Saturday, May 24, 2008

On Elusive Answers

It has happened quite often with me that I seem to be on top of a problem, one that seems simple and very ‘familiar’. So familiar in fact that we seem to have the answer at the tip of our tongue but just can’t seem to put our finger on it only to find out later that the simple question that we had asked was actually quite a complex one. I have mentioned two such question I am trying to answer at the end of this post.

But to illustrate this problem i'll give you an example:

I always thought as a kid: organizations are simple, people get together decide on what work to do, make great teams together and get the work done.

My MBA has given me a broader perspective. In order to make organizations run a few other things you need to do are:

1) Come up with the money
2) Research and design the right product
3) Decide who they are going to sell it to
4) How much they are going to sell it for such that with the price that is set the company makes the most money while not scaring away the customers
5) Reach out and tell those people about the product
6) Decide the best cost effective channel they can find to reach as many of their customers as they can
7) Keep pace with their target customer to make sure if his requirements for the product change you can get them the new product before other people can
8) Come up with some way to address customer queries
9) Find out if the product and the company is complying with all the laws
10) Make sure that you always have the raw materials you need to make the products and you have them in time
11) Make sure you hire the right people
12) Give them challenging work so they enjoy their jobs while contributing to the company
13) Reward the right person for the job well done at the right time

To give you a broader perspective there has been over a century’s research into these topics and many more. A few of the areas of study related to running businesses are: Human Resource Management, Finance, Marketing, Strategic Management, Business Research, Corporate Law, Information Systems for Management and Accounting among others.

In fact I am sure that if we take any other domain say Psychology for example, such a subject would give us very interesting answers too, to many of the ‘familiar’ questions that elude us and that we think we know such as "what should we do to stay happy?"

Two questions I am working on these days are:
1) How can I improve my social interaction with people?
2) How can I make the most of my job?

Friday, May 16, 2008

On how to de-compartmentalize

A course I recently finished taught me something fundamental. It taught me how to learn: when you read a chapter every word of it every sentence and every page should relate, it should also relate to whatever you have known and add fundamentally to your understanding and you should be able to carry with you a summarized abstract form of the chapter.

If you don’t do this you compartmentalize your chapter like you compartmentalize people (see my post on Compartmentalization) and so the chapter stands on its own in your mind not relating to much else.

So the trick to “de-compartmentalizing” the chapter is to work as hard as possible, to think as much as you can about that chapter while you are reading it, till the point where you cannot make any furthur deductions from the chapter.

The same applies to de-compartmentalizing with career, socializing, being alert of your surroundings. Every thing in your life should relate to everything else that you know to the degree that you are capable of. People sometimes say that things are not making sense to them. Such problems should be worked out in this very fashion: bear all your understanding to solve that problem. This is by the way also what “enlightenment” is as described by Immanuel Kant in his essay.

(My post On Enlightenment by Immanuel Kant talks about this)

On compartmentalization and the resulting sub-optimal performance

I coined a new term: “compartmentalization” and discussed it with a few people and then another term “sub-optimal”.

Both these terms stand for concepts/phenomenon which I am sure a lot of you are aware of although you probably don’t identify them with these words.

Compartmentalization arises from the fact that when we meet different people we assume different roles to some degree. So for example the way we behave with our family might be different from how we behave with friends and that might be a little different from how we behave with children and so on.

There are also occasions when we come across powerful people for example a professor of ours with great knowledge of a subject and an irritation with mediocrity, or a job interview which may require the best performance or the problem in interaction people have with those they are infatuated with, and so the list goes on.

So while in each of these roles you can perform best if you maintain your comfort level and assume to treat each individual as you would your sister or brother this is sometimes difficult to do.

This “compartmentalization” that we are subjected to results in “sub-optimal” interaction.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Explanation of the movie 'Revolver'

I saw the movie for the umpteenth time last night and I finally got it.

This is what the movie says:

1) In every game and con there is always a victim and there is always an opponent. It's good to know when you are the former so you can become the latter.

2) But the question is how do you prepare yourself for this game?

3) You only get smater by playing a smarter opponent.

4) The smarter the game the smarter the opponent

5) Checkers is an example of such a game. Chess is a better game. Debate is an even better opportunity to learn and so on.

6) But the question is where does the game stop? or one can ask what is the smartest game one can play?

7) The answer according to the movie is: "The game of con you play with yourself".

The text below has been added on 3 Dec 2008 and is based on a comment posted on October 30, 2008, at time 4:12 PM. I have only recently understood what this person meant and it is one of the most powerful things i have come across (Do read the comment to see what the person himself wrote)

The mind according to the movie is only a "tool" that we use to help us deal with the world around us. It is a tool like our hands and feet are our tools. The problem arises when we think of the "mind as more than a tool"; and in fact identify with it! This identity which is just an illusion is what is called the "ego" [and which according to the movie is: "Mr. Gold"].

The main character of the movie faced his ego in the elevator where the realization of the fact that his "own identity" was different from his "ego" hit a threshold and thus he became "free" or "enlightened".

When we realize and can identify our "ego" is when we begin to take the role of the opponent in the "game of con" [vs. the role of the victim] .

Re-edited: 27th September 2009

The mind should not define us; [it should be used as] a tool that it is. Not doing so creates an unhealthy ego that has [malevolent] control over us. If we take charge of our mind or ego we take charge of our reward system.

Our current reward system may in some ways be harmful to us [thus creating the pain and misery in our lives resulting from our own actions]. Machiavelli - “There is no avoiding war it can only be postponed to the advantage of the enemy”.

Added on 01 April 2009
It might be useful to study the following material with a paper and pencil in hand. Take notes and see if you come across any useful lessons at the end. In any case this will be an interesting exercise to do :)
The movie talks about ego and by doing so gives us cognition that we are approval junkies i.e we are addicted to seeking the approval of others. It says we are approval junkies primarily because we feel good when we are recognized as special. We think it is good to be recognized as special because it means we have achieved something. It is of course good to achieve things because as long as we keep achieving things we keep moving towards a better life.

This is not a very bad thing at a certain stage of one’s life because it is related to the rule of “self-preservation”. The rule of self-preservation as I understand it tells us to be selfish and protect our own interests in order to protect ourselves. As long as we do this however we keep seeking for other people’s approval. As we become more cognizant of the reality around us we notice that different people approve of different things and so we have to choose what it is that is worth getting approval for.

While becoming aware of the way the world works, we realize that our selfishness should mature into not only protecting our own interests but also the interests of other agents [people, skills, knowledge, etc] in our environment. This is because our lives are intertwined with other things/agents around us and so the more we strive for others the more we are in fact striving for ourselves. [And in this effort we also begin to learn “what it is” that we should ask approval for]

Many times however people “do not” realize that helping other agents is actually in their benefit [so they never wake up!].

For example if somebody hates me and I was to be rude to him or even to ignore him, I would generally think that I am doing the right thing by protecting myself against him! On the contrary if I were to really protect myself against him, then I would have to ensure that his actions do not influence me, in fact I would have to ensure that my enemy has no influence over me of any kind. If my enemy were to really not influence me then I should actually be able to be good to him [because this is an opportunity for me to grow, an opportunity for me to learn how to handle such a person, an opportunity to create happiness around me]. I should [have reached a point] be good to him so much so that I do not feel the need to point out his fault [since he probably will not listen] instead manipulate him so that he is able to figure out where he is going wrong. To be able to manipulate him I would first have to earn his trust, for which I will have to [make him invest in me] react to him in a way that I gain his trust. Once I have gained his trust I can continue to manipulate him to show him what I know.

I would like to pause here to mention what I think is the quickest route to moving from being an approval junkie to being somebody who is “preserving himself” while becoming free from the need for “approval” and so reaches a state where he is “sustainably happy” i.e. is happy within his environment [by having the power to make other people around him happy for example].

The quickest route I think is “to do good for goodness sake”, i.e. to do good because “good is beautiful”. So for example if I were to want to help my enemy [not in order to negate my own ego but] because of the realization that he and I make up a very small microcosm and that there is a much greater macrocosm to which I “feel” connected. And so in helping him, all I would be doing is participating in this “macrocosm” to my heart’s content [My heart beats with this macrocosm and not with the small petty things. These small petty things are significant only as far as they are themselves a part of this macrocosm. We are all thus equally a part of this macrocosm, each one of us just like any one red blood cell in our body!]. If we go about connecting with the macrocosm in this way we would in fact be negating our ego or what little remains of it after continuous practice of this exercise.

However there is one very big trap that we must avoid here!

If one’s perception of good is “unrealistic” then they will only harm themselves and others around them, till they wake up to the reality that will inevitably give them the knowledge they didn’t have.