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The Curious Case of ‘wobbly chair’


“Philosophy mat jhad! Kaam pe dhyan de!”

“This is not what I expected. I expect you to do better.”

“This isn’t professional.”

“I understand but it’s not going to work.”

“We don’t have time for this.”

“This is how it has always worked.”

“You are getting emotional about it.”

“I feel you are trying to overpower everyone in the system”

“You won’t understand this now. You will get it later.”

“Either we focus on numbers or our days are numbered.”

Yes, we are back to the same dim lit ‘startup’ café. But this time it’s with a difference. Now we have an entire table to us, courtesy founder and co-founder of a startup who have just raised their first round. We are no longer eavesdropping!

We had been invited to ‘co-sense’ and ‘co-discover’ the problems brewing between them, to put it mildly. Two pugilists rounding each other for that sucker punch would be a more apt witness description.

This show continued for more than four hours and initially, we were sitting bewildered. These guys had a good vision, formed the right partnerships at the top, got good team members together, markets responded to their product and now they are sitting on funding as well. Life should be good, isn’t it? But it certainly wasn’t and was clearly evident.

Yes, it was plainly visible that there were high trust issues and most of it had to do with their VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) ecosystem. Also, the prevailing sentiments were such that the malaise had percolated down the entire organization.

But these guys started out as friends who had known each other for a considerable span of time, then why was this the case? And what was it leading to?

Luckily one of us had a wobbly chair during the meeting and the serendipity happened. The curious case of “wobbly chair” lent us the insight for the squabbling duo. 

Remember when we go for a meeting, almost subconsciously we first find a strong chair to sit down. Even if one leg of the chair seems wobbly, we change the chair because we cannot trust it anymore. But once we are convinced that the chair will support our back and our body during the meeting, we can then move on to the next challenge… the meeting itself.

What does the chair really do? 

The chair helps us find stability within our inner and outer composure.

With this thought, when we looked at these individuals it occurred to us that primarily they are not trusting each other enough to completely lean upon. This trust is now ‘wobbly’. And interestingly it’s shaken because both of them are not listening enough to each other.

What it had led to was the vision getting blurred into the division. In some sense, both of them (and also their organization) were not able to see things clearly and in a unified manner. And the heart of the problem was the lack of “listening to understand”. 

This reminded us of a social experiment we conducted with Police, a few years ago.

We were invited by the department to help them address similar intra personnel trust issues within the ranks.  How do you get these guys to trust each other when their job description makes them hard-wired not to trust anyone. Wow!

We worked on the subject and connected with various Indian and Global thinkers…Goldman School for Public Policy-Berkeley, Harvard Law and Mind Sciences and Department of Psychology-Delhi University.

Our challenge statement emerged: Normal human beings have the leeway to look for the right in their environment, but what about those whose job is to look for the wrong? In what ways does it alter the emotional setup? What damage does it do to their mind-body-social fitness?

Upon speaking with more than 2000 police personnel, we realized that their first aid could be just “to be heard”.

They were willing to do better and more and would understand the systemic issues of change, but they needed some place to speak. This gave birth to a year-long experiment where each day the Commissioner of Police would invite 15+ constables (randomly selected) for a cup of tea and in a civil dress (not police uniform). And would hear them speak about their family and life experiences. This simple act created tiny positive ripples and built a different kind of trust in the leadership by the cadre. 

We all know that different people take different modes to understand the other. In case of lack of trust or negative experiences, the effort to understand decreases. People withdraw into behaviours like…” I will do only as much as said to”, “why should I give my ideas”, “it’s not my vision anymore”.

Understanding is a two-way street

…sorry it’s not so narrow

…Understanding is actually a two way highway.

It’s not that “Vision” statements or related concepts are not shared enough or well communicated. The real challenge is, whether on a day to day basis and in structured periodic internal dialogues, there is enough “listening to understand” in order to ease the other. 

Daily Tiny Act Suggested: Can you invite one person from your organization for a cup of tea and “Be the solid chair”. Listen to understand …not solving…not adding your own story to it…just listen…

A poetic rendition:

We don’t sit nowadays.

If we are on chair,

The mind has worn

Expensive shoes and gone,

For a movie or a marathon.

We don’t sit nowadays.

If we are on chair, 

We want the other one!

We forget how we didn’t

Have this one, one day.

We don’t sit nowadays.

Hey! “Now!”

What are you going to do “now”?

It replied

Ask the “Next”.

Ahh! We know Now.

Next is an Enslaved Now.

Sit! Sit! Sit for Now!

You have a chair.

A day would come

When you realized

You haven’t sat enough.

But sad enough,

You won’t be able to sit then

For you will have to lie down.

*Key Insight: Wobbly Chair – Blurred Vision- Division

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