Pi of Life : The Value of Doing Things with Your Own Hands

It helps explore real world parallels to the theory one reads about, gets you face to face with real life situations and problems to which practical, workable solutions must be found from what one learns, and the value of such learning is immediately apparent.

I’ve been harbouring a dream of starting a micro-entrepreneurship based farming outfit for a while now. Putting it into action seems daunting, and I know that it’ll happen when I put in some serious effort, take out some time on a sustained basis, and start growing something on my owneven if it’s just in our balcony.

This is something one sees very often in life – in our jobs, or businesses, even in our interactions with people. The value of doing things with one’s own hands is just undeniable.

This is why many a great business leader rose from the hard training of the lowest echelons. This is why the best generals are those that have been in the thick of the battle themselves.Gardening

It starts early in life – as we start learning. It is now acknowledged how much more impactful experiential learning is than plain classroom or textbook education. In fact, there is a developing school of thought around education being reformed primarily around action led understanding and exploration. It helps explore real world parallels to the theory one reads about, gets you face to face with real life situations and problems to which practical, workable solutions must be found from what one learns, and the value of such learning is immediately apparent. It also helps explore deeper questions that arise from such situations – and learning best happens when it pursues curiosity that arises from the world around us.

Engaging with the real world at the most fundamental level of the doer is also key to understanding things better – different business food chains, cycles, human motivations – all of that. It’s truly interdisciplinary and the foundation of an agile, lean approach to problem solving. I remember having a couple of days at a mofussil bus stand when a couple of us were researching an idea around advertising on buses. We posed as representatives of a large consumer goods brand looking to advertise to rural folks on “route buses” and tried “buying inventory” from operators of these buses. Many an assumption – including those about money as a prime motivator – was demolished in those two days. We did not go ahead with that idea, but those lessons have stayed with me.

Doing things with our own hands is also a huge leg up for gaining confidence about one’s ability to get things done! Last year at the school that our kids go to, the senior classes designed, sourced material for and made from a scratch a biomass gasifier. It does not look very polished, and the design is not the best. But it is what they thought through every aspect of, and it now powers a few hours of cooking every day at the school’s cafeteria. The belief in oneself those kids would have derived out of this will stand them in good stead throughout their lives, surely.

It’s the same in professional life. You might not be a techie, but trying your hand at coding in a real life situation – even a simple little bit somewhere – or trying to analyze a bug, and getting involved in design will be invaluable when your team is executing on an idea, or you have outsourced it to someone and need to keep track of whether things are on track. An architect who has tried their hand at masonry, bar bending, or working with different kinds of soil is already a much better architect. Many a camera-person has gone on to become a good director, the best coaches have been good players and shop floors are replete with stories of innovation completely thought up by the practitioners there.

“I can”, “I should”, in the context of the fact  that someone actually depends on the outcome of what you’re doing, is a huge step forward in life. The fact that you also solve problems with limited resources, and without always having access to complete data and surely not the comfort of  theoretical assumptions, reassures you as you take on more fuzzy challenges and step into the unknown.

You also more easily slip into the role of a leader, coach and guide if you’re ready to step in to get your hands dirty and deep dive into problems as and when the need arises. It helps that you cannot be taken for a ride and stonewalled by hand waving 🙂


Old school businesses in India understood this well, and there were established channels of apprenticeship where one learned the nuts and bolts of any profession – trade or craft – before one struck out on one’s own or managed an existing large business. Top FMCGs have always exposed the cream of their B-School talent to ‘tough postings’ where they have needed to understand the distribution chain down to the last kiosk in the smallest of towns – and that’s probably what produced seasoned pros who thought way beyond accepted theories and norms.

Of course, there’s the risk of micromanagement, and losing patience with others when one has the ability and confidence of doing stuff themselves. But this again is best learned early as one works in teams and has to play the role of an influencer and enabler more than a decision maker. Volunteering time for causes where the team you are part of has a very real impact on something or someone and you have to go along with multiple opinions and styles is a great way to experience this.

Self-help books are no match for having it done yourself and discovered what works best for you. Seriously!

I do see a lot more of this in the younger lot these days. I’m not yet sure if it’s bluster or a genuine confidence, but some of them end up doing a lot more with their own hands that folks in my generation ever had the guts or the enthusiasm to.

I sure hope our kids grow up like that.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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