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.


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.

Author: Shakti Ghosal

* A PCC Credentialed Leadership Coach. * A qualified engineer and a PGDM (Faculty Gold medalist) from IIM Bangalore. * More than three decades of industry experience spanning Engineering, Maintenance, Projects, Consumer durables, Supply Chains, Aviation and Tourism in the Gulf region and India. * Top level management positions to drive business development, strategy, alliances all around the globe. * A visiting faculty at the IIMs. *A passion to envision trends & disseminate Leadership incubation globally. * . +91 - 9051787576

42 thoughts on “Age of Discontinuity and the Chinese Shi”

  1. I’ve never heard of that book. Some people are way ahead of their time. Liked the picture, too.

    Food for thought indeed.

    1. Glad the post provided you with food for thought. So are you holding the intention to read the book? It is a classic…

      I truly appreciate your taking the time to comment here.


  2. Arrh I see I already did a comment back in July Shakti, 🙂 … and Chi.. Prana Energy is there within all and everything.. its how we “Dance” with it that shapes our Destiny.. And all Energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed… as it goes within its own circular movement… Our Consciousness is shaping many things Shakti, and I am very honoured to have chosen this time back here on Earth to witness and experience such Changes..
    BEING… is another the Key… we have for most part forgot to BE in the MOMENT of EXPERIENCE.. as we Remember the Past and Yearn for the Future.. Such is our throw-away society of today…
    I Wonder without the technology Shakti just how many could survive the Now… 🙂 ..

    Wishing you a very good day my friend

    1. Hi Sue,

      Oooops, sorry, that’s the careless me!I should have checked to see if you had commented earlier ( which you usually do!) before again sharing the link… As always, you have brought in this wonderful perspective of the omnipresent “prana” and how it merely transforms in a circular movement.

      Yes, very few of us hold the consciousness of ‘Being’ in the moment.I believe it will be these few who would lead the world into the future.

      Lovely thoughts Sue, I appreciate you.


  3. I think the Buddha got it right so many centuries ago….that nothing is permanent, I too believe like some of your readers above that nothing has changed, except the speed of change, brought about by technological advances. You are right, It is for us to decide whether we want to delude ourselves about our ability to conquer change, death even or adopt the Chi mindset. Have always found the latter appealing, although I do revert and often 🙂

    1. Hi Madhu,

      We need to develop the wisdom of acceptance while at the same time be open to possibilities. That is the way we can travel from
      “What is” to “What could be”. Buddha’s enlightenment was also the realisation that this journey itself is the goal.

      Falling down and then getting up with the intention to go forward towards possibilities is part of this journey. So why should we feel defensive about this natural process and energy flow?

      Cheers, loved your comment.


  4. Excellent Post Shakti, and I am a great believer in BEing… Something we Human BEings have long lost how to live.. I know I pull in Chi energy.. Energy of our Universe which surrounds each and everyone of us.. If we learn how to live within the NOW of our own energy of love and lightness of BEing.. we BEcome One not only within ourselves, but we Become at Peace with every other thing.. For we flow within its energy which is ONEness…
    something I try to achieve,
    Thank you for your wisdom of words here my friend.. ~Sue

    1. True Sharmishtha, but how do we propose to respond to this volatility and fast changes? That I think is what would differentiate between the inheritors of the future and the others who would fall by the way.


  5. I wasn’t familiar with the Shi , I am glad you are able to share this post, in our time now everything so rapid it is very timely to apply this concept, excellent post

    1. Really happy to know you find this post relevant for our times. We need to retain this great awareness of ” Shi” and what it signifies as we move forward in life.


  6. Thanks for visiting my blog.
    I haven’t read Drucker’s materials and hadn’t heard of the “Shi” mindset so I found this very interesting. Nice to think of ‘dancers of the moment’

  7. Love Bateson – and love her quote! So apropos. Of course the veils of illusion tend to be drawn over anything that smacks of truth – from governments to personal lives – I don’t think we humans are very good at facing ‘what is.’ For if we were (and I believe we may be heading more in that direction, by the way), we would accept the existential fact that everything passes and changes. Nothing remains static in the universe. Nothing! We are no exception. We are born, live, and die – just like plants, trees and ecosystems. Whole civilizations rise and fall, as history bears out. So then what are we to do with the time we have here on earth? Create a web of fantasy which staves off our fear of death, always nervous that the bubble will pop? Or dance through life with the awareness that all is as it should be, in That Moment? Chi, indeed! Love the post Shakti, thanks much!

    1. Right you are Bela and as always thank you for your comment. Yes, we all live through a cycle- of birth, growth, sustenance and the eventual decline.This is indeed fundamental to the Universe but intrinsically we cling onto our familiar terrain. In this familiarity, we tend to hold onto and fight for stability and changelessness. As you say, that indeed is an illusion and not to be. But how many of us feel comfortable with this awareness? And that Bela is why we need Shi.



  8. first, thank you for visiting my blog and your lovely comment there, through which I have now discovered your blog.
    This is a superb post – I shall stop by again. Keep penning…Cheers.

  9. Entropy. I believe there is so much happening on a level we can not see.
    I enjoyed reading this excellent post! Love the idea of Shi “dancing in the moment.” I’ve been trying to do this. I’m trying to unplug as much as possible and have even gone back to doing my ‘serious’ writing by longhand. 😉 Thank you for giving us this food for thought.

    1. Hi Ann,

      That surely is very insightful. Entropy…… at a level we cannot fathom! Love that thought. In an increasingly interconnected world which straitjackets us with expectations and appearances, “Dancing in the moment” can indeed be fulfilling. But to do that we need to improve our own self awareness. That remains the biggest challenge.

      Since you have brought in the concept of Entropy. may I point you to one of earlier posts on this, “Entropy and the Age of Consciousness” which I believe would resonate with you.

      Cheers and God Bless


    1. Hi,

      That indeed is a new line of thought, Margarita. If I hear you correctly, what you are saying is that the propoensity to become is itself a stable status and what we hold onto, believing in its stability, is really the unstable structure. Food for thought indeed!


  10. This is the second post I’ve read in the last 12 hours that brings up the transitory nature of all things and our relation to them. It is so true that we have the tendency to seek permanence. Some need it to process daily events. But reality is regardless of how humans see “permanence”, the old saying that nothing is constant but change will always be scientifically true. The law of physics and entropy are the ultimate proof. But within our own lifetimes, to maintain the emotional and economic stability that is part of our civilized foundation in a world filled with rapid change, your pairing of Shi within is brilliant placement in our mindset. Thought provoking post, as usual. Always look forward to reading you!

  11. Splendid Shakti (as usual, I might add)…… ‘Everything is in the state of becoming’….what a wonderful thought! Every’thing’ is a ‘journey’ that has begun, without a destination in mind! The ‘final’ outcome that we envision in everything that we do, is just a turn round the corner that only reveals another part of the same endless horizon! ‘Keep flowing’ as a river would tell you or ‘Keep walking’ – as JW would advise…… Keep sharing Shakti, I would urge!

    Tilak Ghosal ( South City Residents Facebook Group)

    1. Dada, Thank you for your comment. When I first read of Shi, i found it so wonderous but at the same time esoteric. It was only later that I realised its great applicability. I take the opportunity of transporting your comment to my blog-site. Incidentally, you may like to see some of the other wonderful comments that have come up there. I appreciate you…..

      1. I did, Shakti………. Some of the observations resonate so much with my own deep inner thoughts (nay, feelings), that it reinforced my conviction that at some level we are all connected – and flowing together….

      2. You may indeed be right. I guess our perceptions get limited by our senses and socialisation which in themselves are so limited in nature.

        I appreciate your presence and thoughts.


  12. Well done, Shakti. It has been a long time since Drucker. It’s interesting to note that though he could envision a more complex future and intuit some of the complications, fiction writers did accurately foresee the technology. Ray Barbury is a good example. And the great spiritual exemplers throughout time and in our many relgions have always encouraged living in the moment and not fluttering like a feather with every wind. “Shi”

    1. Jamie,

      Thanks for your kind acknowledgement. You are spot on- many of the Sci fi writers of the last century did visualise our future. Ray Bradbury also is one of my favourites. Like him, Arthue Clarke also did a graet job.

      I appreciate you.


  13. Great post Shakti !! As difficult as we can make things, I think it all comes down simply to living in our hearts and being able to go with the flow or Shi essentially. Simplicity is our strength while complex technology is our undoing. Go back to source, think from your hearts and glow with the flow…. VK

  14. Drucker’s materials were reading “musts” when I was gung-ho in my career. After too many years of heaviness, I enjoy the lightness of my life today. I used to believe that without plans, goals, measurement factors, etc, I’d be like a rudderless ship. Quite the contrary. I find life unfolds in ways far superior to any plan I could have created. I have an aim and manage the sails comfortably. I know where I’m going, but have the freedom to enjoy what the journey presents.

    1. Amy,

      Life does unfold in mysterious and wonderous ways, its miracles to perform. As we develop the consciousness to see this, we start reaching into ther higher realms of ” becoming.” That is the philosophy of Shi.

      Thank you for your presence!


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