Sometime during the school days, I read about uncertainty principle. In simple terms it says if you need to know what a particle’s velocity or position is, then you need to shoot another particle at it and deduce the information from the reflected particle. When you do this, you are transferring some energy to the other particle and it uses that to change its velocity or position.

It was tempting for me to draw an interesting analogy to evaluation of people. Will it be the same way that once you evaluate, the data is invalid because the person would have learned what needs to be improved and that person is already improving on it. In my experience it is true for me. If I take part in a contest or attend an interview, irrespective of the outcome I have always learnt about where I stand and what I need to do next.

The critics play well in someone’s performance indirectly. First they will say that the task is impossible. Then they will say it is possible, but not within the time frame. Then they will say it is possible to complete within the time frame, but will be with lots of problems. Then they will say there wont be any problems, but may not be able to integrate with the bigger solution. Then they will be a mute spectator after the successful completion of the task. What the critics do here is they communicate the problems and short comings to the individual who would not have a holistic view of the problem in hand. Thus critics are evaluating and providing immediate feedback but in a harsh manner, which can swing the outcome to either side (The receiver can be demoralized and not finish it or s/he can get excited to prove someone wrong and finish it). Whatever the outcome there will be a learning and the same person approaching a similar task next time will do it better.

This observation leads me to ask the question, is evaluation is very much necessary in any kind of work place? My answer from the experience would be that at least an environment is necessary in which the individual can observe oneself and identify the weak links. This environment could be in any form like mentorships, contests, debates. Sadly most of the workplaces stick to the traditional evaluation through perceptions from the people around which can proceed to outcomes like the critic example stated above. The data collected becomes obsolete as the individual would have changed by that point.

The moment you observe who you are, you are never going to be the same person from then on. We need to make sure we have enough of those moments to keep us improving ourselves instead of sticking to traditional evaluation practices.

While watching the world cup cricket match between South Africa and West Indies, I checked the history of cricket in West Indies. I was impressed with the side’s virtual invincibility in the 70’s and 80’s. There were so many greats and top achievers and at a point of time many records were being held by their team. Even more impressive was the fact that it was not a single nation’s team but a federation of cricket clubs spread across 12 different countries. Going by the performance in the last decade or so I could hardly believe that they fielded the greatest cricket team.

I inferred that the team suffered a learning disability when they were at the height of their power. Peter M Senge in his book “The Fifth Discipline” lists out the learning disabilities a person or organization can go through. The one example that comes very closely  to explain the case of West Indies’ decline is “The Parable of the boiling frog”. A frog will jump out of kettle if you try to drop it inside boiling water, but if the frog was already there inside the kettle and slowly the temperature is raised; chances are very high that the frog doesn’t realize until it is too hot and dies in the boiling water.

Humans evolved to react to sudden threats (fight or flight) and not to slow changing events, the West Indies team members would have thought that they are being too successful in cricket that they will be able to face any team any day and win. What they did not look forward was to groom the next generation of greats and ignored the responsibility to promote new members.Combine this disability with the economic issues and weird logistics issue in the federation of clubs across 12 countries, the cricket team board never got up from deep trenches.

Organizations and individuals can also get stuck in a similar situation where they are on a performance plateau but don’t really see up what is in store for them. One of the factors which holds back anyone from learning or moving on, is to leave the comfort zone and venture into cold waters. The other significant factor is the learning horizon, if we don’t get an immediate feedback on what we do; we generally tend not to pursue that activity. Constant learning is a continuous and long term investment which can’t be very easily observed or quantified. Great flourishing civilizations have disappeared due to outdated weaponry and fight methods. Companies and individuals will have no other way to stay up than to keep on learning.