Tuesday, December 28, 2010

i-TFTD #305: Sher Arz Hai

This i-TFTD owes to the contributions of Shuja Rahman. I envy people like Shuja (and Lax) who can quote an apt sher (shayari is a form of rhyming couplets usually in Urdu) in any situation.

Khiradmandon se kya poochhoon ke meri ibteda kya hai
Ke main is fikr mein rahta hoon meri inteha kya hai
(roughly translated as:
Why should I ask the wise, "Whence have I come?"
I am concerned with the thought, "What will be my end!")
-Sir Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal, Persian and Urdu poet, philosopher and politician from the Indian subcontinent (1877-1938)

Kaun kehta hai ke maut aayi to mar jaoonga
Main to dariya hoon samandar mein utar jaaonga
(roughly translated as:
Who says that when death comes I shall be no more?
I am a river, I shall descend into the ocean.)
-Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, legendary Urdu and English language Pakistani poet, journalist and author (1916–2006)

Partav-e-khur se hai shabnam ko fana'a ki taaleem
Main bhi hoon ik inaayat ki nazar hone tak
(roughly translated as:
From the sun's light the dew drop gets its education/end
I, too, await to receive the favor of a glance.)
-Mirza (Asadullah Baig Khan) Ghalib, classical Urdu and Persian poet from the Indian subcontinent (1797-1869)

These philosophical couplets have significant application in organizational change situations.

Instead of clinging to the past, one could focus on the future and what needs to be done. Vague apprehensions and fears hinder clear thinking and paralyze activity, with self-confidence one can face the uncertain future and be assured of finding one's growth path. Change and growth are natural processes, some pain and letting go is needed to usher in better circumstances.

Friday, December 17, 2010

i-TFTD #304: Activity is Not Always Action

#304-1. Men of lofty genius when they are doing the least work are most active.
-Leonardo da Vinci, painter, engineer, musician, and scientist (1452-1519)

#304-2. A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is a visible labor and there is an invisible labor.
-Victor Hugo, novelist and dramatist (1802-1885)

#304-3. Voices of philosophy, poetry and imagery are relatively weak in a world that largely assumes that only science and reason speak with true authority. Yet that very authority suggests that there are many problems better served by slower, more intuitive thinking, rather than the linear, logical process.
-Prof. Guy Claxton, British cognitive scientist and expert on learning, in his book, "Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind" (1947-)

The frenzy of continuous information consumption is a peculiar affliction of the past decade, thanks to the proliferation of a globally interconnected media streaming through multiple devices and channels. This has definitely dented our ability to pay sufficient attention to certain things that require more than a glance and an instant conclusion. Important decisions and actions need to be preceded by assimilation and reflection. Constant input itself induces stress. If you have ever watched TV, surfing channels hoping to find something worthwhile and then suddenly realized you have spent much more time than you thought, and feel irritated, you know what I am talking about. Or if you hear some fact or concept that everyone around you seems to know but you haven’t heard about it and feel you are losing touch on the subject.

Efficiency techniques and smart aggregating tools help to some extent as do relaxation methods. Unfortunately our leisure times are also invaded by screens for reading or playing! I mentioned the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr in i-TFTD #240: On Patience. Carr went on to expand his views into a book titled, “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains”.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

i-TFTD #303: Beware of Too Much Respect for Authority

#303-1. Some people have so much respect for their superiors they have none left for themselves.

(Thanks to K. Shailesh for sharing this.)

#303-2. Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.
-Albert Einstein

#303-3. I do not look to authority for truth (reality), but look to truth (reality) for authority.
-Yoshida Kenji Sensei

Respect for elders has been identified as one of the core values of Indian and other Asian societies. The suffix '-ji' in Hindi and '-san' in Japanese are used even when the conversation is in English. While this may be a good thing by itself in keeping society together and in preserving cultural traditions, it ca! n also clash with the innovative, questioning mindset needed in a meritocratic, excellence-oriented, multi-cultural business organization.

Some may look at this quote and think about rebels and those who challenge their manager or government or any prevailing institution of power. This is one correct interpretation. It could also be extended to other situations. Authority could mean any set of beliefs I hold on to. It could be what I have unconsciously imbibed in childhood from parents, forgetting that my parents, of a different generation, brought me up in a different era. It could be the conveniently like-minded views of admirers I tend to surround myself with. It could be based on a single first-hand experience I have had, ignoring many contrary experiences of others.

It is a good habit to assess whether authority represents a higher truth or wisdom. It often does but in those cases when authority implies blind adherence to past practices, we must step up and initi! ate change. Early experience in this helps, that is why rebels and non-conformists have an advantage in today's world.

Monday, December 6, 2010

i-TFTD #302: We Are Limited by the Thoughts We Choose

Here's a (verified true) story about George Dantzig, the mathematician whose significant contributions to Operations Research and systems engineering have made him famous.

One morning in 1939, as a college student at Berkeley, George arrived late for Prof. Jerry Neyman's statistics class. He quickly copied the two problems on the board, assuming they were the homework assignment. It took him several days to work through the two problems, but finally he had a breakthrough and dropped the homework on Neyman's desk the next day.

Six weeks later, on a Sunday morning, George was visited by his excited professor, announcing the acceptance of a paper based on his proof! Since George was late for class, he had not heard the professor announce that the two unsolved equations on ! the board were mathematical mind-teasers that experts had not yet cracked.

But George Dantzig, working without any thoughts of limitation, had solved not one, but two problems that had stumped mathematicians for years.

Simply put, George solved the problems because he didn't know he couldn't. You are not limited to the life you now live. It has been accepted by you as the best you can do at this moment. Any time you're ready to go beyond the limitations currently in your life, you're capable of doing that by choosing different thoughts. All you must do is figure out how you can do it, not whether or not you can. And once you have made your mind up to do it, it's amazing how your mind begins to figure out how.

A person is limited only by the thoughts that s/he chooses.

(Thanks to Sebin Thomas for sharing this.)

When we do not know that something is difficult (or impossible) that mindset itself somehow makes us approach it in a more effective manner. It is why Richard Bach's little 1970 storybook, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, still sells and inspires millions. Unfortunately our increased knowledge of any subject often makes us more aware of what is not possible. The challenge is to imbibe a positive belief that goes against the known facts. Successful salespeople and ambitious sportspersons know the trick.

Friday, December 3, 2010

i-TFTD #301: On Reading

#301-1. Some people become so expert at reading between the lines they don't read the lines.
-Margaret Millar, novelist (1915-1994)

#301-2. The point of reading is to make us feel less alone and less confused.
-Alain de Botton, author of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

#301-3. The fellow reads so much I don't see how he could ever find the time to know anything.
-Anthony De Mello, One Minute Wisdom

Is there such a thing as being too clever? There is such a thing as showing to be too clever for your own good in a situation. The tendency to overcomplicate has to be guarded against by clever people if they wish to become very clever.

Reading and discussion almost always! reveals that our so-called unique pressures and problems are experienced by others.

Gathering new knowledge and ideas should not become an obsession by itself, one should balance it with reflection, assimilation and application. (Full Disclosure: I know this is sound advice, I cannot claim to be practising it.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

i-TFTD #300: On Resisting Machination

#300-1. (By 2015) there will be less distinction between business and technology than there's ever been. We'll have gone from business technology alignment to business technology convergence in just a few short decades.
-Steve Andriole in the Cutter Consortium report titled, 'Enterprise 3.0: How IT's All Going to Change'

#300-2. Autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.
-Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers (2008)

#300-3. As long as we respond predictably to what feels good and what feels bad, it is easy for others to exploit our preferenc! es for their own ends.
-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990)

Even in the 21st century, there are some, like Nicholas Carr, who tend to look at information technology as a mere efficiency boosting infrastructural aid. They do not subscribe to Toffler’s views or Negroponte’s assessment of the shift from atoms to bits.

Technology systems do bring new problems, one of which is that they seize control of many of the activities that were traditionally the domain of human beings. This ought to push us to more creative pursuits, designing newer ways to ensure the well being of the ecology that we are part of.

We need to choose how to respond, based not only on how we feel but what the consequences of our responses are.