Resilience through self renewal!

India is a case study of resilience through motion and adhering to one’s calling in life. The idea of ‘motion’ or nomadic life runs deep in our Indian culture. Our rivers flowing endlessly across the vast landscape, giving life to the parched lands, are personified as metaphors of creativity and serve as timeless symbols of state transformations. The timeless whirl of bhikshus and monks wandering for alms in exchange of advice and wisdom for better living, jhum cultivation obeying the rhythms of nature, continuous growth of clusters and settlements in steady flux of self organizing movements, people in search of work, sadhus (seers) and pilgrims, mobile fairs and haat bazzars (markets), itinerant pilgrims, performers, pastoralists, bards and tellers of myths all embody the notion of ‘motion’; all performing simultaneously on the thin veneer of our ancient but extremely flexible and adaptable ‘culture’.

No wonder India is home to the world’s largest nomadic population always on ‘motion’. Nowhere else is there such a variety of people herded and ceaselessly moving in a self organizing way giving rise to complex patterns nor can the diversity of peripatetic professions be matched.

Yet in our post modern times the sedimentary have increasingly come to represent the ‘civilized’. The mainstream (the sedentary) stands oblivious to the pull of the wanderers and the scribes and the worlds of the nomads have been circumcised’ to the odd curious enthusiasts. Little wonder, nomads are considered ‘strangers’ where ‘strangers’ in principle are ‘undesirable’ people.

And how does this ‘undesirable’ attitude surface? ‘Indifference’ is the shield used by ‘foreigners’ (the non nomads) when they meet nomads. Insensitive and aloof the foreigner seems deep down beyond the reaches of attacks and rejection that he/she nevertheless experiences with the vulnerability of a living and tortuous ‘medusa’.

Such a ‘medusa’ painfully brings on an ‘identity’ of ‘being’ something distinct from others with a fixed character of its own. What it fails to realize or let go is that our identity is changed in a nomadic style by the journey we undertake in life where both our ‘subjectivity’ and ‘objectivity’ towards ‘reality’ is recomposed, rediscovered, redesigned and evolved. What we fail to realize or give up or let go is that in this transformation every step forward is a step backwards too. Without this necessary stepping back I can’t go forward. The migrant (nomad) is here and there too at the same time. The exile from the ‘nomad’ life can be deadening with the lack of ‘stretching’ and ‘folding’, which every movement entails. Such ‘stretching’ and ‘folding’ is nomadic symbolizing ‘movement’ that is potentially creative through unleashing ‘chaos’. It can also be an affliction but can also be a transfiguration. Whatever it might be it is a vital resource to create the necessary movement from ‘being’ to ‘becoming’.

If that is so what happens to my identity of ‘being’. My ‘being’ existence is actually non-existent. Is my identity not with ‘being’ but ‘becoming’? Do I live always on the edge of a frontier – a place for separation, transition and new articulation of a state that I haven’t seen or enjoyed before? In ‘becoming’ am I relieved of the odd task of constantly creating a boundary and jealously guarding it against attacks or rejection by constantly stepping back to cross or transgress it?

I realize that I am stranger to my ‘becoming’ state. What would happen is not known to me. What I would do as a response is also not known to me. In the state of becoming I change myself physically, mentally and spiritually and nothing is known to me in advance or ever would.

That to me is the cyclical principle of resilience gained through the constant act of self renewal through ‘becoming’ leading to self transformation.

What helps me do that? Obviously the mind which itself is ‘nomadic’. I can use it the way I would like to evolve, change, be creative and change the course of my destiny and self transform myself. I know the ‘why’ and ‘whom does it serve’ but I still remain a stranger to the ‘what’ and ‘how’ in any given moment in my movement.

That allows me to develop the ability to concentrate or be focused & also keep up a defused state of attentive awareness of the contextual surroundings at the same time (integration of the left & right brains). It is the fine art of being focused on the part and the whole at the same time enabling me to flow with the dance of Shiva. That truly makes my mind & spirit nomadic, enabling flashes of fresh and original insights to act upon.

This video link below shows how we integrate our right and left brains in real situations and how such integration leads to ‘becoming’ rather than ‘being’. Though I would always stay a stranger to that ‘becoming’ I refuse to remain a stranger to my present moment that informs my ‘becoming’.

http://www.ted.com/talks/iain_mcgilchrist_the_divided_brain.html

One thing I am sure of — Nomadic life – physically, mentally and spiritually – is usually the most gainful and risk free mode of resilient survival as it allows freedom from the limitations of confined space and time – the final form of slavery & exploitation, created by seemingly rational concepts, ideas and notions.

Living the life of a nomad is fun too since I would always stay a stranger to myself. It is a practice I love. Rightfully it is the only way one hugs resilience since it helps me to create what I want to. The practice is through travel to unfamiliar lands with new eyes and minds, engaging in spontaneous dialogs, self-study, storytelling, expressing differently through various forms of arts, interactions, improving interdependence and meditative reflection where both the right and the left brains are not only integrated but allowed to come into play simultaneously as a contextual response to real situations.

A few days from now, India celebrates Deepwali — the festival of ‘lights’. It reminds me of a celebration of a nomadic journey, thousands of years back, taken down the southern path of India (one of the two main trade routes) by Rama the hero of the epic story of Ramayana. It represents lighting the inner lamp to ‘becoming’ and to be a lamp onto others. It also reminds us to wish everyone Health, Happiness and Wealth so that the best things in life come back to us manifolds by creating sustainability and resilience at the same time.

On this auspicious occasion I dedicate this post to the Health, Happiness and Wealth of all who care to read this post or don’t care to glimpse through it.

But the question is “would you like to join me in the fun of moving and enjoying Shiva’s dance by being a stranger to yourself in the nomadic way?”

Would eagerly wait for you!

 

 

 

 

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On Learning and Wisdom in Complex times

Clearly the top question in today’s world of uncertainty and randomness is ‘How do we learn fast enough to gain understanding, insights and wisdom to negotiate  our complex world and act in a ‘blink’?

To start our exploration we might start with the main schools of thoughts. However, be warned that this is just a whistle-stop tour illustrated by my not too well-formed ‘pencil sketches’ of the great rivers of human thoughts on learning. And I, for purely practical purposes, would stick to the Western flow of thoughts on learning since this has indeed come to dominate our present way of thinking about learning all across the world. For want of space and to keep this blog post within reasonable limits (that is not to bore people to death) I would have to keep out for the time being some of the great minds whose thoughts on thinking and learning are as important and significant as of those whom I mention. For example, I left out notable mathematicians and some philosophers like Heraclitus, Hegel, Marx, Kant and others, whom I would like to cover in later blog posts if my time and energy permit to do so.

I would start with Plato. He was a firm believer of the ‘big picture’ as we find him in his book ‘The Republic‘.  To him the ‘big picture’ is some sort of idealized form constructed by the human mind. So, he thought that all of us must go as close as possible to an ideal or an idealized form or an idealized idea. In order to do so we must know something beforehand to understand a big picture to build an idealized picture of the reality (Plato’s Theory of Form).  With that he defined the role of philosophers who must impart the knowledge of forms (or ideas), which is ‘real knowledge’ to the average person who he thought is deluded by changes sensed by his senses (allegory of the cave). In short, he was a suspicious of the knowledge gained from experiences.

However, his student Aristotle, thought differently. He thought that it was best to work up from basic facts and observations to form general principles. I would go on a limb to say that it was the start of the modern scientific way of viewing and learning more about the physical world through direct observation to form general principles that could be applied with repeatable accuracy. Hence such principles turned out to be a set of axiomatic set of principles that might be used to view the world around us.

Needless to say that these two schools of thought clashed with each other in our effort to find a way to learn better. For a long time, others who came behind Plato and Aristotle chose either of these schools as their learning framework.

For example, Descartes, toeing Plato’s line of thinking, tried to create a body of knowledge that would stay independent of experience. His idea was to make knowledge certain without tolerating ambiguity. That was ‘rationalism’ or better known as the domain of ‘bounded rationality’. It was useful at that time of human learning. The idea was to get away from the iron grip of churches who clung to the Platonic view. No wonder the early universities in Europe were founded by churches. Cambridge was possibly the first exception. Under the influence of the King it moved away from teaching canonical laws and Platonic school of learning to classics and mathematics founded on Aristotelian and Euclidean way of thinking.

It quietly slipped into the Aristotle’s way of scientific thinking backed by Euclidean geometry which exploded to a highly enriched state with the arrival of Newton. No wonder space was rigid in Newtonian science (Euclidean influence), which was revised by another great mind, Einstein. But that happened years later.

But what happened immediately was the meteoric rise of the crown. The king was able to rob political power from the church based on science and its inventions triggered by Newton and his contemporaries.

However, this was soon followed by the fecund period of Scottish Enlightenment led by personalities like David Hume and Adam Smith.  Perhaps it is not a coincidence to find Hume, Smith and Watt working in the same Edinburgh University as contemporaries. It was, as if, their ideas and thought processes rubbed off on each other.

Hume’s thinking differed from Plato and Aristotle. It was, so to say, a much more practical approach to things. He stressed upon the idea that we can only know what we can experience. So this marked a radical departure in the domain of ‘learning’ away from the world of Plato, Aristotle and Euclid.

I think it was “acceptance of the world as it is” ; not what it seemed through the ‘Theory of forms’ or Aristotle’s seeing the world through a set of a priori ‘axiomatic principles’. And this way of thinking was not without great impact. Fair to say that it ushered the scientific age paving the way for an astounding leap in engineering and science birthing industrial revolution that provided a welcome relief to the masses from the church’s feudalistic way of living off the land, which was ruthless, to say the least. This period also saw the coming of Darwin and Maxwell revolutionizing their fields of study and work, which had deeper implications in the modern age in terms of genetics, relativity and the birth of quantum mechanics.

However, that meant that science and scientists soon started ruling our thought processes and learning methods. The age of logic returned. And it had its profound imprints in the way we learned in schools, colleges and industries. There was a scientific temper to everything.

But scientists were also developing their own ‘blind spots’. The most famous example that stood out was that of Einstein coming from the Platonic school of thought. He was so enamored by his own idealized ‘big picture’ that he just could not see the new development of quantum mechanics coming. He simply refused to accept reality since it simply refused to match his ‘idealized form’ of reality. Hence the next phase of development in science was admirably led by Bohr and Heisenberg.

However, it was still the age of logic and it found its way in almost every sphere of human activity from mathematics to economic to management. The attempt was to build a system or a thought process through logic and logic alone.

But logic had its limits proved by Godel’s famous incompleteness theorems. So it wasn’t uncommon to find systems and models developed and built on logic often flounder and fail. Failure through contradictions was evidently built into logic.

All this time the field of uncertainty was developing in fits and starts well hidden from public view by people like Poincaré whose work was later admirably taken up by people like Edward Lorenz and Mandelbrot. This and the work of mathematicians like Markov, Weibull, Kolmogorov and others who firmly established the field of uncertainty, sensitive dependency on initial conditions and complexity. This was further reinforced by behavioral economists like Daniel Kahneman and others. Meanwhile, as Aristotelian logic was re-framed by Fisher and others into rigorous statistical inferences; Bayes and his disciples (most notable in modern times is Nate Silver) extended Hume’s philosophy of ‘experiential learning’ to mathematical beauties.

The field of complexity, ambiguity and adaptation soon began to dominate more practical fields of computers, genetics, biology, engineering, physics, mathematics and even management. From the age of rigid rationality, almost unerring logic & iron clad certainty we suddenly find ourselves in the age of irrationality, uncertainty, ambiguity and complexity.

That is a peculiar predicament. Only logic would no longer be useful. Those who would only like to stick to it would fail too often and fail too soon. Construction of the ‘big picture’ often leaves us in the quandary about how to act. Axiomatic principles are often more questioned than accepted as given. Acting only on experience might prove fatal and inadequate. Models are often proved wrong. And so on…

So what to do?

Undoubtedly this is a difficult age to live. But one thing is certain. There are no longer any fixed ways of looking at our world.

Fortunately, there is one common way of learning that runs through everything. This might be described as follows:

a) Pay attention (Notice)

b) Engage to learn (Engage)

c) Mull the choices we have (Mull).

d) Exchange our learning in ways others might get it (Exchange).

That is NEME, the basis of the discipline of Nemetics.

The discipline of Nemetics tends to answer three vital questions that help in this age of complexity.

a) What is going on? — NEME

b) What does it mean? – Design Kata

c) What might we do about it? – Rapidinnovation

Possibly that leads us to give us a way of living in these complex and turbulent times.

a) Strategy — Follow your aspirations but check the facts and re-purpose if need be.  (Feel)

b) Take failures of any system as the starting point of learning and leadership. Learn to face failures and fears through improvisation and innovation. (Think)

c) Learning is a personal responsibility. It is about personal mastery. Collaboratively learn through self-study, observations, thoughts of others, interactions with peers and mentors and feedback from your own work since learning, understanding and gaining insights might not possibly happen in one stroke.  In other words keep learning and improvising to pavé the way to arrive at wisdom. (Innovate through improvising).

Luckily all that can happen in a blink through perseverance and patience aided by the power of emergent complexity of our 800 MB human genome in a self organizing way that can beat the best super computer of the world.

That is what we can really rely on.

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.