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Archive for September, 2019

 

In the horizon dark clouds of anxiety, problems and doubt gather,
My brow is furrowed and I don’t feel cheery when in the morning I lather;

Shaved and clean I put on my old and worn kurta and slip into my favourite chappals,
Solace I try to get by ringing some of my favourite Facebook penpals;

Unfortunately peace and calm eludes my worrying brain,
It causes me so much of worry and I can feel the pain;

Before I know it wearily I pick up Summer Lightning and sit on my armchair,
Very soon I come to the spot where Galahad clarifies on a part of his memoir;

I now realise anxiety and worry has been replaced by good cheer,
Energy fills my body as if I have drunk from a Mulliner elixir and have been blessed by a holy seer;

Next I am into where Ronald pinches the Emsworth prize pig,
Suddenly all my problems and worries don’t seem to be so big;

Very soon all is well with Ronnie and Sue,
The dark clouds have vanished and are replaced with a rosy hue;

As I near the end where Ronnie has given the Pilbeam a black eye,
I think Plum gives as much comfort as a malt with rye;

Before I know it lunch has been served with a tasty dessert,
No problem is so big that a reading of Jeeves, Psmith, or Blandings cannot make one’s feeling inert.

 

(Pradeep Swaminathan needs no introduction to fans of P G Wodehouse, upon whom he had recently unleashed a whodunit called ‘Enter Mrs Bertie‘. His consent to publish the above composition here is gratefully acknowledged.)

 

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/why-do-we-turn-to-plum-when-the-mood-is-glum)

 

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ashokbhatia

The Honourable Secretary-General,

The United Nations,

New York City,

New York,

USA.

Respected Sir,

You may recall our brief interaction at the recent launch event of the International League of Happiness. You were then kind enough to spare a few moments of your precious time, graciously appreciating my talk there on preventing the misuse of Artificial Intelligence, just after releasing the Blandings Declaration of Happiness as a part of the proceedings.

As a concerned citizen of this planet of ours, allow me to offer my humble services for the cause of promoting international cooperation and maintaining international order.

Yours truly has an impeccable record in delivering satisfaction to all the employers one has been fortunate enough to assist so far in a long and spotless career. The aspiration hereafter is to offer my unique problem solving abilities for the benefit of all the denizens of this planet.

Permit me…

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P.G. Wodehouse fans are celebrating the wonderful news from Westminster Abbey, where a memorial stone in Poet’s Corner has been dedicated to the beloved author. You can read more about it here: Westminster Abbey Honours P G Wodehouse (Westminster Abbey) PG Wodehouse has plum spot in Westminster Abbey (Patrick Kidd, The Times) PG Wodehouse commemorated […]

via P.G. Wodehouse in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey — Plumtopia

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ashokbhatia

I have had the privilege of observing several business leaders at close quarters. Most of them are professionalsLEADERS who have become true blue leaders purely by merit. Some of them are owners and entrepreneurs who have built up a business empire by sheer innovation, risk appetite, organizational ability and hard work.

Here is a listing of some unique traits and habits which I believe make them exceptionally great leaders.     

1.   A Four-Dimensional Thought Process

Any issue being faced by great leaders is viewed through a four-dimensional lens. They possess the unique capacity to be able to see not only the spread, the reach and the depth of the problem at hand, but also its likely evolution over a period of time. They have good intuitive faculties.

Being both a visionary and a thorough person is important. All the four dimensions of a problem are intricately entwined. A great…

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Humor in the arts has a bad reputation. It’s not considered as worthy as drama. How many comedies have won the Oscar for Best Picture? Not many. Yet humor helps us throughout our lives. I think it’s a necessary quality to cultivate. The importance of humor in my life is enormous. I’ve suffered from anxiety […]

via Writing Tip — The Importance of Humor — JPC Allen Writes

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Lord Krishna may be able to help

When compared to human beings, machines tend to be far more objective in their approach to things. Humans have the luxury of wallowing in self pity and being attached to objects and people. Machines cannot afford luxuries of this kind. Thus, when it comes to machines and algorithms, several tips dished out by Lord Krishna become irrelevant. But for human beings who have to interact with machines and have to ensure that these are programmed along ethical and moral lines, life shall surely pose different kind of challenges.

Unlike Ramayana which speaks of Ram Rajya and Thirukkural which elaborates upon the duties of a king, Bhagavad Gita does not directly address such issues as the manner in which either businesses or governments need to be run. Nor does it directly touch upon the subject of taking better care of human resources – a key factor in management. Yes, when it places a premium on work being done with benign motives, it hints at the desirability of getting work done with malice towards none. The scripture is primarily focused on the need to do one’s duty with a sense of detachment and equanimity.

Let us consider the kind of indirect clues it offers which could perhaps be of some use to CEOs and managers who are trying to grapple with the challenges posed by rapid advances in technology.

(Quotes of verses from Gita below are literal translations from Sanskrit. Each translation is followed by (xx.yy), where xx is the number of the Chapter and yy the number of the verse within)

The promise of Saatvic actions

To recapitulate what Gita says, it is work which is taken up for work’s own sake, in an attitude that work itself is worship. Actions performed in a spirit of inspiration and with benign motivation would fall in this category. So would actions which are propelled neither by love nor by hate. These are acts of grace which are not acts of obligation. These are not actions arising out of one’s likes and dislikes.

The assigned action which is done without attachment, attraction (or) repulsion and without clinging to (its) fruit that is called ‘Sattvic’. (18.23)

Business leaders who mostly operate at the Rajasic plane, if they were to consider working in this manner, the issue of wrong motives – whether at the development or at the implementation stage – would not come up. Eventually, they would end up steering their business along sustainable lines.

The perils of Rajasic and Tamasic actions

But machines have severe limitations. Those who shop or eat out at a restaurant soon start missing the smile of a charming floor incharge or the kind of fuss that a human waiter could make over a customer. Irate customers who call a company to register their anger about some deficiency in service are further put off when they are greeted by an auto-response system which prompts them go through several cycles of 1 to 9 button punching. Poor machines cannot compare the uncomparables/unquantifiables. So, they cannot advise CEOs on choosing between profitability and human safety.

Machines could therefore assist at either the Rajasic or the Tamasic level of actions. Lord Krishna cautions that such actions eventually lead to problems.

The fruit of virtuous action is said to be Sattvic and pure; the fruit of Rajasic action is sorrow; ignorance is the fruit of Tamas. (14.16)

Overcoming Leadership Deficit

The responsibility on the shoulders of a leader is rather heavy. She has to walk the talk and set an example for others to follow. If she herself is prone to using her expense account to accommodate outings for her loved ones, others will lose no time to sniff it out and follow in her footsteps. 

Whatsoever a noble man does, the very same is also done by other men. Whatever standard he sets, the world follows it. (3.21) 

The pink slip syndrome

For someone who ends up getting a pink slip all of a sudden due to the organisation having adopted a newer set of technologies could find that Bhagavad Gita has already highlighted the importance of one doing work skilfully and sincerely, thereby pursuing excellence.

But he who, controlling the senses with the mind, without attachment engages the organs of action in the Yoga of action, he excels, O Arjuna. (3.7)

It exhorts one to not to overtly fall for the temptation of the senses which get continuously exposed to the delectable offerings of life – pleasures of the table, inclination for a variety of amorous endeavours, addiction with social media, and the like.

Keeping one’s desires under check and avoiding undue intoxication with power and pelf is another crucial idea that it recommends. It advises one to not to live a life of delusion which makes one undertake a perennial but futile search for an everlasting pampering of one’s ego. Practicing equanimity and being steady inside is highly recommended. So are regular meditative practices.

In praise of Self Control

Bhagavad Gita does not recommend a boring, listless and monochromatic life to a spiritual aspirant. It merely says not to get swayed by the temptations of life and to gratify one’s senses and fulfil one’s desires with a strict sense of moderation. Self-control is the key word. In case a confrontation comes about, empathy and the ability to put oneself in the shoes of the other person is spoken of.

A lamp which does not flicker in a windless place, to such is compared the Yogi of a disciplined mind who remains steady in meditation on the Self. (6.19)

The need for leaders with a higher Spiritual Quotient

All of these are proactive measures which could enable a CEO to scale greater heights in her career, delivering results with greater efficiency and aplomb. These are not quick-fixes. Instead, these are long term solutions which have the potential of enabling one to not only face the challenges of technological advancement but also to utilise technology to the best of one’s advantage, rather than becoming a slave to it.

The future would obviously see a much higher demand for business leaders whose heads are screwed on right and who take decisions using not only a Commercial Compass but also a Spiritual one, guided by the values of the organization. Several companies already have Chief Ethics Officers. Those who have thrived in such roles are the ones who have enjoyed support from the very top.

Of jackals, cobras, giraffes, elephants and tortoises

To run a business well, wily jackals and cobras are required; but so are friendly giraffes, elephants and tortoises. In the days to come, conscious managements would do well to assign the role of Conscience Keepers to any competent and willing full-time director on the board who would keep the business afloat without running into a collision with massive icebergs of targets which involve a hidden mass of compromise on core values and ethics. A culture of encouraging dissent and listening to whistle-blowers would also help in a business being steered right.

(Inputs from experts in IT, management, Gita and aviation are gratefully acknowledged)

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/09/07/the-challenges-of-industrial-revolution-4-0-part-1-of-3

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/09/11/the-challenges-of-industrial-revolution-4-0-part-2-of-3)

 

 

 

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When leadership deficit leads to a compromise on values  

It is understandable that our business leaders keep biting their nails trying to beat the competition. But when they chase business goals by compromising on their core values, they eventually get caught in a regulatory web and start losing customers. Their brand image takes a serious hit.

Consider the following instances:

The 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster 

For a space exploration agency of the stature of NASA, revenues and profit were not the motives, but it appears that deviations were indeed made from standard safety protocols because the top leadership put a higher premium on expediency. The now infamous O-ring pressure seals, supplied by a Utah-based contractor, served as the cause of the crash.

The O-rings had been tested to perform in 40-degree Fahrenheit or above weather conditions. On that fateful morning in Florida in 1986, it was only 18 degrees. NASA knew it was an issue, but hours before the launch pressed the contractor to “green light” the launch. Robert Ebeling, heading a team the concerned contractor’s employees experienced with the O-rings debated whether they could knowingly approve that the O-rings would not fail.

In the end, the team wanted NASA to wait until the afternoon when temperatures would be closer to 53 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to the pressure exerted by NASA—in addition to the wilting of the contractor’s senior managers—the company reversed its original decision and ended up giving the go-ahead for launch.

Alas, Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven members on board.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 fiasco

During 2016, Apple was set to launch the iPhone 7. Samsung leaders rushed into bringing Galaxy Note 7 into the market before Apple. Here also, market forces determined the behaviour of the company’s management. In a rush to beat the competition, a design flaw in the battery was overlooked. Safety standards were apparently compromised.

Within weeks of the launch, the phones started catching fire. A recall ensued with over 2.5 million phones sent back to Samsung. The company lost billions of dollars in the recall, let alone billions more in lost revenues.

The Boeing 737 Max Issue

In October 2018, Indonesia’s Lion Air flight plummeted to the ground shortly after taking off, killing all 189 people on board. Subsequently, in March 2019, a crash happened in an eerily similar manner in Ethiopia, killing all 157 persons aboard.

Boeing claims to work on such ‘enduring values’ as integrity and safety.  The company defines integrity as taking “the high road by practicing the highest ethical standards.” Likewise, safety is captured thus: “We value human life and well-being above all else and take action accordingly,” the company suggests, and that “by committing to safety first, we advance our goals for quality, cost, and schedule.”

But to match the launch of A320neo by Airbus, said to be 15% more fuel efficient, Boeing moved fast and launched the 737 MAX nine months after Airbus’s announcement. Regulatory approvals were apparently rushed through, by simply declaring the 737 MAX to be merely a ‘derivative’ model of the company’s cash cow – 737. Technical changes of a material kind were apparently made, but the need for pilot training was never highlighted. The Flight Crew Operating Manual was not modified to reflect the changes. If this had been done, perhaps the pilots might have been in a better position to know what to do should the plane begin to behave unpredictably after takeoff due to the bad sensor data.

The common thread running through all these instances is the leadership deficit these organizations faced at the time. When values become mere words on a company’s website, disaster just lurks around the corner. As technology advances, the human angle can only be ignored at the risk of a great cost to the organization as also to the society at large.

Of revenue-hungry businesses and governments

World over, history has repeatedly taught us that when it comes to the Rajasic world of commerce, truth is a casualty. Cigarette and liquor manufacturers contribute to the exchequer and also keep their own stakeholders happy. Pharmaceutical companies keep peddling drugs which may have serious side effects on hapless patients. After holding up cholesterol as the main villain for cardiac problems for a very long time, suddenly we find that medical research comes up with results which are contrary to the original stand.

A recent example is that of the mad rush to bring in 5-G which rides on a much stronger dose of radiation. Nowhere does one see a reasonable debate on the impending costs of environmental degradation owing to a high dose of radiation.

The risk of data privacy

As businesses and governments go in for higher levels of digitisation, lay citizens who avail of products and services end up living in more transparent fish bowls. Individuals cease to matter. Somewhere in a data repository, they become mere numbers, coded by a binary system and mercilessly crunched into big data; data which is eagerly lapped up by the corporate world.

One who loves undergoing a Virtual Reality experiment is shocked to find that he and even his family members are denied an insurance policy because the body reactions detected during the said experiment indicate that he is likely to be suffering from dementia, a disease which runs in families. One who books a bnb apartment has to not only substantiate his true identity as a living person, but also establish that his past legal record is as pure as fresh driven snow. Personal interactions with a customer have ceased to matter in most digital transactions.

Hapless customers and citizens are no longer kings and queens; they are jacks of all trades who master none, let alone themselves or their own thought processes.

Political parties have already perfected the art of using Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics to shape public opinion en masse. There are no bad politicos and good politicos. Scratch the surface and one would find that underneath they are all the same. In many countries, democracy is touted as a virtue, but just beneath its soft velvety cover can be discerned the cloven hoof of dictatorial tendencies.

Caveat emptor (or, buyer beware) is the only way forward!

Some lessons from Bhagavad Gita

Smart CEOs can perhaps look up to this ancient scripture to find some ways out of a quagmire of this kind. We explore this theme in the next part.

 

(Inputs from an IT expert and an aviation expert are gratefully acknowledged)

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/09/07/the-challenges-of-industrial-revolution-4-0-part-1-of-3)

 

 

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The first Industrial Revolution used water and steam to mechanize production; the second used electric power and the third one used electronics and IT as its springboard. The fourth one fuses various technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, 5G telephony, nanotechnology, biotech, robotics, quantum computing and the like.

Exciting days are indeed ahead!

Disney World now has an app, and also supplies a visitor with a Magic Band which is to be worn on one’s wrist. The customer can choose and book rides, and is tracked through a web of beacons scattered throughout the park. Booking at the hotel is on one’s finger tips, and so is reserving tables at any of the restaurants.

Amazon Go has already started a cashier-less store in the US. The sales staff is there merely to assist a customer in choosing a product. Japan already boasts of retail chains where there is hardly any human interface.

Rolls Royce makes the Trent engine used in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Their latest ones come with 25 IoT sensors that track fuel flow, pressure, and temperature. On top of that, the company provides technology to track the aircraft’s altitude, speed, and air temperature, as well as ways to analyze the data to figure out maintenance patterns and better routing. With increasing crowding in the air space, such innovations make it possible to avoid mid-air disasters, thereby rendering air travel relatively safer.

Robots are already taking over routine jobs. The promise of a driver-less car is already being pursued with much gusto by leading companies.

The possibilities are mind boggling, indeed.

The perils of advances in technology

Yours truly has nothing against technical advancements. What concerns him is the purpose for which we embrace it. Developments in technology need to be evaluated on two parameters: The cost-benefit ratio of utility for the masses, and its ethical and moral dimensions. The latter brings into the focus the motives behind each of the developments and its subsequent deployment.

So far, Industrial Revolution 4.0 has brought to fore the following challenges:

  • Widespread changes in the skill-sets required by commercial enterprises, already leading to severe joblessness.
  • Values being compromised, both at the development and at the implementation stage; Training (or re-skilling) of manpower being accorded a lower priority than investments in upcoming technological advances
  • Regulatory frameworks being several steps behind developments being rolled out
  • An unholy nexus between revenue-hungry businesses and governments, facilitating promotion of technologies which may be harmful to flora and fauna and even to human beings.
  • The digitization of individuals and the resultant threat to data privacy.

Skill sets of the future: A premium on softer skills 

The World Economic Forum (WEF) was the first one to use the term Industrial Revolution 4.0 in 2016.

As per one of its documents titled Future of Jobs Report, employers are said to anticipate a significant shift in the division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms for the tasks of today.

The aforesaid report states that of the total task hours across the industries covered, on an average, 71% are currently performed by humans, whereas 29% are performed by machines or algorithms. By 2022, this average is expected to have shifted to 58% task hours performed by humans, and 42% by machines or algorithms. It can be readily appreciated that this signifies a very rapid pace of change, something for which leaders need to be better prepared.

The report goes on to project that skills related to analytical thinking, active learning, technology design and technology competency would grow in prominence. It also proposes that such ‘human’ skills as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation will either retain or increase their value, as will attention to detail, resilience, flexibility and complex problem-solving.

It follows that a more humane approach to handling team members needs to be consciously developed, especially when operating in a business environment characterized by a shortage of skilled workers. In turn, this would pre-suppose a higher Emotional Quotient and a much higher Spiritual Quotient, especially at the leadership level. Even as the reliance on artificial intelligence grows for the analytical part of decision making, the importance of practicing the art of remaining connected with one’s inner Self would go up quite a few notches.

When intuition and human values rule supreme

What can be more relevant than to consider the case of a hapless pilot who, when faced with a mid-air crisis, reacts quickly, based purely on her intuition and the concern for passenger safety?

On the 17th of April, 2018, Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 took off from New York-LaGuardia Airport and was headed to Dallas Love Field. The Boeing 737-700 experienced an uncontained engine failure, damaging the fuselage and a cabin window which led to rapid depressurisation. One passenger got partially ejected from the aircraft and died later. Eight others were injured. The flight had 144 passengers and a total of five crew members on board.

Tammie Jo Schults, a former US Navy pilot, was in command. With her concern for human safety, she managed to steer the ill-fated plane to safety. The crew conducted an emergency descent and decided to land at Philadelphia International Airport.

On the day of the incident, Elaine Chao, the US Secretary of Transportation, made a statement to ‘commend the pilots who safely landed the aircraft, and the crew and fellow passengers who provided support and care for the injured, preventing what could have been far worse.’

On May 1, 2018, the US President welcomed the crew and selected passengers in a ceremony at the Oval Office of the White House, thanking them for their heroism.

The evolving relationship between machines and Homo sapiens

Machine learning systems, which process vast quantities of data and make decisions based upon that data, are incapable of such competencies as compassion and empathy, which are the firm foundations of human values.

Already, technology has evolved to enable robots to be very effective at collaborating with humans. Yet, humans continue to be much more resilient and possess the unique ability of flexibly changing their plans to cope with unpredictable events.

Unlike thought so far, the man–machine relationship shall become more integrated with each other in the near future. As a result, the combined force of processing of billions of data points for efficient decision making by machines, and contextual, emotional and intuitive aspects of decision making by human beings, would be, to that extent, higher and greater in its impact – for good or bad.

One thing is certain. Things are not changing at a constant rate. With each passing year, the rate of change is also increasing. Much like Alice in Wonderland, Homo sapiens are discovering that they need to keep running faster and faster, with nary a respite in sight. Mankind is perhaps bound to evolve further much earlier than what was believed earlier.

Alvin Toffler might have labelled this as Future Shock 4.0!

(Inputs from an IT expert and an aviation expert are gratefully acknowledged)

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(Disclaimer : This composition is not by Ralston McTodd. But poets are, after all, also God’s creatures…)

 

 

I wish I could be Bertie, and let Jeeves do all the thinking
Whilst avoiding hard work – about it having no inkling,
I worship Ickenham’s horror of convention
And yet, often, am prevailed upon to avoid contention;

I yearn to saunter between tailor, bootmaker and hatter 
Rather than dentist and supermarket – whilst enduring boring chatter,
I dream of living in Blandings, superbly waited on by Beach
Unconcerned about rules I daily feel inclined to breach;

But, alas, one cannot live other’s lives – that’s our lot
And however irksome one’s existence, of it one cannot be shot,
So one must find solace in laughter, fellowship and books
To escape – however briefly – boredom’s nasty hooks;

And there is a place to go, unlike any other one
Which uplifting powers are huge, and cannot be undone,
Stemming not from order or discipline but, rather, farce and disaster
Recounted and made supremely enjoyable by the art of The Master;

So here’s to you, my fellow members of this most noble institution
Stalwarts of culture, wit, joy and laughter – genteel forms of revolution,
Where the burdens and anxieties are shed as one mocks
Spode’s brutality or even, say, one’s “less understated” socks…;

Unlike our Dover Street heroes we do spin and, indeed, must toil
But here, like them, we find peace and sanctuary – and can uncoil,
So I state with the utmost certainty, never having to recant or atone
That one of the greatest boons of life is this: being a Drone!

 

(Eduardo Garcia is a fuddy-duddy human salad, having been born in Rio, received an anglicized education and lived in the UK, Spain, Central Asia and Portugal. To complicate matters further, he is married to an American citizen – whose stepfather was a Dutchman – of Brazilian, English, U.S. and Greek extraction and his son lives and works in Denmark. This does not explain his liking for P.G Wodehouse, but may well have to do with his behaviour being often associated to some of the Master’s less mentally stable characters.)

(Visual courtesy Wikipedia)

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