Sunday, February 20, 2011
Schopenhauer and Vedanta to explain Meetings and Innovation
From the HR, to the administration, to the COE groups pathologically steeped in collective Narcissism, everyone is expected to bring in often Quixotic measures that squander hefty amounts in the name of instant innovation. As Plato had observed even in those ancient days, “Most changes arise from abundance, from an accumulation of wealth which makes dangerous experiments possible.”
All this could have passed me by as the idle wind which bothers me not, but for the compulsion of the Senior Managers and Vice Presidents to come galloping in to the various locations and try to mould a motivating dough by sprinkling news-nuggets of innovation-initiatives over the time which lies heavy on their exalted hands. These lead to meetings, meetings and more meetings, mandatory presence required, making the process of earning one’s daily bread more painful than one cares it to be.
Subramanium is a master of tai chi, karate and yoga. And while my formal lessons with him have always been exhilarating sessions of tai chi chuan, time and again, he has passed on some excellent concepts of yoga. There are people, many of them like me heralding from the Western way of life, who find it difficult to assume the sitting posture needed for Indian yogic meditation. Whether cross legged in the lotus position or folded knees in the diamond or thunderbolt form, there is often painful discomfort which tend to get in the way of the calm mind. And this is where Subramanium taught me the method of concentrating on the pain to make it bearable, and also thus transforming it into a mind calming technique.
Well, a couple of weeks back, the team got the innovative shock that it had to install this cutting edge tool and fill up the time recording system before the proverbial Friday EOD. The catch was that the tool was a monstrous patchwork created in tearing hurry for the comfort feel of layers and layers of senior, regular and assistant managers, coded by a bunch of fresh, green, disinterested out of college developers eager to get away to the multiplex and disco bar, who were nevertheless the only ones cheap enough to indulge in unbilled in-house work. As a result, it could not be installed on any machine without bringing notebooks, desktops and sometimes entire networks to a coma. If by heaven’s grace they managed to pop up as an executable icon on a fortunate machine, it refused to run - often necessitating the age old remedy of Ctrl, Alt and Del to enable normal services to resume reluctantly.
So, it was the time for quick workarounds, something our firm genuinely excels at. An office application was created in a hurry which directly plugged the data into the backend database of the tool. A spreadsheet was hastily drawn up which stated how many hours each employee had worked in the past month. This file contained ideal data, created in a secluded cubicle in an IT Park of Bangalore, with no input from or connection to what was actually being done in faraway Amsterdam. All the employees shared their network password to an unfortunate soul who had drawn the short straw and was to spend a full day typing in the figures for everyone to ensure individual data ended up being submitted. Several security policies of the company were carelessly ignored and rampantly trampled upon, but the data was in place, showed improvement, made the senior manager bullish, and now was being presented to us as a remarkable demonstration of innovation.
Painful, if you see through the facade. Our innovative attempt at confabulated crap thrown back at us as processed nuggets of senior management bull shit. Yet, by concentrating on this pain, I gained many insights that are possible only through contemplation and meditation.
The Senior Manager worked following the principles of Schopenhauer. The World for him was nothing but Will and Representation. Reality was but a series of perceptions. These perceptions were not borrowed from the results of experience, but, au contraire, reality as represented depended on the will or desire or wishful thinking of the great man. The representation was the mental image of reality that he liked to believe in and had convinced himself of. Having reached that level of satori when the duality between truth and lies become fuzzy and non-existent.
The great Schopenhauer acknowledged the ancient Indian wisdom which called it Maya, the veil of deception which covers the eyes of the mortals, and causes them to see a world of which one cannot say either that it is or that it is not. It is like a dream, like the sunshine on the sand which the traveller from a distance takes to be water.
Schopenhauer does warn that if in the representation of perception illusion distorts reality, then the abstract error can reign for thousands of years, impose its iron yoke on nations, stifle the noblest impulses of mankind, through its slaves and dupes it can enchain even the man it cannot deceive. Replacing nation by industry and thousand by the short term corporate equivalent of ten, five or even one, we shudder at the resonance with which the words ring true in the cubicular world.
While these may be the subject of future blogs, I would like to leave the readers with a few striking thoughts.
Once my meditations ended with the ritual dance of meetings coming to an end (the shimmer of complying laughter, the rhythmic nods, the combined burst of laughter, the same earmarked virtuoso dancers getting into step, raising their hands, mouthing their stereotypical questions – and then the final words, the smiles in unison, the synchronised rise from the seats, the shake of important and privileged hands and then the departure followed by harmonious relaxation of postures) I looked up some of the works of the thinker.
So many of them make sense when thought of in context of the Senior Manager.
“It is difficult to keep quiet if you have nothing to do”
“The more unintelligent a man is, the less mysterious existence (operations) seem to him”
“Will minus intellect constitutes vulgarity.”
And finally, I wonder how farsighted must have been a man to have penned this line without having had to endure any one of the Innovation Pandering Corporate Meetings
“Life swings like a pendulum backward and forward between pain and boredom”
Simon van der Wiel is a fictitious character who appears in the novel The Best Seller by Arunabha Sengupta.
These lines are both collected from the novel and extrapolated from it - additional musings of the author through his alter ego
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