Sustained High Performance by Design

The Graphic User Interface (GUI) contributed significantly to the pervasive use of computers, PDAs, mobile phones and various other gadgets transcending barriers to the use of technology and thus accelerating the emergence of a more connected and flatter world. The GUI attenuated the complexity of the black boxes, hardware or applications software and facilitated self-navigation. A similar interface to the discipline of management would go a long way in bridging the even more challenging issues of transcending the divides and barriers to the emergence of global community

Management is relatively a young discipline with the potential to emerge as an integral Meta system to bring together various disciplines. However the student is often perplexed by the profusion of jargon resulting in a semantic swamp. The crossover seldom happens. The current context, of business, environment and development, raises serious concerns as to the relevance and validity of the practice. General Motors which provided the context to the Concept of the Corporation, (Drucker) has filed for bankruptcy. GM is not an isolated example. The best of talent which headed to the investment banks took decisions which they would have thought to be in the best interests of its stake holders which came to challenge the very foundations and premises of the discipline. Major growth stories of the IT era were mostly entrepreneurial and technology driven. This growth has peaked and in scouting for fresh growth the emerging markets have become the focus of attention. While China has more or less followed an aggressive path of taking on the competition, the Indian position still remains unclear and out of focus. For the student of developmental management India is unique in its level of complexity. It is what Galapagos was to Darwin in deciphering the story of evolution.  Solutions that emerge out of this complexity have universal validity that could meet the challenges of creating a more desirable future, both local and global. The GUIID is a map to make sure that we don’t miss the woods for the trees since in the final analysis we are as good as our maps since we know physical world through our maps of the world.

Reading the Map

The observer self at the centre attempts to make sense of the world looking inside and outside to fix its own position and evolve a map for the journey. The self can be the individual, organisational or community self. The map has four quadrants, directions, as in any other geographical maps. N stands for true north. The quadrants on the left are internal to the self and the right, external to the self.

At some stage in the process, the self positions itself for improvement and takes the invariant position, anchored at the centre. P is the present position, variant in time and F, the direction for the journey. Between the three, the common ground for all metrics is defined which can be made specific to each context, practitioner and domain. This is the solution space, the gap between potential and performance, the blue ocean space for the onward journey.

Quadrant NW is a map of the ideal, the deep structure, the conceptual, pure potential, design and the world of ideas .The order, hierarchy, complexity and potential increase with each level. The alignment and interdependence need to be recognised to understand the performance issues in the external world mapped in the bottom right Quadrant, SE. The four quadrants are analogous to the four wheels of a car, a learning engine, which continues to improve its past performance as it moves to true north. The eye at the centre represents the self, the observer and the driver of the car. The wheels must be aligned for the car to move on

There exists a conflict, misalignment, between quadrants NW and SE, ideal and the operational. The same goes for quadrants SW and NE, between internal self and the external social system. It is for us to create the alignment so that the car moves on. The first step is to see the interconnections and see the whole as one in process, evolving, in emergence from completeness to more of completeness. What makes the human unique as a class of systems is the potential to improve. There is ‘no’ gap between potential and performance up to the level of animals (see quadrant SW)

The gap begins after the level of animals. The gap can also be seen as the waste in the system, the unrealised potential, the root cause for problems. In terms of potential vs. performance, the human is sub animal. Corresponding to the total potential/performance gap, there exist a gap in every one of us which forms the personal sphere for improvement which would lead to the question, what are my potential and my performance?

Quadrant NW is the ideal, perfect, conceptual, pure potential in perfect alignment at all levels, from the maps to Meta systems.  Quadrant SE is the physical world of measurement, performance and mirrors NW, till the level of animals. The knowledge gap is the major reason for the gap. There will always be a gap but it is feasible to narrow the gap and bring about sustained and continual improvements.

Quadrant SW is internal to the self and NE represents the external social system. While learning is a pre-requisite to improvement, history and habits encourage conformity. This is both a challenge and an opportunity. Self could be the individual, team, organisational or community self. Complexity increases with levels, potential too.

The map facilitates positioning, fixing the direction for the journey and measurement of progress.  It is possible to visualise the nature of the journey as an ongoing process of continual improvement and renewal. The problem/solution boundaries help reduce the search effort, accelerate learning and reduce the risks of futile search. A map is a pre-requisite to any journey. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Confucius. To take that first step we need to know where our position is and the direction in which to take that step, to be on course.

The ideal of an integral and problem focused metrological pluralism suggests that we reflect on the way we use developmental metrics, in order to make principled decisions about which types of metrics are appropriate for which purposes. In order to do this we need to build validity and reliability profiles for existing metrics and begin to dialogue about the implications of what we have to work with. This rigorous reflection on metrics should be supplemented with reflections on the problem-spaces we face. What are we trying to do with the metrics we have? For example, it is likely that clinicians and coaches need different metrics than researchers, while educators require measures that differ from those used by organizational consultants. 2.  It is precisely this logic that has brought us to the current stalemate. All measures need to converge on the common ground of taking us closer towards true north rather than lead to greater chaos.

Using the map: A Simulation

Teaching is dead. Long live the Teachers – A Journey to the Centre for Accelerated Learning and Competency Development.

GS is driving.  Sree and Dinesh are new to the dialogues. JM and Sree are in the back. The mood is one of excitement. We feel as if we are going back to school. All of us had some experience in the past as regular teachers. Sree has recently taken up a teaching assignment in one of the B- Schools in Bangalore.  We are to meet forty Professors in one of the best seats of learning in the south. The University has around 14,000 students including a significant number of foreign students and 800 teachers on the faculty. We are to facilitate a dialogue on Accelerated Learning and Competency Development (ALCD), for eight hours.

Who said what is not very relevant. What is important is that the dialogue continues.

Welcome on board, Sree and Dinesh. First things first, the journey of 440 KMs starts with a single step

Confucius was wrong. There is something which is even more basic to the first step.

What is that?

Where are we now? Without knowing our position, we will not know where to point our first step to.

We are in Bangalore and we will be in Hosur soon and in another three hours we will be in Vellore, one of the earliest seats of learning, in the history of new India

What are you hinting at?

What is our position, I am talking about the invariant one? Are we teachers or students?

Students, yes, Teachers, not.  All of us gave up our teacher’s hats long long ago. We take the common position that we are facilitators, not teachers. This is what brings us together. Senge is right, we are our positions. The paradigm has already shifted. Teaching is dead, only learning matters.

But for your teachers you wouldn’t be here now. True. I hated most of my teachers and never wanted to be one.

But that is what you have become. Resistance creates resistance. You have become what you have hated most.

Yes, in a way. I was teaching for three years and I was burnt out. I walked away from the job.

That was because it was a job for you. What made the turnaround?

The bad teachers taught me the most, how not to teach and the best teachers did the least teaching. These were the ones who brought us to what we are doing now, accelerating learning and competency development. They facilitated. They did not teach

So teaching is not dead. Long live the teachers.

Hold on, there is a call from the University.

They are waiting for us. We are running late, stuck in the traffic. A garbage truck has had an accident, a multiple collision. The average effective speed of traffic on the road to Hosur is around 15 Kms, sans accidents like this.

GIGO, Garbage in Garbage out. In my hometown, the municipal tractors are on the road even at ten in the morning reducing the speed of traffic to the speed of the tractors.  Nobody seems to be bothered because things haven’t improved much in the last forty years of my flitting in between. The garbage inside is more serious than the garbage outside. The garbage is a toxic asset, we too need a toxic assets rehabilitation programme, TARP.

It could be a TRAP. You touch toxic assets and you too would turn toxic.

We will develop technology to handle it without getting toxic. If that is the case doctors would fall sick more than the patients.

Who says doctors are healthier than the general population?  There have been studies.

This is an occupational hazard. Once should know how to take care of themselves.

Hold tight, not to your hand rests but to your own positions. There will not be any risk. Risk is when we are not sure footed in our invariant position. Doctors fall sick when they shift from their invariant position, that of healers.  Catalysts are not burnt out in the process.

We will be late; the morale scale shows a low.

6.00 PM, we see the grand entrance and pass through the gates of learning.

A very lively campus, boys and girls crowding around the food courts …float over the magic carpets …walkways. There is an incredible feeling of lightness all around. We recollect the child in us.

The morale scale is up. We are transported back to our student days and memories of all the campuses we have been through, some of the best in the world. This too is a beautiful one, one of the very best. We are in awe of the grand vision reflected all around the campus.

The CAL team is waiting, patiently.   We have a wonderful dialogue. They have a great team and some veterans in the same domain. The morale scale registers VH, very high.  We present our game plan, agree and move on to the guest house, refresh our selves, impatient to move around and get a feel of the campus.

JM has a call from Shillong from Das whom he had met there during his last workshop on ALCD. Das wants him to meet his daughter, Madhu, a student here.  He lights up at the possibility of some market research, first hand. He promises to meet her after the workshop, the next day evening.

The dialogue continues late into the night.

9.00 AM.  The game is on

There is only one rule for the game. You are the prophet, I am not the one, and we are not the ones and perhaps the other way too.

Dialogue is possible between adults, in humility with the highest respect for the other. It implies that you respect your own self too.

We are 49 in all, professors, CAL facilitators and the four of us

GS presents the game plan. JM presents the framework. We do a simple metrics of where we are.  Activities and the process begin. Time shifts to timelessness. It is 4.30, time for the post metrics. The game is up at 5.00 PM. A good number of them would be interested in further dialogues. We sit together with the CAL team for stock taking.

We certainly learnt quite a lot and decide to meet again. The morale scale goes beyond VH

Madhu calls. She is coming over. JM has a long walk with her. His intuitions are validated. This indeed is the seat of learning in the south. He returns to the guest house.

The four of us take stock once again. We look at the times when we slipped from our invariant positions, a few, and retire for the night, pleased at a good day’s work.

Sreepuram is 6 Kms from Vellore. The temple is a very large magnificent structure, built at a cost of over Rs. 400 crores, a physical representation of the self on the ground, in the shape of a Sri Chakra. Sri Chakra and the Star of David are very similar. Sri is prosperity, goddess Lakshmi. There is a wait of three hours for the free darshan. We take the short cut option paying Rs 100 which still takes an hour. The sanctum sanctorum and the structure at the centre of a pond are plated in gold.   We attempt to connect our SELF to the structure and our own centres to the physical representation of it, the lotus flower on which the female principle of Lakshmi dwells. The soft music is pushed away by the silence at the centre. We return, more silent than when we went in

We drive back to Bangalore. The silence gives way. The dialogue picks up

So who is the driver of the car?  What drives us?

Are you referring to our car or the learning engine?

Even the car is not driven by GS because the CAL team were driving us to Vellore and now Giri is driven by his family because he steps on the accelerator to reach home by his regular dinner time with his kids before they go to bed.

If the car were a learning engine, which is defined as a system which continually improve on its past performance, I would say that the living matrix or the Meta framework is driving it

Why are you stuck up with frames and framework?

A movie is a designed collection of frames to evoke a deeply moving experience. This can work only if the design connects with embedded frames in the mind of the viewer.  The success of the movie will depend on how many are touched and to what depth they are touched. When one encounters a new situation, or makes a substantial change in one’s view of the present problem, one selects from memory a structure called a Frame. This is a remembered framework to be adapted to fit reality by changing details as necessary. (A Framework for Representing Knowledge, Marvin Minsky, MIT-AI Laboratory, 1974). He adds A Frame is a collection of questions to be asked about a hypothetical situation; it specifies issues to be raised and methods to be used in dealing with them.

The FD framework is an attempt to reach the common ground of such remembered frameworks.  That would accelerate learning and competency development so that we could achieve in three days much more than what may or not happen in the best MBA program in two years. Remember, some of us went through more than one.

Minsky further clarifies the distinction between the magician and the audience. For there exists a great chasm between those, on the one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system more or less coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel–a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance–and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or aesthetic principle.”–Isaiah Berlin {the Hedgehog and the Fox}

The difference between the magician and the audience is in their positions. The positions lead to a point of view.

Minsky goes on.

Questions arise from a point of view–from something that helps to structure what is problematical, what is worth asking, and what constitutes an answer (or progress). It is not that the view determines reality, only what we accept from reality and how we structure it. I am realist enough to believe that in the long run reality gets its own chance to accept or reject our various views. –A. Newell {Artificial Intelligence and the Concept of Mind}

What we are attempting through the framework is a Meta theory of problem solving to show the problem space which reduces the extent of the search effort and accelerate the pace of real learning.

The matrix, meta-framework points to the blue ocean space. Every achiever, manager, leader seek to grab a slice of this space.

Are you suggesting that the teaching paradigm has shifted to the learning paradigm?

It is just semantics. Chris says, the Welsh have only one word for teaching and learning, Hwyl!

Let us not forget Kuhn. Major changes result from new “paradigms,” new ways of describing things that lead to new methods and techniques. Eventually there is a redefining of “normal.”

We are in Bangalore. We have completed the circle. We are entering the dragon, back to the well.

We are not coming back to the same well. It is a different well. The ends will not meet since we are on a path of progress. It is not a recurrence to call it a circle.

Dinesh and JM get down, heading to the bar. GS and Sree head homeward. Both will make it to their dinner in time.

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2 thoughts on “Sustained High Performance by Design

  1. Pingback: Designer Lives (3) « First Discipline

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