Talented Acrophobe and Lack of Self confidence

Acrophobia is a fear of falling from heights. Psychologist Timothy Butler has applied this concept to employee’s career progression.


Career acrophobia is a belief that you are incapable of surviving at the level you have reached. Just like imposter syndrome you feel that you are a fake and have reached this level by mistake.You are much less talented that what other people believe. You feel that your peers are more talented than you.

From Clipboard[1]

The acrophobic personality fears ascending to a high level of success. You feel a sense of inferiority and avoid situations in which you feel you don’t belong. Your basic sense of yourself is of not being good enough, of not deserving your level of success ex. do you feel uncomfortable when you have to meet someone who is from IIT/IM and works for MNC? Does idea of meeting someone with superior educational/work experience/social /economic status result in feeling of inferiority complex in you? Do you unconsciously limit, or sabotage, your own career progress so as never to rise out of your own comfort level?

Success skills[1]

All these are signs of acrophobic personality. This happens when there is mismatch between your talent and your self-confidence. Low self-confidence makes you doubt your talent.


Remedy for this is to improve your self-confidence, once your talent and self-confidence match you will enjoy your journey to top position.



Weber-Fechner Law, career plateau and salary hike

Ernest Weber was a physician who did lot of research in experimental psychology. He came with concept of “Just Noticeable Difference”. He first started his experiments with weights ex. if you ask a person ( blindfolded) to hold 100 grams weight, and then start adding 1 gram weight at a time, he will not notice change till weight goes up by 3 grams i.e. just noticeable difference is 3 grams, below 3 grams he will not notice any change.

This is applicable to other things like intensity of light, volume pitch, price hike, salary hike, volume of goods etc. Small increases go unnoticed; it has to cross certain threshold to get noticed.

Gustav Fechner later converted this relationship between stimulus (ex. increase in weight) and perception (notice increase in weight) into mathematical formula, also called Weber- Fechner Law. I am not going into details of formula; those interested can get lot of material on web.

Bob Sullivan has written book called “Plateau Effect” where he has used this concept to explain career plateau. Our job/career decays slowly and we do not notice this decay till some event like layoff, your peer getting promotion which you should have got etc. makes us aware of it. Bob Sullivan feels that we should keep markers that tell us about plateauing of our career before it is too late. This is similar to boiling frog syndrome, were frog’s body keeps adjusting to small increase in temperature, this works upto a certain point, once water starts boiling, the adjustment mechanism fails and frog gets killed.


Weber- Fechner Law is also applicable to salary hike. How much should be the magnitude of hike for a person to make it just noticeable? Based on research it is found to be around 8%, so if you give a hike for say 5% he will not feel that he has got hike.

As per Weber- Fechner relationship between stimulus (i.e. % of hike) and satisfaction due to hike (perception) is logarithmic. While stimulus varies in geometric proportion, corresponding satisfaction changes in arithmetic proportion.


So in above example if 8% of hike gives 1X satisfaction, for 2X satisfaction he should get 64% hike, for 3X satisfaction he should get 512% hike! No wonder you have to give astronomical hike to CEO’s to satisfy their egos.


Greedy Algorithm and Bad Management Decisions

Bob Sullivan did research on why career of some people get plateaued. One of the reasons was “Greedy Algorithm”- concept borrowed from field of mathematics. In case of greedy algorithm all decisions are made based on local information (and not global information) and once you take a decision you stick to it and do not reconsider it. Though it is a short-cut method for reaching solution, it can give wrong solutions.

Let us take example. If you decide to take path that gives maximum benefit. You will follow the path 7-12-6-9, since you take decision based on local information; you opt for 12 instead of 3. While path 7-3-1-99 gives maximum benefit in the end.In your quest for short terms gains you miss path which gives 99 points in end.


Short term gains may not give benefits in long term. Let us take another example. There are 3 employees who want to reach office in morning (assume distance is walkable). One waits for taxi ( it takes some time to get taxi) and takes taxi to reach office, second one decides to go in opposite direction for local train, wait for local train and catchs local. Third one starts walking towards office (practical and short term solution). Result is guy who catches local reaches first, due to speed of train and no traffic signals.


We use greedy algorithms in our life ex. hiring candidate just because he is readily available or demands low CTC, in short term we may meet our recruitment target, but in long term he may prove to be a liability.

Coming back to Bob Sullivan, many get struck in their career because they take short term decisions – follow greedy algorithms-ex. reluctance to relocate, short term gains etc. He suggests two ways to get out of it

  1. Always for to global optimum, instead of local optimum.
  2. Learn how to make retrograde progress ex. person in above example, went in opposite direction, waited for local train (retrograde step), instead of just walking in direction of office.

Digital natives, Narcissism and HR Managers

I am good enough, I am smart enough, and damn it, people like me.
-Narcissism at workplace ( Hogan)

Psychologists have done lot of research on various generations of employees- Veterans, Baby boomers, Gen X, Gen Y & Gen Z.

Gen Y ( Millennials) and Gen Z ( Digital Natives) significantly differed from earlier generations in terms of knowledge of IT. Connectivity devices, Facebook, writing blog,online transactions etc. are part of their daily life. With it also comes self-promotion. Every activity of theirs is admired by peers on Facebook- measurement unit being number of likes.


HR manager’s esp. if they belong to baby boomers (digital retards)/Gen X (digital immigrants) will find it difficult to manage narcissistic personality of these employees.


But Narcissistic personality is what these generations need. Self-promoting members, if they advance their agenda well, will be seen more knowledgeable and better than others in managing performance and achieving results, hence ideal candidates for promotion.


On the other hand individuals lacking self-promoting skills will be seen more as team players, while team players are liked by managers, they are not considered for promotion.

Middlesence, Generativity vs. Stagnation

Erik Erickson made significant contribution to developmental psychology esp. his theory of stages of psychosocial development.

As per the theory when a person reaches middle age ( 39 yrs to 60 yrs) , question he asks himself is “ Can I make my life count?”.

He faces dilemma of Generativity Vs. Stagnation. He is satisfied with his life if he feels that he has made significant contribution to next generation ex. his children, subordinates etc. He may feel disappointed if he feels that he has not made much progress in his life or if he is stagnating in his career.


Stagnation leads to what is called as “middlesence”-term coined by Harvard Psychologist Tamara Erikson. It is combination of two terms – Middle and Obsolescence. Typical reaction of middlesence manager is “This is not how my life and career were supposed to play out”. At this stage manager is sandwiched between increasing work pressure and responsibility of old parents and growing children.Stress can lead to many health related problems. Three words can describe his condition- Burnout, Bottlenecked & Bored.


A person suffering from middlesence may indulge in destructive habits to get out of it ex. buying expensive gadgets or even cars, having affair with younger women, lose interest in work and indulge in fantasy etc.


But middlesence is also a good opportunity to make a new beginning in life. Tamara Erikson suggests few strategies ex. taking fresh assignments in different geographies, make career changes, make use of your knowledge and experience to mentor younger colleagues, train yourself in new skills and undergo leadership development course etc.

“Like adolescence, middlesence can be a time of frustration, confusion and alienation, but also time for self-discovery, new directions and fresh beginnings”
– Tamara Erikson

Superannuation scheme and Curate’s egg

A decade ago, my salary consisted of three retirement benefits- PF, Gratuity and Superannuation. The company had tied up with LIC for administration of superannuation scheme. Scheme worked like this- amount equal to 15% of base salary was deducted every month and send to LIC Superannuation fund. This was to on till the day I retire or I leave organisation. If I left organisation before age of retirement, then entire amount was transferred to LIC fund and I was eligible for “lifelong” pension.

In my 4 years tenure, I had accumulated some Rs. 1, 50,000. I was not interested in pension scheme as I was decades away from retirement. But LIC refused to return amount, so now they pay me pension @ 7% i.e Rs. 10500 per annum, it will take me roughly 14 years to recover the principal!

Scheme may be good for those who wish to stay in single organisation for lifetime, but most of the employees have average tenure of 3 years in telecom companies. For young employees this scheme makes no sense ex. someone joins at age of 21 and leaves at age of 24, he will not get his hard earned money, instead LIC will keep paying him interest at low rate of 7% till his death, while he could have easily used that money for some other purpose ex. medical expenses of his family.

HR department told me scheme had some good features like lifelong pension and on my death entire amount of 1, 50,000 will be transferred to my dependent.

This reminds me of curate’s egg- a curate who served bishop a stale egg, but argued that though egg is stale, parts of it are good!


Buggins’ turn and succession planning at Infosys

In my last blog on Ashok Vemuri, I had talked about probability of becoming next CEO going up for remaining two contenders- BG Srinivas and V. Balakrishanan. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then.

V.Balakrishana left Infosys to fight 2014 general elections (he lost, so did his ex-boss Nandan Nilekani). After V. Balakrishnan quit BG Srinivas and U.B. Pravin Rao were made joint presidents, with one of them tipped as likely successor to CEO Shibulal.


So far so good, but then Executive Chairman Narayana Murthy took some strange decisions.
He hired Development Dimensions International (DDI) to map competence of internal candidates for the post of CEO, at the same time hired Egon Zehnder to look for external candidates. DDI has profiled some 8-10 internal candidates while Egon Zehnder has shortlisted some 3-4 candidates.

When almost 12-15 candidates in fray it made no sense for BG Srinivas to stay in Infosys esp. when his subordinates were also getting considered for the post. He has decided to quit and will be joining Hong Kong based PCCW.



With top 3 contenders gone, it is likely that Infosys will look for external candidate.

Infosys’s failure to identify internal candidate has lot to do with policy of reserving the CEO’s post for founders for almost 30 years. Narayana Murthy, Nandan Nilekani, Gopalakrishanan and Shibulal have all been founder members. Whenever the position of CEO was vacant, it was filled by Buggins’ turn– seniority was given importance over merit.

Then HR Head of Infosys Mohandas Pai was critical of Buggins’ turn when he lost race for CEO’s position to Shibulal. Narayana Murthy defended selection by saying that it was as per HR policy.




“If there are two people who are as capable as each other, how will you choose one of them? Both are equal in all respects. So, you have to choose the experienced one, and that’s what we have done. … we have clearly said that with other things remaining equal, the person who has had a longer tenure will be promoted ”.
– Narayana Murthy on selecting Shibulal over Mohandas Pai.

All we can say is had evaluation system been stringent like those in GE or Hindustan Unilever, they would have never reached conclusion that both were equally capable.