The ServiceSpace Effect

Posted by Shiv Jayaraman on Aug 31, 2016
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[Last weekend at a ServiceSpace gathering, I made some spontaneous comments from the heart.  Here it is below with some mild edits for readability.] 

I came to ServiceSpace without an agenda. A friend asked me to come, I forget how many years back. I didn't have an agenda saying "I'm going to go to learn this or learn that, to get this."  Much to my surprise, I had come to a place where there was no agenda either. That's very confusing. I don't want anything out of this place and this place says "I don't want anything out of you." Where does that leave us? 

What I learned is you don't come into this place saying, "Today I'm going to learn Kindness 101, I'm going to take down notes, and go to work tomorrow, and practice exactly this. Then I would call myself a graduate of Kindness 101." That's not the way it happens. You don't say "I have learned gift economy today, I shall practice. Tomorrow I shall also call myself a teacher and probably call myself a professor." I learned that that's not the way it happens. 

If you watch yourself, what happens are subtle transformations that you cannot claim credit for, that you completely owed to others, but you can watch it happening and it's very funny. 

I have hundreds of stories about what happened in my personal life as well, but today, I want to talk about my work.  Our work life is very important, since we often spend one-third of our life there.

When I left my previous job, 50% of the people that I worked with -- and I was in a very senior position -- felt very bad. They said, "Shiv, I would miss you." The rest of the 50%, though, were very happy that I left. :) They didn't tell me that, but I could feel it. To be very frank, I've never been bad to anyone but I am honest in my interactions and super diligent about being true to my work.  Still, 50% of my colleagues were really happy that I was leaving. :)

Next week is my last week in my current place. I've been there for only 2 years. 100% of the people that I work with have come to me and personally told me "Go have fun, but life's going to be different without you, because the change has already happened and thank you for that."  That shift from 50% to 100% is the ServiceSpace effect.

Let me tell you some stories. There have been people that I have been sitting on one-on-one meetings with, very senior people, and we go into building negative stories about somebody else, about other teams, about how this is not right, about how that  is not right. One day I stopped, and I said, "What is the story you're building?" That's something that I heard in ServiceSpace.  Somebody told me that her spouse once asked, "What is the story that you're building?" To stop spinning these stories very early, before it grows into something very toxic, is very important at the workplace, in our lives, and in every aspect of everybody's life. I learned that in ServiceSpace. Three days back, a senior executive comes to me and says, "Shiv, you are leaving but what you're also taking along with you is all those stories.  Today, there are no more stories -- just reality as it is."  I learned here that there's no need to build those stories.

I also learned here that it's very important to listen. In the workplace, everybody wants to achieve, everybody wants to be the best, be seen as the best. There have been times when I've told people who work for me to just sit back and receive.  It's very counter-intuitive when you tell someone working for you, "Hey, you don't have to be productive today. Why don't you just start receiving and take it easy?"  Yet, people value that. There have been countless moments in my life at work when I've stopped to listen, and then done the counter-intuitive thing.  After the event passes, I would often find myself saying, "How did I think of doing that?" It happens, not because I was practicing something lofty ideal or trying to become famous.  No, it happens because being around ServiceSpace people has that osmosis effect.  The values subconsciously become ingrained in me and it just comes out.  The result is I have hundreds of people who are telling me, "Thank you so much for what you're doing." And it's my duty to tell all of you in ServiceSpace, "Thank you so much for what you've done to me."

It's made me a better person, although it's not very conscious. No one has tried to do any of this to me and say "I'm going to win this brownie point or get a promotion" or any of these things. These are things that you've gifted to me, that I happen to now be my practice. 

Sometimes this practices can also be very hard -- which is my final story.

There's a guy who worked in my organization.  He'd been in the organization so long that he knew all the senior people -- but to be honest, he was probably one of the most ineffective employees in the organization.  Before I was with ServiceSpace, I would spend at least 20 minutes of my day ranting on why this guy should be fired immediately. As luck would have it, he started reporting to me.  Out of the blue, they made him report to me. By this time, though, I was marinated in ServiceSpace values for two and a half years. What I learned here is that it takes courage to be honest. It's not all about mushy-mushy kindness, but rather about having the courage and equanimity to face things head-on. For 20 years, nobody had told this guy that this is not the place that he was supposed to be, that he was not the right person for this job, that he should get out and do something else.

I don't know where it came from, because it's not my nature, but one day, I looked this colleague in the eye and said, "Look, this is not meant to be your job.  It's not your fault that you're here, because the organization made a mistake in recruiting you into this role.  It's not your fault, so we cannot fire you. We're going to give you a job which is much more suitable for you, so that you can still pay your bills.  But please, if you can, explore a career change.  I can see you becoming a gym instructor or a cop. Being a hardware engineer is not what you should be doing."  He ended up hating me, he left my team, he bad-mouthed completely, and I don't think he's ever spoken a word to the day I left. Until 3 months back.  He's now a cop in the San Jose Police Department.

It means a lot, that a place taught me to have the courage to tell somebody what nobody had the courage to tell him for 20 years. This is what ServiceSpace has taught me. Small stories that subconsciously seep into you, that if you have the luck and the mindfulness to practice, you're not sure how it's going to end, but more often than not it's transformational in somebody else's life, even without you realizing it.

One last thought.

Three weeks back, I was at an Awakin circle.  I noticed a person who had come for the first time.  He thought I was some super dude in ServiceSpace and he asked me, "Are you a *core* member of ServiceSpace?" I didn't know what to say, because I don't know what core is.  I answered him in the only way I thought was fair for ServiceSpace. He was totally confused at the end of it, but what I told him was, "I am as core to ServiceSpace as you and Nipun are." I don't even know what that means, :) but I think somewhere in there it made perfect sense.  Every heart is the center.

ServiceSpace values aren't taught -- they are caught.  That's been my experience. Thank you, all. 

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Comments (7)

  • Preeta Bansal wrote ...

    What a perfect summary of the magical (and subversive :)) SSp experience!

  • Meghna Banker wrote ...

    Amazing stories Shiv. I could relate to so much of what you shared. It really speaks volumes of how much growth happens even without noticing that it is happening. It's at those thresholds when you see how much is becoming a part of oneself! I loved "I am as core to ServiceSpace as you and Nipun are." :)))

  • Somik Raha wrote ...

    Shiv, what a gift to read this sharing! Simply beautiful!

  • Khushmita Sanghvi wrote ...

    Beautiful sharing :) As you said it all in one line -
    ServiceSpace values aren't taught -- they are caught.

  • Pavi Mehta wrote ...

    How you managed to pack so much clarity, hilarity and profundity in one short talk about your ServiceSpace experience amazed us all! Thank you Shiv for rising to this occasion and articulating hard-to-put-your-finger-on realities with such twinkle-eyed skill :)

  • Matt Perry wrote ...

    So true and elegantly written so thanks for sharing. I had the same experience in my own work before the osmosis effect drove me to give it all up and do something completely different.

  • Nandini Iyer wrote ...

    Wonderful expressions, Shiv! Really resonated with the values being "caught" not "taught"!