TRANSFORMATION: the philosophical dimension

10th August 2006, ECONOMIC TIMES

Philosophy tells us that knowledge is what we know we know. Intuition is what we do not know we know. When knowledge merges into the intuition, there is wisdom. Successful transformations need wisdom.

10th August 2006, ECONOMIC TIMES

Philosophy tells us that knowledge is what we know we know. Intuition is what we do not know we know. When knowledge merges into the intuition, there is wisdom.

Successful transformations need wisdom.

Transformation is thought of as requiring a lot of directive effort, driven by a leader. Transformation is an end result. The process is always turbulent. A leader expects turbulence and he minimizes or even suppresses it. His way of dealing with turbulence may be efficient or effective.

Societal attitudes and professional training make managers lean towards efficiency. Paradoxically, those who lead through complex transformations find that the effective path may not be efficient, because their problems appear as foggy and unclear. This is what makes transformations uniquely challenging.

The human mind is a noisy parliament of competing factions. Samuel Johnson, perceived the world as ‘a tangled, teeming jungle of plots, follies, vanities, and egoistic passions in which anyone is likely to be ambushed.’ Every organization views its priorities through a compound eye (like a fly) rather than through a simple eye (like a human being).

Unlike the single-lens human eye, the eye of the fly has over four thousand lenses, each of which captures a picture. The summation is a fuzzy image.

To reach its goal, the fly has to repeatedly turn its body towards the goal, move, reassess by looking again, and then turn its body again. That is why it approaches its goal in a spiraling, circular path rather than a straight path. The fly’s journey is effective, though it does not appear efficient
The organization too sees issues from different angles and interests; it sees its goals as a fuzzy image. Transforming organizations approach their goals in a circular and spiraling way. Such a movement frustrates managers, who expect their leader to move in a direct and efficient way.

The desire for a secure future makes managers want to eliminate the uncertainty around them. They educate their children to dilute uncertainties, to place issues into black or white, and to abhor grey. They raise their children to be efficient. When employees join the company, they reward those who complete tasks on time or within the budget.

They pass through their career, prizing efficiency.

Much of this is correct, but only partly. Such notions condition the mind to regard the efficient path as effective. And leaders suddenly discover that it may not be so.

Linearity, stability and suppression of turbulence are artificial ways of dealing with an increasingly complex world; they are derived out of an engineering perspective of the world.

Nature demonstrates that very few things occur in a straight line. The spiral is central to our lives. In this way, more often than not, turbulence is leveraged, not suppressed.

A skier comes down the slope in a winding way. Water flows down the mountain-side similarly. Smoke goes up in a spiraling path.

Picture a galaxy of planets, arranged in near-circular orbits around a centre.

Think of the shape of a cabbage, sea shells or even our ears—they all seem to grow from within, in a sort of spiral.

The spiral lies at the core of life’s first principles, that of growth. The structure of shells, plants, the periodicity of the atomic elements, the double helix DNA, all of them adduce to this point of view.

The spiral of turbulence is the natural companion of complex problems.

Leaders of the future must instinctively learn how to leverage the turbulence they will face, rather than rely on the traditional instinct to suppress turbulence.

Nature teaches managers how to do things effectively; Nature’s way may seem inefficient, but in fact, the least effort is expended.

Birds do not try to fly, they just fly. Grass does not try to grow, it just grows. Fish don’t try to swim, they just swim. Flowers don’t try to bloom, they just bloom. Nature’s intelligence functions effortlessly, without
friction, and spontaneously—with the least effort.

Managers also must not try to lead; they must just lead, naturally and spontaneously. They must make the trend their friend.

Natural leadership means managing with instinct and values. Values are inherent in human beings. In the quest to achieve, managers suppress their sense of instinct and values.

We should remember what Gandhiji had said,” Beware of politics without principle, and commerce without morality.”

JRD Tata had said, “To lead people, you must lead with affection.”

The great and more satisfying thing in life is a sense of purpose beyond oneself. If the progress in our society is small compared to the effort, the problem lies within ourselves; perhaps, we work against our instinctive sense of values and principles.

Values are at the vortex of the spiral of turbulence.

The greatest mistake that leaders of the future can make is to assume that results alone matter, and that morality and goodness have gone out of style.