Friday, July 21, 2017

Do Schools serve their end?

The caption from Bruce Springsteen's famous words really says it all. Maybe, I need not expound on this further. However, to do a fair evaluation of the subject of school and learning, we shall start with positives.     
       
School taught us to think. What does that mean? The process of structuring thought. To use logic, to recognise emotions, to react with thought or impulse. To read a situation and come up with an answer - unfortunately the answers are wrong, because the motivation targeted behind the thought, is wrong.      
What else did school teach us? It taught us to concentrate for long and some of us learned to work hard and understand the worldly equation of success and rewards, failure and repercussions. Again the problem is this worldly equation (driven by economics and competition) itself is a lie, so our chase itself is wrong.  
      
That is mostly it. Yes, I understand we learned many subjects, but all those have been forgotten. Even language as taught at school, was not used in our daily lives. We just learned a different method to write and talk at work and in the house. And to add, this is not to denigrate the wonderful caring souls who taught us in school, i.e. our teachers. They are not to be faulted at all, it's the crazy system. 

For a sum total of plus 20 years of education, that is pretty awful results.    
   
Now if I alone was saying this, then it was I, who must have been a lower quadrant student. But, it's what almost all my contemporaries tell me also. School did not teach us life. It taught us stuff which failed to translate into any use in the real world. It did not teach us the art of living. It did not reach inside and touch us lifelong.  
     
Along the way, outside the curriculum and in the real world, we learned much. Firstly somewhere we learned a bit of a value system and secondly we learned the emotions quotient. We learned how to deal with people, how to interact in various situations, how to live together in society and how to get ahead. Laughter, fear, scorn, friendship, love, hardships, pain, rejection all came as a dose and left us more knowledgeable. Many of us learned compassion and giving, unfortunately many learned taking and exploitation.     
  
Now looking back over a life which has wound its normal course, surely, there must be a better way? Packed together, stressing out over results, facing the wrath of teachers and parents, we have collectively lived a lie. It has made some of us weak, others evil,  a few rebels and many saddened normal humans. This could have been much better, because schooling has been around forever, but we do not seem to have learned and improved.
      
Schools sole purpose should be to create rounded humans, who will go on and create harmony in their environment. Society's betterment has to be our end goal. No wonder, the world is such a dog-eat-dog place, where today only eight people own more than the sum of half the worlds population. Surely that cannot be right? ( Oxfam report on world wealth )


The worlds 7.3 billion people, are paying the price of our schooling. 

*picture from weheartit.com

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Making Pakistanis tick



Pakistanis are emotional, vibrant and insecure. It's our history, our colonialism, our sardari nizaam and our deprivation. We love to be recognized and praised. A bit of narcissism in this too. So a vision which inspires us will put electricity in us. We will give our all and die for a cause. But the mundane, the routine, the disciplined is not our game. Just watch our cricket team. It tells us all. Tigers against the wall in 1992; denigrated as losers in 2017. Winners against all odds in both cases. 

The cause (vision) gives us common purpose. This belief leads to passion. Passion leads to ownership and diligence. Ends up making a team and once a team, any goal is achievable. Absolutely any goal! But there has to be a leader. That leader should be at one with the vision and also connected to the team. The leader has to provide security; which means protecting the team from pressures and retribution, so they be free to operate without fear of failure. The leader has to be human, demonstrating empathy and a lack of ego. Most of all the leader has to sacrifice the self for the team and cause. Sacrifice can be time, money and health - e.g. Quaid-e-Azam. You have such a leader, you will have a team and you will have your success.


Former CEO Engro Foods Limited, Executive Coach and Consultant



This has been reblogged from the below mentioned site.

http://managingpakistanis.blogspot.com/2017/07/making-pakistanis-tick.html

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Yunus(as), The Fish and Nineveh


  
The town of Nineveh is the only populace that survived impending disaster (ordained by Allah), when they came back from the edge of a precipice. The Quran confirms this in Surah Yunus (10:98). These events seemingly taking place in the 8th century BC.                            
     
Nineveh lived an existence of excesses and to it came Hazrat Yunus as Prophet. For thirty plus years he endeavoured to teach them, but truth be told had scanty success, with only a handful of conversions. His warnings of the wrath of Allah made no difference and they ridiculed him. Eventually his patience ran out and he told them he is leaving Nineveh and punishment will follow. Alas, Yunus(as) was supposed to ask Allah for his directions and not go off in anger.      
   
Remember Dhan Nun (Yunus), when he went off in anger, and imagined that We shall not punish him (21:87)  

When Hazrat Yunus left the town, the skies changed colour  and dark clouds and rumblings appeared overhead. The people now fearful, gathered and implored Allah for His forgiveness. Since their repentance was sincere Allah withdrew his punishment. The storm was lifted, and the people now prayed for the return of Yunus(as) for proper guidance.    
Yunus (as) on leaving the town, boarded a ship and it sailed off into the sea. But by night-time the sea became turbulent and a storm tossed and rocked the ship, as if to break it up. This was no ordinary storm and despite baggage being thrown overboard it did not help. A sacrifice was necessary according to sea faring superstitions. Lots were drawn and Yunus(as) name came up. And so the Prophet Yunus dived into a dark stormy sea, with no support in the world but our Allah.         
In these stormy waters, a struggling Yunus(as) was miraculously swallowed by a very large fish (lots of disputes on the type of fish. Suffice to say Allah, the Qadir, caused this to happen). Enveloped in darkness, inside a fish, immersed in its digestive juices and with no hope. There can not have been a worse position of any human in history. Even Hazrat Ibrahim in the fire was out in the open, where he could see and had faith Allah will save him. In desperation, totally repentant and knowing Allah was there, Yunus (as) said the very famous words of Ayat Karima. 

"La ilaha illa anta subhanaka, inni kuntu minaz zalimeen."

There is no god but You. Glory be to You! I have done wrong. (21:87)    
   
Allah is Rehman and Rahim and heard the sincere repentance of Yunus(as) and commanded the fish to eject him onto land. Once ejected on land, he was weak and his skin burning. A gourd tree grew over him and Yunus(as) was able to feed from it, and had shelter against the elements. Allah (swt) informed him that without repentance he would have stayed in the fish's stomach till the Day of Judgment. Instead due to repentance and Allah's mercy, Yunus (as) went back to Nineveh to a people who were waiting for him.

And We sent him to a hundred thousand people or even more, and they believed; so We gave them enjoyment for a while. (37:147-148 )

The Ayat Karima ( as we know it in Pakistan) is one of the most powerful supplications to Allah (swt), during desperate times. The Prophet (saw) has stated in a Hadith.   

“I know words that will cause Allah to remove one’s distress. These are the words (of supplication) of my brother Yunus (as).” (Tirmidhi)

Of all the legacies of Hazrat Yunus, this is the one, that almost three thousand years later, over a billion people repeat his words to Allah (swt) in times of repentance, sorrow and need.  


Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Big Heart

Abdullah bin Amr bin Al Aas was one of the first Sahabas to record the Hadith. He is credited with over a thousand Hadith and Abu Huraira swore by his knowledge. In his recordings is one iconic event, which sheds light on this struggle to reach goodness.          
   
Abdullah bin Amr records that he was one of the most constant in worship; he fasted everyday and said prayers all night. Then one day the Prophet Muhammad (saw) advised him to reduce it to alternate days fasting and a third of the night as prayers. Such were the huge efforts of worship of this man, that he was advised reduction by the Prophet (saw).     
        
So on a day when prayer was about to take place in Masjid Nabawi, a man walked in after wuduu and the Prophet (saw) mentioned that a Jannati has just walked in. We shall not name the Sahaba, for the name is irrelevant to the essence. The next day, the same Sahaba walked in again and the Prophet (saw) made the same statement. And so it occurred on a third day. Abdullah ibn Amr was present on all three days, and was greatly perturbed, as he considered himself to be the most diligent in practice of the faith in Allah(swt). A man who possessed a learning mind, Abdullah ibn Amr, asked the particular Sahaba, that he wished to live with him for a time to learn from him. That wish was granted.          
       
In his three days of residence with the Sahaba, Abdullah bin Amr found that the particular Sahaba lived an unexceptional life. He prayed the five prayers at the mosque; did all the daily activities of existence; did nothing wrong; helped others; participated in the community; but also did not do anything overly exceptional. Perturbed and disappointed, Abdullah decided to depart, but before doing so, questioned the Sahaba on his status and why the Prophet (saw) declared him a Jannati. The Sahaba smiled, but refused to shed any light on this conundrum. After much insistence and refusal, Abdullah disappointed departed to his home. As he was leaving the house, his host called him back. Perhaps, out of sympathy he had reconsidered and decided to answer Abdullah.    

His words should be looked at by all of us who are desirous of good, feel the next world is our real objective and that this world is but a playground test.  
      
The Sahaba said " I think that the Prophet (saw) has seen my heart. In this heart there is no keena or bughz. I have an open heart. I share all I have and I have no rancour against anyone. I do not envy anyone. I hold no anger against anyone. My heart is like a clean slate". Abdullah bin Amr spontaneously burst out with admiration and said "yes that is the one. So easy to say, but the most difficult thing in the world." 
  
Truly the Prophet (saw) had seen the deepest part of this mans heart. And set us on a path which can take us to our ultimate destination.      
       
For my part, I can count on my fingers the times when I have recognised a big heart. Such people are extremely rare. They are open, charming, ready to give their all to everyone. They have no arrogance and they are rarely unhappy. Even when hurt, these people never withdraw their goodwill. They will not complain and do not indulge in gossip or hurt. If they rarely get angry, they shortly will forget it and moreover will apologise if need be. They have no agendas and life is a road which is traveled as an adventure, touching as many lives with tenderness as possible. But at the same time, the belief in Allah is their guiding light and it is demonstrated by goodness to humanity.

If you find such a being, then know that you have discovered gold and do not let this person out of your grasp. We can all testify that there are so few of them around. 
 *Abdullah bin Amr Al Aas wrote Al-Sahifah al-Sadiqah. He carried the banner at Yarmuk, but refused to throw an arrow in Siffin, as he only participated to obey his father, but would not raise his hands against other Muslims. He remained reclusive and non-political all his life.  Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal incorporated the whole of the work of Abdullah ibn Amr in his voluminous book Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal.  

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Size has a Price to pay

      
When I first joined Engro Foods in late 2005, most friends thought it was my version of madness and a withdrawal into failure. To drop out of main stream corporations, return to Pakistan and join a company which (at that time) was just a hole in the ground in Sukkur, was considered sub-optimal. That the decision turned out well, is not the subject of this blog. A great team with a strong passion to add to Pakistan was what made it happen, and I was blessed, lucky and at the right place.  
   
Be that as it may, my main topic here is about events which  happen, when companies which are young, graduate into becoming successful institutions. This is about the journey of growth and how it pans out.
       
During the first four years or so, the company was characterised by a young lot of people with an adventurous mind-set. There was no 'impossible', it was totally interconnected and anyone could come up with ideas. Hierarchy was just 'by the way'. Someone ten steps junior could walk in to tell me I was wrong and suggest change. Engagement was absolute. Fun was absolute. Risks were the bread and butter of the day. There was no need to be afraid of innovation. If it failed, we would learn and move on. If it was successful, we would enjoy the fruits and look for new directions. Speed was incessant. Decisions would be taken with sufficient data points (but not many), based on belief, experience and a willingness to risk failure.         
    
This was where our Board of Directors with Asad Umar as Chairman, played a huge roll. They were part of the adventure, and as events unfolded, so they were there in spirit. Very easily at some stage Asad could have said enough, and pulled this determined horse and broken it into shape. They chose not to and in taking that risk went along with the whole. It was a rollicking journey, full of passion, fun and successful - as I could never have imagined at the beginning of things.     
 
I vividly remember the period it all started changing. The day I knew it was no more an adventure, but a business and an institution. And with that went the most 'happening years' of my professional existence. Sometime third quarter of 2009, our retail audit share data identified that EFL had now overtaken Nestle for the liquid share of the market, with Haleeb running a distant third. EFL had arrived! And suddenly came the realisation that we have a large structure, which was worth a lot and which we could not put  at risk anymore.     
     
The Board knew we were worth a lot of money and the valuations told us that. It started looking at institutionalising EFL. Till that day, the human content ruled process, but suddenly process became the master. We had systems before this also, but if need be, we could reach down and change things at the drop of a hat. That was the basic tenet of our speed equation. By 2010, we had implemented SAP and put in an online realtime system for milk collection and also totally structured our HR processes. Our factories had thousands of SOPs and we could not mould and break things to make action happen. Our human numbers reached into thousands and when one went for a market or milk collection visit, there were so many colleagues one did not know. That family feeling was gone. We were turning into a machine. The feeling was accentuated, when we were listed in 2011 and were subject to market evaluation norms and the KSE rules.      
 
This is a perennial problem in creating institutions. While the goal is sustenance and longevity, but the truth is that the process is better done by other sorts of people. Not everyone is suited to this institutionalisation game. Hence, over the years most of the original employees of EFL have gone to other pastures - most of them are doing that same greenfield stuff in various new adventures. What has cropped up instead, is a more mainline company and human resource, who over time will learn to sustain EFL's position and with steady growth and systems,  make it a giant for the future. Simply put, the company will step from one orientation box into another.  

Sadly size has a price to pay on both a personal and company level, as has been shown in this change from one orientation to another, with a new set of leaders facing that change. The trick will be to ensure institutionalisation does not kill the innovation and passion of people. Easier said than done, unfortunately. I can foresee years of dedicated effort by the new team, which would then lead to this institutionalisation being achieved.


Friday, April 28, 2017

On Authenticity

Humanity arrived at our present day status, because of iconic events in the second half of the 18th century.  

We learnt the value of mass quantity during the advancement of the Industrial Revolution. Later, we acquired our desire for materialism and the aspiration to rise above the prevailing state of being, through the American and French Revolutions. The phenomenal success of the Industrial Floor meant many things were eventually designed based on it. Today, schools, offices, factories, warehouses are all designed as the Industrial Floor.  Man understood how large volume was imperative for critical mass, which in turn led to great material success. This understanding drove our growth and we reached for more. Thus, Man ended up consuming more and more.

This sustained need to grow ushered in the mega corporation, accentuated all the more, through the excesses of the stock exchange system. To facilitate the drive for mass quantum and growth, along came the HR revolution and humans became pawns. Humans needed to be mechanical and focussed on performance. We were subjected to the Bell Curve and our lives at work were now designed through it. Welcome to the machine like existence of the present day. This living, breathing, functioning machine is supposed to follow an optimum career plan and last out forty years for the benefit of the corporations. That is the HR optimisation vision.     

As it so happens, we are actually not machines. We are humans! Our DNA, our retina pattern, our voice print and our finger print are all unique. All 7.4 bn of us on this planet are truly unique. So why should we not be living unique lives, rather than cloned mechanical lives? There must be more to life than clocking up hours for forty years, living a programmed corporate existence, taking retirement and going to the grave. Our corporate card cannot be our identity; we are a name, a human of value and purpose.     

So we need more authenticity - i.e. we need to live lives which are real and owned by us. It should not belong to a corporate, or a government, or an army etc. We need to contemplate and find our 'very own reason to be' - raison de'tre, ikigai. 

Before individuals can find their 'reason to be', they need to know 'who they are inside'. They need to look inwards, find their personal vision and value system. Once found, only then can we proceed to live 'our reason to be'. There is no point in hiding behind a facade. Why would you live life as someone else or replicating someone else's values and desires? Unfortunately, we accomplish only this, when we go hammer and tong trying to deliver corporate vision and targets. After all it is only one existence and it passes by in a jiffy, so let's use it.   

So once you have discovered yourself, then you need to find out what is it that will actually satisfy this Real You.  What is your passion? Is it social regeneration, is it impact on the world eco system, is it simply to touch the senses through art or sport, or it could be more than one calling. Once you find what really appeals to your passion, you then have an answer of 'why you want to do something'. That something becomes life's purpose, your essence; you live and breathe that purpose. You love your passion and you OWN why you do this work. If you own that work, you will eventually find your way to achieving success. It will actually be easier to live this sort of life.  In our present world, almost all of us are doing something, because it is available at hand, we need to do it for money and we end up not loving it. Over time we lose our authenticity through attrition, and we become a cloned machine. 

You will only get to the end of life once and when you do get there, you want to look back and say I have lived this one life doing things which are important to me.

*free picture from dreamstime.com 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Dhul Qarnain


Where is the Wall situated?

A few thousand years ago, Dhul Qarnain went West and came to a murky water, where he found a people, for whom he set rules to guide them. Then he veered and set off towards the East and he came to where he could see the Sun rising, and found  a shelter less people. He then went on a path between two mountains to the place of Gog and Magog (G&M). Today these events take major significance, as the world (maybe) edges towards the time of the Malhama (Armageddon). Hence, scholars trace Dhul Qarnain's movements, to get to know more about G&M.       

The Quran has succinctly described how Dhul Qarnain, the two horned warrior, went to the shores of the Black Sea (murky water) and then moved east to the Caspian (rising of the Sun). Then he took a path which brought him between two mountains and a people oppressed by G&M. A great leader of humanity, he rescued these people by imprisoning G&M, behind a huge wall. Forever, through millennia G&M have been endeavouring to get out and one day they will succeed.    

It is unusual, in this day of satellite imagery that a huge wall structure cannot be identified. Is there any area left which has not been explored on the earths surface? Remember, G&M are human descendants of Hazrat Nuh(as) and there is nothing supernatural about them. It is with this thought in mind, that scholars research this topic. Where is the Wall and G&M?      

There are two historical figures who are better identified with Dhul Qarnain. Alexander and Cyrus. Alexander is supported by some, because at one time during his conquest, he built a big gate at Derbent, to ensure safety in The Caspian. However, not enough of his travels coincides with the Quran's description. Cyrus is closer to the description given and he traveled much in this region during his Central and West Asian conquests. The description and characteristics of the two horned one, also seem to favour the concept of Cyrus the wise king. Hence, many scholars believe Cyrus is Dhul Qarnain. 
     
As Cyrus conquered, he moved North and ran into the area of the Caucasus. Passing between this mountain range, north of Tbilisi in Georgia, is the Darial Pass. It's wide enough and allows an approach to the region south of the mountains, from the plains in Russia. Today highways are providing access, but in Cyrus time, he came across G&M and it is here that he may have built the Wall in the pass. If you look at a photograph of Darial Gorge from 1872, you see that there is an ancient tall broken structure there. Furthermore, other photographs suggest a tall wall between two mountains, now absorbed by nature. So it would seem, that the Wall of Dhul Qarnain has been destroyed or overcome.    
What about G&M? Our present eschatology indicates G&M will emerge during the time of Hazrat Isa(as). That obviously is in a time yet to happen. Could it be that our chronology is wrong and G&M are already out and about in this world? Would it not explain the chaos which is building up in the world today? A couple of possible proofs of this conclusion.

There is the famous event when the Prophet (saw) woke from a dream, red and worried. He said to his wife Zainab bint Jahsh (ra), today the G&M have driven a hole in the Wall. This happened 1400 years ago. What is the likelihood of the Wall not being destroyed by now?  

There is another Hadith which recently has perturbed scholars. It states that when the last G&M is passing the Lake Tiberius (Sea of Galilee), he will say " when the first G&M passed by, this place was full of water. Now when I pass it, the water is dry." Lake Tiberius supplies a third of the water of Israel and also its water flows into the River Jordan. The problem is that today, Lake Tiberius has almost reached dead levels. It is dying very fast and is beyond recovery! It will go dry very soon.
So the conclusion has to be that G&M are already resident in the present day world. Out of this inference comes a whole host of conclusions, which just turns the traditional eschatology timescales upside down. The timing of Malhama, the coming of the Dajjal, the economic deprivation which will come through the droughts in that time, and all the escalation of suffering and chaos. Sadly, people do not care in this fragmented world. Here, the self has become all important and sceptics about religion and history are in fashion.  However, there might be serious times ahead and the people of the world, need to stop worrying about economics and profits and start looking at how to make it more peaceful. This will be mankinds biggest test in its long history. We need to come together to face it.

Note: Eschatology is difficult to prove. It's part material substance, part belief and part historical reference. I have written this based on some research, but there are scholars who have spent decades and still are not certain. These conclusions are by no means the only argument out there. Allah knows best.



Monday, April 3, 2017

The Urge to cut Costs


imageRecently, during a dinner with some senior MNC friends, a discussion led to the question of comparing a cost effective model with a growth model. Normally, I do not write about these management questions. Most people do not have any interest in them, whatsoever, and I myself find them very boring. However, in this case, I thought it incumbent to record my learnings, as it may help someone in the future.
Right at the outset, let me declare that I find it amazing that some big management gurus tilt towards cost effectiveness, while in my opinion, cost cutting is only an occasional tool to boost efficiencies (for minimal periods) and can never create sustainability, as compared to a business growth model, which leads to longer term sustenance. 
The answer in sums is so simple. Fixed cost will be, say 10% of the total revenues of the company. A substantial saving in these will lead to an overall increase in bottom line by approximately 1% of revenue. A similar growth rate in the overall business revenue, will lead to a 10 % growth in the topline. This will lead to a very significant pass through to the bottom line. That is the essential difference. In one case you are expanding the whole pie, while in the other its just one small slice being improved, while the pie does not expand, infact sometimes contracts.
Nowadays it seems to be a habit though. Most MNCs seem to be restructuring all the time. This is really a code word to control costs and become more efficient. A continuous cost drive takes the edge off creativity and makes people risk averse. Employees are incessantly worried about their jobs, so very little space is left to actually worry about performance. There are other side issues. Uncertainty, while cost is saved, leads to tension and insecurity. This inevitably leads to politics and a lot of in-fighting. The employees forget the purpose of working for the betterment of the company. Very soon, even when the cost has been saved, the company has lost enough sales, so that we are back to square one. The same bottomline! So then this process is applied again and more costs are drawn out of the system, with the same circular reference effect on the sales. The company is actually chasing its tail and we have seen some large companies dwindle into nothing over time.
Gunning for growth is always a positive message. It means more sales, more people working, less per capita costs, greater buoyancy, more people progressing in their careers and general all round happiness. Of course it comes with more risks, as growth is not a given and many times one has to create this growth, sometimes with innovation and change, other times with out of the box thinking.
Fortunately, in almost all my career, I have been in growth situations and only a couple of times has one encountered a cost saving situation. I make no bones about it…once the job was done, my dislike for the organisation led me to leave it at the first available opportunity, as part of a general exodus of many good people. Infact, generally the best performing people find optimistic spaces and are much happier moving from these sort of adverse cost saving situations.
The need to cut costs will surface at times, especially when a business is in trouble, and to save the company and a larger part of the work force, some sacrifices have to be made. In this case cutting cost makes sense for survival sake. But not the way its practised today, for the sake of enhancing bottomline and rewarding shareholders at the cost of employees lives and families. That is a most inhuman form of management. At the same time one is not advocating rampant cost increases here. Its good to be cost conscious and not throw away efficiency. However, that is a mind-set and not the main purpose of the business, which is to sell profitably, make bottom-line, have an engaged work force and happy shareholders. A balanced path!


The picture is from the free picture site dreamstime.com

Monday, March 27, 2017

Modern Day Pillars of Ambition

In the old days, power through authority was the biggest pillar of desire and ambition. Kings could change the world. The Pharaoh even had the arrogance to think he could reach for divinity. He was rudely corrected and put in his place, but in the end Kings dominated the world. Power told! Alexander climbed mountains to conquer, Hannibal crossed seas to challenge Rome and Muhammad Fateh dragged ships across land to subjugate. 

Along came Magna Carta in 1216 and the authority of Kings was fenced. You can influence, but you cannot make rules without 'Us' (Us can be various segments of society at different times). The French Revolution in 1789 dealt a fatal and final blow to Kings and the future definition of power changed totally. From a throne, to a series of chairs debating in a hall. In various forms, for the last century this has been a constant. Though there are recent signs that a change is coming soon, in the power of authority, but for the moment 'Power is exercised via cliques and interest groups, while individual authority has receded'.   

Throughout history, money also had its place in individual ambitions. In earlier times, money could be substituted by land, or gold or flocks of livestock. In the Industrial Age it became factories, stocks of goods or commodities, plus paper. Paper which could translate into gold, shares or money. Today it need not be in any physical shape at all. Simply, a digital entry may be worth billions. Facebook, Uber, Google are just such examples. But money always had its limitation. It need not translate into power. Hence, Shylock had to concede to a judge and Qarun (in the Quran) was shown his real place, though he was richer than rich. And hence, China can shut out Facebook.

Nevertheless, ambition for money is a constant drive through history. For some it could be greed and for others it is that elevation of status which is another part of man's ego. We love to be admired and unfortunately this world admires money. So despite its limitation money attracts. I hear someone saying what about comfort and luxury? Comfort and luxury can be achieved with reasonable amounts of money and does not need billions of dollars. That extra bit of money ambition is placed at the door of ego. 

Modernity is shaping out in a different direction. Fame seems to have overtaken money and power. I have no research to justify this statement, but it is what I observe. People are dying to be famous. It can be through stardom, but it can be as big through social media. It need not translate into money, but it definitely translates into power.  

The Twitterati, Facebookers, Instagramers, Whatsappers, Bloggers can move governments and societies today. Remember back to the Arab Spring and see the devastation it caused. And then there was Obama, moving opinions and grabbing the biggest job in the world. It was all done through the power of connectivity and social media. Lately, so much of Brexit and Trumps power and success have come via online connectivity fame. 

This fame and power equation has been further accentuated by the use of 'fake news'. Just a decade ago, it would have been inconceivable that non-existent events could drive power. Today, if I am clever enough and skilled enough, I can create a false event on the net and get it accepted as truth. Based on this acceptance, I can then drive public opinion, my own popularity and eventually acquire the power to influence. Unfortunately, presently there is no defence against such an eventuality. We see that regularly, when totally false and illogical facts are being retweeted a dime a dozen.

We are entering a new age of power. More than anything else, ambition in our children will be connectivity and its trappings of power. The consequences of such a social change is mind boggling. More than ever, the up-bringing and value system of our children is an imperative. With no boundaries to truth, only values deeply set in the mind can keep this world on a fair and decent road.

*from the 1939 movie Gulliver's Travel

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A pivotal point in History


As Gollum struggled with Frodo at the edge of Mount Doom the world stopped. The armies of Aragorn and those of Sauron already engaged in deadly battle, heard Gandalf call out the time of reckoning is here. Hold still. A pivotal point in history had arrived. So it goes in the Lord of the Ring.

In our present real world, one has been waiting for just such a moment for decades. There have been pivotal points in history before. The moment when the world changed.  Imagine the people living at that particular time, mostly unaware that life was going to change.     

As Julius Caeser looked across from Gaul at an island which he was heading to conquer, would he have thought that his were the first steps to a British Empire on which the sun would never set? Or when Muhammad Fateh dragged his ships across land, past the Bosporus into the Black Sea, to conquer Constantinople, would he have known this was a four plus century event, which would culminate in the destructions of the First World War? Or when Archduke Ferdinands carriage trundled down the street of Sarajevo in June 1914, would the on-lookers have known that within seconds his assassination event would occur, leading to two world wars and death of a 100 million people?    

This feeling of a pivotal point in history is here and now. One feels it. Hold your breath, this world is about to change. Sadly enough, it's been coming these past three decades, but we have been blind and insensitive not to have seen it earlier.    

It is a complex matrix and the variables are many. But they are all coming into play.

- A global elite has led an economic onslaught, which has marginalised the 99%. Poverty prevails and the majority do not belong. So the poor majority are flexing their power to bring in leaders who will reverse the trend of 70 years and bring the world back to 1945.
- The baton of leadership of the West is passing and a new challenge from the East is coming. Never has the baton of domination been passed on without armed conflict. A conflict in the South China Sea is brewing. Not to mention the trade wars.
- A further conflict is shaping up in the old world. A clash of civilisation, where a secular ideology is at loggerheads with religions of the books. This presently manifests itself in the Islam versus West struggle, but actually can mutate into a Middle East conflict.    
- The various conflicts are causing refugees and starvation. Ten million refugees and twenty million starving are the highest such figures in history. 
- A technical advance which started in the late 60s with Moore's Law, is now coming to a point where artificial intelligence threatens to take over humanity's role.
- The social consequences of technology, materialism, a breakdown of traditional family structures are leading to many social challenges and the urban centres in the world are heaving with rancour, unrest and substance abuse.
- A combination of over population and material needs is driving man to produce and consume more. In five decades we have consumed 400 million years of resources. The pace of consumption is increasing and we are bordering on resource scarcity.
- The above has led to an environmental degradation which has tilted the balance nature has maintained from the beginning of time. The very existence of all beings is being threatened at the hands of rampant heat on our Earth.  

So what is coming? Maybe the best place to look at is eschatology. That seems to indicate that all the signs are pointing to an Armageddon (Malhama in Islam). A mother of all conflicts, which will lead to major destruction. This is so in all three religions of the book. The difference is that for the Jewish faith the Messiah (saviour), is considered the imposter in Islam. So even here, the religions are looking at the same events from opposite sides.  

History too is not encouraging. Civilisations last an average of 250 years. The West is reaching that. A Dominant Currency lasts approximately 90 years; the US Dollar is reaching that time frame. So a change is on the cards. A pivotal point in history is visible. Only problem is, this is the first time in recorded human history, that Man has the power to destroy the world. 

So all one can do is pray that better sense prevails and humans resort to talking and mutual agreements to resolve these conflicts.

*image is downloaded from Getty Images, as a free picture.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Nations, just do not happen!


The breaking news was as usual all about dire consequences of one action or the other. One gets used to it. This is the way of all channels and media world over. Somehow, bad news travels fast, gets more attention and attracts people. Nothing like a good old disaster to get people animated. Anyway, here in Pakistan we have become de-sentisized, as we have plenty of bad news and on top of it, dozens of channels vying for breaking news. More grief!       

All the bad news notwithstanding, I would like to add my two bits to this discussion on how things have become this bad and how we are in a mess. My personal take on it is that it is nature taking its toll. Yes, Nature!    

In the past I have written on our nationhood and blamed our duality of vision. The duality being a desire to be an iconic Muslim homeland and at the same time desiring a strong economic state. We got our wires crossed, losing our vision and in the process ended up doing nothing. However, over time and after due consideration, while I still think we need a vision to take us further - otherwise there is nothing to hold us together - but the reality is that nature is taking its toll.  
    
Let me explain my statement, which I assure you is not an effort to be facetious. In the worlds written history, there have been nine great nations. There have been other good ones, but what we would classically call great, are those who have dominated their period in the world, added to knowledge and their traces are left in the working of the world even today. Historically they have lasted an average of two hundred and fifty years. Want me to count them out? Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, China, Arabia, Ottoman Turk, Britain, America. More or less chronologically and another interesting point; there have been no repeats. China might well turn out to be the first repeat.   

Anyway, think of these nations. They were formed layer by layer. The Egyptians took thousands of years to come to a stage of absolute dominance. Same with the Romans.  From the discovery of Romulus and Remus on the banks of the Tiber to Julius Caesar was a good several hundreds of years. These years comprise a coming together, a homogeneity of purpose, a gathering of strength, conquest and respect from others that you are the leaders. Having reached this peak, the decline starts and first society fragments, then economics falls apart and finally the military strength declines. That is the round trip of a nation.      

Now think back to August 1947. When India got independence they had a memory. They remembered the Aryans, then Alexander as he came through the Khyber Pass, later the Huns, Mongols and Babur. They owned the Red Fort and Taj Mahal. This they took as their own. This was as much their history, as Chandragupta Maurya or Ashoka or Ranjit Singh. Their culture was a melting pot of homogeneity and in economics they were working against adversity together.

Then there was Pakistan. We had a seven year history (from 1940 resolution) two clearly varying lands and cultures apart by fifteen hundred miles, a western part which comprised borderland tribes who had only invasion history in common and were diverse. We had nothing binding us, other than a principle and we competed for the same resources. This all was running uphill against history and nature. No wonder! 70 years is minuscule in history, a dot in time. We are children and still learning. When we get to our teens our time will be different and hopefully we will mature one day. This might involve another hundred years for these layers to form. In comparison to other development of nations, I would say maybe we are like the Wild West of USA just now.  

We shall get there Inshallah. Just require patience and faith. Nations just do not happen, they are chiselled into shape.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Making Real Organisations

image

I had a session on this topic with managers of a large MNC recently. They were interested in the thought, vision and strategy involved in creating an organisation.
You cannot help but personalise such an endeavour, if you want authenticity. It all starts from a considered and declared choice. ‘Who am I’? The real authentic model! I will live ‘MY’ life; not someone else’s. It is only one life to live after all and why short change yourself.
Once you understand the ‘Who am I’ part (facing the truth is tough!), it becomes easier. The next vital question is ‘Why’ do something? It’s essential to connect the ‘Why’ to the ‘Who am I’. You want to do things which are fulfilling your aspirations. There is a very good talk on TED by Simon Sinek which explains the ‘Why’. He then goes on to secondary questions, like ‘What to do’, to satisfy the ‘Why’. And once you decide on the ‘What’, you can go into implementation and talk about ‘How to do it’. (Simon Sinek ‘Start with Why’)
The ‘Who’ is our soul; ‘Why’ is the vision; ‘What’ is the concept/strategy; and lastly ‘How’ is the tactics.
Most organisations function only on the ‘What and How’ level. Its not authentic and it’s generally not sustainable. At some point, to exist beyond plain commerce, they will have to dive deeper to learn about themselves.
My legacy, driven on by the ‘Why’, is doing ‘What’ my soul wants to do. Not what ‘someone else’ wants me to do. If I deliver on what someone else wants to achieve, that is no success. I may have wasted my life.
So from childhood I wanted to do certain things. Money or position was a minor achievement in life. Fun, adventure, helping others were the big reality. Respect for characters like Abdus Sattar Edhi was intense. On the other hand, I had little admiration for corporate executives, especially the gung-ho variety.
To use Engro, as illustration of the above process.
The foods business started on the simple dynamics of per capita consumption. Same calculations are used by other consumer organisations in Pakistan. It’s commerce, core capitalism and fulfilment of apparent needs. Nothing wrong with that, but not my game. Why take this role at all? It amounted to two things :-
A) Its about Pakistaniat. Recreate the progressive Pakistan of the 60’s, to make us seem worthwhile again. Also to do something for rural area prosperity and emancipation of people.
B) Run an organisation in Cyrus the Great mould. A people’s organisation. Here people will carve their own destiny, they will belong and have ownership. There is no London or New York to report to. This is just us. We have freedom to think and freedom to do, because this is ours. If we fail, the CEO shall be answerable, as long as it is shown that due diligence was practiced and their was no malafide intent.
In the end this ownership drives the company. It ends up growing at huge CAGRs. It ends up winning international and local awards. In the end it also becomes very profitable. Because profit is a by-product of engagement of employees. The commercial purpose is achieved, but it’s culturally done in a human way and people are still happy.
In summary
An entity is created (NewCo)
A Vision is carved out.
A Value system is instituted to cater for the workings of a free, feeling and adventurous organisation. NewCo must hold a moral high ground.
The HR strategy is based on above Vision and Values. NewCo needs risk takers; flag flyers; people with heart; people not so interested in normality, but wanting iconic things.
Put them together and make them buy into the Vision.
CEO personally must live the daily aspect of Values. He has to walk the talk.
Out of this comes a common purpose. In this common purpose there is belief.
Out of this belief comes passion. Passion leads to ownership, diligence and hard work.
In achieving all the above, a team is formed. When team dynamics come into play, We are on a roll. The team will propel each other towards the target. Any target is now achievable. Every now and then, senior management will have to give direction, nudge, cajole, pamper a bit; but the cart will goimage rollicking along on its own now.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Storyteller

imageThe other Sunday, I had the privilege of attending a Toffee TV enactment of storytelling at a local theater, where the audience was mainly children from the ages of five onwards. It was a great exhibition of storytelling, maintaining interest of the little ones, with great delivery, a bit of theater and lots of warmth. Simultaneously, there were messages during the story of love, caring, righteousness and community responsibility. The story of Kaala bhoot was a direct message to the kids, on the environmental hazards of the plastic bag.
This enactment started a train of thoughts, on the art of storytelling and how it is enmeshed in man’s history. I felt that man has now moved beyond stories and is living a life bereft of the charm of stories. However, when I browsed the internet I realized it’s much more complex than that.
The storyteller has been around since the dawn of man. Imagine it! Some deep dark place, without modern day lighting, the stars shine brightly and huddled together, are clans of hunters. They are raw predators with ingenuity as their weapon and essentially living a nomadic existence. When threatened they move on, as also occurs when the game has disappeared from the locality. Huddled together at night in this darkness around a small fire, standing in front of them is a long haired animated member of the clan. He is telling the story of their forefathers, who came after many years march from the barren mountains to these forests. The storytellers language is still basic, but he compensates for it with bodily action and gestures.
In whatever way man communicated, it was the forte of a few to pass on messages. Invariably these messages took the form of stories. Down the ages the stories continued. In some cases powerful story tellers influenced history. Blind Homer some 3200 years ago, carved out stories – maybe based on reality. These stories of Homer, the Iliad and Odyssey are the longest lasting stories of humanity. They were taken by subsequent generations, embellished with ornaments, eventually reduced to paper and then transported three millennium to us in present day literature form. Along the way, these stories affected Greek society and culture, became part of the fabric of living, and through the inventions and advancements which subsequently occurred, became a small part of ourselves today. 
There are many other stories which have shaped us. Like ‘The Arabian Nights’, stories entwined in our eastern culture. Or stories based on reality, offering whispers of experience. The Quran used this means of passing on teaching. As did the Bible. The Quranic stories, parables as Allah calls them, have influenced a billion and half Muslims of the world. We have grown up with the events of Hazrat Ibrahim and his son Hazrat Ismail, the stories of Luqman, Khizr, Hazrat Musa and Zulqarnain, and the dramatic lessons from Hazrat Yousuf, a great tale of survival and triumph of righteousness. We have also heard the frightening ones, like Noah, Shoaib, Lot, Aad and Thamud, serving as great warnings of events beyond human capacity, which have shaped our thinking. Clearly, Allah knows his creation and has used the best way to disseminate messages and therefore leave a lasting impression. Hence, storytelling is inherent within us and is our best case scenario of learning.
So, then to the disappearing storyteller! He is not visible  anymore. In our childhood grandparents must have borne this role. We all have our individual stories. Mine are the exploits of Shaikh Chilli and I see now that it was not just fun and love, but also deep rooted corrective messages. On reflection, it came to me that the storyteller is still here in existence.
In today’s time the storyteller survives, only his form has changed. He is in the movies, best sellers, on TV and radio. He is a politician or an artist relating their thoughts. So the Humsafar drama which gripped so many – I confess I never watched it, just heard about it – is just another form of storytelling. There are stories on the internet also. Of necessity, the medium has changed, as our lives have changed. But the essential story from whoever is the same. A message delivered in a most powerful way, for one to disseminate and pass on through the generations.  Sometimes these storytellers are artists through paintings or animation and then there is the ever present politician or leader. He too winds stories, which then brings support, he leads and his performance too is a story, which is delivered in history books to later generations.
Just to show you that not much has changed, let me remind you of some powerful imagery just enacted in the last 30 years which depict the same scenes, as at the dawn of the humans. The same group huddled together across a fire and the storyteller telling his story. Hark back to the movie MacKenna’s Gold and the lit fire and blind Adam telling the story of the hidden valley of gold. Or the third of the Star Wars movies, in the Return of the Jedi, C-3PO holding his audience spellbound, as they huddled across a fire, while he related the evil story of the Emperor and Darth Vader.
No the fascinating storyteller is alive and well and continues his good work of changing society, while entertaining us simultaneously. Maybe in the bargain, scaring us at times also!