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Nitish Mukherjee

The author is a Board Member, Advisor, Coach & Mentor. The content of this article is his personal opinion

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Dark Roast Double Shot: The Alchemy Of Critical Thinking

Awakening, Reflection and Action are encouraged by critical thinking. Agitation is often a part of the process. But salvation lies beyond.

Photo Credit : Shutterstock


4 AM in the dead of Delhi’s winter. Even with the most soothing melody, the bedside iPhone rudely crashes through layers of consciousness with ruthless persistence. It triggers off a set of pre-programmed robotic movements that ends up with me in the back seat of a waiting Innova wending its way, through the fog, to Terminal 3. The fog outside competes ceaselessly with the dense fog in my mind that a hot shower and splashes of stinging aftershave couldn’t penetrate.

As the ride progresses so do the vexations of my mind. What lies ahead in the week seems ominous. I berate myself for not having spent more time over the weekend to unravel some of the knots. A sense of unpreparedness prevails. The fear of consequences constantly pushes aside the tides of reason. The chilling blast hits my face. The car door opens and the spectacle lenses attract the clinging fog, sending me careening to the airport entrance and beyond. The warmth within is physically comforting. Yet the sleep deprived mind tenaciously holds on to its fog.

I impatiently wait for the person in front to stir his brew before I can pour out the double shot of dark roast. The froth on top brings a smile to my face as I walk-up to a chair. The tentacles of aroma start gripping the fog in my mind. I tilt the cup back and lick the froth off my lips. The now familiar bitterness jostles the taste buds to arousal. A few sips later the promising bitterness lights up the senses. The blocking of the inhibitory neurotransmitter adenosine, starts to clear the way. The potent psychostimulant caffeine cheers the brain networks to connect with more speed and efficiency. I click away on my iPhone as the week ahead dances into place with the beauty of benzene rings.

Over the years, as also with my Dark Roast Double Shot, bitterness has signaled awakening and action on dreary mornings and late nights. Over issues of importance or the unimportant yet tedious. And so, has it been in life!

It was late afternoon. 6 pensive people were closeted in a room of a resort. One, more tense than the others. At one end of the room was a flip board with fresh sheets of paper and a clutch of marker pens. The person was standing next to it. It was the 4th day of a leadership workshop. The group had been through many sessions and exercises together. Four long and intense days of working and sharing had given them some sense of each other. Now each person would stand for two hours while the other five discussed and finalized what was good and bad about the person and agree on definitive statements. The person being reviewed had to then write it on the sheets as it was being dictated. She/he was not allowed to speak a word for these two hours. Only hear, observe and write. No defense, no rebuttal. It was the ultimate test of endurance and self-reflection.

It took 12 long hours to finish the process. It was difficult to be candid. Often to state the truth as one saw it. But as time went by, perceived truth and candour triumphed over hesitation and expediency. For the person at the receiving end it was often punishing and even brutal. There were moments of gratification but many bitter pills to swallow.

In the hours to follow and the long night ahead, for some the bitterness led to cogitation and subsequent reflection and even enlightenment to new possibilities. A lingering respect for that dose of bitterness. A deep gratitude for the knowledge shared that had been missing. Others sought motives for their bitterness. Went hunting in the recesses of their mind to isolate the source of that bitterness and seek their reparation. Leaving behind an unchanged self.

In the more creative led professions, in order to create a safe space for ideas to birth one of the tenets in practice has been to defer judgement. And rightly so. Lest it kill the ideas in infancy without the liberty to come to fruition and hold its own. Over a period of time this leads to intolerance of criticism. And we put to rest one of the strongest albeit difficult stimuli for change and innovation - the art of innovating through judgement and not by deferring judgement.

The ability to question existing assumptions and practices in a constantly changing world, at a pace that consistently keeps you relevant, is incumbent on leadership. Fostering a culture of questioning, reflecting and acting to innovate is an essential ingredient for sustainable growth. And it all begins with acknowledging the truth of what you do.

Very often leadership is very uncomfortable with criticism. Because often it coerces them to change at a pace that is uncomfortable. Inherent in change is personal adaptability; and that is not easy. Contradiction therefore, is often personal though it shouldn’t be. Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it beautifully when he says “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”

Awakening, Reflection and Action are encouraged by critical thinking. Agitation is often a part of the process. But salvation lies beyond.

Dark Roast Double Shot will over time put up thoughts that matter. Without fear or favour.

Thoughts that the reader can reflect and act on rather than flick the page. Thoughts that will nudge you to wake up, and enjoy the rush of adrenaline, when you move as I do when I sip my Dark Roast Double Shot.

While the opinion in this column will be my own I would be happy to learn from you issues that bother you or you are concerned about or believe are impediments to growth. While I may not respond to all individually I assure you that it shall find its way in to my reflections and find expression in this column.

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