Principles and teamwork

imageSomewhere in Turkey, ninety families will be mourning their near ones today. At the same time their nation will be celebrating their heroes, who rose out of nowhere to do what was right.

Last night was one of those magical times in life, when correctness and equity occurs. Also as always, when great events occur, sacrifices are made and some people become heroes, as in the case of the ninety heroes.

I was just going to sleep, when a chance check brought me to these events last night. The next five hours were some of the most intense I have witnessed. This was reality television on a very large scale. A world wide view. It is also interesting to note that the Pakistani channels were at least a couple of hours ahead on reporting events compared to CNN and BBC. So at 6 am the foreign channels were reporting that a coup is still in progress, while Pakistan reported before 5 am, that the coup had failed. Since its not a question of resources, I then surmise it is more a case of politics and policy for CNN and BBC.

What enthused me most was that the events showed the two very qualities, which I have always been passionate about and which in my mind always lead to success. Belief in principles and resultant teamwork. Erdogan and the Turkish people stood by what is right and that belief made them last night. A President in trouble, back against the wall, was probably looking at death and ignominy, when he stuck his neck out, extraordinarily went via his smartphone on the national media circuit and rallied the country to come on the street (how many Pakistani leaders would have the guts to do this? Bar one…your own conscience would tell you that). Erdogan did that with guts, passion and belief. His people, stood by his call of principle. They believed him, because they valued him and trusted him. Then the teamwork happened. The leaders instruction was followed and contact made between individuals and unified action was taken in so many places. The most remarkable was the storming of a tank, while guns and machine guns were being fired. These were ordinary, unarmed humans who prevailed. The heart just races, when one sees that event.

You know, we in Pakistan were like that at one time. The first rally against the armed police of Ayub Khan happened in Karachi, October 15th, 1968. It went past my school in Depot Lines on the way to Saddar, which was the rally area at the time. I witnessed that as a young kid. Next day, the first student was killed at Gordon College Rawalpindi, commencing a five month successful resistance to bring down a dictator. Again principles and teamwork. Similarly, Karachi resisted in 1977 for four months, so that flawed election results could be rewound. Somewhere, we lost that passion for right as a nation, though individual candles still burn. I was in Lahore when sweets were distributed when Nawaz Sharif was deposed on October 12th, 1999. Partially, this is the lack of trust in and commitments of our leaders and partially it is because we have no principles left as a nation. We are only individuals thinking around ourselves.

So it was exhilarating to see a burning star for once. A star one could marvel in. Long may the Turkish people stand by principles and work like a team.

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Cuba, the Final Frontier

imageTo use Star Trek language, imagine Captain Kirk of the Enterprise relating his mission in 21st century Cuba. “This is the story of Cuba, the final frontier, where modern man has never been. Our mission is to enter it, hunt for archaic humans, modernise them and change the culture to modernity. Our goal is to make profits out of that modernity, by bringing consumerism.”

That is the sort of briefing which must have been given in the White House a few weeks ago, as Obama flew across to meet Raul Castro. The first US President to visit since almost ever.

The BBC was recently running a series of pictures from Cuba. It is fascinating. Garish coloured cars from the 1950s, probably shipped across from US, in the days when this was a US backyard. Old men sitting smiling, chewing on their cigar. Old women dancing and younger school children studying in schools, which could well be from early 20th century. This is a place which has no money, an infrastructure which is minimal and whatever is available, is abysmal. There is no consumerism, no malls, no retail giants. The television is archaic and the internet almost non-existent. So, it carries all the pain which poverty brings. But, they seem happy and their lives belong to them. The rat race has not descended on this last bastion of antiquity.

There is a blue print of just such a place. Pre 1975, Hunza, a region in Northern Pakistan, was remote from the world. Some millenia ago, roaming bands of Greek army (invading India) or maybe Albanians or Eurasians, wandered past the Hindu Kush range and entered the Hunza valley in the Karakorum Mountains. They settled there and were remotely administered from the world. When civilisation finally caught up with them in 1975, they found people over a hundred years of age working out in the fields. They were blessedly happy, totally ignorant, healthy (there were no recorded cases of cancer for instance) and lacked stress. They lived long and did not prosper in terms of commerce. Our assessment? Of course they needed to be helped and brought into modern life! It was our mission to do that. Today, they are not as happy, live shorter, catch all the modern diseases and while they have some of modern life’s trappings, are still not prosperous. They have lost a lot and gained little.

My fear is that this is what is going to happen to Cuba also. A place of poverty and happiness, is going to be converted into a modern commerce centre, where no one will be happy and once the worlds great MNCs have taken their share of profits out of it, will be in debt and not prosperous either. Sadly, the final frontier will be conquered, and much that is human will be gone forever. It has been so for successive civilisations, including the Red Indians, Mayans and tribes in Africa. Look what happened to them. Allah forfend!

As a footnote. Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones visited Cuba to do a free concert in Havana. Chanel and Lagerfeld have held fashion shows, with Paris haute couture on display, along with the stick thin modern models. That is what I mean. They are bringing happiness to the Cubans and will go away with their souls. Cuba, the final frontier! Wish they would let them be as they are.

How to live Life

imageNowadays, such clever young people, enter the daily operations of this world. The current curriculum in universities is so advanced, I could only dream about this level in my college days. Education has moved along at a smart pace these past decades and today the science of teaching is just phenomenal. Younger people have analytical skills, work smart, have a way of communicating, own a vision, plan their life goals, are articulate, driven and success agents.

Are we then reaching an era of mankind, when we produce the best of the best, see skills maximisation and benefit all mankind? I would say ‘Yes’ in general commercial terms, considering the high amount of wealth which is owned by the young. But does this bode well for humanity as a whole? Sadly the answer would be an emphatic ‘No’.

During my career in the last decade, I have met many school leavers. They show all the competencies, which will make them great deliverers of material success. But, unfortunately, very few are well-rounded humans, which one would desire in future leaders. These young aspiring managers, entrepreneurs, sports people, artists and lawyers all miss basic soft traits of humanity. Education is delivering efficiency and drive, but not people who will be like Martin Luther King, Mandela or Jinnah. Leaders who care and have a larger purpose in life, which goes beyond materialism.

No wonder we have this huge drive in the world, to deliver growth and profits. Everything is measured in commercial terms. Does not matter, what we have destroyed along the way or the necks we have stepped on. Just look around. Stock markets reign and humans are servants to their whims. Presently, with negativity prevailing in China, declining commodities and stress on large banks, every one is jittery and ready to sell off. Our lives revolve around this phenomenon. Just watch television and that is what you hear. CNN! BBC! Fox! Sky! All of them. Is this what we humans have come to be? There are other issues , like the environment is destroyed; mankind stands at the edge of a precipice. There are over a billion people who suffer from malnutrition. Wealth belongs to less than 1% and 99% other humans suffer. There is death, pillage, and family trauma. So many divorces, so many one parent families. But unfortunately, economics is just more important and reigns supreme. Success and power are measured in economic impact. Reality is, we cannot carry our wealth, position or fame to our graves.

Why would this be? How is it that such efficient human machinery is being delivered, yet cannot work for humanity. My analysis is that basic, simple human stuff is not being taught at any level. Inside our homes, the TV and Internet reign supreme. In the institutions, teaching hard-nosed success takes over and playgrounds, (great teaching places) are deserted the world over. We are never taught the things which matter…how time will fly by, we will become old; our positions are temporary, so how to treat present success; how to treat those less fortunate, not to think ourselves superior to others; as we grow old we shall change, how to handle this with grace; how to fail and learn from it; how to smile through the good and bad, to be patient and thankful. All this amounts to simply the art of ‘how to live life’.

When we are not taught all this, in home, in institutions and outside, then we are producing soulless machinery, which thinks efficiency will lead to success. What an absolute failure of the system. Thus, we are, what we are today.

Parents, urgently need to start this ‘tarbiat‘ at home and then demand it from schools. We should shut the TV, computer and cell phone down for several hours every day, so that the old connection and real conversation returns. Also we have to inculcate skills and feelings which need not just deliver commerce. If we shun some of our present day habits and relearn our millennia old values, then very soon, we will reverse our descent into this hell and turn the tide. We will become humans once more, one humanity and one society.

Stephen Hawking on our “imminent danger”

imageIn his last interview, Marlon Brando (one of the most venerated people of the 20th century) of full age and wisdom, sat in his mansion on the hill, looking down on Los Angeles. The interviewer asked one final question, “Do you think mankind will make it?”. Brando looked sad, but almost relieved that his day was over. “No!” Brando answered.

Taking this cue, at the end of an astonishing career, when Professor Stephen Hawking says mankind is threatened, then the world takes notice. And its not to say, it has not been said before by others. The holy books and holy men have been saying it for many thousands of years. Maybe we have become desensitised to their words. Logic and science in the present day, are our foundation stone. Todays populace has been brought up on that diet and so it reaches deeper, I guess.

What does Hawking say?

Three specifics threats and one more general statement. Also, in an earlier talk, he classified one more specific threat.

Mankind is in danger and he would expect some catastrophic event to occur over the ages. An extinction level event has regularly happened every 100 million years or so in the world. This makes sense, as it is really a question of probability and statistical chance. The last time it occurred, the dinosaurs were wiped out. A catastrophic event is about due on Earth.

So where are the possible dangers coming from.

A) nuclear or similar world wide conflagration.
B) environmental damage.
C) genetically engineered viruses.
D) cognitive architecture artificial intelligence.*

*The D point was stated by Hawking in an earlier discussion – the development of artificial intelligence “could spell the end of the human race”-, while the points A to C are in the Reith Lectures which Hawking made recently for the BBC. The above four points are not a catch-all and future developments might well see more threats appear in this world of ours.

It is very ironic that all these four dangerous points are self created by humans. When science and technology advances, it seems always to be a double edged sword. Used within reason and balance, it is a great benefit to mankind. However, over use or emphasis and it tends to get out of hand, as we reach out for more than our due. This has ever been humanity’s story. We have allowed our greed, ambition and larger unawareness to create threats, which should not have been there at all. Professor Hawking remarked that technological advances, were taking humanity into one of the most dangerous time periods ever.

So how are we to revert this danger of an existential threat to our future generations? Hawking thought the best chance of survival would be to colonise space. That is reverting to our past and core human behaviour. Whenever, what we have in hand is not enough, then we venture out and grab from others. Even the most celebrated mind today, cannot escape our programmed characteristics. Unfortunately, the truth is that at the moment we are at the edge of the science of space travel and surviving out there. This outlet could be hundreds of years away perhaps. So in this time we stand in great existential danger.

Hawking describes himself an optimist, despite the perceived future dangers. Considering his tilt of mind and his great mental capacity, we are well advised to take this danger seriously.

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.

A Photographer Laments

imageThere are many people who are warm humans. They feel, have passions and they live to try and change the world. Out of such individuals, there are a few who have been given special skills by Allah (swt) to fulfil their calling. And then right at the end of this spectrum of humanity, out of these gifted individuals, come those who are very successful in exploiting these special skills. By the nature of elimination, these last individuals are very few and far between. When you come across them you know. They not only have greatness, but they touch you without even trying and you know that these are kings and high nobles, who rarely walk this earth.

I watched a fascinating interview by Steven Sackur, in HardTalk, with Don McCullin, the legendary photographer. Here is someone who has lived life on the edge. Touching eighty, Don, has been on photographic assignments since 1959. A vast majority of his work has been in the heartland of tragedy.

Don was in Aleppo in Syria fairly recently and is now planning one last visit to Iraq. In reality he retired several years ago from these wars and crises photographic assignments. But, from what I could gather, he is addicted to this passion and keeps going back, though clearly his body cannot be backing him at this age.

As Don accounted, he has survived over a thousand dead colleagues who were on similar assignments in these fifty plus years. They all risked their lives, sacrificed on the alter of their passion and were driven to bring reality to the world. Terrible deeds go on in the name of humanity and these people, who are right in the middle of war zones, risk their own lives to bring reports to us. Don himself once escaped death, when his Nikon camera stopped a bullet. Sometimes you are born lucky.

So why did Don do what he did? He was dyslexic, a school leaver after his fathers early death and then never qualified as a photographer for the RAF. On the card was a clerical existence, in various newspapers in London. But fate was not going to allow a latent skill to go to waste. It intervened. Dons photograph of a London gang in 1959, made it big and suddenly he realised that there was a place where he could make a career. He then did a personal assignment, photographing the events around the making of the Berlin Wall in 1961. This was in the heart of the Cold War and the happening event. From thereon, Dons walk through and into History was an inevitable event.

Notwithstanding the strength, a great will to make a difference and a very brave heart, it is Dons conclusions which I want to record here. This man has hoped as few must have. He kept going back into tragedy willingly all his life. Few of us would even have the will to go back for a second assignment. He once saw men runover by a tank in Vietnam, when he said they were like a Persian carpet on the floor, when the tank had done its work. He once picked a lame old lady in a fire-zone and saved her, at personal risk. This photographer hoped and felt.

Dons lament after watching the recent refugee crisis in Europe was, that nothing had changed. Humans are still as bad as they were fifty years ago. All this talk of wars to make things better is hogwash. Today even the Cold War might be back at the forefront, with Russia facing off against Nato in Syria. Just like he saw when he started photography in the late 50’s.

When Don McCullin spent a week in Aleppo, he said “I wanted a last look at what was going on, to make sure it was not a dream. It was exactly like Beirut, streets full of Kalashnikovs. Little had changed.” The propensity to suffer had not diminished. “I felt an enormous sense of sadness and disappointment. NATO, the EU, democracy how little it has achieved. Russia creating a new Cold War. Whats there to be joyful about? Nothing.”

A photographer laments, when he has seen his life’s work wasted. His last few thoughts, “I am so ashamed, watching this human race”.

Reference: Steven Sackur HardTalk interview and Alastair Sooke interview. Biography from various internet sites. Photograph from slideshare.net

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