Knowing something is great. But, it’s just one tool. A good one. A multi-purpose one. Like a wrench or a swiss army knife. But, it’s limited.

It doesn’t do the work of other tools.

Tools like action. No matter how much we think about it or read about it or talk about it; none of them substitute actual action. Results come from only action and nothing else.

Action gives experience. Experience put in words gives knowing. It becomes the basis of further thinking and actions. This makes the learning loop. This can also be limited.

Experience of the moment put in words diminishes it. It is immediately reduced to the familiar. Inevitably, description survives and experience fades. This has been variously described. For eg, a photograph of an object is not the object.

The loss in transcription can be a trivial one. For eg, a photograph of an object is still a good enough representation of it to be used as evidence in a court or for scientific experiments.

The loss in transcription can be a major one. An example is what is called jumping to conclusions. One event is taken as an example of a large set of similar events and a conclusion is drawn. We do it all the time:

I didn’t do well in that maths quiz – I must be weak in maths.

Humans have a tendency to make meaning of something just experienced. It is one of the things that sets us apart from animals. I guess this is what we can loosely call Intelligence. But, this super ability comes with limitations.

Being in action and pausing to think before making conclusions are two ways to work around the limitations of Knowing.


Review: Manifesto of the Communist Party

Manifesto of the Communist PartyManifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I got interested in this book because Dalai Lama’s own favorable  experiences with communism as per his autobiography. I am glad that I read it.

Its not easy to read as the sentence constructs and contexts are not familiar. Still, it builds a very good picture of class struggle. One could look at some of the struggles today; say that of Naxals, and find a lot of similarities. No wonder that even today a lot of people turn to this and other books of communism. One can also see its ideas resonating for a large number of people and why it could form a bedrock for revolutions.

While it does bring a strong case for the proletariat and their problems, the picture remains simplistic. One important part that it ignores is the role of technology in economic evolution. Its prescriptions for a solution are not detailed and not examined against practical realities. Its no wonder that many of the countries following this model have had to rethink.

Overall, I love this book for its description of class struggles. Also, it remains a benchmark of political argument that stirs souls. A must read for anyone interested in people, societies and change. Avoidable if you are looking for deep economic analysis or assessment.

The toughest thing to do

The best session at Nasscom leadership Forum was the talk by Viswanathan Anand. I listened to him from the edge of my seat and tweeted a few bits when I was sure that I wasn’t missing anything. One thing that he said made a lot of sense from my own experience but also reminded me of something Sachin Tendulkar also said:

The toughest thing is to clear your mind. The mind always wants to be in the past or the future; it rarely wants to be in the present. My best batting comes when my mind is in the present, but it doesn’t happen naturally. You have to take yourself there.

Remove a word here and there and add a few here and there; and that is exactly what Anand said too! Cricket and Chess are very different games – split seconds to play a ball vs usually a few minutes to consider your move. And yet, in both games, it comes down to just one thing – being in present.

Anand also called it the toughest thing to do. He said that he won the World Championship Match against Topalov because he held on to his nerves and did not think of past and took care to not think of a future where he had won. It was always about the next move and the game at hand. If he had let his mind wander to either the past or the future, then he would have made mistakes.

I mentioned this to someone over dinner last night and pat came the reply – hey, that’s exactly what Gopichand told us when we had invited him to speak at our company! As I was searching the net for the Tendulkar interview, I came across yet another piece – this time by Akash Chopra which again says the same things though in so much detail.

Bottom line – Be in present. That is one key takeaway for all of us from our sports heroes. Its the toughest thing to do but probably the most worthwhile thing to do as well.

Getting things together

Its strange how sometimes very varying strands of thoughts come together.  My latest experience a few minutes ago bears testimony and I thought I would share.

I’ve always been very interested in creating concepts, products and organisation which make a difference, change the world around for better and make an impact. A lot of my past work falls in this area – creating Vista at IIM Bangalore, BarCamps, Mobile Mondays, Headstart, Startup Saturday, EIR at TCS, CRL etc. There is a whole bunch of new stuff I’ve done or been involved with. As I’ve created them; they’ve created me too.

Off late, I’ve been hearing a phrase “design thinking” and I didn’t give much attention to the “latest, soon to pass away, fad”. But Aditya Dev Sood of CKS spoke about it a few times and it took me some time to realise that he doesn’t see this as a fad. Then I heard about visit by Roger Martin and his book. Someone literally thrust the book in my hand and asked to have a look. I did that and while the models in the book didn’t make much impression; the description of underlying realities did. So I dug deeper.

Two things hit me today. First, Roger Martin uses Design Thinking and Integrative Thinking interchangeably in some contexts. They are of course slightly different but have overlaps too. However, Integrative thinking puts together some of the things I find interesting – nature of mind, language, interpersonal relationships, life style etc. Second, I came across a Businessweek list of influential thinkers. It has many people who’s work I admire – Janine Benyus, Tim Brown, Bob Greenberg, Fukasawa, Jon Ive, Larry Keeley, Miyamoto, Bill Moggridge, Don Norman and Amy Smith. It made me realize that design is the common theme running across several of my apparently unrelated interest areas – biomimicry, product design, systems design etc.

In one stroke, I found a category – integrative thinking/design thinking – that puts together several of my interest areas. The clubbing of interests leads to lot of interesting implications. First is the excitement of understanding myself and also to find many others who are thinking somewhat similarly. Second, this creates lot of open space to explore – in width (for example architecture; something I’ve never looked at) and in depth.

Did you have a similar experience?

Do you also find integrative thinking/design thinking exciting?

Jack Ma of Alibaba on Entrepreneurship

Jack Ma speaks during The Future of the Global...
Image via Wikipedia

Indian internet entrepreneurs usually follow the US market and are usually very well acquainted with the key players. However, Chinese market is seldom followed and rarely understood. Its a pity given that it is the single largest market on Internet. Its also a market where the US majors have failed to make inroads and the indigenous companies dominate. Initially it had to do with language difficulties but now it seems more and more about understanding of the market. I am very interested in the Chinese market for two reasons. First, in terms of stage of evolution and historical background, China has similarities with the Indian market. Thus, there are perhaps lessons one can learn. Second, its a large market and therefore offers opportunities.

One of the greatest successful internet entrepreneurs from China is Jack Ma who founded Alibaba. Alibaba started out as a B2B exchange but today includes online retailer Taobao (190 Million users) and online payment service Alipay (300 million users compared to PayPal’s 223 million accounts) amongst other businesses. In spite of such success, very little is known about Alibaba or Jack Ma outside of China.

Here are some interesting quotes form Jack’s interview by Charlie Rose. I’ve selected the ones which show a marked difference in opinion. Do watch/read the whole interview. Quite instructive for Indian entrepreneurs.

(Our core competence is) culture.  It’s not the technology.  I think technology is a tool.

We believe customer number one, employee number two, shareholder three.

it still takes a long time for China to catch up (with US) — the technology is easy, but to catch up with the culture, the innovation, the system takes some time.

We have a couple of million, you’re a rich guy.  We have 10 to 20 million, it’s a capital.  We have over a hundred million, that’s the social resources.

Its also interesting that he characterizes the China opportunity as new solutions and not as just the sheer size of consumer class. I think the same holds true for the Indian opportunity too. Yet another remarkable aspect is that he wants to use his wealth to create 200 Million more jobs and “create hope”. This is quite different from the stance taken by people such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Jack says that he can do a better job of it than the Chinese Govt. If an entrepreneur can say that in China, why not India!