Archives for November 2008

Religion is Dead, Long Live Religion

Religion as a system of living is dead.

What remains is only ritual, some archaic pictorial descriptions and a strained existence with a society that wants answers now.

Promises of nubile maidens, an unstrained existence, of honey and wine amidst Mediterranean climes, harps and precious little actual work to do don’t hold water anymore.

Instead of religion being the equalizer and opener of minds and doors, now it is money that plays religion’s role.

Money is the disinfectant for all notional ideas, the grand flattener of various mental terrains. Religion, social structures, moral values, caste & creed and every damned ism vanishes with money.

Religion is nothing but a few spiritual best practices that helped the individual connect with their higher goal . A set of best practices that have worked for a few and been codified into systems.

Let us not get into what the goal itself is. Each race and time seems to have its own definition of it.

The point to note is who checks if these steps work now. Whether the ism and systems hold validity, who would stand up and question its efficacy?

Does the crossing of the fingers to symbolize a cross work? Does the gesture of bowing the head to a temple passing by gain the attention of the god? Or the call to the faithful, does it rouse the spirit? Do these gestures done over a life time, accumulate in some way, and open a path to the rare heights?

The religion and the ritual has lost its efficacy. We need to step back and re-invent the methods and means of our aspirations.

Whether it is in the bunch of universal values we adopt. Or in the rigorous monitoring of our motives. Or even the curtailing of our appetites. The time has come to better understand the residual effect of our thoughts and actions, or as some would say to be aware of the Karmic impact of our actions.

In a sense we have to return to first principles, to begin anew. To discover the forms that are relevant to the current age and time.

And in doing so build the next version of religion. A personal religion. Intensely private. Of infinite variations.

What would such a religion look like? It would allow me to be born with the Vedic chant, sit at the foot of the Cross-bearer and learn of fortitude, cavort with the Dark-Hued one besides the banks of Yamuna, bow in utter obeisance to the fierce protection of the All-Mighty Mother, smile a little at the humor of a Rishi and allow me to join my brothers at their fasting.

I shall not be confined to a single strain of joy. Delight in its infinite variations shall come unto me.

I shall not be circumscribed by a single taxonomy. All methods shall be mine but none shall call me their own.

Within me Zeus and Indra shall discuss the finer aspects of their bolts. Adam and Manu shall wonder together what it means to be the first beings to aspire. The triune of the Bible and the triune of the Veda and Purana shall discover their shared identity.

With the middle man and the chatter of a mindless crowd gone, my paltry breast shall be big enough to hold the universe of truths.

The individual ‘I’ shall discover its oneness with all that is. And the many shall cease to baffle me.

This I shall learn to be the true religion.

Long live religion!

The Organizations are Merged, On Paper. How About Your People?

Over the last handful of organizational mergers and takeovers, I have been through, have noticed a specific pattern. It involves people from one part of the merged entity passing opinions or making general assertions about the teams from the other entity. Of late I have been thinking about it a little.

Most M&As are complex activities requiring many man years of planning and execution. However the people side of the story, to get individuals from both companies thinking as one, is a more elusive goal.

Some causes as I see it, in no particular order are: 

i) Distrust of the unknown

Trust is the result of interactions that reinforce positive assumptions. Without any interactions it becomes impossible to trust anything.

ii) Changing Power Alignments

Every organizational change comes with associated changes to power structures. Like it or not, these are a very big and critical aspect of any functioning large organization. Any impending change makes the existing set of people go into a sort of hibernation, waiting and watching before they do anything significant.

iii) Unclear Role in Future

At a personal level, people are not comfortable with functioning in a situation filled with ambiguity. This lack of role clarity in near future, makes people freeze up in the present.

iv) Gossip as social bonding

Gossip is key communication channel for a lot of unspoken concerns. This inane communication, like teens hanging around at street corners, serves a social function by helping people bond together.

This could be a very common occurrence but I thought it best to share my thoughts and learn from your experiences.

The way I have dealt with these factors in the past is to focus on doing what I do and to do it well.

I have noticed that events around us remain mostly favorable if one is competent and dedicated to the task on hand.

Imagination

Imagination is often equaled with day dreaming. This is an unfair, and even wrong, comparison.

Imagination is the ability to create ideas. Whether these ideas are founded upon the known laws of physics, mathematics and other sciences, or upon the whims of the muses is not of immediate relevance.

What matters is if we can, from the initial raw of material of our lives, create something.

May be as a mash-up of many distinct and divergent elements. Or by the bringing into play of something completely and utterly new. That in some cases it even fails to be recognized.

It should not matter which subset of ideas we are referring to here. What matters is that an idea has been created and in one fell swoop, we have made ourselves greater than every other creature in creation that preceded us.

The 7 Signs of Organizational Inertia

There is plenty of action in the economy to keep even the most disinterested engaged with the fireworks and the scuttling.

While organizations and individuals tighten their cost belts and strengthen the execution of their strategy, one factor can escape even the most keen observer. And that is the current state of affairs within the organization.

This internal state is an amalgam of the hard and soft factors that make up the existence and functioning of an organization. The greatest strategy and analysis can all be sucked into the quicksand of ‘Organizational inertia’.

Hence leaders who are keen to get things done would do well to check if their organizations are afflicted with this inertia factor.

Organizational Inertia, revealed by the following 7 signs-

1) The product ‘strategy’ consists of PR statements only

After a whole load of analysis, the decision is an incremental juggling of feature sets and reprioritization. All this delivered with a significant PR buzz. Speak to a cross section of people on the ground to see if they are enthused by the direction the products are to take. If all this sounds luke warm or downright cold you know something is not right or has been lost while making the distance between strategy and execution.

2) The Grand Technology Platform will solve all problems

Watch out for the grand daddy technology platform syndrome. And steer clear away from it. Unless you want to while away your time and not actually work on anything. Every time I have heard about such all encompassing platforms I cringe at the train wreck that is coming close. Every time such projects have failed to accomplish their original goals.

3) Teams spend their lives propping up the old systems, processes

What proportion of effort does the team spend in activities that would prop up the organization’s future? If the answer is none to minimal, then be assured you are looking at a unmotivated, or at least soon to be unmotivated, workforce. It is not enough if the board room thinks about the future of the organization, you need the rank and file to dream up ideas deal with challenges. Need to have systems and processes in place to harness these ideas.

4) Each organizational unit views the strategy elephant in its own way.

It is not enough to have a strategy and send mails and print posters about it. Once its propagated to the entire org, follow up to see if all the details have been understood and perceived in the same way the strategists had seen it. Of course not every function should understand the idea in all its complexity, in some cases it might not even be feasible. But there should be no discordant perception. Ensure this is not the case by talking to a cross section of people and having middle management do the same.

5) Your teams talk and gossip about internal factors more than about the competition and the marketplace.

This is tricky to verify. But the surest way to ruin is this. With the pace of technology and lowering of threshold for established organizations to be questioned, it would be fatal for people to indulge in this mind set. If you see this behaviour, then switch on your warning signs and begin engaging your teams to understand causes and work upon addressing those

6) Skill in execution is to undergo another re-organization.

Some organizations do re-orgs as a spectator sport. Every change in leadership goes about performing this circus. The endless mails about faith in team, amount of skill available, phenomenal opportunities must be a common occurrence in most organizations. Instead of focusing on getting things right or even understanding what is there already, its perhaps a ritual for leaders to go about shuffling things. I understand this is an oversimplification but wanted raise this point as it can easily seem indispensable. 

7) Plenty of naked emperors ambling around.

These are the white elephants in the room. Sucking out precious resources and sapping out the enthusiasm. No one dare touch them. They are just there, until forced out. Frankly, I have no clue how to handle these. It amazing how people above them can tolerate these even for a second.

Now, a question. Do you think these signs are enough to recognize inertia? What other factors would you add to it?

[update: @polycontextual adds “discordance between organizational identity (internal) and organizational image (external)”. Once I have more feedback shall update this post with the ideas that have come up.]

Mutiny at the Cubicle

I know how you feel. Let me state this now. With all the emphasis a life of sweat and effort and anguish and diligent, even devout, application of skill you have earned, you think to yourself.

“Is this how revolutions are bred? To cast a sand-grain of ignorance upon a fertile soup of ideas, of experience wrought in the crucible and snatched from the whim of destiny.”

Oh the folly of smugness, to abstract limitless detail with a “I know”.

Without even lingering by a “For Dummies” title for a few minutes! How gallantly the fools sweep over insurmountable mines of radioactive ambiguity.

Do they not know, that every idea-offspring to ever issue from them would be contaminated with gaps in credulity?

The sand-grain has been sown. When the pearl of freedom shall issue forth we do not know. But it shall come one day, resplendent.

The mutiny at the cubicle has begun.

A Thought – On Adversity

Adversity is the key that unlocks your inner strength.

Is the war hammer that pulverizes the crust that holds in your shine.

Is a welcome sign to break open the monotony of your existence. 

Is a sign to remake yourself.

Is someone frantically pressing the reset button for your character.

Adversity is your long awaited opportunity in disguise. Embrace it.

Mediocrity As Career Strategy

“What should I do to not grow beyond a manager grade until I am 45?”

The polite silence of the men’s rest room was disturbed by the question that followed the greeting the other day.

It was a colleague in the late 20s asking me. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I looked at the person and asked him to clarify and he said, “I am 29 now and a senior QA. To become a manager takes 3 hops. From SQA to Lead to Associate Manager to Manager. If I spend 5 years at each stage would I not become 45 by they time I get to Manager?” Now this was as clear as day light. The guy was messed up!

His reasoning was that the cause for most work pressures, according to him, was due to ambition and the desire to move ahead in ones career. And to avoid all that he wished to choose a sedentary pace of life. To not do anything that would make his supervisors give him more responsibility, and god forbid, promote him!

It is in moments like these that one knows God has a sense of humor!

On one side it seemed to uphold a stoic perception about sufficiency, a certain aloofness in participating in the proceedings of the world.

The stance seemed to ring with a very Sannyasi like sensibility- the kind that sat bare, cross-legged and chasing a nameless abstraction beyond the senses. Which by the way is a perfectly valid attitude if ones goal is to chase the nameless abstraction.

But within the material world? To live as a parasite for the subsistence of ones own being and not contribute to adding more value than what one has consumed is to be ignorant of ones role in this world.

To live a little, love a little, earn a little, to breed, to groom the brood and while away a spot of eternity with barely anything to show has been the common way, especially in this nation of ours.

This cobweb of mediocrity has to go. In a weakening economy, these deadwood only serve to slow down the organizations ability to chase and outrun the competition.

Generally it is not fashionable in captive and outsourced IT shops to innovate and execute beyond the brief set by the masters onsite. However the current economic climate might provide just the incentive required to leverage intellectual capability wherever it is domiciled. Even if it speaks with a funny accent. Even when changes would have to be made to how everything has functioned until now.

Perhaps the gust of economic downturn will blow these impediments away.

This strategy is not uncommon. I came across another acquaintance who remarked, when discussing the economic conditions locally, that it would be better to be employed in a public sector organization where no layoffs ever happen! I feel sort of lonely here 🙁

What do you think? How would you respond to a person who wishes to be a baggage of sorts without lifting more than they are required to.

[Update: I read this couple of days back, after writing this post. Survival is definitely not a strategy!]

One True Moment, Had Any Lately?

You could not imagine a more mundane setting. I had gone to get some lunch from a nearby hotel. After placing my order I let my attention drift to a bunch of papers laid out for customers. I picked a color supplement and cast a glance, soon my eyes fell on this picture.

I just froze within. The usual tumult of the senses, my orientation, the sense of existing all were sent to low priority. Every bit of my being went into this picture.

I honestly do not know if you see what I saw. This picture allowed me to escape all the noise of the senses. And in doing so revealed a glimpse of a higher concern, a subtler state of being.

It seemed as if Daniel was a metaphor for each of us. The wild animals of the senses all raging by, ready to devour you. But absorbed in the contemplation of the Higher Self, Daniel seems to not even notice the commotion around!

In a certain sense the function of art is to communicate, which in most scenarios is a common enough task to pull off. A picture perfect postcard, a fine foot tapping tune, an exquisite poem. Each, to the extent that it communicates the idea in the mind of the author does justice to its creator.

Often this is where it all ends. To grab a bite and appease the immediate hunger. Sometimes, just sometimes, art exceeds itself. It does so by communicating a higher sentiment, without overtly talking, painting or capturing it in a specific way. It is in such moments that art elevates itself into something sublime, beyond the immediate techniques employed to create it.

Sri Aurobindo talks of poetry being elevated into a mantra when it becomes a vehicle to carry the aspiring soul to the gods. Ceremonial pictures have been used to symbolize, and they say even capture, the wavelength of occult powers. Carved stones have been the personification of Supreme Godheads.

We chase the Grail. Treasure the relics. And fight over the places.

But let us not forget, the literal name and form seldom matters.

What does matter is if we have paused enough and seized the moments and the name and the form to haul ourselves up into the beyond. 

Have you had such true moments lately?