In praise of the infinite mind

image“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
― Albert Einstein

Through a plus thirty year career, and traipsing even further back, all the years of education, it has really bothered me that the best people have failed. And when I say this, it is not in any way to personalise this statement. It is actually stated on behalf of a host of fellow managers and students, those especially, who found the system insurmountable and succumbed, thus never reaching their true potential which was clearly visible.

This life is designed in the present. It is designed to function and operate on the limitations of present systems, technology and ability. The world appreciates those who carry the norms of this world on their back. In the working corridors of the world, people who hold sway, are those who efficiently and unquestionably go about the work of the day. The most appreciated is the SMART worker, who will deliver expectations in time and without much question. The world functions a bit like an ant colony, efficient, unimaginative, conformist. The ordinary rules us!

The SMART worker will be further appreciated, if they can continue to do this day after day, year after year, with a total disregard for attrition. Over a career, this worker will prosper in the system and simultaneously protect and sustain it. Little tinkering will occur, but a revolution will not come from such a one. Typically, as the Bell Curve predicts, almost 96% will conform to this system – 68 normal and 14 on either side of it.

On the other hand there will be that 2 percent on the absolute right of the Bell Curve, who will be totally out of the box thinkers. They will be gifted people, who will challenge the system, see images which others simply cannot visualise and invariably will also challenge the status quo. They will be passionate and emotional and express their thoughts while taking on the system. These outliers, will generally be considered mavericks and the system will tend to be mildly contemptuous of them (I have seen plenty of very ordinary managers, laugh about such talented individuals). Typically, in our structured working systems, these mavericks will fail. Alas, there have been legions of such failed people, throughout the history of this world, who have been ground into the dust. My heart bleeds for such people. If given the opportunity, they could have done so much, but they never had the conformist switch.

Nevertheless, there are some of these gifted people, who despite the system and walls manage to wriggle free and achieve something. These are the ones who change the world. How they succeed is more in the hands of Allah (some may call it luck, or low probability numbers finally working out). Think Prophets immediately. That is an obvious given. But there are others, less blessed humans, like Newton, MichaelAngelo, Rumi and Biruni. For every age a band of gifted people lifted their prevailing society. Almost all science, art, literature, discoveries etc has been achieved by such people. Humans through the folds of history owe a huge debt to the ones who stuck their neck out, imagined, created and moved society a major notch each time. This note is a thank you note and in praise of the infinite mind.

There are not too many of these individuals in comparison to their achievement. Some infact went to their permanent resting place without any acknowledgement of achievement and greatness. Only later would such people be recognised. Van Gogh is an example. So just imagine a world where no Archimedes made his discovery. Or Newton did not expound his theory, or Shakespeare not write his plays, or Ibn Batuta not travel his miles, or Einstein not work out the theory of relativity. We could still be living in the dark ages, hunting with primitive weapons, speaking a stunted tongue and living in our little hole. Our world would have been just the few square miles around us, that we would cover during our lives, never knowing there was a world and people beyond. Think about it!

* picture is from the http://www.canadianteacher.com

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Nothing stands still, Innovate!

imageWe are at an exceptional time in history. My generation saw camel carts on the roads, the telegraph, accounting tabulators and manual ledgers. We were served by kiryana stores only and the rupee went a long way in fulfilling our needs. We heard BBC news on crackling Grundig radios and were lucky to see a movie rarely. If the newspaper did not arrive at our doorstep in the morning, then the biggest disaster would not touch us. This went on for years, with little or insignificant change.

Then one day in 1983 I remember sitting down to work on an Apple IIe. It was Unilever Pakistan’s first desk top computer – yes I have this honour, of being the first in thousands in the last 32 years. I did not realise it then; the world changed from that day. Several changes happened to the philosophy of life. Speed, choice, awareness, expectations and fulfilment all arrived home. It is now a fast world, where there are no absolutes; anything can happen.

Change is a given today. When change is a given, then the human will be innovative to get ahead of that change. Therefore, innovation is todays mantra. Forget about getting ahead, we have to live by it to survive, Blackberry (Rem) and Nokia totally understand this statement, after the beating they took recently.

Innovation might be a mantra, but look around the world and many just cannot make that change. Hence, they pay the ultimate price of annihilation or becoming marginalised as a has-been. This was discussed endlessly in the MAP (Management Association Of Pakistan) Convention on Innovation recently. It was a pleasant surprise, that so many of the contributors understood innovation and swore by it. I went into the discussions with a certain thought process, which was affirmed by others and therefore it gives me confidence to write about it here.

Innovation needs to be broken down into four areas. And now I will use corporates as the base example.

The first two areas are a given. Both (A) and (B) have to be in existence for Innovation to germinate. They are also the simpler and easier part of the whole. There are thousands of systems and organisations from which to copy and poach.

A/ Process should be appropriate, efficient and meaningful. It’s the implementation side of things. We need to follow a funnel system. Many ideas go in at one end, fit a concept, are evaluated, tested, and at the other end comes out one well thought-out Innovation, which can be implemented with confidence and hope.

B/ Human Resource aspects are fundamental. We have to have right people in the right place. The innovation people will have the capability to manage (A). Generally, they are flexible people, with quick grasp and ability to connect to people and situations. They hop, skip and jump to manage the innovation roller-coaster.

Now come the much higher view areas, which are far more important to be able to innovate.

C/ Culture is a farm for innovation. If it is fertile, innovation will happen. If it is infertile, then the best in (A) and (B) will fail. It fails because the rest of the organisation has to take part sometime in the innovation game. If the organisation is not conducive, then I can promise you it will kill the innovation. Humans as individuals dislike change. So right from the CEO down to the foot soldier, people have to be ready to embrace innovation. You walk the corridors of an innovating company and you can feel the bubbly-ness which symbolises the culture of change and innovation.

D/ Innovators need protection. The history of ideas says that almost all will fail. The ten per cent which get through more than pay for the failures. They change the world, as has occurred in the last few decades. Risks can be taken; thinking can be out of the box only when the innovators know that failure will not mean punishment. Punishment is not just a loss of a job, or monetary reductions, but also the emotional status. There cannot be ostracising or humiliation for failure. If that happens, innovation will die its death even before its started. It will become lip service and no action.

Organisations thrive on the above elements. Put them into place and the output will be worth its weight in success. You will hit the proverbial pot of gold, at the end of the innovation rainbow.

  • picture is from Dreamstime a free picture site.

Think of Those Children

imageOnce Crazy Horse the Oglala Sioux asked the question “how can you sell the land one walks on?” Modern Man has done much worse in the century beyond Crazy Horse. We have sold the good earth lock, stock and barrel. We are now about to pay a very heavy price for doing this.

Four recent events suggest we are gong to pay this heavy price.

A) this summer, scientist did a live research and review of the real danger of the melting mass of ice in Greenland, and it is aggressive and horrifying. (NY Times)

B) the Indonesian fire this September emitted more carbon dioxide in 3 weeks than Germany does in all year. This is one of the major environment disasters of our time, coming on top of aggressive Californian forest fires this summer.(Washigton Post)

C) Exxon-Mobil Corporation is now being investigated for putting the lid on climate science years ago. It is suspected that their own scientists warned them of the coming trauma – reminds one of the cigarette companies in the 1950’s. (NY Times)

D) Measurements now show that by next year we would have passed CO2 concentrations of 400 ppm. This is almost 50 per cent up from the Industrial Age – however the money people still deny Man has anything to do with it. (The Guardian)

Greed drives us. It seems that when we have enough, it is still not good enough. We need more. Allah only understands that motivation, It is so difficult to rationalise it. We cannot carry wealth to our graves and beyond. And really, once we are gone from this world, it should matter little what we leave behind for our children. But it does seem to matter to us, that we provide for our children beyond our graves. Keep hold of that thought for later.

Now we are bad enough as individuals. Make that a collective and we become a mob. Imagine a set of shareholders driven by the gain in share values on the stock exchange. It is vicious, unfeeling and basically follows mass trends. That trend drives the corporate world. It just devours all semblance of humanity from us humans. It is a juggernaut in motion, with an existence of its own, beyond humanity and it sets rules which are only for its own good. The employees in that corporate, are as much slaves to its needs and they will work for its existence and sustenance. The motto is “more at any cost”.

Fortunately in Pakistan we have been lucky, in that corporate culture has not reached the same levels, where feelings have disappeared. The individual still holds sway here and so somehow we have not seen the worst side of the corporate machine, yet.

Going back to my earlier statement. It seems we are hell bent as humans to provide for our children, even when we are gone from this world. There is no other explanation for us breaking our backs to possess more and more, well beyond our needs. That being the case, I do not then understand our blinkered approach to climate change. This earth is the biggest debt we owe our next generation. Its a working house, fully provided with sustainability. If humans do not tamper with it, it will serve us life long and go on to the subsequent generations. Its been proved through Earths history, that this self sustainability exists.

Yet despite breaking our backs and ethics to provide for our next generation, we continue to dismantle the very house we live in. Does not the logical question stare us in the face? What will my children do with the wealth accumulated, when there is nowhere to spend it. That last drop of water will be more precious to them, than all the gold in the world.

In Paris very shortly, a lot of important people will get together to deliberate the worlds future, at the Climate Summit. We are already in extreme danger and more is happening daily. The problem is that sincerity seems missing, when these rulers meet to discuss the fate of our children. They would do well to remember this American Indian saying.

“Treat the Earth well: it was not given to you by your parents; it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

Think of those children!

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/10/27/world/greenland-is-melting-away.html?_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/06/science/exxon-mobil-under-investigation-in-new-york-over-climate-statements.html

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/09/earths-climate-entering-new-permanent-reality-as-co2-hits-new-high

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/10/20/fueled-by-el-nino-carbon-emissions-from-indonesian-peat-fires-are-rising-fast/

*picture is from epa.gov

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