Monday, December 27, 2010

Ferrari and Rolls Royce, We've got Choice?

If you have lived through the time of the Wall mania of the Pink Floyd, then you’ve probably heard Roger Waters go solo later in life. He made that choice. In the concept album Amused to Death, Roger penned this amazing lyric for the tile “It’s a miracle” –

By the grace of God Almighty
And pressures of marketplace
The human race has civilized itself
It's a miracle
We've got warehouses
of butter
We've got oceans of wine
We've got famine when we need it
We’ve Got
designer crime
We've got Mercedes,
We've got Porsche
Ferrari and Rolls Royce,

We've got choice..”
It is not easy to describe the thin line that separates decision making from choice. When you read the lines above, you probably realize how from almost 2 decades ago, the wisdom of the poet singers descended down the ages. Contemporary to that music was National Geographic’s famous 3-D holographic cover of our stressed planet and CK Prahlad’s exhortation to stick to the knitting in terms of corporate strategy. Today, corporations that vend their wares need to reckon with their impact on sustainability and triple bottom-line accounting methods. How did we ever end up making those choices? Who would you expect to break ground on such thinking? Would it be Daniel Kanhemann, the Nobel Laureate with his heuristics that explains bias in decision making? Or would it be the confluence between efficacy and challenge to be in the state of flow?
Well, challenges she overcame indeed, and her efficacy is now endorsed by famed journalists Atul Gawande and Malcolm Gladwell. Sheena Iyengar’s dissertation in 1993 “Choice and its Discontents,” asks the question: are there circumstances in which people are better off when they have their choices limited or entirely removed? She received the prestigious Best Dissertation Award for 1998 from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology. Undeterred by an inherited disease of retinal degeneration, and her visually challenging life, she has brought her learning and insight to our lives in her book “The Art of Choosing” (2010), published by Little Brown UK, and also available as an electronic book in audio form.
In early depiction of her work on choice, she was known to be derided by people from Rush Limbaugh to McKinsey consultants – from airports to social events, for her rather hard-boned grit in offering choices in experimentation at popular marketplaces. Take a mundane question: Do you choose to brush your teeth in the morning? Or do you just do it? Can a habit or custom be a choice? When Iyengar asked Japanese and American college students in Kyoto to record all the choices they made in a day, the Americans included things like brushing their teeth and hitting the snooze button. The Japanese didn’t consider those actions to be choices. The two groups lived similar lives. But they defined them differently.
Sheena’s book is fascinating not only because of her narratives of choice, but also for the way she has it unfold. Autobiographical and personal at one level, it takes a reader right into her world, and then slips smoothly into our skin to explore dimensions of choice in social informal settings, performance on the job, cross-cultural behavior differentiation, stress, judgment and decision-making, perception, intergenerational diversity, cognitive dissonance, happiness, conscious and unconscious intelligence, self-referential predictions, medicine, neural representation of thought, attitude, culture and history.
At another level, such sagacity is balanced with a story telling persuasion that makes it easily a style reminiscent of Carl Sagan who popularized science through his writings of the Cosmos. Here’s a sample from page 72, “One civilization can no longer fully consume another, and it also cannot set up a giant barrier to keep the other out. Tolerance and respect don’t cut the mustard, either, especially not when deeply held beliefs and lives are at stake. So we seem to be at an impasse, thinking we have little to share and no clear way to move forward. But there is common ground, though it may sometimes seem to be no-man’s land. At the broadest level, it’s unquestionable that the basic values of life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness truly are common to people around the globe. Indeed,..we have a biological need for choice and control.. ” …..and then page 73 “I can’t offer a 3-step plan, or even a 30 step plan, for how to reach whatever it is that comes after tolerance. But I know we cannot live solely by our own stories or assume that the stories we live by are the only ones that exist.” I am left wondering therefore, if such perspicacity could have dawned on one more gifted by eyesight and multi-sensory perception.
Sheena admits that one book cannot contain the fullness of the art of choosing. Yet, she leaves us with provocative thoughts about ourselves and others whom we impact through our choices. Her seven chapters and sub-chapters therein are clearly a vantage point that is uncommon in its field of enquiry and its depiction.

Her mark of tolerance leaves the reader to imagine how life itself may unfold. Her choice in such a style is to uphold values that led to her own insights. Such gregariousness is surely a gift of the scientific temperament. It also tells in the variety of methods science uses to uncover truths. Some of her findings come from positivist survey methodology, and some from qualitatively ethnocentric case studies. She cleverly and at times, teasingly engages our attention, as she legitimizes her grip of the knowledge she is passionate about with evidence from her studies across the globe. Her trials and triumphs in engaging with people from her personal and professional worlds are impressive to say the least. Convincing and perceptually wealthy, this book is not a passing fad like some of its apparent predecessors; but a classic that will brew its magic as time passes us by. And if I were to add another dimension to this review, do recommend this book as a role model feat to those who are challenged in life. This monumental labor from Sheena Iyengar could not have culminated without love and grace. Pass it on.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Relevant Design of Organisations

Some stories remain in my head for its symbols. I have the silhouette remembered far greater than the image in the center. I know that some of my classmates from my alumni institution brought back shawls from Tilonia, in Rajasthan. The Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) had its spin-offs in learning no matter what you learnt. I don’t quite recall how the following pieces stumbled into the storyline. I remember it for sure because of its delightful meaningfulness. So I present the silhouette with some definition, characters and a little imagination.

Once not very long ago; it so happened that a Scandinavian donor wished his development funding for a model village in the north Indian state of Rajasthan be scrutinized. There was to be an audit, presumably to learn of how the funds were spent. So the Head of the audit team, Ingvar Wunderbar arrived from Delhi on a rustic 5 hour drive from the airport.

Conscientious and dutiful, sleep did not come easy for Ingvar and the first night seemed like the protracted Scandinavian hours of evening for Ingvar. At 0430 or so Indian Standard Time, a singing male in the new settlement not far from the original village rent the air potential energy, long before the first rays of the sun could invigorate the forlorn cactus shrubs fencing his abode. A turban on the head, and the loin cloth wrapped around the legs, in the joothi footwear of a fifteen thousand suns, the lone voice agreed with the caressed sands as they lapped the morning dew that was in harmony with the pristine dawn. Ingvar knew that life had to be different here. Curiosity had him step out of the visitor’s room in the Guest House. He caught a glimpse of the villager for his orange turban color shone in the solar powered streetlight as he kicked the more unkempt fine dust to its freshest destinations. The mystery for Ingvar was in the large pail of water that Bharat, the villager, was carrying in what promised to be a model village. Drainage and sewage lines were installed. Bio-gas from the village dairy piped to houses for cooking purposes, reducing wood based cooking fires.
As the day’s audit schedule unfolded, luck brought Ingvar to the very settlement from which the orange turban departed into the morning fields with water that could hardly irrigate the fierce land. Ingvar politely summoned the social worker to pose his mystery question. ‘Why did this gentleman with the morning voice go to the fields with water dripping from a vessel?’ “Oh, he wished to commence the ‘lota parade’”; giggled the perky social work graduate who did her best to save the turban its expected honor. A friend in the crowd who gathered around the visiting auditors, was Arun, a sustainability architect from Delhi. Arun whispered “Ingvar, she’s not making fun of you, but trying to defend morning constitutionals of the locals here. You better check if toilets are getting sufficient water”. Little did anyone realize, that Ingvar’s curiosity was not an ordinary one. Beyond culture, Ingvar represented the best traditions of audit. So Ingvar insisted that he examine Bharat’s toilets.

However, little did the Lonely Planet guides on India, or the niche Inside-Outside magazines published from India prepare Ingvar for what he was to see in those toilets.

Firstly the stench of manure greeted the curious senses approaching the toilet. The next sense was visually challenging and novel beyond measure. A young calf sat peacefully across the sanitary ware of the Indian toilet, chewing hay and fresh grass placed specially for it. Ingvar’s disbelief had him place his hand across his forehead with tissues soaked in sweat of the mid-day sun. “So what is cattle doing in here?” queried the exasperated Ingvar. Arun explained the situation in a maturity that left the delegation of auditors stunned. “Bharat is no ordinary soul”, Arun ventured, with a realization that he too had a sight that explained the paradoxical constraints that Bharat had managed. Ingvar noted in the corner of his eye that Bharat’s face was a picture of prayerful submission, that sought understanding for his creative utilization of space and shelter. Arun continued, “Bharat decided that one feature he would not compromise on is the concept of his extended family. He is willing to retain his old habit of visiting the fields for his morning constitutionals, for the sake of his cattle. You see, in his previous settlement, cattle were more proximate to the living quarters, than is the case with the model village design. Bharat wished that this calf be given special shelter so that he could release it to its mother only during scheduled feeding hours. The cow’s milk is precious to him too. So he decided to house the calf in his own toilet, as it is Bharat’s extended family..” Ingvar began to see the bigger picture and saw the beauty of the uncovered situation as more than a story to tell back home. Architectural designers and settlement planning designers least expected to encounter such a need as they went about their blueprinting for the model village. Cattle as extended family was only a matter of precept and not a concept in architectural design. Again, it became clearer to Ingvar as to why India could not innovate the model village for itself, but how Bharat, an Indian innovated within his set of conceived resources. Only lately did I Vijay Kumar (IVK), the Chief Technology Officer of WIPRO’s IT business comment at an Innovation Summit in Bangalore that “India does not innovate, but Indians do”.

Considerations of Vision, Context, Structural material, and collateral technologies are what architects use to realize their designs. In the Tilonia story, the Vision for modern hygienic sustainable living was strong, but , the social context was uniquely differentiated. The structural material, of local stone and brick; and collateral technologies used like street lighting powered by solar cells, and piped cooking gas notwithstanding, the user’s perspective of a tenable design is as important to consider. An inhabitant uses the design to finally make the concept village come alive.

When we design we fantasize a future. Nothing wrong with that. What did we learn from our past designs that got implemented? So the next time you notice a Green building or an off-beat design, would you also check for how the user’s needs have been met? When your organization is designed, does the designer’s expertise override the employee's practical organisational needs? What criteria do you consider when designing your organization? What can you do to ensure it is effective? How will you know it? Whose responsibility is it anyway, when online collaborative technologies pervade our senses? Does Organisation Design ever get audited? Like Bharat, do you have innovative coworkers who don’t wish to be in the limelight and can unwittingly challenge the expert model of organization design?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Groups need Design thoughts

Dave Hanna so profoundly put it once when he said "Organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they deserve". It mildly states and yet deeply registers the effects of organisation design. Most HR competency models do not throw up organisation design as a competency. I salute Dr. Worley and Dr. Mohrmann who've graced this thought discipline with finesse and scholarship of the highest order. With Dr. Lawler's timeless grace, USC's Marshall school has managed to keep this flame alight. This ever-so silent and remotely sensed faculty is otherwise perhaps the most acutely felt and poorly expressed dimension of organizational longevity and adaptation.

While a level of abstraction is necessary for most new learning of this kind, organisation design is at once a systemic and interdisciplinary dimension. It is probably the reason why specialties in HR that differentiated around Compensation and Benefits, Performance Management, Learning and Development, Policy and Administration and the like seems to find little integrative intellect to synthesise these specialisations.

I suspect that certain aspects of organisation design are whole system while others are not. Again, since this has to do with our cognitions, am wondering why leaders seeped in learning from their pasts would relinquish explicit or implicit aspects of organisation design to employees at the core of economic value adding processes. The economic or financial outcomes of a firm are scarcely perceived to be the outcomes of sentient organisation design principles. HR leadership who oversee employee concerns from their standpoints of HR specializations may never see eye to eye with business leaders who oversee business value creation. So the professional aspirations and motives of business leadership and HR leadership often tend to conflict over values. Employee championship versus shareholder concerns? Tense connections now exist between the two - a condition ripe for dialogue and wholesome conversations on our collective aspirations.

Organization Design is a wholesome conception today that involves effects of integration between business strategy, rewards, management processes, structure and systems, managerial decision systems, collateral technologies and job or role design. To conceive of such in the absence of a stakeholder review and consciousness regarding ecological balance and sustainable economic development is perhaps irresponsible. It is like seeing how the oil spills over the Gulf or how the thousands got maimed and gased out in Bhopal, India - where the effects are known and the cause is only ambiguously attributable. Like Bill Taylor says would anybody notice? Is organisation design that silent killer competence that we did not care to pay attention to? Has the power of unleashed change outstripped our capacity to design for the future? Did systems principles popularized by Senge get to our realities faster than it got to our senses? It appears everybody knows of this in some sense, and nobody is talking on this one for want of its fullest comprehension. Silence zone! Design thinking time has arrived. Leadership of character could mark the difference between the sentient organisation and the leadership of competence that marks the opportunistic organisation. Character is about mutuality. Competence is about individuality. Hence, leadership for design is about teaming to a common purpose, as against a leader dealing in hope as a hero in waiting.

What does Organisation Design mean to you?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Pace - Within and Without

Roland Sullivan has been the prolific social networker before the age of the net. From the greybeards in OD (Organisation Development) to Bob Marshak and Chris Worley of today; from Swami Shivanand, the late Udai Pareek to the Far East practitioners in developed and developing economies of the world, Roland is known to editors, conference events organizers and university professors all over the world. He has been at work with his Whole System Transformation agenda lately. He introduced me to the term 'dizzying' pace of change. That was in 2008. And the world has been a different place since then, right? Richard Florida's book the Great Reset is a virtual mind-grabber. IBM, Bersin, you name it - and they all have a phenomenal view of the future. It begins with complexity and is followed by creativity and expertise. Within work groups, I see the restlessness writ on the faces at discussion tables. They reflect the response, nay the reactions we offer to the environment around us at a Pace without precedent.
When cycling on a homely street for morning exercise, a few insights flashed by as the 'good pain' of cycling uphill got to my senses. Firstly, there's the self that is experiencing the change. Do I cause the change? What will inaction do to it? What action will enable it? Am I changing merely because all and everyone around me is changing? Whose action and inaction am I to be bothered about? The deterministic view is to say that adaptation is either to change one's expectation about the future or to change one's experiences as they come. There's the probabilistic view that says the deterministic view is possibly right. 
Slowing down on the uphill was a great leveler. The pain of adaptation is a reminder of the resources within me. The Pace within me had changed without me knowing it. The relentless and relaxed unconscious was already taking care of my needs. The determination and the probability were both at once upon my awareness. I was determined to reflect within, and accept the goings on around me. This was a determination that was without intent. This was a change with intent whose destination did not matter to me. The Koan and the Zen, the Yin and the Yang as forces of an abundant Nature. Awareness of being still is most valued in the turbulence of the dizzying paces.
So if the self did that, what do groups do to distill their collective awareness? What is in the collective unconscious that serves a group? What is within each group member that seeks the force of that or those outside of the self? What unifies the spirit of togetherness but the uniqueness of each member? What can we do to facilitate that state of awareness and resourcefulness? As my mind searched those answers, words and images flashed by from the virtual connect of the internet. 
The empty Nobel Chair in Oslo and the empty Parliament seats in New Delhi were more than the symbols of the large country economies. The noise of democracy and the stillness of communitarian control shone through as though each needed the other’s shadow. The virtues of moral conduct and the insanity of moral crusade are matters of deep intrigue. The nature of selfish attribution in success and the relinquishing self in the joy of selfless teaming explains much. The poverty of the spirit in the self that acquires all glory; and the richness of the group that shares all or anything at all that becomes of togetherness. stand apart. What is the 'will' that determines against the 'grace' that accepts? 
We take liberties with nature, assuming all the force in the space of a moment to make it grander than it can be. The grandeur of that thought is but a fleeting moment. The humility of self-acceptance will grace our surrender to the unknown. But that is slow in awareness. What unifies a group is in the light. What tears a group apart is its ignorance of what is in the group's shadow. Business aiming to be at the speed of light can slow considerably due to individual folly in the longer shadow of time. A minute of selfish glory could give way to years or millennia of genuine striving amidst the masses. Striving without sharing the moment with others could give way to endless search for meaning in a self that vainly seeks sanity from the multitudes who survive their moments.
Harmony is a pace within that resonates with what is without the self.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Structure of Magic Reframed

On Sunday, December 5th, 2010 Azeem Bolar joined us for what we called as practice sessions in Neuro-Linguistic Programming. We ended up realizing that we learnt more than we bargained for. Azeem is a rare kind of optimist. His zest for excellence is refined to the point of an absorbing state of mind he calls 'passion'. While in Africa, he progressively began to lose vision, and he is often recalling his father's description of him then - VIP - and that could mean at least two things - Very Important Person or Visually Impaired Person.

In September 2004, in Bangalore India, Azeem struggled due to a paralyzing stroke, that got his right hemisphere frozen (arms and legs too); and his jaws clammed up to speak anything. Again, he recalls the doctors writing him off for his neurological condition. He bloated having been fed soft sweet - the MysorePak, just to get his energy stoked. But while at home, when he thought he was a vegetable, his father tried feeding him and while on the bed, he recalls his father's utter disbelief. "My son's a fighter. This cannot be Azeem". And fight back he did. Today, Azeem is a preferred counselor to many, and his learning in NLP a tribute he owes to Rev. Fr. Richard McHugh, SJ (Dick); through whom we learnt of Azeem.

In a rare series of events, and sheer dint of the human mind in Azeem, Dick ensured that Azeem got a seat at the course for the Basic, Advanced and NLP for Health courses in one go. Azeem had only his ears to rely on for pedagogic content and process knowledge. Later Azeem also learnt of Deep Hypnosis via NLP through Owen Fitzpatrick, who also taught at Ashirwaad, coming in all the way from Ireland. Azeem's high-point is that he climbed the two floors of Ashirwaad the Jesuit training center off St. Marks Road in Bangalore - twice daily to be with the learning process. Azeem also acknowledges critical nudges from those of the Ali Khwaja tradition of counseling and the Banjara Academy, where he gives his Saturday to rare cases in Counseling.  Azeem remembers one lady speak to him on the phone while everyone thought he was a vegetable. The voice said "Don't let those neurons give up. Get it going again. Anchor your recovery".

I seem to miss having my digital voice recorder on December 5. But my auditory senses are heightened in this recall. For what Azeem actually did on December 5, 2010 was to re-frame our own understanding of re-framing. Firstly, he knocked off the 6 steps to non-content re-framing. Secondly, he established the rapport he required to get his client to a lower deep hypnosis in a jiffy, a tribute he says he owes to his sixth sense. Next, he provides an alternate reference modality for the one he wishes altered in his client. Then, from that stage of kinesthetic dissociation and sub-conscious suggestion, his voice retraces the journey back to reality. If you descended down the escalator from th 9th floor office, he'd reach you back there, with the staff exactly in those seats as they were when you walked out. Then, he confirms sensual awareness to break the trance. Then the favorite question with a shrug of achievement and the smile of smartness "So how does it feel now?"

Azeem's magic is his inventiveness of the visual walk or the kinesthetic journey in the dissociated state. He revels in qualifying the client's need, so that he anchors or hypnotizes for desired effect. I look forward to learning more from his impassioned state of co-responsibility. He is not only a picture of achievement and confidence, but a source of inspiration and contribution. I write to keep his indomitable spirit alive. VAKOG - Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Auditory, Olfactory, Gustatory. What is your modality of choice? More another time.