Quote Me if You Can is a book with 730 quotes that are thoughts of Dr. NS Rajan, Member Group Executive Council and Group Chief Human Resources Officer, Tata Sons. He has been studying happiness at work for decades. The book has observations on a wide range of topics, in one or two lines, with the aim to help readers reflect on them and form their own perspective.
Excerpts from a conversation:
Are the thoughts in the book gleaned from personal experiences?
The seeds of this book were sown, albeit unknowingly, a decade ago when I chose to look back to the beginning of my career, and started to ponder over what life has taught me at work, year by year. I penned down my reflections, in not more than a line or two, almost like chapter headings for a non-existent book. These jottings are observations, reflections, appreciation of reality around the workplace usually. It is a compilation of what I have read, seen, experienced and learnt. I am a big fan of the Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle and must confess that the germ of the idea of noting down my observations and reflections was in part inspired by Aristotle. Over the last decade I have filled many notebooks with as many as 13,000 such reflections. With a discipline that still surprises, I have managed to post around five such thoughts on social media every day for the past five years. Penguin Publishers reached out to me and felt that these compilations could make a good book.
Why were you surprised by your discipline to write down your thoughts daily for five years?
The intent to write was not the starting point. I thought my first book would be on ‘Happiness at work’. But content created the opportunity. Over the course of a decade, I had written what I call ‘notes to myself’. The overarching thought while penning down these thoughts was to have a certain degree of discipline. Unless I have the discipline to pen down thoughts every day, I believe, it will not put pressure on me to think and reflect. The other thing that keeps me going is the desire to share my thoughts with others.
Is the pursuit of happiness at work, which you termed a constant endeavour, possible for an individual at work? There are deadlines, targets, bosses to report to and hectic competition that keeps everyone on their toes.
Work is a significant part of our lives purely in terms of the quantum of time that we spend at work, in the workplace, with colleagues. Work you enjoy is one of the chief sources of happiness. Social scientists provide empirical evidence that some of the key facets of a workplace, including the quality of environment, sense of purpose, feeling of ownership, social embeddedness, empowerment and autonomy, could be real sources of happiness. For an individual employee, much as the cerebral needs like curiosity to learn and development are critical, interpersonal dimensions such as bonding, capacity for love, connectedness, sense of gratitude and selflessness are indeed vital. Our ability to deal with the futility of fruitless hopes, corrosive envies, and unrequited desires is also essential for our happiness. In fact, one of the chief sources of happiness is learning to live within your income! Therefore, the pursuit of happiness at work, more than ever, is not only possible but also critical.
There is a thought in your book: A great boss is wonderful to work but impossible to please.
A great boss is one who recognizes you for what you are and can play a complementary role to bring out the best in you. He/ she may be tough on issues but compassionate when it comes to handling people. As a true leader, he/ she envisions the future, ensures a shared vision and helps achieve outcomes together. By raising the bar high, he/ she helps you go beyond your own constraints and discover new possibilities. Leaders, in any walk of life, need a visionary purpose, personal optimism, boundless energy, innate ability and courage to execute dreams.
Your book echoes a lot of thought on Human Resources (HR). Was that deliberate? In your opinion, how much has HR functions changed over the years?
Most of my thoughts penned down by me are influenced by what I observe around me through the day. So I guess the thoughts are certainly a lot on people if not specifically on HR. In terms of HR itself, as the future unfolds, people management will perhaps present itself as one of the greatest business challenges. It will also conceivably throw open multitude of opportunities for the HR function. Undeniably, HR is on the cusp of change. To ride this tide of change, it is probably imperative for the function to more than ever before really own the people management agenda within the organization. It is a significant opportunity ahead of us to truly drive strategy and employ tools and information to become one of the most powerful and influential parts of the operations of the business. However, we need to be proactive and take the lead to be this change.
What next from a first-time author?
Well, this book was a bit of a surprise to me too. Let’s see. Maybe I will write a book which shares what I have been researching and putting to practice on happiness at work.