Doing Nothing yet Everything is Done

From 21st June to 23rd June I conducted a live workshop on Streamlined Reliability Centered Maintenance (SRCM) at the Power Management Institute (PMI) of National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC).

But what the heck is SRCM?

It is a structured process of risk based decision making against black swans.

In brief, it is about:

  1. How to detect an incipient black swan in time?
  2. How to improve the stability of a system?
  3. How to improve the longevity of a system?
  4. How to mitigate consequences of failures?

When we are able to do all that to a system we may call it “smart maintenance.” After all as human beings we create, maintain and destroy systems. Given a system, smart maintenance is about doing all the three – create, maintain and destroy. Surely, it is one of the most complex project management we can engage with.

However, the smart maintenance can really happen when one simply does nothing yet everything is done.

Observing Complexity

To me, observing real life systems is something like this:

A real life System comprises of a meaningful set of objects, diverse in form, state and function but inter-related through multiple network of interdependencies through mutual feedbacks enclosed by variable space, operating far from its equilibrium conditions not only exchanging energy and matter with its environment but also generating internal entropy to undergo discrete transformation triggered by the Arrow of Time forcing it to behave in a dissipative but self organizing manner to either self destruct itself in a wide variety of ways or create new possibilities in performance and/or behaviour owing to presence of ‘attractors’ and ‘bifurcations’; thereby making it impossible to predict the future behaviour of the system in the long term or trace the previous states of the system with any high degree of accuracy other than express it in terms of probabilities since only the present state of the system might be observable to a certain extent and only a probabilistic understanding may be formulated as to how it has arrived at its present state and what would keep it going, thus triggering creative human responses to manage, maintain and enhance the system conditions, function and purpose and create superior systems of the future for the benefit of the society at large.

Such a representation of an observation looks quite involved. Perhaps it might be stated in a much simpler way. Most real life systems behave in a complex manner creating multitude of problems of performance and failures. But how do we get rid of complexity and uncertainty as exhibited by systems? We may do so by deeply observing the complex behaviour of the system to improve our perception to gain insights about the essence of the system; find out the underlying ‘imperfection’ that causes the apparent complexity and uncertainty and then find ways to improve the existing system or create new system and maintain them in the simplest possible manner. We do this by applying the principles of chaos, reliability and design. Surprisingly, the same process might be used to troubleshoot and solve problems we face on a daily basis. If done, we are no longer dominated or dictated by the ‘special whims’ of the system.

The crux of the matter is how we observe reality and understand it so as to make meaningful choices as responses to life and living.

Creative Technique of Joachim Schmid

photoThis is a creation of Joachim Schmid — Photogentic Draft #15, 1991

Problem solving and creativity go hand in hand. So it helps a problem solver to continually hone his creative skills.

Though there are many ways to hone one’s creativity we may always learn a new method to do so from Joachim Schmid.  He creates new images from ‘technically wrong’ images.

This is what he did to create this fine work of art. In this case, he came across a box of negatives, cut in half so they could not be used. Just like putting jigsaw puzzle pieces together – he positioned the different images in odd combinations that created a surprising new image with profound fluidity.

Potential for creative work can just be found anywhere. With this technique we learn how to put together seemingly unrelated images, ideas, thoughts to create a surprisingly new image, idea or thought.

You can see the potential anywhere.

Role of Critical Thinking in Solving Complex Problems

Within the next five years the ability to solve complex problems would be the number one skill people would be desperately looking for.

However, development of this skill rests on three fundamental pillars, which are:

  1. Critical Thinking 
  2. Creativity 
  3. Seeing” things differently

In this post, we focus on the skill of critical thinking. To do so, we draw inspiration from ten examples of critical thinking and critical thinkers that changed our world and our world views.

“Being bold enough to let your mind go where good arguments take you, even if it’s to places that make you feel uncomfortable, may lead you to discoveries about the world and yourself.”

(Critical Thinking: The Art of Argument, by George W. Rainbolt and Sandra L. Dwyer)

Read more

Are ideas really worth 2 Cents?

Ideas are the most profound of products that we as humans generate and possibly the most democratic of all the activities that we ever undertake. The good thing is this is perhaps the only area of human activity where each one of us is “Simply brilliant.” No doubts about that.

Ideas are the fundamental building blocks of creativity. Without such building blocks there would be no stories, no films, no painting, no great scientific discovery, no great analysis or a fine innovation.

Though no one is quite sure about how ideas are generated, idea generation strangely follows some “special laws” which are as follows:

  1. We don’t need any special permission from bosses, spouse, children, friends to come up with a good idea.
  2. This can be done anywhere at anytime without the help of any special gadgets, equipment, environment or even prior practices of any kind.
  3. It can be done in all conceivable positions — sitting down, standing up, standing on your head, lying down, having lunch, strolling in the park or making love in bed.
  4. The best ideas are usually generated even when we are actually not thinking about anything in particular. We can truly celebrate our freedom to conjure up ideas from nowhere — a great luxury.
  5. Generation of ideas does not depend on race, gender, creed, colour, or age. It is truly global and liberating.
  6. And if an idea blossoms at the right place in the right time then of course it holds the raw power to change the course of human history.
So, are ideas really worth 2 cents?

Blank Page Syndrome

The “blank page syndrome” is one of the greatest challenges often faced by professionals, engaged creatively.

We have often heard stories of writers who after putting a blank page into their typewriters keep wondering about what they are going to write. And sometimes they freeze. At times they get frustrated by staring into the blank page for long.

However, this syndrome is not only faced by writers. Whether it is a blank Word document, a blank canvas, or a blank page of a sketch book or a machine that an engineer looks at, the effect is the same. No new ideas flow. It is scary.

As we understand, creativity is the creation of something out of nothing. It is always about creating new knowledge or new interpretation or new explanation of life and the world around us. However, from that “blank page” might suddenly leap into reality a new piece of knowledge, a new painting, a new story, a new poem, a new song, a new explanation that would capture a viewer’s imagination propelling them into another time and space – providing them valuable new insights and new ways of looking at the world and at their lives.

The questions are: How do we overcome the syndrome? How do we start? How do we overcome feelings of possible inadequacy or fear of failure? What is the secret?

The secret, as I see it, is – unless you are deeply inspired don’t create. Once inspired, fear of failure is automatically rejected since it desperately seeks an expression. Love that accompanies inspiration helps new ideas to flow in synchronized pattern. If that is so then what steals or dries up our inspiration?

First, it is our tendency to judge what we come across. More we judge more cynical and depressed we become. I believe that depression and cynical attitude are anti-creative. So, if we suspend our judgement for a while, our chance to be inspired increases exponentially.

Second, our inspiration stops when we expect any specific outcome from our effort of creating something new. Even the mere expectation of expecting people to like what we do can still the creative flow of ideas.

Third, is our fear of non-conformance to the traditional. Thoughts like, “it has always been done this way,” or “people don’t like this way of dressing,” or “it is improper to air my understanding of such and such issues in public,” can freeze us before a “blank page.”

Fourth, is our inability to deeply experience what we come across. More often we do get inspired by what we deeply see and feel. We get inspired when new perspectives, new insights, new knowledge effortlessly pop out from what we deeply experience. Once that happens the inspiration has a life of its own. It flow from the mind to the “blank page.”

In short, getting and staying inspired is the vital ingredient to stay fresh and creative in whatever we do as professionals. It gives us the confidence to succeed. More than that, it always provides the sense of excitement that accompanies being creative. Without fail, that excitement spurs us on in our creative journey.

Possibly a simple way to state this — just play with what interests you. In playing we can simply go anywhere we like and do anything we want to and get whatever we want to get in our imagination.

That is the secret of overcoming the “blank page syndrome.”

There is no need to stare at a “blank page.” When inspiration strikes look for a blank page. 

 

 

 

Creativity in Solving Complex Problems

The other day, at the end of my seminar on “Solving Complex Engineering Problems” a delegate asked me as to whether the entire process of solving complex problems can be automated in some way by means of a software instead of relying on human creativity.

Such a response wasn’t unexpected. In the corporate world the word “creativity” is often looked at with suspicion. They would rather prefer structured and standard approaches like “brainstorming” at 10.00 am sharp or team work or collaborative effort, which in my opinion do little to help anyone solve complex problems or even address complex problems correctly.

That might be the single most important reason why “complex problems” remain unresolved for years affecting profitability and long term sustenance of an organization. Failing to resolve complex problems for years often earns such problems the sobriquet of “wicked problems”, which means that such problems are too tough for “any expert” to come to grips with.

What they sadly miss out is the role of creativity in solving complex problems, which no automation or technology can ever replicate. They miss this because most organizations systemically smother or mercilessly boot out any remnant of creativity in their people since they think that it is always easier to control and manage a regimented workforce devoid of even elementary traces of creativity.

So, is managing creativity and creative people a messy affair? On the surface it seems so. This is simply because we generally have a vague idea of what drives, inspires and really sustains creativity?

Creativity is not about wearing hair long or wearing weird clothes, singing strange tunes, coming to office late and being rude to bosses for no apparent reasons. These things hardly make anyone creative or help anyone become a more creative person.

Actually, things like “being attentive and aware”, “sensitive”, “passionate”, “concerned”, “committed” and above all “inventive” just might be the necessary ingredients to drive, inspire and sustain creativity.

Why?

Though there are many ways of describing and defining creativity what I like best is – “creativity is the expression of one’s understanding and expression of oneself” – deeper the understanding better the expression of creativity.

When we look at creativity in this manner it is obvious that we are all creative though the expression and its fidelity might vary to a great extent. Clearly, some are simply better than others.

Further, if creativity may be thought about as a process, then the inputs and the clarity of understanding of ourselves are more valuable elements of the system than the outputs that the process anyway consistently churns out (remember the uncountable hours we spent in organization meeting, discussing and brainstorming to solve complex problems).

In these days of economic depressions, organizations can really do themselves a huge favor if only they pay more attention to facilitating such inputs to people rather than get overtly worried about control and management by conformity.