Life at NTPC project sites had some unique flavors. Failing to achieve something was not the talking point. Efforts put in the day was gossiped more about. Expert advice from people who "have gone there and done that" was available for the next day. Learning was natural, effortless, but always with fun - and never without a story to remember and share with others. These interesting and often hilarious stories - using the most appropriate real life examples - could always explain complex problems of engineering, project planning, human relations in the simplest language. This tradition was so popular and effective that often times, one key word of a story was good enough to summarize a complex problem or an extended routine quite clearly, quickly and effectively.
Let me give an example.
One October morning, the power plant had tripped on some problem and we were investigating the cause of the failure. We were struggling late into the afternoon, when our boss came down to the location and asked - "Have you asked Khan if he saw anything?" Anyone who has not heard an insightful incidence involving a laborer named Khan cannot make head or tail of this question. But to our group it was an instruction with a gospel truth.
The story runs like this. Some years back there was a similar problem involving an underground cable that developed a fault bringing down the plant for some time. For such a problem, the "exact" location of the fault has to be found using sophisticated fault locating instruments, and then using a group of laborer the underground cable has be excavated and if the fault is visible, it can be repaired. The locating process was difficult, complex and also inaccurate and it still is. On the first day the fault locator indicated the location as 109 meters from one end and a group of laborer was instructed to excavate at that location. At the end of the day, we went in to inspect the cable but could not see any fault. Over the next two days two more locations further down were identified and excavated but no sign of the fault could be located. The group of laborer was ready to dig at a fourth location the next day when one laborer whose name was Khan had the courage to come to us ask - "Sir why are you digging one place after another and what are you looking for?" We could have told him this was none of his business and sent him back. But instead someone explained him a little about how a power plant operates, and how we are trying to locate a cable fault that developed four days back bringing down the transformer that was used for running a pump that brought water to the plant from the nearby reservoir. His face lit up and he said there was a place on the route they saw a small fire in the afternoon which could be due to a cable fault. Then he took us to the exact location of the fault. The moral of the story is - in a team, involve every one, explain every one, and respect every one or always keep the "Khans" with the team.
The technical world is a complex maze of difficult concepts. Books and manuals do give you some idea of how things work, but without these kind of stories that people tell you, it is almost impossible to develop a touch and feel of a problem, or a situation. Let us call it - an emotional connect.
To develop an emotional connect with a problem or a task, you need to close your eyes, imagine the problem situation like a graphic image in your mind and then (to the best of your understanding) visualize an animation of how different elements of the process are working. The stories that you have heard and the stories that you have learnt will come back to you and will help you in doing this. Standing there in the middle of a group, trying to solve the problem, when you do that, you will see the root cause of the problem and the simple solution that may work. And then when you explain that to others, it will almost sound like a story and work like a magic.
This will not only enlighten and educate but also develop story tellers for the next problem, next project, or the next generation. You see, leadership in the technical world - and no less in other realms of life - is all about how well you have understood, how well you visualize, and how well you tell - the story - your story.