Yearly Archives: 2015

12Dec/15

Nature and We

(A deeper perspectives on environmentalism from a modern spiritual teacher, referred to in this dialogue as ‘Amma’. This perspective is based on a spiritual vision which views Nature not as an inanimate energy but as a living conscious force which can respond to our aspirations and attitudes.)

Tagline: A spiritual perspective on environment.
Questioner: What is nature to human beings?
Amma: Nature means life to humans. She is part and parcel of our existence. It is an interrelationship that goes on at every moment and on every level. Not only are we totally dependent on Nature, but we affect her and she affects us. And when we truly love Nature, she responds in kind and opens up her endless resources to us. And just as when we truly love another person, in our love towards Nature we should be infinitely faithful, patient and compassionate.

Questioner: Is this relationship an exchange or is it a mutual support?
Amma: It is both and even more. However, Nature will continue to exist even without human beings. She knows how to take care of herself. But humans require the support of Nature for their existence.

Questioner: What happens if the exchange between Nature and human beings become complete?
Amma: She will stop hiding things from us. Opening her infinite treasure of natural wealth, she will allow us to enjoy it. Like a mother, she will protect us, nurture and nourish us. In a perfect relationship between humanity and Nature, a circular energy field is created in which both start flowing into each other. To put it in another way, when we human beings fall in love with Nature, she will fall in love with us.

Questioner: What is it that makes people act so cruelly to Nature? Is it selfishness or lack of understanding?
Amma: It is both. In fact, it is lack of understanding that manifests as selfish actions. Basically, it is ignorance. Due to ignorance, people think that Nature is just a place from which they can keep on taking without giving. Most human beings know only the language of exploitation. Due to their utter selfishness, they are unable to consider their fellow beings. In today’s world, our relationship with Nature is nothing but an extension of the selfishness that we feel within.
Questioner: Amma, What do you mean by considering others?
Amma: What Amma means, is to consider others with compassion. In order to consider others – Nature or human beings – the first and foremost quality that one needs to develop is a deep inner connection, a connection with one’s own conscience. Conscience, in the real sense, is the power to see others as yourself. Just as you see your own image in the mirror, you see as you. You reflect others, their feelings, both of happiness and sorrow. We have to develop this capacity in our relationship with Nature.

Questioner: The original inhabitants of this country were Native Americans. They worshipped nature and had a deep connection with her. Do you think that is what we also should do?
Amma: What each one should do depends on their mental constitution. However, Nature is a part of life, a part of the whole. Nature is verily God. Worshipping Nature is the same as worshipping God. By worshipping Mount Govardhana, Lord Krishna taught us a great lesson: to make Nature worship part of our daily life. He asked his people to worship Mount Govardhana because it protected them. Similarly Lord Rama, before building the bridge across the sea, did three days of severe penance to please the ocean. Even Mahatmas give so much respect and regard for Nature and seek her blessings prior to commencing any action. In India there are temples for birds, animals, trees and even for lizards and poisonous snakes. This is to emphasise the great significance of the connection between the humans and Nature.
Questioner: Amma, in order to re-establish the relationship between human beings and Nature what is your advice?
Amma: Let us be compassionate and considerate. Let us take from Nature only what we really need, and then try to return it to some extent. For only by giving will we receive. A blessing is something that comes back to us in response to the way we approach something. If we approach Nature with love, considering her as life, as God, as part of our own existence, then she will serve as our best friend, a friend whom we can always trust, a friend who would never betray us. But if our attitude towardsNature is wrong then, instead of Nature responding with a blessing, the result will be a negative reaction. Nature will turn against the human race if we are not careful in our relationship with her, and the consequences may be disastrous. Many of God’s beautiful creations have already been lost due to the people’s misbehaviour and total disregard for Nature. If we continue to act this way, it will only pave the way for disaster.

Courtesy: “From Amma’s Heart”

Conversations with Mata Amritanandamayi Devi

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14Nov/15

Big Data: What it Can and Cannot Do

At present, the corporate world is enamoured of “Big Data” or Analytics, which is regarded as the new “Management Revolution” Harvard Business Review has come out with a special issue on it. Is it just another hype which will fade out? How much of the “revolution” is hype and how much of it is real?

Deluge of Data

Harvard Business Review brought out a special issue on this theme on October 2012. The editorial in the issue states “Yes there’s a lot of hype. But companies that make a sophisticated analysis of the huge data streams now available can unlock deep insights and value – without having to make major new investments in technology.” This reminds me of a similar phenomenon in the 1970’s when the Quantitative Techniques entered into management. More or less similar claims are made, like for example intuition is no longer needed for decision-making and computers and mathematics will soon replace human judgement or intuition. But after a few years of flirting with “quants” management thinkers again started talking about the importance of intuition in decision-making.

Let us first listen carefully to experts on big data. First question is what it is all about. Andrew MacAfee and Eric Brynjolfson; data scientists from MIT and Sloan School of Management, in their article in Harvard Business Review “Big Data: The Management Revolution”, state that the main objective of big data movement is to “gleam intelligence from data and translate that into business advantage”. There is undoubtedly a need for such a movement because in recent years there is a tremendous increase in the volume, velocity and variety of data. This has its advantages as well as drawbacks. Too much of data becomes difficult to handle but if we can find a way to manage this big data which represents facts of the world in movement, it holds the key to a better understanding of the changing world. If we can find a way to manage this data creatively, which means to discern the hidden patterns, answer questions or indicate solutions, then it is a big help in decision-making. This is what Big data movement can do.

Data and Insight

But can it entirely replace intuition? MacAfee and Brynjoffson state: “Data-driven decisions are better decisions… it’s as simple as that. Big data enables managers to decide on the basis of evidence rather than intuition.” However, in the last part of their article in HBR they say: [“Companies succeed in big data era not simply because they have more or better data but because they have leadership teams that set clear goals, define what success looks like and ask the right question. Big data’s power does not erase the need for vision or human insight. On the contrary we still must have leaders who can spot a great opportunity, understand how a market is developing, think creatively and propose truly novel offering articulate a compelling vision persuade people to embrace it and deal effectively with customers, employees, stockholders and other stakeholders. The successful companies of the next decade will be the ones whose leaders can do all that while changing the way their organisations make many decisions”.]

So Big data can’t be a substitute for intuition and insight. Almost all the factors listed above involve decisions which require human insight. Big data can’t be a substitute for it though it can help in arriving at a better decision by providing well-structured and appropriate information based on facts. However when the decisions involve a deeper or wider understanding of human factors like motivation or well-being or a holistic comprehension of the totality of life, then data becomes less important and human insight acquires a much greater significance.

Right decisions depend on right understanding which can be at many levels. At the first level, there is the understanding of life as it is, made of the known, visible, manifest, and predictable and the mobile actualities of life. At a deeper level is the unknown, invisible unmanifest, dormant, unpredictable and the flux of future possibilities. At a wider level is the understanding of the ecological dimension, which means connectedness, interdependence, unity and wholeness of life, which is necessary for knowing the long-term consequences of our decisions. At another level is the realm of values, the ethical, aesthetic and spiritual dimension, and the factors which lead to human well-being and fulfilment, individual and collective, inner and outer, which may involve reconciling many dualities, dilemmas and conflicts thrown by life.

Big data, analytics, and whatever future development in IT which enhances the capacity to process information can only help in better understanding at the first level of visible facts and when combined with Artificial Intelligence provide a certain level of insight into the second level of the invisible like for example hidden patterns behind facts. But at all other deeper, wider or higher levels, analytics may not be of much help and we need a deeper and higher intuition. In the future, as we grow as a race in our inner consciousness, more and more of these higher non-material dimension will begin to manifest and get incorporated into human life. This is already happening. For example, factors like ethics, values, long term vision, social responsibility, sustainability, holistic perspective and human well-being are now increasingly recognised as key to success in the future world. All these factors and many more which may come in the future will throw up problems, situations and decision-contexts which cannot be solved entirely by analytics but requires a higher intuitive understanding.

Even in the first level, right decisions require a certain subjective freedom from excessive self-interest. Without this freedom, big data will be used to support personal decisions driven consciously or subconsciously by self-seeking motives. Secondly, quite often right questions are the spark which ignites creativity and innovation and analytics can’t ask questions. As McAfee and Brynjoffson quote Pablo Picasso as telling “Computers are useless they can only give you answers.”

M. S. Srinivasan

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30Oct/15
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Parenting and Career

(This article is a further commentary on an earlier article “Work and Life: Balance or Choice?” responding to some of the conclusions of an article in Harvard Business Review on this subject.)

In this earlier article which is a case study, I have put forth a view-point which argues that for woman executives’, work and life issues should not be regarded entirely as a perpetual adjustment and balance. Quite often, it involves a crucial choice between a single-minded pursuit of success in career aiming at the C-suite, and the equally or even more important function of parenting. However a recent article in Harvard business Review on this presents a different perspective. In this article “Rethink what you know about high–achieving woman”, Robin J. Ely, Pamela Stone and Coleen Anderson, after a survey of 25,000 HBS graduates,

Come to following conclusions:

  1. Men and women have similar career choices
  2. The wide spread notion that women value their career less and opt out after parenthood is a faulty and misguided assumption.
  3. Most of the high-achieving women are as much ambitious and success driven as men. With active support from their spouses they continue with their career, though they may take a long break after becoming Mothers to take care of their new born babies.

However these conclusions are problematic because the sample surveyed may not be very representative; it may be coloured by the common mind set of the HBS grads and their value systems shaped by the HBS culture. As Garvin Vander Loan, assistant professor of organisation and strategy, in her response to the article, states “While women and men in HBS programmes may have similar career expectations, this may reveal as much about how the programme attracts like-minded students as about gender similarities. The researchers don’t appear to have tested whether the male samples were representative of all working men or the female sample is representative of all working women. If people who don’t attend HBS think differently about work life balance and if those differences are gender related, the gender gap may be both outer and under estimated.”

A similar survey at leading business schools in India, China, Japan, Europe or South America may reveal very different patterns. There are perhaps a considering number of women executives all over the world, who are beginning to feel that parenting/career decisions are a hard choice and can’t “have it all” As Lisa Chase, another respondent to the HBS article, writes: “One of the great fallacies of the 1970s and the 80s was that women could have it all (fulfilling career, ideal, children, high standard of living). In the real world most can’t. Neither can most men. There’s simply no room at the top of the corporate ladder for everybody”.

Similarly, Anjali Bhansal, Managing Director, Spencer–Stuart India says “It’s a hard choice. You will never get enough time with the family as you’d like that’s the nobility of every committed professional.”

Whatever may be the conclusions of research surveys, parenting/career decisions are individual choices, which can be shaped by cultural influences. Those women executives who are less ambitious, and whose natural instinct of motherhood are strong may feel parenting is a sacred task which requires full time attention and may quit their jobs. Others, who are more ambitious, may find it a hard choice and have to make some sacrifices in the family or parenting domain to achieve success in their career. When a society or culture places motherhood and parenting at a very high pedestal of values, many working women will leave the job when they become mothers. On the other hand in a society, where career success is valued more than parenting and women have sufficient freedom and opportunities to ascend the corporate ladder, women executives strive towards a delicate balance between the needs of the home, family, parenting and their professional ambitions at the work place.

However most of the present discussions on work-life balance are centred around executive women. But there are many thousands of non-executive working women at the lower levels of the hierarchy who face more or less the same problems and needs, but with much less power, clout or financial resources to tackle them. Most of the corporate management or the management academia is not very much interested in them. But if the corporate world wants to harness fully the potentialities of their women-power in their work-force this section of the work force must also be given as much attention as the executive women.

For a total and effective harnessing of the potentialities of the working women, the corporate leadership must strive to build an environment which is safe, fair and sensitive to the women worker at all the levels of the organisation. Safe means free from every form of harassment or intimidation; fair means there must be no discrimination based on gender and equal opportunities for advancement; sensitive means to be responsive to the unique needs of the working women like parenting, work–life balance, caring for elders in the family.

M.S.Srinivasan

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30Oct/15
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Paradigm and Paradigm Shift

One of the most commonly used clichés in the corporate world by senior level executives is “Taking the Paradigm Shift”. However, how many of us really understand the meaning of this?

What is a Paradigm?

A paradigm is a model or a pattern. It’s a shared set of assumptions that have to do with how we perceive the world. Paradigms are very helpful because they allow us to develop expectations about what will probably occur based on these assumptions. However, when data falls outside our paradigm, we find it hard to see and accept. This is called the “Paradigm Effect”.

The dictionary meaning of a paradigm is “a typical example or pattern of something; a pattern or model”. A more scientific way of looking at it reveals that a paradigm is a distinct set of concepts or thought patterns, including theories, research methods, postulates, and standards for what constitutes legitimate contributions to a field.

If one were to put it in common parlance, paradigm is a set pattern or behaviour of ours which we follow without thinking much about it. A few paradigms in our daily lives could be – some of us wet the paste before brushing, some don’t. When we wear our shirt, either our left hand or right which goes first, not left on Monday, right on Tuesday etc. and we may note that we repeat this every single time we wear a shirt. So, if we were to observe closely, the pattern never changes.

What is a Paradigm Shift?

In 1962, Thomas Kuhn, who wrote the book titled “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, fathered, defined and popularized the concept of “Paradigm Shift”. Kuhn argues that scientific advancement is not evolutionary, but rather is a “series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions”, and in those revolutions “one conceptual world view is replaced by another”.

We can also see that the agents of such a change are driving a new paradigm shift today. The signs are all around us. For e.g. the advent of computers and the internet have impacted both personal and business environments, and are catalysts for a Paradigm Shift. We are shifting from a mechanistic, manufacturing, industrial society to an organic, service based, information centered society, and advancement in technology will continue to impact globally. Change is inevitable. It’s the only true constant.

For millions of years we have been evolving and will continue to do so. Change is difficult. Human Beings resist change; however, the process has been set in motion long ago and we will continue to co-create our own experience. Kuhn states that “awareness is prerequisite to all acceptable changes of theory”. It all begins in the mind of the person. What we perceive, whether normal or otherwise, conscious or unconscious, is subject to the limitations and distortions produced by our inherited and socially conditional nature. However, we are not restricted by the limitations and distortions because we can change. We are moving at an accelerated rate of speed and our state of consciousness is transforming and transcending. If we were to closely look at it, we may say that “We are not human being having a spiritual experience but we are spiritual beings having human experience” (a Quote by Pierre Tielhard de Chardin).

What is Paradigm Paralysis?

Small paradigms are harmless – however at times there are bigger paradigms which may lead us to what can be termed as “Paradigm Paralysis”. Paradigm Paralysis is getting stuck and our inability or refusing to see beyond the current pattern of our thinking and it is one of the greatest barriers to a paradigm shift.

One of the easiest methods to counter Paradigm Paralysis is developing the ability to “Think out-of-the Box”. Thinking out of the box is a metaphor that means to think differently, unconventionally, or from a new perspective. This phrase often refers to novel or creative thinking. This allows us to look at the same situation or problem differently and thereby come up with a novel solution.

We all have heard the story of the proverbial phoenix bird rising from the ashes. Shri Sanjay Lalbhai (also popularly known as the Denim Man), the Chairman and Managing Director of Arvind Mills Ltd. is a living example of such tenacity. It was a tough phase for textile industry in the years following 1980. Because of power looms, fabric began to be mass produced and got cheap. Many mills lost market and as a result, many of them downed their shutters. Since 1931, its founding year to 1979, there was not a single year when the Arvind Mills had not paid dividend. Now, when their survival itself was at stake, there was no question of paying dividend.

But under such tough circumstances, Sanjaybhai implemented what is called Renovision and rescued the company. Renovision means looking at the same situation from different perspectives. Sanjaybhai observed that other mill owners are busy planning how to close power looms. He looked at the whole thing differently. He thought why not start business differently. This is how the idea of Denim was born. Ahmadabad, the city that was known as the Manchester of India in the past began to be called the Capital of Denim. In fact, Denim paved the way for the future and the rest is history. If he so desired. Shri Sanjay Lalbhai could have joined the family business that was quite massive in scale and size and merged his identity with that of the group. But he chose to tread his own path to carve his own identity.

There comes a time in one’s life when one is at the crossroads of having to choose “The Path” that one needs to take ahead, i.e. “Listening to One’s Heart vs. Listening to One’s Head”. I had to take one such decision in 2014 and I am extremely happy I took that Paradigm Shift of moving away from the never ending “Corporate Rat Race”. I listened to my “Heart” instead of my “Head” and forayed into the Consulting, Training and Development business when I founded Capri3 Consultants thereby giving shape to my dream of being independent and running my own consulting firm. Today, I am also a Professionally Certified Train the Trainer as well as a Soft Skills Trainer helping people with a Mission “Encourage to Learn | Empower to Perform | Enable to Succeed” and with a Vision “Your Success is our Reward”.

I strongly feel that in the present day context, training on soft skills has become all the more relevant in a country like India where the education system does not delve too much into personality development. Good soft skills, which are in fact scarce in the highly competitive corporate world, will help you stand out amongst a crowd of routine job seekers with mediocre skill sets and talent.

Soft skills are becoming more critical than ever as organizations struggle to find meaningful ways to remain competitive and be productive. Teamwork, leadership, and communication are underpinned by soft skills development. Since each is an essential element for organizational and personal success, developing “Soft Skills” is very important and does matter… a lot!

In conclusion, one may say that taking the Paradigm Shift may be compared to the Proverb – “Just when the Caterpillar thought that the world was over, it turned into a Butterfly”. It means that the caterpillar was wrapped in a world of darkness, like we can get when bad things happen to us…but instead of remaining in a dark place, the cocoon burst and the caterpillar turned into a butterfly, free to escape the darkness and fly into the light…just like humans we are to remember that often in our darkest hours when things happen and we don’t understand, but with faith and hope, we can burst through like the butterfly into the light. Sometimes the exact hardships that you think are too hard to persevere through are the ones that change you for the better.

(The author is the Founder of Capri3 Consultants, a Mumbai based Firm providing Consulting Solutions and Training and Development Services to Corporate and individuals. He is a Fellow Chartered Accountant as well as a Professionally Certified Train the Trainer and Soft Skills Trainer. He may be reached at [email protected]. You may also visit the website www.capri3.com to read more about him.)

V. Shanker

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