Of tying shoe laces and life’s lessons…
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Of tying shoe laces and life’s lessons…

By N.K.A. Ballal, Retd. Sr. Vice-President, ITDC

I  always had a problem with my shoe laces. Such an embarrassment. I have tripped several times too. But when I read this delightful article, penned by  Prakash Iyer, I could not but put it across to SOM readers  to read and enjoy:

The morning walk with the wife is a ritual I enjoy and quite look forward to. I recently bought myself an expensive new pair of sports shoes to fuel our endeavour. So, you can imagine my excitement as I set off for the walk in my newly-acquired footwear the next day.

About 20 minutes into the walk though, one of my shoe laces came undone. And as I stopped to tie the laces, I didn’t think too much about it, but when it happened a second time, I sensed that there might be a problem with those rounded, smooth nylon laces in my new shoes. Have you faced a similar problem too at some time? Sounds familiar?

The shoe laces coming off soon became regular, recurring phenomenon. The wife and I would be walking along talking about the day gone by, and the day ahead, when I would discover that my laces have magically slipped and come undone. And I would find myself interrupting the flow of the conversation — and the walk — to tie my shoe laces.

I began to wonder why the shoe company folks couldn’t provide better laces, given the high price they were charging. I even thought of writing to the CEO to share my predicament. Meanwhile, I could sense my wife’s irritation mounting too. As I sat there on the pavement, tying my laces yet again, I could bet she was thinking, “why couldn’t his parents teach him to tie his shoe laces right?”

Determined to set it right, and yet unsure of what I should do, I decided to do what all intellectually curious thinkers do when they aren’t sure. I googled it. “How to tie shoe laces?” Bingo! Google quickly enlightened me that there are in fact two ways of tying a shoe lace. Very similar in technique, but very different in outcome. As you make a loop out of one lace and hold it, and get the other lace from above the first loop or from below it. Bring in from above and you have a weak knot. But take it from below  and you will have a knot that’s strong.

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There is a weak knot and a strong knot. And as it turned out, I had all along been tying the weak knot. Armed with this new-found knowledge and the secretly acquired new technique, I began to tie my shoe laces the new way. And it worked.

No more interruption in the walk. The laces stayed in place. And as a bonus I now had a delighted wife too, smiling with pride in the knowledge that at this ripe old age her husband had finally mastered an essential life skill. The shoe lace problem is thankfully out of the way now. But the lessons have remained. And maybe they are relevant for us all.

First, just because you have been doing something for years it does not mean you have been doing it right. Maybe there is a better way. You just need to be willing to learn.

Second, when things go wrong the temptation to blame others can be strong. Laces coming off? It must be the company’s fault! It takes courage to introspect and say maybe, just maybe, the fault lies within. Own the problem, and you’ll empower yourself to find a solution.

Third, change is hard. Doing things differently is harder than it seems. In business and in life, we all get used to a process, a pattern of work, habits get formed and that’s hard to change. Acknowledge that. Change takes effort. And time and commitment too.

And finally, it is useful to remember that small changes can make a big impact. A simple thing like getting the lace from above the loop or below it  can make a huge difference. It can keep your shoes on your feet. It can even bring a smile on your wife’s face!

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Next time you are looking to drive a change initiative in your organisation, think of the shoe lace. Skip the blame game. Take ownership. Start small. See if there is a better way. Recognise that change is hard. And then, as the change kicks in, get ready for the appreciation.

Is it not a fact that we tend to blame everything else for so many of our failures? Today it is a shoe lace and tomorrow it can be a tie. Frankly, it took me several years to get the perfect tie knot. By the time I had mastered the double knot, single knots had become fashionable. Thankfully, in case of a tie knot, one cannot blame the manufacturer for our incompetence. So many times we tend to                                                             take things for granted and not accept a basic fact that there can be better way of doing anything. Why? Simple. Ego. Those days we did not have the privilege of the google mata but I could have definitely asked help from some one who could do this job better.

Since I used to work for a psu, I had to face this problem of ego more or less everyday. Most of the times the Chairman’s post used to be filled up by ias Officers. Hotel operations is basically technical in nature and we had such a tough time convincing the bosses to understand the nitty gritty of the operation. So we worked out a game plan. Every note sheet I used to start as “as suggested by you” as the first sentence. When the Chairman saw that, their egos got satisfied and they used to approve all the notings and papers.

Even now after working for nearly 4 decades, I am learning everyday. The day one stops learning, the brain will stop functioning. In the hospitality business the customer expectation is expanding everyday and the industry is changing very fast. Check-in by mobiles has become the latest norm !

As suggested by the author, let us make a beginning, tie the shoe lace properly and walk, but remember there is always a better way. Start small.

[email protected]

January 10, 2019

2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Of tying shoe laces and life’s lessons…”

  1. ramprasad says:

    Dear Mr. Ballal

    Thank you for a such a nicely written article. I have faced the same shoe lace problem for years. I would walk through offices with my team telling me … sir your shoe lace. Over a period of time shoe laces were the dirtiest due to not being tied up. I even ended up buying shoes without laces . In addition to no lace it would be easier to walk through airport security checks.

    This article about using the lace example to drive a change is beautifully written.

    Thanks much

    rampi

  2. Manava says:

    No need tosuffer with shoes where you need to tie shoe laces, unless you are a runner or play soccer ( football)or other sports where shoes with laces are an integral part of those sports. For others these days there are good slip on shoes or shoes with vulcro facility , and I have used them for years with no problems even on formal occasions. There is no messing up with laces which unwind and drag along the street, needing re-tying. This is ahealth problem too as often those who re-tie simply use those hands later for all kinds of work without washing.

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