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Organizing Ignorance

Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance is the death of knowledge. – Alfred North Whitehead Indeed, Peter Drucker used to emphasize that what matters more is not how much you know, but how aware you are of what you do not know. He used to say that we should organize our ignorance. Organising helps us become aware of the structure of our knowledge and understanding and the limits thereof. For example. All of our knowledge of AI and robotics and it’s potential impact is important. What is it that we do not know and are perhaps not even aware of?! What we do not know or not strongly aware of is our own self-conception of being human and how intimately our ‘self-efficacy’ as a species is tied up with technology. We are ignorant about how profoundly AI and robotics is going to interrogate the meaning of being human. The more we explore and organize ignorance, the more we make visible the dark space within which the Knowledge Universe exists.

The Fog of War

We and you ought not to pull on the ends of a rope which you have tied the knots of war. Because the more the two of us pull, the tighter the knot will be tied. And then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you. –  Nikita Khrushchev’s message to John F Kennedy during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis as interpreted by Robert McNamara in ‘The Fog of War’ India and Pakistan sharply tugged on their ends of the rope this last week. And at the time of writing, they still have their hands on it. John F. Kennedy, the US President, knew what cutting the knot meant; what Khrushchev was alluding to. Most ordinary citizens of these countries at the brink of war don’t. And they need to. If only because the war is purportedly fought in their name and the consequences are also for them to bear. Robert McNamara in this spellbinding 2003 documentary – The Fog of War – shares his hard-earned insights…

The Peter Drucker Diary – Entry 2

The work of a genius or giant often presents an anomaly. Reverential regard obscures the real work. People know the name, but haven’t engaged with the work. In this series, we take one Peter Drucker quote or excerpt and seek to understand it. Entry 2 “What Everybody knows is frequently wrong” Just like Entry 1, this assertion seems to be straightforward. And yet, while we may find inscrutable sense in it, our behaviour and actions follow what everybody knows. Everybody knows ….. (whatever you want to put in here) and whatever you fill this with, Peter Drucker says, it is likely to be based on beliefs and assumptions that are untenable. Peter Drucker urges us to go beyond the surface, uncover the beliefs and assumptions, and hold them against the shining light of here-and-now reality. Everybody knows the Emergency Room in a hospital is to save lives in an SOS situation. Everybody knows the crucial promotion is the final one to the top position. Everybody knows immediate and unanimous agreement in a meeting on a topic is a harbinger of unity and…

A playschool experience

Parents of playschool kids. Huddled together in the school-room. Awaiting their little stars. Who were going to enter the room and one by one, stand in front and sing rhythmic melodies. First, the girls were ushered in. All of four years and looking prim and proper, they all filed in with super poise and purpose. They sat down as indicated and almost seemed to have a sense of occassion about the whole event. As each girl stood up and approached the center to sing, the rest maintained an astonishing degree of calmness and audience discipline. For four year olds, this was special. Then, the boys were ushered in. By the way they conducted themselves, we all felt a familiar touch to the proceedings. They straggled, strayed from their sitting place and did all the things that we expect four year old kids to do. On the way back from the event, my wife shared her appreciation of how the girls conducted themselves. I wasn’t so sure. And when I explained why, she agreed with me.  

The Peter Drucker Diary – Entry 1

A genius or giant brings a big handicap. Reverential regard obscures the real work. In this series, we take one Peter Drucker quote or excerpt and seek to understand it. Entry 1 “Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their jobs done” On the face of it, this is an almost plebeian observation. We have all got fed up with bureaucratic procedures or red-tape and railed against how complex and convoluted the whole damn thing is. However that’s just the easier surface-level reality that this Drucker quote speaks to. In the name of improving productivity, incentives are created that make people stop contributing elsewhere. In the name of appraising performance, people spend more time logging in sundry details. In the name of engaging people, team members search for good things to say to each other in public and struggle. Incentives skew the direction of effort and the allocation of time. Before incentives, I had time to help my colleague structure a work-proposal. After incentives, I want to maximise what I can earn. Teamwork…

Indian Cricket – Asking the Wrong Question. Not Dhon(i)

As we head into the Cricket World Cup next year, the public discussion centres around one question – Should Mahendra Singh Dhoni be in the team? And that does not bode well for Indian cricket. The critical question is – What will it take for the Indian Cricket Team to win the World Cup? The critical question comes first and dictates all efforts. Every other question and answer has to be subordinated to the critical question. This requires disciplined effort. It is much easier to focus on individuals, their performances and their claim for a place on the team. Far tougher is the effort to begin with the task and its requirements; that then lead to the identification of skills and capabilities, which in turn, throws up the team configuration and the performance-based names of individual players. We, on the other hand, are busy talking up or playing down the merits of Dhoni. It is good to ask a pointed question – Will Dhoni’s absence from the World Cup team cost India the 2019 World Cup? Shane Warne was the…

Values in Action

Amid a lot of talk and emphasis on values, here are a few values explained – values in action. Integrity Mahatma Gandhi was a stickler for time. Once, a teacher was twenty minutes late for a teaching class. Gandhiji told the teacher he had wasted four hundred minutes. The teacher was confused. Gandhiji explained that since there are twenty students in the class, the teacher had wasted 20X20 equals 400 minutes of precious time. This is integrity; walking the talk & being an exemplar of ethical & principled behaviour. Passion Barry Marshall, a doctor, believed that stomach ulcer is caused by bacteria. But, the entire medical fraternity believed that bacteria cannot survive in the acidic environment of the stomach. Marshall’s claim was dismissed. He had to make the world learn what the truth is. Barry Marshall took bacteria from the gut of an ailing patient, stirred it in a broth and drank it. He gave himself an ulcer and since there was a cure at hand, Marshall lived to tell the tale. This is passion, a deep sense of purpose…

Agility – Why is it elusive in organisations

Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily in any direction. An agile organisation anticipates, senses and responds to its external environment in ways that create a competitive advantage. Organisational leaders often feel dragged down by the weight of an organisation’s structure and the rigidity of its processes. Being in vantage points, they can see or perceive the workflow and blockages. These leaders are best positioned to appreciate the value of agility in making an organisation nimble enough to seize fleeting opportunities and make quick comebacks. If that is the case, why are they not able to bring themselves to change and be more agile? And what can be done about it? There are a few aspects of how leaders function in organisations that can explain why it is hard to embrace agility in organisations. Addressing these aspects with a systems perspective can point the way forward. Sticking to Current Competence – An organisation is a system. How a system performs is a result of the interaction of its parts, not a consequence of how the parts function separately.…

Peter Drucker – Why does Emergency Room in a hospital exist? Brilliant!

Can anybody tell doctors what a hospital’s emergency room is for? Of course, not. Turns out Peter Drucker did. A legend in his lifetime, Drucker was once consulted by a hospital. They wanted him to help the Emergency Room (ER) of a hospital become more effective. Drucker started where he always does – mission. A mission statement answers the question – Why do we exist? Drucker asked the stakeholders in ER, “What is your mission?” At this point, put yourself in the shoes of the stakeholder. When I do, I answer, “The mission of ER is to save the life of everybody who is brought in” That is why it exists. Isn’t that true? People are wheeled into the place because it is, as the name suggests, an emergency! A life is at stake. We must save the life of this person. For Drucker, my answer won’t cut it. To him, the mission had to be so clear that it spells out in operational terms what to do next to achieve it. And that is his real genius! If we go by…

Significant Leadership : How to find where it lies

Take a look at the accompanying visual. Visuals simplify the appearance of complex reality. With the caveat of this being a conceptual model, it is still a useful one to find our place in the world. Significant leadership is the space where your greatest competence, your greatest passion and the world’s greatest need overlap. Where does one begin? Sachin Tendulkar began with his passion, and you might be surprised to know it was not batting! Tendulkar wanted to become a tearaway fast-bowler. When he went for Dennis Lillee’s fast-bowling camp, Lillee saw him bat and told him to forget about fast bowling. Isn’t that interesting? One of the greatest batsman in modern times needed feedback on his greatest competence! What comes in the way of identifying our competence? Ironically, it is the sheer ease of it, so much so that we do not think about it at all. What comes easy to us is dismissed. You can reflect on what is it you find very easy to do that is something of a task for your peer group ( people who…