Posts tagged ‘proactive’

November 13, 2008

an experiment in simple solutions

Before every exam period since I’ve been a student of the Philological Faculty, I would see the same scene: A very long queue for buying the exam application paper. Here’s what it looks like

queue

From what older students tell me, it’s been like this for years. And what’s causing it? The fact that you can only purchase the application paper at that one spot. It’s relatively cheap (less than half a euro per application), but you still have to pay for it, because the faculty wants as much money as possible. This process of giving money and the clerk printing the fiscal receipt and giving you the application takes some 15-20 seconds or so per person, but because of the number of people who need the application, it means you end up waiting over an hour in order to buy a piece of paper.

The problem doesn’t really affect the professors and the working of the faculty, if we take out the fact that every 3 months people will be frustrated by having to stand in long queues. Oh, it also degrades our image as an institution, but that’s nothing new to us. In any case, none of the professors is interested in solving this situation, since it doesn’t really affect them in any way (apart from having to walk through the crowd when they enter the faculty building, because that’s where the place for buying the applications is).

But, here’s something which makes the whole situation even more bizzare. You can buy that piece of paper all year long! That’s right, during most of the year when there are no queues whatsoever, you can go and buy that very same piece of paper! This means that for every person that buys the application form before the exam period means that there will be one less person in the queue during the exam period; or maybe there won’t be, gasp, any queue at all!

Everyone knows that you can buy these forms throughout the year. So why don’t they?

They forget.

So, let me try to sum up: every 3 months, every year, without fail, you have the same problem. Possibly the simplest solution, excluding trying to fix it through systematic changes (as this would be met by huge resistance of the very numerous and influential change-is-risky crowd), is glaringly obviousget the people to buy the forms before the exam period. As I said, this is at most a 20 second procedure, so in the small every day queue of at most half a dozen people, you’d get the forms in 2-3 minutes.

How can you get the people to buy the forms before the exam period? Well, let’s say you could suggest to them that they buy the forms before the exam period (yes, I’m repeating myself on purpose. I’m still dumbfounded by this whole thing). For instance, with this:

poster-exam-application

This is the English translation of the draft version of a poster which I did in less than 3 minutes in Photoshop. I took the pictures during one of the exam periods, because the idea was in my head for some time now. I’ll do a nicer version of the poster, but honestly, I’m thinking that this is enough.

The management unanimosly approved and praised my idea –  an idea for which all that was needed was 3 minutes of Photoshop, a couple of Euros for printing and a few minutes of putting the posters up at several key places in the faculty.

Why hasn’t anyone thought of such a simple solution? Out of the tens of thousands of students who have over the years sat in the faculty cafes and complained about the queues, out of all the people in the administration whose job it is to make this faculty work, out of the numerous student activists who had set out to improve this faculty and who went through the same problems, why hasn’t there been one other person who thought of something like this? Why is it so difficult to fix a problem even when both the problem and its solution are so obvious?

This is just the tip of the iceberg of problems, but what’s striking here is the combination of factors – the regularity of the problem, the huge number of people affected and, most of all, the simplicity of the solution. This goes to show so many things, worst of which is what Tolstoy’s talking about: If the current situation isn’t completely unbearable, people won’t change it.

One of my projects in the next several months will try to challenge and change the current mentality towards problems, their solutions and being a more (pro)active student in general. This poster is one of those attempts. I’ll write more about this project in the next few days, and I’ll post an update on how effective the poster was. The exam period queues start in a month and the poster’s going up on Monday, so we’ll see how much effect it will have.Even if it doesn’t produce the desired effect, it will have been useful, because it will be another indicator of what the situation on my faculty is really like. It will also plunge me into an even deeper state of zen needed to live with the fact that I’m trying to help people who don’t want to help themselves, but who am I to complain to life’s little lessons?

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August 10, 2008

Beating Tolstoy

Are you consciously and constantly becoming a better person?

And I mean better in every way – smarter, healthier, more skilful, more moral (whatever “more moral” is for you)… Are you on an upward curve towards the goals you’ve set? If not, what’s stopping you?

Although through the things I’ve done I’ve brought myself in a situation significantly better than that of most young people in Serbia, I was still unsatisfied. I simply wasn’t mustering the will to live the way thought I should live. Yesterday I quietly decided to change that.

This blog is a place where I’ll write about my path to becoming a person who not only knows where he’s headed, but is also unfalteringly heading there. I believe that an essential part of that is being proactive.

I like the way Wikipedia sums it up:

The word proactive was originally coined by the psychiatrist Victor Frankl in his 1946 book Man’s Search for Meaning to describe a person who took responsibility for his or her life, rather than looking for causes in outside circumstances or other people. Much of this theory was formed in Nazi concentration camps where Frankl lost his wife, mother, father and family, but decided that even under the worst circumstances, people can make and find meaning.

This is what being proactive truly means: finding meaning and making a decision, no matter the circumstances, and sticking to it; changing when you decide that change should happen; accepting the chaos of everyday life and the myriad random experiences both good and ugly which you can learn from.

It’s amazing to me how little the vast majority of people is proactive in the way I described. I’ve read that the “We only use 1/10 of our brain” claim is not true. I beg to differ; looking at humanity today, it seems to me that most of us are using even less. I am amazed to what levels of lethargy so many have sunk, but are constantly failing to get out of their status quo, even though the solutions are so obvious. But no; it takes effort to change, and we’re afraid of effort. Only when we completely break down and we can’t take it anymore do we decide to change ourselves.

I paraphrased Tolstoy, who observed this perfectly:

It seldom happens that a man changes his life through his habitual reasoning. No matter how fully he may sense the new plans and aims revealed to him by reason, he continues to plod along in old paths until his life becomes frustrating and unbearable – he finally makes the change only when his usual life can no longer be tolerated.

Well, I think that we humans can do better than that. This blog is the place where I’ll try to prove that.