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.

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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.

4 Way of Dealing with Problems

The four standard methods of dealing with any problem are the following:

1. Absolve

2. Resolve

3. Solve

4. Dissolve

Absolve

This appears to be the most common way of dealing with problems. It simply means to almost deny existence of a problem. We feel the problem but we are not ready to accept it as one. Instead, as it happens, we wish that it simply vanishes or goes away. This is the default mode, a very natural response to problems. We do that on a personal level. We do that on an organizational level. If it weren’t so, all organizations would be great places to work and all homes would have been heavens. A reasonable metaphor would be: ostrich putting its head in the sand, wishing the danger to fly off on its own.

Resolve

With this mode of dealing with a problem we simply copy some available solution. It might be one of the famous ‘best practices’ another organization or person is following. It might spring from some experience of someone who dealt with a similar problem before. Most often than not it turns out to be a wrong experience. Or it might be a very simple common sense approach to deal with a problem. Use of simple problem solving techniques like ‘why-why’ are generally used for this purpose. With this mode of operation we are aiming for a ‘good enough’ solution. We are not interested in the best possible way of treating a problem. It is something like most consultants do regularly in various organizations. A good metaphor might be: Having a headache? Take this pill. It would disappear in no time.

Solve

To solve a problem means to stop a problem from recurring or resurfacing. It would involve change or partial correction of behavior. It might be a change of behavior of a part of a machine, a particular behavior of a person or a method or a process. But it is never connected to the change of organizational behavior or change of organizational climate or environment or transformation of an individual. An appropriate metaphor might be: in winter wear woolens.

Dissolve

To dissolve a problem one has to redesign. We can redesign a machine so that its total behavior and its outputs change forever. It is something like transformation. Like, a person changing completely so that existing problems are never experienced again. It is a long-term change involving complete elimination of all the problems in the system. For an organization it means complete overhaul of its strategy, outlook, mindset and practices. A right metaphor in this case might be: give a man a fish, you would solve his problem of hunger for a day; but teach him to fish you have dissolved his problem of hunger for life.

 

Ben-hur, Flow & Enlightened Skillful Actions

Ben-hur, till this day, continues to remain one of my all time favorite films — a timeless classic.

Over the years, I have seen this movie over and over again – so many times that I have lost count of it. Not only that – I took care to show the movie to my sons when they were young. Lo behold! it captured their hearts too — just as it did when Dad showed me this film when I was a young boy.

However, for some reason, one scene stands out in this remarkable movie — the chariot race — unforgettable. Even now, I have goose-flesh recalling that scene. There was something mysterious that pulled me again and again to view it with riveted attention. It is said to be the greatest chariot race ever put on a film.

What draws us to this race? Was it the rare dash of brilliant cinematography? Was it the charisma of Judah Ben-hur played by an equally charismatic personality, Charlton Heston? Or was it the cruel, cunning but enigmatic character of Messala played by Stephen Boyd? May be everything was too good for anyone to miss. However, it took me years to get to the essence that made the ‘chariot race’ the ‘chariot race’. It was about ‘flow‘.

In recent years, much has been written and discussed about flow, forming various views, interpretations, re-interpretations and perspectives, the most famous of which came from Mihaly Csikszentmihalhi, —  informing researchers and practitioners alike.

To me, being in the flow, the source of greatest human happiness and creativity, is the other name of being enlightened and skillfully acting from an enlightened state, where attention, awareness, learning and creativity effortlessly merge altering experience of time and space.

An enlightened state of ‘flow’ may be characterized by the following:

1. It is without a preformed image of any kind — “image-less“.

2. In such a flow, a person is equipoised to take any direction at will but chooses a direction based on the context and not travel the path dictated by a pre-determined plan — “direction-less“.

3. Actions in a flow are born in empty space; carried out in an empty space and die out in emptiness — “emptiness“.

4. Meaning in a flow is only generated through interactions set against a rich backdrop of context; else there is no meaning — “meaninglessness“.

5. Dialectic movement in flow is created by the existence of intensely focused attention on specific details and defocused attention on general details.

Coming back to the chariot race we are privileged to witness all of those. The crowd roars with expectation. The elites, headed by the Roman Governor of Judea, is restless to see Messala, a Roman, win against Judah Ben-hur flouting all ethics. Individual participants, pitted against each other, are wary of each other’s guile and tactics. The outcome is uncertain. But within all that din and commotion Judah Ben-hur stays image-less, alert, equipoised to take the right step as the situation demands, doesn’t go ahead with a predetermined plan, respects the emptiness of uncertainty of the event yet forges ahead with the meaning created by years of bitter interactions between him and Messala reflected by Ben-hur saying — “this is the day, Messala,” before the start of the race. During the race, Ben-hur acts effortlessly – being one with his horses – without losing a moment’s focus, keeping the din of the crowd and the count of the laps in the distant horizon of his mind.

That is a fine example of enlightened action by an enlightened human being in flow — bringing happiness and rewards in its wake, without expecting any.

No doubt, Pontius Pilate, Roman Governor of Judea (played by Frank Thring), while crowing Judah Ben-hur as the winner of the game, tells the crowd, “I crown your God.”

God indeed — a human in ‘flow’.

A beauty to behold.

 

Related Posts:

1. Aroma of Darjeeling Tea

2. A Network of Fragmented Selves

3. Quantum Theory and Nemetics

4. Winning Anywhere – the Power of ‘SEE’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Networked Community of Fragmented ‘Selves’

Most of us are not one unitary self, as we think we are. Rather we are a networked bundle of ‘selves’ somehow getting by in the same body.

For example, Self 1, of a young lady might decide that she must lose some weight within the next six months or so. So, she goes to a gym that promises her to help her shed some specific weight within a specific time period. She then reads up a a lot on ‘diets’ and invests her time and energy in following those. That ‘self’ in her also buys a bathroom scale to keep a watch on her weight reduction program.

But ‘Self 2’, of the same young lady also likes to splurge on the latest ice-creams and chocolates and grilled ham sandwiches  and that ‘Self 2’ takes care to load her refrigerator with assorted kinds of ice-creams, chocolates and sandwiches, which her ‘Self 2’ would like to enjoy when ‘Self 2’ would be bored or happy for some reason.

Similarly, ‘Self 3’ wonders whether a little infidelity would make life worth living. But her ‘Self 4’, conditioned by years of conditioning at school and home would only let such a thing happen over her dead body.

While all these ‘selves’ are fighting with each other, Self 5 desires to do well in her post graduate exams so that she would be able to crack the tough test for getting a prestigious job in the Indian Administrative Service.

Likewise, there are so many ‘selves’ in a person clamoring for attention and action. These different ‘selves’ existing within each of us, have their specific intentions, specific behavior patterns that result in actions (mostly predictable and repeatable) that take up our time. She fills up the day with many activities that lend a comforting support to her different ‘selves’ nested within her body. She is in a constant race against time to fulfill the intention of each self. Therefore, she becomes too busy maintaining her different selves, which might wear her down by the end of the day. In fact, she through her effort creates too many inauthentic constraints that impedes normal flow of life. The constraints she creates, both authentic and inauthentic, shape her destiny.

The point is we are psychologically ‘fragmented’ but most often we might not be even aware of such internal fragmentation. We might be simply too preoccupied with a confused whirl of fleeting sensations, memories, intentions, feelings, thoughts, behavior, must-do-tasks and emotions. Caught in such a vortex we are certainly prevented from seeing and noticing what needs to be seen or noticed. We are lost in a haze of preoccupation and anxieties for different reasons or we are numbed by the sheer sensory overload that comes from modern living. It affects our health and living. There are always too many things to do, so many people to see (physically) or interact over social media, so many meetings to attend, so many things to be told to so many people, so much money to earn, just so many deadlines to meet. Years might pass before we finally stop and look at these different selves within ourselves before we decide to create a new course of life based on focused attention.

So, the questions are:

What happens if the ‘selves’ weren’t aware of each other?

What happens if the selves simply knew each other well enough to form a community of strongly networked selves that help each other grow?

What happens if a person tries to create or design synergy between different selves?

How does one become a better spectator and player in the networked community of human society that constantly interacts with nature – both within and without?

 

Ref:

1. Quantum Theory and Nemetics

2. Winning Anywhere – the Power of See

 

The Search – 2

Each one of us is an artist.

To realize that – the words of Godard makes sense.

“Three polarities, three contradictions, three paradoxes of filmography :- visual vs narrative, fiction vs documentary & reality vs abstraction.”

Though he was talking about films, it is true for the apparently cold, unforgiving world of mathematics and science.

Take for instance, the famous equation E = mc^2 . It is a narrative as well as a visual. It began from the world of imagination flowing into the strict rationale of science and its documentation. And it portrays a fine balance between reality and abstraction.

So the apparent distinction between the different disciplines like art, science, economics, history and literature is meaningless. There is an artist as a practitioner  behind each of these.

The artist tells us a story through poems, stories, narratives, films, painting, a finely crafted argument, analysis, cold logic, drama, design etc..

We are continually telling our stories and that is what makes our world.

In that way the world and its people are enriched.

What story do you have?

Simply tell it.

 

By Dibyendu De

Author of #PowerofSee

 

 

 

 

The Search — 1

Most of us are in an intense search.

A search that begins with engaging with the world and with our selves.

The intention of the search is discovery, understanding, learning and knowing our selves better and better. We start that by engaging with something that attracts us.

Behind all that lies our desire to know our selves better. It is an innate but dogged search for an identity, if there is one – whatever way we choose to engage with the world.

Such a search can be fascinating, frustrating, painful and illuminating.

While engaging with the world, our emotions and cognition come into full play.

At times, they hurt. At times, they make us happy. At times, we shriek with fear.

As a result we start developing strong likes, dislikes, hatred, desires, greed that cloak our real desires and heart’s longing; making the path towards fulfillment obscure and misty. As an undesirable consequence we can quickly get disillusioned and angry with our world and angry at our selves.

It might goad us to prove to the world that we exist. Or it might force us to pretend to be something which we are not. Or we might be pushed along the path of vanity, pride, ambition and passion — mired in deep unhappiness.

We fight with the world. We fight with our selves. We fight with others. This fight would not be over till we find a resolution and come to peace within ourselves.

It might come to such a pass that we might even think of secluding ourselves from society or think of leading a cloistered life or think of total renunciation or even welcome death.

But that is not what the search is all about.

Or is it the only path that we have at our disposal?

 

To be continued…

 

By Dibyendu De

Author of #PowerofSee

The Bird Bath And The Restaurant

As a student of Class III, my attention was more than riveted to a picture of a bird bath in my science book. I imagined: only if I could make one like that I would attract different birds to my bird bath. I would not only delight myself viewing a variety of birds but also help them in a way by offering them food to merrily feed on.  During the mild winters of Kolkata, migratory birds flock to the city from distant lands making it a very colorful event. Only an insensitive person would care not to notice and enjoy such an event in the city.

So, I designed a simple bird bath made out of a discarded pan lying in my mother’s store. I fixed a sturdy base plate and filled it up with water. Then I planted some grass and kept in our courtyard. That evening I came back from school with great expectant excitement to see birds flocking to my ‘bird bath.’ Unfortunately, when I saw none, my heart sank.

Thinking that I haven’t quite rightly placed the bird bath; I placed the bird bath on the top of a water reservoir at the back yard of our house. But still no bird arrived. This time, however, I thought of enticing them by placing some grains on the base of the bath, for them to feed on. Rushing back from school, I ran to the backyard only to find that my bird bath wasn’t visited at all by any of my feathered friends. The food was left untouched.

Though disappointed, I did not give up. Thinking that my beautiful bird bath wasn’t quite visible to attract birds, I painted it with some bright yellow color from my paint box. Still no birds arrived.

Then I again re-located the bird bath. This time, I placed it on a wall that hedged our courtyard from that of our neighbors. Lo and behold! birds flocked the place and happily twitted and chirped as they plunged in my bird bath; picking on the grains. It was a loud flock and a grand delightful sight to sink in.

But fair to say, I did not have an inkling of why birds chose to visit that place in preference to other places I tried out, which I thought were safer places for them to play and rest for a while.

Yesterday, I visited a small restaurant in our locality. The owner, Ganesh, was a chef of a more well know chain of restaurants in the city. He was known to me since I often visited his place along with my friends for an occasional cup of coffee with delicious peppered mushroom and baby corn salad and sandwiches. He was an excellent chef and turned out terrific dishes to relish. But what I liked about him most was his insatiable desire to take feedback about his dishes once I have had a few nibbles. He would then stand by to explain how he made this sauce or that and what went into making the ‘garlic fish’ which is one of my favorites. One day, we just came across each other in the local fish market where after exchanging usual pleasantries he informed me that he has had opened a small ‘take out’ or ‘sit in’ shop in a corner of our locality. Before saying goodbye, Ganesh  politely asked me to drop in some time.

As I savored the Chinese meal he dished out and enjoyed the company of a special friend who accompanied me, I noticed a glitzy eating joint, promising the most mouth-watering gourmet dishes,  right across the busy road; just opposite to Ganesh’s small makeshift one.  The shop was very well designed. Through its wide clear glasses I could feel the lights were just right for any romantic date and the place proudly flaunted a cosy ambience.  However, for the two hours of the rather lazy afternoon I spent at Ganesh’s, I just did not see any customer step in the well designed shop; while all along, customers just kept pouring in Ganesh’s improvised family run shop; keeping it animated.

That reminded me of the story of my bird bath.

Even with the most well-intentioned designs, we are never quite sure whether birds or humans would drop by – or whether a desired exchange would take place or not.

We are never quite sure.

Review of #PowerofSee by Michael Josefowicz

I believe that my long time friend and collaborator, Mr. Michael Josefowicz, of the US, was the first to buy my book, ‘Winning Anywhere – the Power of See‘ from Amazon.

This was the first feedback he gave through email, on reading the first few chapters; for which, I am grateful:

“It is lovely. The cover looks great.
When I read the words it’s as if you are in the room. Crystal clear, gentle. Power of See demands a slow read. Not just because of our collaboration but because of the style of writing. Unlike every other “business book” I’ve read, there is no strident, “what you should do is..” nor is there any hint of “Look what I have discovered!”
Truly a breath of fresh air.
You should know that I didn’t expect to learn as much as I am learning.”

Exchanges: The Global Economy — Taleb

This is a dialog between the celebrated Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Justin Rowlatt about Exchanges: The Global Economy.

About:

“Do you underestimate the risk you are under? Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s ideas on probability and risk challenge assumptions made by markets and mathematicians all of over the world. His ideas on our blindness to the impact of improbable events have lead him to be described as a ‘super hero of the mind’ and ‘the hottest thinker in the world’. He is the author of the mega-selling books on randomness and the impact of the improbable on life and on economics – Black Swan and Anti-Fragile. His official title is Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University and he continually ranks as one of the most influential people on the planet. He joins Justin Rowlatt and an audience at the Grand Amphitheatre of the Sorbonne in Paris for a special event, staged in partnership with Paris Dauphine University.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01p174q

So what is prediction?

It is indeed unwise to predict the future. It just isn’t possible. Our traditional ideas of probabilities to ascertain risk is flawed. So the question ‘When something is going to happen?’ is pretty useless.

It does not serve any purpose predicting the past. It is only trying to answer the question ‘Why?’. When done, it is only a story with no certainty of being right.

Then is there any use of prediction?

Possibly yes, when we ask, ‘What is happening now?’ The future is unfolding now. The incipient seeds of the future have already taken roots in the now. Those give the clues. So it is useful to check what is happening right now.

But how do we look at it? Do we do it by thinking? There seems to be very little scope of doing so.

So do we frame a story? That could turn out to be a myth.

The only plausible way is to ‘observe’ or see or notice the present. Then only we have the chance to ‘see’ the future. In other words ‘predict’ it, even if it is a potential ‘black swan’.

Hence the most important question to predict anything is to ‘see’ what is happening now and not ask why something has happened or when something is going to happen.

That is the best way we can predict anything and remain useful.