Showing posts from October, 2009

The Consequences of Immortality

First things first. Be rich or be human? This rhetorical question isn't meant to be a moral one, but rather a practical one raised by Paul Saffo , formerly of Institute for The Future. His point is that with access to biotechnology innovations, the rich may soon become a different species. This is similar to other predictions made by scientists recently, the American scientist Ray Kurzweil in particular, that, with the advancement of nano -technology, immortality may be possible in a few generations. So, the dream of creating an ageless super-race isn't an impractical dream anymore. Indeed, whether this will happen is a matter of futurists, whose job is to weigh in various possibilities and make responsible predictions. Paul Saffo has been particularly prescient in the past and his ideas count in the Silicon Valley, where most of the research projects which can make this vision come true are being undertaken. However, since the thought has entered the realm of possibility, i

A Note on Pseudo-Leadership

As a part of my work on the Leadership Programme, I came to realize that one of the more important aspects that one needs to understand about leadership is what leadership is not. I have been reading Warren Bennis and his warnings about Pseudo -leadership is very real: I do think the world is full of pseudo -leaders and the big problems we face comes from the failure to call the wheat from chaff a lot of times. To start with, take the distinction, following Max Weber, between Power and Authority. Weber argued that POWER is about the ability to force people to obey, whereas the AUTHORITY is when one is obeyed without having to resort to force. In real life, however, this distinction gets blurred and too many people confuse the two. This happens on both sides of the table, incidentally; those who obey sometimes mistake the power - the senior person's ability to fire or punish the junior person - as some sort of automatic authority, and those who are in the driver's seat someti

Nick Griffin on BBC

Nick Griffin's BBC appearance has created a row, for good reason. Many people saw the similarities with Jean Le Pen, whose fortunes were created after appearance in the French equivalent of Question Time, so much so that he turned from a rather lunatic fringe right winger to the challenger to Jacques Chirac in a Presidential run-off in a decade's time. Nick Griffin is a slightly churlish, utterly boring politician, who does not seem to stand for anything. Except the emptiness of the current political debate, one would hasten to add. If there were any questions about why Nick Griffin was even invited to the show, the show proved it: What was indeed the point in having the show with a vacuous Jack Straw, pointless Sayeeda Warsi and self-defeating Chris Huhne? If television shows are about TRP rating, bring it on! But then the BBC is not about TRP. Isn't that what one pays for, through the license fee 'tax'! That should have kept it free of the obsession with TRP ratin

Making Leaders

I have spent a last few months working, and reworking, on models of a leadership institute that I wanted to set up in India. I have gone through various discussions with business people, academicians and students and learners, and have looked at various options that are available to take a leadership training in India. Obviously, there are quite a few alternatives as far as Leadership training is concerned. First of all, there are the business schools, starting with IIMs and Executive Leadership programmes, the Leadership training function/ facility at ISB Hyderabad, and countless others in all the major cities. Then, there are the special Executive training facilities and programmes, which come in both Western - the likes of Franklin Covey and Dale Carnegie Institutes - and Eastern - in the form of Art Of Living and various other soul-searching sessions - varieties. I have been particularly intrigued by a programme by Landmark Education, which is an international programme, but als

Education 2.0: Reflections on 'Victorian Teaching Methods'

A colleague brought this up in a recent discussion, how most colleges still follow Victorian Teaching methods. Then, I saw it on a newspaper article, denouncing the lack of creativity in the classroom. And, last week, there was the report on Primary Education from a Cambridge University Think Tank, which suggested that Children should go to school when they are 6 years old, which was rejected by the Ministers, who opted to keep the school age at the current level of 4 to 5 years, depending on which part of UK you live in. The decision was greeted by the media as one opting for 'Victorian' methods. So, indeed, It is worth reflecting on what the Victorian teaching methods really are. My take is that the expression is usually used to mean drab, boring teaching, usually associated with unwelcoming, and often unhygienic, learning environments; apart from the focus on three Rs, which are all 'left-brain' activities, so to say; and the assumption that everyone learns at a simi

Drawing Lessons from Vietnam

The US engagement policy abroad, for last forty or so years, has always been shaped with the lessons learnt in Vietnam in perspective, as it is being done now. President Obama, as I have noted previously, is supposed to make the decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan. From the media gossip, one gets to understand the decision is likely to be that General McChrystal will get some troops, but not the 40,000 he requested for. This will actually be no decision at all - a few thousand American lives, and a few thousand Afghan lives, will be sacrificed because the President and his advisers will not be able to make up their minds. Common sense dictates that the solution is elsewhere, not in sending additional troops; but there will be this shadow of Vietnam weighing over their head. The civilian administration and democracy lost the war - that's the lesson learnt - and this time, no one would want to take that political risk. No one wants Afghanistan, and Pakistan, go over to t

The World Last Week

The most interesting story last week was of course about the boy who was thought to have gone up did not go up. I was just watching Arianna Huffington questioning the wisdom of the story, justifiably because it is a non-story which the major networks devoted an enormous amount of time on. Arianna was on the Ed Show on MSNBC to talk about her recent post why Joe Biden , a long time opponent of sending more troops to Afghanistan, should resign if the President decides to concede to General McChrystal and send more troops. Arianna's point was that American executives should sometimes resign in protest, and not go silently as Colin Powell did, after enduring two uncomfortable years of the war in Iraq and even choosing to become the public voice justifying it. That does not measure up as integrity. But she was visibly peeved when she was called to discuss this and this discussion turned to the boy in the hot air balloon . She pointed out that this is indeed the worst kind of tele -vo

Reflections on A Leadership Training Programme

One of the propositions on the table for me now is to evangelize a new Leadership Development programme, to be offered in India and other South East countries. My engagement at this time is fairly minimal - all I am doing is answering the questions asked - but the whole activity triggers a thought process. While the offering in question is a fairly straightforward Leadership Qualification, accredited by one of UK's Leadership institutes, this allows me to reflect upon whether such a programme is at all suitable for India and what needs to be done, if one needs to start developing leaders in India. But, first thing first. Do we need to develop leaders in India at all? The question is an obvious yes, given the fact that we need them at all walks of life. There are so many problems to be solved, so much of human energy needs to be channelled. However, in India, it is often a case of many Chiefs and no Indians, in the Western sense of the expression. In many cases, we do not seem to

The 7 Negotiation Principles I Try To Follow

I have done many negotiations in my life, and in most cases, I failed rather than won. I don't necessarily see that as a negative, because I have managed to win some important ones. Besides, some of the ones I failed to conclude successfully involve the cases where I walked out from, deciding they were not worth the trouble. No, I am not exactly referring to 'the grapes are sour' variety; there were indeed some juicy grapes I missed out on. But there were many which looked trouble from the word go, and while I failed to get a win, it feels like winning when I look at it with some perspective. In all, I shall consider myself to be a fairly successful negotiator. So, what are those 7 negotiation principles I always follow? But before that, an honest statement: I don't know why it is seven, or whether there are indeed seven. Just that seven looked like a fine number to start the conversation - with its pedigree dating back to Steven Covey, or even to God, who finished eve

India's Urban Renewal

Every bit of statistic indicate India is making great economic progress, except in the look and feel of its cities. It is rather obvious in what one sees while the plane approaches to land in Shanghai, the glittering towers, or Dubai, the Desert trail melting into an always busy metropolis of tall buildings and shiny cars, and in Mumbai : Endless slums with blue tarpaulin . Then, once outside the airport, the hustle of bazzar ; on the streets, the feel of swelling population and poverty, and chaos everywhere. Looking at this, every commentator wonders how India actually works. One marvels at the achievements of the Indian Industry and asks around how businesses could still function with the crumbling infrastructure. Non-resident Indians endlessly complain how nothing actually works as it should, and residents display a studied indifference or immense ingenuity to find ways around when they don't. India was in the public imagination through two award winning attempts last year. Two

Private Notes: Why I Write?

I have been writing this blog since October 2004. Yes, I have deleted all the posts prior to January 2006 - there weren't too many - when I decided to renew my blog writing efforts. Or, writing efforts, to be precise. I just read Julia Margaret Cameron and wanted to start writing 'morning pages', just to get into the practise of writing. However, despite her advise to keep the writing private, so that one is not conscious of what's being written but just goes with the flow, I chose to put my writing on public domain. Obviously, I hoped my efforts are going to be so obscure that no one is going to read it anyway, giving me the privacy of the morning pages along with the manageability of web based writing, and an opportunity to share some ideas with friends and colleagues when I have grown more confident. I feel happy that I took such a decision because, since then, I have made about 430 posts, some private but mostly public. It feels good to look back at all that writing

Afghanistan: A Necessary Choice

The Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to President Obama, was a distraction. The world's attention was focused on whether this is a just reward, given that the President, who assumed office on the 20 th of January, had just 12 days work to show for it [when the nominations closed on the 1st of February]. The stated reason from the Nobel committee pointed to various initiatives and policy pronouncements by the President, including a clear commitment to nuclear disarmament and an intent to engage in Arab-Israeli conflict. The President himself was far more practical in his reaction and said that he was 'humbled' by the Prize and views this as a 'call to action'. It indeed seemed that President Obama had got the prize just for the act of winning the Presidency itself, which marked the pinnacle of achievement of Afro-American rights movement, which intensified in the last 40 years and became the Civil Rights movement in general. So, this prize is somewhat for the Barack Obama

Five Reasons Why Command-and-Control Learning May Not Work

After I wrote the rather 'autobiographical' note on how I got frustrated in my efforts to establish an open learning-orientated environment in a training organization, which, I reasoned, would have triggered culture change and resulted in greater commitment and team work, I was reminded by some of the readers that I have not explained fully why I think command-and-control learning is such a bad thing. Yet others reminded me that corporate learning can not happen in a cafeteria format, and companies do not pay for learning to educate people but to get the job done. So, they reasoned, the companies must focus the learning efforts of an individual on what they need, rather than on the whims and fancies of the individual employees. In summary, they suggested the opposite conclusion from my own: the pendulum actually is swinging away from my own, learner-directed learning end. I think I made one mistake in my previous post. I stated that I do not like command-and-control systems a

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