Archive for June, 2010

Cyclone Eats Rice & Tigers for Breakfast

June 25, 2010

Two of the best quality saline tolerant rice varieties (Hamilton and Malta) of the Sunderbans (literal translation: beautiful forest — the largest single block of tidal mangrove forest in the world: ) is now lost forever. Sunderbans is also the home of the Royal Bengal Tiger.

Introduction of high yield paddy (non-local varieties) gradually pushed a number of traditional saline tolerant varieties to extinction as delta dwellers preferred cultivating the big produce variety rather than the types that had endured ages of evolution and adapted to the local conditions.

However, when salinity rose alarmingly with the ingress of saline water after the cyclone Aila, the high yielding varieties just did not stand a chance. They failed to adapt to the changed conditions of the soil. As a result, the Sunderbans is now going through serious food scarcity and things will get much worse in the days to come.

As the population rose and the number of mouths in a family went up, people turned to high yielding paddy which doubled the crop quantity. Gradually, the cultivation of traditional paddy stopped and their seeds became rare and some of them became extinct in this highly sensitive ecosystem. All this happened in the last 25 to 30 years. The big and false assumption was that local varieties were low yield.

There are other losses too. The saline resistant varieties not only tasted better but also the straw provided better and stronger thatch roofs of the huts of the local inhabitants. Moreover, such varieties did not need fertilizers and pesticides to survive. Traditional organic variety has ingrained pest-repellent properties. The soil and the sub-soil water also gets better and better over the years with less and less use of fertilizers and protects other species in the environment that are dependent on the soil and water to survive.

It is not therefore surprising that the decisions that we take today to determine the way we live and earn affect others in our rather delicate uncertain relationships of our ecosystem.

What else got affected? The Royal Bengal Tiger is now close to extinction. There are now about 1400 of the majestic animals left. 50 years back there were more than 30,000 of these beautiful animals.

Lessons learnt:

a) Don't play with a system unless we understand the relationships completely. Understand the context.
b) Assess the risks, uncertainties and the consequences before taking a decision on living and earning. Nature keeps score with consequences
c) Focus on Development; Not Growth
d) Critically examine the assumptions
e) Adaptation is the rule of Nature; don't violate speed limits
f) Think Big, Think Local, Act Local, Learn Global


Questioning? — the Power of the Critical Mind

June 24, 2010
Making Sense from Nonsense (last post) — what next?

Do we compare our observation with something in our memory field?

Is our brain meant for storing or learning?
If previous images are not needed for new learning then what?

Do we apply 'critical discrimination'?

Is 'critical discrimination' anything other than the 'art of questioning'?

What do we question?

Are we observing the essence of the pattern being seen? 

Do we arrive at the essence through 'analysis' or 'synthesis' or both?

Does our new understanding of 'essence' explain emerging patterns?

How do we learn from this essence?

Do we contemplate to tap into intuition or delve deeper?

Or carefully release our imagination?

Does it create a new learning?

Does the new learning make us wiser than we were a minute before?

Does it 'de-condition' us?

Does it help us sense the 'context' and challenge 'assumptions'?

Can we face other new emergence with authenticity & boldness?

Making Sense from Nonsense

June 22, 2010
When we see something — we might say — how beautiful it is.

When we hear something — we might say — how soothing it is

When we smell something — we might say — how obnoxious it is

When we touch something — we might say — how irritating it is

When we taste something — we might say — how delicious it is

We sense our world through our 5 senses + 1 more sense  — that is our 'mind sense'. This sense prompts us to say things like, 'beautiful', 'soothing', 'obnoxious', 'irritating' and 'delicious'.

Notice that it immediately creates two problems:

Problem 1 — We stop looking anything beyond the noun — like a lady, music, apple, carpet, tea etc. It prevents us from seeing what these objects are doing — moving/rearranging spatially, holding/linking, eliminating, copying/creating, expressing

Problem 2 — Just because the mind has  concluded or inferred about the object — by stating that something is beautiful, soothing, irritating etc it prevents us from seeing the truth of what we are observing. We don't see the movements of the objects, how one object relates to another object in the same environment or in different environments, how parts of the object relate to each other, how they function, how they change over time, how they express themselves under different conditions, how they would get destroyed, by whom and why etc.

So, our 6 senses would only leave us with a partial perspective of things that we want to sense. It prevents us from getting to know the whole. It reminds me of the famous story of the elephant and the 6 blind men who sensed the elephant in 6 different ways. Number 6 is therefore not a coincidence!

What can we do?

Can we eliminate one of the 6 senses that was making sense of all our senses? You got it right. Can we eliminate the 'mind sense' that was unnecessarily interfering and trying to make sense of everything and clouding our vision and preventing us from seeing the truth of the matter.

Once the 'mind sense' is eliminated we are left with 'nonsense'. I call this 'uncoloring' or 'no mind sense' state' of sensing the truth.

Left with such 'nonsense' we are then allowed to delve deeper and make in-depth sense of things and phenomena that we encounter in our environment and come closer to the 'truth' of things. It helps us in decision making, creativity, design, thinking, strategy, marketing etc..

Isn't NONSENSE a wonderful state of mind to to arrive at the truth! Or come quite close to it.

We all want to make real sense of everything. Don't we?

Why not try NONSENSE for a change? 

Reliability Management Consultant Pvt. Ltd.

I Confess — I Don’t Know.

June 21, 2010
Observation is the essence of any useful, creative human activity. It is a friend for a father, mother, student, salesman, supervisor, manager, nurse, lawyer, architect and any professional you care to think about. It simply enriches life.

Hence it is extensively used by scientists, engineers, problem solvers, designers, system thinkers, design thinkers, sports persons, analysts, architects, teachers, doctors… You name a profession and observation is the first real key  to progress and success in your chosen field of activity or career.

But many find it very difficult to master the process of observation. In my sessions I have seen how hard people try but they always seem to be in difficulty … until they almost run the risk of giving up on this exotic first step of everything there is. What new is there to observe in things that we have seen so many times before? They ask.

Most then come to the common agreement that 'observation' is an art and it is not meant for everyone. It is best left to weirdos to master the art.

Then when they are all stressed up and fall sick they go to the best counselors. When they want to improve further they go to the best coaches. When they want to learn more about something they contact the best teachers. Similarly when organizations fall sick or when they want to improve a lot they call in the best consultants.

And what do these best counselors, coaches, teachers and consultants do? They observe. And observe intently till you almost find that they are motionless. That might make you very uncomfortable. You are certainly not paying them to remain motionless. They seem to realize your worries. So, after being in that inert state for sometime they suddenly spring back to life and ask you at least one hundred questions. The most skillful of them structure and ask the questions in such a manner that as soon as you start to answer them it quietly dawns on you — what needs to be done right now and just how much needs to be done and what need not be done at all. You get the answers you are looking for without them 'telling' you. None likes to be 'told', I believe.

What is the trick they employ to make such critical observations? Most would not care to tell you. However the wisest of them confess that the trick that they actually use is to tune their 'attitude' before the game. 'Tune' their attitude? Looks like they take 'attitude' to be a 'stringed instrument' that always needs 'tuning in' before being played on.

But 'tune' they do. And they tune it in the simplest possible manner. They simply tell their minds that they 'don't know' what they are observing. They tell this even if they are observing almost the same thing for the hundredth time. So, 'don't know' is the secret mantra of the 'best'. Most would refrain from uttering these obscene words since it hurts the ego. If you don't believe it watch carefully a discussion thread in any of the Linkedin forums or a casual conversation within a family or between friends. Everyone seem to know everything and they don't budge an inch from what they know. Their knowledge is fixed. Nothing more to see, do or learn. They hold their perspectives so dearly and closely to their chests as if someone would just snatch these away from them any moment.

Try the 'don't know' mantra for yourself. You may be in for a pleasant surprise. Look at any familiar object or a person (your girlfriend or boyfriend) or a situation or a phenomenon and mentally utter the dreadful words, "I don't know'. Affirm it till the mind is gently lulled into acceptance. 

The magic unfolds by itself. Your eyes suddenly become clearer and sharper and you see things that you haven't seen before. Your ears hear things that you have not heard before. You start feeling things that you have missed out before. All your senses are heightened, taut and focused. The subtlest things don't escape your observation. You observe every movement, every expression, every act of the object of your observation — just as it is. You are abuzz with insatiable curiosity. You see things that are invisible. And you see how things are interconnected and inter-reliant as a whole.  

Soon a whole new understanding, learning and wisdom emerge from no where. You get to know much more than before. You ask questions and very soon more questions. You contemplate on your observations and your 100 new questions and your intuition informs you of new critical insights to address the issue. You then display your mastery in public. Everyone is impressed and acknowledges your mastery over the subject. Some are also grateful for the help you offered to transform them — their lives and their organizations. You understood the context much better than what others did.

Strange, you started out by knowing nothing and you ended up by knowing much more than anybody else and in the process offered help to others without being their helper. A gift that you shared.

Mind is strange indeed!

For a 'tuned' mind observation is not difficult at all. It is as easy as walking.

Observation along with questioning is the key to understanding the 'context' of unending emergence of new situations and issues.

Such rare understanding of the 'context' starts with a simple affirmation — 'I don't know', which I must confess is at least true for me.