Monday, February 18, 2013

If science provides critical insight, what prevents our learning from it?

What’s attitude got to do with learning?

As those who know me appreciate, it is not often that I let a raw view on Organisation Development (OD) pass me without scrutiny. Fatigue could tire me in patches, but, renew me when the content is about the process of OD. Recently, on a global forum, a senior in the field opined on the space of interaction between consultant and client. Here’s the opening premise, “ I do believe that optimism and idealism lead the consultant to be dismissive of reality as seen by the client. By being with the client in the depths of difficulty without being optimistic, just being with him, we are the enablers of his extricating himself out...not pulling him out with our pipe dreams. Like the Book of Job, where folks visited Job...just to be there with him.”.

Coming from a rather unorthodox consultant, I was only beginning to swallow the significance of that near meditative stance. I asked what came to my mind “Does the skepticism of science get perceived as pessimism? Does in converse a positive psychology approach preconceive the mood of the outcome/” Pat came the reply “Does the skepticism of science get perceived as pessimism? Yes. 
Does in converse a positive psychology approach preconceive the mood of the outcome?  -don’t know enough and try to stay away because it is so much unlike me.”

This may mean different things to different people. But it is worth a stop, on the lay-bye of the information super-highway...

Which way does one learn of the new winds?

Often we believe contrary to the real content of our argument, that we stand for a value, when in fact we do not understand the value. E.g. When a firm makes instrumental the value of fairness, would you expect it not to honor its commitment to a purchase expressed in writing? Well, yes they can if they do not understand the value of fairness. If they do not realise that they have expressed a commitment to a vendor, they would buckle in the face of a funds constraint, howsoever imaginary or real, only to obey the norm, that they are fair in their obeisance to their employer! 

Yes, norms that are not born of a shared understanding of values, do not make for value based practice. What chance does this firm stand to receive feedback on how it behaves, and of course to practice a reflection that value based practices actually demand? It is quite probable, that the same firm also espouses the value for transparency, as the social ‘system’ is skilled in its incompetence to understand norm based compliance from value based response! What seals the logic that seems right within the organisation? Performance evaluation is tailor-made to push professionals into a doom loop. The individual will trump the ‘organisation’ for short-term gain.

The attitude to learning is therefore a crucial piece. As Argyris first brought to our notice. What explains defensiveness in learning? Not attitudes about change or commitment to continuous improvement.  We really want to work more effectively.

Rather, the key factor is the way we reason about our behaviour and that of others. We tend to hold the company or organisation responsible in ways different than we hold ourselves responsible. Externalising blame is an ineffective way to protect the self, for escaping responsibility is an opportunity lost to grow – a waste in learning that often goes unchecked, uncontested and unverified. If science provides such insight, then critical reasoning cannot be selectively applied to problems that do not involve people!

Monday, February 4, 2013

An evening of Insights from Innovators

I recently attended talks by two leading innovators. They were Ramji Raghavan of the Agastya Foundation and Dr. Lalitesh K of Google. I share what I learnt from their own sharing.
1.       Innovation has a new arena. It is out of the closet of enterprises. It is in the needs of consumers, and not in those of enterprises, that innovation will thrive.
2.       Poverty in material terms can be framed in terms of information access problems. An information abyss co-exists with poverty. What was once known as information asymmetry is now reframed as the valley of despair. For those who do not pay their ‘knowledge tax’ create an avoidable void. Social inequity is a symptom of the information abyss.
3.       In computing, cognitive divides are subtler and perhaps more damaging than digital divides themselves.
a.       Emotional responses to text are diminishing with the rise of broadband access. With more information being read online, the thresholds for emotional arousal on visual media are contested with the sense of hearing. This is why video content with audio sounds richer in emotive content. 
b.      Information search is targeted at new results. Text based search is giving way to video search. Tactile and visual information may be demanded even more. So You Tube is the default search engine for new generations on the net.
4.       Crowd-sourcing, crowd-mediation and crowd dissemination make web 2.0 based platforms participatory and yet challenging because of unintended consequences that the medium holds.
5.       In our times, Facebook, Google, Amazon and the like, compute stochastic models of trust without much obtrusion using search affinity and interaction networks and operationalise 'trust' in their own way.
6.       Google made 'safe' calls on building Google Maps with Map Maker software in much like the prosumer society of the Tofflerian Third-Wave. While parts of Northern Europe, and most of US and Australia had Google Maps, the tipping points were in the rest of the world, where users were given the power to create maps online. Most people would want to do the right thing, most of the time. Hence, even in late starter locations like Pakistan800000 people affected by floods could be reached out to by the UN recently.
7.       Firms bets are large and can cause revolutions merely because they seek to boil the ocean than fill up a bucket with water. They do not also know what to expect in the sense that they allow emergence of phenomena through universality of access to information.
8.       Paradigms that are fiercely defended will find it difficult to move as fast as the radical shifts these firms engender on our finger tips. Mobile internet will allow resume editing on handheld devices with handwriting skills in the next 5 years itself. Broadband access will be tested by a demography of users who are emotionally blind on text, and text-repellent on video and images.  Yet, any such change has to originate in at least one person. That change will find support if the person stays the distance with the compelling idea that is put out there in easy language that masses will relate to.
9.     The boundaries of trust - along with its inherent drivers and manifest behaviors would be so fluid that our traditional frames of analysis will get redefined very, very often.
10.   For societal shifts to occur, the absorptive capacity of its people needs renewal. If at least two thinking skills are addressed the social system could tip over. These are a) Cause-effect thinking and b) Creative Thinking
11.   The value of curiosity reaches its heights when continuous concentrated introspection unravels as passion.
12.   Observers give new meaning to phenomena that pass us by. Else it takes a crisis to get us to think differently. The shift in confidence from learned helplessness to learnt optimism is the challenge of developing economies.
13.   If people who do the work of teaching and facilitation are from within the system, change ensues faster and surer, both. Catalysing the internals may need transformational leadership or external facilitation, and sometimes-  maybe both!
14.   In rural India two significant milestones are worth noting.
a.       Google’s Rural Maps are up due to Kerala’s CNR Nair, a retired government servant who despite cancer made it a passion to map rural Kerala on Google Maps.
b.      Parents of children who learn science through mobile science labs like that of the Agastya Foundation, are keen on learning Astronomy and chemistry, as the visual treats these provide hold prime attention!
15.   Competition can be reframed if we elevate the dimension of its threat. E.g. Ask the question, have we solved a problem, that has not yet been solved? Competition is no longer the red ocean then!

Evidently there are more implications, I will muse on in times to come!