Monday, April 14, 2008

Some things to ponder...

1) Is the question of pre-destination relevant until we have first explored free will to its limit?

2) Initiative is the key to growth. How far do you agree?

3) Can chess teach you to think?

4) One can be happy and be in love or be sad and be in love. When there are tragedies in love can one end up harming him/her-self? Lust of course has always been destructive but then can love also be destructive?

5) "Man's ego is the fountainhead of human progress" - Ayn Rand. Then again the devil was damned because of his ego. So how do you tread on this path?

What do you think?

Friday, April 11, 2008

On Strategic Managment and its implications

Strategic Management is a concept that is very popular in the business world.

It is a framework that helps businesses make timely decisions in order to deal with a changing environment.

A company can thus respond at one of four levels:
1) Create change: trailblazers, such as Microsoft
2) Those that anticipate change and react before time: Many MNCs
3) Those that react to the environment
4) Those that fail to respond in time

The framework is fairly straightforward for large businesses:
1) Have a vision
2) Identify a mission
3) Understand the external and internal environment
4) Create objectives
5) Develop strategies
6) Implement strategies
7) Evaluate strategies and iterate process

Strategic management requires all the employees of the organization to understand the purpose of the organization, its mission, and objectives; to feel a part of the organization; to have company-employee values aligned and thus have the employees want to contribute to the organization at whatever level they operate – its one big family with everybody wanting the same thing, knowing where they fit in the puzzle, thinking on their feet.

The framework above simply tries to help organizations make timely decisions.

MNCs such as SHELL and PnG implement these concepts better then local Pakistani companies and that is essentially what is different about them.

The same concept applies to not-for-profit and governmental organizations, some of them following strategic management concepts better then the private sector for example the CIA.

The concept of thinking strategically is equally applicable to individual businessmen, although research in this area as i read has not been comparable to that done for middle and larger businesses.

In fact thinking strategically is something one can do in any sphere of one’s life, from how to manage one’s career to managing relationships to how you spend your time. In any area one can with one’s capabilities and passion respond to his environment in a fashion similar to how businesses would: the four categories of response mentioned above.

As for managing one’s career, if I were to decide a career switch, I would have started to do an economic study of Pakistan, to identify industries and sectors that are doing well. Once that step is done I would come down to the functional areas, the different job roles involved and then to specific companies. My study would include the company culture including the values in the company, vision, mission, objectives, purpose of the organization and how closely I can identify with them, training and development opportunities, and remuneration, how close the organization is to following strategic management concepts, profit margins of the company, and stability and growth of the industry.

It is very interesting to note that many people who do well and thus to some degree think strategically do so without being aware of any formal framework of strategy.

I must here state that other then knowing a little about the strategic management concepts that apply to larger organizations I do not know of other formal frameworks of strategic thinking.

All I know is what such a framework would help me achieve: to be able to deal with my environment more effectively, thus improving my ability to live a 'fuller' life.

A little of such a framework that I have come up with can best be summed up with two quotations of Hazrat Ali (AS) that I am paraphrasing:
1) Deep thinking is superior to any knowledge
2) Practice makes knowledge perfect
...and so to think strategically one essential has to:
1) have a set of core values. These could come from religion
2) think about issues in real life with reference to these values
3) 'embrace the pain' and work hard to implement what one thinks is the right course of action

Sunday, April 6, 2008

On Lateral Thinking

What is Lateral Thinking?
As I understand it: Lateral Thinking is the re-patterning of existing knowledge.

How is it different from Vertical Thinking?
Vertical thinking explores the existing pattern.

Can you give me an example?
If gold was buried in the ground and I was to dig it out. I would first find the spot to dig: the pattern. I would then dig at that spot: vertical thinking. If I did not find gold till 20 feet what would I do if I continued to use vertical thinking? I would dig deeper at the same spot. And Lateral thinking? I would dig at a different spot.

Golden Rule: Lateral thinking (or re-patterning) is useless without further vertical thinking. So it cannot stand on its own.

How do I use Lateral Thinking in my life?
Among the uses the few I can think of right now are:

1)Re-patterning relationships

2)Re-patterning world view – change in assumptions of how the world works Eg. Parents can be wrong, childhood mentors can be wrong.

3)Re-patterning ‘moments’ in memory

4)Re-patterning beliefs – Strongly held belief in god, moving to confusion because of an attempt to find a proof of God through scientific means, to belief again based on view that scientific tools come with limitations of human ability while the answer to the ‘beginning of all things’ holds the key to the solution.

5)Re-patterning values – talking to girls is not a bad thing, it’s an ordinary thing, that could also be a beautiful thing


An example of “Re-patterning moments in memory”:

I remember this moment when I was in class 7. The teacher asked the class a question: the name of a certain person of accomplishment. I rattled my brain, “hmmm, maybe I know this one. I am smart”. Out came a name from nowhere: “ABC” (I don’t remember what name it was). Just then the brightest guy in class took the same name and that name rung a bell with the teacher as well. It was the name she was looking for and couldn’t remember.

I always used to think of that moment and revel in the thought of how my subconscious seemed to have the answer that my conscious mind was having trouble recalling and how out of the back of my mind the right answer just came forth.

I used to use this as an example of how the knowledge that you acquire doesn’t get wasted. If anything it gets stored in the subconscious, and thus the fascinating amount of knowledge one actually holds in their subconscious.

The moment is fresh in my mind still.

A couple of years ago this thought occurred to me again. This time it got re-patterned. It hit me that it was quite possible that the name I took was not the right answer. That the smart guy who also had the impression that I was smart, heard me take the name, and took it too (I was sitting close to him. He could have heard me though not the teacher). The teacher who was a class 7 teacher, young and inexperienced maybe, though probably not sure herself thought it to be the answer, coming from the smartest guy in the class.

So it is quite possible that the name I took, that the smart kid took, that the teacher confirmed was not at all the right name.

Since then that moment stands re-patterned.

Friday, April 4, 2008

On Enlightenment by Immanuel Kant

From an essay that Kant wrote on Enlightenment I have taken the following excerpt. This explains the process of Enlightenment:

"Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Have courage to use your own understanding!"--that is the motto of enlightenment."

I think this simply translates into one trying to solve his/her own problems. You would still take help from people, infact they would be 'one' of the sources you would use but at the end of the day 'you' would have to take responsibility to find the solution/to get the job done.

One can probably achieve alot. Its just that they never get down to it - because they hesitate, are lazy or in more powerful situations are afraid.

Quote (I don't remember whom by): "The strong are strong because we are asleep".

As Kant continues to explain the difference between the strong or successful and the weak or unsuccessful is that, they start out the same, both fall down, keep falling down while trying, but the strong try longer until they finally get up.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

On improving one's grasp of language

My English had been faulty, probably still is, but indeed it’s a lot better. How though? Was this a gradual process or have I ever done something that made it ‘suddenly’ improve?

I think both are true. While language improves with one’s daily use of it – when we pick up new words, new proverbs, when we ‘think in sentences’ with improving fluency of use. It also can take a leap of improvement.

In my case this was when I had to prepare for an exam. An exam with a very high requirement that I do well, with time to prepare for it and a straightforward methodology for how to do well in it; an exam with many parts one large part being an English section. This section puts significant demands on improving vocabulary. The exam was the GRE.

I prepared a full two months from a book by Barrons on GRE available in Urdu Bazaar with a selected list of 3500 words, most frequently used in the English language. I knew at least half of them before I started and my target was to do a handful everyday.

I had two months to prepare at the end which I knew the entire list and finally in the exam I did well. I got a 720/800 on the English section.

A lot of the words I learnt have probably escaped me, but a lot I still remember.

The words helped me understand articles I used to read requiring fewer pauses on my part to look up the words.

The exercise in itself gave me a knack of picking up new words.

The most beautiful part of the experience of learning words is when the 'concept' each word represents reaches you in an articulated form - the definition, you really enjoy it. This process of understanding the concept helps retaining the word.

The improvement in vocabulary has made a tremendous difference – a greater command and comfort level with the language.

I was discussing with somebody the other day and they said that in the Urdu language you probably need about 200 or fewer words to be able to understand the entire Jang Akhbar through and through (maybe a lot fewer). Add in a few more words you would have a great command on the language. (As if just the 200 weren’t good enough!)

I had thought of repeating the exercise with the Urdu language and found a couple of sites on the internet with selected ‘ashar’ and words but I have not done this exercise very seriously. If I do I am sure my Urdu language will improve tremendously.

Interestingly with the little vocabulary I have I was able to read an entire story written in Urdu in a book called “Himaqataen” (I think the name of the author is: Shafiq ur Rehman). The name of the story was “Nilee Jheel”. The fantastic part about it was that the author used the simplest of words used in spoken Urdu to write the story. Any body who is familiar with Urdu literature would tell you that it is a good book in its genre.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What is one actually achieving?

If I work towards an excellent career, that is precisely what i'm going to get. After all that’s how everybody who got there, did get there. If however I am one of those who work to come up with a plan to get to the best career, a first step perhaphs, then a great plan is what I’ll get. If however, I work on 'how to plan' then it is this alone that i'll become good at.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Socializing - juggling between distance and warmth

I had never been very good at socializing but then not too bad either.

With my school friends, with certain people, it was like magic. With others it was a question lurking in the background: “but why not with these people?” something I thought about but not too much, I ignored it, took it like a fact of life a question such as “is there a God?” – something that is understood maybe not crystal clear but something that everybody knows somehow, but nobody can clearly explain it.

I am a very warm person but the same recipe didn’t work with everybody.

I was going to meet the crowd but this time I was ready not to feel bad. But what would be different this time? I could hear myself say: "...but what 'could' it be, must be something I have'nt figured out yet."

It was the same crowd a couple of years past, now I don’t feel that bad, I am not questioning myself...there is a 'distance'.

I appreciate this distance now just like I appreciate silence in a conversation. It is something I have taken a while to learn: “It is important to be warm as much as it is important to keep your distance but what is most important is to learn how to choose between the two.”

Does the West talk about will power as much as we do?

The West not only talks about will power it inculcates its use among its people.

An excellent articulation of how to exercise will power is the theme of a Hollywood movie: "Revolver"

As I understand it, the exercise of will power involves "pain". You feel pain every time you do something that requires you to use your will power, to do something you don't want to do although you know it must be done or should be done.

Quote from the movie:
Person A and Person B talking to Mr. Green:

Person A: "Embrace the pain Mr. Green"
Person B: "If you change the rules on what controls you, you change the rules on what you can control"
Person A: "Just how radical are you prepared to be?"

Julius Caesar: "Your worst enemy will hide in the last place you would ever look"
Machiavelli: "War can only be delayed to the advantage of the enemy"

When you procrastinate or even worse deny that something important that must be done, has to be done, you are in fact making the 'enemy' stronger and you are becoming weak i.e. you are reinforcing a behavior in your self to 'not do' or 'to do what you should not' and it becomes harder to change. In fact the longer you take the more control you need to exert and therefore the lesser control you actually have.

The way out then is: Embrace the pain and work hard.