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PRODUCT.|PHILOSOPHY.|LIFE.

Staying in orbit

We have an estimated 100 billion galaxies in the observable Universe. And each of these galaxies has billions of stars, many of which have a handful of planets with their satellites (moons). Despite this large number and distribution, the most common orbit for a planet or comet around a star or for a satellite around a planet is elliptical in nature.

The most common orbit is elliptical in nature, and the circular orbit is a special case of the elliptical orbit. An ellipse has two foci and one object is located at one of the foci while the other object revolves around it along the circumference of the ellipse. The circle is a special case where the two foci coincide and there is only one centre to the circle.

Workplaces follow a similar distribution. Most of them are elliptical in nature with two foci while there are rare circular ones that have the two foci perfectly overlapping.

The focus (singular of foci) of an organization can be one of two things. One, the kind of actions, the kind of behaviours and the kind of work that gets rewarded in terms of bonuses and promotions. Two, the kind of actions, the kind of behaviours and the kind of work that are needed to ensure that the organization continues to deliver value to its customers and stakeholders.

While it is ideal to have these to foci overlap, that is an uncommon scenario and there are only a handful of organizations (if any) that have this perfect overlap. Most have the two foci spread slightly apart resulting in elliptical orbits for their employees.

Unlike celestial bodies though, the organizations metamorphose the positions of their foci to occasionally overlap or drift even further apart, forcing the employees to change their orbits along the way. During these changes, some employees are thrown off the orbit while others are captured anew.

Staying in orbit, then, needs us to constantly mould ourselves to the new trajectory of the orbit as defined by the changing positions of the foci.

The mistake most people make, which I'm thoroughly guilty of as well, is to assume that we are revolving in a circular orbit and to only look at one of the foci with the incorrect assumption that the other focus is in the same position as well.

So, whether we put our efforts behind understanding the dynamics and politics and playing the game (one focus) or we put our efforts behind doing the right thing and putting the users and the stakeholders first (the other focus), we are bound to be thrown off orbit as we gather more momentum in one direction and not the other.

What is needed is the humility to understand the importance of both the foci and balance them out to stay in orbit.

As I'm reading Ramachandra Guha's biography of Mahatma Gandhi, I can see several instances where the great man understood this when it came to the freedom struggle and pursued both efforts of trying to bring about systemic change through petitioning and trusting the courts as well as spearheading initiatives like the boycott and civil disobedience. 

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