I was recently in Bangalore, the Garden City of India, for our company’s quarterly meeting. I like Bangalore – friendly people, pleasant weather, energetic yet peaceful. I happily enjoy interacting with the interesting people I meet there. There’s a lot of cultural diversity and great food, and if you are in IT then it is probably the best place to build your career. Perhaps that’s why a lot of people now refer to it as “The Silicon Valley of India.”
However, despite Bangalore’s many wonderful qualities and warmth, I found one of its drawbacks to be almost unbearable – its traffic congestion. Indian traffic and Indian drivers have been the punch line of many jokes. The stereotype is that Indian streets are like anarchy and everyone does what they like; vehicle, man and beast battle for dominance and the right to be there. However, along with that is the fatalistic belief that one will get where one has to go, when God wills it.
Just as time and tide wait for no man, the world of Information Technology continues to surge along, adapting its way around traffic snarls and delays. For instance, we at MSys realized long ago that it was futile to fight the system, and instead we decided to work around it by giving employees more flexibility. Since I started MSys, I have always been insistent on creating a culture centered around employee convenience. Adopting this kind of culture includes granting employees more flexibility and setting fewer boundaries. For example, we don’t demand that they get in to work at a specific time, especially with the unusual state of Indian traffic, which is often out of their control. I don’t want a stressed and tired employee arriving at work. I prioritize the quality of the work itself and care less about the logistics.
At the same time, it’s not that we completely reject keeping any boundaries around our employees. Instead, we believe that boundaries and fences are ideal when they have a definite place and purpose; if you were to just keep building fences all over your property, where would you build your house? A well-placed fence protects the property while giving it enough space. Likewise, by providing certain guidelines to employees but giving them the space to be flexible, it is remarkable to see how they grow. At MSys we have been intentional on setting fewer limitations on working for the ease of the employee, and during my visit I was able to observe some team members taking advantage of these policies.
Seeing these policies neglected in action is what sparked a beautiful thought, one that has become the underlying philosophy for my continuous growth: utilize any freedom given with discipline.
It may appear as though freedom and discipline are opposing concepts, and yet, they are also harmonizing. The purpose of a country’s defensive forces is to defend the nation’s freedom, and yet, there is no freedom in defense. Soldiers lead a regimented life, bound by rules and regulations, when told to march, they march in tandem – left, right, left. Even their steps are calculated; their rhythm defined for them. And yet, discipline is what protects the freedom of a nation, of a belief system, of democracy in total.
Freedom without discipline is almost like a country without defense and the core purpose of discipline helps protect freedom. They both have to go hand-in-hand. Discipline is essential for personal success, because I feel that “you will never always be motivated, so you must learn to be disciplined.”
When freedom is uncontrolled, it creates instability, and a person is unable to effectively use their intelligence. It’s just like a sealed can of soda. When its sealed, the liquid is under a lot of pressure and cannot escape. The moment the can is opened, especially if it’s been shaken, the liquid explodes out in an uncontrolled manner. But there can be ways to channel that explosion in a controlled manner.
A toddler has no fear, but as they grow, the knowledge of fear begins to trickle in, and the child becomes more cautious. Parents have to guide the child but let them learn from their mistakes. Too much freedom, and the child could harm themselves, e.g have you ever seen a child playing freely with scissors? and if too little freedom, and the child becomes too fearful to be creative and independent.
Similarly, if personal freedom has to provide meaningful results, there needs to be a controlled environment or regulated channels for output, and this phenomenon is nothing but following a discipline. You may realize that absolute freedom serves no purpose, when it is let out, just like the soda that erupts out of a can and becomes un-drinkable. In an organizational context, it doesn’t mean having a strict and technical observance of rules and regulations, it can simply mean working and behaving responsibly as any reasonable organization expects an employee to do. This is as much a basic necessity for the people working in a company as in other segments of society.
Let me share another life altering example. Everyone wants to be able to act and live with freedom. But the only way to get to a place of freedom is through discipline. If you want financial freedom, you have to have financial discipline. If you want more free time, you have to follow a more disciplined time management system. My dream of building companies and a huge team did not manifest based on some intrinsic gift, but rather on the willingness to do what needed to be done, and to do that day after day. I believe that being disciplined has truly helped me to get through the some of the hardest times in my life and it still enriches my life every day. It has freed me from the usual fear that sometimes threatened to overwhelm me and held me hostage to a life I wouldn’t want or believe in.
The real message here is: if you want to transform your life in a positive way, that transformation will not happen by itself. You need to make it happen. You need to do the work. You need to put in the hours, the days, the weeks, the months, and the years. You need to get on the path and stay on the path—the path that leads to the positive transformations, the path that leads to a better you, the path that leads to freedom and that path is the hard path. The tough path, the relentless path, it is the path of discipline and the path of discipline is the only way.
Discipline complements freedom. Freedom can only be reached by walking the path of discipline.