Do you remain dissatisfied and uncertain about how to face emerging situations and challenges in today’s fast-changing world?
Do you frequently get the sense that however hard you or your team are trying, there seems to be always someone ahead of you and winning?
As you resolve a problem or a challenge, do you get confronted by fresh ones?
Are you frequently unable to prioritize which problem to tackle first?
However much you strive, are you unable to see the big picture and align yourself and your team with that?
….. And on a more personal level:
Do you want to get that job or assignment that you have been trying?
Do you want to get that promotion and recognition you have been aspiring for?
If you have been plagued by one or more of the above questions, the Winning in a Disruptive Worldprogram might just be what you need to improve your winnability quotient in today’s world.
The fact is that our present world is constantly getting disrupted. By new technologies, new competitors, or other factors that can disrupt traditional business models. The disruptive world with its VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) characteristics allows us to reside in a significantly narrow band in the present with a hazy and uncertain future in front and the inability to take recourse of our past experience.
Conceived and developed based on workshops and programs conducted for leading organisations and Business Schools, the course showcases the major types of disruptions that are shaping the world. You, as the participant, would gain an insight into what leads to us getting disrupted. You would review the process followed by a probability-based mindset and the need to shift to a possibility-based mindset to be able to better handle disruptions. You would practice and gain proficiency in the five action steps for the needed shift by conducting in-depth Inquiry through a structured process.
Creation of a context by using hard trends in three areas.
Creation of the three lists.
‘Plug into the future’.
Relational assimilation through a triad of competencies.
Sometime back, at a two-day Leadership Development program that I was running for Larsen and Toubro Ltd (a heavy engineering and multi-business conglomerate in India), a participant came to me during one of the breaks and said:
“All these techniques which we are learning seem to be of little value to me. I am faced with a different kind of problem. My boss has a strong controlling impulse. It is usually his way or the highway. It seems to me he believes this mindset is what has helped him reach his current position. So even if I try, there is never a win/win situation for my boss vis a vis me. What should I do?”
@ L & T Workshop
As I stood there listening to him, several thoughts came to mind. I asked him whether he was okay to delve into the issue some more.
We need to start exploring. We need to ask, ‘What is that which our ‘controlling boss’ would really like to control and change?’ And even more important, ‘What is that we ourselves are willing to let go?’ For ‘letting go’ could be the start of getting back in control.
Could we try and meet the ‘control freak’ half away down? For instance, certain relationships and one to one interactions could still be kept under our control. This realization itself can give us a sense of empowerment.
Could we ‘let go’ by avoiding reacting when we are being pushed to accept the controller’s point of view? Acknowledge what we have been told and then explain what we plan to do, why we have decided so and that we are willing to take full responsibility of the outcome.
The above exploration would allow us to create our action steps in the matter, thus elevating our own control of the situation.
‘Becoming a leader’ does not arise from knowing techniques or aping what we see great leaders do as they exercise leadership effectively in varied situations. Leadership and Performance is very little about what we know, it is almost all about how we see. ‘How we see’ comes from our ability to shift our perception through developing a contextual framework for our own selves.
My younger daughter Piya’s wedding was being celebrated.
The interesting thing was that though I have participated in several Bengali weddings, including my own. over the years, this one was providing me a refreshing ‘stand and stare’ perspective of the goings-on. Was this because this was ostensibly the last big event in the family? Or was it because of my acquiring a more relaxed and less impatient mindset with advancing age? I remained unsure.
The Tubri firecracker of Bengal has no real parallel elsewhere. When lit, the small round earthen pot emanates a gentle gurgling sound with tiny sparks coming out of the hole. The intensity increases with the colourful sparkles streaming up to great heights, accompanied by the rising crescendo of the combustion sound.
Like the Tubri, the Bengali Wedding too starts as a gentle symphony of fun and bonhomie which then blooms into a larger-than-life event showcased through a riot of colour, lights, feasting, and rituals.
Ai Buro Bhat, that Bachelorette and Rice event. The last ‘big meal’ of the would-be bride as a bachelor!
It is a much-awaited ritual and the wedding bell starts to ring as family and friends gather to bless the bride-to-be. A sumptuous meal awaits her and the others present. Ranging as it does from fish and meat dishes, fried foods to Mishti, the traditional Bengali sweets. A fun event replete with jokes, reminiscences by the elders, and banter.
The blessing…..as my nonagenarian ( 90 years old) mother blows the conch shell
Ai Buro Bhat
The pre-wedding evening gets packed with four events.
The Mehndi event is all about creating exquisite body art through the application of Mehndi or Henna. An event in which the bride-to-be and other ladies participate. As the evening progresses, Mehndi, that red-orange stain applied on the palms and hands, keeps on darkening! It is said that the darker the mehndi, the more would be love in the air.
Those exquisite designs
Ashirbaad, the Bengali pre-wedding ceremony, is all about blessing the would-be couple. The ritual is symbolized by parents and senior family members putting dhaan, rice husk and dubyo, trefoil leaves on the heads of the to-be-weds, along with exchanging gifts of gold jewellery, clothes, and sweets.
Sangeet literally means music. The Sangeet event with its music and dance, is a celebration of the wedding union and bonding. Everyone is expected to let one’s hair down and shake a leg. Be it through impromptu jiving or a choreographed dance performance.
Let’s waltz into the future….
Shall we jive?
Shake a leg
Rock n’ roll!
And finally, it is about that one ring that signifies a resolve to join together in life’s journey. The Engagement ring ceremony.
Comes the Bengali Wedding Day when the bride and the groom tie the knot.
The morning starts with the Gaye Holud ritual. Gaye Holud is all about smearing turmeric paste on the bride’s face and body. The ‘groom smeared’ turmeric is brought for the bride by the groom’s family members. Apart from being considered a beautifying and brightening agent, turmeric symbolizes healthy relationships for the future.
The Bengali wedding has the practice of exchanging attractively packaged gifts. The bridegroom’s family members bring these along with the bowl of turmeric paste for the gaye holud. All those brightly decorated tatta trays, containing as they do clothes, gifts and accessories, are a visual delight. Apart from the sheer creative effort to make them, Tatta trays are supposed to bring with them abundant blessings and good wishes.
Totto ……. can you spot the decked-up fish?
Bor Boron is all about formally welcoming the groom to the wedding. The Bor, Groom arrives with his bor jatri entourage (On his wedding day, Piyush the groom, and all the others had to come through a heavy downpour!). The bride’s mother does Boron viz. blesses and welcomes the groom at the entrance with a kula, bamboo winnow accompanied by the sounds of Uludhwani, before the latter is escorted to the Chhadnatola, the wedding mandap.
Quintessential Bengali bride
Subho Dhristi is that first exchange of glances between the bride and the groom. Carried on a pidi, a wooden stool, seven times around the standing groom, the bride keeps her face covered with paan patta. betel leaves before slowly revealing her face for that auspicious glance.
Prelude to Shubho Drishti
Comes the Mala Bodol in which the bride and the groom garland each other thrice, the Sampradan in which the father ‘hands over’ his daughter, the bride, to the groom and the Anjali in which the groom holds the bride’s hands from behind as they offer khoi, puffed rice to the sacred yagna fire.
The evening is still young … so photo opportunity, some dancing, good food, and drinks for all!
The evening is young!
Let’s make some noise!
Next morning and it is time for the bittersweet custom of Bidaye. The bride bids farewell to her parents and other family members as she gets ready to accompany her newly wedded husband to his home.
Let’s go home.
As the Bride reaches her new abode, she is welcomed by her mother-in-law with Arati, a ritual meant to bring in light. She steps into an Alta (red dye) filled tray and then walks onto a white cloth. Those alta laced red footprints on the cloth are supposed to herald Goddess Lakshmi into the household.
It is the day of the Bou Bhaat and the wedding reception.
Bou Bhaat literally means bride’s feast. It signifies two things. As the bride settles down in her new home, it is time for the bhat Kapor ritual in which she is offered a new saree and jewellery by her newly wedded husband signifying that he takes responsibility for her food and clothes from now on. The bride then serves rice to all family members implying that she is now part of the household.
In the evening, the groom’s family invites all family members and friends to a preetibhoj or a gala dinner. The bride’s family, the kone jatri , are guests of honour at this reception.
Welcome to our beginning!
The wedding cake
Guests @ the Gala Dinner
What does the future hold in store?
As an observer of the wedding events and rituals, I sensed how the Bengali Wedding has been able to maintain vibrancy and relevance by imbibing popular parts from elsewhere. The Sangeet custom is an import from Punjab and North India. The Mehndi tradition is from the Middle East and according to some sources, was brought into North India by the Moghuls. Over the years, it has become part of Bengali weddings too. The wedding cake, with its origins in ancient Rome, has always been part of wedding traditions in Europe. It has become increasingly popular in Indian and Bengali weddings. An eclectic blend of these customs from elsewhere with the traditional Bengali ones made the whole event a fascinating one for me.
Piya and Piyush’s wedding also made me recall the few lines I had penned about a Bengali wedding of a century back in my book, The Chronicler of the Hooghly and other stories:
“Thoughts and memories coalesced.
Malati looking at Dipen shyly from under her ghomta, saree drawn over eyes, on their wedding night during shubha drishti.
Malati being raised higher and higher by her brothers in fun to prevent Dipen from garlanding her easily during their wedding.”
I was left with the realisation that even though our society and the collective mindset have changed beyond recognition over the last hundred years, somewhere, somehow the glue of our customs and rituals has provided a reassuring continuity.
The long orange strip unfurled from the small roll at the end and then snaked across the entire wall. It changed colour from deep to light orange before morphing into a green strip and finally ending with a tiny four-inch blue coloured block at the end.
I was looking at a timeline representation of the start of life on earth, about three and a half billion years ago, culminating with the appearance of us humans two hundred thousand years back. That blue-coloured block highlighted the minuscule period ( around 0.006% of total ) that we humans have existed on mother earth as compared to all life.
I was at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History on a recent visit to Washington DC. Though the museum carries the same name as the more well-known American Museum of Natural History in New York, I was finding the format and the presentation refreshingly different.
As I looked at the representation, I was intrigued to see the periods of mass extinction that have taken place in the planet’s living history. There seem to have occurred around five major extinction events since earth cradled life. These were when between fifty to ninety-five percent of all living species died out. I got particularly interested in two such events.
The first was the one that led to the demise of the dinosaurs. I sat watching a video of what might have happened sixty-six million years back when the age of the dinosaurs ended. A large meteor comes hurtling from outer space and hits earth in the Mexican coastal region. The impact kills all life on land and sea for thousands of kilometers all around, its explosive power equivalent to billions of atomic bombs going off at the same time. And as if that is not enough, giant tsunamis and billions of tons of vaporized asteroid and terrestrial debris spew up into the atmosphere, envelop the earth and block out sunlight for years. Photosynthesis all over the world gets seriously impeded and the global climate alters leading to large-scale death of flora and subsequently the herbivores and carnivores going up the food chain.
It is estimated that three-quarters of all life on earth perished during what is today known as the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. But the event also led to an interesting development. The age of the mammals commenced. Being smaller in size and with less need for sustenance, the surviving mammals who had existed on the peripheries during the dinosaur age got the planet to themselves and started flourishing. The evolutionary path over several subsequent million years took the necessary steps toward modern humans with the ability to walk on two legs.
Writes Rick Potts, the Director of Smithsonian Institute’s Human Origins Program, “East Africa was a setting in foment—one conducive to migrations across Africa during the period when Homo sapiens arose. It seems to have been an ideal setting for the mixing of genes from migrating populations widely spread across the continent. The implication is that the human genome arose in Africa. Everyone is African, and yet not from any one part of Africa.”
The second extinction event that intrigued me was the one in which the human species more or less vanished around seventy thousand years ago. Estimates range from a few hundred to a thousand humans who remained to fend for themselves in a dangerous world. The event is generally linked to a super volcanic eruption named Toba which went off in Indonesia and spewed a colossal amount of ash, debris and vapour into the atmosphere. The Sun got dimmed for years disrupting seasons, choking rivers and killing all vegetation in large parts of the planet.
Says Science writer Sam Kean, “There’s in fact evidence that the average temperature dropped 20-plus degrees in some spots,” after which the great grassy plains of Africa may have shrunk way back, keeping the small bands of humans small and hungry for hundreds, if not thousands of more years.So we almost vanished.”
As I continued to look at that unfurling orange strip and read about the extinction events, I found it indeed amazing how the present world stands dwarfed by close to eight billion of us humans. Even though our footprint remains that tiny blue coloured four-inch block on the timeline representation of life. The probability numbers about a meteor hitting or a super volcano erupting remain minuscule and clearly in our favour because of our small timeline footprint. But within that insignificant (fleeting?) footprint, we have managed to subjugate every other species, harnessing both flora and fauna to our needs. We have mastered science and technology in wondrous ways, improving our lot in every way conceivable. Be it food, be it energy, be it resources, be it our understanding of the Universe.
But could it be that we are willy nilly walking on the extinction pathway of our own making? Stemming from our sheer numbers and our continued actions to reorder and realign nature to our own needs. Vulnerability to increased incidences of diseases and viruses. Vulnerability to our own selves as we fight for scarce resources. Vulnerability from the very technology which we believe we have harnessed.
Scientists and environmentalists are raising the alarm that we may be already at the extinction tipping point arising from global warming and climate change. A tipping point that might lead to the mass extinction of more than half of humanity with the collapse of social, political and economic structures. Once the tipping point is breached, the world could witness accelerating global warming and climate change with no way to control. Simulation studies point to an overall ecological disaster and collapse leading to the mass extinction of a large number of flora and fauna species; more than a million species are on track to go extinct in the coming decades. Would this be Judgment Day for Humanity and its cradle planet?
It seems to me that we have been plain lucky. There really is no certainty of our continuing the domination of the world beyond the so very tiny and fleeting ‘blue block four-inch’ period that we have done so. If our luck was to change, we might just have an epitaph written about us by someone in the distant future. Like the way we have written one about the dinosaurs.
Standing there I was left wondering whether we are creating the right luck for us.
Man who gave you life, man who gave you home Man who gave you all you desire? All you do is blight, all you do is waste Don’t you see the ash of your fire? Our mother’s crying, our mother’s dying Our mother’s cancer is true Mother we belied, mother we defiled May your human child’s end be good for you
The water cascaded down the black granite sides, flowing as rivulets before disappearing into the small squarish void in the center. As I looked at the flowing water, juxtaposed feelings pulled in different directions. A feeling of melancholy and sadness about the flow of our lives which was perhaps never to return. But also a feeling of peace and acceptance, an emotional cleansing about all that was not right, maybe would never be right.
From the corner of my eyes, I could see the Oculus, that majestic steel ribbed white wings about to soar up into the skies. The reflections on the nearby glass towers seemed to be heralding a brighter, more vibrant tomorrow. A tomorrow in which peace and acceptance might run the winning lap.
I was at the site of the two World Trade Center towers in Manhattan which had gone down in the September eleventh attack more than two decades back. The black granite square pools with flowing, falling water had been built as memorials to that event. The Oculus served as the integrated transportation hub built for the Path and Subway trains.
As I stood there in contemplation, the place was a tranquil and serene island in the midst of high energy Manhattan life. Did the flowing water suggest a life force embryo just below the surface? That somehow brought into our thoughts those who had perished in the attack, their names etched on the sides serving as the only reminder? Or was it that the simplicity of the slow cascades into the void which could never be filled (as per the memorial architect Michael Arad) allowed their ‘absence (from our living world) to be made visible’?
My memory went back to that day decades ago.
It was evening. I was in the office and had called a colleague to discuss an operational issue when he excitedly mentioned about a disaster in which an aircraft had crashed into one of the World Trade Center (WTC) towers in New York. We spoke about the incident for a couple of minutes and wondered about the low probability of an aircraft crashing into a building.
Returning home after office, I switched on the TV only to see the news headlines flashing all over, ‘AMERICA UNDER ATTACK!’ In the interim, a second aircraft also carrying passengers had slammed into a second WTC tower. Burning from the aviation fuel of the colliding aircrafts, both the towers collapsed. A third aircraft had crashed into Pentagon, the US Defence headquarters in Washington DC. Due to the time zone difference, what was evening for me was really morning hours on the US Eastern seaboard where the attacks were taking place. Close to three thousand people died in the attacks.
What seemed at that point in time a senseless act of violence led to a fundamental shift in the way US saw the world and how its foreign policy would come to be defined. Over the next two decades, US would engage in conflicts aimed at crushing terrorism in various parts of the globe. From demolishing Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan to the Iraq invasion and removal of Saddam Hussein to confronting the self-styled Islamic State in Syria.
I think of our world today. The actors have changed, the issues have shifted but the conflicts remain.
A couple of days back, I heard the tragic news of the Texas shooting in which a teenager Salvador Ramos armed with a gun entered an elementary school and senselessly shot and killed nineteen children and two adults. The carnage was a deadly reminder that even the world’s most powerful nation is unable to protect its children in their innocence.
My granddaughter has been going to a play school. She loves going there. For us, the school is a safe haven that nurtures. I agonise when I think of what might be passing through the minds of the parents and grandparents of those children whose lives were so brutally snuffed out even before they got the chance to blossom. Like me they too would have had complete faith in the safety and security of their child in school.
I muse. What is that which leads to some folks inflicting injury and death on others? I sense that this arises from an extreme psychologically aberrant mindset. A mindset which shifts into viciousness from its inability to accept ‘we versus they’ differences. So it was with Osama Bin Laden, so it is with Salvador Ramos.
An all-powerful state like the US does possess the weapons and technology to wage war against the enemy without.
But does it possess the conviction and resolve to change the mindset of the enemy within?
Do the following look familiar to you? Do they apply to you?
Are you living an E- Life, is your life made up of bits and bytes, black and white?
Are you perennially rushed, shortchanging your grasp of a situation as you celebrate breadth instead of depth?
As you face a situation, do you see yourself reactively ‘firing from the hip’ rather than standing aside and reflecting deeply?
In a fast-changing world, are you racing through your days without the clarity of who you really want to be and where you really want to go?
With relentless demands at work and home, are you becoming short tempered and easily distracted?
Are you so wired up that you are melting down?
Equipped with day planners, to-do lists, smartphones and laptops, we pride ourselves as efficient time managers as we hold the intention to multi-task and optimize our productivity on a 24 X 7 basis. What is that which stops us from bringing sufficient energy into all that we are doing, why is it that we fail in so many of our well-intentioned endeavours?
Have you wished you had more time and the wherewithal to do things better? But is it the paucity of time………. or is it something else?
There is a significantly different element, not time, which is the fundamental currency of performance and effectiveness.
(Salutations to You O Divine Mother, I Invoke You; Who is the daughter of the Mountain; By Whose presence the whole World is filled with Joy; For Whom the whole World is a Divine Play and Who is Praised by Nandi, I Invoke You O Devi Who Dwell on the Summit of the Vindhyas, the Best of the Mountains; Who give Joy to Lord Vishnu as His sister ….)
That once a year rendition in the voice of Biren Krishna Bhadra.
Aswiner sarada prate beje utheche alokomonjir,
Dharanir bohirakashi ontorhito meghomala
(In the month of Aswin, amidst the meanderings of autumn, resounds the light of the sun like anklets
As the clouds disappear from the skies above the world)
Listening to that Chandi path chants and the music in a half asleep, half wakeful state, has always been an intensely personal and endearing experience since my childhood.
I recall my father putting on the All India Radio station at dawn all those decades back, as we all huddled back under the blankets to sleep-awake through Mahishasur Mardini during those wonderful autumn laced mornings with that slight nip in the air. I have tried to continue that tradition.
This year as I lay on my bed listening to Mahishasur Mardini, I saw in my mind’s eye folks who had been part of me since childhood. My father, my father-in-law, other family members, friends. They were standing in two rows and smiling at me. I could sense the love and the warmth seep towards me through the smiles. I luxuriated in the enveloping feeling and closed my eyes. I woke up to find that it was but a dream. Al those who I saw looking and smiling at me were no longer part of my life today, having left for their heavenly abode.
Mahalaya is the day of making offerings to our departed forefathers. According to the Puranas, our patriarchal generations come closer to the living world at this time and this is when they need to be remembered and thanked in our prayers.
Did my dream have anything to do about my remembrance of all the departed souls and them reciprocating back?
The Pandemic has been with us now for more than one and a half years. A virulent new strain, the Delta variant, is the new weapon unleashed by the wily COVID 19 virus to negate all that the vaccines have been doing. Conspiracy theories abound. We look on helplessly through a tunnel with no apparent light visible at the other end yet.
The West and its much vaunted ideal of human freedom is on the backfoot. As US retreats, Afghanistan has once again proved to be the graveyard of Empires- earlier the British, then the USSR and now Pax Americana. The swiftness of the Taliban takeover has been shocking as they begin the task of taking the country back into the medieval ages.
Almost two decades back, US President Bush had declared, “Engendering democracy across the Middle East ‘must be a focus of American policy’ for decades to come”. Today democracy is sputtering like a flame about to go out, with the failure of the much-vaunted Arab Spring and the Middle East in a far worse situation than previously.
We are into an irreversible global warming era, possibly the most serious climate crisis faced by Mankind. July 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded on the planet. An extreme heat wave in Canada at a searing high of 49.6 deg. C. was a one-thousand-year weather event. Floods ripped through geographically distant countries like Germany and China. Drought stalked others. It is now being widely claimed in scientific circles that the Arctic would soon be devoid of ice with the resultant rise of sea water levels and low-lying areas going under.
The above are glimpses of a frightening and dystopian future we are headed into.
Now here is the other story.
In the last month alone, one billion people have been vaccinated against COVID 19. By the end of this year more than half the people on the planet would have received the vaccine. Truly a stupendous achievement in terms of swiftness of response and effectiveness.
The COVID-19 crisis has led to a veritable explosion of scientific progress in the tinkering of genetic information flow and the formulation of proteins, the ultimate nano machines. Trials are currently being done for protein-based vaccines for diseases ranging from Cancer to HIV.
As we speak, electricity generation from the clean sources of solar, wind, hydro and nuclear has outstripped that from ‘dirty’ coal. Closer home in India, the wind and solar generating capacity has exceeded the milestone of 100GW output. In more and more countries, low carbon economy valuations are rising rapidly. The reason is economic. The average cost of power generation from clean sources is now half that from fossil fuels.
As investors spot a rising opportunity, more money is getting committed to climate investment funds in a day than used to be raised in years a short time back. Three weeks ago, two global asset managers, TPG and Brookfield, closed a combined $12.4 billion in climate investment funds.
Reforestation and conservation funding is taking place in countries as disparate as Indonesia and Bolivia who are supporting equatorial rain forests to United states and Canada who are focusing on wetlands, grasslands and coastal areas and the regeneration of flora and fauna therein.
These are but a few stories of a Utopian future we seem to be headed into.
So which future, whether the Dystopian or the Utopian, would come true?
As Morpheus says to Neo in the Matrix:
“……This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you…. believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill……. and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more….”
Is our future really like the story of the blue and red pills and the need for us to make a choice of the path?
Or could it be that there is no choice after all? The two futures, dystopian and utopian, would always exist together, like the two sides of a coin. It would all come down to our world view and the context lens we choose to use. If our context was one of dystopia, we would see signals of collapse in every situation we look at. Similarly, if we were to deploy our utopian context, we would notice the signals of renewal and hope all around.
Our story, the shared and evolving narrative that it is, would always contain both dystopia and utopia, both collapse and renewal. It would depend on us which context lens we choose to deploy, which future we would wish to live into.
“What we do makes a difference, and we have to decide what kind of a difference we want to make.” Jane Goodall, English Primatologist & Anthropologist
Acknowledgement: The above piece is inspired by ‘Collapse, Renewal and Rope of History’ written by Angus Hervey, Future Crunch Journal, Aug. 24th 2021