Archive for April, 2011

Unchallenged Complex Problem for past 4 years!!

April 27, 2011

Here is a complex problem. I played with this ‘live’ problem for quite sometime and challenged many to solve this problem – verbally of course. Fair to say, it remains unsolved or unchallenged for the past 4 years. This is the first time I am writing it out.

Would you love to challenge your brains on this nagging problem? Here it goes for you:

A certain factory producing goods made out of rubber decides to raise its productivity. The rubber products are made in moulds that are placed in a hydraulic press and kept there under specified conditions of temperature, pressure and time for proper curing and formation to take place. The hydraulic operated presses have one mould cavity to place one mould at a time.

The owner comes up with a simple plan to improve productivity. He decides to increase the number of mould cavities in the hydraulic press allowing him to process multiple products at the same temperature, pressure and time. So, he goes for ‘two mould cavity’ presses and quickly replaces the old presses by these two mould cavity ones.  

He then calculates the possible output if he does that. Let us say that he would get 100 products by changing from single mould cavity press to double mould cavity press.

But he is dismayed when he finds out the actual output. It is less than 50% (acceptable products) of what he expected to get. How is that? He thinks that something must be wrong. So he decides to increase the number of presses accommodating double mould cavities.

What is the result? Again less than 50% (acceptable products) of what he thought he must get.

Infuriated, he goes for ‘3 mould cavity’ presses. He then increases the number of presses to 10. And also increases the number of operators and workmen to run the operation. He backs it up by increasing the number of supervisors to look after the operation. He also increases the number of overhead cranes from one to two. 

How did that turn out?

Again less than 50% of what he calculated would be the output.

Baffled, he then thinks to improve the system and institute a system of quality culture. He also thinks of training the workers and the supervisors to do their jobs better and pay close attention to the performance of the machines and moulds and the way rubber is injected into the mould cavities — trying to lessen the time and the apparent wastages in the system.

What happens?

The output refuses to move even a percentage point above 50%.

Can you crack this stubborn, nagging and chronic problem for the factory owner? He would be indebted. What would be the right thing for the owner to do?

 

Note: I first published this problem in Anveshan, Vol III, ’11 edition (April 2011) a technical magazine of NIT Durgapur, my alumnus

Medical Tourism Industry in India — A Systems Problem

April 25, 2011

In Search of Chaotic Feminine Energy through Storytelling

April 18, 2011
Why stories captivated and continue to captivate human minds?

What is the secret in stories that glues people together? Why it doesn’t care for age, race, religion, color, caste, gender, national boundaries and genetic makeup?

What universal appeal stories hold?

What is common between stories, poems, paintings, sculpture, songs, dance and music?

Why do we remember stories told by our grandmas, poems and songs sung by mendicants, dance or dramas played on stage, paintings and sculpture of great artists and music of any genre?

Well all these forms of human expression of storytelling hinges on one critical factor known as ‘feelings‘. These forms of storytelling strongly evoke feelings. They do their work silently inside where even words fail to reach.

But why ‘feelings’ are so important and why do they strike a chord somewhere deep within so strong that we remember them for life?

I think there are two fundamental reasons for this.

First, all living things on this planet have feelings in some form or the other however rudimentary that might be. Humans have it great measure. So do many animals, birds and even plants.

Second, we are inherently designed to many wise choices. Wise choices are more easily attained through the route of feelings than anything else. Through feelings we are made wiser even to the point of being enlightened.

That is why epics like Mahabharata, Ramayana, Iliad, Odyssey are passed down from generation to generation. They all tell unforgettable stories of human wisdom and follies.

That is why stories like Aesop’s Fables, Panchatantra, Greek mythology and stories of Hans Christian Anderson are enjoyed by people across the world.

I liken ‘feelings‘ to feminine energy because of its essential fluidity and formlessness that ignites wisdom enabling enlightened living.

Is this the deep secret of living, thriving and surviving as members of this planet and universe?

No wonder ancients understood this aspect very well. The Greek word for wisdom is Sophia representing the female form while Indians have encapsulated the concept of wisdom in feminine metaphors of Kali, Shakti etc.


Well, if it were such a powerful thing then why is it so neglected in today’s world?

Today’s world as we know it has been dominated by industrial age thinking for the past 300 years where feelings have been relegated to the lowest possible level replaced by the wonders of machines and unprecedented levels of human consumption that followed. It was considered unnecessary or harmful in the world of science, rationality, critical thinking, machines, monopolies, factories, world of few producers and thousands of consumers, world of few leaders and thousands of followers and in a world of few rich people and thousands of poverty stricken human souls.

The last 300 years have been the age of thieves, plunderers, robbers and uncouth inhumane bandits — man killing man for glory. What type of glory is that and what type of progress is that is not comprehensible to me. 

Now all of that must change if we are to survive and live. Our rational scientific thinking has gotten us to the point from where we can’t proceed any more. Global warming is a result. Sustainability of the planet is now threatened. It takes around 7 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of food. Wars are leaving scared children in nations without limbs where women are violated and families become extinct.

How long are we to put up with all this rubbish? People are not lowly robots that worship wage slavery in return of food. More the constraints more have been the production of theories to analyze such constraints that produced less long term solutions. The nonsense perpetuated by thieves and bandits have grown to ridiculous proportions. 

This world is no longer tenable. All this must stop. Something more is needed.  

The innate power of the feminine energy must be back. Not in the form of feminist movement pressing for gender equality. Nor it need be in the form of burning bras. It must be restored to its rightful place through its more authentic form — the form of storytelling. There seems to be no other way. It would complement the male energy for meaningful action to strike a balance that is going to see us through the 21st century and beyond.

No wonder creativity is now being felt as the number 1 skill for the 21st century.

Where this feminine energy would be used?

It would be used in understanding problems, In finding a solution. In communicating, In envisioning, In design. In branding. In product development. In board room strategy, In marketing, In training, In human interactions. In education. Everywhere!

The silent power of storytelling extends the edges of the minds, rolls one edge with the other and intelligently mashes up edges to create new knowledge and beauty. As of today most of this silent power is unutilized.  

What would it create?

It would create chaos, discontinuity, jumps, emergence, self organization — helping us to adapt quickly to the randomness in the world which is nothing but the manifestation of the inner levels of wisdom resulting from how well the feminine energy flows within. With lower flows and lesser wisdom more is the randomness in the outer world. This flow of vital energy was missing in our grand march to progress. We have time to make up for the loss.  

How would we tap into this super energy after years of neglect? I don’t know for sure. But I have a feeling that it would happen by inducing ourselves and others to express their personal knowledge, understanding and wisdom gained through experiences through any form of storytelling for others to feel, visualize and act with their own evolving wisdom. They in turn would tell the world their own stories of struggles, failures and triumphs for others to gain wisdom. And the cyclic pattern would continue.

The cyclic pattern would be: Storytelling –> Feelings –> Insights/Wisdom –> Meaningful Actions –> Knowledge –> More Storytelling

The other advantage would be: different people would learn differently at different points of time reflecting their evoling wisdom with the distinct possibility of instant enlightenment though the stories in their original form would permanently be there to stay. Note there would be less compulsive need for data stream analysis since information and data would be replaced by stories and feelings (the feminine energy flow). This serves us well in real life since when we tackle real life issues and problems relevant data are hard to get by and disjointed as they really are, if not non-existent. However, the most important advantage of this type of learning and gaining wisdom is the relative ease compared to other forms and types of learning.  

Therefore, this type of learning through storytelling, acquiring wisdom forming the basis of creative actions would be there to stay creating meaningful impacts in our lives.

So let the chaos unleashed by this feminine energy begin for us to attain collective wisdom!

Untold Truths

April 15, 2011

Effortless Changes

April 14, 2011

We all want to change something or the other all the time.

Many men want to look and feel like 22 year olds when they are almost over the hill and touching 50. So they try hard to change and behave like a youth sprinkled with a liberal dose of self hypnotism that age is only a number and try hanging around with women half their age. It does not work.

Similarly many women would love to hide their ever growing imagined wrinkles and sagging skin to look like a sweet sixteen through application of costliest available cosmetics till men can no longer read between the lines. That does not work either. 

We imagine the trauma of cancer and do our best to avoid the disease by supplementing our breakfast with anti-oxidant capsules and make bold public declaration of giving up smoking, drinking and probably sex. The chance of having the disease might in all probability be decided by the flip of an unbiased coin. 

We also don’t want to remain poor. So we try with great effort to change our thinking and action by copying the richest people on earth with well concealed hopes pinned onto their rag to riches stories only to find at the end that we were left running on an endless conveyor that leads nowhere. 

Lot many are crazy about going up the very oily and slippery corporate ladder. So we gather around us all types of self help books that promise 101 ways to reach the top in less than 5 years. We all know what might happen. The authors of the self help books get richer by the day and we continue to remain where we were or might even slip off the ladder to break a bone or two.

As human beings we are all afraid of death. Some take it to absurd extremes by changing their lifestyle and probably their inner lives in 8 predictable ways like a) give up smoking b) give up drinking c) moderate love making d) moderate exercise e) trim the fat around the waist f) take cholesterol lowering drugs for life g) take aspirin for life h) change the nature of work. Risk assessment studies show the worth of such careful interventions and changes to be +/- 2.5 years than one would have normally lived. It isn’t worth the effort.

Most of our lives we try to deal with changes the hard way with lot of pomp and fury signifying nothing. The reasons for such changes are a) Fear b) Social pressure c) Pleasure d) Self aggrandizement. Changes in these lines are always fraught with inherent danger of not working out well enough resulting in wasted effort, time, money and a big dent on the self esteem. Moreover, these are all superficial in nature. We think we have changed the inputs but the outputs don’t change in any significant ways. It might at times, deteriorate instead.

That leaves us with very little precious time and energy to go for real changes. Changes that follow our natural instinct to do something very well. Changes that calls upon us to take real life changing initiatives for others. Changes that allow us to live more authentically. Changes that allow us to discover ourselves through play. Changes that spring from our intelligent insights and responses to ever changing reality and engaging in something more meaningful and humane. Changes that are based on the lessons learned from the dynamics of nature. Changes that are based on the reflection of reality. Changes that can bring about quantum effects. And changes that can be done almost silently.

These, fortunately, are all real big changes where a small change in the input with the right initiative and thought can bring about dramatic and long lasting changes in output.

Surprisingly, such changes call for the minimum effort, minimum time and minimum resources. Moreover, such types of changes can be brought about in any human activity that we are passionately engaged in. The other good thing is such changes are effortless and easy; devoid of fear, anxiety, pressure to conform and egos, which in turn release endless creative energies enabling us to make the right moves to live life more authentically, just as it was meant to be.

Are we game for effortless changes?

 

One word that has power to change – almost everything!

April 12, 2011

Now with more than 200 years of industrial age backing us we seem to be moving to a new age.

We are yet to decide what we would call this new age. Different people have different names for it. Some call it ‘Participatory Economy’. Some love to say, ‘Collaborative Economy’ or ‘Contributory Economy’ while some rather outrageously call it ‘Neo Capitalism’. Probably it has a bit of everything thrown into this new transformative experience. These more or less point to the new direction we are taking.

Whatever it might be two things are clear. First, we clearly want to get rid of the baggage of concepts of the industrial age that no longer seem to work well in the new reality. Second, we realize a social transformation where consumers are becoming producers of goods and services.

While all these are now playing in the background we seem to be carrying with us a big legacy of ideas governing productivity.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not for a moment suggesting doing away with the useful concept of productivity. The fact of the matter is that new technology aided ways, which we are quickly adopting are already pushing productivity to unprecedented levels, never experienced before.

So, what am I trying to express?

The old and now nearly obsolete concepts of ‘productivity enhancement‘ firmly embedded in our collective minds are all set to change. Traditionally, there were two prevailing schools of thought on productivity.

The Western school of thought centers around the idea of leveraging assets through scale of operation and capital infusion driven on management ideas.

The Far Eastern or more specifically Japanese school of thought is closely focused on minimizing wastage driven by hardcore technology.

Today, it seems both concepts have served their time and purpose with the constant blurring of national boundaries, lowering of tariff barriers helped more by the unprecedented use of information technology that brought into being more equitable distribution and use of information as the basic building block for all human activities.

The envelope of such human activity is constantly being expanded by the insatiable human desire for sharing individual collection of artifacts, mostly knowledge, strongly backed by the urge for social recognition, both of which were tightly bottled up during the industrial age that promoted secrecy and loyalty to particular clans, tribes, organizations and nations over other human values.

With equitable distribution of information and sharing of individual collection of artifacts we are now in an enviable position in human history to draw upon such deadly combination virtually from anywhere to create something novel and useful to serve society.

That brings human beings right into the center of activities than ever before replacing machines as the center of attention and action.

As we see now, except for a few limited areas, organizations and countries can no longer boast of superior technology or use it as a competitive barrier. Nor can they boast of superior brain power or be upbeat about advantages gained through educational or economic superiority as world economy is becoming economically interdependent than ever before for survival.

So the mantra of improving productivity and a host of other related issues like design, marketing, etc would have to be distinctly different to earlier mantras on ‘productivity enhancement’ considered sacrosanct but ready to be dumped unceremoniously.

The one word mantra that now holds the power to change the world and dent the universe is ‘RESPECT‘.

Everything important would depend on it and would grow out of it, like,

a) Collaboration

b) Learning

c) Designing and Creativity

d) Empathy and Feelings

e) Marketing

f) …..

g) …….

h) Productivity.

How do I know? Having sat through countless meetings, negotiations, collaboration teams, problem solving engagements, training courses in the last thirty one years, I have seen how disrespect buried brilliant ideas, brushed aside human values, blocked feelings, thrown out of the window the whole in favor of partial incomplete solutions, given lip service to teamwork, welcomed cookie cutter rules in place of real innovation, dampened human passion for work, trampled well meant objections, manipulated people, murdered careers and played ball. And all the while Productivity took a real beating. People suffered. Organizations suffered. Societies suffered. 

Unfortunately, RESPECT is an almost forgotten word and hardly appears in the vocabulary of present day leaders. How do we develop RESPECT and embed it into our day to day activities is a billon dollar question yet to be answered properly by leaders of our societies for collective sharing and growing rather than helping individual gains?

 

 

Epidemic of Cultural Blindness

April 11, 2011

Even very intelligent people sometimes mistakenly take culture of a country to be some sort of yardstick to measure other cultures. By doing so, they get utterly confused since they find most of it out of sync.

Then they commit another terrible mistake. They blame it on the culture for a country’s failure to achieve economic progress or to raise their standard of living or something else by ‘benchmarking’ another country. 

Many organizations also commit the same mistake. They feel if only some cultural changes can be brought about everything would change overnight. And most of their ugly problems would never resurface. They believe that attitude of the people would change which would enable them to think differently, talk differently and work differently. Management of such organizations go about this task of conversion with the zeal of religious evangelists spending huge amounts of time, energy and money only to generate lot of confusion in the end.

Recently found an organization trying to implement Japanese culture in their manufacturing processes. After trying it out for a year they lamented, “We are nowhere near our desired target.”

I asked them, “How does manufacturing effectiveness of your organization compare to the manufacturing effectiveness of the best in class, Japanese included.”

They replied, “Well it is nearly same. The difference is negligible”

Pushing them further I followed up by asking “Then why do you want to bring about this cultural change?”

Obviously, there wasn’t any answer to this.

Similarly, in a joint venture organization the Japanese who were partners blamed the culture of the other partner country for lack of productivity. The real issue lay in the cultural mismatch of the two partners working shoulder to shoulder in the same workspace.

In another newly acquired plant in Chile, the Chairman who was an Indian, during a board meeting lectured the top managers, “I think the process you people are following is absolutely wrong. You must follow the unique process we have developed back in India. Some of you must visit to learn more about that.”

The top managers gently reminded him, “But what is wrong in the way we work? There is no quality rejection, no customer complaints, no productivity loss and to say the truth our productivity in this line of activity is best in the world.”

Well, you know better. The better way might have been “Let me learn your methods and the ways in which you work to consistently produce high quality stuff and ship goods with the highest productivity”

But we simply can’t shrug off this attitude of ‘I am holier than Thou so I know better’ simply because one has more money or more economic advantage or probably more educational certificates compared to another. 

The same mistake happens in the concepts of globalization and standardization. Ray-ban had to close shop in India. Their frames were simply out of proportion on an Indian face.

Coke came to India secretly nourishing the idea that Indians would soon forget about drinking water. They would drink Coke instead.

Kellogg harbored similar ideas. They would provide more nutrition to wean away Indians from their traditional breakfasts.

Nothing of these ever happened. Indians did not forget to cling to water and anything other than traditional breakfast tasted bland or insipid.

We, more often than we suspect, fall prey to this cultural trap in our personal relationships too.

Are we suffering from this “epidemic of cultural blindness”?

I am a Dreamer but not…

April 4, 2011

Is Creativity the Number 1 Skill for the 21st Century?

April 4, 2011
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Surely creativity is the number 1 skill for the 21st Century. There seems to be no doubt about this. Both statistics and collective opinion are stacked highly in its favor.

Whether it is useful or why is it useful is not the question. The question is how to develop it to a level that makes it extremely useful and effective for people and societies?

The difficulties of developing and honing this fundamental skill are many, such as:

1. Creativity is more of a tacit skill

2. Unlike innovation, creativity is not based on previous accumulated knowledge.

3. Traditional management practices appreciate creativity but is a bit wary about its application. No one wants to be the first to stick out his neck to try out anything seemingly weird or novel.

4. No process is presently in place that helps people or organizations to develop creativity and hone it to create the finest edge to fight the ongoing battle.

5. The present educational system is anti-creativity, if I may say so since it stresses so much more on memory and standardized output from students.

How it would pan out only the future would tell. However, the present external causes might accelerate the development and use of creativity in all types of organizations and societies as we move more towards distributed economies that would focus more on Culture Based Design and Economies (http://post.ly/1oWoV).

Nonetheless developing Creativity as a number 1 skill for the 21st Century would also pose as the number 1 challenge of the 21st Century.

Much would depend on the self organizing property of our human societies and our willingness to relinquish the ‘control freak’ syndrome.

Needless to mention that organizations and nations who would adopt it as a priority would survive the turmoils and uncertainty of the 21st Century.

Breaking Free (http://bit.ly/hFauBy) proposes the solution of Observation Based Learning that would lead to the development of this number 1 skill for surviving in the 21st Century.

It is more in the mind than in the hands. That is the tough part.

Is Yours Bigger Than Mine? | Networked Relationship Economy

April 4, 2011
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Jay Deragon comes out brilliantly in this post almost dispelling the myth that Bigger is Better.

I fully agree to his viewpoint that Small can be Big. No doubt about it. The power lies in the cohesiveness of the interrelationships of the networked elements.

But there is something beyond this too, which we generally tend to gloss over getting stuck at the interrelationship level.

The strength of the relationship of the interconnections and interactions within a network is only the secondary cause of the ‘big’ results a network might produce. However, the primary cause still remains the contradictions the network enjoys with the external causes.

This is because the external causes are the conditions of change and the internal causes (the reason for the network to gel together and work as a tribe) form the basis of change or movements to flourish to make big social impacts.

In other words, external causes or the subjective conditions become operative through internal causes only. There might be reasons for the network to form but without the contradictory external causes it remains a mere network only.

Failure to recognize, relate and respond effectively to the external cause would mean smaller results or impacts irrespective of the size or strength of the network.

This phenomenon has been amply demonstrated by the recent spate of revolutionary activities that are still sweeping through the Middle East and waiting to erupt in other places of the world.

So for a strong movement to happen it is not only the size of the network that would determine the results but it would also depend on the strength and nature of contradictions the network enjoys with the external subjective conditions. Stronger the contradictions better would be the flow and strength of the movement.

More would be the impact. One is not without the other.

Dibyendu De @SparkingInsight is the author of this post.