Thumb Rules – Yay or Nay

Abhinav Srivastava

Last Sunday afternoon, the weather being so nice, I caught up on a quick nap while reading the newspaper editorial. Nice monsoon breeze slowly patted me and I went into the day-dreaming mode. Old college times appeared sub-consciously when I was sitting timidly but confidently in front of the interviewers during the college placement. One of the panellists read my composed and anxious posture and gently threw the question “What is Ohms Law?”. As I was a fresher, I started explaining the theory “If the physical conditions remains unchanged, the current through a conductor is directly proportional…..”. “Or you can say, current is V by R”, interrupted the interviewer. Despite being in dire need to grab the job, I gathered the guts to uphold my conviction and argued on the importance of physical condition, but the interviewer politely told me to follow some shortcuts. He explained me that the understanding and clarity of basics is good, but for better efficiency in the corporate world, it is imperative to use certain pre-defined shortcuts. That was my introduction to the world of “Thumb Rule”.

Coming back to today’s time, over the last two decades of working in the corporate setup, I have come across scores of thumb rules. Employees have been happily applying some thumb rules in the industry for all practical purposes. And in application of these thumb rules, the fundamental concepts behind those have taken a back seat. I, however, had a strong belief that in order to excel in any field, the fundamentals have to be rock solid. This belief of mine grew stronger with time and experience.

In today’s corporate world, ofttimes we see that there is seemingly a high focus on marketing, packaging and communication skills rather than the basic content. This is true for the product as well as people. Since developing the basics tends to be the most tedious, time and effort-consuming, it becomes easier to work on the packaging which yields quicker results. However, in my experience, the results of such endeavours are quite hollow and short-lived. The audience soon realises that the core content is missing. As the case with the product, the people having shallow knowledge of the subject but having great communication and marketing skills, tend to be great influencers in the short run. When the actual test of endurance is taken for the durability and tenacity, I have seen people breaking down.

One important point to understand is that though the application of shortcuts and thumb rules is essential for speedy completion of tasks, these rules have their own life span after which they lose their applicability. With the changing business environment and other technological advancements, the requirements of business as well as the interpretation of the situations have evolved. This might lead to the unsuitability of the age-old thumb-rules which need updation, tweaking, adjustments to suit the newer situations, or their complete abandonment.

I remember as a young engineer, I was asked to estimate the distance between the two spots on road without a measuring tape. I walked between the two spots and using the steps count and approximate step length, I estimated the distance. My senior colleague told me that you can count the street light poles. The distance between two poles is about 30 M. I was pleasantly surprised that the distance estimated using both the methods were almost same. I was excited, I learnt a new thumb rule that day. After several years, now I can corelate that the distance between the street light poles is kept 30 M to meet the requirement of visibility (Technically, the Lux level) in night. With Sodium Vapour Lamps (yellow light) that time it was true. But, now with technology of LED lamps we may not require a distance of 30 Meters. Hence, a 10-15 years old thumb rule does not hold good in today’s time.

For me, the job has been a learning process and I have been improvising on my fundamentals, their application and the skills on continuous basis, affected by the hand-on-experience. As they say, experience is your best teacher.  

Another instance in recent times reaffirmed my belief of not using the thumb-rules blind-folded. They have to be thought through before application. We all know that the market prices of the commodities like steel, clothes, plastics etc. have sky rocketed unexpectedly due to unprecedented times in last couple of years. This has led to a surge in equipment and raw materials cost used in construction activities, thereby increasing the unit prices of the activities and hence the projects. So the budgeting for these projects cannot be done using the thumb-rules that were prevalent till now, instead they have to be corrected on the basis of changes in the external factors.   

The short afternoon nap usually helps me in self-realisation and often provides an assessment of things from bird’s eye. It provides me some clarity of thought and helps me to analyse myself. And, I did realise that though my conviction and belief of clarity of concepts still upholds and like others, I have been using thumb rules rampantly, it’s very essential to cross-check the same at the back of my mind with the theory and basics on each occasion of their practical application.

To summarize- A tree grows high and yields well only if it is connected to its roots.



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