Connectedness – My takeaway from Avatar


“….and unless we touch others, we’re out of touch with life.”
– Oliver Wendall Holmes, American physician & poet. 19th Century

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Most of us remember the James Cameron directed 2009 epic Avatar as a technically brilliant Sci Fi extravaganza. But what fascinated me about the story was the vast neural connectivity between every living organism on that beautiful world of Pandora. A network which allowed the humanoid species called Na’vi to not only connect to every other flora and fauna on the planet but to an evolved and higher planetary consciousness called Eywa. Eywa apparently is all about deep connection , bonding and balance, termed in Na’vi language as tsaheylu, and this alone becomes responsible for the defeat of the otherwise technologically superior and better armed human army.

Sometime back I had mused on the influence of internet and social media connectivity and the shift it is bringing to our society in ‘A World of Tweeple’. A shift that is moving large swathes of humanity from traditional groupings of ethnicity, community and religion to individual ‘Me- Self’ connectivities that satisfy emotional and social needs. My crystal ball gazing showed up two paths. One leading to a frightening Matrix like future where wired to central intelligences, we access information at will in return for our innermost thoughts and beliefs on display for others to examine. The other path holding the promise of our individualism being empowered by the power of networks to achieve a utopian future.
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What is it about these visions of connectivity that fascinate so? Does such connectedness somehow, somewhere, signify an aspect of yearning, an area where we see a lack? I dwell upon this. I see myself connected to every life form through that double helix structure called DNA. I see my connections in the symbiotic relationship of the air, food and water that I take in. And I also see my connections in my social needs to bond and belong.

So what exactly is lacking?

I decide to do a reality check. What is it that makes us prefer Facebook friends to real ones? Could this be because deep down we remain diffident and uncertain about our ability to ‘connect with our hearts’, so essential to blossom a real friendship? Could this be because Facebook and such social media technologies allow us to calibrate and control how much, when and where we choose to share? Something which real friendships and connections could never tolerate. Could this be the reason that as technology gives us the means ‘to connect’ more and more, we see increasing evidence of disempowering disconnect all around? As we try and escape by shifting our connectivity to gadgets and technologies than to each other……….

I once again come round to the thinking that we have indeed become obsessed with a “Me- Self” mindset. And have chosen to forget all that had our forefathers had learnt to reach this stage of societal development. Aspect of being there for each other. Aspects of trust and empathy. The need to reboot our ‘operating system’ back to “Us –Selves” from the recently acquired “Me- Self”

So I come back to the question about what could we do to steer onto the alternative path promising that utopian future?

In a recent graduation address, Nipun Mehta, the 32 year old founder of CharityFocus.org and a recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service, speaks of three keys that helped him to return to a place of connection.

• Key number one ‘To Give’: Contrary to what the corporate world teaches, Nipun started with the hypothesis, “Maybe Greed is good but Generosity is better”. His experience with several projects has shown that (in his own words) ‘People consistently underestimate generosity, but human beings are internally wired to give.”

• Key number two ‘To Receive’: In Nipun’s words, “With any act of unconditional service, no matter how small, our biochemistry changes, our mind quietens, and we feel a sense of gratefulness. This inner transformation fundamentally shifts the direction of our lives.” It is in giving that we receive.

• Key number three ‘To Dance’: Contrary to what most people do, Nipun says that we should never try and track what is being given or received. Instead we need to let go and tune into the rhythm. The real reward of the give and take lies not in the value of what is being exchanged but the connection which flows underneath.

To Nipun Mehta’s three keys, I wish to add a fourth one.

• Key number four ‘To be Conscious’: As conscious beings, we are uniquely endowed with awareness and imagination. Aspects which allow us to connect to the Universe. As we do this, using vehicles like Science, Art and Religion, we are able to gain the unique understanding of the “spirit” that permeates and connects all things. Much like the connectivity in Avatar, it is this spiritual consciousness that becomes our ultimate connection to everything in the universe.

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So, are we ready to give, to receive, to dance and to be conscious……… and to connect as we move through our lives?

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”
― Carl Sagan, 1990.

In Learning…………………… Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: Miserable & Magical: A Graduation Speech for Paradoxical Times– by Nipun Mehta, May 27, 2013.

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Connecticut, Delhi and HO’OPONONO……..


What we feel and think and are is to a great extent determined by the state of our ductless glands and viscera. ~Aldous Huxley, English author, 20th century

Over the last month the media streams have remained clogged with two events. First,the horrific massacre of school children and teachers in Connecticut, USA. Second, the barbaric rape and “murder” of an Indian medical student in Delhi.

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As part of an increasingly aware and connected society, we remain quick to rationalise into the underlying reasons and ascribe blame. The flickering screens become full with debates and sermons as questions and suggestions fly thick and fast.

Why does the U.S. Government not take up with the National Rifle Association and amend the gun ownership laws?
• What makes the Indian police so insensitive and ill equipped to take care of women safety on the roads?
• If, as it now emerges, gunman Adam Lanza displayed worrisome and awkward behaviour, why did his mother not do something about it?
• What was the trigger for the gang of rapists to have conducted themselves in such a brutal and violent manner?

…and so on, the list goes on and on.

Delhi rape

We may sit in judgement and hold holier than thou perceptions. As we take time out to show our solidarity with the cause and impatience and distrust with the ‘powers that be’. Or we may choose to get involved with our hearts, indulge in emotional outpourings and feel we are doing our bit. Either way we do not take responsibility for what happened.

But could it be that as we come across such evil and darkness in the world, there lies a seed of responsibility within us? When we accept the status quo of injustice on the plea that this is how it has been? When we prefer to remain an onlooker to a crime perpetrated on someone else? When we spend our energy to protect our own cocoon only? When we expect the Government and the police to follow standards of morality and behaviour higher than our own?

My thoughts flit to Joe Vitale and his book “Zero Limits”. About therapist Dr.Hew Len and his handling of a ward of criminally insane patients. Dr. Len never saw patients but only reviewed their files. As he looked at the files, he would work on himself by repeating the following universal mantras.
• I am sorry.
• Please forgive me.
• I thank you
• I love you.

And as he worked and improved himself, the patients started to improve and heal!

Dr. Hew Len was following the concept of HO’OPONONO, a Hawaiian word dealing with “extreme responsibility” which requires the person to take total responsibility of his life including all people and situations coming into it. A ‘tough to swallow’ and bizarre concept on first sight!

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But as I muse on the need to take responsibility of anything that shows up in our life, absolutely everything, I start seeing a continuum. Between extreme responsibility and that of reconciliation and forgiveness. I also come face to face with my Karma in that I must be willing to experience myself what I have allowed to happen to others, either by my inaction or inability.

And today in this new millennium, as we sit on the explosive powder keg of increasing disparity, isolation of the ‘left behinds’ in fast changing societies and values and technology driven, rapid creation of awareness and beliefs, could HO’OPONONO show us the way forward?

In learning……… Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: Zero Limits: The Secret Hawaiian System for Wealth, Health, Peace, and More by Joe Vitale & Ihaleakala Hew Len, Dec. 2008.

Where do we go from here?


Wonder if we look, inside our hearts, exactly what
We’d find
Or Maybe we could take a lot of pain away
Yeah
Or maybe we could heal the world today
Yeah
Or maybe, you know, something, I don’t, if you do then

Tell me    
Where do we go from here
Where do we go from here
Where do we go from here

                                                   Chris Rene, American Singer

A few weeks back I had watched the limited coverage of the national convention of the Chinese Communist Party. Rows and rows of party leaders listening and taking notes as a new leader Mr. Xi Jinping took over China’s leadership. With China’s flagging growth, Mr. Jinping is widely expected to provide his vision of the Chinese economic and living standards growth going forward.

The current UPA Government in India seems to be on its last legs and is frantically trying to reverse the ominous dip in GDP growth rates through desperate reform measures. While the jury is still out on the short-term impact of these “big ticket” reforms, it is obvious that no coalition or party can come back to power without a proven record of economic and consumption growth.

This story repeats in country after country in the developing world. Per capita growth, higher standards of living, endless availability of goods and services seems to be the universal mantra. The flickering images on the LCD panels, the endless sitcoms on myriad channels instigate us to go for that I phone 5. Or a fine dining experience. Or hanker for that newly launched car or luxury home. Our ability to consume, to pander to whims and fancies is seen as our success and growth.

But what happens when the two and a half billion folks from China and India come onto the field and want to play ball? What happens when the Chinese and Indians turn around to ask, “Hey you guys in the west, you followed your own American dream for more than a century. Now it’s our turn.”

Thomas Friedman did allude to this in his best seller ‘The World is Flat” but  said it in the context of Globalisation and a world view of a level playing field allowing everyone  an equal opportunity. Methinks however that the far more critical issue is the emerging stress on sustainability. The strain on our planet to continue to produce in pace with the exponentially rising consumption. To put it bluntly, mankind is well on course to strip this planet dry. Do see my earlier post We need a second planet by 2030” in which consequences of mindless growth and consumption have been discussed.

So where do we go from here?

We need a shift in perspective and mindset. The twentieth century dream of conspicuous consumption cannot remain a role model any longer. This needs to be revisited, reviewed, redefined. We need to be able to answer the following.

“What really is personal prosperity, what constitutes our success?”

“Does success necessarily have to come from ownership and self-aggrandizement?”

“Could our hunger for access to better products and services be satiated, not necessarily by owning, but by sharing?”

This of course is easier said than done. We remain conditioned to acquire and own for our psychological security and comfort. This harks back to days of yore when scarcity and competing for scarce resources was the norm. This mindset continues even though access and availability is on a different plane. In our mind, Owning signifies upward mobility and prestige, of having arrived in a brave new world of capitalism. While Sharing is looked down upon as the vestige of a failed experiment called socialism.

Clearly a tectonic shift in perspective is called for. In a different context in “Age of Discontinuity and the Chinese Shi”, I had brought up the aspect of the Shi mindset which eschews the heaviness of resource ownership. Could this be a perspective that may be needed today?

I think of this and wonder who could play a catalysing role. Political leaders? Opinion makers? Media? What could be the trigger for them to buy-in and play such a role?

The good news is that technology and engineering acumen exists to achieve the above shift. Through better public transportation, better residential spaces with higher density, superior services delivery and energy efficiency, better use of public spaces, better reuse of stuff which we tend to throw away etc.The other great opportunity is of more and more “have not” folks gaining access to products and services which till now have been out of their reach.

Could this be the moment when the best tenets of Capitalism and Socialism coalesce and synergise to open up the path to sustainability?

In Learning………                                        Shakti Ghosal

 Acknowledgement: The World is flat A brief history of the twenty-first century: Thomas Friedman, 2005.

The Oxymoron of our times


From the heart of all matter
Comes the anguished cry
Wake, wake, great Siva,
Our body grows weary
Of its law-fixed path,
Give us new form
Sing our destruction,
That we gain new life…

                                                                                             Rabindranath Tagore

               (Translated from the Bengali original)

The media remains flush with dire tidings. About persisitent US unemployment. About the Euro zone crisis. About faltering growths in the BRIC economies. On screen debates and coffee table discussions waft around how to get back to the old ways of Capitalism fuelled growth.

We remain witness to cycles. The boom and bust. The shortening of product and business cycles. The rapid changes of technology and society. As I muse, I visualise the ebb and flow of human endeavour. Of our  knowledge and  creativity. Of our  follies and emotions. I see the movement, at once intuitive and playful, of the flowing curves and trends. I see economic and social aspirations as energy, unfolding and folding within itself. I see oscillations between  active and dormant states. I start to see Creation and Destruction….

I think of Creative Destruction, a concept by Joseph Schumpeter that has often resonated with me. Schumpeter saw human advance as a “perennial gale of creative destruction”. He likened it to the Darwinian natural selection to secure the “survival of the fittest”. What Schumpeter envisioned was the economy and society constantly regenerating from within by shedding old and failing businesses and social structures as it reallocates resources to newer, more productive ones.

I do see the path that Creative Destruction has taken in times gone by. As steam powered factories and looms closed down to give way to those with electric power. As did the horse drawn carriage give way to the automobile on the roads. And more recently, how the digital revolution squeezed out the traditional photography and music industries.

A machine perennially ON, creating that which is ‘new’ as it destroys what is ‘old.’ Like Lord Siva’s Rudra Tandava ( Dance of destruction) in Hindu mythology. Like the proverbial phoenix, rising from the ashes of that which no longer serves. And as it rises, it creates new Capital, new Thought, new Man. I see unstoppable movement. To stop would mean stopping change, evolution, progress. To stop would mean the inevitable decline.

But as I muse, I start seeing how Creative Destruction is failing today, just as it succeeded in centuries gone past.

As the old “debris” is destroyed, the ground needs to be cleared for the new to arise in a sweeping upward motion. This of course presupposes that both creation and destruction take place within the same society, winners and losers standing close and people gaining in other ways as they lose in some.

The grandeur of those great American auto towns in Detroit and the tens of thousands who worked in and around have surely gone with the wind, not to return. But as these jobs got destroyed in that area, many other value added and differentiated opportunities did arise, if not within the state, at least within the US itself. So Creative Destruction did work…….but this was last century.

Cut forward to our era of Globalisation and we see the Information and Technology outsourcing leading to near elimination of that industry in many parts of the world. Jobs destroyed in fact get created somewhere half way round the world, never to return. And with this we have been witness to the near destruction of the very communities from which they emanated

Whole countries and regions are becoming long term losers through destruction versus others becoming winners through creation. In this globalised age, the integrity of the oxymoron ‘Creative Destruction’ is being torn apart, way beyond what Schumpeter could have visualised.

And so I come back to the aspect of how the current global crisis looks through the lens of Creative Destruction. Are governments the world over in fact doing all the wrong things through politics? As they bail out top-heavy banks. As they subsidise inefficient businesses. As they prevent natural job losses. By doing these, has the world willy nilly shortchanged creation itself? And sowed the seeds of Capitalism’s own destruction?

In learning…..

Acknowledgement: Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction    by Thomas K. McCraw, 2007.

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.

Coming of the Second Wave


So you speak to me of sadness and the coming of the winter,
The fear that is within you now that seems to never end,
and the dreams that have escaped you and the hope that you’ve forgotten,
and you tell me that you need me now and you want to be my friend,
and you wonder where we’re going, where’s the rhyme and where’s the reason?

                                                                   John Denver, Rhymes and Reasons, 1969.

  

Is it not ironic that at times when we stand close to a momentous event, seeing it unfolding in all its HD brilliance, we tend to miss the wood for the trees in terms of its future impact? So it was when the Berlin wall came down; most folks saw it as the factual German reunification rather than the tectonic ideological change about Communism it portended. So it is with the Occupy Wall Street protests, mostly being seen as anger against job losses and lack of economic opportunities rather than something more structural.

As I look around, I see a march of seemingly unrelated trends and events.

  • Declining social and political trust arising out of a growing global inequality and a deepening fiscal crisis. This has lead to a crisis for pension, healthcare schemes etc. dependent on debt burdened states.
  • A heightened perceived insecurity in the developed world. For the first time in generations, people no longer believe their children will grow up to have a better standard of living.
  • More criminality. Be it cyber crimes, drug trafficking or acts of urban terrorism. Symptoms of rising youth unemployment and disenchantment.

During this year’s Davos meet of the World Economic forum, failures of the globalised market economy and an ‘uncertain future’ of Capitalism became the main issues. Ironic when you consider that over the years, Davos has become a byword for Globalisation.

I notice that Capitalism and Globalisation, those two economic pillars of the last few decades, appear to be losing flavour. So, is the world at some kind of an inflexion point?

I believe we have begun grappling with a massive socio-economic change. A change ushered in by programmable machines, networks and the World Wide Web. I had spoken of this in some detail in an earlier post. I say again that technology implementation is resulting in massive shifts at the work place as also how the very concept of work itself needs to be viewed. For the first time in history, technology, without human intervention, is adding economic value and wealth. So those getting in ahead of the game in terms of controlling technology are the new millionaires, displacing the aristocrats and industrialists of the last century. And these millions are being created thick and fast with hardly the need for additional employment generation. Not only is this fuelling a widening wealth gap and disparity, it is leaving more and more of the population behind, unemployed and dispossessed.

Small wonder therefore that a recently published global Wealth Report indicates that most of world’s richest people became richer through the recent economic downturn and into 2011. When in fact the average middle class family actually saw its income fall in real terms. According to Economist Paul Krugman. the current disparity gap in the USis the biggest since the 1920s. Clearly we have entered a landmark period of inequality where the gap is widening to unprecedented levels.

But do you know where the core irony of this whole situation lies? Well it happens to be our much vaunted economic models that not only failed to predict but also to come up with solutions to handle the inequality problem. Worse, if we were to go by economic theory, it is possible to show overall economic growth while significant part of the population is facing a recession or mired in poverty!

So if the predictive reliability of modern economics cannot be relied on, what do we as a society fall back upon? I sense fear as political leaderships all over brace themselves against increased social and political backlash of a growing global inequality. In the Occupy Wall Street protests. In the Arab Spring uprisings. In the resurgence of Marxism in the Indian tribal belts. In the eschewing of the rugged Thatcherism by the British Conservative party as it swing towards leftist policies.

There remain vestiges in our societal psyche of what happened a century back. The chasm between rich and poor opened up by the industrial revolution had been one of the main factors that led to the massive unrest in the first half of the twentieth century. Reaction to this had culminated in adoption of the Communism model in large parts of the world.

I believe we have once again reached that inflexion point where conditions are ripe for the coming of Socialism’s ‘Second Wave.’ I see this as a reaction to the perceived failure of the Capitalistic model and the kind of Globalisation and growth it has spawned. This Second Wave would need to show us ways of re-distributing the wealth created by that part of technology working without human intervention.

Would this be the way Inequality would give us our rhyme and our reason for the future?

In Learning…………..                                                                                        Shakti Ghosal

Not so elementary, my dear Watson!


“Knowledge comes by eyes always open and working hands; and there is no knowledge that is not power.”

                                                                                                        Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1862

 Awhile back, I had been intrigued to read about IBM’s artificial intelligence (AE) named Watson competing in the Quiz show Jeopardy and beating two of Jeopardy’s record holding champions at their own game! It made me realise the extent to which AE development has been able to close in on to the human mind in terms of sifting through and analysing information to reach a correct decision. IBM’s Watson has clearly graduated from the realm of data crunching to become a possessor of knowledge.

Since the dawn of civilisation, Man has sought knowledge. Knowledge to alleviate hardships, to control the environment, to predict outcomes. Knowledge became a source of power and this manifested itself throughout history. Be it through intrigue, technology or the Brahmin rituals. Through millennia and centuries, such a belief only got reinforced.

As individuals, we develop our knowledge by linking it to other knowledge bases. But our belief in our own knowledge is not for knowledge sake but the power we derive from it. Be it in our personal or professional lives. Our inner fears of loss of power or relevance make us resist any changes in our knowledge structure. Eve though deep down we do realise that like all else, there can be no permanence; change in one aspect can shift the entire knowledge structure and its relevance.

But knowledge to be useful has to move away from being mere information. Especially as we face an exponential overload of information. Raw, disjointed data streaming in from all over. And as we grapple with this information avalanche, we have no time to reflect, analyse and produce usable knowledge.

It was only in the last century that we witnessed a formal acknowledgement of what has come to be known as “knowledge work”. And in 1959, Peter Drucker coined “Knowledge worker” as someone who works primarily with information or one who develops and uses knowledge in the workplace.

So how do I see knowledge trending? As organisations have sailed into this century, business leaders have believed in the mantra of investing in technology and knowledge workers. But they also continue to hold the belief that for goals to be achieved there needs to be a control over the work activity and process flow. But this clashes with the loose and unstructured environment that the knowledge worker seeks.

And then there is the deeper issue of a radically changing workplace. As chip based machines take over structured and repetitive activities, the less skilled workers increasingly take on “knowledge worker-like” qualities. Be it book-keepers, clerks or factory floor workers. In essence, more and more workers are learning to manipulate and use knowledge in a decentralised and flat manner.

The twenty first century workplace demands knowledge through unhindered access to information not only within the organisation but by connecting to diverse, outside sources. But does this not run contrary to our age old belief that to retain power, we need to keep the individual in a silo, fed with only ‘need to know” information and expertise? Clearly a significant perspective shift is warranted in our business leaders to be able to accept a radically different information flow and power structure.

And this I would term as our knowledge quandary.

As workers, we need and demand more and more instant access to information from all over. As individuals, we have less and less time to mull over and process the veritable deluge of information coming at us. As leaders and managers, we like to retain power by restricting information and knowledge flows on a “need to know” basis. As we hold onto these power bases using outdated knowledge. And in the midst of all this, now queering the pitch is Watson and artificial intelligence coming centre stage. Truly a case worthy of Sherlock Holmes and he would have doubtlessly remarked, “Not so elementary, my dear Watson!”

And what do I envision going forward? Do I see the “power of knowledge’ pendulum swinging wildly between the individual and the corporation? As the former uses unfettered knowledge for empowerment? And as the latter fights to retain control through use of Watson to aggrandise and analyse information, convert to knowledge and take decisions? And what if Watson were to evolve and “learn” to the point that he cracks the last human stronghold of intuition and creativity?

In Learning……………..                                                                                  Shakti Ghosal