makes this tradition so unique and what drives them to work at unbelievable 6-sigma efficient levels? Every member of dabbawala is a passionate devotee of Lord Panduranga((Another avatar of Lord Krishna)

They consider their work as a form of worship to their Lord and they do it so religiously. My friends in Mumbai pointed out that they can be often seen doing kirtans of Lord Panduranga while coming to work. Their passion and devotion towards their work was so evident when the speaker spoke of their jobs in such high esteem during the lecture. Their reverence towards their duty was filled with such fervor that I suddenly felt a sense of gratitude and devotion when I was taking my food in my mess after the session. Most of us, in our fast track lives, do our work so mundanely that such things become a routine mechanical task to us. The secret to do amazing work lies in this reverence. The moment we revere an activity, it takes the entire attention of our mind. We begin to do it with utmost sincerity and dedication. Remember those good ol' days when our parents used to do the preparations for rituals or functions in house. Or think of moments when devout christians prepare the christmas tree or the manger. Or think of the moments when you decorated the room for the birthday party of your beloved. Such work is done immaculately because of the love that emanates from doing the work. I know what you are thinking at. How can I begin to revere my daily mundane work of copying codes in one server or say, testing codes ? Well, with the way the world shaping up these days, it is impossible to be good in the work we do, unless we begin to love it. Any amount of breaks, vacations, trekking arranged by desperate HR folks wont help either. The best part is, the world has shaped to such extent, that the job we would love to do, isn't tucked in fables written by evangelists who live in make-believe world, it is just a click away..
So to put it simply, we have two choices. Choice 1: Love the work we are doing. Choice 2: Find work which we love..
HR folks can really take some lessons on motivation through reverence from these amazing dabbawalas. When work turns into what we really love, work turns into a piece of beautiful art. If you are still sceptical, look at the way Dabbawalas work!!
Another interesting thing which came out during the lecture was the fact that all the workers, irrespective of how many years they worked, get the same share of money from the total share of profits they make. When each and every member is a part of one organism, how can anyone get more than other?.. Looking at the mess we've created in the wake of financial crisis, thanks to all the popular carrot and stick approaches of compensation, one cannot but notice the gem of wisdom that lies behind this.
The best part of the lecture was during the end, when the president ended his speech by letting them do the work they have been doing for centuries and urging us, the future managers of India, not to force or adapt them to the conventional ways of management, we've borrowed from the west.
However what he didnt say was this...
"Its high time you guys embrace our ways of working if you are really serious about getting good results!"

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