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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Only ‘Three monks’ and yet so many lessons!

As part of a learning activity, I was asked to watch this animation movie, ‘Three monks’ the other day. I was taken aback by how something so simple, could convey so much meaning. A Chinese feature film shot in the aftermath of the fall of the notorious ‘Gang of four’ in 1976, it is a movie which has a subtle and yet strong message. The lack of dialogues makes it an ideal candidate for anyone regardless of their vernacular. It also has animations which children would appreciate making it an ideal lesson for children at a very young age.
To give a brief idea about the plot of the film, it is based on the ancient Chinese proverb "One monk will shoulder two buckets of water, two monks will share the load, but add a third and no one will want to fetch water”. A young monk lives a simple life in a temple on top of a hill. He has one daily task of hauling two buckets of water up the hill. He tries to share the job with another monk, but the carry pole is only long enough for one bucket. The arrival of a third monk prompts everyone to expect that someone else will take on the chore. Consequently, no one fetches water though everybody is thirsty. At night, a rat comes to scrounge and then knocks the candle-holder  leading to a devastating fire in the temple. The three monks finally unite together and make a concerted effort to put out the fire. Since then they understand the old saying "unity is strength" and begin to live a harmonious life. The temple never lacks water again.
Now that I have talked enough about the movie, let me dive right into what I could interpret from it. Each of the point mentioned here would first talk about the implication that I derived and also how I have faced it in my life.

From Craftsman to a team:
It was really refreshing to see the first monk worshiping the deity with so much vigor and zeal. But it is quite obvious that after a couple of days, he finds it monotonous and lacks the motivation to do anything. This is very much the case with a lot of craftsmen who are all alone in their battles against life and regardless of how good they are at their job, their perspective is minimized which results in the lack of a vision in what they’re doing. But it is quite clear that when the team is established, the monks get a common purpose and end up rejoicing what they are doing. While I have not really had any craftsmanship experience, I have often found that forming a team helps in enjoying the little things more and also gives a second perspective to what we do. This can come in handy, while facing any problem or while trying to scale up into a larger magnitude.

The need for a standard:
There is a single incident in the movie where when the first two monks are measuring the stick with their hands, the find differences in the resultant measurement. It was then that the first monk got the idea of using a scale. While the importance of this in the movie was not emphasized much, I’d like to say this: Our lives have become so much simpler because of the existence of standard units of measurement. Imagine weighing vegetables and computers through nothing but our hands!

Every team has a problem, and there is a definite solution.
“People who are winning at working don't ignore the problems they encounter.” 
While this was said by some intelligent gentleman who knew what he was talking about, I think all of us can relate to this. In the movie, even though we see that none of the monks are evil (there are actually instances of each of them showing kindness to a living thing), they end up having problems and misunderstandings when they start working together. And what next? They find the solutions which make their life much easier. Differences in personalities of people always results in the initial friction but this is the place where the manager needs to utilize his expertise in order to make them work together on a problem and give the team a chance to click. In fact, this is a direct application of the Pygmalion effect that we saw in the previous post. I,  personally, have been in a lot of situations where there were initial frictions in the teams that I worked for, but eventually the chemistry kicked in and everything becomes normal and in fact, better.

Three is greater than one.
In fact any positive integer other than one itself, is. We see this depicted in the movie through the final scene where each of the three monks’ life is made easier through the arrangement of the pulley and bucket setup. It is this principle which drives organizations to scale up and it is this very principle which makes companies better than a craftsman.
While there can be many more interpretations of this movie, I would like my readers to throw in their perspectives as comments.
After all what are we, if not a TEAM?

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