Musings

The Power of Facilitation

Every now and then, there are domains and disciplines that come to the forefront and shine. Sometimes for a flicker of a brief moment and at other times for a bit longer.  Before retreating to the back offices of quiet practice or the ignominy of obsolescence and death. Facilitation, however, has been around for ages morphing with societal changes, demands and evolving constantly. There are moments in time, that are inflection points that provide opportunities never seen before. Right now, is one such. We are in the throes of life-altering changes in society that tugs at the power of facilitation to help create pathways for the future.

The future of work and life stand at a crossroad of sorts. We could go in many directions. A cursory examination of the world that we live in brings us face to face with a number of realities. Of course, there are many more. The following strikes me as dominant. (Please feel free to add and debate).

Reality # 1: Fractured and frayed

Switch on the television or flip open any newspaper. The fault lines show. Between countries, cultures, age groups. So much so, that that new fault lines appear citing the existence of a fault line in history and thus get perpetuated into the future. The consequent problem: mankind has been losing its humanity in such crevices. When we can’t have a civil conversation with one other, society has tripped on progress and fallen face down into the sand.

Reality # 2: Multiplier Effect

With the proliferation of social media and social tools, everybody has an equivalent of a global megaphone. Every minor fault line commands its own space, followers and likes. Over time, this shapes beliefs and positions that make possibilities for inclusive dialogue recede.  The tyranny of echo chambers wreck havoc.  The space and platforms for a neutral coming together disappear and walls (sometimes physical ones too) take their place.

Reality # 3: The technology conundrum

The rapid progress of technology has fundamentally altered how we went about our lives. We have ceded spaces in our lives that we treasured to technology. As the world sees more wearables, artificial intelligence, blockchain and a zillion other technologies, it takes a cursory glance to understand that the world is precariously poised. Add the possibility of singularity to that list, and we don’t know how the world will be in the not so distant future! Will we continue to be driven by the lure of profit or will we get to rise up to lift the world with technology? We don’t know.

Reality # 4: New world order

All of the above have churned the world order that we once knew. Countries that lead the charge in showing the way are now under the weather, having lost much sheen. The ‘order’ that they promoted lies amidst new questions and fresh doubts. For sure, a new world order brings with it new undertones of strife and conflict. With young populations armed with technologies that can well see beyond nations and boundaries, yet wrapped tightly in think ideologies, the future seems like a looming dark cloud.

If all of that seems far removed from the everyday rhythms of work and home, we have to remind ourselves that our lives, our homes, our places of work function within the context of these shifts. These have an indelible impact on us. What the future of work and living can be, needs fresh discussion.

The power of facilitation

Given the scenario, facilitation, as a body of work is well poised to act as a lever. There are a number of factors that will augment that argument. As a practitioner, my top three factors to bat for the power of facilitation, given where the world is, are the following.

a. The centrality of conversation and engagement

Facilitation is about the conversation, dialogue, engagement and an opportunity to shape a future that is different from the present.  Entrenched positions and echo chambers make strong walls but facilitation is best poised to be the bridge. It is not without example. The Singapore Conversations were a fantastic start. There are several other examples of public participatory decision-making processes. These need to make their move to citizen groups and communities. Without dialogue and conversation, we are broken. That is a substantive reason for facilitation.

b. The belief in the collective:

Facilitation’s working with (and on) the ‘group’ places emphasis on the ‘collective’. At best, there are solutions that emerge with everybody doing their bit to shape it. At worst, there is a recognition of the other’s position. Solutions are rooted in reality and draw strength from its foundations. It is not easy work by any stretch of imagination, but it is a platform for a beginning to be made. With effort and imagination, it evokes hope and promise.

c. A voice to all:

The belief in the collective leads to an important aspect: an opportunity to hear all voices. Sometimes just having a safe space to voice opinion is enough for a problem to sort itself out. As the gap between the haves and have-nots increases exponentially, we have a large marginalised population.  The haves and have-nots have its foundations on privilege. Privilege goes beyond economics.  It includes privileges that stem from age, technology, country of birth, the colour of skin, education, and others. Giving a voice and a safe space for every segment to share (and take responsibility for) their views is straight up the facilitation alley.

So, what must facilitators do?

The invitation for facilitation to play a crucial role emerges in both subtle and not so subtle ways.  Even as it does, there is much work for the community of practitioners from around the world to ponder, posit and practice.  Last week, I was at the Asia Conference of the International Association of Facilitators at Osaka, Japan. Conversations with fellow practitioners from around the world have had me reflecting on what must the community do. Here are some initial ideas. Let’s keep the conversation going. I remain confident that we will get somewhere.

a. Embracing technology:

The relentless march of technology has altered us as human beings and is busy working on our DNA! Amongst other things.  It has shrunk geography and tested our notions of who we are. Every profession from doctors to lawyers to taxi drivers have got to re-imagine their lives and their work. Facilitation and facilitators are no different.

To survey technologies that are emerging on the horizon and re-imagine what we could do with it for the profession is a good place to start.  This conference provided a teasing glimpse of what it can offer with hybrid sessions and a concurrent session on digital technologies that shape our world. Plus of course, an entire series on topics ranging from AI to the future of facilitation in a tech-enabled world.

We need to do more of this. We need more active experiments than the ones that shrink geography and time. Although, they are a great start. We need to get uncomfortable and weave our work around the technology that is becoming available.

b. Inclusive expansion:

As the profession expands and holds increasing allure, people from different walks of life are attracted to it. I have had conversations with a wide array of people over the last few weeks. People who have embraced facilitation with gusto. From chefs to chief executives, trainers to authors to social workers. All bringing in their own backgrounds and spice to the space. This perhaps is a good time to stay inclusive without getting lost in ‘definitions’ of what is (and isn’t) facilitation! We have a job to do. So what if facilitation goes by a different name or wears different overalls.

c. The work within:

As the profession advances, every facilitator needs to do deep work on self. That goes beyond facilitation tools. Facilitation, as a way of life, implies that it is a way of thinking and living. To elevate the profession requires facilitators to go deeper within. Becoming more aware of ‘the shadow’ self and its consequences are important. Here is a piece I had written earlier written whilst engaging with a similar thought stream.

Every time we reduce the profession to a bagful of tricks and tools, we rip a part of potential and toss it into a vacuous space.

The power of facilitation is more rooted in the outcomes that it can produce.  One way to advance the cause is to help larger groups of people experience facilitation in the context of the real world challenges. That implies work that goes beyond organisational domains. The work at the level of community, smaller cohorts working on challenges that confront everyday life can be challenging. To say the least. From traffic to pollution to plastic to even fostering peace in the building you live in. These are opportunities to hold space for a bunch of people to discuss and debate.

However, harnessing the power of facilitation that resides in everyone requires one crucial step.  Which is as simple as stepping forward with courage and stay open to all that emerges in the group.  There is raw power in quiet courage. Try.

 

You Are Enough

Occasionally, there is one message that surfaces on Whatsapp that staves off the deletion of the app from the phone! This video below is one such. It got me thinking. Reflection lead to journaling. And on a long haul flight, I typed this out in my personal journal. With warts and all that. And on a whim, am posting it on the blog. It has an interesting theme: You are enough.

We live in a world where there is a constant strife for more. Even as that cancer scrounges everything that the Earth has and more, there is one more (worse) cancer that has seized us all. That is the feeling that we somehow are all ‘inadequate’. That who we are, as we are, is not enough. Where we seek something to complete us!

 

 

The seeking for something to complete our own feeling of inadequacy is cancerous. Can we ever get completed by a material object? If so, how long? It is a silly song playing on your shiny new phone on a loop mode. The song that the soul needs, you will catch yourself humming when you are exerting yourself doing something worthwhile.

Does that mean, we should not strive to get better? No. That’s not the point. The central theme is this: Completion happens within. Completion begins with the belief that I am complete! Completion begins with accepting myself with my warts. Completion begins with me changing as a person. That change comes about through conversation, having multiple experiences, reflecting on these experiences. And changing over a period of time. Completion is not available for home delivery. No, it’s not in the store down the road or on the internet to download.

Completion is not the end. Perhaps its a recognition that there is no need for any completion but to live in the moment. To just be. To reflect and adjust sails to get better at ‘just be’. The power to begin the internal change starts with recognising that there is nothing to fix. There is nothing broken.

But a morphing to something is inevitable. And as the morphing happens, the opportunity to shape the change and morph is present. Not beginning with an inadequacy but a desire to get better as a living being.

Change happens all around.  The world changes to adapt to the change. Everyone changes with time. Some more. Some less. Sometimes consciously and at other times, otherwise. To remain conscious and stay light can keep us going towards living richer lives.

Lives where I don’t need material objects to complete me. Where the seeking for change is not from inadequacy but from the shaping of an inevitable: Change!

 

Annual Sunset

It’s the same Sun that will pop out of the east tomorrow morning. Yet, today’s sunset helps us keep score that one more year has melted. It’s the 31st of December. And this is the ‘Annual Sunset’!  Sunsets are amongst the most enticing of reminders that one more block of time is gone for good. The annual sunset on can be sentimental. Partly, because the world seems eager to be done with it and embrace the shiny’, ‘new’ year!

So, its time to change the printed calendar that hangs on the wall. I have to take care to write ‘2018’ instead of  ‘2017’ on the cheques that I sign. Other than that, nothing changes. Of course, tonight some folks will move in the name of dance, to random noise that’s called music. Everybody will wish each other ‘Happy New Year’ and then go about living their lives with renewed fervour.

By the 8th of Jan, 25% of resolutions “have fallen by the wayside”. “And by the time the year ends, fewer than 10 percent have been fully kept”, says a piece in the New York Times. Thats a colossal underperformance by corporate standards, won’t you think? (Do give the piece a read. Very good pointers )

That of course, is a limited view. Thank God!

What would we do if there was just no chance in hell that we could begin all over again? Even if we knew in the innermost recesses of our hearts that it is the same Sun that will show up tomorrow.  That it’s sinking into the west doesn’t sink with it our warts and wiggles. I wouldn’t mind it taking along with it the credit card bill, the lump of fat on the hip and the sinus in the head. Alas! That said, the new year is special. For it is the chance for some energy into starting all over again.  That is priceless. It fills us with hope and courses a new energy in our fraying minds.

An uncle of mine used to say that this energy would take him through “March – April”! “If you get a few solid wins in this time, who knows, the momentum can take you into June-July”. I find this enticing today.

It makes sense. Once it is July, you are already looking at beginning the countdown to end the year and make a new beginning.  In early October, the uncle would say, ” we are going to end the year”. Looking forward to it like a kid walking with his dad to buy a promised lollipop.  The ‘looking forward to next year’ saw him through the last three-four months.

In one way or the other, he had to wade through pestilence laden waters of ‘what is the meaning of my life’ and such other desultory questions for about five months.  Right in the middle of the year. Those months could seem to have a slower pace to them.  A few other ways to work those months would help. Perhaps breaking the year into smaller bits. Maybe having other special rituals for renewal.

But right now, the Sun is just about downing its shutters for 2017. The mid-year ‘sulk months’ seem a good distance away. Those months will happen when they happen. To make them ‘happening’ is after we take care of this evening and the next few weeks.

I have on my agenda a few must-dos.

Meet friends.

Make white spaces.

Plan well and yet create the space to plan as you go.

Spend time with the little miss. Grow up with her.

Walk. Run.

Take care of the body. And the mind. That’s the best way to take care of the bank account. (“Fixed deposits are best in the bank. Spare your hips”, said a wall scrawl in Madurai ).

Eat vegetables.

Write.  Travel.

Dream.

Do meaningful work.

Shoot the breeze.

That’s the best part of beginning again. For some irrational reason, it fills the heart with hope. As this sunset sinks its teeth into the year’s neck, the fleeting gasps of the setting Sun remind me of the promises that I need to keep. No new promises. Just keeping the old ones is good enough.

That’s as good as it gets. The aim is to go through to the end of March with it. A running coach once sat me down as I shuddered thinking about how I would ever do a 42 KM run. The trick he said, “is not to think of the full 42 KM. But to have a target like “until the end of where the eye can see”.  With the run soaking up most of the energy, my line of sight was often a just a hazy patch. It helped me finish!

So, here is what I am going to do. Soak up the Sun and look forward to the end of March. Maybe, April. Before the blink of the eye, it would be July.  And then, it would be next year.

For now, go dance. Sing. Love.

That’s all there is to it. Besides saying “Happy New Year”!

There are two pigeons that dart on to my balcony. Tilting their necks and looking at me with an odious ‘oh not again’ look. I want to prove them wrong and start somewhere, even as the bright arc of the orange Sun is reduced to crimson splash on the horizon. I pull out my laptop and start typing. “It’s the same Sun that will pop out of the east tomorrow morning. Yet, today’s sunset helps us keep score that one more year has melted. It’s the 31st of December. And this is the ‘Annual Sunset’!  Sunsets are amongst the most enticing of reminders that one more block of time is gone for good. The annual sunset on can be sentimental. Partly, because the world seems eager to be done with it…”

Of cows and independence day!

The little miss, as is her wont these days, has been shooting me a heap of questions. There is not a thing that passes the attention of her senses that just passes by without a question popping up. Be it an earthworm, a snail, a ridiculous honk from an autorickshaw, the neighbour’s loud movie screening, the sartorial choices of her mom (& dad ) etc etc. You get the drift right?

Me and the missus have had to work overtime to ensure that we engage with each of her questions and give her answers. Most of the time she ends with a ‘whatever’ look. Especially when I attempt to answer. The missus fares better.

The ‘whatever’ look is what I remember my physics teacher reserving for me, in school.   She would ask a question and her eyes would droop so much that they would be waiting to roll down her cheek if I was late by another moment. Her shoulders would drop and a smug smile would lurk at the corner of her lip. Her whole body language would seem to be so much waiting in expectation of a ridiculously inept answer. I guess I met her expectations every single time. I would dread those classes.

It is kind of dreadful to think that the little miss reminds me of that time. The only difference now is that the little miss forgets the inept answer in a jiffy and moves on to some easier stuff at the wave of a hand. Like, ‘Can I go touch that cat Appa?’ Or even, ‘can we go say hello to the rain drop appa’? Now, these are like lifebuoys to someone in a cesspool. We survive with her kindness and love.

She has been excited about the Independence Day for over a week now.

“Appa, when are you buying me a gift?”

“A gift? But why?”

“It is India’s birthday appa!”

I realised that thats how Independence day has been positioned in her mind.  Gandhi, Nehru and the freedom struggle can come much later.  For now, if there are some festoons, cake, pizzas and a gift to boot, all is well. Fortunately, the gifts that she has demanded haven’t yet gotten to meaningless stuff that pops a hole in the pocket. A national flag was all that was desired this time around and was dutifully bought too.

So today, on the 70th anniversary of India’s independence, after the flag hoisting ceremony in the apartment complex where we live in,  came another string of questions.

“If we hoist a flag for India’s birthday, why didn’t you hoist one for my birthday?”

Patient explaining ensued.  Of India having a flag and it being a country and that individuals don’t have a flag etc. Inept answers, I can guess. With drooping shoulders she proclaimed, ‘Appa, once we go home, I am going to draw my flag. You have to hoist it for my birthday”.

I demurred in agreement. “My flag will have a cow and a cat in it Appa”.

“A COW?” I spluttered.   The nation would want to know now.  An involuntary muttering of ‘Holy Cow’ under my breath reached her sharp ear.

“Not holy cow Appa”, she said. “Just one nice cow”.

Silence ensued. And then with a momentary pause she asked, ‘what is a holy cow Appa’? I didn’t know where to start. Or end, for that matter. And then, she threw me a lifeline. Actually two.

“If you don’t like the cow, let’s just have the cat in the flag Appa. It is easy to draw the cat “.  A huge sigh of relief clung to the air as Lata Mangeshkar ruled the Independence Day sound waves of the apartment complex.

And then she said, “Can we go to the play area and slide Appa?”.  She was on her way to the play area and shouted out a changed plan.  “I have been on the slide for sometime Appa. Today can you push me higher on the swing?”

“Of course”, I said. “Of course”

 

The Pink Pony

Days turn into nights. And nights lead to day. The repetitive patterns that lead to the next day, the next week, the next month and the next year form a beautiful facade that keeps in obscurity the years that speed by.

Then the years reveal themselves. Sometimes the mirror tells the story.  As a stray strand of grey morphs into a lock of plentiful grey. When a parent passes away, the realisation is stark. When a friend passes away, it is pronounced.  The parting of the beautiful facade, often comes in a reality check, happening in sorrowful environs.

Sometimes they do in moments of pure joy. Especially, if you have a little daughter like mine.

So the little miss has been going to school. She enjoys it and has had a great deal of fun thus far. One day in the last week, after a long and tiring day, I creep into bed.  Long after the little miss’s bed time. As the silence beckons me further into slumber, she wakes up. Realising that I have crept in and wakes me up too, demanding that the lights come on.

She is all excited and she wants to show me her ‘Pink Pony’. She opens her palm to reveal a small piece of plastic. I see the effect of her clutching it hard are showing on the palm too. The Pink Pony spread some pink to her palm as well.  She obviously has been waiting to show me. ‘Aryan gave it to me papa’ she said. In sleep soaked excitement. I gave her a bear hug ad asked ‘was it his birthday today?”

PP1

“No Appa”. She says. A tad disappointed and perhaps surprised at an antiquated line of thought.

“He gave it only to me”. She says with emphasis on the ‘only’.

“Ah”. I say.

With curiosity dripping out of every word I ask , ‘That sounds like fun. Tell tell me, tell me more’

“Because I like pink colour Appa”.  And that was that.

With those words she slips back into sleep. Clutching the pink pony and happy that her little secret was no longer just hers. I stare at her for a while and switched off the lights.  Her innocence and joy override my tired mind.

The next morning comes with the precision that is customary.  The missus catches me shooting darts into the clouds. “Thinking of the Pink Pony?”, she asks. “It is some toy that they give out in a Fast Food chain”, she says. I smile. I am thinking of something else.

She knows me well by now. She jumps tracks and joins my train of thought.

“She is no longer the tiny toddler that you carried on the sling” she says. I smile. “She is not the toddler who would purr like a cat to get some milk”.

I nod my head in silence. Even as I soak up the Pink Pony moment, I realise, it was riding away into the inner whorls of memory.  The simplicity of childhood, the sincerity of affection and the joys of watching kids growing up, can be the best way to age gracefully. Even as day turns to night and night to day, children add a rich melodrama to a vague momentum.  And that is precious.

Rain

When it rains, it pours. I sit and watch the rain rail against the window sill. Many years ago, when Facebook was nascent (and seems like the world was a better place) – a different profile picture greeted you on my Facebook timeline. It was this picture.

 

Rain

 

I recall the clicking of this picture. The beauty of the moment stood tall in solemn elegance. That which had just jumped off the cloud, had flirted with the railing for a brief trickle of a second, was poised to leap and flow into another moment. It got me to smile.  That it was going to jump off was sure to happen. Yet there was a small swirl of energy to the moment. The moment when imminent change that was expected just about arrives, there is a certain magic in the dramatic poise. If you care to notice it, that is.

To me, this droplet of rain, held an entire monsoon together.

My dad lived in an era where there were no special days called ‘Fathers Day’.  He wouldn’t give a damn and urge us to think of ‘meaning’. Thinking of him today seems natural, when rain strikes. For several years he had a giant poster in the dining room. It said, “A single rose can be my garden”.

That was many seasons ago. Much rain has kissed the Earth since then. Facebook has since grown. Many new people came into it suddenly adding relevance to several lives. Many left. Because of the very reason that many ‘new’ others were in. The rains, though,  have been keeping their seasonal regularity with this part of the country. I have looked forward to their arrival like a child for the customary goodie from a visiting uncle. The rains have helped keep stock of the passing years, like nothing else. The most physical of the changes to seasons in this part of the world.

I write this, sipping freshly made filter coffee and staring into the Sunday evening that is fast giving way to the night before Monday morning. Monsoon clouds have enveloped the Sun and make the intense rays of summer a distant memory, and bringing smiles to a parched population. This monsoon will be intense. I think so. I hope so.

Last July, I was in Goa driving in the rain along with some wonderful folks.  When a sudden shower got the wipers on the windshield of a new car, work hard.  This picture resulted.

IMG_1870

 

For a long while I stared at this picture and realised that this picture held me tight. The new me. Whatever happened to the single drop, I ask myself? Nothing. Actually nothing. The beauty and poise of the single drop will always remain and stay close to me. The energy of a dash of drops moves me beyond the past.

As the coffee runs dry on the tumbler, I reach out to my camera. Wondering what new images my camera will capture.  Sometimes the pictures within you come alive in the words that sprout off the keyboard or the images that the camera captures.

And rain, oh rain. I have a song playing in the background. It goes like this.

Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion
I want to walk in the open wind
I want to talk like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you

Rose 2

A fresh sprouting of a rose catches my eye as much as it catches a bit of rain. The rain dances on the petal. The soul feels refreshed and there seems to be a colourful renewal. The rain does that to you. New hopes sprout. In a while, I peer at the images on my desktop screen wondering if I did justice to the rain. Or to the rose for that matter. A moment later I think about the new hopes and renewal.  The rain has that effect. Always.

Myriad hues of monochrome moments

Its the ‘wee hours’. As they call it. I sit still staring emptily into my computer screen. A side glance brings alive the dark sky that lies beyond the open window. The chill breeze and the lone star in the dark sky that seems to twinkle its way to attention, without much fuss.

The desktop screen has a to-do list with a heap of items that when described as ‘turn-off’s, would struggle to convey the depth of the emotion associated with it. I struggle. My eye catches a piece of paper held aloft by a butterfly magnet. The daughter loves butterflies. And magnets. That two disjoint pieces can suddenly cling on to each other fascinates her. It still does fascinate me.

Run Over

The Sun makes his preparations to shine a new light into the dark night. I continue to look at this piece of paper. A weak smile emerges thinking of the daughter. I tear my eye from the butterfly and double click on the minimised calendar. The computer obeys with a precision that I wish, was bestowed on my will to take on the to-do list.

“February”. Screams the calendar. Its the most silent scream I have heard in a while. January has been consumed by a relentless march of every day. One full month seems to have sneaked out. Tirelessly consumed by trifles, while starting with a promises and possibilities bordering on the momentous. Sometimes I feel its still the first of Jan. Of 2014! My mom says the last fifty years of her life have rushed off in this manner. Sometimes when memory of another moment from another time and circumstance visit me, I wonder whatever happened to the intervening years. The comfort in continuity, washing way any guilt that a possible stagnation can fester.

The monotonous clang of every passing moment speeds off with what seems to be a desperate lunge of an athlete who hedged his life on winning the Olympic Gold! The star on the horizon seems to flicker as though wanting to tell me something. I stare at the flicker and see a raw beauty in it. A colour and sparkle that is so brilliant, against the backdrop of what seems to be a hesitant dawn.

I pick up a pen and write. As is wont, when the urge to say something to myself is immediate. Every passing monochrome moment has a colour to it. In fact every moment has colour. It isn’t the moment’s fault if a monochrome lens envelops the eye. I write, ‘ Myriad hues of monochrome moments ‘.

I think of something I stumbled into sometime back.  “This is Water” said its title. Do give it a read. Below is an excerpt of the full piece on video. Pretty good, I must say. Here is the full speech. Perhaps it would provide you with insights beyond what emerged for me. Maybe we should talk.

I look into the night sky, which seems to seamlessly give way to light. Without a fight. The bright brilliance of the star on the horizon seems to have taken a different hue, settling behind the haze. I notice the time again. The date sneaks out from behind the curtain.

I get to work on the to-do list.

February will fly. Besides it has only 28 days.

A connected world beckons

A new year invites us ahead. A year is just behind us. The segway days always proffer an opportunity to reflect and gather ourselves towards renewal. 2013 was fabulous. Like most other years. O Henry’s fantastic line “’Life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating” settles it for all years.  Nestled in the whorls of the smiles, sobs and the sniffles there were lessons to be learnt and songs of the heart to be heard.

The present day world is called a “Connected World”. Not without reason. Conversations in the digital space have ushered in a level of exposure and transparency to our lives that have never been seen before. These conversations have set the tone of dreams and aspirations in a ever so profound way, in far off places. Including the deepest recesses of our hearts. This piece by R.Madhavan captures it well.

We no longer are content with ‘what was the case’ driving the present day agenda. Heck, stuff that is labelled ‘what is possible’ is something that we seek to dismiss, if it doesn’t match up to what we hear as possible from around the world. In our restlessness for change and progress, we have crossed frontiers that we didn’t know we could and more often than not, have discovered frontiers that we didn’t know existed.

Examples of the Arab Spring may sound clichéd and are too often touted.  I am fresh from a trip to Egypt and conversations with people on the ground there, has had a profound impact on me at many levels. At the core, irrespective of culture we are all the same!  The connected world is a ‘big’ ‘small’ ‘bad’ ‘good’ place. Infact, fit whatever adjective you would want to fit in there and it would work.

The connected world, is what we make of it, and what we give space for. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat and a zillion other ideas moved from being just swell ideas to ideas that also paved the way for fat bank accounts. Every single round of VC investment in ideas provides the way for chatter and a load of more noise on what perhaps the idea can do. Of Course, there are after effects too.

But for the discerning, who can cut the noise out and listen deeply, what stands out is what was well known : The ground is shifting. Only now, it is shifting far faster. Even before we get to comprehend a shift fully, one more is well underway.  Examples galore. Large chunks of people are getting introduced to the internet through their mobile phones, completely by-passing desktops. I hear that the robots are coming and that they will pretty much do everything that you wanted them to do. Thus changing the several industries (including the Indian IT industry)! That driverless cars will do to chauffeurs around the world, what mobile phones did to Kodak.

Infact, several aspects of the present portend the shifts that are coming at us furiously. Like Amazon selling 426 items per second on Cyber Monday. Or the realities that 3D Printing is bringing. MOOCs. Apps. Oh my, the list of course, is endless

All of them makes me stop and ponder with wonder. On the world that was, that is and that will be. So filled with possibilities and potential.
At a very personal level 2013 provided me with fantastic opportunities to interact with several thought leaders across the board, in person. Listening and sharing ideas. For which I will be forever grateful.

Equally rewarding was when my travel took me to small towns and villages. Places where people haven’t experienced the bright sparks of wisdom that emerges from Twitter. Or Google Plus. Or indulge in the incessant chatter of friends and family on whatsapp and watch cat videos on YouTube.

Their lives without smart phones or 3G connectivity, runs on old world wisdom and a basic person-to-person connect.  And as the farmer who owned one ox as his prized possession, narrated his hopes for the future over a shared meal in a remote contour of the country, I was reminded that confidence and hope for the future are not a function of tools and possessions.

When when his wife, after serving two more ladles of rice with a large smile, spoke with an effervescent matter-of-fact ease, about walking three kilometres, one way, for a pot of water, I didn’t know what to say and stared emptily in silence.  The labourer in Dharavi who lives in a home that is as small as a Nano yet labours away to make small utensils as a route to his big dreams taught me the power of momentum from concerted action.  The social worker who walked away from being a five star chef to taking care of destitutes on the roads of Madurai showed choices dictate consequences.  These stories are as endless as the advancements we are seeing in the connected world. I could go on, till it is 2015! Or more.

2013 was the year that I met as many people who have been remarkably confident with far less, as those that have been meticulously despondent with much more. Perhaps the biggest of learning’s for me has been that love, hope and happiness is ready currency and always shareable. Something that my daughter teaches me daily!

If you are reading this, you are privileged in so many ways. (And no its not about how profound the contents on this blog are 🙂 ). The quest therefore, thats kept me up many night is this: “how do we spread this privilege around?”

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We, all of us, have the unique privilege of holding the reins of possibility. Of connecting two different worlds. Infact, of many different worlds. I totally loved it when Gautam Ghosh, tweeted that networking is not saying ‘here is my business card but asking ‘how can i help’? That outlook and approach can leave the world a far better place. How can we bring people together? Shrink the worlds, so to speak.

Earlier today, I sat with a piece of paper and stared aimlessly into the sky. Scripting the hopes I harboured for 2014. Heres what I had scrawled.

  • From seeking happiness to spreading some. Ditto for love and hope
  • From being insanely competitive in a very limiting way to being profoundly co-operative in an ever so expansive way. From hoarding to sharing.
  • From running fast to running meaningfully.
  • From holding court in conversation to more holding the space for other people to converse.

I wonder what you make of these.

The tools that the connected world offers are stuff that world hasn’t seen much of before. To imaginatively deploy these for purposes far beyond what they seem to offer is where the opportunity for the future lies.

J.P.Rangaswami writes in his blogpost here “We have to remember we’re human beings. And as human beings, one of the most powerful things we do is to have covenant relationships, not contract ones.
Covenant relationships have tacit components to do with trust and sacrifice and vulnerability and forgiveness.
We need to learn how to model all this, this ability to trust and to make ourselves vulnerable, this ability to sacrifice, this ability to forgive, in the systems we design to conduct business. Because those abilities are what make us human. And business is conducted between humans.”

That could well be as good as it can get stated.

So, heres wishing us all the power to go beyond the obvious, open eyed and curious. Aware and thankful for the privileges that we have been bestowed with. And looking for the first available excuse to spread some cheer around. Lets get to work. After all, as Gibran said, “Work is love made visible”.

Internal leverage!

The world has a ton of problems. And sometimes, you cant help but thank God that some of them are there. For they make living and life worthwhile. The quest for solutions may not lead a person to solutions always. But invariably the learning that comes from such quests are far more important than the solutions themselves. But on that topic, another time. Another post.

But pause for a moment and wonder at what kind of creative solutions are needed to solve the problems that we face today?  Not at all times can we have a ‘total revamp’ or ‘blue sky’ technology as an answer to our problem. Yes, it would be good and in some cases pretty much necessary too. But most cases, as in life, we do not get presented with the cleanest of slate to restart from scratch.  Yet, the solutions that ordinary people come up in their lives are both incredible and ‘just what is needed’ from what is already there.

Take a look at these one minuter videos that have been around for a while now, but always never fail to inspire every time I view them!


May I invite you to pause and think about organisational equivalent of problems like these. And solutions found.

Large organisations boast of such a fabulous diversity and depth of knowledge and talent , that it is a shame that much of it goes under leveraged! If you are a leader in a large organisation, when was the last time you looked within in the quest for answers to problems you are confronted with, before dialing for help outside?

Large organisations and their talent can be better leveraged. Lets say you are seeking a solution to say, ‘how best to design a workshop’ (an example I choose, because of frequently being faced with it). How many times have you thought of asking the folks in sales ? Or maybe Marketing ? Or administration? Or manufacturing? I mean, anybody in the building.

The answer may not be directly something that could help, but it sure is going to be something that I could build on. People may not know a thing about learning design, but they know the organisation pretty well! And when structured approaches to seek their thought and apply it well are sought, the solutions work like magic.

What perhaps is required is a problem that is not only large enough, but for a which an answer is sincerely sought. Combined with a diversity of intelligent minds some of who have are seeking those answers and buffeted by some quick first steps!

Leaders and managers who have the ability to entertain and examine ideas objectively without necessarily embracing them, are an important component of such collaborative on the ground innovation. More such managers in a system, more leveraging and energising that comes by the organisation!

Now, now, does it not have challenges? Ofcourse it does. The solutions evolved sometimes aren’t the best in class. They may not have the gleam of a finished product from an assembly line. But they are precisely that. They aren’t from an assembly line! They are put together!

The other challenge with such a solution is the fact that it may not have the best of whats in vogue outside of the organisation. That needs to be consciously built. Knowledge of best practices and latest research is so available on public platforms that if you are determined to get it, there can be no stopping!

Having worked on several such projects and veering to believe that organisation intelligence and talent needs to be grossly better leveraged and makes life easier on several counts!

  • At one level a non-assembly line but the most appropriate solution is found.
  • At another, far deeper level, it energises the organisation no-end! People who find themselves valued and whose views and opinions are sincerely sought do not mind giving an extra bit to help the project through!
  • Add, diversity of work! I have been coding all day and suddenly someone swings by and asks, “hey, we want to fix our leadership issues. Would you like to play a part?”
  • Plus, once all ideas are incorporated, guess what, change management and implementation is held by a far wider set.
  • At yet another deeper level, could you think of any better way of cross pollination of ideas and forming of relationships between diverse groups who otherwise maybe quite oblivious to the other’s existence, leave alone work and problems? Organisations give an arm and a limb for something like that!

The next time you have a problem that you want to solve, look inside around. Sometimes, the people standing very close to you can have an idea or two that perhaps no can come to you with!

Don’t get me wrong. External consultants have expertise and specialisation that are hard to match. It is important to build that expertise on the foundation of assimilation of internal strengths as well!  I have cherished working with several external consultants. And all of them who have left an imprint are ones that began by leveraging on diverse thought streams within the organisation!

Another classification of learners!

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Often, when speaking to sets of participants attending learning programs, I find myself share a ‘classification of learners’. I wish I could remember where I had read it, for me to cite reference here.

The classification in itself is a rather telling and usually elicits some shifting of feet, muted laughter, smirks, smiles and sometimes,  guffaws!  Broadly, this is what I say.

There are four classes of learners who come to attend a ‘training program’

a. Prisoners : Participants who have been ‘sentenced’ to a few days of training. Who would much rather be doing m(any) other things, but who are there in the room, because they have been forced to ‘attend’ the program. Left to themselves they’d much rather be doing other things.

b. Vacationers: Self explanatory, isn’t it?!? A training program seen as an opportunity to stay away from work, get paid for it and yet enjoy the best of venues / food and generally catching up with long lost friends and colleagues. A meta coffee machine of sorts, to catch up on all whats happening in the organisation.

c. Experts : Participants who consider themselves as ‘experts’. With ‘expert opinion’ at the expense of leaning something new. Sometimes that may be well founded. Many times not so! Perhaps its their background, the colleges that that they have gone to, the experiences that they have accumulated, the seniority in the organisation. Past learning inhibits future learning !

d. Explorers : Explorers are those that are possessed with a sense of curiosity and discovery. People who know a few things, but are always seeking for learning something new. Building on what they know, treating it as an adventure, taking risks, assimilating experiences of all in their line of sight and daring to go where they havent gone before. For those reasons, explorers are all great learners. Learners are also ‘explorers’ in their contexts !

This classification applies to all of life too. For learning is a life long event. Nay, journey! True learners are those that are filled with curiosity. Those that approach every moment with a sense of possibility and with a spirit of exploration. For that is the spirit of life. One look at our children teach us that. Filled with questions, playfulness and armed with a surfeit of curiosity.

Somewhere along the way, as we grow up, we become ‘experts’ or vacationers of life. And sometimes prisoners too. Perhaps its time to unleash to the child in us. To be real explorers to get to be good learners.

“Learning is a journey” is a much abused and clichéd phrase. One could go through that journey as any one of the above and yet up going to a completely new land or not traversing any distance at all.

The key to the ‘Journey’ must be realisation that journeys always involve change. A change of scene. A change in speed. Many times, new eyes too. And change is inherently uncomfortable. Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable is so key to learning. So key to life.