Clash of our pillar beliefs?


It is early days yet of the twenty first century. And while we look forward with hope to human development and new fangled wonders that the future would bring, we also remain rooted to our pillar beliefs which have stood us in good stead. So what are these beliefs?

Pillar belief one: Capitalism remains the panacea for economic development. Capitalism fosters and aligns with Man’s inherent nature to create and innovate for his own benefit.It thus spawns and rewards entrepreneurs. As economic activity expands, so does work and jobs. We hold the belief that Capitalism leads to pulling up of the lower economic strata by the shoe laces. Through more employment and “trickle down” distribution of wealth.

Pillar belief two: Technology facilitates economic development through higher productivity and process efficiency. History has shown that while in the short term, technology may take over repetitive work and jobs, it ends up creating more jobs requiring different and higher competences.

 Though mutually exclusive, both Capitalism and Technology collaborated towards job and wealth creations throughout human society. Until yesterday………..

So what has changed? For the first time in history, technology has evolved to a self sustaining state where it now is able to create wealth without creating jobs. At a subterranean level, technology is clicking and whirring away as it takes care of vast tracts of economic activity 24X7. So today, wealth creation may no longer be an issue but wealth distribution sure is.

Is this a malaise? If it is, symptoms of it are everywhere. As wealth gets created, it gets aggrandized by the CEOs and leaders who envision implementing of technology and cutting of jobs and costs. And so under the protective umbrella of capitalism, we are witness to those huge bonuses and golden parachutes for business honchos and top bankers while “We the 99%” need to make do with largely stagnant pay packets.

Do we realise that Capitalism, the Ayn Rand propagated 20th century pillar belief, possibly for the first time, is no longer “pulling up the lower economic strata by the shoe laces”? On the contrary, it is taking the refuge of technology to increase disparities between the Haves and Have-nots.

A clash of our long held beliefs?

So how do we ensure an equitable distribution of wealth? And how do we do this so that the intrinsic quality of life continues to improve, the initiative taking and creative abilities continue to flower? Frankly I do not profess to have an answer. But I can envision some broad directions and perspective shifts that may be needed.

Can we afford to be purists and let Capitalism and Technology be absolute? And what are these purist beliefs?

  • That “Governments need to adopt a laissez faire stance in economics and commerce”.
  • That “all subsidies need to be frowned upon”.
  • That “cloning of technology in different parts of the world is the fastest route to development”.

But as we start thinking of these, do we not spot inherent contradictions within each of these that could self destruct the entire system?

With the turning screw of time, synergies can turn contrarian as we have witnessed above. And as we shift our perspective away from what we have been conditioned to believe, what could remain the bedrock for anchoring our purpose? Could we achieve this by fostering core values? Values such as   Sharing, Caring, Truth, Service to others and Sustainability?

“Predatory capitalism created a complex industrial system and an advanced technology; it permitted a considerable extension of democratic practice and fostered certain liberal values, but within limits that are now being pressed and must be overcome. It is not a fit system for this century.”

NOAM CHOMSKY

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In   Learning……………..                                                                       Shakti Ghosal

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26.11 Mumbai and Harvard


 Recently, I chanced upon a report about Harvard Professor Rohit Deshpande’s research on what empowered the exceptional display of heroism by the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel staff during the 26/11 terrorist attacks inMumbai,Indiathree years back. Of incredible tales of hotel staff forming human shields to protect guests, some of them losing their own lives in the process.

Prof. Deshpande has found three HR practices relating to recruitment, training and staff recognition to which he ascribes the many uncommon acts of employee valour. But as I reflect on the report, I sense that the findings could be mere tip of the iceberg. Has the research truly been able to drill down to the reasons behind this clearly contradictory conception of human behaviour?

As I reflect some more, I wonder if it all comes down to how organisations think and act, how they relate to their employees. To most of us, an efficient organization is all about “command and control”, a heritage harking back to the industrial revolution. As organisations have continued to ramp up efficiencies, technology has taken centre stage with jobs getting more segmented and even expendable. Low qualification jobs have created disqualified humans. And the attendant social costs of a mentally dissatisfied and spiritually impoverished population are visible all over.

Other symptoms are there to see. Of organisations losing their life blood of core personnel and entrepreneurial energy.  As they try to meet future challenges by using a    “fix-it back to how it was” mindset. A mindset of a command and control Management which has become increasingly misaligned with today’s environment and technology evolution.

And how does all this look like at a macro level? The old economy “brick and mortar” structure which served us well over the last century in terms of standardisation, assembly line productivity, modular approach and cloned processes is in crisis. A crisis fuelled by uncertainty and unpredictability. Of an environment that is getting increasingly disconnected from the past, difficult to comprehend.

So I have this vision. A vision born of hope and positivity. Of organisations who believe in the strategy of the moment. Of a culture where creativity and flexibility replace detailed planning and control. Of the realisation that constant internal regeneration is necessary to keep up with rapid changes and discontinuity. Of managers with conviction that problems are but symptoms of needed change and not something that has “broken” and needs repair. Of leaders who know that things would never get back to the way they used to be but would change faster and faster.

So how can this vision be achieved? By dispensing with rigid job and task definitions and replacing these with strategic “positions” aligned to objectives and results. By empowering people to create their very own evolving job definition, pulsating with a changing environment. As gas fills up vacuum, as the cytoplasm fills up a living cell. And so no two job descriptions would be alike just as no two personnel are alike in terms of their thinking, values and beliefs they bring to the table.

So could this be the way we, the people, reclaim back the “heart of work” from clicking, repetitive technology? As we develop a messianic vision of our role and transform the organisational ethos to say that if one does not take initiatives, one simply does not have a job.

I believe in some unique way, the management of the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai has been able to instill the above radical context of “work” into its employees. And have created a shared deep commitment to service and humanity. But has this been achieved through training and personnel development as the Harvard research opines? Or has it come from a moral energy at the core of the organisation consciousness? From a “caring and serving” value system flowing from the top and percolating through all levels? From sustaining a heritage that empowers people to “get out of their boxes” to creatively enrich, enlarge and connect?

No doubt, the world would be waiting to learn………………

In Learning……………………….

Shakti Ghosal

21st December 2012


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:

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If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.

 

                                                                                                        Rudyard Kipling, 1895

   

Awhile back, a friend while commenting on an earlier blog, remarked, “I simply cannot stop wondering if this indeed is the beginning of the end of ‘Kali yug’ that the Hindu sages predicted many millennia back! Or for that matter, the 2012 ‘end of the world’ that the Mayans predicted around the same time? Can we really dismiss the two geographically so very distant people foreseeing the same future as ‘mere’ coincidence?” This bringing together of Hindu and Mayan prophesies I had found intriguing and had also recalled Nostradamus’ prediction about the end of the world.

The thought came back the other day as I sat reading about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), that 27 Km long particle accelerator clicking away deep below the Franco Swiss border. And the underlying concerns that “earth would be destroyed and the galaxy gobbled up by an ever increasing black hole” as the LHC ramps up its operations and reaches its maximum power levels. Yet one more doomsday prediction.

What is it that has tempted Mankind through the ages to speculate on this end of the world theme? Has it been Man’s imagination going ballistic based on various apocalyptic events the world has faced? Or is it some other flaw in mental makeup?

Which brings me to that age-old tug of war within ourselves. We seek knowledge and at the same time avoid it. Our primal instincts conditioned us to make sense of the world around us as else there was always that fear of “what we do not know”. So we fit all we know into that “comfort space” which we have created and close our minds to uncomfortable facts that do not fit.

The doomsayers’ inherent belief is that in case everything does not fit into their prescribed paradigm, the world becomes unfixable and therefore doomed.  Theirs is a mindset of seeing all things in black and white. A perspective that stems from the same closing of minds to facts that do not fit, an underlying belief that what we know is really all that is there to know.

The doomsayers refuse to “see” the positivity, hope and initiative that abound all around us. They ignore any mid path there might be that the world can indeed be “saved” from the holocaust which they has consigned it to in their minds.

We may ridicule the above mindset but do we realise that we carry a bit of the doomsayers belief in each one us? A belief that surfaces when we try and stick to our old ways and resist change. When we wallow in a sea of negativity as we move with the crowd. When we block ourselves from empowerment and positive intentions. When we decide to wear someone else’s coloured glasses rather than be guided by our own core values. When we decide to live by others’ dreams and aspirations, not our own.

So, can we regain the conviction of our own selves to seek positivity and embrace change to inherit the Earth as Kipling’s Man? Or do we want to regress back to when the doomsayers believed the Earth was flat , and we could fall over the edge if we set forth to seek the unknown?

In Learning……………………………………..                                                                                                                                                                  Shakti Ghosal