Daenerys Targaryen and the Freedom to Disagree

An heir to the Targaryen dynasty, Daenerys spends her childhood in exile and, indeed, combats Life to lay claim to the Throne  As the saga concludes, this electrifying and shrewd lady, who so far has been inclined to fight for the right, unleashes a slaughter of a large civilian population. Jon confronts her about this and pleads with her to take a position of forgiveness. Daenerys refuses saying -- "The world we need won't be built by men loyal to the world we have", that she wishes to build a new world with Jon, and knows what is good. Jon asks, ”What about everyone else....all the other people who think they know what is good?”  Daenerys responds -- ”They don't get to choose."

i think this is the moment when Jon decides -- and kills her -- the moment he sees  the person he loves turn into a dictator. They don't get to choose.”

With this death, the television rendition of the Game of Thrones broke hearts and set off a raging battle on whether the story had ended well. Social media is as ablaze with this as with impeachment, migration, and terrorism. 

i have been thinking about "they don't get to choose" -- a statement that says there is no dialogue with different points of view and, those who think differently are better off not existing.

Christopher Hitchens writes (of the scientific spirit that he and others advocate in God is not Great) that "We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake. We do not hold our convictions dogmatically" and shall resolve differences ”by evidence and reasoning and not by mutual excommunication."

i think the spirit that Christopher conveys is important. Being otherwise condemns each of us to become islands that resist attempts to build bridges. This creates stagnation in learning and leads to an enforced uniformity in thinking, perception, and imagination.

The ”they don't get to choose” world-view is also dangerous. From corporate Boardrooms to street corners, from seats of governments to neighbours, in media and across dining tables -- we see differences come alive everywhere. We cannot wish them away. Any attempt to suppress these without dialogue will only result in these differences becoming, in the words of Stephen Fry, “dangerous realities". Stephen, in his talk at the 2018 Festival of Dangerous Ideas, cautions that something of this nature is already at play in contemporary society as we "shriek more and more incontinently at....perceived enemies across the divide" completely oblivious to the fact that this is making us as ”blind as moles, engaged in ugly, unappealing struggles....and....fatuous, outmoded notions, while the planet on which we depend for life is gasping for air and a technological tsunami threatens to engulf us and redefine us without our consent." 

Clearly, answers to the major problems confronting us do not lie in one head or one region of the planet. Despite this, instead of attempting to understand, dialogue, build together and carry everyone along -- a lot of us appear to be saying ”they don't get to choose".

Accepting the 2003 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (awarded earlier to luminaries such as Albert Schweitzer, and Sarevepalli Radhakrishnan) my Teacher, Susan Sontag, speaks of the chasms we are creating among us, and asks -- ”Are we....really so separate?"  i don't think we are -- and, for me, that means they get to choose.

A nurse in Venezuela and the Good Samaritan's Lesson

A few days ago, a photograph of a 2-years young child in Venezuela appeared in media. Malnourished and ill with a genetic condition, Anailin Nava, is a mirror that tells us something is deeply wrong with our world. She gets a meagre meal once a day and is suffering owing to a combination of factors -- lack of adequate nutrition, no medical care, poverty, and a general global apathy. The photograph wrenches the gut -- a baby is calling out to the conscience of the world. In The  Creation of Faith, Juan Mascaro writes that ”There are a great many bad actions which people are very anxious to perform efficiently." Venezuela has joined the many places where we have become very efficient. Despite being endowed with the world's largest oil reserves, it has managed to effect, in the words of The New York Times, ”the single largest economic collapse outside of war in at least 45 years."

In the midst of this darkness, Light showed up -- the kind of Light that tells us to keep Faith and work. 

Fabiola Molero is a nurse who worked for over twenty years in hospitals before quitting to work as a volunteer to help the suffering in Venezuela. When she heard of Anailin, she packed some food and supplies -- and set off hiking over thirty five kilometres (i think) to help the child. The New York Times reports --  ”The arrival of the nurse, and the food, made an immediate difference, Ms. Nava said: “Now she’s cheerful.””” 

In the papers of Martin Luther King. Jr., one of the many sermon notes he wrote speaks about ”the good man" being someone ”whose exemplary life will always stand as a flashing light to plague the dozing conscience of mankind. His goodness was not found in his passive commitment to a particular creed, but in his active participation in....life saving deed. His goodness was not found in the fact that his moral pilgrimage had reached its destination point, but in the fact that he made the love ethic a reality as he journeyed life’s highway. He was good because he was a good neighbor." 

He goes on to invoke the Parable of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament. A traveller lies on the road beaten up, stripped, and possibly almost dead. Two people walk by and ignore the traveller. The third, a Samaritan, stops and helps. Martin writes -- "I can imagine that the first question which the Priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” Then the good Samaritan came by, and by the very nature of his concern reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” The good Samaritan was willing to engage in a dangerous altruism. In his very life he raised the question that always emerges from the good man. We so often ask, “what will happen to my job, my prestige or my status if I take a stand on this issue? If I take a stand for justice and truth, will my home be bombed, will my life be threatened or will I be jailed? What will happen to me?””

This morning, i am thinking of Fabiola Molero, the good Samaritan and the fact that each of us must act in (seemingly) small ways -- Anailin and others like her who we encounter every day must become healthy, smile, and bloom. 

Can we talk less please?

[As a rule, i do not pass opinions or write on politics and religion. Therefore, i must state that what follows is not about politics -- nor is it an expression of a personal political preference.] 

A couple of days ago, an elected representative from a bastion of democracy spoke of ”consensual rape” during a talk in the floor of the State House. i am not sure what that phrase means. The lawmaker, of course, later tried to wiggle out by stating that he missed adding an ”or”* between consensual and rape. I still do not get it — owing, probably, to a lack of skill in obfuscation. 

In Donald Davidson and the Mirror of Meaning: Holism, Truth, Interpretation, J E Malpas' book on the ideas of the philosopher and linguist, we have a view of "the principle of charity" from Donald. "To see too much unreason on the part of others is simply to undermine our ability to understand what it is they are so unreasonable about."*_ Donald suggests that, In dialogue, we suppress our tendency to assume that the other is stupid and senseless -- and seek to find the other's meaning. If we do not do this, we are likely to fail in understanding the other. This is a profound idea -- one that is essential to working our way past problems that divide us.

i have applied this Principle of Charity when i watched the politician backing the near total ban on abortion in Missouri. i have not succeeded so far in my attempts to understand him. However, one thing keeps running through my mind -- it would have been so much better if he had kept mum.

In this and so many other instances, i find that the tongue is increasingly getting thoughtless, and violent. The idea that freedom of expression is sacred has led us to a point where speech often runs miles ahead of the thinking that should shape it. We appear to have become a society of talkers. It is talk, talk everywhere -- with shockingly little thought. This is so because, as Madelyn Burley-Allen points out ( In Listening: The Forgotten Skill),  "we have equated speaking with mastery and power." 

i see three major consequences of this. 

The first is that, despite tremendous advances in knowledge, we are also creating a world (i borrow words from the course Calling Bullshit conducted by University of Washington academics Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin West) ”with a blatant disregard for truth and logical coherence."

The second consequence is a world where listening becomes something that people attend trainings on but, find painful to practise. After all, what does one listen to when it is mostly bullshit and vitriolic noise going around. Some of us even find it necessary to attend silent retreats. We pay for places that will keep the prattle away. Ultimately, fatigued by incessant chatter, we become less vigilant. 

A third consequence is a diminishing of empathy. Full of our words, we care less and less about others. In everyday life, decency becomes a causality.

The Greek poet Hesiod wrote (Works and Days) that "the best treasure among people is that of a thrifty tongue."*_  Centuries later, Swami Ranganathananda touches on this in his commentary on Verse 12.19 of the Bhagavad Gita (Universal Message of the Bhagavad Gita). The wisest people, he says, are ”maunis” -- "A mauni is a 'thinking person'; naturally, he or she speaks less."

In his address (21st January 2019), on receiving the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Prize, David Attenborough told the world that ”The Garden of Eden is no more.” Cautioning us against slipping into paralytic gloom, he also said that we have ”a vast potential” to make healthy differences that will last thousands of years. 

As society, we face challenges, the kinds of which no civilisation before us has faced. If we are to solve these and make the planet better for our children, we can only do so in communion with other individuals. This requires that we shed our intoxication with speaking, and spend more time listening, thinking, learning and acting — in empathy with all life.  

The important of Baloney Detection

In Figuring, Maria Popova asks — ”How does a person come into self-posession and sovereignty of mind against the tide of convention and unreasoning collectivism?”

The ”sovereignty of mind” that Maria speaks about is not a brash self-assertion that cocks a snook at parents, habits from the past, and the Establishment  It is living completely in accordance with the ”Baloney Detection Kit.”

In The Demon-Haunted World — Science as a Candle in the Dark, the wise Carl Sagan devotes a chapter to the ”The Fine Art of Baloney Detection.” 

The Kit that Carl proposes to help us smell fallaciousness and fraud consists of the following --

  • Confirm facts independently (as much as possible).

  • Dialogue with knowledgeable people from differing points of view.

  • Do not get swayed by authority.

  • Think up different hypothesis.

  • Do not back any view owing to personal attachment to ideas. In other words, it is important to introspect and examine oneself for biases, prejudices, and preferences.

  • Whenever possible, quantify.

  • Examine every link the argument-chain for weakness. Every link must hold up.

  • When faced with multiple plausible hypothesis, pick the one that explains with the most simplicity.

  • Propositions must be falsifiable. In other words, propositions must be testable. 

We would do well to keep in mind that our Brain is not a dispassionate, passive computer  David Eagleman concludes a chapter titled “What is Reality?” (The Brain — The Story of You) writing —  “Your brain serves up a narrative — and each of us believes whatever narrative it tells us....Even more strangely, it’s likely that every brain tells a slightly different narrative....Each brain carries its own truth.” The Brain, while incredibly useful, is not completely reliable in Baloney Detection. Baloney Detection is not an innate cranial trait, but a temper of mind that must be assiduously cultivated. 

Friedrich Nietzsche writes (The Philosopher: Reflections on the Struggle Between Art and Knowledge) that ”life requires illusions”.  Carl, with immense compassion, acknowledges that we are ”human”. Many of us need Santa Claus explanations to live. Having said this, he encourages us to ”rouse reserves” to combat Baloney because it is often created "collaboratively....with....premediation" to deceive, profit, and acquire power over people. When the Kit is not used and we drop our guard, Carl cautions, sometimes we find that “gullibility kills".

i am unlikely to be challenged when i say that Carl spent his lifetime helping us acquire ”sovereignty of mind”

i am thinking of Carl and Maria right now. i am grateful that they are my Teachers. 

Leadership for the 21st Century: the plague of Power-Intoxication

The senior executive chairing the meeting asks for views but does not seem to be listening. It looks like the others know that this person does not listen. The voices that speak reflect prudence rather than integrity. The words are fancy and the tones are scientific but, when the meeting ends, it is clear -- everyone has taken safe positions rather than actively think, enquire together, and break new ground. There is confirmation of the Chair’s ideas and an affirmation that the seat of power is wise. Despite the lessons of history and so much more education, the mind filled with power seems to be no different from that centuries ago.

In our times, the ill-effects of power-drunk people at the helm are proving to be widespread, deep, and tectonic. This may seem exaggerated but, in my view, this is one of the serious threats to our future as a species. i agree with Yuval Noah Harari (21 Lessons for the 21st Century) that we ”confront….the biggest challenges humankind has ever encountered”. Leaders, more than ever before, must ask themselves if they ”serve power or truth”.

Edgar H Schein (former Professor at the Sloan School of Management, MIT) cautions us about this in Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling.  “In airplane crashes and chemical industry accidents, in the infrequent but serious nuclear plant accidents, in the NASA Challenger and Columbia disasters, and in the British Petroleum gulf spill, a common finding is that lower-ranking employees had information that would have prevented or lessened the consequences of the accident’ and though ”senior managers….always assure me that they are open, that they want to hear from their subordinates”, “when I talk to the subordinates in those same organizations, they tell me either they do not feel safe bringing bad news to their bosses or they’ve tried but never got any response or even acknowledgment….” 

Edgar goes on to state that “shockingly” people often “settled for risky alternatives rather than upset their bosses with potentially bad news.”

One of the interesting lessons in Good to Great is that when a company loses a leader (who is charismatic and flamboyant, but power-filled), it falls apart. This is so because the departing leader worked for “personal greatness” rather than “set the company up for success in the next generation.” Jim Collins makes the point that is in stark contrast to companies that keep up a consistent climb to greatness, owing to leaders who, among other things, create ”a climate where the truth is heard”.  Such leaders listen and do not shoot messengers. Consequently, they have teams that are prepared to weather any storm – indeed, teams that are willing to storm the gates of hell at the call of their leaders. Such leaders leave behind legacies that thrive long after they have stepped out of the playing field.

History tells us that this is no new thing. In Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford writes —  ”Whether measured by the total number of people defeated, the sum of the countries annexed, or by the total area occupied, Genghis Khan conquered more than twice as much as any other man in history.” This he did with an army that at no time exceeded “one hundred thousand warriors – a group that could comfortably fit into the larger sports stadiums of the modern era.” What speaks of Genghis’ leadership is not this but that fact that “he left his empire with such a firm foundation that it continued growing for another 150 years” with “vestiges of his empire” continuing for over seven centuries. While most conquerors died miserable deaths, despised by their own as tyrants, Genghis Khan “passed away in his campbed, surrounded by a loving family, faithful friends, and loyal soldiers ready to risk their life at his command.” In every village, country, and region he conquered, Genghis would call for the learned, the wise, the healers, the writers and the thinkers – and with the help of translators who always accompanied him, he would listen. The man who was probably the most powerful human ever, it turns out, listened, learned – and did not permit power to deafen him.

Dirty Harry, John Gray, and Self-Deception

The thug shoots around and kills a few, hurts many, and terrorises everyone. As he stands gloating, the smoke clears and in a corner sits Clint. ”I know what you're thinking, punk. You’re thinking "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?....Go ahead, make my day.”  (dialogues from Dirty Harry and Sudden Impact)

Something similar happens in my mind when i read John Gray — the Professor who taught at Oxford, Yale, Harvard, and retired after a stint at the  London School of Economics. The proponents of liberalism, the destroyers of gods, the champions of free speech and all that — Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, and similar thinkers stand alone having swatted away many — the smoke clears and John turns up saying ”Go ahead, make my day.” 

Described as a misanthrope-thinker by some, John marshals an array of arguments that, to the unprepared, can cause panic. In Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, he gets to the heart of the matter early by pointing out that ”belief in progress is a superstition.” Instinctively, this may seem like a thoughtless statement, but i have not come across convincing refutations of John’s ideas.

In a 2013 conversation with Johannes Niederhauser, John Gray touches on self-deception.” Speaking about a former Prime Minister of the U.K, he says — ”People regard him as a liar, but I believe that's too much of a compliment. I think he lacks the moral development to engage in falsity. Whatever he spoke, he believed.”  i think this lies at the heart of much of John Gray’s intellectual positions — the idea that we are prone to self-deception. And as we give more room to this, our lives become a large-scale delusion — we end up becoming numb inside, stop thinking and, at best, become passive time-servers. At worst, we become tyrants — at home, at work, in society. John, i think, will agree with Charles Dickens (Great Expectations) that ”all other swindlers upon the earth are nothing to the self-swindler.” 

Self-deception encourages us to live in echo-chambers, makes us deaf to everything except our own ideas, makes us spin fantasies that masquerade as facts, and prevents learning.

This is why Ramakrishna Paramahamsa cautioned that we would do well to not indulge in ”theft in the heart.”  And Somerset Maugham observed in The Painted Veil that ”it is always despicable to lie to oneself.”

i am thinking of self-deception this morning — the need for me to ”protect this mind of mine” (Shantideva in The Way of the Bodhisattva) .

Henri Nouwen and Jean Vanier -- lives of Love and Lessons in Leadership

i continue to be with Jean Vanier  and i am thinking of one of his deep friendships — the companionship he had with Henri Nouwen.

Henri was a Catholic priest and academic who taught at the University of Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard, and spent his last years with L’Arche. 

For some, the letters of Vincent Van Gogh communicate a view the he saw life as a pilgrimage of sorts  This is interesting because Henri was influenced by the great artist — and Henri’s life (as i see it) was a pilgrimage.

In The Wounded Healer, Henri writes that ”the illusion of leadership is to think than man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.” This view has a long ancestry — the idea that changing the world is rooted in changing oneself. This simple fact explains why it is the practitioners (rather than career-preachers) who are able to genuinely move hearts and galvanise our hands 

A person who has spent time in the desert and seen reality as it is,  (the sages in the Indic region called this darshana) walks out with a deep recognition of the fact that ”at every moment of our life we have an opportunity to choose” and ”the way we respond to circumstances” determines whether we become ”a source of joy” or bitter victims ranting at Fate. (words in quotes from Henri in (Here and Now: Living in the Spirit

This person, the true Leader who has walked the desert and emerged ”radiating joy” , is a ”messenger of hope” — someone who ”keeps speaking about the sun while walking under a cloudy sky.” 

”Wherever he goes, whomever he meets, he is able to see and hear something beautiful, something for which to be grateful.....He is a realist....there is nothing sentimental about him....He doesn’t deny the great sorrow that surrounds him nor is he blind or deaf to the agonising sights and sounds of his fellow human beings, but his spirit gravitates towards the light in the darkness....” Henri Nouwen, like Jean, is Light.

In Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, Henri exhorts us to move beyond a life where ”we act as if we were simply dropped down in creation and have to decide how to entertain ourselves until we die” and work ourselves  to the realisation that each of us owes Life a vocation.

Viktor Frankl, drawing from chilling experiences of the Nazi pogroms, echoes this when he writes (Man’s Search For Meaning) that ”we need to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk....but in right action and in right conduct.”

The way i spend each day is my answer to Life’s question for me.

Jean Vanier -- a life of Love

In 1963, after spending time with the Navy, exploring the possibility of becoming a priest, and studying philosophy, a 34 years-old man was invited by his spiritual guide to visit a village in France. The visit opened his eyes to the enormous suffering that lies all around us. What particularly moved him was the state of people who have mental challenges and (at that time) were locked up in asylums  The next year, he took up residence in a bare cottage (with no running water or toilet) and invited two men who were challenged to live with him. He was not sure what the road ahead was — but he took this step. In talks and writings later, he would comment that he was changed by them, that they became ”teachers of tenderness.”

The man callled this cottage L’Arche (the Ark)  Today, there are about 150+ L’Arche communities around the world in 35+ countries  In these communities (and many many places elsewhere around the world), people live life with the conviction that ”we are all called to do, not extraordinary things, but very ordinary things, with an extraordinary love” (Community and Growth). They do this by embracing and caring for the sick, the abandoned, the despised — the people, if i may say so, rejected by the practical, conventional world.

In Man and Woman God Made Them, Jean writes — ”A society which discards those who are weak and non-productive risks exaggerating the development of reason, organisation, aggression and the desire to dominate. It becomes a society without a heart, without kindness - a rational and sad society, lacking celebration, divided within itself and given to competition, rivalry and, finally, violence.”

Jean’s response to this reality was not a cynical withdrawal away from a brutish world but to live the life described in sacred texts — a life that demonstrates that ”The response to war is to live like brothers and sisters. The response to injustice is to share. The response to despair is a limitless trust and hope. The response to prejudice and hatred is forgiveness.”

People who have met and spent time with Jean Vanier use words such as humility and phrases such as ”palpable holiness”  i think, at the heart of his life lay a comprehension of what Love means — and a Faith that if each of us grows in Love, ”the prisons of our egoism” will unlock and the world will become a better place 

Jean Vanier passed on yesterday — when i first heard this, my flag moved down half-mast  but as i spent time on my notes about him, i realised that this is an inappropriate response. I think his life is a call to action and, the only tribute of value is for me to re-commit to making myself better every moment — and consequently, perhaps being of some use to the world. 

Mary Ann Evans writes in Middlemarch”What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?” Jean taught us that the meaning of life lies in this.

The cultivation of calm presence -- lesson from a pilot and Jane Goodall

Yesterday, i flew from Chennai to Jaipur with an hour's transit in Bangalore. 

Shortly after the aircraft started to taxi towards the runway in Bangalore, the Captain spoke. In all my years of hearing Captains speak, this stands out!  The measured pace of speech, the simple words used, the casual tone (without any hint of swagger), and something non-verbal (but incredibly present) -- all of it sent out a calm, strong message — ”i am around -- so, you can switch off in peace.”

After we landed, i asked if i could meet the pilot and, after some checks, i was led to the cockpit. i introduced myself and we chatted a bit. She thanked me and said -- ”Today is a special day for me. We are an all-woman crew flying this route today." Then, she paused, and said -- ”Sir, we had some trouble a short while before we landed."*

About a half-hour before we landed, the aircraft started to go all over the place, and probably for a quarter of an hour or so,  it was buffeted by massively strong forces. 

As i stood in the cockpit chatting with Prerna, i remembered that while the plane was bouncing all around earlier, i continued to read undisturbed -- i remembered a peculiar sound that made me wonder for a second if the engines had stalled  but, most importantly, i remembered no fear -- no trace of worry -- i kept reading much as i do at my study table.

i told Prerna this and said: ”i realise now that i was untroubled because i knew you were in the cockpit.”

i remember a piece about Jane Goodall, the great primatologist. She was standing along with a group of people in a deep jungle somewhere in Africa. This was a group from one of her long running initiatives that heals severely injured animals and frees them. That particular day, this group was releasing a fairly large chimpanzee. Jane happened to be around and they invited her along, The chimpanzee got out of the cage, meandered here and there, walked a distance away -- and then strolled back -- went to Jane and enveloped her in a massive hug -- and did not let go! We must bear in mind that this was the first time the chimpanzee had seen Jane. The person who had spent the past few months with the chimpanzee wrote that he was astonished by the fact that the chimpanzee ”knew who it had to thank for its life.” This is not a one-time event. A lot of people have "felt" the Jane-effect. Joycelyn Stokes interviewed her on 2nd October 2018 and writes that ”she has....the sustained calm....of a zen monk."

i have been told (many times) about sages whose very presence radiates calmness in the atmosphere. i have been privileged to meet some ordinary, regular people (like Prerna) -- who have this gift. Though i use the word gift, i believe this is not an supernatural or divine thing -- but a part of them that has manifested owing to years of hard work honing skills and a consistent authentic seeking to learn & make oneself better. 

Such people are actively conscious (using words from Jane) that ”you cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make." In a New York Times essay (24th November 2012) titled "The Snake in the Garden", Pico Iyer makes the interesting comment that if we look close we will find that ”we worry only about....those things we can never do anything about." People like Jane and Prerna live differently -- they focus on what they can do, and do it with all their soul. 

i told Prerna that i learnt a lot from her and walked out of the aircraft with a song in my heart. i realise that i am incredibly fortunate — the universe keeps sending me Teachers every day. 

Anatol Rapoport and Charlie Munger -- The Golden Rule of Arguments

Elections in the largest democracy in the world, Brexit, the Mueller Report, climate change, free speech, and so much more are being battled about in social media, TV channels, colleges, homes, offices -- pretty much everywhere in society.

Discourse and debate are as vital to social well-being as blood-flow is to the body. When views collide, we are provoked to ponder, society is forced to confront challenges that perhaps are not given attention, and we have opportunities to see with fresh eyes.

However, what i am seeing (in debates) is a growing tendency to prove points of view rather than seek the truth. i am also seeing most sides wanting to quickly "shut down" others by subjecting them to abuse rather than engage in thoughtful arguments and deliberation.

In a 1978 paper titled "Three Modes of Conflict", Anatol Rapoport (who has made significant contributions in  mathematics, biology, systems thinking, game theory and many other disciplines) suggests a rule for people engaged in disagreements and debates.

"The rule I have in mind is the following. Before each opponent is permitted to present his own case, he must state the case of the opponent to the opponent's satisfaction. This means that when one side has presented the other side's case, the other side must be asked, "Has your side been presented well?" If the answer is no, another attempt must be made and another until the opponent says, "Yes, now you have presented my case fairly."“

This is the Golden Rule of Arguments. Understand the other’s view before starting to criticise.

If some of us feel that this is being too nice and impractical, it is enlightening to watch Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger respond to a question on the anchoring effect (during the 2016 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting ). Anchoring effect is a cognitive tendency to latch on to a particular piece of information (often the initial one we get) and, base our further thinking and decisions on this. The worst anchoring effect, Charlie Munger says, is “our previous ideas” !

As the conversation progresses (4:32:42 in the video), Warren Buffett comments --  "Charlie says that if you disagree with somebody, you want to be able to state their case better than they can.”

If we practise this Golden Rule, the world will be a better place. We are likely to see that though many differ from us, all of us bleed the same way. We likely to be less angry; we are likely to hate less; compassion will dominate. The real facts of life rather than the whims of a few will shape society.

Greta Thunberg, Alexander the Great, and Walking the Talk

In The Campaigns of Alexander, written in the 2nd Century AD, Arrian narrates an event that took place probably in Taskṣaśilā. 

Alexander came cross a group of sages who were engaged in conversation. On seeing Alexander, the sages stamped their feet and gave no further attention to the conqueror who had come from afar. Arrian writes that Alexander was puzzled by this (my guess is that he was probably quite upset ) and asked what their "odd behaviour" meant. One of the sages replied --

”King Alexander, every man can possess only so much of the earth' surface as this we are standing on. You are but human like the rest of us, save that you are always busy and up to no good, traveling so many miles from your home, a nuisance to yourself and to others. Ah well! You will soon be dead, and then you will own just as much of this earth as will suffice to bury you."

What i find particularly interesting is that, after writing about this, Arrian goes on to point out that Alexander approved of these words ”but in point of fact his conduct was always the exact opposite of what he....professed to admire." 

This binds many many of us across history. We are quick to profess admiration for great ideals and commit to nice goals, but shirk from them in practise.

In August 2018, the (then) 15 years-young Greta Thunberg started to strike outside the Swedish Parliament calling for urgent action on Climate Change. In the initial days, she bunked school every day to strike -- over time, she kept to striking every Friday. This solitary act set off a movement that led to about 1.5 million children around the world taking to the streets (on 15th March 2019) demanding that adults act to save the future. In addition to this, many have joined Greta in peaceful continuous protests aimed to awaken adults who appear to be sleepwalking humanity into an irreversible state 

Sometime last week, Greta addressed Members of Parliament in the UK. ”I was fortunate to be born in a time and place where everyone told us to dream big; I could become whatever I wanted to. I could live wherever I wanted to. People like me had everything we needed and more. Things our grandparents could not even dream of. We had everything we could ever wish for and yet now we may have nothing. Now we probably don’t even have a future any more.

Because that future was sold so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money....You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. And the saddest thing is that most children are not even aware of the fate that awaits us. We will not understand it until it’s too late....During the last six months I have travelled around Europe for hundreds of hours in trains, electric cars and buses, repeating these life-changing words over and over again. But no one seems to be talking about it, and nothing has changed. In fact, the emissions are still rising....the basic problem is that basically nothing is being done to halt – or even slow – climate and ecological breakdown, despite all the beautiful words and promises.

We have not taken to the streets for you to take selfies with us, and tell us that you really admire what we do.

We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back."

Greta has the usual set of detractors but, to me, she is a superstar. She trudges on staying true to her mission to wake up adults with calls to conscience. 

“We have not taken to the streets for you to take selfies with us, and tell us that you really admire what we do.”

i am thinking of Greta, Alexander and our hypocrisies. In far too many things, we admire, but do not walk the talk.

Gifts that "defy reciprocation"

Scott Adams, the famous creator of the Dilbert comic strip and wise critic of management, had a dream of being a cartoonist. In a blog post, he writes about rejections from publishers he wrote to (clearly, the world seemed oblivious to his talents) and writing to the host of a TV show (Jack Cassady) asking for advice. Jack, surprisingly, wrote back to the aspiring, struggling cartoonist - - not once but twice!

Scott writes — “I feel certain that I wouldn’t have tried cartooning again if Jack hadn’t sent the….letter. With a kind word and a postage stamp, he started a chain of events that reaches all the way to you right now. As Dilbert became more successful I came to appreciate the enormity of Jack’s simple act of kindness. I did eventually thank him, but could never shake the feeling that I had been given a gift which defied reciprocation. Somehow, “thanks” didn’t seem to be enough. ….there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”

A few days ago, a voice from the past messaged me, and told me that though she does not communicate much with me, i had done something in class years ago that had changed her life — a change that led her to the rich life she leads today. i remember her fondly but i had no idea that my words & action had influenced her so much. 

Two things struck me —  

a) When i was teaching in her class years ago, i had no idea i was making an impact on people. i was not trying to — i was just teaching a subject. Our words and actions have far-reaching ripples . In the Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta where we study the Buddha’s guidance to Rahula (his son), we find instructions on right action, right speech, and right thought”Whenever you want to do a bodily action, you should reflect on it....Whenever you want to perform a verbal act, you should reflect on it....Whenever you want to do a mental action, you should reflect on it.”

We influence people by what we say and do. And the effect of the influence is often not immediately visible  The Buddha’s statements here are not a set of steps to a metaphysical supernatural world — rather, it is a parent advising a child that we would do well to take great care in our thinking, speaking, and doing 

(b) The second thing that struck me is this — Scott Adams writes that he ”had been given a gift which defied reciprocation.” As i ended the conversation with the young lady, i began to wonder at how the world runs owing to people who offer such gifts to others — gifts that defy reciprocation.  i have received many many such gifts — far more than i deserve. This young lady gave me such a gift years ago by showing up to my class, and later, asking for some tutorials — with faith that i could teach her.  Faith (often unexpressed in words) is one of the greatest gifts we can offer to another — a gift that defies reciprocation 

Donuts and the Brain

Yesterday turned out to be a memorable day.

We were out later than usual and thought we would get a bite to eat somewhere before we headed home  We ended up in Dunkin’ Donuts and my battle with the ghrelins began..

In The Idiot Brain, Dean Burnett writes —

”Have you noticed how you always have ‘room for dessert’? You might have just eaten....enough cheesy pasta to sink a gondola, but you can manage that fudge brownie or triple-scoop ice-cream sundae. Why? How? If your stomach is full, how is eating more even physically possible? It’s largely because your brain makes an executive decision and decides that, no, you still have room....the brain....overrules the stomach.” Apparently, it is not certain exactly why this happens but one theory is that the peptide ghrelin plays a role owing to the fact that it stimulates appetite. 

i have no doubt that i have a massive ghrelin factory inside me that has been turning out the stuff non-stop in ever-increasing quantity since 1967 !!

So, yesterday — at Dunkin’ Donuts, the ghrelins got into hyper-action as i was standing at the counter wondering if i should have two or three burgers (the kind that has hash browns in it ) and 4 doughnuts or more doughtnuts and less burgers....and maybe pack some to eat during the drive back….

Two things happened. (1) the wife suggests that we share 1 burger and 1 doughnut (i am serious) and (2) i started to think of Michael Pollan’s book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, where the learned Professor details 64 rules on healthy (and enjoyable) eating. There are all kinds of recommendations here such as ”Eat only foods that will eventually rot....Avoid foods that have more than 5 ingredients....Avoid foods that contain ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce....”

After he sets out 43 Rules, the sheer gravity of the food-problem some of us face hits him, and he writes Rule 44 (i think the most important two words in his book) — ”Eat less.” 

i started to wonder why it took Michael 43 Rules and many pages to get to the heart of the matter — and in all that thinking, the ghrelins somehow got distracted — and i ended up sharing a burger and a doughnut  

As I said, a significant day for me — spending time at a Dunkin’ Donuts and  walking out unstuffed !

More Love please....

i get newsfeeds everyday from an independent journalist in the frontlines of war around the world. The photographs he sends convey unspeakable depravity and cruelty — a daily reminder that despite all the trappings of civilisation that we cloak ourselves with, bestiality continues to be a trait our species demonstrates.

Father Gregory Boyle who founded (and runs) the largest rehabilitation program for young people (who stray into gangs and violence owing to the circumstances they grow up in) points out in his 2018 Commencement talk at Pepperdine University that “only the soul that ventilates the world with tenderness has any chance of changing the world.” 

It may sound impractical but i see a great need to back Peace Pilgrim’s message to us in Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words ”The medicine this sick world needs so badly is love.”

We have all the science and technology needed to make a difference — to not war, to help people make fulfilling lives for themselves, and to live well. Hunger, for example, as many eminent thinkers have pointed out, is not a problem of scarcity but of politics. So is the case with much of the ills we face. 

i am not preaching a way of life but it seems to me that we need to show more love, show more kindness, and walk our high-sounding talk a lot more.

Managing "adults"

i am thinking of management this morning — the kind that unleashes Talent, the kind that a lot of us look for in our workplaces.

Kim Scott narrates a conversation in Radical Candor.  ”A colleague shared an anecdote about interviewing with Steve....My colleague asked Jobs several perfectly reasonably questions: “How do you envision building the team? How big will the team be?” Steve’s curt response: “Well, if I knew the answer to all those questions, then I wouldn’t need you, would I?” Borderline rude, but also empowering. Jobs articulated this approach more gently in an interview with Terry Gross: “At Apple we hire people to tell us what to do, not the other way around.” 

Ricardo Semler writes in The Seven-Day Weekend: Changing the Way Work Works”On-the-job democracy isn't just a lofty concept but a better, more profitable way to do things. We all demand democracy in every other aspect of our lives and culture. People are considered adults in their private lives, at the bank, at their children's schools, with family and among friends — so why are they suddenly treated like adolescents at work? Why can't workers be involved in choosing their own leaders? Why shouldn't they manage themselves? Why can't they speak up — challenge, question, share information openly?”

With Teams and ventures i have managed, i have found that this approach always works — and gets people to be happy about coming in on Monday mornings. The other, more common, approach has people always scouting for another job.

Speed -- the mantra of modern business -- Part 2

While speed is a fact of life in many businesses, it appears to be causing havoc in the lives of individuals.

The psychologist Stephanie Brown writes, in Speed: Facing Our Addiction to Fast and Faster -- and Overcoming Our Fear of Slowing Down — “I live and work in Silicon Valley, the heart of technology innovation and revolution over the last thirty years….As I’ve observed our culture over the last twenty years, I see that society has lost control. Society as a whole, and the people who make up society, now look and sound like addicts. People are out of control in their drive for speed.”

Multiple studies such as the 2016 ILO report on Workplace Stress tell us that workplace stress caused, among other things, by the speed at which work is expected to be done, is leading to not just burnout but also cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal disorders. While the research on this is fairly nascent, what it all points to is clear — our speedy lifestyle is damaging our health.

There is also another effect. As more and more gets added to the mix of things, we also have come to believe that multi-tasking is a skill to cultivate. But, research tells us that multi-tasking has a cognitive switching cost, and leads to distraction that causes falls in IQ that are twice that seen in marijuana smokers. Moreover, as Stanford Professor Anthony Wagner concludes (after a study over 11 years),“multitasking isn’t efficient.”

In other words, the operating norm at work, speed, is leading to ill-health and impacting well-being.

What do we do? While mindful contemplation that aims to put things in perspective through periods of daily retreat does help, a powerful way to address this is to practically trim our lifestyle a bit.

In one of the many insightful sections of Good to Great, Jim Collins points out that “most of us lead busy but undisciplined lives. We have ever-expanding “to do” lists, bring to build momentum by doing, doing, doing — and doing more.” Jim asks — “Do you have a “to do” list? Do you also have a “stop doing” list?” This is not a new idea with roots stretching back to Vilfredo Pareto who, in the late 1909, published his 80/20 theory based on studies of wealth distribution. i think a key lies in this.

Pareto’s 80/20 lens presents us with a view of life where twenty percent of causes lead to eighty percent of the results. Put plainly, for our purposes, we would do well to identify the vital few in the workplace and dedicate our focus to these alone. We could extend this beyond the workplace and say the same thing — focus on the vital few and leave the rest be. When we are selective about what we do, about where our energies will flow, we establish a narrow field of focus — a field that consists of what we believe to be of importance to our work, and our lives. However much the speeding world may scream, we do not overload. This is also a barricade against distractions and helps reduce multitasking. We also make a shift from being busy to being productive. Robert J Sawyer writes in Calculating God that “learning to ignore things is one of the great paths to inner peace.” i would say that, in our times, “learning what to ignore and ignoring it” is vital for inner peace and effectiveness.

Speed -- the mantra of modern business -- Part I

One of the consistent questions i have seen in workplaces over the past decade is “How soon can you get it done?” There are variants to this — “How soon can we do this?”, “How quickly can we go to market?” and so on. It is clear that speed has become a dominant feature of life in business — and possibly, in other facets of life too.

During a 2016 panel conversation at Davos, leading CEOs made the following statements —

“Speed is the new currency of business.”

“The future belongs to the fast.”

You can always go faster than you think you can”

“….I don’t feel that we are moving fast enough.”

The American philosopher Abraham Kaplan writes in The Conduct of Inquiry: Methodology for Behavioural Science“Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.” While i understand that speed is an essential ingredient in business, i also wonder if speed has become our hammer.

Has reality really quickened?

In a 2015 article examining The Creed of Speed, the Economist takes the position that while “The speed with which ideas zip around the world has increased”, “other measures suggest sloth, not celerity.” Though people speak of business speeding up, “the figures suggest they are largely talking guff.” What is happening is that the “abundance of information” and advances in communication technologies are creating an “illusion of acceleration” that is largely “a cloak of hyperactivity.”

This could be argued against. Chances are that the need for speed differs across industries, across functions, and also depends on the competitive landscape or the market one is in.

There is also another angle to this that Yuval Noah Harari brings up in Homo Deus. “Knowledge that does not change behaviour is useless. But knowledge that changes behaviour quickly loses its relevance. The more data we have and the better we understand history, the faster history alters its course, and the faster our knowledge becomes outdated….Today our knowledge is increasing at breakneck speed, and theoretically we should understand the world better and better, But the very opposite is happening. Our new-found knowledge leads to faster economic, social and political changes; in an attempt to understand what is happening, we accelerate the accumulation of knowledge, which leads only to faster and greater upheavals. Consequently we are less and less able to make sense of the present or forecast the future.” This is an interesting idea. Though we know more, accumulate more data, and have more tools to work on data, we are less able to forecast. If this is so, a constant strategic response to this would be speed. The quicker we are, the more nimble we are, the better placed we are to navigate in an environment of immense unpredictability.

This means that even though speed causes more complexity, more wrong-turns, waste (energy and resources), and adds to the unpredictability — it becomes the operating norm.

This does not mean success is guaranteed to the speedy. Missing the bus has undesirable consequences. But so does showing up at the bus-stop on a day when there is no bus service. Companies that consistently create value are not necessarily those who run faster but those whose leaders have also mastered the the art of timing. And as the future gets more foggy, this art acquires greater value. Having said that, this does not diminish the case for speed being the operating norm. Better early than late or never.

Creativity in Classrooms: a Lesson from 3M, Google, and Atlassian

The WEF reports that complex problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity are the top three skills that employers seek as they face a future whose contours are unclear.

Interestingly, these are not skills that can be structured in the form of a list of topics and taught in classrooms in conventional ways. After all, each of these are traits of the mind — ways of seeing and interpreting the world, identifying problems, mining insights, analysing and synthesising, breaking established patterns, and constructing new possibilities. They also cannot be corralled as “subjects” with a fixed term within which one could gain expertise. How do we then approach these in our classrooms?

Practices from some innovative companies point to a possible way.

  • 3M, the American conglomerate, “encourages employees to set aside a portion of their work time to proactively cultivate and pursue innovative ideas that excite them.”

  • Lazlo Bock, former Senior Vice-President of People Operations at Google, writes in Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead of Google’s “20 percent time” — an idea that gives employees time to explore and pursue projects that interest them. By its very intent, it is not a structured policy but a powerful signal about what is valued.

  • Atlassian, the Australian software company, has multiple initiatives that support employees to work on projects of interest and, possibilly innovate.

These companies understand that thinking and creativity begin with autonomy. They understand that, while structure is essential for discipline, it is rewarding to give people space to experiment, fail, and challenge received wisdom. Apart from products, and service improvements that have yielded huge business benefits for these corporations, one of the results has been a consistent invigoration of creativity.

There is a lesson here for our classrooms.

We could dedicate twenty percent of the time for each Course (or subject) for Learners to pursue projects of interest within that field of study. This can be done in High Schools and Colleges. The explicitly stated intent would be to encourage Learners to cultivate independent thinking, thinking that is critical and analytical, which nourishes their creativity instead of stifling it.

Rosamund and Benjamin Zander write in The Art of Possibility“Michelangelo is often quoted as having said that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue; one need only remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within.” The “twenty percent time” must be supervised by teachers who see that their “job [as teachers] is to remove the extraneous debris that stands between” Learners and their “expression in the world.” Such teachers could help Learners by questioning, with gentle nudges to explore directions, by removing impediments that Learners feel overwhelmed by, by welcoming mistakes, by providing timely information, and by awakening self-belief.

Our current models of education, as Ken Robinson explains in The Element put “relentless pressure….on students to conform.” This kills creativity and discourages independent thinking. While it is unlikely that the transformations needed in education will be achieved by a single action, the "twenty percent” idea, introduced as a component in the existing curricula may help. Its track record certainly is impressive.

Lessons for classrooms from Scrum

It is clear that education the world over is in a state of crisis. Jack Ma summed it up aptly at the World Economic Forum meet recently — “If we do not change the way we teach, thirty years later we will be in trouble….”

As individuals, most of us might not be able to re-form education in large-scale. However, there are steps we can take in our classrooms — small steps that make huge differences..

The Scrum approach to software development has, like its Agile kin, some distinguishing features that offer lessons we can learn for use in our classrooms.

1) Scrum Teams execute projects in terms of Sprints. A Sprint is a fixed period of time (usually between one to four weeks) at the end of which, the Team delivers outcomes of value to the customer. A project is executed with a number of Sprints with the customer seeing outcomes at the end of each sprint rather than as a single marathon where the customer sees outcomes (of value) later in the lifecycle and infrequently.

Can we create Lesson Plans such that Learners see the Term (or Semester) as a series of Learning Sprints? Can we group Learners into small Teams (say 3 to 4 in a Team)? Can the Learners be encouraged to create an artifact that demonstrates their learnings for each Learning Sprint (building up on all the earlier Sprints)? Artifacts could be research findings, presentations, prototypes, papers, code, models — anything tangible that is appropriate for the knowledge-area and which, demonstrates the Learners’ achievement of the Learning Outcomes for the period.

By taking this step —

  • we encourage Learners to see themselves as active, creative, participants in the venture — rather than as passive sponges who absorb and release.

  • we encourage Learners to see Learning as a project that aims to yield tangible outcomes of value for themselves and others — rather than as a journey of exams where the grades, mistakenly, are seen as outcomes.

  • we encourage Learners to nurture their interests and invoke passion. The value of this is something that great thinkers have recognised across history. In one of the essays that form the Moralia (written around 100 A. D), Plutarch makes this timeless point that “the mind does not require filling like a bottle, but rather, like wood, it only requires kindling to create in it an impulse to think independently and an ardent desire for the truth.”

2) One of the rituals that Scrum Teams adhere to is the “Daily Scrum”. This is a meeting that all Team members participate in. The Scrum Master, a member of the Scrum Team whose job, among other things, is to remove impediments that the Team faces, anchors this meeting. During the meeting, each Team member answers the following questions —

— What did you do yesterday?

— What do you plan to do today?

— Are there any impediments you are facing?

The primary objective of this daily meeting is not to get a status update on the project. Rather, it is to make commitments, communicate a desire to honour them, and highlight obstacles.

Can we have Learners do a Weekly meeting of this kind with their Teams? Each Learner will answer the following —

— What did you learn this week?

— What do you plan to learn next week?

— Is there anything that is hampering your learning?

By instilling this ritual —

  • we encourage Learners to reflect on what they have really learnt

  • we identify challenges that Learners are facing as early as possible and, this gives us more time to help with remedial action

  • we create opportunities for Learners to help each other. If a Learner in the Team is, for example, having difficulties in a Topic and communicates this, others in the Team who have grasped the Topic could help. Peer-learning, as research from the Harvard Professor Eric Mazur demonstrates, is a powerful mode of learning — and, often, more effective than the conventional instructor-led style.

3) Individuals in Scrum Teams enjoy a great deal of autonomy. There are no roles or designations that communicate hierarchy, seniority, or power. Indeed, the ways of working demand that each member of the Team is not “assigned” tasks but voluntarily picks up work from a list. Such an environment makes for communication that is uninhibited and free of fear. There is no “Boss” — just a Team of people united in pursuit with each member achieving a state of being where individual interests and interdependence fuse.

In classrooms, we would do well to create environments where the “Teacher” makes active efforts to shed the halo. The Teacher, then, is seen by the Learner not as a “exalted, powerful, controlling being on a high pedestal” but as a fellow-Learner (someone who has probably been learning longer than the student).

By doing this —

  • we create classrooms where Learners are less likely to have trepidation in asking questions, expressing ignorance, and making mistakes. These three factors, fear in asking questions, expressing ignorance, and making mistakes, boil down to a fear of failure and this, as the Kelley brothers observe in Creative Confidence, is “the single biggest obstacle people face to creative success.”

  • we create classrooms the foster the “growth mindset” which is, the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck tells us (in Mindset), “the belief that everyone can change and grow thorough application and experience”. This mindset expresses itself as “the passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially)” when things are not going well. This mindset is what separates the truly great from others.

In training programs and workshops i have conducted over the the past few years, i have experimented with these ideas. Learners tell me that this has created memorable learning experiences for them — they certainly have for me.

If you have experimented with ways to nourish Learners, i would be happy to learn from you.

Peter Drucker's prescience -- "managing" others and ourselves

In a 1992 HBR essay, Peter Drucker observed that we are in an age of profound transformation where “knowledge is the primary resource for individuals and for the economy overall.” Conventional factors of wealth and production (Land, Labour and Capital), will not vanish but “become secondary.” Ever the humble scholar, Peter was conscious that it would be impossible to accurately predict what kind of a society will emerge from this period of transformation but he was confident that the changes we would do well to make were already evident.

The two primary changes Peter saw are about the ways we “manage” others and ourselves.

“Managing” others

In Management Challenges for the 21st Century, published just before the dawn of this century, Peter points out that “"employees" have to be managed as "partners"--and it is the definition of a partnership that all partners are equal.“  In my work consulting, training, and coaching, i find this is probably the biggest and hardest challenge that individuals and organisations are wrestling with. Even in Information Technology Teams that proclaim to anchor themselves to the Agile way in projects, i find that our habits of management have yet to change. It is indeed interesting to see Scrum Teams where “tasks are allocated” and Project “Managers” operate with a “command-and-control” approach that is far removed from the “partnership” spirit that is at the heart of the Agile thinking — a thinking that Peter subscribed to with his view that workers (seen as partners) “cannot be ordered” .

Summarising research and insights from the trenches of some of the most innovative organizations in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink identified “autonomy” as the most important of three factors that are key to motivation. Autonomy is not, as Daniel explains, “the rugged, go-it-alone, rely-on-nobody individualism of the American cowboy. It means acting with choice — which means we can be both autonomous and happily interdependent with others.” The prophetic Peter foresaw that the emerging era is one where people will seek greater autonomy and prefer “to be led, not managed.” This calls for a significant shift in the approach to management — something we are struggling with.

One of the consequences of not fundamentally changing our approach to working with people is increased workplace disengagement. Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workplace report presents the eye-popping conclusion that 85% of employees are disengaged. This new global norm translates to, among other things, direct productivity losses and fragile loyalty. The Forbes-Silk Road 2018 Report articulates employee engagement’s central role for firms to succeed in “the Age of Digital Disruption”. About two-thirds of CFOs surveyed indicating that their firms are having a hard time retaining the employees they want. “Eight out of 10 high-turnover firms say that more than a quarter of their company’s labor costs go to unwanted turnover, with three out of 10 saying that employee churn eats up more than half of total labor costs.” This excludes the cost of productivity losses and losses owing to impact on customer-experience. Organisations with low employee-turnover report fair pay, environments that empower, and training opportunities on the job as factors that help retain and engage their people. While remuneration is a factor, creating “environments that empower” (an idea right out of Peter Drucker’s mind) is key. It is imperative that we change the way we “manage” others.

“Managing” ourselves

Peter was alive to the fact that, more often than not, organizations are slow to change because when faced with turbulent change, individuals “act with yesterday’s logic.” In 2005, as the Knowledge Revolution was sweeping around the world, he called on each of us to embrace a new personal ethos — “to learn to manage ourselves….learn to develop ourselves….to place ourselves where we can make the greatest contribution.” In other words, each of us would do well to actively create conditions for our growth by continuously learning, and seeking fulfilling ponds that give us room to put our capabilities to meaningful use. The wise Peter’s powerful advice is that each of us must “think and behave like a chief executive officer” of our lives. Daniel Pink’s remark is a hat tip to Peter — “This era doesn't call for better management. It calls for a renaissance of self-direction.” Each of us is not a pawn but a player with potential to actively change ourselves and, consequently, the fate of the game.

A significant part of this new ethos is acting on the reality that Peter discerned a long time ago. Any organization, to be genuinely successful, “has to be an organization of equals, of colleagues and associates” without “any inherent superiority or inferiority” and a culture of relationships that is the opposite of “boss and subordinate.”

This idea of taking sole responsibility for our careers (indeed, our lives) while genuinely working for the good of the collective is Peter Drucker’s message for our times. The state of the world today provides ample evidence that we would do well to act on this wisdom.