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

Happiness and the Theory of Relativity


“Learn to let go. That is the key to happiness.”

                                                     –   Buddha

The other day, I chanced upon a report on the Happiness Index 2012 based on a global poll. What intrigued me were the results.

 On the top of the heap, as the happiest, are folks from Indonesia,India and Mexico. An Indonesia repeatedly ravaged by earthquakes and tsunami. An India struggling with one of the highest malnourished young population. And a Mexico racked by drug cartels and violence.

And at the bottom of the rung with low happiness levels are countries with some of the highest human development indices viz.Germany, Japan, France and Italy. The results do seem to fly in the face of our belief that happiness is a function of wealth, quality of life, health, education etc. And if this be not so, what really are we looking for when we seek happiness?

I get down to finding out what happiness is all about. Is it that warm fuzzy feeling that we get inside when we feel pleasure? Is it the lightheadedness on achieving that long cherished goal and recognition? Is it the contentment of our current situation, be it our family, work or surroundings? Or could it be the exhilaration offered by our material possessions?

As I reflect, I realise that we carry this hugely relative view regarding happiness. On one end of the scale we see it closely linked to pleasure. And so we aggressively seek it, doing everything in our powers to possess it. On the other end of the scale, we try to achieve happiness through “high thinking simple living” moral posturing which denigrates pleasure as something shallow and non-spiritual.

I drill and probe into this relativity surrounding happiness.

My thoughts veer towards the age old fable of the Buddha and the young woman Kisagotami. The story goes that when Kisagotami’s first born dies, her desperate attempts to seek out medicine.to revive the infant takes her to Buddha. Buddha, hearing her pleadings, tells the woman, “To make the medicine, I would need a handful of mustard seeds from a house where no child, husband, parent or servant has died.” As Kisagotami goes on her quest, she realises that hers is not a unique predicament. She leaves the body of her child  in the forest and returns. Buddha helps Kisagotami to “let go” of her perceived source of happiness- her child, to gain a higher view of happiness.

I see how I, like Kisagotami, instinctively position myself at the centre of my universe and hold on to all I have. So no matter what is happening out there, it comes down to how it will impact me. I notice this every time that inner voice complains, “Even though there is an economic downturn, why should I lose on my investments? Why does my child’s school not provide her the extra support? Why does it always happen to me?’ And so on…. I notice my self centric view and the need to hold on is really at the core of my perennial happiness hunting mission.

Me…. Mine….. Myself…..Acquire……. Protect.

Our instinctive happiness mantra. Words and thoughts close to our core. All contributing to our “me-first” perspective. Do we see the need to shift away and increase awareness of many other perspectives around us? As we make this shift, our “me first” point of reference loses ground. And this is when we enter into the world of relativity. Similar to what Einstein conceived a century back, this is a world where each of our reality is relative and all points of view subjective to the beholder. A world where the sheer act of noticing can change the outcome.

We cannot have happiness without unhappiness, pleasure without frustration. Just as we cannot have well being without catastrophe. All on a continuum, all relative to each other.  As we shine the light of this realisation on our “narcissistic self”, we see the relativity of our self concept and its reactions like anger, anxiety, doubt and grief, conditioned as we are to hold onto them. As we do this, our sense of solidity of the “self” collapses into a realm of relativeness.

So we come back to the question, “What is happiness?”  I believe it is an attitude floating in relativity. An attitude to accept pain and disappointment as part of pleasure. An attitude to move away from self obsession while being obsessed with our core values and commitments. An attitude to retain our faith as we face ridicule and hurt to that “me –first” self. An attitude to welcome the Good without being possessive along with   the Bad without being disappointed. The attitude to “let go” when it no longer serves us.

Could it just be that such an attitude gets fostered in an environment full of uncertainty and challenge? An environment which simply does not allow us to seek refuge in our individualistic cocoons. An environment which allows us to “let go.”

Could it just be why the Happiness Index 2012 has thrown up the kind of results it has?

In Learning………                                                                         Shakti Ghosal

QE1, QE2, QE3……………..QEn.


” There’s no disaster that can’t become a blessing, and no blessing that can’t become a disaster.”  Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

I have never failed to notice one common thread in most Hollywood disaster movies. Of a precursor to the main event whose significance is lost to all except the protagonist. And how, when the latter tries to convince the authorities about the impending cataclysm, he is ridiculed. Till it is too late.

So in Independence Day, when David Levinson discovers a signal within a signal which is counting down to the Doomsday attack of the aliens, most of Mankind prefers to think of the event as the path to Deliverance. And in Day after Tomorrow, when the paleoclimatologist Jack Hall presents clinching evidence on global warming at a United Nations conference, diplomats are unconvinced. Interestingly the audience, sitting on the seat edge comprehends the emerging situation with the main guy and one tends to leave the theatre wondering at the woodenness and ‘stuck in the groove’ mindset of the powers that be in the movie.

As I sat reading a piece on the global economic situation the other day, one aspect caught my attention.  Of how more and more Governments are raising funds against bonds. Enter the central bank ( Fed in the US, RBI in India) which buys back these bonds and credits the commercial banks through a single entry and hey presto! money has been created out of thin air. The much touted QE1 and QE2 in the US were such “money printing” initiatives. The banks sit on piles of cash which they would like to lend out. And the more such money sloshes about in the economy, the more it chases physical assets like real estate, gold etc. And before we know it, we are inside a bubble, a dangerous territory to be in.

I remain amazed at how nonchalantly the world has passed over the above real life disaster in the making. How Governments, like opium addicts, continue to indulge in QE3, QE4………. up to QEn, by which time we are sure to be overwhelmed by hyperinflation. And how the interest payments on the borrowings are becoming unbearable and sending whole economies into a vicious tailspin. What a huge problem China, with its three trillion dollar reserve in US treasury, is facing due to a looming bond crisis. Or how an aging population in developed economies are finding their pension systems increasingly under threat. As people watch in horror their life savings getting eroded to near nothing.

Keynes in his 1919 essay on Inflation quoted Lenin, the Communism ideologue, as saying, “The best way to destroy the capitalist system was to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens……………………………. As the inflation proceeds and the real value of the currency fluctuates wildly from month to month, all permanent relations between debtors and creditors, which form the ultimate foundation of capitalism, become so utterly disordered as to be almost meaningless; and the process of wealth-getting degenerates into a gamble and a lottery.” 

So like David Levinson and Jack Hall of our movies, did Lenin have the prescience of what would happen a hundred years later? Was he the one man who foresaw the self destruct capability of Capitalism nurtured economic forces gone wild?

In Learning…….                                                               Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement:  Keynes on Inflation. Excerpts from ‘The Economic Consequences of the Peace’ by John Maynard Keynes, 1919. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/shared/minitext/ess_inflation.html

Entropy and the Age of Consciousness


All life revolves.  The world is awaiting a great awakening, which will occur with
the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.  This great awakening will take place in the months and years to come and bring significant changes to our consciousness as human beings.

                                                                               The Age of Aquarius, Starts 21st Century

A couple of weeks back, I watched President Obama’s State of Union address. Erudite and all encompassing as always, the President stressed issues of China and outsourcing. But what I really heard from the most powerful man on the globe was insecurity and fear. Of the slipping away of competences and strengths and not knowing what to do. The other day as I watched the BBC debate at the World Economic forum in Davos, I once again sensed the underlying hesitation and concern.

The competence and knowledge advantage which the US and developed world enjoyed from the beginning of the industrial age is fast seeping away. Other nations and societies are catching up faster. And the genie of Globalisation is only accelerating this trend and making the world flatter (to use Thomas Friedman’s famous terminology).

So what are the reasons for such competence and knowledge loss? What can be done to stop the hemorrhaging of this life blood? My thoughts veer towards Entropy, a concept in the realms of Thermodynamics. Entropy is a tendency towards disorder and Science postulates that this can only increase over time. So any “order” peaks, be it in energy, competence or knowledge, can only dissipate, seep away. Ultimately leading to a steady state in which random and uniform soupiness exists all over, the highest level of Entropy.

I recall Isaac Asimov’s Last Question, a haunting science fiction tale of a future reality. Of a Universe slowing down and coming to an end due to Entropy. As the last of Mankind and the last VAC (a super computer) fail to answer that last question, “Can Entropy be reversed?” The story goes on to tell us that as Entropy rises to its final resting level, all individual knowledge coalesce and join into one universal consciousness.

I reflect on what we are experiencing in the world today. Is it the entropy effect on the competences and knowledge possessed by the developed world? Of the inevitable seeping loss to the rest of the world. What would the next turn of the screw bring? As we see Asia rising today, would we not see Africa rising tomorrow? And so on, till a flat world achieves steady state of uniform competence and knowledge levels all over.

But do we see what this seeped competence and knowledge is doing? It is raising the level of awareness all over. Awareness of social and political realities, awareness of heightened aspirations, awareness of the need to keep on improving and improvising. An awareness which is getting accentuated by rapidly evolving communication, networking and database access technologies. And with this heightened awareness has come the inevitability of consciousness.

So what do I envision going forward?

I see mankind fast reaching a new level of human consciousness. As more of us become consciousness- conscious, as our thinking DNAs get re-programmed, we would start seeing and dealing with the world in significantly different ways. Most of the challenges and conflicts of today’s world stem from our beliefs and fears residing in the depths of our sub-conscious. Be it through the manifestation of ego, false fronts or preconceived judgments. But as we gain in consciousness, we gain the intent to shine the spotlight on these hidden drivers of our thoughts and behaviour. And under the light, these beliefs and fears shrink away and lose the capacity to run our lives.

Can we visualise the exciting times we are getting into? As the world witnesses consciousness rising like a tide all over with knowledge flows and heightened awareness. As the human brain starts utilising more of its unconscious capacity. As our new consciousness allows us to “see” our path towards enlightenment. As we herald the dawn of a new age, an Age of Consciousness.

Will this Age of Consciousness be the ultimate evolutionary goal of Mankind?

We are beginning to understand that what exists at the essential core of matter is information and energy. I hope and believe that the Information Age is going to be the stepping-off point for the Age of Consciousness  

                                            Dr. Deepak Chopra- spiritual writer & speaker, 2007

 

***

I am left wondering about what could make the big picture happen and expedite the dawn of ‘The Age of Consciousness’.

• What is that critical mass of knowledge flow and dissemination which would lead to heightened awareness of the big picture?
• What could each one of us do to reach that level?

In Learning……..                                                                                       Shakti Ghosal

 Acknowledgements:

1) The World Is flat: A brief history of the twenty first century by Thomas L. Friedman, 2005.

2)      The Last Question by Isaac Asimov, 1956

Childhood’s End?


It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars.

                                                                                                               Arthur C. Clarke, 1951

It has been a year since what has come to be known as the ‘Arab Spring’ came into being. In this period it has rolled through much of the Arab world, scalped four long standing state heads and led to protests and uprisings all over. A plethora of analysis to explain “Why there? Who is behind? What now?” has kept pace.

Explanations have ranged from Facebook, Twitter instigated unrest to rupturing of socio-economic systems dominated by authoritarian regimes. From crony capitalism to delayed maturing of civil society. From exposure to western thoughts to the rising aspiration of an increasingly literate and assertive youth.

The other day I was chatting with Abdul Rashid, an Arab holding a secure and well paying job. And he offered an interesting perspective. He spoke of a father dominated family structure. Of how the father loves his child and takes care of all his basic needs. But in return, he expects unquestioning obedience. Of how, as the child grows up and tries to follow his passion, he gets restrained in case he does not follow traditions. Abdul posed a question, “What solution would you suggest in case the child has to contend with such restraint for the rest of his life?”

The above set me thinking. If the child is being loved and taken care of, why does he feel restrained? And what factors are feeding his perception of restraint? My thoughts veered to the opening sequence of the Arthur Clarke penned Childhood’s End inspired movie, “2001: A Space odyssey”. Of how a futuristic monolith and its flickering images guide a tribe of prehistoric ape men to become discontented with their existing situation and aspire for a better tomorrow. A fascinating story of the origins of Man…. and his discontentment.

And as I ponder about the Arab spring, what do I see? An equation of the Ruler and the Ruled spanning decades which worked till now. A relationship which dictated that the Ruler “father figure” would love and take care of his “Ruled children” through huge welfare systems and sops. In return the latter would keep their side of the bargain by not demanding for uncomfortable freedoms like self expression and self governance. Unfortunately the equation and the relationship it harboured seem to be breaking down.

So what really happened? I believe Globalisation has turned into today’s monolith to show and reinforce images of “What could be” to one and all on this planet. Folks whose lower levers of motivation viz, food, shelter and money needs have already been taken care of, can now see tantalising visions of self actualisation and self esteem. And so we have Abdul above, with a secure job and lifestyle, hankering to follow his “passion” of self determination and self expression.

Could this be the moment when the Arab spring child grows out of childhood to reclaim his destiny? As he seeks more ownership in Governance and policy making? As he joins the global mainstream and political consciousness?

In Learning…….                                                                             Shakti Ghosal

I AM…….


The words “I am” are potent words; be careful what you hitch them to.  The thing you’re claiming has a way of reaching back and claiming you. 

~A.L. Kitselman, American author, early 20th Century

Some days back, on the seventieth Birthday of the iconic Mohammed Ali, I watched some of the old grainy footages of another time, another place. Of a newly crowned world heavyweight champion declaring, “I am the Greatest!” Did these words come from a space of vanity and arrogance? Of projecting a ‘bigger than life’ aura as a shield against racism and perceived injustice? Or was it simply to frighten and unnerve the opposition?

In my childhood, my parents and teachers told me, “Do not fall prey to self arrogance, be humble. Shun personal greed, be generous in giving, be of service.” And there were enough morals like ‘thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’’ floating around to reinforce the belief in me that anything to do with ‘Me, mine, I am…etc” reeked of selfishness and a self serving attitude and thus needed to be hidden from view.

And as I have gone through life, I have had my share of successes. In areas of family, work, money. I have run these races and done better than many. And at times like these, as I have looked at the other faces, did I feel those twinges of guilt deep down? Was this the underlying belief rearing its head to derail me from further success?

It was only the other day that my moderator Leon led me to the TBOLITNFL website featuring “The Deuce Lutui Story”. This is a story of Coach Steve Hardison and his coaching relationship with footballer Deuce Lutui. TBOLITNFL means ‘The Best Offensive Linesman in the National Football League’ and this is what Deuce transforms into. Watching the site video is a moving experience and brings home the sheer power of ‘I AM….’

For Deuce Lutui ‘I AM….’ resonates with the infectious positivity of ‘Personal Internal Commitment.’ As Steve Hardison writes to Deuce in one of his E mails, “Your commitment is so profound and so deep and so powerful.  I believe that if we took a blood sample right now and put your blood under a microscope and looked at the individual blood cells you would see letters floating in your blood cells. Do you know what letters you would see in the blood cells?  These letters: TBOLITNFL :)”

I reflect.

‘I AM…’ is about ME. But does it only relate to my personal internal commitment? The ancient Vedas of India speak of Soham which means, “I AM…” Soham is a Universal mantra with its breath like vibrations creating a bridge between the individual’s senses, actions and his awareness. But at a more fundamental level, Soham also celebrates that deep underlying essence of Being. The Being that does not need to react, that just is and is part of the universal consciousness.

I see the connection.

“I AM…” is what I am committed to, what I am passionate about. It is about rewiring my long held beliefs, my internal sinews and muscles as I proclaim “I AM…” to the outside world.  But my senses and actions come from the space of Being. “I AM…” therefore is neither my arrogance nor my selfishness. “I AM…” is no longer a zero sum game in which my wins are at the cost of someone else. I make the transformational leap   allowing my personal commitments to be at peace with my values of humility, generosity and service to others. “I AM…” is my tryst with the universal consciousness.

I realise now that Mohammed Ali’s declaration so many decades back had more to do with his belief in himself and his personal internal commitment than the opposition or the outside world. AsLeonbeautifully sums it up, “Failure to commit to I AM… is high cost of low living”.

I am an inspirational leader of men.

I  AM…..

I am a loving and positive minded husband and father.

I AM…..

I am the best CEO and Executive Coach for this age of discontinuity.

I AM…

“When you truly want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

                                                                                  Paulo Coelho ‘The Alchemist’, 1993

 

 

In learning…….                                                                        Shakti Ghosal

 

Acknowledgement:  http://www.tbolitnfl.com

We vs. Them


“One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings.” 

                                                                                               ~Franklin Thomas, 1964 AD

On the screen, I hear the father of slain Indian student Anuj Bidve speak, “The world is finished for us – that is all I can say,” Anuj, a post graduate student , had been shot in the head  by a man describing himself as “Psycho Stapleton” in Manchester in a mindless act of violence. Seeing the old parents forlornly trying to cope with the loss of their only child, an indescribable feeling of sadness engulfs me.

The incident is being described as a Race attack. One of the many similar attacks that have plagued newly arrived immigrants and students in the UK, US, Australia over the years. Many reasons are up for debate. Is this an anger against new residents getting access to “scarce” resources which otherwise was the prerogative of the old community? Are these attacks a sign of increasingly disaffected youth with limited work and employment opportunities? Are these problems temporary and would “go away” once the incoming folks integrate with the community at large? Was the victim at the wrong place at the wrong time? There is much talk regarding strategies needed to reduce such race attacks through community development and deterrent police measures.

As I reflect, I wonder if these underlying beliefs about race attacks are not merely chasing the symptoms rather than trying to unearth the core cause. And if this be so, would the strategies being talked of be really effective?

What makes a person, without provocation, brutally attack and kill another fellow human? Is this from a distorted self image, itself a product of a distorted belief and need system? Or is it due to an egoistic self- centricity, a product of a selfish and materialistic world? To my mind, these aspects are responsible for much of the created sufferings in the world. These become the arrogant starting points that separate us from others. These make us feel that others are a threat and that the world is a hostile place. We get forced into undesirable behaviour – reacting to others’ words or actions. We end up needlessly competing, being envious or judgmental and feeling threatened by others’ successes.

So what can we do? I believe the strategy needs to start from within. We need to look inside, increase our self awareness. It is this awareness that aligns us with our inner values and brings lightness and a sense of purpose. It is in this space that our ego starts subsiding. Freeing us from that endless loop of Desire and Dissatisfaction, Freeing us from that eternal hunt and chase mindset.

“What is tolerance?  It is the consequence of humanity.  We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly – that is the first law of nature.”            

                                                                                                               –  Voltaire, 1764 AD

In Learning…………..                            Shakti Ghosal