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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No Mind and Consciousness

These days, there is lot of talk about mindfulness. Simply stated, mindfulness is the result of paying attention within a field of awareness.

Actually, awareness and attention are deeply inter-related. While awareness is about being present in a diffused field composed of different stimuli without attaching to any stimulus in particular; attention is about focusing on certain ‘stimuli’ taken from the diffused field of awareness, for varying lengths of time.

Consciousness, which encompasses attention, awareness and action; goes onto form a no-mind that goes beyond all the senses.

Though the essence of no-mind cannot be fully captured by words, an attempt can be made to describe it roughly. It is a mind that is not conditioned by the past or by the future and dwells in present, moment by moment. Therefore, it does not carry any baggage of previously stored responses, born out of our senses or lean upon the imaginative creation of the future for our senses to enjoy.

Technically speaking, no-mind is a mind that captures insights from present reality, essentially based on the principles of non permanence of anything; inter-relationship between all things and no identified self of anything (no-self). It is also about generating and choosing responses (action) based on insights gained from a given situation.

However, it seems that no-mind can be better understood through examples. And what better examples can there be other than those taken from the life of Buddha, who was one of the great practitioners of no-mind.

The story goes that one day a man came to the Buddha and asked, ”God is there, no?” Buddha replied, ”Yes.”

Then another day, another man came and asked, ”Is God really there?” To which, Buddha replied, ”No.”

Next day, a third man turned up and asked, ”Tell me whether God is there?” This time, Buddha remained silent.

On seeing three different responses of his master, his discipline and constant companion, Ananda, asked, ”How is that you gave three different replies to the same question? It is very confusing to me.”

Buddha explained, ”No, I did not give three different replies. I only responded differently to three different situations. The first person was sure that God is there. He was just asking for a confirmation. Therefore, I confirmed; since any amount of reasoning or exploration would not have helped him. He would not have accepted anything other than what he was convinced about. He had already formed his mind.”

Buddha continued, ”Similarly, the second person also had a fixed idea in his mind that God wasn’t there and was only seeking a confirmation. Hence I confirmed his strongly held belief.”

”But the third man came to me with an open mind with the sincere intention of finding out whether God existed or not. Hence I remained silent, indicating that he must explore the issue through deep and prolonged inquiry facilitated by a silent mind.” Buddha concluded.

The other story goes like this:

One day, Buddha happened to pass a man on the road who was taken in by his overwhelmingly peaceful presence.

The man stopped and asked, ”Who are you? Are you an angel or God?”

Buddha replied, ”No, I am neither an angel nor a God.”

Still curious, the man asked, ”Are you then a magician?”

This time again, Buddha answered, “No.”

”Then are you a man?” Asked the young man.

”No,” Buddha affirmed.

”Then what are you?” By this time the man was quite exasperated.

To which, Buddha replied, ”I am awake.”

Possibly, these two stories illustrate how a no-mind responds and what is the nature of no-mind.

In Buddha’s own words, no-mind is about: ”Be a lamp unto yourselves to light up thousand minds.”

Nice to Watch/Read:

a) How Meditation Can Re-shape our Brains by Sara Lazar

b) Mindfulness & Psychotherapy, 2nd Edition, Ed. Christopher Germer, Ronald D. Siegal and Paul R. Fulton

Chance favors the connected mind!

The art of ‘noticing’ or ‘paying attention’ or ‘observation’ is the starting point for our Nemtical studies, Design Kata and Rapidinnovation.

Right observation is the basis of strategy formulation, innovation, decision making and possibly everything we do as humans. Much depends on our choice and power of discrimination of what to notice and what not to notice.

The following article brilliantly exposes the ‘Art of Observation’ in a very nuanced manner.

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/03/29/the-art-of-observation/

Indeed ‘Chance favors the connected mind’.

 

How to Win Anywhere in the World?

Last Friday evening, Mr. Giri called me up. Mr. Giri is one of the middle level managers of an Indo-Japanese production unit in the state of West Bengal, India.

He was very happy and excited to announce, ‘You must know that we have broken all previous records of production’.

“Is that so?” I asked; my voice laced with excitement.

“Yes, it is true… almost unbelievable.  We have shot up from producing 200 units per day to 2000 units per day from the same machines. Our quality rejection has dropped from 14% to around 5%. We have crossed the 8000 tonnes per month target… ” he almost gasped for breath to continue, ‘… and I must thank you so much…”

Indeed, this was incredible! His company was struggling for the last five years to crank up production and make some profit. They identified the bottleneck of the plant but were simply unable to do anything about it. The Japanese introduced all their famous improvement tools and techniques they had in their arsenal. Everyone sweated and puffed and huffed but no improvement was forthcoming. All efforts were in vain. The Japanese management team blamed the Indians for their ‘work attitude’, ‘lethargy’, ‘incompetence’ and gross overall ‘stupidity’… This obviously made the Indians angry. They in turn called the Japanese ‘overbearing’, ‘conceited’, ‘racists’, ‘foolish’ and what not… But at the end of the day in spite of all that shouting, mud-slinging and sledging no iota of improvement was in sight. In fact, things went for a nose dive. Crisis of closure loomed in the horizon as losses mounted.

‘Thank me for what?”, I asked with a tinge of eagerness.

Then he went on to tell me a story. “You know what the great music maestro Tan Sen said?”  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tansen)

“No I don’t have a clue about what he said’ I mumbled.

Giri continued with a tone mixed with excitement and reverence, “‘Tan Sen said if you only know how to sing the first note of seven notes in music very well, you automatically get to sing all notes fluidly’.

‘Hmm..’ I nodded in agreement. ‘Right, but what has that to do with me?’ I asked.

‘Everything’, he quipped back. “You taught us the first note so well that I have now learned to sing anything.’

Absolutely clueless about what he actually meant I asked with curiosity getting better of me, “And what was that first note?” This was because I have tried to teach them many things to improve their performance over a period of 18 months.

“Oh! Didn’t you teach us how to pay attention or observe things and their connections in their own settings without seeing what the mind already knows?” he replied bit incredulously.

‘Yes, I remember that. And you think that was so important?’ I pressed in to learn more from him.

“It was. And it would continue to be so for the rest of my life. It makes me so confident that I think I can work and win anywhere in the world, tackle anything in the world and solve any problem in the world”, he said with a slow deliberate voice exuding lot of conviction.

“Thank you again and would you mind if I come over to Kolkata to meet you some day to learn more of what you say as NOTICE.?” he seemed to stress the last word.

This was the first time in five years they made a decent profit.

As the conversation ended, I sat on the sofa with waves of happiness sweeping over me. I thought to myself, OMG! The power of the humble NOTICE is just amazing! Nothing more is needed. We need not teach people how to think. They know how to think. We need not teach people so many tools and techniques. They would discover those by themselves. We simply don’t need to waste their time doing things which we think must be done. We need not bore them to death to the point of getting disengaged. We simply need to teach those who really want to sing well the first note of the seven notes — “NOTICE“. That’s all!

I noticed my tea getting cold…

Moving between States of Awareness for Problem Solving

Of late, the word ‘awareness‘, ranks high in the public consciousness and is being used a lot.

What does it mean?

In plain language it means ‘paying attention’ to something or ‘noticing something’ or being ‘mindful’ about something and then extending that awareness to different dimensions through understanding, reflection and action. Awareness is not something which is fixed and static but rather fluid and flowing.

All that might seem very confusing to begin with.

Actually we move through different states of Awareness. And this ‘flow’ is achieved in a particular way.

So let us begin by asking, “What are the different states of awareness and how does it move?

The First State of Awareness

1. Awareness of the Physical:

It means anything that we can physically sense through our senses. It is generally an object but it can be something more fluid like smelling something ‘burning’. Or for example, it might be a simple building or a gear or people passing on the street or the sounds one hears in a city or simply a part of one’s body or pain area in a business ….

This is called point awareness, i.e. our awareness is focused on a fixed point.

In this state of awareness we are using our usual senses or extension of our senses through some form of instrumentation.

Note: In this way we can fix our attention to many fixed points present in a given context or ecology.

The Second State of Awareness

2. Awareness of Connections and movements:

Now the awareness moves in a different direction. It starts looking for connections and movements that link the ‘fixed point’ to other points and pieces in the ecology. For example, if we are aware that we are tensed and stressed out and aware about our tiredness and not too good digestion we may be able to link the these together to form a link. Or for instance if we are looking at ‘low order volume’ of any organization and the waste they are generating in their value creation process we might be able to link the two to form a link. Similarly, if we are examining a vibration frequency spectrum and we notice high amplitude vibration of a bearing and then notice high amplitude of the fan blades then there is a clear possibility that we might link the two to form a relationship.

We can then further pay attention about how a movement in one affects the other. Or in other words we understand ‘How a change in one creates a change in the other’. While extending our awareness in this stage we also notice the function the relationship does like — a) holding something, b) releasing/eliminating something, c) producing or reproducing something, d) moving or stopping something, e) expressing or communicating or feeding back information or withholding communication …

This is called line awareness, i.e. our awareness is now moves from independence to interdependence focused on relationships and their changes (interdependence) and their functions.

Note: Like in the earlier case we can create many ‘lines’ (relationships and their interdependence through changes) in this fashion.

At this stage we are not using our usual five senses any more. We are entering into what researchers call ‘one’s own perception’. Technically it is called ‘proprioception’. Proprioception does not come from any organ of the body but from the nervous system. So we go beyond our primary sense perception and start forming a more holistic picture of what we are aware of. This stage brings into play both non-cognitive and cognitive skills at the same time. It is process through which we start extending our minds.

The Third State of Awareness

3. Awareness of Contexts, Perspectives and Feelings:

From our ‘line awareness‘ we move to ‘surface awareness’. This happens when we put many ‘lines’ together. This is quite similar to what we do in geometry. For example when we place three lines together we get a triangle. Similarly by placing four lines together we get a square or a rectangle and so on.

Likewise, when we relate different parts of our ‘line awareness’ together we form a ‘surface awareness‘ of the context. At this state of awareness we form a perspective or understanding or a point of view. With each ‘surface’ we have a different perspective. So with multiple ‘surfaces’ we create and hold together different ‘perspectives’ or view points. The idea at this stage is to increase the number of perspectives (diversity) so that we reach closer to a fuller and more holistic understanding of a phenomenon or context we started out with.

Note: Like in earlier cases we aim at developing as many surfaces as possible to get multiple views or perspectives on something. We are consciously encouraging diversity to view reality which is complex enough. This is the stage where we have gone beyond our primary ‘senses’ and ‘proprioception’ and entered the domain of feelings. This is because each perception evokes in us different feelings and emotions. So the idea is to harvest a diversity of feelings about something.

The Fourth State of Awareness

4. Awareness of Shapes:

From ‘surface awareness’ we move to what I call a ‘3 Dimensional awareness‘ of a situation, phenomenon or anything we are paying attention to. Why is it 3 dimensional? This is because when different surfaces come together we get a ‘shape‘ which is essentially 3 dimensional. That is we have captured the reality (of course depends on how much we are able to capture) into a ‘shape‘. Again geometry would help. For example, when we bring together 4 triangles we form a pyramid. Or for instance when we stitch together 6 square surfaces we get a cube and so on. Or it can take the shape of a moving spiral of say gases.

In any case we create a ‘volume‘ (an empty space) by bringing different surfaces together. This gives us a holistic understanding of ‘reality‘ to which we are paying attention to.  The emptiness of the shape is the source of the creative potential for change to happen with all the relevant information existing on the sides of the ‘shape’.

Now we can pay attention to the ‘whole’ and find possibilities of creative change, redesign or better maintenance depending on possible ’emergence’ that either unfolds or remains enfolded.

At this state of paying attention we can have insights both in the form of intuition (noncognitive skill) and reason based on our cognitive skills. However both intuition and reason must come from what we are paying attention to and not from our memory. This is a higher level of emergence of our ‘nervous system‘ as a whole, which involves both the mind and body.

Why is that?

This is because as we pay attention to the ‘whole’ shape our nervous system provides the insight and our mind provides the ‘imagination’ and the reasoning based on our scientific understanding which in turn trigger the emotions and energy trapped in our bodies inspiring us to act. So the three basic elements — ‘nervous energy’, ‘mental energy in the form of imagination followed by reason’ and ‘physical energy‘ are called into play.

However, the most important element at this stage is the ‘imagination’ part. We are not imagining the past or the future but the ‘gap’ existing between those. This imagination is directed towards ‘empathy‘. Unless we can empathize at this stage our subsequent thoughts, reasons and actions would not produce the right results (right for the context).

The Fifth State of Awareness

5. Awareness of effortless creativity and joy:

Armed by the right imagination we are now ready for the last state of awareness that is bringing creativity into play. By now we know what is the existing imperfection, what the ‘shape’ is trying to drop (generally its past) and the quantity of information that needs to be changed along with its speed. This helps us to be in the flow of things just as they are and just as they  “want to be”. Through our creative action we can bring about the required and right changes to experience happiness, joy and equanimity. How would we know about what actions would bring about joy, happiness and equanimity?  If things become better and we become or stay healthy our creative actions are right enough. If not, we need to improve upon ‘paying attention’.

However, by now it might be self-evident that awareness or the very act of paying attention is something like flow. It is not fixed or static. It simply likes to flow from one state to the other as described above. But like all flows the flow can be impeded or stopped by artificial constraints we set up through our mental filters of likes, dislikes, good, bad, ambition, desires, aspirations, concepts, preformed ideas, memory. When this happens we lose agility in our living and work.

Once we realize this and try to break down or let go of such artificial constraints we not only become agile in our engagements but also develop resilience, which incidentally is always built into our physical bodies. So our bodies either reflect or absorb the energy which might either make and keep us healthy or sick and diseased; active or inactive. So resilience can lead to both health and sickness/suffering. Sickness indicates the presence of artificial constraints that are to be overcome. Health indicates that we have identified the real constraints that help our natural flow. Such constraints are to be retained and developed.

Our minds and bodies are both useful but we perhaps now realize that without a strong nervous energy they can both be rendered useless. Incidentally, the nervous energy is also connected to our immunity system. Therefore, it has a lot to do in keeping our minds and bodies in perfect order since all the three together as a whole are fully engaged in our awareness, our normal senses, proprioception, feelings, perception, imagination, intuition, empathy, understanding, insights, creativity, reason, thoughts, actions and perhaps wisdom. One can’t be sacrificed for the other.

When practiced to a high level of perfection we live in a liberated state – a state where we love what we get and get to do what we love to enrich our lives, i.e. we enjoy being in the flow of things.

It is beyond love. It is kindness to self and others, which flows from the effortless effort we experience in the fifth and last state of awareness a state between perception and non-perception.

That in short is awareness or simply ‘paying attention’.

Notes:

1. The technique of PLS3D (Point, Line, Surface and 3Dimensional Awareness) is one of the various technique/tools used in Rapidinnovation a process developed by my firm RMCPL. This has been widely applied and taught in India with great impact.  Would be happy to be a mentor or teach it to anyone who might be interested.

2. This is used in various types of settings like – Problem solving, Whole System Design, Design, Systemic thinking,  Manufacturing Systems, Organizational Systems, Entrepreneurship and a host of other applications.. including personal improvement and transformation, which to my mind is the most important application for a better future.

When you must leave a team?

When you must leave a team?

The simple answer is when you don’t see your reflection in the team any more.

That is —

a) when no one is paying attention to what you are feeling, thinking or doing.

b) when others are not interested in playing with you — with the ideas you are trying to evolve, new directions you are trying to set.

c) when team members fail to reflect your excitement and joy of creation or the diligence of getting things done.

d) when team mates consistently fail to respond to reality or fail to respond to the weak signals in the environment that would soon grow big.

Leaving teams is as important as joining teams. This is because it is important to stay alive.