“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it” – Max Planck
Spinoza (1632-1677) was a lens maker. Lenses correct visual aberrations. Their use in microscopes and telescopes gives us far and in-depth views of reality. He had the rarest of rare inner lenses to ‘see’ beyond the obvious making him immortal in spite of his short life. Did he ‘see’ what he was doing to himself? Do we ‘see’ where the ‘Pipers of Hamlin’ are taking us?
- What we see is what we get. A broken lens gives us a broken view
- An unbroken view is the imperative to sustainability (anti- fragility?)
- Multiple views are essential to ‘see’ through the heights of complexity
- What is excluded in the act of seeing might be even more significant
The book points to where we are designed to go. The green road in the visual takes us to growth, continual renewal and the evolutionary potential of the species, the red to traffic blocks, accidents and death. Technology helps us to reach there faster at massive scales. Does it make a difference to arrive in a Ferrari or on foot? To make the correct choice we need to be mature, curious and have information. Chances are extremely slim that we ‘see’ the significance of design. Are we programmed to fail? Is the child in us stolen? We live in the age of WMD, weapons of Mass Dialogue / Destruction. This dialogue is about the travellers’ kit, how to assemble, re-assemble oneself to travel on the path of perfection.
Green or Red, choice is yours
(Pound’s note opened with a definition of an image as “that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time”. Pound goes on to state that “It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works”.[2) wiki)
The Road by Design
This living document which has gone through several iterations since 1990 through dialogue, one to one, in schools, industry, and academia and at a much larger scale in the context of livelihood / food security. They are different views with the FD Framework, the lens, the synthetic knowledge space, we use to look at the internal / external world. The posts are to the framework as the libretti are to the opera, fluid and living, not frozen in time. Expositions vary but the condensate, framework, remains the same, changeless. As we progress the views get better.
Slum dog billions, an eco- system view
The miniature ecosystem, see figure, has an eagle, a vulture, a small community of frogs, a tree and a very deep well. The eagle and the vulture come to perch on the tree. The frogs always lived within the deep well from which they had never gone out nor can they move out of it on their own. They only dream of the external world. Every night the granny frog tells bedtime stories to the young ones in the well, most of them passed down over generations with an occasional improvisation here and there. The eagle and the vulture at times listen to the stories.
One morning when the thermals had begun rising in the air, the eagle swoops down into the well, grasps one little frog in its claws and rises up with the thermal. The heights and the fear of death grip the little one. The eagle stayed with the thermal circling over the well and when it finds that the little one has calmed down a little, releases it from its claws. The vulture waits in the hope that the frog will turn carrion. The frog lands back into the same well, unhurt, still afraid and probably elated. During the free ride the frog had opened its eyes for a brief moment to get a glimpse of the world outside the well. The eagle returns to the tree waiting for the sun to set, to hear the new stories.
The Oscars, ‘The curious case of Benjamin Button’ and the ‘Slumdog Millionaire’
The Slumdog Millionaire swept the first Oscar since the recession. It is perhaps more than coincidental that we dream up another version of the rags to riches story when billions vanish in the stock market and the market caps reach rock bottom. There is no greater fantasy to beat a recession when the ‘developed world’ reels in its flames. ‘Developed’, stands for the ‘top of the pyramid’ within the context of the book with no geopolitical connotations.
The kids from Dharavi, the Bombay (Mumbai) slum, flew up to Oscar heights, shedding their slum maps of the world to the eagles view from the top, for a fleeting moment. Or, was it the vultures view? When they return the well would still be the same. Yet some things will never be the very same. For fleeting moments the bottom and the top connects and the media go into overdrive vying with each other to generate our daily dose of adrenaline. The Slum dogs and the dogs in Beverly/ Malabar Hill, have the same DNA, the same potential. So does the human. Other than the cosmetic, the dog’s potential is not far behind in terms of its performance. It is still a dog’s life. Some might quarrel for morsels while the lucky ones, the adopted ones, don’t have to. Research shows us they give up some of their intelligence. Domesticated dogs are less intelligent than the stray ones. The story of the human is not the same. We could be much better than the dogs, wherever they are. The bottom and the top of the pyramid are connected through fantasy and fiction. The Oscar jury sits in judgement to decide which story is the best.
We need a design to make this leap-frogging to happen on a regular continual basis. The recession is a brief window of time to grab wider attention to mull on it. Recessions will return with more bang if we don’t utilise these brief spells. Mobility accelerates learning. Dreams, celluloid or lucid, connect better to our deep structures and at times can help us to awaken into a better future.
In 2008, 2, 90, 000 candidates appeared for CAT, the common admission test to the IIMs, Indian Institutes of Management. The process is not far different from the Dharavi kid turning into the Slumdog millionaire though the chances are less than 0.6 %. Another 100,000 will join US universities to pursue their dreams of flight. Some of them will join the $ Million league and work towards reaching the top of the pyramid, now capped at $, 500,000 if you have taken the bailout. Others will trail behind and wrack their brains how to beat them in the race. A few of them would turn entrepreneurial or find other ways to win their millions. Some will completely opt out of the race to move to the bottom of the pyramid. Bose, who opted out of the race to the top from one of the IIMs, tells me that the b-school days still bring back memories of street dogs fighting for their morsels, Pavlov’s dogs for whom the bell tolls. The CEO of a bank walks away with a lifetime pension of over £ 6.50,000 /annum leaving the ship he was captaining to sink, a typical role model for the participants of the race. But things do change overnight. During the slowdown governance is back in fashion.
Around 30,000 Indians will return from the US every year to settle down in their home country for various reasons, people who successfully chased similar dreams. The story is a much better version than Danny Boyle coming down to Dharavi. Within an individual life span, a critical mass of people have flown out of their individual wells, fulfilled their dreams and return to the same well. The well has not changed much but many of them see new possibilities in leapfrogging at a larger scale, bringing together the best of both the worlds. 27 % of the world’s poor are in India. If the bottom suffers from abject poverty, the top suffer from intellectual poverty, the two sides of the same coin. The challenge is to see the third side, the side/s that connect the two. The farmer who feeds the bottom and the top hope and pray for the monsoons continue to be favourable, that the government increases the procurement prices, that the loans be written off. As in the case of the bailout billions, the relatively non-performing of them are more likely to end up receiving such relief. Perhaps in an election year, the procurement price will be higher than the cost, inclusive of the share of the rats and vultures in the eco-system
Climbing Mount Everest, (Hillary and Tensing), Wright brothers and flight, the moon shot, in short every human achievement has a common thread that connects to the whole. At one end of the continuum is the well, the local and at the other is the very large, the global. To learn is to connect between the two, a bolt of lightning from the blue connecting both
Once we take the invariant position, that we are here to learn and learn continually, then it is a journey of connecting the small with the large, the local with the global. What we see changes with the variant positions we take during the journey. Something new comes into our perspective improving the old maps. Development is a process of connecting potential to performance and narrowing the gap between the two. The eagle/frog frames are joined together to produce the movie of our individual lives. Do we direct it on our own or get directed is what matters most! If we learn the lessons right and shed our preoccupations with the maps of change and quantitative growth over quality, we could leverage it to come out of the recession, out of the booms and busts to a phase of continual improvement in the quality of life, community and sustainability.
Prahlad reinvented the pyramid for our time. There is a fortune at the bottom of the pyramid! It has always been a trend with the top of the pyramid coming down to the bottom in search of the treasures for different reasons. Warren Buffet and Bill Gates connect to connect to the bottom. We hear academics wondering now, a bit too late perhaps, Is business ANTI social that wealth needs to be balanced with charity? What does charity beget? The circle is now complete! Until creation of wealth and business turns pro-community, charity seems to be the dominant paradigm by which we connect to the bottom, the current version of the missionary zeal of the colonial era. Some of them were in for a surprise and those who connected in a spirit of learning to the bottom brought to light many a treasure. Mohammad Yunus in Bangladesh and the White revolution in India pointed to the directions in beating the recession.
The moral is more important than the story. One has to be a frog at times and an eagle at other times and keep switching positions continually to connect between the local and the global . With every leap of the frog there is a collapse of an old world and a new world takes birth. Yet we are in the same well, the well – of Nature, which we will never fully comprehend. It might make us a little more humble and help us realize that we cannot reinvent the basic design. Meanwhile there is a lull. No thermals seem to be in the make to those who reel in the flames of the recession. The vultures wait for the feast. The thermals are always in the making, some place or the other.
The original story of ‘The curious case of Benjamin Button’ was published in 1921, the same year that Einstein received the Nobel Prize. We cannot age back like the protagonist of the story and meet Scott Fitzgerald to find out why he wrote the story or he would agree with the film adaptation of the story which begins with a curious clock maker which goes well with the overall theme. Let us also hope that he wouldn’t find objection to colouring the story to suit our present context. The extreme geriatric, the process of his aging back and the curious clock that goes back in time triggers one to reflect on our present reality. The clock is a simple machine without self-regulation. The technology that we have developed remains mostly at this level of maturity. While we are no doubt scaling up the ladder to higher levels of technology with increasing self – regulation, as a culture we are no better than the clock a metaphor for the Newtonian world-view. (1642-1727) Extreme geriatrics has come to be our collective illness. Benjamin Button is turned out of Yale because he ran out of his cosmetics to hide his age. The gates of knowledge is closed to him though later on when he grows younger, he makes a second attempt to make it to Harvard but fails to graduate as he loses his learn-ability to the pace of his growing young.
The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life was first published in 1859. We have three different sets of maps but we fail to connect these maps together and evolve a common one. Darwin was way ahead of Newton and Einstein to deal with emergent qualities between classes of life. Even to the untrained eye, these qualities are discernible that no machines come anywhere near a cell, that from the unicellular to the multi-cellular is a giant leap and within the multi-cellular, plants, animals, human and community have higher levels of complexity and potential that the lower levels do not possess. Still our collective reality has not moved ahead from the level of the clock. Even after 150 years of the origin of species, the essential learning remains outside our collective understanding of reality and makes us a less favoured species in the struggle for survival. The curious case of BB captures all the limitations of the Newtonian paradigm. While humanity moves ahead on the path of decay and ageing to self-destruct itself, the hero goes against the flow, but the ultimate destiny is not altered. Cosmetic solutions will not gain us admittance to understanding but they contribute significantly to the bubbles and busts. Real learning would help us design real solutions. Between the positive and negative flows of time, is emergence, the bolt from the blue that negates entropy and decay. Accumulating real learning helps us to beat the fate of the tragic hero. The curious case of Benjamin Button proved predictive, prophetic, of our current reality. Conflict is part of the story of evolution. We have reached the apex of the pyramid of conflicts. Yet another emergence is in the offing.
Design, development, community and communication for capacity-building for livelihood / food security
Kerala in South India on the 12 N parallel, is a hot spot for tourists and test marketers. With 28 times the density of population of the US, 1/70th GDP per capita and a comparable quality of life on many indicators of human development as that of the US, the state is a paradox to the social scientist including Amartya Sen and his less popular detractors. Kerala has a much shorter history of freedom than the US and nothing great to boast of about leadership or quality of governance. These two are much like the couple in a troubled marriage between the beast and beauty. In their early stages of infatuation and hormonal overdrive they come to have a brood of children. As the infatuation wanes the decibel levels climb new heights of leadership claims from the beast. Beauty succumbs to helpless silence, dreams and prays that the children take to the path of resilience and creativity. Sometimes her prayers are answered reinforcing her faith in gods, god men and women. These exceptions in flourishing are significant enough to ensure that its people are better off than in many other developed and developing contexts. Enough of these free radicals are left within the state to ensure that governance alternates every five years between the two loose coalitions. The remaining mass is more or less evenly split between the two factions addicted in varying degrees to religion or revolution, spirit or spirituality, the lottery and the mafia. Equal opportunities to share the spoils of power ensure that the good or bad that has been achieved by one is undone by the other. Thus the context has remained fertile for discovering the path to early adulthood, resilience and creativity of a significant few to chase their dreams outside the state. The affliction seems to be spreading to the rest of the country and in many ways than one Kerala is a beacon to where India is heading to, a slow painful path to adulthood of the masses, a bottom up approach to leaderless development. This is where India scores in competitive advantage over other countries, diversity and chaos fostering creativity and resilience?
Around fifty million people, over the two month period from mid November to mid January, visit Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta district in the Western Ghats of Kerala, perhaps making it the largest and most visited annual pilgrimage centre in the world. The Ayyapa temple is located here amidst 18 hills each of which has a minor temple. Men of all ages and women other than those in the age group of 10 to 50 traverse the forest path to the temple and climb 18 steps for the darshan. Some explain that the ritual is symbolic of the progress through 18 levels to the heights of awareness to arrive where there is no separation between the worshipper and the worshipped. There is no other at this level. Thou art that. Awareness and conscious evolution is a well-defined path to the supreme for which they prepare themselves through an elaborate process often lasting up to forty days.
The myths hold that there are fourteen worlds in all, seven over and seven under. In another myth integral to every Keralite’s software, Vamana, an avatar of Vishnu traverses all the fourteen worlds in just two steps. Mahabali, the asura king offers his own head for the third step to keep his word to the avatar in disguise. The myth about the transformational journey from the personal to the cosmic self can be translated into the visual for easier understanding of the process.
The three steps are imperatives to any journey in space, improvement or developmental process.
- Finding one’s starting position, the compass /GPS function
- Choosing the direction / evolving a map for the journey, and
- Reflecting, making sure that progress is real, the process of comparing and measuring the present position with the home position and where one ought to be.
Mapping (design), measurement (clock), and informed decisions (thermostat) are integral to the use of tools (technology). Mastery of the inanimate world is the prelude to mastery of the animate beginning with the world of the unicellular. The cell is a symbolic representative of this class. The three imperatives are programmed, natural to the cell, integral to its natural intelligence making it a class apart from the levels preceding it.
The cell is true to its design. It delivers what it is designed to perform which is to state that it performs perfectly. We wish that the systems that we design have this level of perfection. For example the Dreamliner has a reliability of above 0.9 and the moon missions 0.98. The cell has a reliability of 1. Now we know where we stand in terms of perfection. We now have the rough framework for a practice of the first of the six levels of perfection
The second practice of perfection follows from the world of plants, a much higher level of complexity and variety than that of the cell. Every plant is rooted and reaches out towards the sun connecting the local with the global. We cannot improve on the design of the eco-system nor do we have reasons to complain other than our failure to connect to the imperatives that follow from design in nature so that our designs move in the direction of perfection.
The practice of six perfections corresponds to six different levels of increasing variety, complexity and potential. Each level triggers questions as to the outcomes of the practice. The Dreamliner and the moon missions are systems designed by the human which at the individual level has a reliability of 0. It is human to err! It is inhuman for the Human to err. The cell, plants and animals are perfect. It is also human to aspire for perfection, pursue truth and beauty. The human is perfect in design but the practice flounders. Maturity is not achieved overnight for a system that takes over two decades to physically mature.
Some illustrative questions that trigger the practice of perfections at each of the levels are
- That of the cell. Am I at least as intelligent as a single cell in self-regulation, as the amoeba, or a single cell in my body?
- That of the plant. Am I rooted, connected to my own past, culture and community so that I can take position and reach out towards freedom and growth?
- That of the animal. Why is it that the animal is never obese, never visits the shrink, have annual physicals (not applicable to our pets) or make social calls to friends in hospitals?
- That of the human. Why are we the only species that generates waste? Why are we the only class of beings with the lowest capacity utilization factor? With a reliability of 0, is freewill a myth?
- That of the organizational. Are businesses inherently anti-social that they have a separate agenda for CSR?
- That of community. How to practice design and delivery of solutions / products/services that meet real outcomes of sustainability and enhanced community?
For the naturalist there is only nature and no ‘supernature’. By the same logic for her there is no premium on virtual reality over reality, artificial intelligence over intelligence, virtual sex over real sex or the masculine over the feminine. For him the substitutes for the real have come to threaten the very survival of the species and he/she wonders whether the species is committing a mass suicide, madly rushing towards its own destruction in the search for substitutes to a harsh reality.
From the Tree to the Woods and the Forest
The best teachers do the least teaching and the best leaders the least leading. They SEE where we are and point their fingers, SHOW us the direction we ought to take. Over three decades back we were taught by two of the best teachers that I have come across. They asked us to self-teach an introductory course on Management Information systems and computers. It fell on me to introduce the class to Kenneth Boulding, “General systems theory: The skeleton of science”
The skeleton in the cupboard took on flesh and blood over the years. The desktops were yet to show up, the mainframe was a remote presence which one tried to visualise through the programming sheets and punched cards. Later on when the desktops appeared the black box with the blinking C prompt beckoned one to navigate the hidden pathways. The management theory jungle was in no way different from the black box of the desktops. Imagine the plight of a novice to the profession mired in the semantic swamp being confronted with a still higher complexity of the market place against the compulsions of meeting targets and deadlines by the end of the next quarter ! Worse still, being in academics at the time, how do you communicate Boulding to an audience of senior managers attending their very first introductory session on management – in 60 minutes?
Remember they also introduced you to innovation. How do you communicate to those who call the shots (whether to retain you for fire you) or to a group, in our case of the livelihoods project, around 150 ‘techies‘ hardwired to their own disciplines to reach a population of over a million at the edge of society in every sense of the term and make an impact. Big data and an Ivy league stamping won’t do. One has to show and to show one has to SEE.
Many Views, One Reality
If India offers the heights of complexity, the eco-system people are at the peak, the Everest of complexity. The tribal is already edged out from their commons. The artisanal fishermen linger on primarily because the ‘law of the sea’ remains incomprehensible to those immersed in the ‘law of the land’. We seldom realise that marginalizing them is nothing short of suicidal, a failure to SEE the connections.
Making of the lens: The meta-systems view : Design of the learning engine
The meta-analytic framework
(We are the only species which generates waste. We don’t think it is intentional. It is only because we don’t SEE the connections. Improvement is reduction in waste. If we apply the human analogy, for every standing tree a 1/2 trillion of pollen would have gone to waste. Is this waste or design? The same logic applied to seven billion living humans tells us that a handful would suffice to fulfill the evolutionary requirement of survival of the species. At true north there is zero waste. We now have a universal non-controversial reference point, a basis for community, around which regardless of personal belief systems, people could come together. We could also SHOW the gap between where we are now to where we ought to be across the diversity of contexts.)
Spinoza (1632-1677) was a lens maker and a philosophers’ philosopher. His lenses corrected visual aberrations and found their place in microscopes and telescopes facilitating the short and long views. He also had the rarest lens to SEE far beyond his time making him immortal in spite of his short life. Perhaps he failed to SEE what he was doing to himself. The very act of seeing excludes something else which may be even more significant. Invariably our internal lenses are at fault for what we SEE. These visual aberrations need correction to design sustainable solutions. A combination of lenses and multiple views become necessary to SEE through the heights of complexity. Boulding had proposed the framework to bring together all possible lenses from diverse disciplines. We just had to deal with the UI challenge with a few add-ons to accommodate the imperatives of managerial performance. The process took up nine years and many near-deaths but something very tangible could now be delivered in that 60 minutes.
Q 1 is a visual representation of what Boulding SAW as the skeleton of science, and Q3 the mirror opposite, the concrete tangible world. The gap between potential and performance in any system can now be visualised. Q3 and Q4 explains the why and how of the gap. Fitting in specific data sets to specific contexts is no big deal. Showing that we are caught up between our own past and the future is achieved in no time, the pre-requisite to transcending the blocks. The gap is bridged without any resistance because it is in our own interest to improve. The blue oceans become visible, navigation is easier and the distant shores become a tangible reality. The only facilitation is an initiation to see the knowledge holes. Solutions emerge- naturally. Tested at varying levels of complexity the framework holds well across levels and contexts. Learning faster than the competition is the only real competitive advantage. Sustainable performance follows when the learning engine – individuals, institutions, communities – continually improves on their previous best performance.
Indeed a picture is worth a forest equivalent of paper consumed by discussions on contra causal freewill!
Complexity is addictive when one is fascinated by elegant solutions. Having arrived at one, one is tempted to use it like the proverbial Maslow’s hammer. “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail”. Every context is unique and the introduction of a new hammer influences the context more often in a contra- causal manner, good intentions creating the opposite impact. The hammer has to be judged against tangible outcomes where appropriate metrics come to substantiate the tools.
Focus. Climbing Everest First, the waves and the poor rich
With the mastery of lens-making we can focus “Femtoscopes / Hubbles” – the vision compass- to where we want to pay our attention. If you are a climber Everest is the gold standard for climbing. The Indian side offers a much higher level of complexity than the Chinese because of the diversity of languages, colour, religion, and politics and so on. The eco-system people are at the extreme edge of this complexity in every sense of the term. It was among the artisanal fishing community of Kerala that we focused our vision compass. The solutions were to be evolved in a participatory mode. There was no escape from getting wet to learn swimming and fishing.
The eco-system people have or had shared free and open access to their commons, the forests and water bodies as we have our wiki now. The forest dweller and the artisanal fishermen are in reality the custodians of our common future though they have been edged out of their commons by us their ‘civilized’ tech and market savvy cousins. Their livelihoods are threatened because we fail to see that our common future is at stake. The farmers’ plight is much less complex in comparison. Livelihoods, food and water security are but different views of the same reality. We focus on the artisanal fishermen now leaving the farmer and the forest dweller for later discussions
Big data, finding directions at sea
We had volumes and volumes of data. The Indian Institute of Management (Ahmadabad) had carried out a benchmark study of the Fisheries sector of India running into several volumes. There were international agencies like the FAO to turn to. But how do you know where to focus the search and how do we make sense of big data to decide our position as a prelude to fixing the direction to move. The directions were to be shown to a community of over a million people often qualified as poorest of the poor, illiterate, ….
Sometimes solutions surface from the most unexpected corners.
We were working with the MSY, maximum sustainable yield, estimates and annual landing figures for fish to optimise fishing effort and returns to the community and prioritise intervention points. It was the second day of a three days marathon workshop when one of the participants mustered up her courage and talked about her previous night’s dream.
She said “It is not a straight line, it is a wave” and went on to explain with the help of a diagram what she said was just another version of the dream that Joseph had to interpret for the Pharaoh.
It makes immense sense to all. It is all about waves on the sea or the markets. The MSY is a wave, so are the landings across the long tern and short terms, the finacial flows move in an opposite direction to the physcial flows, there are good years and bad years and years when there are higher risks of over-exploitation. There is a definite pattern. Vessels have anchors and the community needed anchors of stability to withstand the clash of the waves in production, from the markets and the clash of different cultures, the most fundamental of which is a clash between the logic of the land and the sea.
We could now translate the vison to a business development plan and reduce the complexity of operations to a few spreadsheets. Good bye, Big data.
The vision compass could be tunred to other contexts
Yet another view : The Community Learning Engine
Technology and markets are two major levers to bring about improvement. Some communities have achieved remarkable progress is using them. But conventional measures of improvement fail to grasp the cost at which such improvements are achieved. Economic growth needs to be balanced with improvement in community. Some communities have achieved physical quality of life at a much lower cost to community and there are also communities like the eco-system people where in spite of improvements in growth, corresponding improvements in quality of life has not materialised. The focus here is how a particular community responds to the challenges of managing technology and markets along with improvement in community
Old wine, new bottles
It took us more time to realise that the design of the learning engine was nothing but very old wine in a new bottle, a modern version of Nagarjuna’s inference engine, the wheel of dharma and many other similar representations. The Greek had their tetra-lemma the equivalent of ‘Catushkodi’ in the east. Asoka and Alexander, Buddha and Christ were realizations of this higher vision of that age of reason spread across a golden period of global community that lasted for a few centuries. The bell rings from Sarnath, the lion capital of Ashoka. ‘Sar’ in Sanskrit means the essence and ‘nath’ means sound. On top of the bell are the four lions, back to back representing the four visions that help us to anchor to the centre, and the middle-path? Asoka pillars were erected all over the empire and the chakra found its way to the national flag of the country. Asoka knew that visual literacy was important to hold the empire together. Once again the visual is taking over throwing up the possibility of mass dialogue, development and transformation at a pace and scale unprecedented in history.
Can Asians Think? Kishore Mahubani
The End of the Nation State, Kenichi Ohmae
Charles Eames Quotes
- Eventually everything connects — people, ideas, objects… the quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.
- Beyond the age of information is the age of choices.
- “I don’t believe in this “gifted few” concept, just in people doing things they are really interested in doing. They have a way of getting good at whatever it is.