Archive for February, 2011
One of the significant ways in which we got around the world is to look at the world in a very objective manner. We did this through the use of language, which has been greatly aided by a false understanding of science in the later part of our existence. We used language in two distinct but interrelated ways – a) used metaphors b) named things and combined words to form a rich scale of meanings.
Hence we started labeling everything we saw and defined them and then compared them to each other. By doing so we treated everything as independent objects stripping them off from the context to which they belong and as a result lost the real meaning that lay in the relational context of different objects.
Once we started treating everything as objects we also committed the ‘original sin’ of assigning independent attributes to them. So we feel that a position in an organization must be filled by a person having some specific attributes. Similarly friends must have some specific attributes. Spouses must be this or that. Children must grow up in a certain way. Schools must educate everyone on this and that. And so on. No room for diversity. No tolerance. No trust. No respect. All darn ‘fundamentalism’.
We screwed up the whole thing. By assigning attributes we equated human beings to a stone or a piece of gold. Somewhere in the process we forgot that human beings ‘breathe’. Human beings think and create. Human beings love. Humans beings change…..just as any other thing in the world.
But what can I do? The worldview so skewed that reality is beyond cognition and recognition.
I don’t hate when people:
a) see an original idea and start thinking of something else they have had come across even remotely close. If not, fake it or force the idea upon others.
b) think that their spouses must be this or that
c) quote this fellow and that fellow and fear to voice their own thinking afraid that it might sound incredible or unauthentic or not fit to be ‘retweeted’ by others.
d) measure the seriousness of a disease by the size of the medical bills they pay
e) measure the worth of a human being by the money the person has or the superficial beauty he/she possess.
f) measure the quantity of milk in terms of ‘inches’.
g) say that ‘you ought to have done that’ or ‘you must behave like that’ or ‘these are the 10 ways to reach the top (don’t know where it is)…
h) think of Jolie when making love to their wives.
and it goes on…
I don’t hate anything anymore as much as I don’t hate a piece of gold or hate a river flowing by. I am amazed how over centuries we have lost touch with our selves thereby losing our consciousness. Can we bring it back?
I doubt it can be done since we are so used to ‘averages’. This is because we would have to use ‘averages’ whenever we want to assign ‘attributes’ to anything. So, we have become a bunch of ‘average’ objects. How dare one talks about merit and talent in this environment of ‘averages’?
I don’t hate anything anymore. I laugh out loud. Do you?
We named and named and named. We pointed at everything and named it. We combined names. This is tea and this is a house and this is a teahouse. We used names to describe other names. This is anger. This is a man. And this is an angry man. Each name identified something that could then be seen as separate from all other things. We created hard edges in the world. We created distinctions and we believed in our distinctions and we became one of the things in the universe that existed separate from all other things.
One of the ways that we managed this objectification of the world is through the creative use of speech acts. We labeled everything. We defined things and gave them names. We named the natural world. This is a rock. This is dirt. That is the sun. We named ourselves. This is John. This is Mary. We named activities. This is running. This is crying. And we built things and then named them too. This is a house. This is a hammer. This is road. We also named things that were more complex and subtle. This is a feeling. This is a moral value. This is right. This is wrong.
Rahul, a young Executive Director of a fast growing multi-national company startled by his nightmare broke into a cold sweat as he woke up.
What would happen to his vibrant flourishing business if the top management team who were ready to fly to Dubai for the annual sales conference in two days time died of a violent air crash? His global business would then come crashing like a pack of cards and there would be none to look after the vast wealth that has been created as he narrated his nightmare to me.
“Why would that be?” I asked.
“Isn’t that obvious? All knowledge of running this company lies with these few chosen ones. Once they were gone wealth vanishes in no time” he replied emphatically.
“But don’t you think that sooner or later all of them would leave the scene anyway? What do you do then?” I quipped in response.
“Frankly I don’t know. That has really kept me thinking. There are no Jack Welch or A M Naik who is determined to make his way up from the ranks. Don’t know how to make even one?”, Rahul voice trailed off pensively.
This story made me sit up and start thinking. Isn’t this the same story for all companies all over the world? Aren’t people fighting to find an answer to these deep questions on knowledge, leadership and organizations? What can be a possible solution to this business problem that has spread like an epidemic and refuses to let go of its iron grip on our lives?
Such difficult questions possibly can’t be answered through a brilliant stroke of imagination. Many have tried without much success. To find an answer we would have to look at something deeper – the evolution of management from the early uncertain days of the industrial revolution to the present day where all time honored rules of management are headed for a grand collapse (Nature’s Model). The clue lies there.
This is how management always worked with minor and insignificant modifications here and there.
It always started with a grand plan to make a profit. Don’t suspect that I am against ‘profit’ or like to label it as a dirty word. Far from it! Profits are needed. It is blood of an organization. Anyway, to chalk out the grand plan a few old men (only now it is fashionable to include a few women too) sat together in a room called the board room to come up with a ‘how to’ list of making money from an idea. We called that strategy.
Once that was framed the next question that plagued these old souls was how the hell do we organize ourselves and operate? They then came up with exotic game plans, choc-a-block with funny rules and regulations, making the entire organization ‘rigid’ (if not frigid) ‘air-tight’ and ‘water-proof’ — nothing can touch them, no secret can ever dream to escape, no employee can ever think of anything else but work, work and work…etc. They called it a ‘system‘.
With the system in place these grand old people heaved a sigh of relief. Half the job is done. Now we need some ‘dedicated’, ‘loyal’, ‘trusted’ servants (whoops! employees) to work their grand design called the system to their heart’s content to churn out money. The model was no different to the ‘factory model’. Pop in something and out pops something else from the other side of the machine.Same was in business. So they carefully selected the ‘servants’ to work for them and just like selecting good machines they looked hard for the desired attributes for doing the back breaking jobs — is he/she strong, healthy, good looking, has the right attitude??? (still couldn’t figure out how they measure that), background, education blah blah blah… . They would take all pains just the way they would to pick the best variety of apples from the marketplace. It had to be rigorous since the ‘chosen ones’ like gladiators, would have to sweat it out for them in the next 2 to 3 decades.
But soon they found out that attributes of people change over time. They were not “behaving” like the machines they thought they got with so much rigor and patience. They started asking for things that weren’t promised when they got in. That was something to worry about. What made them most worried was when they started thinking and suggesting and voicing their opinions on how to go about their jobs and perhaps how to do them better.That wasn’t good news to their old hardened ears. They have to stop them thinking. They are to be aligned to the goal of the organization. They are to be kept in line and on their toes. And they are to be occasionally whipped when they break rules or ranks to show who is the master and the lord that provides them their humble bread. In comes the Human Resource Department, a sobriquet for the old fashioned Time Office and Personnel Department, whose only job was to keep employee behavior in check. Keep them in line. Indoctrinate them. Inject them with the lovely tunes of loyalty, feel good factor with a good day’s job. Give them some butter if they do too well….. Spend time to correct the behavior of people not to say that a good amount of time, energy and resources went into managing work that consumed a large extent of people’s productive time.
And what might happen when strategy, systems and behavior of people are all lined up? It would create work that produced goods and services of some value to thousands of customers. So a classic division was formed — a small group of producers and an ever increasing group of consumers. More the consumers merrier the game became. All that management had to do was to ensnare more and more consumers in their net and keep looking for more. The word was ‘marketing’.
This way of operating could be done for a pretty long time. All that was needed to keep this well structured machinery running was a pot of gold. Deeper the pockets better was the show which people thought would be perpetual in nature. At last management was able to create a perpetual machine that defied all known natural laws.
Did they? No. By 2008 everything that was so sacrosanct and held in high esteem started to disintegrate with the coming of the great recession. Big and seemingly invincible companies folded up. Unemployment kept rising. No new jobs could be created. Businesses faltered. And those that existed counted their days to doom.
The old way of functioning was definitely clumsy, complex, rigid and unmanageable that not only provided very little value to customers but also wasted a lot of energy in managing and keeping the system in order.
What traditional businesses failed to notice were the slow changes happening all around them in other spheres of human activities (Post Offices to #SM). Things were changing. And so did the nature of work. The fundamental change was consumers became producers and were blurring the line between producers and consumers. It happened to Post Offices, Schools, Publishing business, Consulting, Telephones, and was quickly spreading to all human activities in ways people would have never imagined even a few years back.The consumers created their own value independently and interacted and shared it with their network to create more value and consume it themselves at a price much less than the prevailing market price. The days of grand old institutions, middle men, dealers, publishers, advertisers were all but over.
In comes a new thinking and a new way to create and manage businesses and a lot of value — the answer to Rahul’s nightmare.
The earlier model, basically static in nature and greatly determined by financial capital, was Strategy — Systems — Behavior — Work — Value.
In this model, Strategy informed the nature of work and the value that was created for the customer.
The new model is just the reverse of what we knew for so long. What happens when we reverse it? It becomes Value — Work — Behavior — Systems — Strategy.
In this new model, ‘Value‘ and ‘Work‘ inform Strategy not the other way around. Therefore, it is more dependent on people including customers to participate, share and contribute their learning and knowledge in the economic process than being exclusively dependent on the strength of financial capital.
So, what might be the challenges for organizations to embrace the new way of working?
Some of these are:
1. How do we involve and engage customers and employees to participate in the ‘value’ creation process to create ‘multiple values’ instead of only focusing on the goal of generating profits (single value)?
2. How do we make ‘work’ observable and tractable from which everything else emerges?
3. How do we create a platform of emergent learning that spontaneously creates ‘leaders’ who co-produce wealth not spawn ‘servants’, ‘managers’ and ‘bosses’ who run the systems like mere cogs in the wheel?
Now that we have found the answer to Rahul’s nightmare answers to these challenges would help him create simple yet intelligently superior and greatly adaptable organization that creates multiple values for the collective.
For Rahul his ghastly nightmares would be over. But he would now have more things to challenge his mind, which would surely be fun since he may now keep thinking while doing the new thing, learning and improvising as he goes along in his new journey.
He is well on his way creating history.
Wish him well!
But do ask me how history is being created.
I think constraints are always necessary to promote creativity and innovation. Without constraints the mind would refuse to move creatively and produce any practical result just the way we can't physically move or walk without friction. Two opposing forces are always necessary for 'self movement' to occur and creativity leading to innovation is 'self movement' of the mind — ideas vs constraints.
Today everything would be closed in the state. The streets would wear a deserted look. Schools, shops, offices and even Government offices would be closed.
Why? Are people protesting or rising in revolt like the Middle East and elsewhere?
No, not exactly. It is a day of celebration and happiness. Today is a Public Holiday. India as a nation celebrates this day as a “Day of Knowledge”.
This is more popularly known as Saraswati Puja (Puja means offering of love and deep respect). Saraswati is the Goddess of Knowledge representing speech and creative expression of science and arts. Most things in India are symbolic and the image of Goddess Saraswati is not exception to this fact. The image is therefore a metaphor or representation of what knowledge is all about.
Want to know the story of how it all came about?
Well, as most things in India, the story goes back thousands of years to the era of the Vedas, which most historians agree was around 5000 years ago.
A group of wise sages were travelling all night. Just as the day was about to break they reached a river. The river was gently and rhythmically making its way down the snow clad Himalayas. The water was pure and sparkling. As it gushed over the numerous pebbles it encountered in its way, a sweet tinkling noise emanated. They could see the bottom of the river clearly and were fascinated by the numerous ripples that danced around merrily occasionally catching the glitter of the sun rays as the sun peeped over the distant hills.
They were mesmerized by the whole experience! It suddenly struck them that knowledge had the exact characteristics of what they just experienced. How was that?
They realized that knowledge is dynamic and always changing and flowing like the river. One can’t capture it. It can’t be imprisoned. If held it soon loses its freshness and flow
They understood that knowledge is a product of numerous ongoing interactions that produced music. The music is only produced by the flow going against the resistance offered by the pebbles. More the obstacles (pebbles) more subtle and more varied is the music. The deep experience provided them the insight that knowledge develops through repeated movements of passing over the numerous pebbles and emerges in a chaotic fashion in the form of waves.
It was also clear to them that the primary source of knowledge was through transparent observable (through all our senses) work that flows — an understanding gleaned from the transparent flowing waters. Everything was observable but transient.
They likened the occasional glitter of the sunrays ricocheting off the waves to the sudden flashes of insights that create new knowledge.
Such a splendid metaphor remained with them for years before they decided to give some physical form to it so that people recognize the importance of knowledge in their lives and live with a vision or mental image to go for it and develop it for themselves. With this in mind they came up with the splendid image of the Saraswati.
The image of the beautiful lady represents the creative nature of knowledge, the force behind all human activities. .
The swan reminds us of the river and also the sharp discriminating characteristic of knowledge. This is because a swan has a strange ability. If offered a drink of milk with water a swan drinks the milk without taking in a drop of water. It can separate the two. In other words knowledge helps us to discriminate between the real and the unreal.
The musical instrument called the vina (a much older form of the present day sitar) reminds us of the music of knowledge as it flows over pebbles and obstacles.
The symbol of the white lotus is significant. While the whiteness of the lotus stands for stainless purity of knowledge the lotus informs us that knowledge is rooted to reality which might be full of dirt, muck and darkness from which the purity emerges. It depicts the journey called knowledge from the unconscious or unseen or unknown to the consciousness of reality or the known.
It is also interesting to note that the image tells us how knowledge is created. This is shown by the four hands of Saraswati. Her two hands are engaged in playing the vina (Playing and Hearing). It means that the fundamental way knowledge is created is through transparent observable work that flows (remember how the sages could clearly see even the bottom of the river and sense everything around them). The image of the rosary that she holds in one of her hands depicts the need for deep mental reflection and repetition to gain real knowledge. The fourth hand shows a slim volume of documents representing that only a small part of the knowledge can be really documented and read.
The scattering and reflection of the golden sunrays on the waves representing intuitive insights are shown in the form of the golden crown that adorns her head meaning that all intuitive insights come from the mind. And the halo behind her head represents the energy and brightness that emanates from ever increasing wisdom.
So, to summarize:
1. Knowledge is rooted in reality. It then moves from the physical reality to the energy field of playing, listening and engaging in our chosen domain from where it moves to the mental plane which then makes its way to the planes wisdom and enlightenment.
2. Like the flowing river, knowledge can’t be captured (it is not an object but waves and a field) since it an on-going phenomenon of the numerous interactions, always changing course and fleeting in nature. Such movement of knowledge is only possible through facing resistance and overcoming obstacles encountered in its path generating the necessary music.
3. A very small part of knowledge can be really documented. That represents the explicit part of knowledge.
4. Major part of knowledge is implicit in nature that is created by constantly playing in a chosen domain, improvisations, repeated practice, deep reflections and sudden insights.
5. True knowledge in any field can be obtained through discrimination between the real and the unreal, between the meaningful and the worthless.
6. Knowledge leads to enlightenment and is the creative force behind all that we do.
7. And above all knowledge must be free and shared to maintain its flow that benefits all. This is the only thing in the world, other than love, that keeps growing and developing in strength and character when shared. It is unending and beautiful but can’t be precisely defined or described. The more we try the more incomplete it seems.
Today we usher the coming of spring signifying the blooming of the hidden, the latent and the unknown into conscious reality just like the first baby leaves that spring to life after winter. Isn’t that what we understand by knowledge?
It is therefore not surprizing for Indians to believe River Saraswati to be an underground river hidden from view only to meet the great rivers Ganga and Yamuna at Kumbh. Another great symbolic abstraction underlying the fact that Knowledge plays between our actions and emotions to elevate us to our true human potential. Those who use it rise to meet their potential. Those who don’t are unfortunate.
So do we listen to the music of the spheres and celebrate the joy that is knowledge?
1. The video is there to highten the visual experience of this rather deep and 5000 years old philosophy on knowledge.
2. India is probably the only country in the world to celebrate a special day in honor of Knowledge. What a country!