21 Themes

Over the years, specific themes have emerged as connecting threads throughout my thinking, living and writing. Some of these themes I know to be true. Some may be true but are not yet settled. Some I am still trying to understand for myself. All are a work in progress.

By way of introduction, below are my twentyone emergent themes, each in 99 words. I hope you will join me in my journey as I explore them.

As leaders, we need to stand for something unique. To have the courage to break tradition, inspire action and forge a path that does not necessarily fit into neat labels. Woe to the labels of “I am a manager, I am a woman, I am an American, I am a Christian…” I am who I am, the unique combination of many dimensions. Labels are a symptom of our brain’s laziness, a vestige from a previous age. Labels come with associations; with stereotyping and self-imposed constraints. Beyond Labels is about embracing who you are — all of who you are.

Quantum inspires images of superposition, entanglement, spooky action… most of us simply cannot get our heads around it. How could a cat be dead and alive at the same time, we ask? Whether we understand it or not does not make it any less real. What if human beings are quantum beings? E.g. we yearn for coherence. Quantum finds coherence in incoherence. Instead of trying to resolve contradictions, lets embrace them, acquire the ability to absorb contradictions. To craft narratives that are true and false at the same time. To accept personas that are white and black simultaneously.

You can never step into the same river twice. In the same way, you can never be the person you used to be. Every moment, every day, we are slightly different from our past self. Most of the time, the change is too small for us to observe with our limited observational skills. “You’ve changed,” is not a criticism, it is a reality. How do we embrace our changing identities, but identify or nurture our “red-thread”? Could we achieve the fluidity to retain and retrieve what we used to be, while increasing our plasticity to change and grow?

If we are made of many dimensions, if we are constantly changing, then how do we have a central narrative? A central narrative that is coherent (or comfortable in its incoherence) but unique, and does not fit neat labels? A story or series of stories that resonates with those around us. That is powerful enough to engage, activate and help us (and others). The power of our authentic selves expresses itself in the “red thread” that we weave through our multiple selves – the multiple dimensions of our current self, and the selves we were through the passage of time.

We affect each other because we are connected to each other; in ways we have not begun to understand. The power of those connections manifests in our (often subconscious) ability to reduce or augment each other. The virtuous and vicious loops of human interactions. When left to our own devices, we seem to gravitate towards the reductive end of the spectrum. But a group or tribe could achieve significant amplified impact through resonance. How do we shift every interaction towards positive reinforcement? How do we get ourselves out of reductive combinations, and find positive resonance with those around us?

While we are all unique, we also belong; to a vast tapestry of which each one is a thread. In the Indra’s net of Indian mythology, the universe is made of infinite holographic sparkling jewels, all interconnected and affecting each other — in time and in space. That we affect each other is not news. Mirror neurons, our empathy towards each other, the fluttering butterfly: these are all parts of our common knowledge. While resonance (positive or negative) is the external manifestation of our connection, the curious among us are eager to understand the why and how of our connections.

Complexity has got a bad rap in recent years. We seem to be hard-wired, through nature or nurture, to reduce and simplify. But what if we are missing the nuanced richness of our world? Our need to simplify is a limitation to our understanding and enjoyment of the world. Rooted deeply in the arcane needs of a bygone time, perhaps our brains need to be trained and pushed to absorb complexity rather than resist nuance. Perhaps it’s not the brain, but our gut: a layman’s term for the powers that we are yet to learn to employ effectively.

The world is changing and is about to change even more. We are on a trajectory towards a quantum world — a world we are ill-equipped to understand, let alone relish. But an objective look at the trends points to a positive overall trajectory, even for the vast majority. For the human race to understand in the new world — or to thrive without understanding in the conventional sense — there is effort to be expended, there is learning and growth for the individual and the collective. Technology may well be an enabler; an aid to get us through this transition.

What if there is no logic and no coherence in the world? What if logic and coherence are simply artefacts of our human need to reduce complexity? If everything is possible (which could be the reality in a different kind of world) our minds cannot comprehend reality. Whimsy is our gateway to train our minds towards complexity and acceptance of the impossible. Acceptance of a quantum world, of a world which might seem beyond our wildest imagination. Alice in Wonderland remains a classic even today because it allows us whimsy — a playful, purposeful whimsy that leads us towards something.

The Schrodinger’s cat is famously alive or dead only when we observe it. Similarly, something is beautiful or not when we observe it and associate a meaning and value to it – the value of elevation. Beautiful is the thing, be it concrete or abstract, that allows us to elevate ourselves beyond the mundane and meditate on what could be. What could be is unique to each one of us – or as the poet put it, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Despite its controversial nature in philosophy, despite its subjectivity, beauty is vital to meaningful human existence.

Growth and decay are natural rhythms of our world. Why crave constant growth? Why do we expect companies to deliver double-digit growth every quarter? Why not ebb and flow with the natural tides of the natural world? It is from the ashes of the good that the great emerges. This is a cry for recognizing the natural rhythm; not to fight what should not be fought. Recovery is critical for sustainable life. Human suffering is not in suffering, but in the rejection of suffering. Let us embrace and rejoice in the ebb, as much as in the flow.

The ability to absorb absolute contradictions is a sign of advanced intelligence. It is a critical trait to survive in our changing world. It is and it is not: both could be true at any given point in time. We can be silent and we can be eloquent, not just sequentially, but also simultaneously. The ability of our mind to bend is trained by the embrace of contradictions. While we like to think we reject contradictions, we already accept many paradoxes: the use of force to subdue force, for example. Paradoxes are an integral part of an inclusive culture.

We are defined as much by who we are not, as by who we are. Seeking connection with another individual, resonance with those around us — these are intentional acts made with considerable effort. Instead of doing this, we simplify and reduce our (and each others’) identities, restricting our ability to be who we could possibly be. What if we could accept a reality where who we are and who are, not are not just irrelevant but also interchangeable? Many of us struggle with our identities, and perhaps acceptance could be the solution to all of our collective “identity crises”.

Word is but one medium to express what we feel and who we are. It is also a limiting one. When we elevate language to be the sole medium of our communication and connection, we limit our potential for resonance. Let’s explore the ways our language limits our ability to convey and to connect, what other means we have (or need to create) to connect and find our resonance. Intuition is an umbrella term used for many things we cannot explain. It needs to be better understood, and ideally harnessed. How do we articulate what we can only intuit?

Since time immemorial, we have wondered why we exist. Our quest for meaning, for the reason for existence, is fundamental to who we are. We could go as far as to say that it is the one unifying characteristic we have across our entire species — regardless of geography or time period. In a world where every human need is met, where food is plentiful and our lives are truly safe, our fulfilment lies in our finding the answer to our existential question — why? We exist to search for the why. What if our quest for why is the why.

Individuals grow by learning, experimenting and changing. We are all learners and teachers. Today’s world requires us to be radically more efficient and effective in who we are and in how we operate in it. It requires massive ‘system upgrades’ of our selves — to not evolve at the glacial pace of previous ages, but to accelerate on an exponential S-curve, both as individuals and society. How do we adapt to a new way of life, and to new ways of learning that this requires? We explore a mindset of continuous radical evolution, and new approaches for better learning.

Learning starts with absorption of stimuli. The world is bombarded by stimuli, but not always the right kind. The right book finds its way to you when it is your time to read it; the right movie or song plays itself to you; the right teacher finds the student when he/she is ready. How do we stay open to stimuli, and perhaps even actively (subconsciously) attract it, and learn from it? How do we absorb the right stimuli in an optimum way, while rejecting those that don’t help? How do we sift out the signal from the noise?

The step after the absorption of stimuli is connecting. The connection of ideas into coherent (and sometimes inconsistent) narratives is our way of making sense of the multitude of inputs. So far, as a collective, humanity has begun to embrace the need for growth, and there is no dearth of stimuli. But association is an intuitive process that most of us do not control consciously. How do we train our mind to make conscious connections, and to add up the connection towards insights and wisdom? How do we use tools and technology to augment our ability to do so?

What we learn and connect shapes our unique perspectives. A perspective is our stance, our view of the world, our thinking at this point in time. It is our experiments in a life-long learning process. We experiment with our unique perspective by sharing it with the world. By putting it out there, we take responsibility for it and accept vulnerability. Plasticity in our perspectives is the ability to learn and adapt, to not be dogmatic about our opinions, to cultivate a methodology and mindset to constantly refine and adapt our viewpoints; to retain high agility in our thinking.

Human beings have an instinctive need to draw lines. Given two data points, we see a trend. Life is very rarely built on straight lines. Recently, we’ve increased our (collective) awareness to include different kinds of curves: S-curves, exponential curves, step changes etc. However, at the grandest scale, the natural shape of our world is a spiral. We are all “strange loops” who spiral, in or out, vicious or virtuous. A spiral is a shape hard to perceive from within the system. Understanding the nature of this shape and how it impacts our growth (or decline) is important.

“It's a shame that the only thing a man can do for eight hours a day is work. He can't eat, drink or make love for eight hours.”– William Faulkner. An examined life (the only kind of life worth living, the wise man says), therefore, cannot exist without examining work. Furthermore, we are going through unprecedented changes at work – what will future of work bring? Will it be called work? How can we be better at work? Should we aspire to be better at work? Or to work at all? So many questions, so much to examine at #TheExaminedWork