Musings of a Pioneer: Create Systems, not Indispensable Team Members

“You are remembered for the rules you break” – Douglas MacArthur

The year was probably 1987. I was a young railway officer, posted on the prestigious project for computerization of railway reservation system as the electrical project manager. We were working to rigid deadlines.

During this period, I approached my project head for my annual leave of about a week to visit our parents. He did not refuse my leave, but forwarded it to my Chief Electrical Engineer (CEE), asking for a replacement for those 6 days. I was surprised, since I had timed my leave when no critical decisions were required from me, and my supervisors were fully competent to handle all the construction activities in progress.

I was called by my CEE. He could not spare another officer. I objected that absolutely nothing could go wrong in my absence. He made a statement, which has remained with me even almost 45 years later, “Sanjay, you may do nine good things for the system, but people will always remember one mistake. I cannot take a chance on this project for that one mistake on this project in your absence,” (even if the probability of that mistake is practically non-existent).

Needless to mention that I was refused my leave. I was disappointed, and felt listless at work. The family was also dejected. I, probably, worked at less than my usual efficiency for a few days

That is how the government worked, and probably still does, considering people as indispensable, instead of relying on the systems.

I was born in 1959, only 10 years after India gained independence. An independent India was taking baby steps; I was also learning to walk in this environment. Read about many sweet and sour experiences in my book The Life And Times of a Common Man.


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