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:

……………………..

…………………………

…………………………….

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

Democracy: The way ahead


Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Rabindranath Tagore
Gitanjali, 1912

 

I sit comfortably ensconced, watching disparate events in News Top 20.

From Arab spring incidents to the Euro zone crisis. From dissent against health care reforms in the USto sit-in dharnas against nuclear power plants inIndia. From strident social activism against corruption by Anna Hazare and his citizen group to Wall Street protests.

The kaleidoscope and colour of humanity, its endeavours and its challenges are so very dynamic, it never ceases to fascinate. But could there be a common thread through all this? Are these seemingly unconnected events but symptoms of some deeper unified malaise?

As I set about making sense of it all, I am confronted with myriad aspects. Those that range from democratic yearnings of the disenfranchised. To anger against increasing disparity.  To democracy itself struggling to sustain itself in the face of a fast changing twenty first century world.

But is Democracy the ultimate panacea to deliver quickly on all things desired for the new aspirants in the Arab world? And as the  fiscal deficits start biting, would the much vaunted democratic freedom of the  developed world  in fact allow it to climb down to the economic and social levels of the developing world? Or would democracy be hijacked by activist groups to further fuel unrests and force Governments to hold onto status quo which they can ill afford? Are we not seeing this happening in the recent political developments inGreece,Italyand elsewhere? I reflect on all such and other questions.

Thoughts flit through my mind. Could our challenges be stemming from a democratic deficit? The issues are many. First and foremost, is Democracy in a position to cope with technology empowered individualism of this century? How do we sustain democracy when people lose contact with their elected representatives? What can make-up for Governments’ loss of control and decision making in the face of Globalisation? And how can Governments come to terms with the increasingly powerful role that media can play?

I am no political pundit but nonetheless would risk offering the following “helicopter view” recipe.

  • Get back to the roots of Governance and face to face      interactions with people. Be it through panchayat empowerment, community      hall meetings or tribal jirgas.      We need to recognize one size or shape does not fit all.

 

  • Foster values to re-connect people to Democracy and      the political process. And how does one do that? By giving equal standing      to Citizen groups for proposing policy options and shaping dialogue. We      need to create those spaces which would allow people to get fearlessly involved      and know that their thoughts are respected.

 

  • Shift our perspective of Media from its perceived      “Government challenge” role to that of a democracy enabler facilitating      information availability and public involvement in policy making.

 

  • Inculcate attitude in the Government to actively      listen to and acknowledge the individual. The challenge is huge but encouraging      online communities may be a way forward.

 

At this point in History, a millennium beyond the Magna Carta, can we provide the next scallop by accepting the paradigm that Democracy continues to be a work in process?  Until we are able to awaken ourselves in Tagore’s “heaven of freedom… where the mind is without fear and the head is held high”?

 

 

 

 

 

On Underlying Beliefs


 

 My instructor remarked in class that this was one aspect of learning that can be barely scratched on the surface through class work. It’s something one needs to continue to experience and explore.

Beliefs are like gnomes. They guard and control our thoughts and behaviour (like the ones in mythology which guarded  underground treasures). So we end up having the good gnomes which support our conscious behaviours to achieve set goals as opposed to the bad ones which skulk under the surface, unknown to us but ever ready to frustrate our well meaning thoughts and plans. These in fact constitute the major part of our underlying beliefs (UBs) – collected from our past, ingrained into our sub-conscious world, colouring our perceptions and driving many of our behaviours up the wrong street.

So how do we recognise these underlying beliefs and what do we do after that?

It stands to reason that if we are unable to control our behaviour, we would not achieve what we would like to do. This mostly happens when our behaviour, unknown to us, are moored to deep seated UBs. So however hard we try, we fail.  And we end up getting frustrated and giving up, without even realising what really happened.

The way forward is to become more aware of oneself. As we start doing this and consciously observe the way we think and act, we start understanding what drives our behaviours. What do we notice? Do we see gaps between what we “say” we believe in and what we really end up doing? If our answer is yes, than it’s time to identify and take stock of our underlying beliefs, determine which of them are preventing us from moving forward and then act to uproot them from our system.

And how does one do that? Which brings us to possibly the most critical step. Once we have identified our UBs, we need to bring them out into our conscious thoughts. As we examine our UBs consciously, we are more likely to find answers to, “Why we act the way we do?” With this we would be able to start to unlock the truths of what we truly believe in.

So every time we are faced with a challenging situation, we need to take a helicopter view from above to find out whether there are some underlying beliefs lurking beneath our behaviour and actions. Once we see the connections, we would be in a position to choose- what to retain and what to let go.