Age of Discontinuity and the Chinese Shi


Fluidity and discontinuity are central to the reality in which we live   

                                                                               – Mary Catherine Bateson, 1990.

 The other day, I sat leafing through the yellowing pages of that half a century old Peter Drucker classic, ‘The Age of Discontinuity’. This book never ceases to amaze me at the prescient feeling it can generate even after so many decades. Drucker of course could not have envisioned the internet and today’s information flows but his book does ask the question, “As technology becomes ubiquitous, how would we need to cope?” He also challenged us “to be prepared for the complexities”. Big discontinuities that he saw so many years back……. as yet unresolved.

Since the dawn of history, Mankind has experienced discontinuities brought in by adoption of learnt skills and technology. As the first human learnt how to seed and grow plants, Mankind did a makeover from a wandering lifestyle to that of settlers on land. Then with the successive arrivals of the steam engine and electricity, the agrarian lifestyle started morphing into industrial clusters and an associated urban way of life.

And so has been the cycle. A periodic massive disruption of the way we live, the way we work, the way we trade, all leading to a discontinuity. But always, Mankind returned back to stability. Adjusting back into the equilibrium of a new socio-economic format, till the next bout of discontinuity.

But methinks we now have reached a different arena. A space and time where technologies are no longer stabilizing. If at all, they seem to be changing at a faster and faster pace. One needs to just see what is happening to computing, information and communication to appreciate this.

As I reflect, I am left wondering if we are facing the mother of all discontinuities, a shift to a world without stability. A world in which extreme social and economic disruptions become the norm. Be it the ongoing financial turmoil in the global markets. Be it increasing volatility in commodity prices. Be it companies losing out their leadership positions at an increasing rate. Be it product life cycles becoming shorter and shorter. I wonder if these indeed be the symptoms of a world becoming increasingly unstable.

So how do we, the individuals, cope with such constant discontinuities and loss of stability? Wired as we are to cherish stability and continuity in life, how do we retain our balance and sanity?

I think of the Chinese concept of Shi. Simply put it signifies a propensity based on situation. So whenever there is the propensity to play out to an extreme, there also occurs the tendency to self correct and reverse course. And herein lies the magic of Shi- embodying the spirit of dancing in the moment.

Shi is a belief. It promotes lightness and a dynamic view of our world. In Shi, everything is in a state of becoming. So as we focus on the flows and the lightness of the moment, we lose our obsession with discrete people, objects or situations. Shi allows a holistic appreciation of the complex webs of relationships among people, objects and the broader environment.

In a world fast losing traditional reference points, the future may well belong to those who adopt a Shi mindset. Those who embrace the lightness of relationships and flows rather than the heaviness of resource ownership. I believe it would be these ‘dancers of the moment’ who would lead the world in this era of uncertainty and discontinuity.

Acknowledgements:

1  The Age of Discontinuity: Guidelines to our changing society

by Peter F Drucker,1969.

2.   The Propensity of Things: Toward a History of Efficacy in China

by Francois Julien,1999.

What if……..


If thought is the fabric from which reality is made, then faith and intention become the mechanisms by which we focus and project thought.

                                                                                                              – Anonymous

What if we were spirits, balls of energy?  What if prior to being born, we could choose the Men and Women who would conceive us and help us with our values and beliefs? What if we could meet up with all the other spirits who would also be born to play enabling roles in our future life? What if we could choose our destiny?

What if…..

Grounded back to our reality, we see “What if….” as the yearnings of a meandering soul. Or a delusionary dream that needs to be closeted in the attics of our minds. But what if we did carry a master blueprint containing all our yearnings somewhere in our DNAs? Or what if the dream did have moorings in our wakefulness?

I see two pathways. One arising out of faith and the other from our intention. Which path to follow becomes our choice.

Our faith leads us to the realms of spirituality .We conjecture that situations do not happen randomly nor people come into our lives by chance. As we move through this maze of situations and people, we can choose to see our life journey as a blueprint ordained by a higher purpose. With this choice comes the realisation that the reason we are here is to heal our beliefs, learn from them and not to master and forcibly change them. Such a perspective does allow us to make peace with areas of our life which we find confusing and out of control.

But were we to move on the pathway of intention, we can choose to see our life as something we create and are responsible for. This becomes the essence. As we step out with positive intentions to make a choice, we start understanding the underlying reasons why we fail to do so on many occasions.

I get reminded of that wonderful Arbinger Institute publication, “Leadership and Self Deception: Getting out of the box”. While the book focuses on leadership in the organisational context, its argument applies in our life situation too. The book states that people respond to “how we feel about them” and not because “how we treat them.” Let us halt here and absorb the import of what is being said. “Feeling inside” has far greater impact than “action outside.” The genuineness, or otherwise, of what our true feelings or thoughts are, seeps out irrespective how or what we show on the outside.

We “get into the box” as we allow our lives to be dominated by our insecurities and start projecting our failures on to others to try and protect ourselves from our own reality. This then becomes our strategy of self deception and “keeps us trapped inside the box”, away from the truth of our attitude towards others and its crippling impact on our relationships.

As an example, if you are in an abusive relationship, this could be due to your belief that you are unloved. If you believe you are unlovable, you will attract those ‘into the box” who can help you to demonstrate this belief because you have it, not because it is the truth. Abuse is one way that this belief can be played out.

But intention does allow us to choose to become the observer of our beliefs and changing them once they are no longer working for us. And as we change ourselves inside, what we attract on the outside also changes. And this becomes our pathway to move “out of the box.”

So, do we move on the faith path as we reconcile and make peace with our troubling beliefs and other aspects of life? Or do we follow our intentions as we face failure and turbulence in our efforts to implant new beliefs and a life change?

What if….. we could make this choice?

In Learning………                                                                                                  Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement:

* Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box – An Arbinger Institute publication, 2008.